NordVPN Review 2017: An honest opinion

NordVPN Review 2017
  • Price
  • Reliability
  • Speed
  • Policy
  • Support

Summary

NordVPN is up there with the very best providers around and is affordable too.

Pros

  •  Windows, Mac, Android & iOS clients, and multi-device capabilities.
  •  Simple and affordable packages.
  •  Numerous servers and locations.
  •  Excellent encryption and security provisions.
  •  30-day money back guarantee and 3-day free test.

Cons

  •  Sometimes suffers from slow speeds.
4.4

NordVPN is a brand owned by TelFinCom, a company based in Panama, which for a VPN provider is a huge asset as there are no mandatory data retention laws there.

It is one of the most established VPN brands on the market and it is not by chance that they have built up such a strong reputation. Their level of service, range of servers, and competitive pricing makes them one of the best all-round VPN providers on the market, as you will see below.

I have been using NordVPN as my primary VPN for a number of months now and this has given me the opportunity to try out all aspects of their service, as well as draw comparisons with some of their competitors.

The Packages:

Let’s begin with the different packages NordVPN offers. As with many VPN providers, they offer three subscriber packages with lower prices available if you are willing to sign up for a longer time period.

The three core NordVPN packages are:

  • Simple: This is a basic one-month plan which will cost users US$11.95 (approximately £9.69).
  • Standard: This is NordVPN’s 6-month plan which is charged at an upfront fee of US$42. This equates to US$7 a month (approximately £5.69) over the course of the package.
  • Best Offer: As the name suggests, this package works out the cheapest on a month-by-month basis. There is an annual charge of US$69, which equates to just US$5.75 a month (approximately £4.66) for the duration of the package.

NordVPN is not alone in pushing their annual package as they are of course keen to get the bigger upfront fee if they can. But the fact remains that at just US$5.75 a month, it really is a deal which offers excellent value for money.

When compared against some of the other top-of-the-market VPN providers, it is as much as $3 or even $4 a month cheaper, which over a year really adds up.

Their ‘Simple’ monthly rolling contract is in comparison rather more expensive when compared to competitors, but this is likely to be to try and persuade users to opt for longer packages.

It also means they NordVPN can claim their ‘Best Offer’ package has a 52% discount; a claim which is slightly disingenuous, but not one that they are alone in making.

They also accept payment using all the usual different methods. Credit card payments can be made using Visa, Mastercard, and American Express cards, while they also accept payments via WebMoney and PayPal. And for those who are particularly privacy-conscious, Bitcoin payments are also accepted too.

In this day and age, most people are looking to sign up to a VPN for the long term, and the only real reason to opt for anything shorter than 6-months is a desire to try out the service before committing.

If you are looking for a ‘try before you buy’ option with NordVPN, there are two options available for you.

Firstly, as with many of their competitors, NordVPN do offer a 30-day money back guarantee. This means that no matter what package you sign up for if you change your mind within the first 30 days, they will return all of your money.

If that isn’t peace of mind enough, there is another option. NordVPN does not actively promote the fact on their website, but they do offer a free 3-day trial for new users.

The best way to find out about this is to contact their customer support directly, but there are a few details hidden around the website if you know where to look.

There are no catches that I have found to this trial. It lasts for exactly 72 hours, after which your account will no longer work unless you do choose a package and make a payment. NordVPN will not hassle you excessively to sign up if you choose not to, and you are also able to delete your account if you choose to.

With both of these options on the table, there is very little reason not to give NordVPN a try for yourself. But keep on reading if you want to know more about the service they offer.

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The Service:

The package I am signed up with is the annual one, although there is no reason to believe that the service quality will differ if you opt for a different one.

NordVPN’s service is available using no fewer than four VPN protocols; IKEv2/IPsec, PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, and OpenVPN. This is a pretty comprehensive range and is on a par with all of their nearest competitors.

But how does the actual VPN service match up?

Custom Software & Apps

NordVPN is available to use on multiple devices. They offer tailored software and apps for Windows, OS X, iOS and Android operating systems and the service can also be used on Linux, Blackberry, and many more operating systems. In fact, it is safe to say that NordVPN can be used on pretty much any device you would care to mention.

My usage has been through their Windows and iOS apps and it is to these that I will be referring throughout this review. Both apps offer a clean design and extremely user-friendly interface.

