Jurisdiction: Panama | Advanced Privacy Features: Double VPN, Onion over VPN, Kill Switch | Number of Servers and Countries: 5400 servers in 59 countries | Streaming and P2P: Yes
NordVPN Review: Comprehensive VPN Guide
NordVPN offers a little of everything pertaining to privacy and protection. The company has a vast assortment of servers located in many different countries paired with the latest and greatest technology.
In this exhaustive review, we’re breaking down each piece of NordVPN to see if this is the best choice for internet privacy.
NordVPN started in 2012 when the company’s founders looked at the current state of the internet and decided it wasn’t going in a great direction. Factors like region-locking and snooping by third-party actors affect how people use the internet, and their mission focuses on mitigating this as much as possible so people can use the internet freely.
Company ownership is more complicated and exists in three primary layers.
The first layer is NordSec. This is mainly a holding company that helps provide a better brand name for its products and services, including products besides NordVPN itself. We’ll talk more about those later. NordSec functions mainly out of Lithuania.
NordSec itself is run mainly by Tefincom, which is based in Cyprus but has connections and registrations in Panama and Lithuania. This is why they advertise that NordVPN is based in Panama and subject mainly to that nation’s laws. Tefincom owns the trademark for NordVPN, and we can consider them the primary owners of the system.
In this mix, the final company is Tesonet, a Lithuania-based company that focuses on a more extensive range of digital products and services. They own and help operate services for technical support, machine learning, business hosting, and general cybersecurity needs.
That’s far more complicated than the standard setup of one company owning a business. The critical thing to learn from all this is that NordVPN is effectively a multinational company, but it has registrations that give it many jurisdictional advantages.
However, understanding a company requires more than just knowing about its owners. NordVPN reviews, in particular, have a lot to cover. That’s why this review is going to go in-depth on many different topics and help you understand what sets NordVPN apart from others and why you should, or shouldn’t, choose it as your VPN provider.
As you learned above, NordVPN’s full chain of ownership is relatively complicated. However, it’s based mainly in Panama, which affords it several jurisdictional advantages.
Panama enacted Law No. 81 on Personal Data Protection 2019 near the end of that year, and this is the primary legislation that impacts NordVPN and its services. The law itself is not binding until 2021 but is largely followed regardless of the implementation period.
Law No. 81 is based on four articles of Panama’s constitution. Article 29 establishes the right to privacy in personal communications and documents. This is relatively broad protection that functions unless a competent authority orders a scan for specific purposes while following legal guidelines.
Meanwhile, Articles 42, 43, and 44 include the rights to access personal information held in databases and the ability to request changes or deletion for various reasons. Law No. 81 also helps define and codify many relevant terms, including data warehousing, what a database is for the law’s purposes, who database managers are, and so on.
The law applies primarily to Panama databases and people working on data processing who live in Panama. The essential parts of Law No. 81 are as follows:
- Companies can only collect information when they have both the consent of the owner of the information (“the owner”) and a clearly-defined purpose for having that data
- When data is collected, it is confidential and must be stored securely for up to seven years
- Companies must obtain permission from the owner to transfer information across borders
- The owner always has the right to access, change, modify, or remove their information when it’s being held
- Public institutions can request data with a judicial order
NordVPN is moderately transparent, although not as much as some people want. Here’s what’s going on here.
First, NordVPN does have third-party audits of their systems. They were one of the first VPN companies to ever go through an auditing process, and this confirms their claim that they don’t keep any logs of user behavior.
They confirmed this with a second audit in 2020, performed by PricewaterhouseCoopers AG Switzerland. PwC is a legitimate and trusted auditing service, and NordVPN’s willingness to contact such a well-regarded firm is an excellent move.
However, despite the transparency on things like their no-logs policy, there are a few places where NordVPN doesn’t function as well as it could. As you saw above, their actual ownership structure is relatively complicated and difficult to track. Some employees work for more than one of the listed companies, too, so we can’t determine who has the final authority.
NordVPN aims to act as a socially responsible company. However, how much of this is altruistic and how much of it is marketing depends partially on how cynical you are about corporations. Companies can say anything they want, but their motivations aren’t always what they admit to, and it’s incredibly important to remember that when working with a cybersecurity company.
NordVPN’s social support falls into three main categories, only one of which is genuinely relevant for all users.
First, NordVPN helps nonprofit organizations like Amnesty International by giving them discounts on services. While the actual eligibility criteria are a little hazy, this effort mainly focuses on human rights advocates, journalists, and similar organizations that need secure communications.
This is an excellent public relations move, but keep in mind that it doesn’t cost the company much to do, either. Most nonprofit organizations do not require much bandwidth and considering the size of NordVPN’s network, giving some users a discount is a negligible part of their operating capacity.
