NordVPN Review 2021
NordVPN remains a firm favorite among VPN users – and for very good reason. It’s a leading VPN provider with excellent privacy and security credentials, an easy-to-use interface, multiple simultaneous connections, and a bunch of valuable extra features, all at a very attractive price point. Plus, it’s compatible with just about any device or operating system, requires minimal set-up and offers excellent customer support over live chat, should you have any issues or queries.
NordVPN Key Features
IP Addresses: Not known
Amazon Prime Video | BBC iPlayer | Twitter | YouTube | Spotify | Netflix | iOS
Streaming | Torrenting | 30 Day Money Back Guarante
Pros & Cons
6 Things We Like:
- Great speeds
- Low cost
- Ad Blocker
- 6 simultaneous connections
- Easy set-up
3 Things We Didn’t Like:
- No phone support
- The app doesn’t link to live chat support
- Triggers CAPTCHA sign-ins
What would you like to do with NordVPN?
NordVPN works an absolute dream when it comes to streaming video from sites around the world, including unblocking Netflix and the UK’s BBC iPlayer.
I started the test by connecting to a server in New York and opening Netflix US since this is one of the most highly sought-after features of a VPN – and something that few manage without any issues. To make sure I was definitely seeing the US video library, I searched for For Colored Girls, a movie that I know isn’t on Netflix UK because I tried to watch it a few days ago and it wasn’t there. This time – success!
I also looked up the Daily Show on YouTube, the full episodes of which are geo-restricted and usually unavailable in the UK. Behold: Trevor Noah’s lovely face.
Next, I switched over to a UK server, signed into BBC iPlayer, and tried to stream an old episode of the excellent Killing Eve, the third season of which I had, alas, already binge-watched. There was a slight wobble, as this message came up to tell me I needed to be in the UK:
… but I just opened it in another browser (Safari) and that solved the problem immediately. Clearly, Chrome hadn’t caught up with the change in IP address. If you get this problem, clearing your cookies or closing and reopening the browser tends to work, too.
Now, the really tricky one: Amazon Prime Video. Amazon doesn’t just geo-restrict your access to the video library based on where you are right now, it also connects this back to your registered address. Unless you have a credit card with a US address linked to it, no Amazon Prime US for you.
I didn’t want to mess up my Amazon account by changing my delivery address. As an experiment, though, I set up a new Amazon account using a real credit card but a random address in Alaska. I expected this to be rejected immediately, given that this card is not registered to any US Zip Code, let alone the one I entered, but to my surprise, it worked!
So in other words, NordVPN keeps up its share of the bargain by convincing Amazon that you’re accessing the Prime Video site from a US IP address. If you already have Amazon linked to a US address, this means you can get into the full library from anywhere. If you’re from outside the US, it is possible to fudge the system to gain access, but it’s your call if you want the extra hassle.
I tested out torrenting using NordVPN by finding the (public-domain) Complete Works of Jane Austen on Pirate Bay…
… and then downloading it through uTorrent.
It was very speedy and I’m sure you could, if you were so inclined, torrent far bigger files, including movies and TV shows. However, while torrenting itself is generally legal, pirating and downloading material that you don’t own or isn’t in the public domain can get you into trouble. Which is
a) why you absolutely need to use a VPN if you’re going to take the risk, and
b) why I won’t be providing a demonstration here.
I tested out the VPN by downloading Steam onto my desktop and, from there, a free game Sandbox called Albion. It took just a few minutes to download.
Interestingly enough, while I had no trouble downloading Steam or Albion (or loading / playing the game) while using NordVPN, it refused to let me sign up for an account while connected. I got this error message telling me I couldn’t use a VPN or proxy while creating the account:
I tried switching servers, using a different browser, closing, and reopening Steam, but it wasn’t being fooled. In the end, I had to disconnect the VPN to register the Steam account and reconnect once it was done.
That said, once the account was registered, I didn’t have any problems signing in to Steam and playing the game while NordVPN was running, meaning that my IP address would have been obscured from other players. This is important not only from a privacy perspective but also to prevent things like malicious DDoS attacks.
Bear in mind that if you connect to the internet using other gaming devices like a Playstation or Xbox, you’d need to install the VPN directly onto your router.
