ExpressVPN Review

Intro

In the Wild West of VPNs, it’s hard to know who you can trust, and who might just try and sell off your data to marketers as soon as you’ve turned your back.

That’s why it’s nice to have providers like ExpressVPN out there, who not only maintain clear and open logging policies that all their users can find for themselves, but also dedicate time, money, and resources to helping further the cause of personal privacy rights in all areas where it matters most.

But a strong reputation for privacy isn’t enough to make a VPN package complete. As always, we look for software that has the full combo, with everything from an intuitive desktop app to fast servers and everything in between.

Does ExpressVPN bring the heat from every side? Read on in our in-depth review to find out!

Checkout and Install Process

expressvpn checkout and install process credit card

To get rolling on this review, we had to start by signing up for a one month, $12.95 subscription to the service via the company’s website. Once at checkout we were given the option to pay through a number of different services, including:

Credit Cards:

  • Visa
  • Mastercard
  • American Express
  • Diners Club
  • Visa Electron
  • Delta
  • JCB

Other:

  • Paypal
  • Bitcoin
  • Alipay
  • Mint
  • WebMoney
  • UnionPay
  • GiroPay
  • Interac
  • FanaPay
  • OneCard

ExpressVPN gives users quite a few different compatible platforms to install their program on as well, and offers one of the most extensive lists we’ve seen thus far. These options include:

  • Windows
  • Mac
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Linux
  • Blackberry (..well someone had to)
  • Chrome
  • Routers

After we got through the checkout process via credit card, the download and installation process is where ExpressVPN really earned the “Express” part of its name. All told, it was roughly two minutes from the download to the time we were connected to the most local server in Seattle, with everything working in proper order after only a few brief mouse clicks.

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We did have to take a slight pit stop to install the ExpressVPN TAP adapter in the Device Manager, but this is standard for almost every VPN out there these days.

That said, if you’re installing on a computer where you don’t have Administrator rights to clear the installation of a new device, you might want to reconsider ExpressVPN and go with an option like SaferVPN instead.

User Experience

ExpressVPN wastes no time getting installed and running on Windows 10, once you have it booted the UI is about as basic and straight to the point as they come.

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We did have to take a slight pit stop to install the ExpressVPN TAP adapter in the Device Manager, but this is standard for almost every VPN out there these days.

Front and center you’ll see a big, circular power button, one that glows green and morphs the background into a shield when the protection is turned on. Personally I’m a sucker for little aesthetic flourishes like these, and think that they both add to the user friendliness experience while also conveying a message of strength to users who may not be as familiar with the product as others.

expressvpn user experience on

The options available in the ExpressVPN settings menu were slightly more extensive than what we saw from SaferVPN, but not by much. One standout is the choice to include an internet kill switch, which automatically cuts off your connection to the internet whenever ExpressVPN detects that you’ve lost communication with their servers.

This prevents any chance for the outside web to read your true IP address while you’re using ExpressVPN, which can be handy in any situation where protecting your online identity is paramount. Another bonus option was the toggle which let you continue to access files and folders on the local network, even if you’re connected through a separate IP at the time.

expressvpn user experience server locater

Performance and Speed

It’s in that server window where you’ll choose from one of the 136 cities the company has servers in, in 87 countries all around the planet.

safervpn performance and speed 1

Unlike SaferVPN, fortunately ExpressVPN lets you get a little more specific than just “somewhere vaguely on the West Coast” when choosing your server, which is great if you’re only trying to ghost your IP in a local country and want the fastest speed possible as the top priority.

In our speed testing on a simultaneous 1GB up/down fiber optic line from Portland, Oregon, we connected to four different servers offered by ExpressVPN from all from different corners of the globe, and specifically in the cities of LA, New York, Singapore and London. Each server test was run five times at specific intervals to see how the bandwidth was affected during off-peak hours (6AM local), peak (9PM local), and once more on a Monday at 9PM PST, which is the busiest day for VPN providers collectively.

On ExpressVPN’s website, the company says they have servers operating in 87 countries around the world, which are spread out in a way to give just about any region a node that’s 1000 miles away or less.