To be clear, we like this service. It’s good for journalists to be able to communicate with sources and for people protecting others to have additional security. There isn’t a single part of this program that’s fundamentally negative.
However, while there’s nothing bad and plenty of good here, NordVPN isn’t losing anything by doing it. At most, they’re simply getting a little less profit than they otherwise might. That means we can’t put this on the same level as organizations that make a truly serious commitment with a significant percentage of their resources.
The second part of their social responsibility offerings is their Emergency VPN service. This offer provides six months of service to qualifying individuals facing unusually high amounts of online censorship or violence threats from people who might try to track you digitally.
This is fundamentally similar to what they do for nonprofit organizations, but it’s a time-limited free service instead of an ongoing discount. It also falls into the same category of “a genuinely good move, but not difficult or expensive to do.” Once more, if a company isn’t investing significant resources into social responsibility, we won’t value it as highly.
That said, NordVPN invests quite a lot of money into expanding its products and improving its services. That investment actively helps people who get free or discounted services, but the same investment also helps them get more profits, so it’s not wholly altruistic.
The final part of NordVPN’s social responsibility is its education hub. This is a great, well-made area designed to explain complex privacy topics in a user-friendly format. Frankly, we need more things like this, so it’s great to see them putting so much effort into something.
The education hub isn’t limited strictly to online activities, either. They also cover topics like travel scams, which can threaten you even if you’re mostly safe online.
Unfortunately, this isn’t quite as much of a commitment as it could be. Most of their articles are several years old, for example, which means this section is closer to a one-and-done area than a full ongoing commitment. Accordingly, this falls into the same category as the first two parts of social responsibility.
Now, it’s not fair to judge companies entirely on universal standards. Companies have different levels of resources and aren’t always in a position to, say, make consistently large donations or other significant investments. Without knowing their financial records, truly judging them is a lot harder.
However, what companies do is a reflection of who they are as a business. All of NordVPN’s social responsibility efforts are genuinely good and positive things that other companies should imitate. We can appreciate that without losing sight of the fact that they aren’t investing much in those programs.
The opposite holds true, too. In many cases, behaving as a socially responsible company isn’t complicated or expensive. That means other companies have no excuse for not doing the same thing, especially when it’s as simple as giving people access to systems that already exist.
The Hack Case
Here’s one thing a VPN never wants to have to deal with. In 2019, TechCrunch reported that NordVPN had confirmed a hack of its systems. As with most hacks, however, it’s more complicated than it appeared on the surface.
The hack itself happened around March 2018. The hacked server had been online for approximately one month, and the hacker gained access through a remote management system that the data center itself was using. NordVPN pointed out that it had not known such a system existed and would not have approved it.
The server did not contain user activity logs, but most regard this hack as troublesome all the same. Full remote access to a VPN server is always a problem, although NordVPN does offer a few additional comments on this topic.
Notably, they treat each VPN server as an untrusted component of their network. This means those servers cannot access other VPN servers or user databases, which helps limit the effects of any hacking. NordVPN limited disclosure of this hack because they wanted to verify the rest of their infrastructure’s security before tipping anyone off.
This is one example of a lack of transparency, although they do have a reason for it. While they terminated their contract with the data center in question, this does illustrate how difficult it can be for even the largest VPN providers to be completely secure. Ultimately, despite this story of NordVPN hacked, it’s not a long-term security concern, and they did resolve the issue.
NordVPN has many features, even compared to other VPN providers. Here’s what you should know about each of these systems, including the value they do (or don’t) add for you as a user.
The NordVPN kill switch is a standard feature for VPN providers to offer. In fact, it’s more of a problem if they don’t offer it because it deals with the fundamental purpose of using a VPN in the first place.
In summary, kill switches are part of the local software for your VPN system, and they shut down your internet access if there’s an interruption in your connection to the VPN server. In practical terms, this means they aggressively stop you from using the internet if you can’t do so through your VPN.
This is important because you may not always realize it when there’s a problem with your connection. If it merely fails and stops working, you could browse the internet and remain vulnerable to third parties’ snooping. For people in dangerous situations, that could quite literally be life-threatening.
One thing to note is that NordVPN offers more than just the primary kill switch, and this is part of what makes them different from other providers.
Desktop users have access to an advanced version of the kill switch, which allows you to choose which applications will stop functioning if your VPN connection drops. This means you can continue using any other application, which may be sufficient for you from a security standpoint.
NordVPN only recommends this for advanced users who understand the potential problems and accept the difficulty. As they point out, the system-wide kill switch is fundamentally safer. That said, the mere fact that they have options provides added value for some users.
The kill switch is also integrated into iOS and macOS apps and can be set up on Android devices through standard settings. These are just the traditional setup, so while they’re essential to have, they’re not uniquely noteworthy otherwise.
