NordVPN Review 2018
NordVPN offers a competitively-priced VPN service that is simple to set up and use. There are great discounts to be had if you’re willing to subscribe for 1 year.
Connection speeds, while testing well, don’t perform as well for tasks like video streaming when compared to other services I’ve reviewed. However, the provider offers excellent privacy protection, and their customer support is top-notch.
Ease of use
In this review, we’ll take a close look at the NordVPN service. This Panama-based VPN provider has been around since 2012 and provides VPN protection for users of the top desktop and mobile operating systems.
If you use the internet for business, personal finance, entertainment or shopping, you’re putting the personal information of you and your family, as well as that of your business, at risk. Modern internet users face a growing wave of both criminals and less-than-trustworthy government agencies who are looking to access everything about you.
Early on, I realized the value of a well-run VPN service to someone like me, who requires a security solution that is comprehensive enough to protect my data connection, while remaining simple enough to install and use that my family members could maintain their protection without needing me to help.
What is NordVPN?
NordVPN supplies the usual VPN services, which keeps your data and your actual IP address hidden from prying eyes. The service offers an encrypted connection, which makes it nearly impossible for the bad guys to be able to see the data your computer is sending and receiving.
In addition to data encryption, NordVPN also provides the ability to access websites and web services that might not normally be available in your area due to government restrictions on content, or geo-restrictions placed on content by the content provider.
NordVPN is based in, and operates under, the jurisdiction of the country of Panama. There are no mandatory data-retention laws in Panama, so the service is not required to store logs, which is an excellent selling point for any VPN provider.
In addition, the provider says that no matter how much they might be pushed by a court or government agency to produce logs of a customer’s online activity, they couldn’t supply them, even if they wanted to. Simply because there are no logs to produce. They just. Don’t. Exist.
The service features apps for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. Users of Chrome OS, WIndows Phone, Linux and Raspberry Pi devices can use the service via custom settings. Users of DD-WRT and Tomato-capable routers, and selected network-attached storage devices, can also access the service.
NordVPN offers the OpenVPN protocol on most popular devices, as well as PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) and L2TP/IPsec.
What does all of this mean to you, the VPN user? It simply means the NordVPN service offers excellent protection for you and your data.
NordVPN has 1,102 servers stationed in 61 countries at the time of this article.
How NordVPN Works
NordVPN offers users the ability to cloak their true IP address while using the internet. The service accomplishes this by routing a user’s internet traffic through their NordVPN servers, making it look as if the user’s connection is coming from one of NordVPN’s many IP addresses.
By cloaking their true internet address, users can then connect to websites and other services on the web which would normally be unavailable due to either government or content provider restrictions.
In addition to IP cloaking, NordVPN also encrypts their users’ data, protecting it from the eyes of prying bad guys or overly-enthusiastic government agencies.
P2P File Sharing (Torrents)
NordVPN allows usage of P2P and BitTorrent connections over their network, but only on servers specifically set aside for that purpose. Connecting to a server not marked as for P2P use will result in the traffic being rerouted to P2P servers located in Canada and the Netherlands.
The service says the following criminal activities are the only prohibited activities on the service, resulting in a terminated account:
Of course, I don’t condone ANY of the activities above, and I am certain none of my readers have to worry about this. None of you would even consider such things, right? Right?!
The NordVPN Website
The NordVPN website is about average when compared to other websites in the industry. Features, pricing, server information, tools, help and account information are all available at the top of the front page.
I should note that there is an unsettling number of misspellings on the website, but this is likely due to language translation, as the company is based in Panama.
While the service offers a free 3-day trial, they do not promote it on the front page, and instead, buries it in their FAQ section.
The website is well laid out, and most of the information is easy to find. The features section of the site provides a good overview of how the provider’s service works, and what the advantages to a VPN are.
Subscription Options and Pricing
NordVPN offers a variety of subscription options. Options include a 1-month plan, a 6-month term and a 1-year plan. The service also offers a free 3-day trial, with no credit card required.