Speed: How Fast is NordVPN?
Using NordVPN didn’t create any noticeable drops in my internet speed, even when I tried connecting to different servers all over the world.
To illustrate this, here was my starting speed, when connected to the WiFi in my apartment in the UK, without using a VPN. I had a download speed of just under 60 Mb per second and an upload speed just shy of 10 MB per second:
I then connected to a UK based server through NordVPN and tried streaming my binge-watch guilty pleasure show of the moment, Dead to Me. While it was playing, I also ran a speed test:
Not only did this play without a hitch, as you can see here, I actually had a better speed with the VPN on than without it – nearly 100 Mb per second on the download side!
There are two possible reasons for this, both of which are in fact little-known positives of using a VPN generally. Firstly, using a VPN can prevent bandwidth throttling, which is when your Internet Service Provider deliberately slows your connection during high demand periods of if there’s been a lot of activity from your IP address. Secondly, if the VPN provider has its own DNS servers, as NordVPN does, it may communicate with the target websites faster than your device would do on its own.
But back to the task in hand. I then switched over to Netflix US and started streaming an episode of “Dating Around”, which Netflix informed me was one of the most popular US shows of the day, and ran another speed test. As you can see here, the change to my speed was negligible. A download speed of 93.5 Mb per second and an upload speed of 9.3:
Without pausing the show, I then switched over to a server in Canada. It took a second to reconnect and Netflix flashed a warning that the connection had been lost – a good sign, as it shows that NordVPN was preventing an unsecured connection to the internet, which could expose your IP address. Despite this, though, the stream wasn’t actually interrupted.
NordVPN swiftly reconnected to the Canada server, again delivering excellent results: a download speed of 87.3 and upload speed of 8.8:
Once again, without pausing the show, I switched over seamlessly to a server in New Zealand, which is the furthest you can get from the UK. This didn’t interrupt the stream or affect the quality of the video at all. In fact, it still delivered a better download speed than I’d had without the VPN!
From here, I traveled to Japan. Or a server in Japan, at least. Still lightning-quick, as you can see here:
Then to South Africa, with near-identical speeds:
And finally, back to Europe to finish the test closer to home, in Spain. Still no interruption to the Netflix video stream, and still excellent speeds:
All in all, extremely impressive results from servers the world over.
When you’re using NordVPN, your true IP address is hidden and all your data is encrypted using military-grade, state-secret-protection-level, AES-256 encryption. This means the connection itself is extremely secure.
Don’t forget, though, that a VPN can’t stop you from giving the game away all by yourself. Obviously, if you’re using your real identity for your online accounts and social networking, you aren’t anonymous. That doesn’t just mean signing comments with your real name, it also means signing in to sites with Facebook or Google for the sake of convenience. Simply forgetting to sign out of your Facebook or Google accounts when you continue browsing means that these companies can keep tracking pretty much everything you do online. Just because you’re using a powerful VPN like NordVPN doesn’t mean you should get complacent.
NordVPN incorporates state-of-the-art protection against DNS leaks. This is a security failure of many basic VPNs that don’t own their own DNS servers – they don’t stop your device pinging your real IP address to DNS every time you search for a website address.
NordVPN, on the other hand, does own all its own DNS servers, meaning that all your internet traffic runs through this encrypted tunnel. I double checked this by running a few tests on the DNS Leak Test website, including right after I’d switched from one server to another. Only an IP address owned by a NordVPN server was detected:
NordVPN’s Kill Switch is automatically enabled, meaning that if your VPN is disconnected for any reason it will temporarily block your internet connection until it has a chance to reconnect. This is really important to prevent your IP address from being leaked as you switch servers. It also means that if your internet connection drops for any reason, you don’t risk reconnecting unprotected, even for a split second.
The kill switch applies to all your apps as standard, but if you are using the Windows version, you can choose to apply it to certain apps and not others.
NordVPN boasts a robust no-logs policy, which means the company doesn’t track, collect, or share user’s private data. They don’t store incoming or outgoing IP addresses, the VPN servers assigned to you, the connection date or how long you stayed connected for, how much data you transferred, the websites you visited, the files you downloaded or the software you used while you were connected to the VPN.
