Ease of use
This time around, we’ll be taking a look at the ExpressVPN service. This British Virgin Islands-based VPN provider has been operating since 2009.
In both my role as an IT professional and longtime user of PCs and Macs, I have become familiar with numerous VPN providers and know what the average user should expect from a capable VPN provider.
I have performed a number of reviews of VPN services on this website and offer them as a service to familiarize my fellow internet users with the various VPN providers and what they do and don’t offer to their customers. I do so in the hope that my fellow users will avoid some of the stumbling blocks I have encountered in my online adventures.
What is ExpressVPN?
ExpressVPN offers a way to cloak your online activities from prying eyes belonging to crooks, hackers, government agencies and other less-than-savory characters. It does so by hiding your real IP address, making it look like your traffic is coming from an IP address supplied by ExpressVPN.
In addition to cloaking your connection, the ExpressVPN service also offers excellent data protection via encryption. Encryption keeps any data you send or receive while connected to the internet safe from prying eyes. This is an excellent step to take for any online activity, but it’s an extremely good idea if you do a lot of banking or other sensitive business online.
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands. While they are considered a British territory, they are not directly governed by the U.K. At present, there is no formal legislation in place pertaining to data retention.
ExpressVPN states that it is committed to your privacy and they do not collect or log traffic data or browsing activity from individual users connected to their VPN service. So, even if they are asked for your online usage logs, they can’t supply them.
ExpressVPN features apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers and Kindle. In addition, they offer the ability to manually configure Linux and Chromebook devices, wireless routers (Sabai, DD-WRT, Asus or Tomato), and streaming media consoles (Apple TV, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One).
ExpressVPN offers its desktop users the ability to use OpenVPN protocol via UDP and TCP, L2TP/IPSec and PPTP to secure their data connection. Android users are limited to UDP and TCP (over OpenVPN), while owners of iOS devices can connect via L2TP/IPsec. These methods of encryption keep a customer’s data safe from prying eyes.
While the paragraph above may sound like a game of one-upmanship in the IT department’s restroom stalls, it means just one thing: anyone is gonna have a heckuva time trying to tap into the data you are sending and receiving while connected to the ExpressVPN service.
How ExpressVPN Works
By connecting to the ExpressVPN servers, you can cloak your internet traffic by replacing your actual IP address with one used by the ExpressVPN servers. This makes your internet traffic look as if it comes from a completely different location.
This is especially handy for accessing websites and other online content that may be restricted by either a totalitarian government (::COUGH!:: China! ::COUGH!::) or the content provider.
In addition to enabling access to content you might not otherwise be able to access, ExpressVPN also encrypts your internet traffic. This keeps their data and personal information safe from the prying eyes of marketers, hackers, government agents and other unsavory characters.
P2P File Sharing (Torrents)
ExpressVPN does allow file sharing and BitTorrent usage via all of their servers. While I couldn’t find any exact info about P2P or torrents on the website, a customer service rep I chatted with assured me they respect their customers’ rights to privacy and their freedom to use torrenting services.
The ExpressVPN Website
The ExpressVPN website is a clean and informative experience. The front page of the site offers a nice summary of what the service provides. However, it does not offer pricing information upfront, requiring you to visit the actual subscription page to find out the subscription pricing options.
The front page does, however, supply a good amount of information about the number of servers ExpressVPN offers, the encryption used by the service’s apps and more. I particularly like the list on the front page that offers a great overview of what ExpressVPN offers to its customers.
All in all, while ExpressVPN’s website isn’t the best I’ve ever browsed through, it definitely beats out a good many competitors when it comes to information at a glance.
Subscription Options and Pricing
ExpressVPN offers 3 subscription tiers via their website but does not offer a free trial via website signup. Instead, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee. This is quite generous in the VPN industry. Most VPN providers that I have encountered provide a 7-day money-back guarantee at most.
The service’s pricing is definitely on the higher end of the VPN pricing scale when compared to others that I have used. Even the 12-month option fails to take much of the sting out of the service’s higher-than-average tariffs.
Subscription terms and costs are as follows:
ExpressVPN also allows users to sign up via the app on iOS and Android devices. Subscriptions purchased via the mobile apps also work on other devices and desktop computers. While the service does offer a 7-day free trial to mobile device users, an “upgrade” to a paid subscription is required to use the account on other devices.