Subscription terms and costs are as follows:
As you can see above, only when you’re willing to commit to a 6-month subscription do you begin to see a reasonable level of pricing kick in. The service’s 1-month plan price of $11.95 comes in very high when compared to competitors.
All subscription setup and payment is done via a secure HTTPS connection. The company accepts MasterCard, VISA, American Express, Discover, PayPal, Mint and Bitcoin.
Subway, CVS Pharmacy and Dollar General gift cards can be used to pay via the PaymentWall service.
iOS and Android users can sign up on their devices via in-app purchases, which are maintained by Apple’s iTunes and Google Play respectively, and will be charged against the user’s method of payment on file.
Notice the service does accept Bitcoin, which is always a mark in their favor. Bitcoin is one of the truly anonymous payment options available on the web, and helps keep payment details safe from prying eyes.
The gift card option is also a great choice for users who don’t have access to Bitcoin, but still want to keep their payment information completely anonymous.
The service offers a 30-day money-back guarantee “for accounts in good standing.” However, users who purchased the service via in-app purchase in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store cannot obtain a refund.
As for that 3-day trial plan I mentioned before, here’s how you can sign up for it:
Visit the 3-day free trial page at the NordVPN website.
Enter your email address and click the submit button.
You will receive an email with a link to click to confirm your 3-day trial.
When the web page loads, enter the password you wish to use with the service.
Your 3-day free trial account is now authorized. Download the app for your computer or mobile device and try the service.
I signed up for a 1-month subscription. The charge showed up as "CLOUDVPN INC." on my credit card statement. Is that as generic a line item they could think of? It’s like walking into a tavern and just ordering “beer.”
NordVPN’s annual subscription pricing falls into the middle of the pack among the VPN providers I’ve reviewed. While not the most expensive by a longshot, there are better bargains available
Installing the App on Your Computer
NordVPN features apps for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android devices. They also offer tutorials on how to set the service up on other devices, including Chrome OS, Windows Phone, Linux and Raspberry Pi devices. The service will also work with DD-WRT routers and various networked storage appliances.
Gaming consoles, streaming boxes and Smart TV’s will work with the NordVPN service. However, they cannot be connected directly, and instead, must obtain their connection via a compatible router or a shared internet connection from a NordVPN-connected computer.
The Windows and macOS apps are available directly from the NordVPN website, while the iOS and Android apps are available from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store respectively.
I use an Apple MacBook for both business and pleasure, as well as an iPad and iPhone, so my experiences will carry a definite Apple-centric flavor. Users of Windows and Android devices can expect a similar experience.
As I mentioned above, the macOS app is available as a direct download from the NordVPN website. I clicked the download button on the site and saved the installation file to my Downloads directory on my MacBook. The download only takes a few moments on any reasonably-fast internet connection.
The installation file was in the form of a Mac .dmg file, which the macOS operating system mounts as a disk when it is double-clicked. Once it mounted, a window opened, as shown below. I then dragged the NordVPN app icon to the Applications folder. The file copied to the Applications folder in just a few seconds, and we were ready to roll.
Windows owners will also face a hassle-free installation experience, as the NordVPN app for Windows is supplied as an .exe file, which, when double-clicked, will install the app with a few clicks of the mouse.
Installing the App on a Mobile Device
Installation of the NordVPN app on the iPhone follows the usual rigid routine of visiting the iOS App Store to download and install the app. The download takes just a minute or so, after which it automatically installs and is ready to run with a tap of the icon.
When the app is first used to connect to a VPN server, it will ask for permission to install a certificate to allow trusting the NordVPN service. You’ll be required to enter your device’s passcode or use your fingerprint via Touch ID to authorize the installation of the certificate.
Installation of the Android version is similarly quick and easy, with a visit to the Google Play store for a download and installation of the app.
Features & Use
Once the installation was completed on my Mac, I ran the NordVPN app and entered the login and password combination that I created when I signed up for the service.
I was not presented with a “quick look” of the features of the service, as I had been when using other VPN services’ Mac apps, and I can’t say that I missed it. However, such a quick hit of information might be welcomed by less-experienced users.
