NordVPN Review: Unreal Speed and Security

NordVPN is a great choice for remote work and connecting through international servers.
Michael Michael (115)
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4.75 - Our Rating

NordVPN is a virtual private network (VPN) provider, started in 2012. NordVPN routes traffic through more than 5,000 servers in 59 countries. Like Howchoo, NordVPN is the result of a few friends coming together to make something unique and awesome.

If you use NordVPN when browsing the internet, it's nearly impossible for a hacker or anyone to see your internet activity and data.

What is a VPN?

A VPN or virtual private network allows a user to connect securely through a VPN server to access the internet. Essentially, you could access a VPN server in Great Britain, masking the fact that you're really in the US.

What's known as a VPN tunnel is created and acts as a kind of encrypted shield, rerouting the encrypted data through one of the VPN servers. So, for example, if you use NordVPN when browsing the internet, it's nearly impossible for a hacker or anyone to see your internet activity and data. Even your ISP (internet service provider) will not be able to track your downloads or sell your browsing data.

Your IP address will become masked and with a service like NordVPN, you'll be given a dedicated IP address so you don't get bogged down by Captcha authentication.

Who should use a VPN?

Everyone. We're not joking. Even if you don't do anything for which you'd want privacy, your ISP still tracks your activity and sometimes puts limits on your download speed if it sees that you've been downloading many big files.

Those who definitely want to use this:

  • Remote companies
  • People using public WiFi
  • People looking to access a streaming service in another country
  • People trying to bypass censorship in their country
  • Online shoppers looking for the best prices
  • Anyone who prizes data security

Is it illegal?

In most places—no. There are some countries with authoritarian regimes where VPNs are illegal, such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. To see a full list of the banned countries, check out NordVPNs article on this.

What should you look for from a VPN provider?

It depends, of course, on what your needs are for the VPN. However, there are some things you should be looking for, no matter what those needs may be. We'll call them The Three S's of VPN providers.

  • Speed (Does it slow down your connection noticeably?)
  • Security (What security measures are in place?)
  • Servers (How many and where are they located?)

In our NordVPN review, we'll be sure to cover those key topics, as well as a whole lot more, so you can make an informed decision when considering NordVPN as your next VPN provider.

And, yes, we'll let you know how well it works to stream videos in another country!

NordVPNNordVPN ×1
NordPassNordPass ×1

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As a fully-remote work team, we have a unique interest in the privacy and security a VPN like NordVPN can offer. In both of these aspects, NordVPN sets the standard by which other VPN providers (including ExpressVPN) aspire to meet. What we're saying is that we highly recommend it.

...we've completely forgotten that we've been auto-connecting to NordVPN for the past couple of weeks. It's that fast.

When it comes to remote work, you want a VPN that doesn't slow down the speed at which your team can work. That's where NordVPN will truly excel—even for individual users of the service. There's little to no slow-down when connecting via a NordVPN server. In fact, we've completely forgotten that we've been auto-connecting to NordVPN for the past couple of weeks. It's that fast.

And it has all the VPN goodies, options, and tricks that others will look for, as well.

Pros

  • Intuitive desktop apps and browser extensions.
  • Works for watching streaming services overseas, like Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
  • Offers a version of the new Wiregaurd protocol.
  • No-log policy.
  • Built-in adblocker and malware blocker.
  • Little speed loss, even when connecting through a global server.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee

Cons

  • Limited functionality with password managers.
  • Using NordVPN while internet browsing on mobile can be annoying, as it causes Google Captcha authentications.
  • Browser extension may cause some issues when video chatting.
  • No phone support.

Price

As of November 2020, NordVPN currently offers three buying options, which vary in terms of how long you're looking to commit to the VPN provider and how much you're willing to spend. Obviously, the best deal involves buying the 2-year plan upfront, and, honestly, we don't see any reason why you shouldn't.

Commitment Period Price
2 years $3.71/mo. ($89.00)
1 year $4.92/mo. ($59.00)
No commitment / month to month $11. 95/mo

NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you're only looking to use it briefly to, say...watch some US Netflix...then simply go with the month-to-month plan and cancel within 30 days.