All subscription sign-ups and payments are performed via a secure HTTPS connection. The service accepts subscription payments via VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, JCB, Diners Club, PayPal, Bitcoin, WebMoney, UnionPay and others.
iOS users do not pay via in-app purchase, as most services require, but are instead taken to the ExpressVPN website to sign up for a paid subscription. This is obviously an effort on the part of ExpressVPN to avoid paying Apple their pound of flesh for in-app purchases. Android users can pay by credit card, Bitcoin and PayPal, as well as via Google Play.
As always, the Bitcoin payment option will be a welcome sight to those users who wish to keep their payment and internet activities completely secret by using the anonymous Bitcoin payment method, along with a throwaway email address.
As has become a tradition around these here parts, Cowboy, I signed up for a 1-month subscription to ExpressVPN using my business credit card. The charge showed up on my credit card statement as “EXPRESSVPN.COM NEWARK DE.” Plain, simple, no doubt as to what it’s for when your boss or spouse questions you about your “business expenses.”
When signing up for the service, you supply your email address, which is where you’ll receive your transaction confirmation. You are assigned a system-generated password, which you can continue to use, or replace with one of your own creation.
While the system-generated password will most likely provide better account protection, one you come up with will probably be easier to remember. Your mileage may vary.
ExpressVPN also provides a way to get free months of service added to your subscription by offering its customers a referral program.
ExpressVPN supplies you with a unique referral link, and when one of your friends uses your link to sign up for the service, you get an extra 30 days of service added to your current subscription. (Hey, if you can’t use friends and family for your own benefit, who can you use?)
At $99.95 for an annual subscription, ExpressVPN is anything but cheap - actually, they are the most expensive VPN provider I’ve reviewed. However, they do supply plenty of bang for the buck.
Installing the App on Your Computer
ExpressVPN features apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android and Blackberry devices. They also offer guides for setting up the service on a number of compatible routers, streaming boxes and game consoles.
As usual, the setup experience I share with you will be on my Mac computer and my iPhone. Windows and Android users can expect a similar experience. If there are any major differences, I will be sure to point them out.
The macOS app is available as a direct download from the ExpressVPN website. When I completed my sign-up process, I was automatically taken to the Mac download page. I clicked the download link and selected to save the file to my Mac’s Downloads folder. In less than a minute, the download was complete.
It should be noted that when you are taken to the Mac download page, you’ll see an activation code displayed on the page. Be sure to copy and save that code; you’re going to need it to log in to the ExpressVPN app following its installation. (You can also find it on your account page if you do lose it.)
The downloaded Mac installation file was in the form of a .pkg installation file, which begins the installation process when double-clicked. I double-clicked the file, and the ExpressVPN app was installed to my Mac’s hard drive. Once the app is installed, it automatically runs.
I was presented with a prompt to paste the activation code into the supplied field, as seen below. I did so and waited while the service activated the app. I then clicked the “Start using the app” button to, logically enough, start using the app.
Windows installation consists of downloading an .exe file and running it. Depending on your Windows security settings, you may need to agree to a few prompts during installation. The app will install in a few moments, and you’ll be ready to go.
Installing the App on a Mobile Device
The installation of the ExpressVPN iPhone app follows a process that’s as old as time.
Well, at least as old as the time that’s passed since the App Store was created.
Installation of the app is done strictly via the iOS App Store. The download takes under a minute or so and can be run via a tap of a finger on the app’s icon.
As I mentioned before, iOS users can opt for a 7-day free trial of mobile device-only VPN service, or they can upgrade to a paid subscription that allows using multiple devices, both desktop and mobile.
Once I had signed up for a 1-month subscription, which was attached to my email address, the app checked online and updated my iOS device to reflect the full subscription I had purchased. The app was then ready to go.
The app will also request permission to install a certificate on your iPhone to allow it to trust the ExpressVPN connection. Users will be required to enter the device’s PIN or use their fingerprint via Touch ID to okay the certificate installation.
Android users will find that the installation of the app on their devices is quite similar to the iOS version. The app is installed via the Google Play store, although it can also be downloaded and installed manually on an Android device.
Features & Use
Once the ExpressVPN app was installed on my Mac, it ran immediately. I was prompted to enter the activation code I copied when I downloaded the Mac app. The app accepted the code, confirmed it, and I was ready to go! Oddly enough, there is no option to log out of the Mac app. Apparently, the confirmation is all you need to allow for a login to the service.
Once the app is set up and authorized, users are met with a simple, clean interface, consisting of a “Connect” button, a “Smart Location” button and a “Choose Location” button.
The Smart Location button selects the best connection option for your current location. The Choose Location button opens a list of VPN server locations from around the world. The list is categorized into “Recommended,” “All” and “Favorites” lists.
