ExpressVPN v NordVPN: The Ultimate Comparison

ExpressVPN and NordVPN websites merged

There are just two VPNs that have managed to maintain a place in our Editor's Pick top three over the past few years; ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

In our research and tests, these two VPNs are consistently among the best-performing providers for online privacy, streaming, unblocking censored content, and just about everything else.

Everyone in the VPNCompare.co.uk team rates ExpressVPN and NordVPN exceptionally highly.

But, one question we get asked all the time is, which is best?

This is something that divides opinion. Some of our team rate ExpressVPN as the best VPN on the market right now. Others prefer NordVPN. So, we decided to settle the debate once and for all.

In this article, we will pit ExpressVPN against NordVPN in a direct comparison that covers all the main criteria people look for in a VPN.

We will highlight the strengths and weakness of both providers and seek to reach a definitive conclusion about which VPN is best.

This is a VPNCompare exclusive; the ultimate comparison between the two top-performing VPN on the market right now: ExpressVPN vs NordVPN.

The comparison criteria

Before we reveal the results of our comparison, a little about the methodology.

We have identified no fewer than 15 key criteria that we use in our reviews and other guides to define what is and isn't a good VPN.

Those criteria are:

  1. Encryption
  2. Security
  3. Data logging and privacy
  4. Jurisdiction
  5. Servers
  6. Speeds
  7. Reliability
  8. VPN Apps
  9. Features
  10. Concurrent connections
  11. Netflix & Streaming
  12. Torrenting
  13. Price
  14. Payments & Refunds
  15. Value

For each of these criteria, we have examined in detail how ExpressVPN and NordVPN perform.

We have compared and contrasted the two and reached an informed conclusion about which is the winner in each category.

At the end of this Ultimate Comparison, we will reveal which VPN has won the most categories and is therefore judged to be the winner. You can skip straight to the results if you can't wait.

But before we get there, let's examine how ExpressVPN and NordVPN perform in more detail.

1. Encryption

As security is the most critical feature for most VPN users, we will begin with encryption.

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN employ extremely robust encryption to protect their users' data.

ExpressVPN encrypts its user data with a 256-bit AES cypher. This is often referred to in marketing terms as “military-grade encryption” and has never, to the best of our knowledge, been successfully cracked.

They also claim to use an SHA-512 hash authentication and a 4096-bit RSA key exchange which is impressive.

ExpressVPN encryption

NordVPN also uses a 256-bit AES cypher to encrypt its data. They only deploy an SHA-256 hash authentication but also use a 4096-bit RSA key exchange.

While their hash authentication is not as strong as ExpressVPN, this is a relatively trivial difference.

NordVPN encryption

Both still offer hugely powerful encryption that is generally accepted as being unbreakable and is certainly more than sufficient to keep all their user's data secure.

Winner: ExpressVPN

It is a close-run thing, but ExpressVPN just shades this category.

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2. Security

Encryption is the most high-profile security feature of most VPNs, but it is far from the only one.

So, how do ExpressVPN and NordVPN compare when it comes to other security features?

Protocols

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer users the option of choosing from all the main VPN protocols.

Both use OpenVPN as their default on most devices with the option of UDP and TCP protocols available.

They both also have the option of IPSec/IKEv2 and IPSec/L2TP available too, with iOS apps often defaulting to these as they work more smoothly on iPhone's and iPads.

The only difference between ExpressVPN and NordVPN comes in the form of next-generation protocols.

NordVPN has already adopted the new WireGuard protocol. This is now available across their range of apps, including their Windows and Linux apps plus others.

NordVPN wireguard

Wireguard is now available across NordVPN's app range.

ExpressVPN has shunned WireGuard to date and instead recently announced its own next-generation VPN protocol called Lightway. Lightway has yet to see the light of day, so we are not in a position to compare the two just yet.

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN have an eye on the future. NordVPN is a bit further down the road in rolling out WireGuard, but ExpressVPN's Lightway could end up trumping them completely.

Leak Protection

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN perform well on leak protection.

Both offer a very effective kill switch, DNS leak protection, and IP address leak protection (for both IPv4 and IPv6) on their desktop clients.