Special for November 2020

During the month of November, if you buy the two-year plan at 68% off, you get a chance at getting an extra month, a year, or even two years free!

Main NordVPN stats

Supported Platforms # of Servers # of Countries VPN Protocols Encryption Max # of Devices Dedicated Servers? Support
macOS, Windows, Android, iOS, Linux (Firefox, Chrome) 5,481 59 4 (Open, IPSec/IKEv2, Wireguard, SSTP) AES 256-bit 6 Yes 24/7 chat, email

Other NordVPN stats

Built-in Adblock Does it secure a Wi-Fi router? Auto-connect Virtual Servers Breaks Geoblocks? Torrenting? Works to Stream Video Overseas? Free version?
Yes. "CyberSec" Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No. 30-day money-back guarantee
Streaming Services

We know that for many this is the feature of a VPN that matters the most. We get it...who wants to miss the new season of Stranger Things on Netflix just because you happen to overseas when it's released. Or maybe you're in the US, but want to access BBC's iPlayer to watch the latest murder mystery. We're not advocating any kind of lawbreaking here. You'll still need to pay for the service, even if you skirt the country restrictions.

Yes. NordVPN works!

We ran a test to see if we could access the BBC iPlayer from the US, using a server located in the UK.

Here's what happened when I tried to watch Roadkill on the BBC iPlayer from a standard US server:

Denied Access to BBC iPlayer

(See the notice restricting access to those in the UK?)

Here's what happened when I tried again while connected to a NordVPN server in the UK:

Access granted to BBC iPlayer with NordVPN

So, yes, you should feel secure in getting NordVPN for streaming shows overseas. Check out our guide to see how to use a VPN to watch US Netflix for a good example of how this works.

Ookla Speed of NordVPN

NordVPN claims that it is officially the fastest VPN available on the market. And you know what...they're absolutely correct. Not only has that been independently verified, but we can say that based on our tests running NordVPN servers in both the US and UK that NordVPN is very fast. While every VPN will inevitably slow down your internet speed, NordVPN hardly made a dent in ours.

Here are the results of our own Howchoo tests with NordVPN, from the US mainland using Ookla Speed Test.

Measure Without a VPN NordVPN (US server) NordVPN (UK server)
ping 15ms 30ms 115ms
download speed 88.21 Mbps 62.65 Mbps 61.62 Mbps
upload speed 10.85 Mbps 10.75 Mbps 8.98 Mbps

You can see that using NordVPN only slightly increased our ping and lowered our download speed, but not by margins that would be very noticeable.

Important for those looking to VPN into a global server: While our ping obviously went up, it's still well within the acceptable range for performing most tasks on a global server, including streaming video. There's almost no difference in download and upload speed when using NordVPN on the UK server.

VPN Protocols NordVPN

NordVPN offers all of the standard VPN protocols that you would expect from a VPN provider, including a form of the new Wireguard protocol called NordLynx.

What is a VPN protocol?

In short, VPN protocols are the specific kinds of processes that form your VPN tunnel. Thus, they each have their own unique security and privacy features, as well as their own unique vulnerabilities. It's important to choose the correct VPN protocol for your specific needs. NordVPN has built-in features to help you choose this.

Types of protocols offered by NordVPN

OpenVPN

The recommended general-use protocol, OpenVPN, is included in NordVPN. What's unique, however, is that with NordVPN, you can choose between either the TCP or UDP internet protocols depending on what your VPN needs are. OpenVPN is an open-source protocol, making it very secure.

IPSec/IKEv2

For those looking for the most stable VPN protocol, NordVPN offers the IKEv2 protocol, though notes that Windows users will likely have the easiest time running this particular VPN protocol.

Wireguard (NordLynx)

The newest and fastest VPN protocol available, Wireguard, is available from NordVPN as "NordLynx." This open-source protocol is lightning fast, due to its minimal coding. This is the preferred protocol for those wanting speed, like gamers or those wanting to stream video.

SSTP

SSTP, or Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol, is a protocol owned and operated by Microsoft, which may make some wary of the privacy it offers. Still, it's a secure and good protocol for average use.

