NordVPN is a stylish, sleekly-designed VPN that’s made for the modern professional, someone who wants a VPN that’s honest, to the point, and runs on a platform of open availability for all.
But as we’ve mentioned before, it takes a whole lot more than one or two pieces of the puzzle to make the entire thing fit together. NordVPN may look great, but how does it really perform once you put its feet to the fire?
Read on in our NordVPN review to find out!
Checkout and Install Process
To start our time with NordVPN, we went through the process of signing up for a one month subscription for $11.95, which is definitely on the pricey side of things when it comes to VPNs. You also have the option to sign up for 6 months, yearly, and two-year plans if you want to.
To pay for these subscriptions, NordVPN accepts the following methods:
- Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
- Others: Mint, Subway Gift Card, CVS Gift Card, Dollar General, oBucks
This is right in the sweet spot when it comes to the number of accepted payment methods, and we like to see that the option for gift cards is open too if you really want to stack on the extra anonymity between you and the provider.
The payment page itself was exceptionally easy to use, as everything was parsed out in a way that made sense as you were progressing through the page.
NordVPN gives users a huge number of available platforms to install their app on, these options include:
- Windows XP and above
- OSX 10.8 and above
- iOS 8.0 and above
- Android 2.2 or newer
- Linux (Ubuntu 12.04 or above)
- Raspberry Pi
- Windows Phone
If there’s a platform you can think of, NordVPN probably supports it in one fashion or another.
From the time we hit the download button to getting live on the United States server, NordVPN took around four minutes of our time with a slight stop to install its own TAP adapter
Of all the VPNs I’ve reviewed so far (and there have been a lot of them), I’d say that on aesthetics alone, NordVPN wins the beauty contest for being able to walk that thin line between user-friendly and user-functional so elegantly.
There’s actually quite a few similarities between NordVPN’s main window and what we saw on TunnelBear, however Nord just puts a slightly more professional bend on things to class the joint up a bit. Everything is laid out in plain black text on a soft blue-and-white color scheme, evoking the “icey” theme that goes along with the “Nordic” part of NordVPN’s name. Countries are cartoonishly proportioned, dotted with trees/mountains, and out on the oceans you can even see a few boats sailing by.
At the top of the main window, which houses a world map by default, is the big connection toggle, garnished with a power symbol right on the front. Here you can either click on the country you want to connect to, or open up the server list and search more specifically by region instead.
When opening the server list, the first thing you’ll see are a few use cases to choose from, i.e.- “P2P”, “Anti-DDoS”, “Ultra Fast TV” etc. Each one connects you to a country that is known for being lenient on users of those particular services.
The rest of the list is populated with country names that have plus signs next to them, which you click to find the full number of servers in that region. Somewhat annoyingly however, there are no city names to choose from here, only the amount of distance the server is from your current location.
Using rough estimates and a whole lot of searches on Google Maps I was finally able to translocate myself into a New York server (which we used for testing), but as of now NordVPN doesn’t offer any central way of searching by city and connecting accordingly.
(You’ll notice there are some delays on the times from speed testing on Nord, this is because we had to try around 10-15 servers before we finally landed on the right one each time).
If you want to control NordVPN from the taskbar, your only option there is to click the “Quick Connect” button from the menu selection, and that’s about it. You won’t be able to navigate any other servers from here, or manage your connection beyond disconnecting once it’s live.
For as beautiful as the app was, it wasn’t always as reliable as we would have liked, and the tiniest map scroll taken too fast could be enough to crash the app into a restart. That said, when it did crash the app was able to easily rebound on its own, and actually included a bug submission report as the first window once the program launched again.
Given that NordVPN is still in beta I’m willing to forgive small stability slips like this, and it’s good to see the company is always interested in gathering user feedback on how they can improve the service overall.
Performance and Speed
In our speed testing on a simultaneous 1GB up/down fiber optic line from Portland, Oregon, we connected to different servers offered by NordVPN all from different corners of the globe, and specifically in the cities of: New York, Singapore, LA and London.
NordVPN boasts a network of 741 server locations in 58 different countries worldwide, one of the larger networks we’ve seen thus far. The company claims to have specialized servers built exclusively for the purposes of streaming or P2P sharing, as well as enhanced anonymity and avoiding DDoS attacks.
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.
In New York City during peak hours at 9PM EST, we found that off a base average speed of 306.11Mbps download and 906.61Mbps upload, the link through NordVPN brought our average speeds down to only 71.58Mbps down, and 26.90Mbps up.
That’s a decrease of 76.61% on the download side, which is right in the middle of our fastest VPN (PIA at 51%) and our slowest, TunnelBear, with a slowdown of . In our tests the highest average speed was awarded to the LA server off-peak with Mbps down.
The Windows 10 app itself was very snappy to respond in most situations, connecting to the NYC server took around 13 seconds, and when disconnecting there was a brief, barely-millisecond moment before we were back on our regular IP.