This means that NordVPN actually goes further than a lot of other VPNs that advertise a no-logs policy. Many of its competitors do make a note of the date (although usually not the time) you connect on and the total amount of traffic transmitted over the course of the day, although most claim to anonymize this data. While the risk is very low, it means that it is theoretically possible for a third party who got hold of this connection data to match internet activity to an individual user based on other clues. On this metric, then, NordVPN scores extremely highly.
The company is also based in Panama, which doesn’t have mandatory data retention laws and isn’t part of the “Five Eyes” or “Fourteen Eyes” government monitoring and intelligence-sharing alliances.
To add to your anonymity, NordVPN allows purchases made in cryptocurrency. That means the payment can be traced to your account but, if you haven’t made your true identity public, not to you as an individual.
NordVPN appointed industry-leading auditors Zurich, AG, Switzerland and PriceWaterhouseCoopers to check its no-log policy and verify that its claims in this regard are accurate.
The Skin on the Onion
For some groups of people, like activists, journalists, or anyone speaking out against a repressive government, online privacy is vital. Even if you aren’t doing anything remotely illegal, you may want to avoid leaving a trail of breadcrumbs across the internet.
The problem for many people is that perfectly ordinary apps and social networking sites track everything you do, constantly, if given the chance. If you’re signed in to Facebook or Google, for example, it can be relatively easy to trace your internet activity – even if you’re using a VPN or proxy.
For this reason, many privacy-conscious internet users have turned to tools that facilitate Onion network routing (for example, the Tor Browser), which wrap your internet activity in layer upon layer of encryption, thwarting attempts to track you. There’s a catch, though: it doesn’t conceal the IP address as you enter the browser. This means that your Internet Service Provider or government would be able to tell that you were using the onion network, even if they can’t tell what you’re doing with it.
Using NordVPN with Tor or other Onion routing tools provides that last layer of privacy. A word of warning, though – I tried downloading the Tor browser with the VPN switched on. After a few attempts, Safari let me do this, but Google Chrome blocked the download page altogether until I turned the VPN off. I don’t want to speculate on why that might be, but the fact that a company notorious for playing fast and loose with customer data doesn’t want you downloading an encrypted browser without its knowledge is all the more reason to do it (and to keep this quiet), in my opinion.
If using the Onion network sounds a bit too complicated, you can boost your privacy through NordVPN’s “double VPN” feature. This routes your traffic through two NordVPN servers to double-layer your encryption level.
Usability – Is NordVPN User Friendly?
NordVPN is a breeze to install. All you need to do is register an account, download the app and sign in. From there, you can see a map displaying all of NordVPN’s server locations in your region. This means you can either click directly on one that’s near to you to connect – or, if you want to choose a server farther afield, you can search for the country you want in the left-hand sidebar instead. Alternatively, hitting the “connect” bar in the top right-hand corner will tell NordVPN to choose the closest server with the best speeds automatically.
You can see that you’ve successfully connected when the word “protected” appears in green on the left-hand corner.
On a desktop or laptop, the app sits in your taskbar and you can open it up and jump between server locations with a click. That’s it. For mobile devices, you just open the app and do the same, and you’ll see the “VPN” symbol appear on your home screen when it’s active.
As you can see, it’s really easy to use.
Problems and Annoyances
The one thing that drove me nuts while using NordVPN was the constant CAPTCHA tests and other security hoops to jump through that it attracts. For some sites, it took a full 5 minutes of identifying traffic lights just to sign into one of my accounts or open a web page!
This is because the same IP addresses are being used by so many people, creating an “unusual” pattern of internet activity that flags them up as suspicious. Basically, the company’s popularity is also something of a curse.
NordVPN says you can get around the CAPTCHA issue by signing up for a dedicated IP address (which costs $70 per year), but this would mean you’d lose the privacy and anonymity benefits of an IP and would be bound to one location. It’s something you’re unlikely to opt for unless you’re running a business and want to give your team secure, remote access to the company network, for example.
NordVPN’s Best Features
You can install NordVPN on 6 devices from a single subscription. That includes macOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Smart TVs, or directly onto your router or Raspberry Pi. There’s also a browser extension for Firefox or Chrome.