VPN Servers
NordVPN

As of the publication of this review (Nov. 2020), NordVPN has 5,481 Servers in 59 countries worldwide. That's more than NordVPN's closest competitor, ExpressVPN, and they offer a variety of different server types depending on what your needs are.

Types of Servers

NordVPN offers 4 main server types in most major countries to which you can connect.

Regular

The regular (standard) VPN server replaces your IP address and encrypts your internet traffic.

P2P

Optimized for file sharing, these NordVPN servers are built for speed.

Obfuscated

Use an obfuscated VPN server to prevent being blocked from accessing information in countries with restrictions, e.g. China or Iran.

Double VPN

This is ultra-security! Your internet traffic goes through an additional VPN server, which doubles its encryption.

Dedicated IPs

This is a unique feature for NordVPN users who connect to a server in the US or some major European countries. Essentially, you are given a dedicated IP address for your use while connected, which prevents you from appearing as a robot on the internet and in Captcha services.

NordVPN explains more about servers

VPN Security

Like any VPN, NordVPN creates a funnel that encrypts your data and protects it from hackers or anyone looking to obtain your data. The encrypted data will look like an unreadable scramble to anyone trying to see your data, even your ISP.

AES 256-bit encryption

NordVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption. This is the current gold standard for encryption, approved for security by even the NSA. It ensures that unless someone was to build an impossible supercomputer, it's impossible to decipher the data.

Independently verified

A company trying to sell you its product can make big claims about the security of their product, of course. With NordVPN, that security has been tested independently a number of times by security firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers AG Switzerland and many others.

Website check for security

NordVPN takes security seriously enough to include a built-in way to check if your VPN is working right on their home page.

VPN Privacy
Emsisoft

When using a VPN, the only entity able to see your internet traffic is the VPN provider, so it's important to understand what they're tracking (if anything).

Using any VPN like Nord VPN increases your internet privacy by blocking access to your internet traffic to anyone monitoring it, including your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Your ISP monitors your traffic and behavior, and will sometimes even give that data over to advertisers and government agencies.

When using a VPN, the only entity able to see your internet traffic is the VPN provider, so it's important to understand what they're tracking (if anything).

NordVPN's no-log policy

NordVPN does not log or save information about anything you do while using the internet, including browsing history to download history. This means that even if NordVPN is hacked, there will be nothing there to steal. And even if compelled to give over data by a government agency, they have no data to give.

Cryptocurrency payment

Inevitably the only record that NordVPN will have of you is your payment record when you purchase NordPVN and your email address. You can skirt even this by employing your ninja skills and paying with a cryptocurrency!

Yes.

While we did just sing the praises of NordVPN's security and privacy features, NordVPN was hacked in March 2018. NordVPN claims that the hack affected a single server in Finland. The hacker was able to access and monitor internet traffic for users on the server for a brief period of time.

NordVPN claims that it has found the source of the problem and claims that the hack is unrepeatable. They've also moved to a no-log policy, which should prevent your traffic from being monitored even if they were hacked again in the future.

Here is NordVPN's official response.

Five stars for the NordVPN interface and applications!

Maybe the best thing about NordVPN is how intuitive and easy to use it is. As the GIF above demonstrates, you just click Connect and you're secure.

Quick Connect

When you just want to connect to the best available VPN to secure your internet data, then the quick connect feature is what you'll use. It's simple and can be customized further in the NordVPN settings—if you're looking to use a specific kind of protocol for example. On mobile, iOS has new compatibility features for VPNs, allowing you to easily turn on and turn off your VPN. And using the VPN on an Android was also very easy.

Auto-connect

You can set up NordVPN to auto-connect anytime you log into your computer or your mobile device. It will perform a quick connect and follow any protocols you may have customized.

Global VPN connection

When choosing a VPN server in another country with NordVPN, you can choose from the various types of VPN protocols offered by simply right-clicking the country in your application.

VPN Platforms

NordVPN supports most major operating systems and includes two browser extensions.

Desktop Operating Systems Mobile OS Browser Extensions
macOS, Windows, Linux iOS, Android Chrome, Firefox

Great on desktop and in browser

Howchoo has the chance to test our NordVPN on macOS, in Firefox, and on the iPhone iOS. In both macOS and the Firefox browser, we found NordVPN to be easy-to-use, start, and caused little slowdown in our daily use.