The app asked for permission to install a helper app, which makes it a bit easier to use the VPN service as it allows the app to put a quick-access icon in the Desktop menu bar, offering quick & easy control of the VPN connections.
The NordVPN app presents a clean interface, displaying a rather cartoonish map of available server locations. Users can click on the represented locations to immediately connect to a NordVPN server. Users can also quickly connect to a server by clicking the “Country List” at the top of the app window, which brings up a list of countries with available servers.
Users can set any server to be a “Favorite” by clicking a heart next to the server’s name in the listing. This is handy for saving servers that prove to be particularly reliable, for quick access from the app’s “Favorite Servers” list.
The NordVPN service also offers a few extra connection options that I haven’t seen from other VPN providers.
The NordVPN service allows users to connect up to 6 devices under one account. However, if you connect multiple devices to the same server, you must choose different protocols for the VPN connections. This means up to 4 devices can be connected to a single server. Two other devices can connect to a different server.
The company suggests setting up a router with their services, which would count as only one connection, but would allow multiple connections.
NordVPN features a “Double VPN” connection where the user’s data is sent through 2 VPN servers before reaching its destination. The company says Double VPN offers enhanced encryption, security and anonymity. (Why does it remind me of Animal House’s double-secret probation?)
NordVPN makes 7 “Double VPN” servers available for customers. I tried the U.S/Canada and U.K./Netherlands options and found it slowed my connection down considerably - still usable, but noticeably slower. Your mileage may vary.
Onion Over VPN
NordVPN says their Onion over VPN connection option moves the privacy and security to the next level. A client connects to a NordVPN server, which then routes all traffic through a Tor network. The traffic is first encrypted within the NordVPN layer and then sent to the Tor network.
This allows access to “.onion” websites, which are only available through the Tor network. The service recommends caution while accessing using Onion over VPN, due to the various shady activities the Tor network is known for.
Any good VPN service will give you protection against Distributed Denial of Service attacks. However, NordVPN says their Anti-DDoS servers can be used for a less-interrupted connection since they have an “advanced stability checking system.”
Dedicated IP Servers
Dedicated IP servers offer users an IP address that only they will be using. The company offers dedicated IPs in the United States (Buffalo), Germany (Frankfurt), United Kingdom (Milton Keynes) and Netherlands (Amsterdam). A dedicated IP in any of these countries carries a $70-per-year additional tariff.
Once a customer signs up for the NordVPN Dedicated IP option, they become the only customer using that particular IP address. This makes a Dedicated IP Server an excellent option for clients who require a static, unchanging IP address for accessing certain networks, databases, servers and other online services.
The app offers a quick way to connect to “favorite” VPN servers and to access the Tor Network. With “Double VPN” protection, special Anti-DDoS servers and even the option to use dedicated IP addresses for an extra charge, NordVPN boasts excellent features.
Ease of Use:
The NordVPN apps install easily and quickly. Connecting to a VPN server is a matter of just a few clicks, and you’re quickly connected. The app puts only a minimal hit on system resources.
Connection Quality and Speed
When testing a VPN provider, I do the following to test the quality of the connection. I test ping times, as well as download and upload speeds via the Speedtest website. I do this for my normal internet connection to set a benchmark.
I then run the same tests using a VPN connection in the United States, and then again using a VPN connection in the United Kingdom. All connections are made by selecting the country name and allowing the VPN provider to make the server selection.
Ping, Download & Upload Speed
Local Internet Provider
U.S. VPN Server
U.K. VPN Server
When it comes to internet connections (say it with me), “Faster is always better.” But it’s also a fact of online life that usually, you are going to pay a speed penalty when using a VPN connection.
When we take a look at our speed test results we see that generally, the farther away from a VPN server your location is, the higher the ping numbers will be, and the lower the download and upload speeds will measure. But, how does this affect your internet usage?
When it comes to ping numbers, the lower they are, the better your internet experience. You won’t notice your day-to-day usage affected greatly by higher pings, but if you’re a player of resource-intensive shooter games like Call of Duty, you’ll find yourself killed before you can turn around and shoot if your ping numbers go too high.
