NordVPN is one of the most popular VPN services in the world. They’ve also got some of the most aggressive marketing we’ve ever seen — they’re nearly omnipresent on places like Youtube and tech review sites. Does the service live up to the hype? Let's find out.
Initially launched in 2012, the Panama based service provider has come a long way. Broad platform support, high network speeds, and 3rd party, independently audited no-logging policy boosts NordVPN into a solid thumbs up recommendation.
PricewaterhouseCoopers independently audited the service in November of 2018. The global auditing firm reported the companies claims regarding not logging users data is “accurate.”
NordVPN has broad platform support. All of the primary desktop and mobile operating systems are covered. Less common, the service also supports routers and some androidTV based smart TVs.
NordVPN claims 5,245 servers spread across 60 countries.
By default, clicking on a country within the server list will select the fastest server available. It’s not immediately apparent how to drill down into regions, or individual servers (which is, indeed, supported and recommended).
NordVPN has a variety of specialty servers available.
Standard Server - The all-purpose VPN we’re all used to.
Double VPN - If you’ve installed one of the OpenVPN apps (windows, android, macOS), you’ll be able to connect to double VPN servers. The double VPN feature sends your traffic through 2 VPN servers for double encryption.
Onion over VPN - Routes traffic through the VPN and then through the Onion network.
Dedicated IP - NordVPN allows you to purchase (for $70 per year) a dedicated IP. This can be helpful if you find yourself blocked from resources such as Google, which can rate limit IPs with multiple users. This is also a good option if you need to whitelist your IP for some reason.
P2P Servers - These are servers that NordVPN says are “compatible with peer-to-peer traffic.”
Obfuscated Severs - These are recommended for countries, ISPs, or schools that block the use of VPNs. They work by obfuscating the network traffic so that the blocker cannot attribute traffic to a VPN service.
CyberSec is an added service available to NordVPN subscribers that blocks malicious content and ads online. The service works at the DNS level, not the device level. When you request a website (or your computer or device requests a website) that is known to be a bad actor, the default NordVPN DNS server will refuse the connection and thereby keep you and your device safe.
Another feature of the CyberSec service is botnet control. If NordVPN determines that your computer is part of a botnet, it’ll kill the connection to the command and control server and render your computer free again. Note that it doesn’t fix the issue; it only acts as a blocker while you’re using the service.
NordVPN has a kill-switch feature. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that NordVPN has multiple kill-switch features.
On Windows and macOS, the kill-switch can force close a list of apps that you specify. The safer option, also the method recommended by NordVPN, is to allow the kill-switch to operate in default mode as a system-wide kill-switch. Leave the individual app settings to advanced users.
On Android and iOS, the system-wide kill-switch is the only option. Many VPN services scale back their mobile applications, but this seems to be due to a limitation in the operating systems, which do not allow third-party apps to control/quit/close other third-party applications.
My version of the NordVPN client for macOS, downloaded directly from their site, 4.12.9, did not seem to have the capability of enabled the default system-wide kill-switch. If it’s enabled by default, the UI should probably mention this, as I am lead to believe that my only action is to add the specific apps I want to close if a connection is dropped.
However, after disconnecting from the VPN, I noticed that the kill-switch was active and that I was unable to connect to the internet until I quit the application entirely or reconnected to the VPN — it works, it’s just not upfront about being active.
The app also allows you to enable custom DNS servers if you do not want to use the default NordVPN DNS service.
Los Angeles, United States
As with all other mobile VPN apps, you’ll be prompted to install the VPN profile. Once you do this, the app is ready to use.
Tapping Quick Connect put me at the closest location within the US. Speeds were OK, not outstanding.
Choosing another location, further away, my speeds improved significantly.
Within the app, the focus is prominently on quick connect. The preferred UI pattern for changing locations seems to be to scroll around the map and select the pins.
You can also swipe up from the bottom and select recent connections, available countries (and servers), and choose specialty servers. On the server list, you can see current load % (to help you select faster connections) and distance from your current location (a curiosity, but not particularly useful).
Within the settings panel, you can turn on a feature called CyberSec, which purports to block ads and malware. I’ve heard that this feature is no longer in compliance with the Google Play store, so many users suggest downloading the .apk file directly from the NordVPN website.
Testing the CyberSec service on mobile did prove effective. I visited a variety of sites and did not experience any degradation of service, as you sometimes do with ad blockers that block critical functions of websites. Visiting popular news sites confirmed that most ads were gone.
One thing I loved is after you connect, you have a prominent support button that is always visible. I get a sense of confidence in the service — several other services do not contain any help or support materials or abilities within their apps.
NordVPN offers a 1-week trial and several subscription plan options.
In terms of payment methods, you can select credit card, Amazon Pay, Bitcoin (and a few other cryptocurrencies), Alipay, and UnionPay.