NordVPN Review: Easy But Slow

NordVPN is easy to use, but its ownership is a mystery, and there are faster, cheaper services available.

Our Verdict

NordVPN is easy to use, but its ownership is a mystery, and there are faster, cheaper services available.

For

  • Connection wizard
  • Three-day free trial
  • Double VPN for twice the encryption

Against

  • Some dropped connections
  • Not clear who runs company

[This review was originally published in June 2017. It has been updated several times to reflect additional features and server locations.]

NordVPN is easy to set up and use, is reasonably priced, and offers more than 4,000 VPN servers across the world. Its performance in our 2017 round of tests was neither great nor terrible, but we wish we knew a bit more about who owns and runs the company. Overall, however, we prefer Private Internet Access, which is faster and cheaper.

Costs and What's Covered

NordVPN costs $11.99 a month, or $69 a year, payable via credit card, Bitcoin, Ethereum, PayPal or other online-payment services. (A two-year commitment runs to about $79, or $3.29 per month, and there's now also a three-year deal that's $99, or $2.75 per month.) You can use the company's free three-day trial to see if NordVPN works for you.

NordVPN has client software for Windows PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices. Chromebooks, Linux boxes and routers (both open-source and branded ones) can be set up manually to use the NordVPN service, and there are instructions to do so on the NordVPN website. You can also use the open-source OpenVPN client software on platforms that support it, including Raspberry Pi.

Features and Interface

NordVPN's user interface is cartoonish and pleasant, with consistency between the desktop and mobile-client software. Rather than displaying a list of connection points, NordVPN displays a visual map with pushpins showing each country where it has hardware available.

Just click on the closest one, or let NordVPN select the fastest connection. As of April 2018, the company had 3,600 connection points in 62 countries. There's a handy connection wizard to ease setup anxieties, as well as online tutorials.

NordVPN lets you set it to automatically start upon system boot, and there are no limitations on bandwidth or data usage.

The service's big feature is what it calls "Double VPN," which means that when you connect to a NordVPN server, all your traffic is then routed through a second VPN server before it escapes out into the wider internet. That means your data is encrypted not once, but twice.

DoubleVPN certainly won't hamper privacy, but we're not sure exactly how it makes it better, as the AES-256 encryption NordVPN uses is already plenty strong enough. The double encryption might have a detrimental effect on traffic speed, however.

In July 2017, NordVPN added a feature it calls "CyberSec," which both blocks ads and filters out known malicious websites. The website screener consults publicly available URL blacklists, as some web browsers already do, but prevents all internet connections on your computer, smartphone or router from accessing the rogue servers.

In October 2017, NordVPN added a Chrome extension that lets subscribers run all Chrome browser traffic through an encrypted proxy. That's not quite a VPN, but it's a quick and painless way to bypass geoblocking on, say, the BBC website so that you can watch Doctor Who online.

Privacy Protections

If you're paying with Bitcoin, you don't need to provide a real name when signing up with NordVPN; a valid email address will do. The company says it does not keep logs of user activity.

NordVPN has an optional "kill switch" that terminates an internet connection when the link to the VPN server goes down. When we first published this review in June 2017, NordVPN's kill switch needed to be set application by application; however, it's now "global" and will stop all internet service at once.

NordVPN is registered in Panama and owned by a holding company there called Tefincom S.A., which theoretically gives NordVPN excellent legal protection from nosy investigators. But we couldn't find out much about NordVPN's operations or staffers through its website, other than that the company was founded in 2012 by "four childhood friends."

The job listings on NordVPN's website didn't mention where the open positions might be located, and Tefincom's publicly listed officers are also officers of hundreds of otherwise-unrelated shell companies based in Panama. We've asked a company representative for more information.

The NordVPN website's registration is hidden behind a proxy service in Luxembourg. The company's Terms of Service, for both customer and affiliate relationships, mention no country of jurisdiction, though they are written in American-flavored legal language.

Performance

NordVPN performed solidly but unremarkably in our tests, placing near the middle of the pack among the nine VPN services we evaluated.

Its download speed of 34.7 Mbps was off by 36 percent from the non-VPN speed of 54.1 Mbps. NordVPN's upload rate was 16.8 Mbps — again, 36 percent slower than the non-VPN rate. Its latency was 26.9 milliseconds, which was about 149 percent of that without a VPN. All three readings were near the median of the six services we reviewed.

Downloading a 428MB video file took 11 minutes and 15 seconds, about 250 percent slower than without a VPN. That was good enough for fourth place, but was far behind Private Internet Access' 4 minutes and 25 seconds.

NordVPN required a couple of reconnections during a month of testing. Again, that was about average.

Setup and Customer Support

The NordVPN desktop software installs in 5 minutes, and the service allows up to six simultaneous connections, so it's good for protecting your phone, tablet and laptop while you're traveling. (If you're connecting to the same VPN server from different devices at the same location, you'll need to connect using different VPN protocols.)

Customer support is via live chat and email. The company promises to respond to emailed queries within 48 hours. However, we found some complaints online about apparent difficulty in closing out an account.

Bottom Line

NordVPN is neither good nor bad, and neither expensive nor cheap. We like the idea of Double VPN, even if we're not sure it's necessary. We also wish the company were more transparent about its ownership. Overall, though, Private Internet Access is faster and cheaper.

Specs

Client software platforms: Win, Mac, Android, iOS
Native support platforms:
Win, Mac, Android, iOS, Chrome OS, Linux, Windows Phone, open-source and branded routers
Supported protocols:
L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, IKEv2, PPTP, SSTP
No. of servers:
3,600
No. of countries:
62
Country of registration:
Panama
Payment options:
Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, Ethereum, UnionPay, Alipay
Real name necessary?
No
Encryption protocol:
AES-256
Data usage:
Unlimited
Bandwidth usage:
Unlimited
Max. no, of simultaneously connected devices:
Six
Customer support:
Email
Privacy policy:
No logging