ExpressVPN kill switch

ExpressVPN's kill switch is easily accessible.

In reviewing ExpressVPN and NordVPN, we tested all of these features and found they all performed well and effectively safeguarded users from any data leaks.

Server Security

ExpressVPN currently runs all its servers in RAM-disk mode. This feature means no server can physically store any user data and also offers a higher level of security.

NordVPN has recently accounted that it plans to roll out RAM disk servers across its entire server network too. This isn't in place yet, but NordVPN is moving fast to catch up with ExpressVPN.

Winner: NordVPN

Another comparison that is so close, you can barely split the two with a hair. But because of NordVPN's fast roll-out of the WireGuard protocol, we are giving this one to them.

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3. Data logging and privacy

Alongside security, the ability of a VPN to protect users' online privacy is a fundamental feature.

So, how do ExpressVPN and NordVPN shape up?

ExpressVPN has a clear and categorical no user logs policy. It's privacy policy clearly and unequivocally states that “ExpressVPN stores no activity logs and no connection logs from our users.”

This policy has been verified in an independent audit carried out by renowned accountancy firm PriceWaterhouseCooper (PWC).

It was further reinforced in the case of Andrey Karlov, a legal investigation in which Turkish authorities attempted to force ExpressVPN to reveal user data.

When ExpressVPN refused to comply, the Turkish authorities seized their servers but found them to contain no logs or any useful data on user activity.

ExpressVPN log text

NordVPN states clearly in its privacy policy that it collects absolutely no user data. Its website states that “We do not store connection timestamps, session information, used bandwidth, traffic data, IP addresses, or other data. Nothing to store – nothing to share with anyone.”

Like ExpressVPN, NordVPN doesn't expect you just to take their word for this. They have also had their no user logs policy confirmed by an independent audit. Theirs was also carried out by PWC in Zurich, Switzerland.

NordVPN no log

NordVPN makes it clear they do not log.

Unfortunately, NordVPN did suffer an embarrassing security incident at the end of 2019 where one of the encryption keys for a single server was leaked. This has led some to distrust the company.

Winner: ExpressVPN

Both companies are practically neck and neck here. However, due to ExpressVPN's tested no-log policy and the faux pas on NordVPN's side, it's a clear win for ExpressVPN.

4. Jurisdiction

Newcomers to the VPN market might wonder why it really matters what jurisdiction a VPN provider is operating in. But actually, the local laws that a VPN operates under can play a big part in influencing how secure and private the service they operate can be.

ExpressVPN is based offshore in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Despite the name, the BVI operates as a completely independent country with its own legal code and laws.

The BVI has some of the most robust privacy protections in the world, which is one of the reasons why a lot of different banks and financial institutions have operations based there.

For a VPN, it is ideal as it gives the provider completely discretion over how to protect its user's data, allowing ExpressVPN to implement some of the most comprehensive privacy protections of any provider.

NordVPN is based in Panama, an independent offshore jurisdiction which also has solid privacy laws and gives NordVPN the power to offer robust protections for all its users.

Neither the BVI or Panama are part of the so-called Five Eyes surveillance groups of countries or wider ‘14-eyes‘ which share surveillance information between them and tend to have laws which undermine the ability of online companies to offer absolute privacy to their users.

Winner: Draw

The British Virgin Islands and Panama are among the top countries in the world for privacy protections, so this category is another draw.

5. Servers

Most VPNs pride themselves on offering the broadest range of server locations possible.

We have argued before that this is not hugely important to most VPN users who tend only to use local servers or those in a handful of popular locations like the USA and the UK.

But server numbers do matter as the more servers a VPN provider has, the less pressure there will be on individual servers to support multiple users.

So, it is still worth seeing how ExpressVPN and NordVPN stack up.

ExpressVPN currently offers more than 3,000 servers based in 160 VPN locations and 94 different countries around the world.

NordVPN's server network currently consists of 5,750 servers in 59 countries across the globe.

So, NordVPN has more servers overall, but ExpressVPN offers servers in a wider range of countries. But there is a catch to this.

