NordVPN Review

NordVPN is one of our favorite VPNs, with 5,246 servers in 62 countries.

By
&
Aliza VigdermanGabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Sep 23, 2020
9.5
/10
Editor's Rating
One of the better-known VPNs, NordVPN's Panama headquarters makes it a top choice for the privacy-concerned, as Panama isn't a member of any international surveillance alliances. We had fun watching other countries' Netflix from a server in the United States with impressive speeds.
Page Contents

A popular choice, NordVPN is a reliable option with many features that meet many of our standards for a quality VPN. The fact that they’re based in Panama, outside of any surveillance jurisdictions, is the cherry on top. In this review, we’re testing out NordVPN to see how it works in 2020 on both Macs and Windows alike.

NordVPN connected
NordVPN connected

NordVPN’s Pros and Cons

Here’s a snapshot of our thoughts on NordVPN. We’ll get more into the weeds later, but here’s a quick overview.

Pros
  • Minimal data logging: NordVPN only keeps track of the bare basics like email, payment information, and customer service interactions.
  • Located in Panama: This means that NordVPN falls outside of surveillance alliances Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes1 and can never be forced to surrender our data to the government.
  • Multiple devices: We were allowed to connect up to six devices with NordVPN.
  • Strong encryption standards: NordVPN utilizes AES-256 bit encryption, the gold standard.
Cons
  • No split tunneling: We couldn’t use NordVPN and a public Wi-Fi network at the same time.
  • Static IP addresses: Our IP address always stayed the same each time we connected to NordVPN, though it was shared with others making it harder to trace us.
  • Customer service: Even though we were satisfied with NordVPN’s options of a live chat, email support and an FAQ database, we wished they had a phone line to connect us to a representative in case we ran into problems.

NordVPN’s Features

We named NordVPN our best VPN of 2020, but here, we’ll take you through each of NordVPNs features in detail, and let you know why we think it’s such a great option.

Servers Around the Globe

With more than 5,000 servers in 59 countries, we felt good that would never have to look too far for a server to use. To us, that translates to not having to worry about slow Internet speeds. You see, the closer we are to a server, the quicker our Internet speeds are. So, whether we’re at home in Brooklyn or globetrotting with our pals, we knew we would always be covered.

Headquartered in Panama

Though NordVPN operates worldwide, its headquarters are in Panama. That’s a huge plus for us because Panama falls outside of Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes jurisdiction. For all those non-VPN nerds out there, those are surveillance alliances among countries, meaning that depending where a VPN is based, a government entity could potentially force a company to give up our data that’s gathered while using their VPN. In our books, that’s a huge red flag, so we love that NordVPN doesn’t have to worry about that kind of situation, meaning we didn’t have to worry, either.

Kill Switch

NordVPN also featured a kill switch, a VPN mainstay we always keep an eye out for. This really came in handy when we were downloading a huge file during a storm, and our VPN connection went out for a moment. The kill switch automatically stopped our download and quit our apps, so that our activity wasn’t exposed, even for a split second.

Data Usage

NordVPN is one of our favorite VPNs to torrent on: we loved that whenever we wanted to be couch potatoes and watch one of our favorite shows, we didn’t have to keep waiting for our shows to buffer. There are no data limits, meaning that some VPNs will cap our monthly network bandwidth and only allow us to download a certain amount of data. With NordVPN, we could indulge in as much online content as we wanted to. Best of all, we were able to watch Netflix. With the wide collection of servers in other countries, we even watched other countries’ shows.

Heads Up: While we are currently able to watch Netflix using NordVPN, Netflix is always trying to update their technology so that their content can’t be torrented. Luckily, they haven’t caught up to NordVPN yet.

Minimal Logging

When we don’t use a VPN, our online traffic goes to our Internet Service Provider. They have access to all our activity, and can give our information over to advertisers, government agencies, and other kinds of third-parties. When we connect to the Internet using a VPN, our Internet Service Provider can no longer see our activity, but our VPN can. Therefore, it’s important that they don’t log more than they have to.

NordVPN Logging Policy
NordVPN Logging Policy

Luckily, NordVPN didn’t log our websites visited, files downloaded, software used, our IP address, the amount of time we spent on the VPN or the amount of data we used. NordVPN did log some data, like our email address, payment data, the timestamp of our last session status, and customer service information, but this is normal and necessary to maintain our account. They also keep tabs on how we used the NordVPN site to help them improve their customer experience.

Split Tunneling

NordVPN does not offer split tunneling. When a VPN offers this feature, we’re allowed to use both the private network of the VPN as well as a public network. We could either use NordVPN and browse the Internet privately, or be unprotected on a public Wi-Fi network.

Strong Encryption

When our data is encrypted, it means that our data is changed so that it’s not recognizable to anyone besides authorized users.2 It’s a main reason why we use VPNs and NordVPN has impressive standards. The company used IKEv2 and IPSec, which ensured that our VPN connection was maintained in case our Internet connection was lost. This was especially helpful when we switched from Wi-Fi networks to mobile hotspots or used our own data. IPSec enhanced security further, either encrypting the data packet message or the entire data packet.

NordVPN also uses AES with 256-bit keys, the same encryption standard that governments and cybersecurity experts like us recommend worldwide.

Double VPN

NordVPN also employed a double VPN, meaning that our data went through multiple servers to be encrypted multiple times. This concept, known as VPN server chaining of multi-hop, enhanced our security so that not even our Internet Service Provider knew what we were up to. Most VPNs only use one server, so we felt good knowing that our data had twice the encryption protecting it before it reached its final destination.