Upload and download numbers on most VPN servers will come in lower than those you will measure with a direct connection. The numbers shown above for both U.S. and U.K. VPN connections through NordVPN do not show an unacceptable drop in either set of measurements.
The connection quality of a VPN server can be affected by a number of things. Server loads can greatly affect connection quality. The more users that are connected to a VPN server, the less responsive it will be.
Think of your favorite online retailer on “Cyber Monday.” Many VPN providers can help you avoid this issue by offering a “Best Connection” option, which connects you to the service’s most efficient server at that moment. If security is all you need, this option is always the one you should, at least, try.
VPN protocols can also slow a connection. Popular modern protocols, such as the 256-bit encrypted OpenVPN option, are quite efficient. However, as a rule, the better the encryption, the slower the connection. But also keep in mind that the slight performance penalty for better encryption is a small price to pay to protect your personal data.
Last but not least, remember that any internet connection is only as fast as the slowest point along the way. Any “suboptimal” point of connection anywhere between you and the VPN server will slow things down.
While upload and download speed numbers for NordVPN are suitably impressive, I also like to give VPN connections more of a real-world-type test by performing tasks an average user is likely to use their VPN connection for.
When testing a new VPN provider, I try to include all of the usual online activities a user might subject their VPN connection to. This includes video streaming, gaming, and the usual web browsing, email and document-editing. I perform all of these tasks via both the U.S. and U.K. VPN connections.
YouTube performed well, with no visible issues on both the U.S. and U.K. connections. I played full-screen HD video, which streamed smoothly on both connections.
Click here to see the best VPNs for Youtube.
I visited the Netflix website while connected via a U.S. NordVPN server on my Mac and attempted to view a video. While I was successful in viewing videos, the quality was less than stellar.
Buffering of the video took longer than normal, and the video itself was affected by pixelation, artifacts, and an overall “fuzzy” look, which is common when attempting to view videos over a slow connection.When using a U.K. connection to the Netflix website, I was usually able to view their U.K. content, but it was hit and miss.
When attempting to view “Designated Survivor,” an ABC Network show that is available via Netflix U.K., I was first told I was using a proxy connection, and wasn’t allowed to view the selected episode. However, when I tried again later, the episode loaded and I was able to view it. I had a similar experience with other content I tried to view.The viewing experience with the U.K. connection was similar to the U.S. connection, where, despite a more-than-acceptable VPN connection speed, I experienced a long wait time for videos to buffer.
When the video did begin streaming, I saw pixelation and artifacts, along with the previously-mentioned “fuzziness.” As I watched for a few more minutes, the video situation improved, offering a much sharper, but less-than-HD, viewing experience. It should be noted that VPN services and Netflix have been engaged in a battle of wits over the past few years. VPNs are continually adding new IP addresses, while Netflix scans for new addresses so it can add them to their blocking lists. This means Netflix will usually prove to be hit or miss.
When turned down by Netflix via one VPN server, try a different one in the same country, which may enable streaming.
Click here to see the best VPNs for Netflix.
My Hulu experience was satisfactory on the U.S. VPN connection, playing HD video with no issues. However, when I attempted to connect to Hulu via the U.K. VPN connection, I could not load the site at first. I attempted later in the day and was successful in viewing full-screen HD video via the VPN connection.
Click here to see the best VPNs for Hulu.
Skype and FaceTime
I placed my usual Skype call tests, both audio and video, on both U.S. and U.K. connections. Both types of calls went through, and sounded and looked the same as if I was placing them on an unfettered internet connection.
I mainly use a Mac and an iPhone for my day-to-day business and personal online tasks, and as such, I use FaceTime as much, if not more, than I do Skype. I attempted VPN calls on both the U.S. and U.K. VPN connections, and in both cases, neither video nor audio calls would go through.
The recipient of the calls reported that she received a notification of a call, but when she accepted the call, it eventually failed. I haven’t encountered this with a VPN in the past, so I contacted NordVPN Customer Support via their online support contact form. Within minutes, they replied and suggested I set up an IKEv2 connection to a NordVPN server on my Mac. (They have an excellent support document available on their website, which walks you through it.)