No Bluetooth or Connectivity Interruptions
I was really pleased to discover that NordVPN didn’t interfere with AirDrop or other Bluetooth connections at all. I could still connect Spotify to wireless speakers without any trouble from a phone or laptop that was connected to a VPN.
More importantly, I could transfer files securely from one device to another using AirDrop, even when both devices were connected to different VPN servers through NordVPN. This was a really handy discovery as I often need to transfer large files, including sensitive interview footage or research material, between my devices and AirDrop is typically the quickest and safest way to do it. Some other leading VPNs stop AirDrop from working unless you’re connected to the same server though, which means you need to have the VPN applied to your router – not ideal if you need to switch server locations quickly and easily.
CyberSec Malware Protection and Adblocker
This is a fantastic additional feature that boosts your security even more by giving you some of the benefits of antivirus protection along with your VPN.
When you switch on Cybersec (from settings on the app), NordVPN will block malicious websites, including those known to host malware and phishing scams. What’s more, it stops annoying, flashy ads from popping up or interrupting the flow!
Not only does this get rid of the eyesore (and the constant risk of clicking ads by accident), it also speeds up website load times. If it isn’t obvious, I absolutely love this feature.
Oh – and NordVPN says that Cybersec also prevents your computer from being taken over by a bot and used to launch a DDoS attack, which is always a plus.
NordVPN is very, very reasonably priced. Right now, if you sign up for a three-year plan you get a whopping 75% off, which works out at $2.99 per month (although you do actually need to pay it all in a single payment of $107.55).
Considering that a month-by-month subscription will set you back $11.95, that’s a pretty amazing deal. There are also various student discounts and other savings on offer on the site.
Note that if you are outside the US, NordVPN will add VAT onto the advertised price. The company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, though, just in case you change your mind about it.
NordVPN offers support via live chat and email 24/7. I used the live chat to contact them, with a few clarifying questions about how the kill switch works and whether connections are protected during the changeover from one server to another (they are, apparently). Someone from the team responded in under a minute and was very helpful.
If you’re the kind of person who would rather figure out the solution yourself, there’s also a help center on the website with frequently asked questions (and the answers, obviously!) step-by-step instructions to fix various types of connection issue.
The only quibble I had with this – and it is quite minor – is that the NordVPN app itself doesn’t link to the live chat support. If you click the “Help” tab you then need to choose between various types of issues that then redirect you to the relevant section in the help center. Clicking the question mark button at the bottom of the app also gives you the option to email support or access the knowledge base. This seems like an unnecessary barrier to accessing the fastest and most convenient source of support. Why make you go hunting on the website to discover the excellent live chat function?
On a similar note, it’s a little bit of a shame that NordVPN doesn’t offer some form of phone support. Given that the whole point of the product is to facilitate a secure and anonymous connection to the internet, it could kind of undermine this if you were to have connection problems and needed to disconnect the VPN to search online for NordVPN’s support page. This probably isn’t too much of a problem for most people, but if you are, for example, using NordVPN in a country where VPNs are banned, you may not be thrilled about leaving this trail of internet activity behind.
Our Verdict, Your Choice
It’s hard to find fault with NordVPN. It’s super speedy and super secure, which at the end of the day are the most important factors of any VPN. It’s powerful enough to unblock video libraries and censored content from all around the world. It has a huge array of servers across the globe – and you can hop between them quickly and easily, without risking IP leakage but with barely any interruption to what you’re doing online. It doesn’t keep any logs at all and is extremely privacy-orientated.
This alone would be enough to earn NordVPN a top ranking among its competitors – but the product gets even better than that. The CyberSec feature is a really brilliant touch, blocking annoying ads and keeping you safe from the malicious sites, malware, phishing attacks, and other predatory online threats that pose a particular risk when using VPNs for things you want to keep quiet, like torrenting.
Sure, the “bad neighbor” effect of sharing an IP address with too many strangers can work against you, especially when it comes to endless CAPTCHA sign-ins. On the plus side, though, with so many servers and countries to choose from you can try out a few different ones until you get a better result – and it’s a small price to pay overall for the excellent service that NordVPN delivers.