The ExpressVPN app offers a feature that I haven’t seen with other apps. A “Speed Test” option allows users to start a testing procedure that connects to each ExpressVPN server to test the server’s response time and connection speed. The app then displays the results, so the user can make an intelligent decision about which server they wish to connect to.
The Speed Test feature is a definite advantage for ExpressVPN over other VPN providers. Knowing which server is currently offering the best overall performance can save you time, due to a faster connection and better response times. As we all know, time is money!
Once a location has been decided upon, users simply need to click the largest button, which toggles the VPN connection on and off. In just a few seconds, the app connects to the selected VPN server, and you’re ready to surf the net incognito.
The service allows up to 3 simultaneous connections or unlimited connections via an ExpressVPN-compatible router. This number is lower than most VPN providers I’ve reviewed in the past, who usually offer at least 5 simultaneous connections.
ExpressVPN offers a comprehensive set of features that make it one of the best VPN apps available. I especially like the speed test feature of the app, which makes it easy to decide which VPN server to use.
Ease of Use:
ExpressVPN’s app is a breeze to set up. The app is laid out logically and is easy to use, and offers great flexibility in its settings.
Connection Quality and Speed
I first run the tests on my normal internet connection to set a benchmark for comparisons. I then run the same tests via a VPN connection to a server in the United States, and last but not least, to a VPN server connection in the United Kingdom.
In the case of the both the U.S. and U.K. VPN connections, I select the country and then let the ExpressVPN service decide which server to use in the selected country. According to the ExpressVPN website, this should select the optimum connection.
Ping, Download & Upload Speed
Local Internet Provider
U.S. VPN Server
U.K. VPN Server
Most internet users always consider a faster connection to be a better connection. However, when considering the security of your personal data, as well as the ability to access web content that’s not normally available, the numbers look a little different.
It’s a generally-accepted rule that any VPN connection will be considerably slower than an unfettered one. But, as we can see from the numbers above, while the speeds may indeed be slower, they might not be noticeably slower when used for everyday online tasks.
As usual, we see the ping numbers in our testing show a tendency to grow as the distance from my real-world location to the VPN server locations increases. This is normal, as the farther away you are from the VPN server, the longer it takes for packets of data to travel back and forth. Still, the numbers shown above will not cause issues with normal internet usage. Players of the latest first-person shooters may disagree.
The download and upload speeds of both ExpressVPN servers are excellent, and well within the neighborhood of my normal connections speeds. I was a bit surprised by the great performance numbers of the U.S. and the U.K. connections, so I ran the tests multiple times and measured similar numbers each time.
As always, the numbers above can be affected by the load being put on the server when you connect. If you connect to a server that has a high number of other users connecting to it, you’ll likely see a performance penalty. As with any computer, the more that is asked of a VPN server, the slower it will complete its tasks.
The ExpressVPN app does offer a feature called “Speed Test” that checks the performance of every VPN server currently available on the ExpressVPN network. The test measures the download speed and latency of each server, and offers a speed index for each one. The feature is designed to allow users to make an intelligent decision when it comes to VPN connections.
Before we move on, let’s also note that your choice of VPN protocols and encryption levels can also affect the speed of your VPN connection. However, today’s encryption schemes have been created with improved efficiency in mind, so you may not see a huge difference in your connection, depending on the encryption used.
Following the speed tests, I also put the VPN connections through a series of real-world tests. Generally, I test the connection’s viability for use with video and audio streaming, video calls, gaming and general online usage. The results can be seen below.
YouTube played its 1080p video content with no issues whatsoever. All videos I viewed immediately played with no noticeable buffering time, and no artifacts, on both the U.S. and U.K. connections. Full-screen HD videos played well on either VPN connection.
Click here to see the best VPNs for Youtube.
ExpressVPN provided a top-notch Netflix experience, offering reliable access to Netflix content in the areas I tested.
There’s an ongoing game of hide-and-seek happening between Netflix and VPN providers. When Netflix discovers that viewers are using a VPN to connect to their servers, they block that VPN server’s access to their content.
The VPN then sets up new IP addresses for their customers to use, enabling access to Netflix once again. Soon enough, the streaming giant discovers the new VPN connection, blocks the new IP address, and the cycle begins anew.
ExpressVPN has a proven ability to keep up with Netflix, quickly adding new IP addresses, keeping the lines of communication open between its customers and Netflix’s servers.