Once I set up the new connection, FaceTime worked great. It’s a little disappointing that I needed to jump through hoops to use FaceTime, but it did work.
Before I posted this review, I found that NordVPN also offers a version of the Mac app through the Mac App Store that uses the IKEv2 protocol as its default connection to the VPN servers. If I had known this, I would have been able to use it, instead of manually setting up an IKEv2 connection!
Click here to see the best VPNs for Skype.
I have mentioned previously that I am more of a casual gamer than the hard-core, gotta-blow-something-up-online-right-now type of gamer. However, I did play a few minutes of Doom 3, which is a guilty pleasure of mine, while connected to NordVPN.
Both the U.S. and U.K. connections were more than up to the task. As for those gamers playing the very latest first-person shooters, I would suggest performing the 3-day trial voodoo I described earlier in this article and giving the connections a try before laying down your, or your parent’s, hard-earned cash
Click here to see the best VPNs for Gaming.
General Internet Usage
Using the NordVPN connection during my normal workday, I found both the U.S. and U.K. connections to be more than adequate for my needs.
My workday consists of accessing Google Docs to create and edit both text documents and spreadsheets (as well as the occasional presentation, when forced). Also, I stay in touch with business associates and friends via the Mac Messages app, Slack and the major social networking sites.
In all cases, the connection was more than up to the challenge. I experienced no lag and no undue wait. I never felt like I was waiting for the VPN connection to “catch up.”
The NordVPN app for iOS is an excellent way to protect your iOS device’s internet connection. It’s quick to make a connection and supplies access to all of the various types of connections that NordVPN offers its customers.
While both the U.S. and U.K. connections offered much longer ping times, and considerably lower download speeds, in both cases, the connections were more than up to what I requested of them.
Ping, Download & Upload Speed
Local Internet Provider
U.S. VPN Server
U.K. VPN Server
While testing NordVPN on my iOS device, I was able to perform my usual tasks with no issues. Skype and FaceTime both performed well via NordVPN, with no need to get a bit fancy with the setup, like the Mac app required to enable FaceTime.
I checked email, participated in online chats, stayed in touch with friends, family and business associates via Facebook, Twitter and Slack - all with no issues. All in all, NordVPN performed well on my iOS device.
While NordVPN isn’t the fastest provider I’ve ever reviewed, it misses reaching the top by only a few percentage points. The provider should be more than up to just about anything you might subject it to
Global Server Coverage
NordVPN offered 1,102 servers in 61 countries at the time of this article. As seen on the map below, most of their VPN server farms are located in Europe. This could be seen as a plus for users located in other parts of the world, while Europeans may want to look elsewhere for service.
Global Server Coverage:
NordVPN offers decent global server coverage, although their coverage is concentrated in the European area of the world.
Privacy, Security & Legal
Encryption levels vary with the type of connection and the app being used. These include IKEv2/IPsec - 256-bit encryption, OpenVPN - 256-bit encryption, L2TP/IPsec, PPTP and SSTP.
The last 3 encryption levels above aren’t recommended by NordVPN for use with their service unless OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPsec simply won’t work for your unique situation. NordVPN explains that L2TP/IPsec, PPTP and SSTP are older encryption protocols, and they simply don’t offer the best possible protection for your connection.
NordVPN is based in Panama City, Panama, and as such, it benefits from Panama’s lack of any mandatory retention laws. NordVPN is not required to store logs, which is a great working environment for a VPN provider and its clients.
As NordVPN says on its website:
“From the moment a NordVPN.com user turns on the 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 does not require data storage or reporting, we are empowered to deny any third party requests. Period.”
NordVPN does not log any of a user’s online activity. The only information they keep about their users is their e-mail address (used for connecting to VPN, as well as marketing and troubleshooting purposes) and their billing information (used for refunding procedures).