ExpressVPN servers list

ExpressVPN has an extensive list of countries covered.

ExpressVPN does admit to using virtual servers. These are servers that are not actually physically located in a country but set up to appear as if they are. Virtual servers are an easy way to expand your server network, but it can have an adverse effect on other users.

If a virtual location is set up on a UK-based server, anyone using that server for its original location could experience slower connection speeds.

Virtual servers are generally seen as a secondary alternative to physical servers actually located in a country. ExpressVPN admits it uses them but their use is limited and there is a clear list available on their website.

As far as we are aware, NordVPN does not use virtual servers. They do not make mention of them on their website.

One thing NordVPN does have is a range of specialist servers. This includes double-hop servers, which reroute traffic through not one but two VPN servers in different countries.

This offers enhanced security and privacy protections but does come at the expense of a little bit of speed.

They also have VPN servers that are optimised for P2P users and are ideal for torrenting and also a set of obfuscated servers which are specially designed to work in countries like Communist China where VPN traffic is often blocked.

ExpressVPN does not offer all of these specialist servers but it does have a set of obfuscated servers that can also be used inside countries like Communist China.

Winner: NordVPN

Another close contest but ExpressVPN's use of virtual servers and smaller server network means NordVPN wins this one.

6. Speeds

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are well-renowned for their consistently fast connection speeds.

This wasn't always the case. There was a time when NordVPN was known for being quite slow.

But recently, they have invested heavily in their server infrastructure and the result is that their connection speeds are up there with the very best.

But which is the faster VPN?

It is difficult to put a hair between them in many tests, but it is the purpose of this guide to identify the fastest, so we will do our best.

ExpressVPN is one of the fastest and most reliable VPNs on the market right now.

In our recent review, we put ExpressVPN through its paces by downloading a test file on a UK residential connection. The regular connection speed used for this test was 63.42 Mbps.

We downloaded the file using a selection of ExpressVPN's servers with the following results:

  • UK – 57.42 Mbps
  • Netherlands – 56.40 Mbps
  • Switzerland – 56.64 Mbps
  • Sweden – 56.07 Mbps
  • France – 57.04 Mbps
  • New York, US – 56.35 Mbps
  • Australia – 50.69 Mbps

As you can see, the impact of ExpressVPN on download speeds was minimal. We also ran tests involving streaming HD video, internet browsing, and online gaming, and all worked without any problem at all across all of the servers.

We also tested this across the full range of devices including Windows desktop, Android smartphone, iOS and MacOS devices and even the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Each performed flawlessly and we were very impressed.

NordVPN speeds have been really impressive of late and in our most recent review, we ran the same test as ExpressVPN to see how different servers performed.

Our standard UK residential internet connection speed without using a VPN measured at 63.28 Mbps ahead of this test.

Testing servers in the same locations we obtained the following speeds:

  • UK – 58.63 Mbps
  • France – 58.24 Mbps
  • Netherlands – 58.36 Mbps
  • Switzerland – 60.56 Mbps
  • Sweden – 60.30 Mbps
  • New York, US – 60.44 Mbps
  • Australia – 57.17 Mbps

Like ExpressVPN, all of these speeds were very impressive and the consistency of the speeds was also good.

You will notice that all of our NordVPN servers performed slightly better than ExpressVPN in these tests, with servers located further away doing especially well.

Winner: NordVPN

The data gives us little choice but to award this category to NordVPN as well.

But it is a fine margin and the truth is that both of these VPNs offer exceptional speeds and we wouldn't expect users to have any complaints about either.

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7. Reliability

Reliability is very much a subjective issue. All service providers have problems from time to time and VPNs are no different.

For this category, we can only report on the experience of ourselves and our team, as well as the feedback we have had from readers over the seven years we've been operational and testing VPN services.

We cannot guarantee you won't have a different experience, but our usage tells us that the overwhelming majority of users share our views on this issue.

ExpressVPN is one of the most consistently reliable VPNs we have ever tested.

We commented them on the consistency of its speeds in the previous section. Some VPNs can have issues with connectivity but this has never been a problem with ExpressVPN.

