Rating:
6/10
?
  • 1 - Does not work
  • 2 - Barely functional
  • 3 - Severely lacking in most areas
  • 4 - Functions, but has numerous issues
  • 5 - Fine yet leaves a lot to be desired
  • 6 - Good enough to buy on sale
  • 7 - Great and worth purchasing
  • 8 - Fantastic, approaching best-in-class
  • 9 - Best-in-class
  • 10 - Borderline perfection
Price:
Starting At $2.99

NordVPN logo

NordVPN might be one of the best-known VPNs out there, mainly thanks to its far-reaching, aggressive advertising campaigns. Of course, with so much money spent on marketing, I wondered whether or not it was all it was cracked up to be.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed after testing. NordVPN pretty much has two things going for it: its interface and its ability to get through to Netflix; everything else is just marketing. Though there are some users who could benefit from using NordVPN, our best VPN roundup has much better and cheaper alternatives to choose from.

Here's What We Like

  • Cheap the first time
  • Gets through to Netflix
  • Nice interface

And What We Don't

  • Renewal price is steep
  • Inconsistent performance
  • Slow connection times

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Using NordVPN

Before we get into what I don’t like about NordVPN, let’s go over what makes it good. Its main strength is its interface, which is an interactive map of the world. Click on a location on the map, and NordVPN will connect you to that location. Easy as pie. We go over some of the details in our beginner’s guide to NordVPN.

NordVPN's main interface

The map is fully interactive, and each location NordVPN has servers in is marked. This is a recent addition, before you could only select countries via the map, and it would automatically select a server for you. I like this more, as it gives you more control. Since distance affects VPN speed, Europeans for example will usually want a server on the East Coast of the States, not the West.

RELATED: Why Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Connection?

If you don’t want to fiddle with the map, there’s also a list of countries to the left of the screen. Hover your mouse over any entry, and you can select a menu that shows you all the locations NordVPN has VPN servers. I prefer this method, myself, as I don’t like to move the map about, and it’s nice you can do both.

Selecting a server in NordVPN

However, here’s where the first blemishes appear: Unlike services like ExpressVPN, NordVPN maintains large numbers of servers in each location, not just one or two. Before its recent makeover, you could pick from each one of those servers individually, based on a small indicator that showed how heavy the load on the server was.

No longer, though. NordVPN has automated the server selection fully. This would be fine, except the server selection system is terrible. It will often connect you to servers that reduce your speeds immensely, meaning you need to reconnect with crossed fingers till you find a server that gives you okay speeds—no more than okay, either, as you’ll see in the speed section, below.

To be clear, NordVPN doesn’t have a monopoly on an awful automatic selection system, it’s something many, if not most, VPN services struggle with. However, other services let you get around this issue by allowing manual selection. Sure, I complain in my Mullvad review about its long, long server lists, but I’d rather deal with that than have to reconnect several times before finding a server that suits my needs.

NordVPN and Netflix

This also plays a part when discussing NordVPN’s other big strength: its ability to unblock Netflix. It’s probably one of the best I’ve tested, with many servers able to get through to the streaming platform’s other libraries; honestly, it’s amazing. However, if you get a server that can get through but has terrible performance, all you’ll see is a loading screen where the main page should be.

It’s a real shame. You can get around the issue by trying a number of servers until you have one that’s fast and can use Netflix, but since you can’t select individual servers, the next time you want to watch another country’s Netflix library you’ll have to go through the whole process again.

RELATED: How to Unblock Netflix

Speciality Servers

Besides streaming, NordVPN also likes to advertise how it can help you with other online activities using its so-called speciality servers. There are so-called double VPN servers, which we discuss in the security section, as well as ones specialized for torrenting.

NordVPN's specialty servers

There are also ones that let you use Tor over VPN more easily and ones that are supposed to let you escape internet censorship. While I like how NordVPN caters to all these needs, most services let these features be carried out by their normal servers; I’m a little unclear why you need separate ones. Proton VPN, to name just one example, can do all this without using special servers.

NordVPN Apps

NordVPN is available for a huge number of operating systems, like Windows, Mac, iPhone/iPad, Android, and a number of browser extensions. There’s a command-line interface for Linux, too, as well as the ability to install it on devices such as routers and smart TVs, among others.

For this review, I tested the Windows version of the app on a virtual machine, as well as gave it a spin on Android. On Windows, I experienced some slowdowns and some stalled connections, which was a little annoying, though it was nowhere near as bad as my experience with PureVPN.

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Speed

As I alluded to above, there’s an issue with NordVPN’s speeds. Depending on which server you connect to, you’ll get results ranging from terrible to okay. At no point can I call NordVPN fast, though, as you can see in the table below.

Location Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Cyprus (unprotected) 10 97 41
Israel 150 56 7
United Kingdom 189 42 10
New York City 167 58 6
Japan 499 19 4

Even at its best—and it took some time to get these results together, I tell you—NordVPN isn’t great. My base speed from my home office in Cyprus is a respectable 100 Mbps, and I don’t expect to lose more than 20% or so to Israel or the U.K., and hopefully no less than 40 to 50% to the U.S. or Japan.

