Categories Privacy & Security

NordVPN Review – is this the best VPN of 2021?

NordVPN is without a doubt one of the leading VPN providers, being an early entrant to the market, and playing a key role in popularizing the concept of secure, encrypted VPNs for the masses. They have successfully cemented their position in most ‘Top 10 Lists’ of the best VPN service providers.

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Even today, NordVPN claims to provide ultra-fast connectivity with industry-standard security, privacy, and encryption. With hundreds of new VPN service providers cropping up each month and growing complexities such as tougher geoblocks and increased regulatory scrutiny, does NordVPN still punch above its weight, or is it just riding the momentum of its past success?

NordVPN is a recommended option for those wanting an affordable VPN with a balance of privacy and speed. As of April 2021, NordVPN operates more than 5,600 servers across 60 countries and employs some of the most powerful security and privacy features.

Pros

  • Fast servers across many locations
  • It uses WireGuard as its VPN technology
  • Ease of use
  • Unblocks sites and apps that other VPNs don’t
  • Allows up to six simultaneous connections
  • Strong security with no logging
  • Supports torrenting

Cons

  • No kill switch available on Android
  • Streaming servers not labeled
  • The desktop app is not that user-friendly
  • Somewhat expensive (there are cheaper services out there)
  • For some advanced users, six simultaneous connections are not enough

Servers and Locations

NordVPN has servers in about 60 countries and offers its users good geographical diversity. Though some other providers cover as many as 94 countries, NordVPN’s server network is huge at 5,600 servers. Most of these are located across the UK and US, with a notable mix of servers worldwide: a sizable number of servers are present in South America, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Turkey.

While more servers don’t always mean better service, having a good number of server options allows increased privacy and anonymity. It also means faster speeds, as fewer users will be using the same server simultaneously. You will also be sharing your IP address with fewer people. NordVPN recently upgraded its servers to 10Gbps and implemented the NordLynx WireGuard-based protocol. This will boost the VPN’s speed and performance and allow the company to handle increased usage. It is also important to keep up with increased speed demands to stay competitive.

Security & Privacy

Private and secure browsing should be the top priority for any VPN provider. NordVPN excels in this area with its AES 256-bit encryption technology. AES 256-bit is one of the safest security protocols available, making sure nobody can access your data. It also uses a 2048-bit DH key and SHA2-384 authentication. NordVPN also uses PFS or Perfect Forward Secrecy that assigns a new key whenever you log in to remove all your data from the previous session. There is no information or activity to expose. NordVPN uses two security protocols, IKEv2/IPSec as default for iOS and macOS and OpenVPN UDP/TCP for Windows and Android.

Speed

NordVPN introduced a protocol named NordLynx in 2020 to improve its speeds. This protocol is an advanced version of Wireguard and is far more efficient than older versions. This makes the service one of the top VPN options in terms of speed. The speed is fast enough for high-quality video conferencing, live streaming in HD quality, and streaming in 4k resolution. The provider offers up to 112Mbps for Asia and North America and up to 122Mbps for Europe. This download speed is fast enough to allow video streaming in high quality and play games without any problems.

Streaming

NordVPN can unblock several streaming sites, including Hulu, Netflix, ABC iView, and more. Though the tough geoblocks used by Netflix block VPNs from accessing it, this is an exception for NordVPN that can circumvent these blocks. NordVPN does this by employing a SmartPlay feature aimed to bypass the geo-blocks while keeping you secure. You can stream in high quality without any lag on Netflix in different locations. NordVPN can also unblock social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Torrenting

NordVPN supports torrent downloading with a large number of P2P-optimized servers. You can access them easily from the app and don’t need to visit the website and look for servers. Every server offers unlimited data and bandwidth to let you share any number of files. The service works with popular torrenting platforms, including Vuze, BitTorrent, uTorrent, and others. There is also a strict no-logs policy, so if you’re pirating, you won’t need to worry about your activity being stored or tracked.