Problem with iOS VPN

On the iPhone, however, we did have to constantly bypass Google's Captcha service, as we were not given a dedicated IP address to use on the mobile device.

BitTorrent

While we will not advocate for peer-to-peer file sharing through the BitTorrent network, there are many who have tested this successfully. So it's definitely possible.

NordVPN, themselves, have written guides on setting up BitTorrent with NordVPN.

NordVPN Kill Switch

The "kill switch" feature from NordVPN adds an additional layer of security to using their VPN. This comes standard with any NordVPN package.

What is the "kill switch"?

Well, let's say your browsing the internet using NordVPN, and your connection accidentally gets dropped. Normally, there would be a period where you would be using the internet unprotected.

With "kill switch" active, however, NordVPN will automatically stop your connection to the internet on any device with which you use it. It will remain blocked for your security until you either restore your connection to the VPN or turn off the "kill switch."

NordVPN GeoBlock

NordVPN can be used to access data in countries that have restricted it, in the same way that I used it to get access to the BBC iPlayer.

For example, if you live in the EU and are frustrated by the GDPR, you can use NordVPN to gain access to the US news sources that you typically would be blocked from accessing.

Can NordVPN bypass geoblocking in China?

Yes. If you are living or visiting China, you can use NordVPN to access the blocked part of the internet like Facebook and Twitter. NordVPN explains the process, as well as the legality of doing this.

NordVPN Support Page

Huge props to NordVPN for building a wide knowledge base of content that can help its users solve just about any issue that may arise. In our experience, if we needed anything, chances were that NordVPN had an excellent article ready-made for us to use to solve an issue.

They also offer 24/7 chat support that provides friendly answers to simple questions, and you can email them with any issue that can't be dealt with via chat.

No phone support

Alas, NordVPN has gone the way of many companies and offer only chat-based support options or email. We get it. Still, there are some who prefer the immediacy of chatting with someone on the phone regarding an issue. There's no findable support phone number for NordVPN.

Onion Over Graphic
NordVPN

NordVPN's Onion over VPN feature allows a user to route their traffic through the Onion network, which previously was only available when using the Tor browser. Just choose an Onion over VPN server when connecting with NordVPN, and your traffic will be routed through the Onion network!

Here's a great video from NordVPN explaining more about this.

adblocker
NordVPN

We absolutely love that NordVPN comes with a malware and adware blocker built-in to its service. NordVPN calls theirs "CyberSec." You can turn this feature on or off in the desktop app settings or browser extension settings.

Essentially, CyberSec blocks sites that host malware or phishing scams, which makes you safe from online threats. It also removes big, bright ads, which speeds up your browsing.

Easily the best VPN for speed and security currently available.

And best of all, the price is fairly reasonable when you consider everything that's included. (It's cheaper than ExpressVPN, for example, and offers a bit more.)

We like that our team can work on major projects remotely with the added security of having NordVPN protecting our content and data. And because we're all working from home, we also enjoy not having our ISP keeping a close eye on how much we download and upload throughout the day. No ISP is going to intentionally slow down Howchoo's speed!

The bottom line—you should be concerned about your internet security, both on your desktop and mobile device. And NordVPN is a great VPN for the task!

NordPass Logo

While we do like 1Password for a paid password manager, NordPass might be the best truly free password manager currently available. And, at least according to the folks at NordPass, it's free forever.

NordPass has everything you'd expect from a password manager, like great security, password sharing, device syncing, credential saving, etc. The only caveat is that, with the free version, you're limited to using only 1 device at a time with NordPass and you don't get all of the other goodies they offer with their paid version.

Michael's profile pictureMichael
Joined in 2020
A maker at heart, Michael loves all things DIY. Michael is an award-winning poet, writer, and editor. He has published two books of poetry and has writing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and many others. He has taught writing at colleges across the country, and managed many leading literary magazines to national prominence. Now, he's excited to devote his energies full time to Howchoo. He currently resides in the Tampa-area with his wife and puppy.
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For remote workers like Howchooers, a VPN is an indispensable tool for making sure our internet data remains secure.
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