I tested ExpressVPN’s connections in both the United States and the United Kingdom, experiencing consistent success in both cases. While Netflix access can sometimes be a hit-or-miss thing with most VPN providers, ExpressVPN proved to offer an excellent success ratio when compared to other VPNs I have tested.
This provider's reliable, speedy connections ensured that I never had to wait long for my favorite movies or television shows to begin playing, even when I watched 4K HDR content. Those fast speeds provide an excellent Netflix experience.Click here to see the best VPNs for Netflix.
When I attempted to play content from Hulu on either connection, I ran into the same issues I did with Netflix. The U.K. connections were dismissed out of hand by Hulu, as were most of the U.S. connections. However, the same U.S. VPN connections that worked with Netflix also worked with Hulu. Perhaps they are sharing a blacklist?
Click here to see the best VPNs for Hulu.
Skype and FaceTime
Skype calls worked well on both the U.S. and U.K. connections. I tested audio and video calls, and both performed well. The audio was crisp, and the video was clear. I experienced no lag or issues with either connection.
FaceTime gave me problems. I was unable initially to get FaceTime to work with a VPN connection on my Mac. While normally I would have simply fiddled with the settings, I instead used the issue as an opportunity to contact the ExpressVPN support folks via their online support form.
Support replied with a possible fix, which involved changing the protocol. I followed their step-by-step directions, and I was able to get FaceTime to connect by using the L2TP/IPSec protocol. Once connected, the FaceTime call performed well.
Click here to see the best VPNs for Skype.
My reflexes aren’t what they used to be, so my hardcore first-person shooter days are behind me. However, I do still have Doom 3 installed on my Mac, so I played a deathmatch over PIA’s U.S. and U.K. connections.
Both connections performed well. First person shooter players will likely be satisfied with the service’s connections, but I suggest trying your game of choice over the VPN connection before the 7-day money-back period is over.
Click here to see the best VPNs for Gaming.
General Internet Usage
The ExpressVPN connections both performed well when using them for my day-to-day online activities. I performed work in the Google Docs suite of online office apps - creating text documents, spreadsheets and presentations. All tasks worked well on both the U.K. and U.S. VPN connections.
Staying in touch with my friends, family and business associates via text messaging and the major social networking apps also worked quite well when connected to the VPN servers.
Following the tradition of most of the iOS VPN apps I’ve tried out, the ExpressVPN app for iOS is simple to set up and easy to use.
Connections are made with a simple tap of the finger, and the user can either let the app decide which VPN connection is currently the best, or manually select one if they’d like to use a server in a particular country.
Both the U.S. and U.K. connections proved to be up to the tasks I asked of them, only being finicky when it came to Netflix and Hulu.
Ping, Download & Upload Speed
Local Internet Provider
U.S. VPN Server
U.K. VPN Server
I went through my usual task testing list while connected to both the U.S. and U.K. ExpressVPN connections on my iPhone. Skype and FaceTime both performed well, with none of the issues displayed by the Mac ExpressVPN connection when testing FaceTime.
I checked email, chatted with friends and business associates and made posts via Facebook, Slack, Twitter and other social networks, all with no problems of any kind.
Streaming HD video from YouTube performed quite well. However, I ran into the same issues I experienced with the Mac ExpressVPN connections when I attempted to view Netflix and Hulu video content over both the U.S. or U.K. VPN connections.
Netflix refused to stream any content when connected to a U.S. VPN, except for the same select few servers that were successful with Netflix on the Mac. When Netflix would stream, it did so beautifully, with no long buffering period or stuttering, nor did it show any artifacts.
Hulu simply refused to load even a home screen when I was connected to any of the U.K. servers. When connected to U.S. servers, the service performed well on the same servers as Netflix, refusing to stream when connected to any other U.S. servers.
ExpressVPN offered speedy connections on both the desktop and mobile platforms that I tested it on. While there were issues with Netflix and Hulu, that’s to be expected when using almost any VPN provider.
Global Server Coverage
ExpressVPN has over 1,500 VPN servers stationed in 94 countries. While not the best server coverage among the VPN services I’ve reviewed, the provider has done a fine job of spreading their servers around, ensuring most users will find a server near where they need to be.
The company has servers spread around the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, as well as the Asia Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and India. When examining the list of server locations, I couldn’t detect any major locations that ExpressVPN has neglected.
Global Server Coverage:
ExpressVPN may not offer the most server locations among the VPN providers I’ve reviewed, but they do a good job of choosing the locations for their servers.