I Can’t Connect. Is NordVPN down?
While you may experience the occasional hiccup in a connection, that’s what the kill switch is there for. NordVPN itself should not go entirely offline unless the company itself shuts everything down. This is only likely to happen if they are forced to. Otherwise, updates tend to go on a rolling basis where only a few servers are down at a time.
Redundancy is an essential part of VPN services, and it’s near-impossible for any accident to bring down the entire network. Even natural disasters like tornadoes or meteor strikes can’t take down more than one part of the distributed system. There’s no central power supply or command server, so only human action can realistically shut NordVPN down.
There is one semi-realistic scenario in which NordVPN can go down: Somebody uncovers a fundamental security flaw that affects the whole network, and they need to take it down to fix it. Outside of such scenarios, NordVPN is available 24/7.
NordLynx, which will take some explaining, is a relatively new part of NordVPN’s overall services. It’s also live on all of their apps. If you’re looking for the short version, the answer is, “it makes things faster.” However, that’s not enough information for a review, so let’s look at what it is and why it matters.
NordLynx is a communications protocol based on WireGuard, an open-source VPN tunnel. Unlike OpenVPN – the industry-standard – WireGuard is a much slimmer codebase that improves overall speed and security when running VPNs. Now, we’re already using more terminology, so we need to explain that, too.
A VPN tunnel is an encrypted connection that goes between your device(s) and outside networks. This tunnel blocks access to your location and information while allowing you to browse the internet. While other people may see that activity is happening, they can’t trace it back to you.
VPN tunneling is an essential part of running a VPN service and, in many ways, indispensable. WireGuard’s open-source nature is incredibly helpful because it allows outside experts to authenticate the code and look for vulnerabilities.
Unlike larger VPN systems, WireGuard is designed so that individual users can check the code themselves. This is a sharp contrast to systems like OpenVPN, which are so large that even well-staffed teams of experts may find it challenging to check all of the code.
The reason speed matters in this area is because there are so many steps involved in any given network connection. These steps make consistently fast speeds difficult or even impossible to achieve in some areas, so any improvements can help with the overall experience.
This is particularly true if you want to use a VPN while also engaging in time-sensitive activities, such as playing certain video games. NordVPN performed over a quarter of a million tests with NordLynx to evaluate performance in different situations, and the results were notable.
The biggest thing to keep in mind here is that physical distance matters. When the servers are incredibly close to each other, NordVPN shows a massive increase in overall speeds. It may be up to twice as fast. However, the added value goes down when target servers are farther away. It’s still faster than the other options, but not to the same degree.
That’s not as bad as it sounds like at first, either. NordLynx is fundamentally better when the VPN server is close to the server it’s connecting to, but you should be picking servers that are close to where you want to get content from anyway. Choosing the right server makes it much easier to maximize the value of systems like this.
What’s even more secure than a single VPN server? Two VPN servers. Double VPN is an increasingly common option among VPN providers, though it’s not universal or appropriate for all users. Here’s how it works.
- When you use the internet, all data is encrypted on your device. This helps prevent outsiders from looking at your data before it gets to the VPN server.
- Your data reaches your chosen VPN server. After that server determines the correct destination, it encrypts the data a second time and then sends it on its way.
- Your data reaches the second VPN server. At this point, it decrypts the relevant parts of the data and finally sends it to your destination server.
The net result of this is that anyone looking at your end of things can’t see where the traffic is going, and anyone looking at your destination can’t see where the traffic is coming from. Anyone who’s trying to snoop in the middle won’t determine either of those things.
The result of this is that the NordVPN Double VPN feature is exceptionally secure, and even more so than regular VPN options. However, no system is without its flaws. In this case, that flaw is speed.
A fundamental truth of internet access is that the more servers you need to go through and the more databases you need to query, the slower your connections are going to be. This means that Double VPN is not a good choice for some time-sensitive tasks, including many forms of gaming and some live video streams.
However, Double VPN is an excellent option when things aren’t time-sensitive, and security matters more. That makes it particularly useful for journalists, some nonprofit organizations, legal teams, and other people who don’t need rapid responses from others.
Onion over VPN
NordVPN supports The Onion Router (TOR), which is a volunteer-run network of servers that provide extensive anonymity. This is fundamentally similar to Double VPN, but there are more servers involved, and it’s even harder to track any information going between them.
Like Double VPN, the main drawback of the NordVPN Onion Over VPN is the speed. This is much slower than basically any other system and far too slow for any time-sensitive tasks like competitive video games. The basic structure, however, is simple enough.
- When you first connect to the Onion network, your encrypted data is sent to a random entry point. This will change regularly, so no consistent links are going back to one person.