ExpressVPN boasts a lot of servers for just about anyone who needs to find one close to their home country, but how did they perform in our real world tests?

expressvpn performance speedtest

Eh, not too great, but not all that bad either. Upload speeds with ExpressVPN always held steady, but on average we experienced roughly 85% speed loss when connecting to local servers like New York City. And as much I’d like to say I was able to test speeds on closer servers, unfortunately actually getting connected to the server I wanted to be on was anything but a simple task.

Often, I like to test from the closest location in Seattle or Portland to get a surface understanding of what kind of speed we’re working with on any give service. Unfortunately every time I tried to connect to the Seattle server, I would end up in Delaware instead. Both WhatIsMyIPAddress and WhatIsMyIP saw me in Delaware, however ExpressVPN’s own IP location tool put me in Seattle.

Next, when we tried to get connected to a New York server, What Is My IP first tagged us in Wyoming while we were supposedly connected to NYC. Then after we let ExpressVPN’s SmartLocation service take a whack at it, the next consecutive test put us somewhere in rural Georgia.

expressvpn performance ip address5

On the third try we got a little closer, this time making a pit stop in New Jersey, but we still weren’t technically in the state of New York, nor in New York city where we really wanted to be. On the fourth try we got booted back to Wyoming, and gave up altogether.

Because we couldn’t get ExpressVPN to actually connect to its LA server, we weren’t able to run any accurate tests in that region as we did with choices like SaferVPN.

Of the tests we could run (like NYC off-peak at 6AM), our average download speed went from 445.39Mbps to just 67.40Mbps, while the upload went from 931.11Mbps down to 165.68Mbps

ExpressVPN’s changes to your IP would also linger around after you had already supposedly disabled the service, like continuing to connect from New York or just plain cutting out my connection until I killed the program or restarted my computer.

expressvpn performance ip address3

This didn’t continue once we moved to other servers like San Jose, CA, but both Seattle and New York servers never seemed to land exactly where you expect them to. As such, the results we got in tests like IPLeak and What Is My IP Address varied quite a bit, depending on the server we were connecting to at the time.

Mobile App

expressvpn mobile app setup1

When I first installed the ExpressVPN app on my Windows machine, I thought to myself “Hm, that’s an odd shape for a desktop app”, but after seeing the iOS app it all started to click together.

The iOS app is just about identical to the desktop version, with all the same controls (or lack thereof) afforded to you in finger-tappable form.

The minimalistic, functional grey-on-grey color scheme makes its second appearance, accented by the familiar green glow of the VPN’s power button we first saw in the desktop version. Almost everything is the same, down to the green shield that pops up when you turn it on.

expressvpn mobile app setup2

All the same settings on the desktop version make a reappearance here as well, as well as the option to try and reconnect after a dropped connection, as well as to change your security protocol between OpenVPN over IPSec, UDP, or TDP.

expressvpn mobile app performance1
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Overall, mobile performance was solid while browsing through mobile sites like Facebook, Google News, and CNN.com, and we barely noticed any interruptions while texting, however the straight speeds and download performance we saw wasn’t as great as we’d hoped.

Security and Encryption

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To protect their users, ExpressVPN offers several different encryption protocols including OpenVPN (UDP and TCP supported), L2TP-IPSec, SSTP, and PPTP.

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This is standard for the industry, and ExpressVPN SSL protects all its traffic using military-grade 256-bit AES encryption. They also use what’s known as symmetric data-channel encryption, which according to the site’s own page on the subject is a system “...in which the key is negotiated using the elliptic curve Diffie–Hellman key exchange.

The ExpressVPN server and your VPN app use clever mathematics to negotiate and verify a secret key that is then used to encrypt the data for the entire session. Once you reconnect, a new key is used. This enables perfect forward secrecy, meaning it is impossible to decrypt old VPN sessions even if your computer or the VPN server were suddenly compromised.

expressvpn review customer service blog1

All this ensures that your communications will be secure from both ends of the pipeline, and while if you have a virus or keylogger already installed secretly on your computer there won’t be much that a VPN can do to protect your information, as long as you surf smart and safe while the connection is linked you can be sure that no personal identifying information will ever be linked back to you or your home IP.

Extras

expressvpn extra features vpn router

Like other VPNs, ExpressVPN can be installed on a home or business router, in order to unlock dozens of extra benefits that you won’t see if you only install their app on your other devices one by one.