It establishes connections to all its servers quickly, and these connections are almost always stable with drop-outs extremely rare and all servers appearing to work to a similarly high standard.

We have tested all of the ExpressVPN apps on different types of internet connections all over the world and while doing a range of everyday online tasks.

They have always worked smoothly and easily with crashes, bugs, and other issues a sporadic phenomena.

NordVPN too offers fast and stable connections across its entire server network. This might be a slightly more recent phenomenon for them but there is no questioning the quality of their service right now.

Before their recent revamp, the NordVPN apps were not as reliable as those of ExpressVPN. But the recent update their received has improved them no end and these days NordVPN offers a far better user experience.

We have experienced a few issues with their iOS app connection dropping out and needing to log back into our account to get back online. But this is an occasional problem and easily overcome.

Winner: ExpressVPN

Another close call between two excellent and consistent VPNs, but ExpressVPN just edges this category at the moment.

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8. VPN Apps

As we have just touched on their Apps in the previous section, let's take a closer look at how ExpressVPN and NordVPN perform in this area.

An app analysis could form the basis of a lengthy thesis, so for this guide, we will be focusing primarily on usability and appearance.

It is generally agreed that less is more when it comes to a VPN app, so the minimalist design employed by ExpressVPN's apps is a popular one.

The home screen features a large central button which shows your connection status and allows you to connect or disconnect from their service easily.

Below that are the details of your active server, revealing not just the country but also the location within that country. Clicking on this allows you to choose a new server from their list.

Underneath are two clear buttons that allow you to switch to either your most recent server or the server that ExpressVPN recommends will be the fastest for your current location.

This is all most users need and while there are other settings and features available through the ExpressVPN apps, they are all organised neatly in the menu which can be accessed via the top left-hand corner of the home page.

ExpressVPN windows laptop

All of ExpressVPN's apps are easy to use and offer a similar style which means if you are using ExpressVPN across different devices, you don't have to learn your way around a whole host of different apps.

NordVPN's apps are less minimalistic but no less straightforward to use.

All of their apps are built around a world map with pins in all the countries where NordVPN has servers. Users just have to navigate around the map and choose the pin for their chosen country to connect to the fastest available server automatically.

It can display your favourite servers on the map for ease of access and a button at the top allows you to choose from a server list instead if you prefer.

Unfortunately, they don't break down servers by locations, only countries and you have to dig around a little more to find this which some users may not like as much.

There are several features available on most NordVPN apps but again these are hidden away in the top left corner of the screen and many users will not need to use them at all.

The NordVPN apps are a larger file than the ExpressVPN apps and will take up more space on your device, but the difference is minimal.

In terms of usability, NordVPN is simple to navigate and feedback from our readers suggests that while some prefer the ExpressVPN model, others find the map approach much faster and easier.

Winner: Draw

This category is a matter of personal preference and our team and our readers are divided on their preference, so we will call this one a draw.

9. Features

Lots of users don't bother with extra features on a VPN. They just connect up to a server and then get on with their online tasks.

This is fine, but if you are one of those people who like to optimise their VPNs performance and play around with the extras, the range of features a provider offers might be the decisive factor for you.

ExpressVPN might have a minimalist and simple app design, but there are still plenty of features hiding under the bonnet.

One particularly popular one is their split-tunnelling feature.

This allows you to choose which apps you route through your ExpressVPN server connection and which you don't. Not every VPN offers this feature, which is odd as our feedback suggests a significant number of users really appreciate it.

Other features ExpressVPN offers includes obfuscated servers to enable users in places like Communist China to use their site, DNS and IPv6 Leak Protection, and ExpressVPN's MediaStreamer smart DNS feature, which helps users on Smart TVs and games consoles to connect.

In our most recent review, we highlighted their ‘Smart Location' feature, which helps users pick the best server for them. We found it generally outperformed our own selection and user feedback on this tool has been extremely positive.

ExpressVPN also boasts the standard kill switch feature. But in addition, there is also a Network Protection tool too. This acts like a kill switch but still allows you to remain connected to your local networks.