- As your data travels through the network, it gets more layers of encryption that disguise it. Even if people somehow pierce one layer of encryption, that won’t help them anywhere else in the process.
- Eventually, the data starts getting decrypted as it passes between other servers. This doesn’t make it any less secure because it’s impossible to determine where that encryption was used previously.
- Finally, the data exits through another random node and arrives at your destination. The process repeats to send data back to you.
While you can use the Onion network by itself, Onion Over VPN NordVPN connections (and similar services) can help prevent your ISP from realizing that you’re accessing that network. This protects you from snooping by any third-party actors who may be monitoring or even hacking your ISP.
Note that despite the Onion network’s volunteer-based nature, data passing between it is highly secure because even its own nodes can’t get the full picture of where your data is coming from or where it’s going.
Most people do not need this security level, but NordVPN’s optional access to it is a great feature. All NordVPN accounts have access to this feature.
NordVPN dedicated IP addresses are handy and can help you access some servers and services that are otherwise unavailable. There are a few real-world scenarios where having a fixed IP address is essential, even when your actual traffic is going through a VPN.
Arguably the most common need for a fixed IP address is online banking. Suppose a bank sees that you’re continually trying to connect from servers all over the world. In that case, that’s incredibly suspicious to them and can result in the suspension of access to banking services.
That’s the safe thing for them to do if they suspect you’ve been hacked, and other people are trying to access your money. However, despite banks taking the correct action to protect you, it doesn’t work well with other online security parts. Having a fixed IP address solves this quite handily.
Dedicated IP addresses are also useful for accessing business servers, many of which may reject anything except whitelisted contacts. This makes it easier to access your job information.
Finally, dedicated IP addresses are useful because you don’t always know what other people using the same IP address may be doing. Shared IPs often get onto blacklists that prevent access to particular websites. These are more discreet than dedicated IPs, but also much less useful.
To a lesser extent, using a dedicated IP can prevent some CAPTCHA authentication triggers. If sites believe you’re the same person and not a robot, they’re less likely to ask you for this sort of authentication when you log on. This is more of an irritation than anything else, but it’s a nice bonus to have.
NordVPN CyberSec sounds like it’s just a general topic about cybersecurity, but this is a specific feature that NordVPN offers to users. This is a combination of ad blocker and suspicious website blocker, which helps prevent you from visiting websites that are known to host malware or perform phishing.
Note that CyberSec does not block all ads on Android devices, particularly if downloaded from the Google Play Store. This is due mainly to Google’s policies, as they make a lot of money by selling ad space to others. However, even on Android devices, CyberSec helps block malicious websites, and you can download the fully-featured version directly from NordVPN’s website.
CyberSec isn’t relevant for all users. Many people already have a viable ad blocker installed, which can do many of the same things that CyberSec offers people. The main difference is that this blocker can work alongside others, and it’s also easy to enable if you aren’t familiar with installing apps in your browser.
To some extent, CyberSec is more of a convenience than a useful feature. It doesn’t do anything unique to NordVPN, and you can quickly get the benefits elsewhere if you spend a few minutes looking around.
I recommend finding a source besides NordVPN for this sort of thing, and here’s why: If you ever need to change VPN providers, you can maintain the same level of protection from malicious ads and websites with no interruptions. NordVPN stops protecting you whenever you stop using their service, which isn’t the best way to stay secure online.
If you want to use this on mobile devices, make sure you download the NordVPN APK files directly.
DNS Leak Test
The Domain Name System (DNS) is a fundamental part of how the internet works, and in many ways, it’s the only way the internet works at all. This system converts text URLs into IP addresses, and vice-versa, and monitoring DNS queries is one way to track what people are doing on the web.
When VPNs function properly, DNS requests go through your VPN server. However, there are times when the system can fail, such as when using specific operating systems, after resetting system preferences, or after setting a VPN manually and failing to configure it.
NordVPN supports leak testing through a third-party website that helps determine whether your VPN is functioning as it should. If it’s not, their support team is available to resolve the issue. In most cases, DNS leaks when you’re using NordVPN are caused by problems in your configuration settings, and they are easy enough to resolve.
The company advertises this as a feature, but it isn’t. It relies on a third-party company and doesn’t include anything from NordVPN beyond some help troubleshooting if there’s a problem. Accordingly, while this is useful, we can’t give any extra points for having it.
Port forwarding is a technique that allows you to connect to remote devices. Ports themselves are part of your home network setup, and each IP address on your network has over 65,000 ports available. Most people do not use remotely close to this many ports, so they exist mainly for special-use cases.
Port forwarding is useful for watching security cameras or baby monitors, using remote desktop software, connecting an internet-enabled smart device, or creating a connection to a gaming server. There are also some advanced uses, but those are outside the scope of this review.