Next were our connection integrity tests, which were run on DNSLeakTest.com, DNSLeak.com, WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, and IPLeak.net. In these tests, NordVPN scored top marks with perfect score of zero errors across the board.
Finally, we give every VPN we review a shot to take our “best of the worst” challenge, which is a single speed test run on the closest possible server to our home base in Portland. While normally this would net the fastest time, the trick is we run it on Monday at 9PM PST, otherwise known as the worst possible commute hour (and day) for VPN networks on the West Coast.
On that test, NordVPN had servers available in Seattle to connect to, which is a little less than 175 miles away from Portland. For whatever reason though, after we chose Seattle, Nord saw fit to connect us to a server in Chicago instead. Even so, we still got a decent reading out of this link, locking down a result of 126.07Mbps download alongside a 179.10Mbps upload score, off a base speed of 734.10Mbps down and 722.81Mbps up.
On iOS 10, the NordVPN mobile app bears an almost identical resemblance to the Windows 10 desktop version, with all the same cartoony accents making a reappearance here in vertical form. To connect to a server, you can either: use the “Quick Connect” button placed right in the middle of the app, scroll to the country you want to connect to and choose it on the map, or go to the full server list to find one based on distance to your current location.
When we were scrolling through the mobile app’s settings it was nice to see that the company has carried over a few of the same configuration options we saw originally, as well as added one more that the desktop version doesn’t even have.
The first is the Kill Switch, which stops any traffic going over the line if the VPN detects that it’s bee disconnected. This prevents you from accidentally navigating to a page or downloading a file without you protection activated, and is a must have on mobile devices where things like loss of service on your LT network can mean that your VPN tunnel needs to be reset, exposing you (however temporarily) to the web with your true identity.
The next was the “Smart-Reconnect” option which, depending on how the health of your connection is, will either select the server you chose or automatically reconnect you to a more reliable line. This will prevent security leaks if any are detected, and give you a more private experience overall.
The entire NordVPN knowledgebase is accessible directly from the app, and is formatted in a mobile-friendly way so that you can quickly get to the information you need without waiting for full-sized desktoppages to load.
Lastly, NordVPN offers IKEv2, OpenVPN, L2TP, and PPTP to its mobile users on the encryption front, which is just about as many as we need to feel safe and secure while browsing from our phones.
Security and Encryption
On its service, NordVPN offers several encryption options including: PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP and IPSec, all of which can be activated at your choosing on the Windows 10 app.
PIA uses an OpenVPN AES-256-SHA SSL encryption to protect your tunnel, which to me and just about any user out there should be enough to keep the majority of your information free from prying eyes.
In the server list that pops up from the main page, NordVPN offers the chance to connect to what they call “DoubleVPN”, which will randomly connect your device to two VPNs in a single chain, thus obfuscating the identity of the first and giving you yet another layer of added protection on top of both.
Somewhat oddly, NordVPN has left a page live on their site for an extra feature that’s only referred to as “Encrypted Chat” in the Sitemap. Once you click into the page you’re greeted with an even stranger message, which seems to jump around from topic to topic and cuts off in the middle of other sentences:
“NordVPN encrypted chat is a great free tool to anyone who cares about their privacy online. Encrypted, password- protected chat cannot be read by anyone except you and your companion. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience. We are currently making improvements to this feature...
Other than that there really aren’t many (if any) extra features to talk about, with only a few scant bonuses like a system log that keeps track of all your activity to set NordVPN apart from the rest of the crowd.
Without a contact number or live chat option to be found, the only chance you’ll have to get in contact with a support representative is through the company’s Submit a Ticket page.
The submit a ticket option shares a similar feature with PureVPN’s own support network, where after you type your subject of the inquiry into the necessary box, it automatically runs a search of that term through the knowledgebase to see if it can find an answer there first.
After asking a question about specific server connections, we first got an immediate response from the auto-reply feature. About 30 minutes after that a specialist got to us, who responded to the problem in clear English with an obvious knowledge of the subject we were asking about.
Overall I’d rate the support quality of the response we got as very high, but again it’s difficult to give perfect marks when there isn’t an option for 24/7 chat. Given that NordVPN is still in the beta phase I’m willing to change the score on this to reflect the addition of live chat, but for now the company has to take a hit on this section in particular.
For the more hands-on among us, NordVPN offers a huge number of available tutorials that customers can use to learn how to install and manage their VPN on every platform from Windows XP to the Raspberry Pi.
On top of that, NordVPN also runs a fairly active blog and a community board, both of which serve to better inform their users about the news in privacy and leave a space for them to suggest features for future product updates.
With their home servers based out of Panama, NordVPN can guarantee the validity of their no-log policy, as Panama is a country which does not require VPN providers to keep, log, or track any information on their customers unless they voluntarily choose to do so.