Privacy, Security & Legal
ExpressVPN offers desktop users the option to use OpenVPN Protocol via UDP and TCP, L2TP/IPSec and PPTP. Android users are limited to UDP and TCP (over OpenVPN), while owners of iOS devices can connect via L2TP/IPsec. These methods of encryption help keep any customer’s data and personal information safe from those ever-prying eyes.
ExpressVPN is a British Virgin Islands-based VPN provider that has been operating since 2009. Although the Islands are considered a British territory, they are self-governed and are not subject to the data-retention laws of the United Kingdom.
ExpressVPN states that it is committed to its users’ privacy and that they do not collect or log traffic data or browsing activity from individual users connected to their VPN service. So, even if the government did come calling, they wouldn’t have any activity logs to hand over.
In addition, they accept Bitcoin, the privacy-protecting cryptocurrency that is popular among privacy-minded internet users.
I was assured by an ExpressVPN customer support representative named “Carlo” that the ExpressVPN service worked well from within China. He also said the support team would be available to assist me if I had any issues while visiting China. Hopefully, I won’t have to make use of his offer.
ExpressVPN doesn’t collect or log information about their customers’ usage of their VPN connections. They also accept Bitcoin, which adds another great layer of privacy on their already comprehensive privacy protections.
ExpressVPN’s customer support options consist of online chat, an online trouble ticket support form and an informative troubleshooting library. I found their support to be excellent.
The ExpressVPN library contains a good amount of usable information, covering most any issues or questions you might have about the service. The library offers a number of helpful tutorials showing users how to set up the ExpressVPN app on all supported computers and devices, routers, Chromebooks, gaming and streaming consoles, and more.
I submitted a support question via the online trouble ticket system on a Tuesday afternoon at 4:04 p.m. Central Time and received an immediate acknowledgment of the submission via email.
I received an answer to my query (my issues with FaceTime and the Mac version of the ExpressVPN app) at 3:32 a.m. Wednesday morning. This was well within the 24-hour reply time frame stated by the company.
I also used the service’s online chat feature (available from any page on the website) to ask about using the service in China. Customer service rep “Carlo” responded in seconds, assuring me the service would work while behind the Great Firewall of China.
ExpressVPN’s support staff is top-notch and was able to help me with any problems I had. I never felt like I was left out on my own.
Alternative VPN Options
While ExpressVPN is a great all-around VPN service, its pricing model leaves a bit to be desired. Even the 6-month and 12-month options only take a bit of the sting out of the price burn.
There are, however, better-priced VPNs that come close to offering the all-around performance of ExpressVPN. These include VyprVPN, Hide My Ass! and Private Internet Access. All 3 of these providers boast excellent performance numbers while taking a bit smaller chunk out of your billfold.
VyprVPN supplies excellent connection speeds - even better than ExpressVPN’s. At $60 per year, they offer a great bang for the buck.
Hide My Ass! also comes in at a lower price than ExpressVPN, at $78.66. They offer the best global server coverage and the fastest connection speed of any VPN provider that I have had the pleasure reviewing.
Private Internet Access offers speeds near the top of all the tested providers, and delivers it for the bargain rate of $39.95 per year.
ExpressVPN is an excellent option for users who require a quick setup, easy operation and perhaps a bit of hand-holding. Their apps are easy to set up, they connect with just a click or two of the mouse, and the service offers responsive customer support.
ExpressVPN’s servers supplied solid connections, with excellent data speeds on the Mac app and satisfactory data speeds on the iOS app. I tried a number of connections around the world, and all were up to snuff. International travelers, as well as stateside users who require access to international content, should take a look at the service.
While 1080p HD video streaming from YouTube offered a top-notch viewing experience, both Netflix and Hulu were hit-or-miss on U.S. connections, and I had no luck whatsoever with either service via a U.K. server.
ExpressVPN’s pricing could be better. Although the 6-month and 12-month subscription options knock a considerable amount of dough off of the usual $12.95 monthly tariff, the pricing is still considerably higher than competitors providing the same level of service.
Signing up for the service is relatively painless, and a wide variety of payment options are offered, no matter what type of payment you prefer. Bitcoin is available, which is always a great anonymous payment option.
The service’s customer support options are limited to an online trouble ticket submission system, online chat and a support library. That being said, the support personnel are extremely responsive and quite helpful.
Users who are looking for an easy-to-use, solid VPN option, and who don’t mind paying a few bucks more for reliable and speedy service, should investigate their options at the ExpressVPN website. If you’re a Netflix or Hulu fanatic, you should take note that support for both services is limited to a few servers located in the United States.
For more information about ExpressVPN, or to sign up for a subscription, visit the ExpressVPN website.