The key thing to keep in mind here is that NordVPN does not allow port forwarding. While you can whitelist specific IP addresses, it disables port forwarding as part of its overall security setup. Otherwise, given the way VPN servers work, anyone connected to it might see past your ports and get into your system.
This is a make-or-break issue for some people, which is why we include it here even though NordVPN does not offer this service. That said, if you know what you’re trying to do, consider reaching out to their customer support team and asking if there’s a way to configure things in a way that’s compatible with NordVPN. It might end up being useful, after all.
If you don’t travel often, port forwarding isn’t nearly as necessary. The best way to think of NordVPN is that it’s a little like a fence around your house. While you can do things just fine from within your home, it’s harder to do something away from the system.
Unfortunately, NordVPN port forwarding is unlikely to become a feature anytime soon, if ever. The last time we checked, they said they had no plans to add it.
SmartDNS is a feature designed to help you access streaming content on televisions and other devices, not just your main computer. The most important thing to know about SmartDNS is that it is not a VPN connection and does not help shield your information. Instead, it only enables you to unblock and access the content.
SmartDNS is fundamentally similar to using a proxy in your web browser to access geo-restricted content, although it’s usually much faster and easier to use. Keep in mind that you may need to turn SmartDNS on and off, or change the settings, to access different regions.
You may occasionally need to install a NordVPN update to continue using the SmartDNS service. NordVPN DNS options are reliable, but that reliability is predicated on using the latest version of their software.
NordVPN directly supports up to six devices at the same time. Now, “directly” is a strange word to use when describing a VPN system, but it’s accurate. The difference lies in whether or not you decide to enable NordVPN on your household router. If you do, it works on every device that uses that router while only counting as a single slot.
If you have your own router, this is fundamentally better than trying to manage a VPN individually for each device. This is particularly true if you have any internet-connected devices in your home, presenting a security vulnerability if your VPN does not cover them.
Six devices are enough for most households, allowing for two desktop or laptop computers and four smartphones or tablets simultaneously, which is a typical arrangement.
If you’re worried about setting this up correctly, consider getting a VPN router. Pre-configured routers are designed to work with VPN systems, including NordVPN, and make it significantly easier to ensure that everything is working correctly.
However, this does bring up an important point. NordVPN will not protect you if you’re not using their system. That sounds like a “duh” statement at first, yes, but many people enable VPNs for their router and then forget that it won’t function if they’re using a wireless data plan instead of their local Wi-Fi.
This is why you should install NordVPN to your smart devices even if you enable protection at the router level. Otherwise, you could have a huge security hole, and that defeats the purpose of using a VPN.
Information on topics like this is included in the NordVPN best VPN service guidelines. Make sure you read all of their advice and procedures before setting up your VPN configuration. If you ask NordVPN how many devices they can support, chances are you’ll only hear “six” unless you focus on this.
Remember that you may need to install the NordVPN app on some devices. If you don’t, or if the app isn’t available, you may not have any protection on that device.
NordVPN features several add-ons and additional services for users.
NordLocker is an encryption system that allows you to protect files on your home computer or upload it to their cloud server. Despite its presence on their servers, NordLocker uses heavy encryption techniques that prevent even them from accessing your files.
Cloud storage allows remote access and transferring files between computers without making a direct connection.
This service isn’t necessary for everyone, but it’s helpful if you need to protect personal information. Most people keep more details in their photos than they realize. For example, just by looking at colors and business addresses, snoopers might figure out where you live. Encryption prevents that by securing all data with a master password.
NordLocker plans start at free for 3 gigabytes of storage space. That might sound like a generous amount of storage space, but pictures can be large, and a gigabyte of storage costs less than three cents. At less than a dime per free user, plus the occasional electricity costs, they can support many free users from a single paying one.
The main plan is about $4/month for 500 gigabytes of storage. You’ll pay off the storage costs in less than three months of using them, and that space may not even be dedicated until you use it, which helps explain their low overall pricing here.
Finally, NordLocker offers a business plan. These often have individual pricing and vary depending on the amount of storage each company needs. Businesses can perform bulk orders and have priority access to customer support.
Are you worried about losing access to your passwords? If so, you’re part of the target demographic for NordPass, which is a simple system that stores encrypted passwords on the internet so you can retrieve them anytime. NordPass also has an offline mode so you can recover your passwords while you’re not connected to the internet.
The user interface is split into different categories, organized by name. These include things like login information, payment card numbers, personal information, and notes for yourself. Other features include a secure password generator, the ability to share passwords with others, and the ability to add trusted contacts.
Storing sensitive data is an entirely different matter than running a VPN. Most people aren’t sharing sensitive information regularly, so VPNs are more about peace of mind and thwarting the occasional attacker, not daily defense.