NordVPN Windows Jan 17

The Windows Software can be downloaded with a single click. It offers as a home page a simplified map of the world with markers indicating which countries host NordVPN servers. A single click on a marker will see the app connecting to a server in that country.

For those users who want to pick individual servers, the tab at the top marked Servers will bring up an alphabetised list of countries. Each of these has a drop-down menu letting you choose individual servers based on information including load percentages and geographical distance.

The third tab is called Settings and offers a range of different options which can be activated by flicking a simple on/off switch. All of these have a clear description of what they are so even novice users should be able to make sense of everything.

NordVPN Windows Settings Jan 17

The My Account section of the settings page offers basic details of your account (nothing sensitive) as well as the option to change your password. There is also a system log, which keeps track of your NordVPN session. This is automatically deleted when your session ends.

The iOS app has slightly less functionality but is equally straightforward to use. The home page is again a map, with the list of servers coming here under the tab entitled Countries.

NordVPN iOS App Jan 17

In the top right of the screen is a menu button which opens up access to settings, customer support and a large power button telling you if and where your VPN is connected to.

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Custom Features

NordVPN offers a number of unique features which are worth touching on in a little detail here as they really are what makes them stand out from the pack. Let me quickly run down them one by one.

Multi-Device Connection: With NordVPN, you can simultaneously connect with up to six different devices at any one time, more than most of their competitors.

I have only come across one or two other VPN providers which offers this facility and in a modern age when we are all armed with a smartphone, tablet, and laptop (at least) it is extremely useful and a little unexpected for the price.

There are plenty of devices supported by NordVPN too including routers and games consoles. In fact, there are very few connected devices that you cannot use NordVPN on.

Kill Switch: A kill switch function may not be completely unique to NordVPN but it is nonetheless not as commonplace as it might be, and also extremely useful.

Adding applications to the NordVPN kill switch list means that should your VPN connection drop for some reason, these apps will automatically stop functioning. It is a great feature for anyone living in a country facing state surveillance and censorship, as well as those who are just privacy conscious.

SmartPlay: NordVPNs SmartPlay is, as far as I am aware, unique to them. It claims to be the ultimate geo-restriction evading tool. As they say on their Windows App, “just turn the switch on and we will unlock any streaming service, no matter which server you are using.”

I had cause to make use of this not long after starting to use NordVPN as it was then that the BBC iPlayer began to block VPNs in the same way that Netflix has before. After a panicked conversation with the Customer support team, I was advised to switch on SmartPlay and try again, using a server located outside the UK.

I did so and hey-presto, the iPlayer was working again. I should put a few caveats in here. SmartPlay does work, but it isn’t perfect. I had to try a few different servers before having any success, but I was told this might be the case. It can also be a bit slower than a usual VPN connection, but whilst I have had a few buffering issues, they haven’t yet managed to spoil my enjoyment of the shows I like to watch.

NordVPN has kept the precise details of how SmartPlay works a closely guarded secret, and that is probably wise. But for me, it has proved to be an excellent and invaluable feature.

Usage specific servers: At the top of the server list, ahead of Albania (the first country by alphabetical order), users will see a list of different types of server offered by NordVPN. Some of these offer different types of encryption (about which more below), but others offer servers tailored for specific usage.

These include servers dedicated to P2P downloading and two dedicated ultra fast TV servers. These are located in the USA and the UK and are hugely popular. But with high bandwidth they are still a great bet for anyone looking to stream video content from either of those two countries.

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Server Locations

After what has so far been a glowing review, some of you are probably expecting there to be a catch or a downside coming up soon.

Well, sorry to disappoint you but it is certainly not in this section because the number of locations and servers on offer from NordVPN is up there with the best.

They offer servers in a total of 57 countries right around the world, with a whopping 726 servers available in total.

This includes a generous 47 UK-based servers and several hundred US servers. But there are also servers available in more remote locations too, such as Taiwan, Latvia, and Albania.

The breadth of server locations means that no NordVPN user should find themselves unable to find a connection. With most countries, there is more than one server available. And if you are having trouble streaming content, their SmartPlay facility should make it possible to stream no matter where in the world your server is based.

All servers and locations are available to every user, regardless of which subscription package you opt for, and this means that all NordVPN users have access to one of the biggest ranges of VPN servers available anywhere.