Static IP Addresses

Of all the things we loved about NordVPN, static IP addresses were not one of them. We got the same IP address every time we used the VPN, which isn’t ideal. We did share this IP address with other users, which means that our specific activity was harder to track down, but in the best-case scenario we would have an IP address that changes each time we use the VPN, otherwise known as a dynamic IP address.

Speed Tests

VPNs will sometimes slow down our Internet speed, as the traffic has to go through an encryption server on top of a public network’s server. Regardless, we still want to see fast Internet speeds while we’re connected, so we made sure to test NordVPN ourselves. We use a Macbook Pro and an Acer Aspire 5 (Windows 10). Speed is determined by lots of factors, like distance to the server, the device’s make and model and the operating system, so keep in mind there are a lot of things at play aside from just the VPN itself.

NordVPN Mac App Screenshot
NordVPN Mac App Screenshot

In our results below, NordVPN worked much faster on our Acer Aspire 5 than on our MacBook Pro.

On our Macbook Pro, our download speed was about 25 percent slower while using NordVPN, while speed only decreased by 8 percent on our Acer Aspire.

Connecting to NordVPN on our Macbook Pro
Connecting to NordVPN on our Macbook Pro

Our upload speeds also were significantly slower on our Mac than on our Windows, but overall, our Mac still was able to download and upload our files shared between our team quickly.

Connecting to NordVPN on our Acer Aspire 5
Connecting to NordVPN on our Acer Aspire 5
MacBook ProAcer Aspire 5
Ping without VPN (in ms)425
Ping with VPN (in ms)46160
Ping Difference10%3100%
Macbook Download Speed without VPN (in mbps)54.8623.49
Download Speed with VPN (in mbps)41.3721.7
Download speed difference-24%-8%
Upload Speed without VPN (in mbps)33.8624
Upload Speed with VPN (in mbps)27.217.91
Upload speed difference-20%-67%

Although NordVPN worked better on our Windows, it still held its own when we used our Mac, making it a versatile option no matter what device we were on.

DNS Leak Tests

DNS stands for Domain Name Server and it’s the common name that goes with an IP address, such as Google.com. We put all the VPNs we review through a test to make sure that the VPN is successfully hiding our DNS when it’s connected; if it didn’t the VPN wouldn’t be doing its job. After being put to the test, NordVPN passed our evaluation, meaning that there were no DNS leaks when connected to NordVPN.

NordVPN - DNS test leak results
NordVPN – DNS test leak results

WebRTC Leak Tests

WebRTC Leak Test without NordVPN
WebRTC Leak Test without NordVPN

We also made sure to do a WebRTC leak test while using NordVPN. WebRTC is a collection of technologies that let web browsers communicate with each other to increase speed. This is great because it allows all the things we had going, like Netflix, video chats, and files we had to download, to use less bandwidth. However, this comes at a cost: the devices know each other’s private IP addresses, a big no-no for us. We use WebRTC to make sure that our IP addresses don’t leak when we’re using NordVPN. Luckily, NordVPN passed with flying colors on both computer systems, showing a different IP address than the real ones on our computers.

WebRTC Leak Test with NordVPN
WebRTC Leak Test with NordVPN

Subscription Information

We know that the bottom line matters when choosing a VPN, so we gathered all the relevant information for you to compare services. For NordVPN, we found the pricing structure pretty straightforward; we got all the same perks with all the options, but the thing that impacted the prices were the lengths of the contracts. NordVPN offers four options ranging from one month to two years. The low-commitment month-to-month option is $11.95 billed monthly. If we signed on for two years and spent $89.04 up front, that would come to only $3.71 a month. That’s pretty affordable, and considering the breadth of features provided, we wouldn’t mind being locked into a longer-term contract.

1 Month6 Months2 Years
Monthly Cost$11.95$9.00$3.71
Total Amount Billed$11.95$54.00$89.04

We also reviewed ExpressVPN’s pricing, NordVPN’s highly-rated competitor, and at $12.95 per month with a month-to-month plan, there’s only a small difference in cost.

Backup Plan: While NordVPN doesn’t offer a free-trial period, they do offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. If we had any issues with the service, they would have given us our money back, as long as we were within that window, no questions asked.

Before you buy, make sure to check out NordVPN’s deals to see how you can unlock savings.

24/7 Customer Support

NordVPN offered several options for their customer service, like a 24/7 live chat, email support and an in-depth database of submitted user questions to leaf through. When we wanted to dig into the details on what data was logged, we navigated to their privacy policy to read it for ourselves from their FAQ page. While it’s ideal if a VPN has a phone line to talk to a human as well, we felt that NordVPN had a good smattering of resources.

NordVPN Support
NordVPN Support

Video Review

In our video review, we go through all these details again, and you’ll get a better sense of exactly how we do all our testing to make sure we’re giving you as much information as possible on how to choose a VPN for you. We’ll also take you along on our process of testing NordVPN for speed and leaks.

In Summary

NordVPN is a versatile option, with global reach and first-class digital security software. We loved that they are headquartered in Panama, because that meant we didn’t have to stress about the possibility of our data being shared with the government. We were also delighted that we could torrent so easily. Lastly, NordVPN passed all of our speed and security tests with top marks, making us confident that it could protect our privacy while we used the Internet however we pleased

Citations
  1. Business Leader. (2019). Five Eyes Alliance: Everything You Need To Know.
    businessleader.co.uk/five-eyes-alliance-everything-you-need-to-know/73523/

  2. Washington Post. (2015). Everything you need to know about encryption: Hint, you’re already using it.
    washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/12/08/you-already-use-encryption-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-it/