This service is available in two forms. The free plan is available for your lifetime and allows saving passwords, notes, and credit cards, and it allows you to sync information across all devices. However, it only allows one active device at a time (meaning logins), and it does not allow item sharing or trusted contacts.
The premium version is about $2.49/month and allows logins on up to six devices at once, plus sharing and allowing trusted contacts. Most people don’t need the premium version, and if you’re wondering how they can afford to offer a free plan, it functions about the same as NordLocker in that regard.
Outside of the main costs, NordPass occasionally gives discounts to users. Students, notably, can get a 10% discount on the two-year plan for the premium version. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s a nice gesture towards a demographic that often has little spare cash.
Storing passwords and similar strings of text take up almost no storage space. Realistically, they can probably hold the data for hundreds or even thousands of users per gigabyte of storage. As we discussed above, each gigabyte of storage costs less than three pennies.
Since premium users pay electricity costs, it’s easy to keep prices competitively low here. Overall, encryption-heavy services like this one are beneficial for users because it allows you to remember any password long-term and access them from anywhere in the world if you travel. There’s a lot to like about it.
NordPass is available on Windows, Android, Linux, macOS, and iOS operating systems, as well as through browser extensions for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera.
NordVPN supports a range of devices with native apps. For NordVPN PC situations, they offer the NordVPN Windows 10 app. After a NordVPN download Windows can install it and enable the entire system with one click. The app is also available on Windows 7 and Windows 8, though these don’t receive as much attention anymore.
NordVPN Mac options are similar to PC, though they do require separate and distinct apps because of the different operating systems. After your NordVPN download Mac systems may require additional configuration to get just right. This is less of an issue with the NordVPN Linux app, as Linux users typically have more experience customizing things.
Many Android and Android TV options allow you to add the NordVPN app, too, which gives them system-level support.
All of the devices described above are comparatively easy to do with app installation, but they aren’t the only devices NordVPN supports. With manual setups, you can also use NordVPN PS4 configurations, NordVPN Xbox One settings, and even a manual NordVPN Firestick array.
NordVPN on Firestick is a little special. When you install NordVPN on Firestick (or similar devices), you typically have to direct all of the TV’s communications to your VPN server. This means that using NordVPN for Firestick may not involve putting your VPN on the stick itself, but rather editing each television manually. Unfortunately, there’s no practical way to change this.
Finally, you can use NordVPN router options to protect every device in your house that’s accessing the internet through your router. NordVPN on router systems is always better if your setup allows it.
As we discussed earlier, router-level protection provides ongoing protection for all devices on your network. It doesn’t matter whether the device natively supports VPNs or not. When possible, you should always enable a VPN through your router and devices that connect to the internet in other ways.
NordVPN Browser Extensions
Outside of its apps for different devices, NordVPN offers a selection of browser extensions that you can use while surfing the internet. Before we go any further, we need to make one thing clear: browser extensions are fundamentally less safe than apps. They could go out of date when your browser updates and they don’t protect all of your internet traffic.
However, there are cases when using a browser extension makes sense. For example, you may need to connect to NordVPN servers so you can access work content, even if you don’t care about protecting the rest of your information. Alternatively, you may have apps that will slow down too much if they route through a VPN.
NordVPN extension options are currently available for two browsers. The NordVPN Chrome extension uses its infrastructure to minimize slowdowns and ensure consistent, stable access to their servers. NordVPN for Chrome does not have any bandwidth limits, so you can use as much bandwidth as your internet service provider gives you.
Outside of the NordVPN extension Chrome users can access, there’s also the NordVPN Firefox extension. This extension is fundamentally the same as the Chrome version and has the same features, including access to CyberSec, fully encrypted traffic, and one-click access to different servers and locations.
The other thing to note is that neither NordVPN browser extension is free. They still require an active account with NordVPN, despite the fact that they don’t protect as much of your information as the apps do.
If you only need a VPN for a short period, such as when you’re on vacation, NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. This is effectively free for you if time-limited, but it is an option. We’ll discuss pricing in more detail below.
Servers And Locations
NordVPN offers several types of servers in various locations across 59 countries. As of the time we wrote this review, they had more than 5,500 servers. About 2,000 of these servers are located in the United States, with about 450 more situated in Canada. Most other countries have a smaller number of servers.
However, not all servers are equal. Not every country has the ability to support every type of service, and that can affect what you’re trying to do. While every nation allows standard VPN services, some specialty servers are only available in certain areas. NordVPN specialty servers fall into four primary categories.
Dedicated IP servers are the ones that give you a fixed, personal IP address. NordVPN does not assign the same IP address to any other user, which means you will always appear to be at the same location when logging in to different services. This isn’t necessary for every user, but it’s beneficial for accessing sites and services that try to stop fraud.