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The Speeds:

OK, so I admit it, there does have to be a negative in this review somewhere and I am going to put it right here in the speeds section.

But don’t click away just yet, because while NordVPN does, at times, have speed issues this is not necessarily a reason not to use them.

For this review, I ran speed tests on several of their servers and the pattern I saw was pretty much ubiquitous. There is a noticeable decrease in speed when running NordVPN.

However, on my average internet connection, this drop was not significant enough to affect the opening of any websites. Even sites which are heavy in media content opened just as quickly the majority of the time.

However, I have at times encountered delays and buffering issues when streaming content. In my experience, this can be easily remedied by switching to another server, but it is nonetheless annoying, and something that NordVPN should be looking to address.

NordVPN claim that any speed deficiencies experienced by users is as a result of strong security features they offer as standard. However, there are other VPNs using the same encryption don’t encounter such speed issues.

Speed is a vital factor for a VPN, and it is an area where NordVPN has room for improvement.

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The Encryption, Policies & Support:

Encryption

As I mentioned earlier, NordVPN’s service is available on four VPN protocols; IKEv2/IPsec, PPTP, L2TP/ IPSec, and OpenVPN.

For OpenVPN, NordVPN makes use of AES-256-SHA encryption, while for IKEv2/IPsec they use either AES-256-GCM, SHA2-384, or PFS 3072-bit.

They also offer a unique ‘double’ encrypting process too. This means that on their ‘Double VPN’ servers, all the data passes through two servers, with each one encrypting it (this is likely to be a factor which affects the speeds a bit for those users!)

Policies

As you might be able to guess from their dedication to strong encryption, NordVPN is also a great option for the privacy-conscious user too.

As I have already noted, being based in Panama means they fall under the jurisdiction of Panamanian law, which doesn’t require the retention of any data. As a result, NordVPN is not required to comply with any of the intrusive data access laws in the US, UK and elsewhere. They have a guaranteed no logs policy.

And there are more privacy features too. They offer Shared IP Addresses for users, which means more than one user is using the same IP Address. The result of this is that it is pretty much impossible to track individual user behaviour.

They also have personally owned DNS servers, which means NordVPN has total control of their user’s data. This means a guarantee from them that user data is not retained is worth more than one from many other VPN providers.

Other privacy features which NordVPN offers includes dedicated anti-DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) servers, which can protect those users who are particularly vulnerable to DDoS attacks.

And they also offer three ‘Tor over VPN’ servers. These servers, which are located in the Netherlands, Latvia, and Sweden, offer a combined VPN and Tor security for those who really are totally committed to online security.

Support

NordVPN has a range of customer support options, all of which have proved to be very satisfactory during my time using the service.

There is a 24/7 live chat facility available and prominently positioned on their website. Those operating the service are polite, well-informed, and helpful and I am yet to go to them with a problem that they couldn’t solve or a question they couldn’t answer.

In a rather nice touch, this facility is also available through the NordVPN Facebook page, or if you prefer via email (All of the emails I have sent have received a response within half an hour, even if sent late at night).

For those not sold on 24/7 live chat support (why wouldn’t you be? It is the future!) NordVPN also offer a regular ticketing system and there is also a huge number of articles and FAQs available on the website with solutions to almost any problem you can think of.

There are perhaps other VPNs that offer a greater number of different routes to customer support, but for me, NordVPN has everything you are ever likely to need.

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The Verdict:

It is no fluke that NordVPN is one of the highest regarded VPNs on the market. They offer a comprehensive and highly effective VPN service and their fees are extremely reasonable too.

The one downside I have identified is speed, which, as a result of NordVPN’s strong security provisions, can at times lag below their rivals. For those users who want a VPN for such data-intensive tasks as online gaming, this could potentially prove to be problematic for you.

But that aside, there is nothing else to fault NordVPN on. They offer some of the best encryption and security provisions around, have one of the biggest ranges of servers available from any VPN provider, and have a great customer service provision too.

Their prices are also amongst the best around and for me, the combination of low prices and strong service makes NordVPN one of the best ‘value-for-money’ VPNs around.

I have signed up for a year, and whilst I will no doubt be trialling more VPNs in 2017, for the time being at least, I am happy to stick with NordVPN as my principal provider.

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