This is an area where ExpressVPN really scores extra points, because unlike other sites that will just try to upsell you on a router they added custom firmware to, ExpressVPN actually guides you on how to flash a compatible router if you already have one, or sends you to a link where you can buy at the normal price and install DD-WRT on your own.

Although I could take up a few paragraphs extolling all the benefits a VPN-enabled router will get you, I’ll let ExpressVPN’s handy infographics take care of the heavy lifting instead:

expressvpn review extra features infographic

For referrals of friends or family who sign up under your name, ExpressVPN will award you a 30-day pass on top of your current subscription. This means if you paid upfront for one month you’ll have two, a 6-month will get you 7, and so on down the line.

expressvpn review extra features referrals

ExpressVPN has a feature called the “Smart Location” finder, which will automatically connect you to the server that it thinks will give you the best speeds.

expressvpn extra features smart location1

We tinkered around with this a bit, and for some reason although we were testing in Portland (with a server only 300 miles away in Seattle), Smart Location would only connect us to servers in New York City, where speeds were anywhere between 20-50% slower.

Customer Support

expressvpn customer support contact us1

Read any other review of ExpressVPN’s customer department service, and they’ll all say the same thing I’m about to: ExpressVPN is the industry leader (by a factor of a few miles or so) when it comes to how attentive and knowledgeable their support staff can be.

Unlike most other services which differ Live Chat sessions to offshore call center farms, ExpressVPN uses technically skilled people who can help you troubleshoot any issue, and will walk you through the process if you don’t know how to change certain settings on your own.

expressvpn customer support faq page2

Both the Live Chat and email conversations I had with representatives showed their knowledge of the product, and the follow up transcripts that were automatically sent to my email afterward were just the cherry on top.

expressvpn customer support live chat1

If you have a problem at any time of night or day, 9 times out of 10 you’ll have it solved within a matter of a half hour or less, using only the Live Chat option available on ExpressVPN’s home page.

Fine Print: Privacy Policy and TOS

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ExpressVPN is a company that was founded eight years ago in 2009, and operates exclusively out of the British Virgin Islands. The company has continually provided financial support to independent internet freedom organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Internet Defense League, and Fight for the Future.

About halfway down ExpressVPN’s Terms of Service page, the company lays out in plain English their policy on logging user behavior. The company says it records the following information on its users:

“ExpressVPN does not as a matter of ordinary practice actively monitor user sessions for inappropriate behavior, nor do we maintain direct logs of customers. Internet activities. However, ExpressVPN reserves the right to investigate matters we consider to be violations of these Terms.
We may, but are not obligated to, in our sole discretion, and without notice, remove, block, filter or restrict by any means any materials or information that we consider to be actual or potential violations of the restrictions set forth in these Terms, and any other activities that may subject ExpressVPN or its customers to liability."

The company also dedicates a full page to reminding users of its “Logless VPN” initiative, which proves that you can run an honest VPN service that doesn’t need to sell information to third-parties or marketers in order to keep the lights on.

expressvpn privacy policy

Both the desktop app and the mobile app also allow users to opt out of what the company calls “anonymized analytics”, which is just another term for metadata they use to see how their app is performing and learn how users are interacting with it.

I like that we can opt out of this program with an easy toggle, as some VPNs don’t even offer the option to turn it off, let alone from the settings menu on your smartphone.

expressvpn terms of service logging

ExpressVPN is a company that’s easy to trust based on their track record alone. This is not limited to what they say in their privacy policy, and extends into what they do in the real world that showcases their true dedication to the privacy movement. Electives like their “Future of Privacy” scholarship program, which awarded $4,000 each to high school, undergraduate and graduate students who submitted the winning 600 word essay on various subjects regarding what the next few decades hold for the fight for global privacy rights.

expressvpn terms of service logging2

If you’re a torrent junkie who wants a better way to protect their identity when plundering pirate portals for new content, then ExpressVPN’s “all torrent traffic welcome” policy will definitely be the one for you. Since ExpressVPN has no way to either log or monitor your data, they’ll never know whether or not you’re actually using P2P networks in the first place, getting rid of the problem entirely.

Other efforts like becoming one of the first VPN companies ever to host their own Tor .onion address just cements how obvious it is that the people who run ExpressVPN don’t just care about the privacy of their users, they care about the privacy of all internet denizens as a whole.