Double VPN servers are discussed earlier in this review, but we’ll refresh your memory on the essential details. In typical situations, data goes to one VPN server, then on to its destination. Sending it through two servers provides added protection from your information and helps stop people from tracking where your data is going.
NordVPN obfuscated servers are ideal for users in places with many restrictions on internet access. These servers are especially good for situations where you could be in danger if people are able to track your online activities. However, there aren’t many of these servers, so you won’t have as much access as other people will.
Finally, P2P servers are optimized for sharing files. As with the other servers, these have no bandwidth limits and do not log any activity. P2P servers are particularly useful for journalists and other people who need to send or receive large amounts of sensitive data.
Remember that you can still share files through a regular VPN server. It will just be slower than choosing a dedicated P2P server. This isn’t important for smaller files, but chances are you’ll notice the difference when trying to share files that are hundreds of megabytes or larger.
The NordVPN best server options depend on your needs as a user. If you want a NordVPN server that focuses on speed, regular servers are often the best choice unless you’re doing P2P sharing. You can also take a NordVPN speed test with different servers to see which one of them is the fastest.
This is a good strategy on general principles, especially when you first sign up for a VPN service. Many factors, ranging from the distance to the server to regular internet traffic when you’re online, can affect your connection speed. Testing your connection on several VPN servers is the best way to find out which of them is genuinely the best option.
Like most better VPN services, NordVPN offers a variety of streaming options. Unfortunately, while there are no dedicated NordVPN Netflix servers, which would be amazing, you can use a Netflix NordVPN connection for high-quality, rapid streams.
One of the biggest factors in the speed and quality of your streams is your internet service provider. Many ISPs may enable throttling to slow you down at certain times or when you exceed certain data caps. While there are legitimate reasons to throttle users, especially during periods of congestion, ISPs can also be aggressive about trying to get you to upgrade your plan.
NordVPN helps circumvent this by obfuscating your IP address and preventing your ISP from associating your internet usage with your account. This means less throttling even at peak times and more enjoyment of the service you’re paying for.
Depending on the services you subscribe to, you can use NordVPN Amazon Prime connections, watch NordVPN Hulu streams, and even stream to multiple devices in your house. NordVPN supports this with its SmartPlay feature, which is integrated into all of its native apps.
SmartPlay is a mixture of VPN and SmartDNS, allowing you to get all the security benefits of using a VPN without noticeably compromising on streaming speeds. This is much easier than setting up DNS information by yourself, making it faster and more user-friendly for people of any age.
SmartPlay is particularly useful if you want to watch streaming services from home while you’re out on vacation or otherwise temporarily out of its normal playback zone.
As we discussed in the section on servers and their locations, NordVPN offers many specialty P2P servers for people who need to share files with each other. A VPN enables the ability to do this far more privately than sending the files through traditional routes, while the dedicated servers speed up transfer times and make the process easier in general.
However, at this point, it bears discussing the P2P options NordVPN offers and which one makes sense for your particular situation. Most people will do fine with dedicated servers, mainly because they have no bandwidth caps and allow you to enjoy unlimited file transfers.
Truthfully, most people don’t need many file transfers to start with, but the option for high-volume transfers is beneficial for whistleblowers, journalists, and other people transmitting sensitive data.
The main alternative to using NordVPN torrenting servers is using their access to the Onion network. This version of NordVPN P2P services is not useful for high-speed transmission of files. However, it is useful for moving extremely sensitive data around, and it’s worth considering as an option.
This feature is incredibly valuable because P2P file transfers are an increasingly popular option for businesses that need to transfer a lot of data to function. There are two particularly common cases where this feature is useful for companies.
First, NordVPN torrent options help transfer files internally, especially for employees who are working remotely. Not every company operates out of a central database, so fast and reliable torrenting between people may be the only way to work.
Second, P2P NordVPN systems can facilitate file transfers between businesses and customers. Many online games, for example, can be tens of gigabytes in size. This would take a genuinely ridiculous amount of time to download normally, but allowing NordVPN uTorrent or NordVPN qBittorrent, as examples, can allow downloads with reasonable durations.
While originally seen as something for pirating music and engaging in other illegal activities, which NordVPN does not support people doing, torrenting has become an essential part of some business strategies. That’s why uTorrent NordVPN connections are so useful for some users, as are other P2P sharing forms.
Ultimately, this is an essential and useful feature to have, and we’d have to remove many points from NordVPN’s score if they didn’t offer it. We don’t expect as much from smaller services, but when you have over 5,500 servers, you can dedicate some of them to special-use scenarios.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Kodi is a media player designed to work with screens of all sizes, ranging from smartphones and tablets to full-size smart TVs. This is particularly important because some people stream content to a television through a smaller device, so managing the picture quality is essential to enjoying the experience.