The U.S. reading was okay, but all others disappointed me badly. Also, latency was a pretty serious issue, with no ping below 100 on any test I did. If you like your VPNs fast, NordVPN isn’t it.

Pricing

NordVPN has always advertised as offering its services cheaply, with plans as little as $40 per year if you sign up for two years, for example. This is a pretty good deal, considering you get a decent VPN for your trouble. Currently, NordVPN offers three different plans, each of which comes in three different durations: month-to-month, annually, and biannually. Here’s what it looks like in a table.

Plan Month-to-month 1 year 2 years
Standard $11.99 $67.35 $80.73
Plus $12.99 $82.35 $107.73
Complete $14.29 $101.85 $142.83

Note that I used the up-front cost for the entire duration of the plan. Also, if you’re paying in euros or are based in Europe, you’re paying a lot more than this—roughly 20% more.

The Standard plan is just the VPN, including an ad blocker, the Plus plan adds a password manager called NordLocker, and the Complete plan adds 1TB of storage to that. There’s also a data breach scanner included in the Plus and Complete plans that seems to work a bit like Have I Been Pwned?

Since I’m focusing on the VPN, I won’t spend too much time on the password manager or the cloud storage offering, except to say that I think they’re a little overpriced. For example, you can use two excellent password managers, KeePass and Bitwarden, for free. The storage pricing is better, but since you need to also get the password manager to use it, it’s less attractive.

How Much Is NordVPN?

If we look only at the Standard plan, so just the VPN, the picture looks a bit better, at least at first. The one-year plan is roughly $70, which isn’t great when compared to providers like Mullvad, which are $60, but it’s a lot cheaper than the $100 ExpressVPN asks—read up my full comparison of NordVPN and ExpressVPN for the details on that.

The two-year plan is even better, effectively only costing $40 per year, which is almost as good as Private Internet Access, the best budget option out there. Arguably, you get a lot more VPN for that money, too.

However, there’s a catch in the fine print, and a nasty one at that. The advertised prices are only good for the first time you sign up, after that you start paying the real price, which is double. The one-year Standard plan goes from $67 to $124, and the two-year from $80 to a whopping $223. The other plans see similar increases.

Very few VPNs do this. While almost all will offer some kind of enticement to sign up, very few will double the price after the initial period—Surfshark is one of the few exceptions. This makes NordVPN extremely unattractive to use more than once, so that’s something to keep in mind. If you like NordVPN enough to sign up, make sure to switch off auto-renewal so you don’t end up paying double when your initial term is up.

Security and Privacy

When it comes to security and privacy, NordVPN checks all the right boxes. Its privacy policy is a long, detailed document that goes through all the ins and outs of what data it collects and how it handles that information.

It’s hard to say whether or not this is a good thing, as the document is quite involved and I’m no lawyer. I think it would give me a lot more peace of mind if NordVPN allowed people to sign up anonymously, that way there’s no information to share.

However, using the service involves giving your email address at the very least and generally using payment methods like credit cards that reveal your personal details. The only marginally private form of payment allowed is crypto, which isn’t entirely anonymous.

As for security, NordVPN is also decent, offering all kinds of doodads to help you stay safe. While I’m not too impressed with things like its vaunted Double VPN feature, which lets you connect to two different locations, basically giving you two tunnels of protection, it also has the basics covered.

For example, it uses some solid protocols to keep your traffic safe, including OpenVPN—the gold standard—as well as a variant of WireGuard called Nordlynx. WireGuard and OpenVPN are the best VPN protocols out there, so you should be safe as houses using NordVPN. The app defaults to NordLynx, so there’s no need to mess with anything.

However, I should note that NordVPN does have a strike against it in the security department, albeit a small one. Back in 2018, NordVPN suffered a breach. It seems to have been of little consequence, with the attacker likely not making off with account information, but the company didn’t disclose that it happened; in fact, it only admitted it occurred a year later, in 2019, and under pressure.

This is a bad look for a security company: you’re supposed to reveal there was an issue as soon as you’re aware of it, not later when somebody else blows the lid off the secret. The company has pledged in several statements to not let it happen again, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If you’d like to know more about this whole saga, TechRadar has a full report.

Should You Sign Up for NordVPN?

When you add it all up, it’s hard to give NordVPN a full-throated recommendation. Sure, it has its upsides—the interface is great, and it busts through to Netflix like no tomorrow—but its downsides are just too big to overlook.

If you’re an absolute newbie who wants to use NordVPN for two years to get acquainted with VPNs and then quit, then it’s a decent pick. If you’re more of a power user, you’re probably better off with ExpressVPN or Mullvad.

Rating:
6/10
Price:
Starting At $2.99

Here’s What We Like

  • Cheap the first time
  • Gets through to Netflix
  • Nice interface

And What We Don't

  • Renewal price is steep
  • Inconsistent performance
  • Slow connection times
Profile Photo for Fergus O'Sullivan Fergus O'Sullivan
Fergus is a freelance writer for How-To Geek. He has seven years of tech reporting and reviewing under his belt for a number of publications, including GameCrate and Cloudwards. He's written more articles and reviews about cybersecurity and cloud-based software than he can keep track of---and knows his way around Linux and hardware, too.
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