The NordVPN apps do not work from inside restrictive countries, such as China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
However, they say a manual VPN configuration of the L2TP protocol with some specific settings will allow a connection to the service in those countries. The NordVPN support staff will help you set that up if needed. (This is best performed BEFORE you visit any of those “restrictive countries.”)
Last but not least, NordVPN accepts the privacy-protecting Bitcoin cryptocurrency as payment for VPN subscriptions. This is a must for any user who is genuinely interested in protecting his online privacy.
NordVPN is located in the privacy-friendly country of Panama, keeps no logs and accepts Bitcoin as payment for subscriptions. All of this adds up to a perfect rating in the privacy department.
NordVPN is another VPN provider who appears to be walking the proverbial tightrope strung between excellent customer service and keeping costs down. As such, the only two means of customer support are online chat and an online form to contact the support department.
I must say they are a responsive gang of folks. I sent an inquiry about making FaceTime work with the Mac app via the contact form on a Wednesday morning, and within minutes I received a response asking me for more information and offering a list of steps to try to make things work.
While I appreciate the quick response and the offer of a solution, I would have GREATLY appreciated it if they had mentioned the Mac App Store version of the app that likely would have also solved my issues.
I also made use of the online chat option to ask a question about a feature that was listed on the website, but that I couldn’t find any other information about.
The friendly customer rep replied instantly with the information that the specific feature I asked about had been included on all of their servers, and was no longer specific to only certain servers. Okay, so tell the marketing department about that, hmmm?
The provider also offers an excellent “Getting Started” and troubleshooting knowledge base, which is a great resource for do-it-yourselfer types.
NordVPN offers excellent customer support with quick responses, online chat and an extensive knowledge base.
Alternative VPN Options
While NordVPN scores high in all categories, it does lack in the number of VPN server locations. A lack of server locations and servers could lead to connection congestion, slowing performance of the service’s connections.
Other VPNs providing more server locations include Hide My Ass!, ExpressVPN and VyprVPN. These providers all offer a much larger number of server locations, while also rating highly in other categories.
Hide My Ass! boasts the best global server coverage of any provider I have reviewed. With over 790 servers spread out in 220+ countries, Hide My Ass! provides the best server options I’ve seen.
ExpressVPN offers 1,500+ servers in 94 countries. The provider has done a great job of strategically locating their server farms, so you should be able to find a server in the location you’re looking to access.
VyprVPN could use some improvement in many of its categories, but when it comes to server coverage, they aren’t lacking. With over 700 servers in 70+ countries, you can likely find a server to fit your geographically-related needs.
While NordVPN offers great speeds at a reasonable price, there are VPN providers that I would recommend higher than this one. While the speeds look to be reasonably fast when checked on the Speedtest website, actual streaming quality was less than optimal. Users who are looking for a way to stream video from outside their region may want to explore other options.
As with most VPN providers, while NordVPN connections are compatible with Netflix and Hulu, it’s a random hit-or-miss situation as to whether either streaming service will recognize the VPN connection and disallow streaming, or whether the content will begin streaming.
When the streaming works, buffering times can be lengthy, and video quality is sometimes less than stellar. (This isn’t exclusive to NordVPN, and can be expected with almost any VPN provider.)
Signing up for the service is easy, and NordVPN does offer a 3-day trial subscription, requiring only an email address. They also provide a Bitcoin option, so Bitcoin users may be willing to overlook a few performance issues to be able to keep their complete anonymity. Gift cards are also another nice anonymous-use option.
The service offers apps for most popular device platforms, and those apps are available directly from the NordVPN website. They also feature support for DD-WRT-based routers.
The VPN service has a very responsive support department, with the best response times I’ve ever experienced - even if they do occasionally omit information I could have used. The website’s support library is more than adequate, and in most cases, I was able to find information about any questions I had about the service.
If you’re a business or casual user who doesn’t require any more than a solid connection for staying in touch on the web and doing your work online, you might want to give a 3-day trial of NordVPN a try. If you’re a video addict, give the free trial a try, though you can probably find better options elsewhere.
For more information about NordVPN, or to sign up for a subscription, visit the NordVPN website.