NordVPN does not lack additional features either. Firstly, there is its range of specialist servers which we mentioned earlier in this guide.

NordVPN features

They offer double-hop servers which reroute traffic through two VPN servers for additional security, special optimised P2P servers for users who enjoy torrenting and also obfuscated servers for countries like China.

They also have the standard kill switch protection too.

NordVPN has recently added a new ad-blocking feature called CyberSec, which offers a basic level of protection against advertising, tracking, and malware domains.

In addition, NordVPN recently announced that their WireGuard tool, NordLynx is being rolled out across all their apps in the coming months.

Winner: Draw

While ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer very different special features, both have plenty to choose from so the choice is really down to which you think you are likely to use more. We will call this category a draw.

10. Concurrent connections

Everyone goes online using all sorts of different devices these days and you really need the protections offered by a VPN on all of them.

This is why it is standard practice for all VPNs these days to allow users to install and connect to their service using several devices simultaneously.

This also allows families to share accounts without having to cough up for a connection for everyone.

There has been a growing competition between VPN providers over how many simultaneous connections they can offer their users.

So, how do ExpressVPN and NordVPN compare?

ExpressVPN offers its users 5 simultaneous connections with every account. This is more than enough for most users but obviously, if you have a large family and want to share your subscription, you may need more.

NordVPN's standard offer to all users is 6 simultaneous connections with every account. This is one more than ExpressVPN and again usually sufficient for most users.

Winner: NordVPN

Both providers offer enough connections for the vast majority of users, but with one more, NordVPN wins this category.

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11. Netflix & Streaming

As important as security and privacy is for many VPN users, there is no denying that a big reason a lot of people have a VPN is to unblock streaming services when they are travelling or working overseas.

There are dozens of streaming services these days but the litmus test for most VPNs is Netflix.

A lot of people want to stream US Netflix outside the USA, but they have worked hard to try and stop VPNs from unblocking their service.

So, how do ExpressVPN and NordVPN perform?

ExpressVPN's ability to unblock US Netflix is exceptional. We have tested it on numerous US servers and never had a problem streaming content. The feedback we have had from readers is much the same.

ExpressVPN is also able to unblock other Netflix regional services including UK, Australian, and Canadian Netflix. As well as Netflix, ExpressVPN also works with most other streaming services, including Disney+, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and even Amazon Prime.

NordVPN too is extremely good at unblocking US Netflix. Again, it appears to work on every NordVPN US-based server and it also has no problem unblocking just about every other regional version of Netflix you'd care to mention too.

They're not however so good at unblocking other regions so you'll often find no matter which country you connect to, American Netflix is automatically offered.

It is also able to unblock BBC iPlayer, Sky Go, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime (although they do admit that they can only unblock the US, UK, and Japanese services), as well as every other online streaming platform we tested it on.

Winner: ExpressVPN

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are great at unblocking everything. This is as tight as it gets, but we are going to say ExpressVPN just edges this one.

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12. Torrenting

Using a VPN is essential if you are a fan of torrenting and there several key features most users will be looking for.

Can ExpressVPN and NordVPN manage to meet expectations?

ExpressVPN offers some of the fastest and most consistent speeds around which makes it great for downloading BitTorrent files. It has the leak-protection guarantees torrent fans need too, including a dependable kill switch, and a trustworthy no user logs promise.

A lot of VPNs direct torrent fans to specific servers that have been optimised for torrenting. Not so with ExpressVPN.

They allow torrenting across their entire server network so you can choose any server you like and still torrent files with confidence.

NordVPN also ticks all the boxes for BitTorrent users. It has a no user logs promise, a useful kill switch and other leak protection features, and connections speeds that even beat ExpressVPN.

They are however one of those VPNs that encourages users to connect to certain servers which have been optimised for downloading BitTorrent files.

There are a lot of these servers available, but it still doesn't give users the same level of flexibility as ExpressVPN offers.

Winner: ExpressVPN

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are excellent for downloading BitTorrent files but just because they allow it on every server, ExpressVPN is the winner here.