Like everything else we’ve experienced with ExpressVPN so far, even cancelling the service went well above and beyond the normal call of duty.

Although things were handled as they normally might be otherwise on another service (going into Account settings and clicking on some form of the word “Cancel”), ExpressVPN would have an answer for every reason you could give for cancelling when the option was highlighted, such as the service being too expensive or it won’t connect properly.

For example if you choose “I can’t connect”, ExpressVPN will send you to a support representative. If you pick “Too expensive”, the cancellation window will offer up alternative ways to pay for the service (like referral programs) before you go.

This is just another small touch in a line of many that put the customer experience at ExpressVPN a cut above the rest.

Cancel and Uninstall Process

Like everything else we’ve experienced with ExpressVPN so far, even cancelling the service went well above and beyond the normal call of duty.

Although things were handled as they normally might be otherwise on another service (going into Account settings and clicking on some form of the word “Cancel”), ExpressVPN would have an answer for every reason you could give for cancelling when the option was highlighted, such as the service being too expensive or it won’t connect properly.

expressvpn cancel and uninstall process

As we mentioned earlier, the process of uninstalling SaferVPN couldn’t have been simpler. To uninstall SaferVPN, all we needed to do was use the uninstall tool that was provided with the setup, seen below:

Within two clicks SaferVPN had completely uninstalled itself, with no traces of the program left behind via unconnected devices or hidden temp files. Similarly, you can also remove the program with the same amount of effort by finding it in Programs and Data on Windows and uninstalling it from there.

Other Reviews

expressvpn other reviews trustpilot

Unfortunately because ExpressVPN only has 14 reviews, it hasn’t scored the best on Trustpilot. Out of those 14 reviews the service got a 6.9 out of 10, with 50% of users scoring ExpressVPN 5 stars, 7.1% of users scoring four stars, 7.1% scored three stars, 28.6% scored two stars, and 7.1% rated one star.

To get a real sense of how the internet community as a whole sees ExpressVPN, instead we took a look at some of the more respectable reviews like those from PCMag, who gave the service a 4-out-of-5 and Editor’s Choice rating. The publication was especially impressed with ExpressVPN’s tolerance of BitTorrent traffic and its simple attractive interface.

Others, like SecureThoughts, gave the service a rave review and scored them at an all time high of 9.5/10 for their fast speeds, great customer service, and refusal to keep any sort of identifying logs on their customers.

Price

expressvpn checkout and install process credit card

ExpressVPN’s higher price per month might scare some users off, but at $12.95 for up to three devices it still remains competitive with mid-tier premium plans at competing sites like VyprVpn. If you’re someone who wants stretch service across more than one platform at a time, this is still going to be a budget option overall.

ExpressVPN offers price breaks at six month subscriptions to bring the monthly price down to $9.99 a month, which is comparable to PureVPN, while its 1-year price breaks down to just $8.32/mo ($99.95 upfront) keep it competitive with CyberGhost and VyprVpn.

ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, though there was no option to try the service free without adding a credit card number first. Generally I like to see at least a 24-hour trial.

For business users, ExpressVPN doesn’t offer up any immediate numbers, but instead will customize a price directly to the needs of your small business, generally depending on the number of devices you plan to use and the kinds of speeds you’re going to expect.

Wrap Up

SaferVPN is not an enthusiast’s VPN service, and it lacks a lot of the deeper customization we like to see from more advanced providers. That said, it makes up for any missing complexity with ultimate simplicity, and a streamlined setup process on both your desktop and mobile device that puts most other competitors to shame.

Its speeds and customer service, however, left a lot to be desired. People can have serious technical issues to deal with at all hours of the night, and it’s important to have a trained support staff available to answer those high level questions at any time of day (if you promise 24/7 service, at least).

If you’re looking for a no-muss, no-fuss VPN experience that never lets you peer too far over the garden wall to see how the sausage is made though, then SaferVPN is the choice for you.

Pros

  • Streamlined easy-to-use app
  • Great connection reliability
  • Fast speeds for the price
  • Decent price
  • Helpful return policy

Cons

  • Can’t select specific server locations beyond region/country
  • Poor live chat support
  • Vague logging policies