Kill Switch

NordVPN succeeds at offering impressive security with a kill switch to prevent data leakage if the connection to the VPN drops. NordVPN has two kill switches – one which blocks internet access on your device when not connected to the VPN so that your IP address isn’t accidentally exposed, while the app kill switch on iOS allows controls which specific applications close when the connection drops. This feature is great for torrenting because the P2P traffic is instantly blocked to protect IP leaks while you keep browsing until the connection restores.

Leak Protection

IP and DNS leaks occur when your location and activity are trackable due to browser and software flaws. This can make your device vulnerable to hackers and trackers who can identify your location and activity. NordVPN offers IP and DNS leak protection to avoid any accidental exposure of data.

Logging Policy

NordVPN has a ‘no logs’ policy that it strictly implements. It guarantees a strict no-logging which means your internet activity is not logged, monitored, recorded, passed to a third party, or processed in any way. They also do not store IP addresses, connection time stamps, bandwidth, traffic logs, or browsing data. This policy covers internet activities and session information such as the IP address you use to connect to the service.

Compatibility

NordVPN works with almost all operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. Apps are available for these operating systems allowing you to use NordVPN on up to 6 different devices at once. NordVPN also has extensions on popular web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox.

Android & iOS Apps

Installing and setting up mobile apps for NordVPN is quick and easy. There is also a Quick Connect feature that makes it quicker. The interface and functionality are similar on Android and iOS, but the latter has more security features like IKEv2 and the kill switch. Moreover, the servers you can connect to on the two platforms are different. Both Android and iOS apps offer amazing features like automatic connection to mobile and Wi-Fi networks, anti-malware features, auto-reconnect, and more. You can even use split-tunneling on mobile devices.

Browser Extensions

Those who want to protect their privacy while using web browsers can take advantage of the Chrome and Firefox extensions NordVPN offers, which are available for both desktop and mobile. The extensions can be directly installed into your preferred browser. These extensions will encrypt your browser’s activity and protect your identity.

Router App

The provider also has an app for routers compatible with VPN. Installing the app gives you unlimited connections and lets you use the service on Wi-Fi-only devices like smart TVs and gaming consoles that would not normally allow a VPN connection.

Ease of Use

The desktop and mobile apps of NordVPN are easy to download and set up. The installation process takes a couple of minutes with only a few steps to complete before you can connect to a server.

You can find a list of servers from different locations to switch to quickly. These servers are based on your country and, in some cases, cities or states. Specialized servers also exist, providing faster speeds and better privacy. The NordVPN apps are designed to be easy to use while at the same time offering advanced privacy and security features that you can personalize for your needs.

Pricing

As of 5th April 2021, the company offers a simple, straightforward pricing structure with four plans to select from. The monthly plan costs about $12, which goes down to $9 per month if you pay for six months in advance or $6.5 per month if you opt for an annual payment. The best value plan is the 2-year subscription that gives you access to the service at just $3.7/month, a discount of about 70 percent compared to the monthly plan.

Support

NordVPN excels at customer service with a 24/7 live chat and support system that responds quickly to requests. You can also use the chatbot to answer basic queries about setting up the app, server locations, and account. The website also has extensive documentation and a detailed FAQs section.

Conclusion

There is tough competition in the industry, with many VPNs offering great features and prices. However, NordVPN stands out for its combination of being affordable, fast, and highly secure. It has a huge fleet of servers across the globe and incorporates some of the newest technologies into its features. As most customer reviews show, it is fast, secure, and can unblock most geo-blocked websites.

NordVPN also strives to stay ahead of the pack by constantly adding advanced features into the app. Everything you would need in a VPN, including killswitch, compatibility across devices, specialty servers, quick connect feature, ad-block, and more, is available in NordVPN. Though the privacy of NordVPN on iOS seems to slightly supersede that on Android devices, this is minor, and it is an advanced VPN service on both devices. Another drawback, the six simultaneous connection limit, is actually not such a bad thing considering most of us won’t be using NordVPN across 6 devices. Overall, NordVPN is great value for money and is considered one of the most reliable and powerful VPN providers.

Ryan Gilser is a web security and privacy expert. He has earned a bachelor's degree in Information Systems and Cyber Security and has worked for several large firms. When he's not trying to find vulnerabilities for employers as a freelancer, he enjoys hanging out with friends and playing with his dog Max.

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