13. Price

It's all very well talking about speeds, features, and encryption, but for a lot of people, the biggest single factor in their choice of VPN is the price.

No-one wants to pay over the odds for anything and while there are no VPNs out there that will cost you more than a few pounds a month, what is the price difference between ExpressVPN and NordVPN?

ExpressVPN has a reputation for being fairly expensive and there is no denying that it does cost more than a lot of its direct competitors.

The best price currently available for ExpressVPN at the time of writing is their one year deal. This comes with an additional three months free coverage and costs a total of £84.53 – or £5.64 a month.

Other available packages are a six-month deal for £50.70 (£8.45 a month) or a one-month contract for £10.95.

ExpressVPN and NordVPN price

In contrast, NordVPN has long been known for being one of the most affordable premium VPNs on the market.

Their best current offer is a 3-year deal which is currently available for an incredible £96.74. That's just £2.69 a month.

Their one-year deal is £64.59 (£5.38 a month) and there is also a two year deal for £92.22 (£3.84 a month). A one-month contract will set you back £9.20.

Winner: NordVPN

No matter how long you want to sign up for, NordVPN is always cheaper than ExpressVPN and their 3-year deal is one of the most economical of any VPN currently available. NordVPN is the clear winner here.

14. Payments & Refunds

NordVPN might be cheaper but how about the payment methods and refund options that these two VPNs offer their customers?

ExpressVPN accepts payment using a wide variety of methods, including all the major credit cards, PayPal, and a vast range of other online payment methods.

For those who want a more anonymous account, Bitcoin payments are also permitted and the only information you need to share to open an account is a valid email address and your chosen payment method.

ExpressVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee to all its customers which means you risk nothing by signing up as you can claim everything back within that period if you aren't completely satisfied.

NordVPN also lets users pay in a variety of different ways. All major credit cards are welcome as are Apple Pay, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, and a variety of major cryptocurrencies.

Unfortunately, they are no longer accepting payment via PayPal.

There is also a 30-day money-back guarantee for all new subscribers making a NordVPN subscription a risk-free option too.

Winner: ExpressVPN

I'm not a fan of Paypal but like it or not it's still one of the most widely used payment methods. NordVPN not accepting it is a serious disadvantage.

15. Value

Value is a very subjective measurement and is dependent on what you are looking for from your VPN and which of these two great providers ticks the right boxes for you.

For the purposes of this guide, we are simply going to compare whether ExpressVPN or NordVPN offers the best value for money to their subscribers.

ExpressVPN does cost a little more than NordVPN, but there is no denying it is one of the finest VPNs on the market right now.

It has won many of the categories in this guide and feedback from customers suggests a considerable level of satisfaction. There is no doubt ExpressVPN offers superb value for money.

But if there is any VPN that runs ExpressVPN close across the huge range of categories we have deployed in this comparison, it is NordVPN. It has also won its fair share of categories and those it has lost have all been close-run things.

But when it comes to price, NordVPN is the clear winner. Their two and three-year deals require users to commit to a longer subscription, but they also make a premium VPN available at a truly budget price.

Winner: ExpressVPN

It's a very close competition almost to the point you're unable to distinguish.

However, ExpressVPN just pips this one and would be our recommended choice.

Conclusion: ExpressVPN

We have dug down deep into both ExpressVPN and NordVPN to compare these two outstanding VPNs across 15 of the most important categories that you should be considering when choosing a VPN.

ExpressVPN came out on top when comparing encryption, reliability, streaming, torrenting and more.

NordVPN bested them for security, servers, speeds, simultaneous connections and price.

We were unable to separate ExpressVPN and NordVPN in some categories.

With seven won categories for ExpressVPN, five for NordVPN and three drawn, it was a close contest.

Overall ExpressVPN is our winner.

But the message that we hope most of our readers will take away is that these are two exceptional VPNs. Both offer a fantastic level of service and rightly have great customer satisfaction ratings.

Ultimately, the decision about which of these two VPNs is right for you is a subjective one and we hope this comprehensive guide will help you to make an informed decision.

Whichever one you ultimately choose, we are confident you won't regret it.

 

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David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 3 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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