“From the moment NordVPN.com user turns on NordVPN.com software, their internet data becomes encrypted. It becomes invisible to governments, ISPs, third party snoopers and even NordVPN.com. Further, we have a strict no-logs policy when it comes to seeing user activity online: being based in Panama, which is internet friendly country and does not require data storage or reporting, we are empowered to deny any third party requests. Period.”
I love to see this kind of easily understandable language that lays out their policy in plain, simple English. When a company (looking at you Hotspot Shield) tries to cover up their actual logging policies around a bunch of legalese and layman gibberish, you know there’s something else going on there that they don’t want you to know about.
“At NordVPN, our team of mathematicians and technologists wake up every morning with one core goal – to keep the Internet as free as possible. This is our passion and why we come to work every day. We strive to provide absolutely uncompromised safety and privacy on the Web. We make sure no one sees what you do online because they shouldn’t. Nor should we, for that matter.”
When it comes to your email address and payment data, there are a few hangups to be found:
“E-mail address. We ask for your username and password as part of your registration. This ensures that we can communicate with you when we have an exciting announcements to make, service updates to advise or errors to report.
Payment data. Although we encourage our users to pay for NordVPN.com service with cryptocurrency to give you the maximum level of security, for your convenience we offer other payment options which give you refund convenience.”
NordVPN says they use it to “inform you about exciting announcements”, which to me sounds like four words too many to say “spam”. On the side of payment data though, if you’re really concerned about how Nord might be able to use a credit card to tie you back to your account, you can always load up a Bitcoin wallet (or a Subway card, for that matter) to protect your anonymity back to front.
Finally, NordVPN is a company that not only allows you to torrent, they just about downright encourage it with the addition of their “P2P”-specific server that rests at the top of the first server list you see. The company will let you torrent on any one of its servers, though the one it recommends using first is usually best if protecting your privacy is key above all else when you’re accessing those types of networks.
Cancel and Uninstall Process
To uninstall the NordVPN beta client, we only needed to go into the Start menu, find the icon, right-click and choose “Uninstall” from the drop-down menu that appeared. From here NordVPN opened up its own uninstaller which could be used to Modify, Repair, or Remove the app for good.
Once uninstalled, all traces of the app disappeared completely, and there were no leftover TAP adapters still in our Device Manager after a fresh restart.
To cancel our subscription, we only needed to enter the “Payment” section of our account page on NordVPN.com, and choose the option for “Cancel Subscription”, seen below:
From here NordVPN asked a few questions about why we were cancelling our subscription, and after that it was confirmed that our plan would stay live until 30-days from the original date we signed up.
Although we have a few of our own axes to grind with NordVPN (get it, because Vikings), we were still surprised to see it rank with one of the lowest scores on TrustPilot.com yet, at a mere 6.1 out of 10 with 26 reviews. Admittedly 26 reviews probably skewed the sample size a little unfairly, but of those users many on the site have said the company’s customer service was too slow to respond, however that was nothing compared to how slow the download speeds were that followed.
The result is especially shocking when you see the praise that the company gets from the rest of the review community, like BestVPN who gave the service a perfect 5/5. PCMag followed that up with a 4.5/5, dinging the service only just barely for its slower download speeds and poor ad-blocking performance.
When you sign up to NordVPN, you have a choice of a number of different plan durations, all of which offer their own benefits when it comes to price breaks and value over time.
With a standard plan you’ll get access to run six devices simultaneously, however there is a limit when it comes to the number of devices from one plan that can be connected to a server at a time. The company offers a no-risk three day free trial of the service, and if that’s not enough time to get your feet wet and really see what the VPN is capable of, you can always take advantage of the 30-day money back guarantee.
The prices we found on the current offering of plans was as follows:
- $11.95/mo for a 30-day plan
- $7.00/mo for a 6-month plan ($42.00 upfront)
- $5.75/mo for an annual plan ($69.00 upfront)
- Or $4/mo for the two-year plan, billed as $96.00 upfront
At the time of this writing, NordVPN was offering a special which brought the two-year price down to $3.29 per month, or $79.99 upfront.
NordVPN is a strong contender for one of the best VPNs you can use today, but there are just a few small problems (and one big one) that prevent it from being able to take its rightful throne.
I love the UI on both the Windows app and in mobile, and everything runs as tight as a drum on both platforms. Thanks to a residence in Panama their no-log policy is one of the best in the business, and their encouragement of free and open use of P2P and torrents are just the cherry on top.
But, with all that said there are still some glaring issues here that keep me from recommending NordVPN flat out. Namely, slow connection speeds on servers further away from our first node, as well as a lack of specific server selection, which often left us guessing whether we were about to end up in LA or Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Because NordVPN is still technically in the beta phase, I’m willing to give these few minor grievances a pass for now, with the hopes that the service can improve its speeds and add a few more extra features in the near future.
- Transparent logging policy and no-log status
- Great app design on Windows and iOS
- Good speeds on closer servers
- Server reliability was strong across all devices
- P2P/torrenting allowed
- Higher price
- Servers are not selectable (or even identifiable) by city
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