NordVPN Kodi options do require a little more setup than the regular app. This typically involves downloading the Kodi add-on to your smart device, or saving it to a USB key and plugging it into your Kodi device (usually a television).
After that, you’ll need to enable updates from unknown sources, which will allow NordVPN to integrate with Kodi and start protecting your streaming.
Note that installing NordVPN for Kodi isn’t necessary if everything is going through your router. For example, if you’re streaming high-quality movies from your tablet and your router’s VPN is on, you don’t need to do anything extra.
The main reason to install NordVPN for Kodi is situations where you might not have access to Wi-Fi, or you’re accessing it remotely and need VPN protection.
We have divided opinions on this feature. NordVPN for Kodi isn’t fundamentally flawed, but in most cases, users will already have NordVPN active on the device they’re streaming with. The ability to protect only this program and its use, while not protecting any other internet traffic, is of minimal true value for users.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that this is a running trend for NordVPN. Many of their features and options are useful at first glance, but they aren’t quite as valuable in practice. This isn’t to say that NordVPN is a bad choice for users. It’s a good choice for most people. However, it’s also a good reminder that you need to understand its features.
Gaming is always harder with VPNs. The reason for this is simple: Many games are highly time-sensitive. The difference of one second in connection times can be the difference between having fun and a game being effectively unplayable. The more time-sensitive it is, the bigger the challenge will be when using NordVPN gaming connections or any other VPN.
The good news is that NordVPN has high-speed servers and can handle most gaming. There are three main scenarios in which NordVPN’s gaming services are useful.
First, they can provide protection by selecting a server located somewhere between your home and the game servers. This minimizes delays, especially if the game servers are relatively local. Unless there’s hefty traffic, you should experience no noticeable slowdowns.
Second, VPNs can allow you to access region-locked games that you otherwise couldn’t enjoy. This is great if you don’t need quite as fast of a connection speed to enjoy the game, but instead, you need to seem like you’re somewhere else in the world.
Finally, VPNs offer security if you’re trying to game while on the go. This is great for keeping up with things while you’re on vacation or traveling for business reasons. Public Wi-Fi networks are easily hackable, so even if you’re safe at home, a VPN can give extra protection.
NordVPN is a good choice for gaming thanks to its high-speed servers, but don’t confuse this with a feature. It’s just the natural result of having a large, high-speed network, and it’s not exclusive to this VPN provider. You may need to test several VPN providers to see which of them offers the fastest speeds for your gaming needs.
Now that you’re most of the way through this NordVPN review and know more about the company, let’s look at how it compares to other VPN services. For more information on this topic, check out our other VPN reviews.
You may also want to learn more about VPNs because knowing how they work is essential to understanding the systems’ differences.
NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN
In the NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN debate, there’s a lot to like on both sides. ExpressVPN has about 3000 servers in 94 countries, which is quite large for a VPN. It also features an open-source browser extension, allowing comprehensive testing by third-parties.
However, for ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN, what most people ultimately consider is the speed. Whether you get ExpressVPN or NordVPN, you’re going to get fast connections, but ExpressVPN is particularly well-known for its speed and even offers a speed test on its website.
However, when choosing between NordVPN or ExpressVPN, it’s also worth noting that ExpressVPN is comparatively expensive for a VPN while still not having quite as many servers or dedicated options as NordVPN does. It’s certainly a viable alternative, but it’s not quite as good as it could be.
NordVPN vs. PIA
PrivateInternetAccess, also written Private Internet Access or PIA, is a US-based VPN company. Three factors stand out in the NordVPN vs. PIA debate. The first of these is network size. With over 5,500 servers, NordVPN has one of the largest VPN networks on the planet. However, PIA’s next-gen network has over 10,000 servers total, which outdoes even NordVPN.
The PIA vs. NordVPN question also faces the issue of pricing, with PIA being one of the most affordable services on the market. However, the real issue of NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access is the privacy and transparency aspect. PIA is owned by Kape Technologies, formerly Crossrider, a company known mainly for creating malware.
Yes, you read that right. A company operating a VPN is also known for intrusive, privacy-invading practices. That makes it hard to recommend Private Internet Access over NordVPN regardless of features, servers, or pricing.
NordVPN vs. IPVanish
In the IPVanish vs. NordVPN debate, a few things immediately stick out. First, IPVanish is a mid-range VPN with about 1,400 servers in 75 countries. That’s not bad, but it’s significantly fewer servers than NordVPN offers.
This isn’t as much of a problem as many people think. Most VPNs add new servers as necessary to handle their expected load of users. They don’t need to invest in more servers than necessary, so having fewer servers isn’t inherently a bad thing.
However, IPVanish is based in the United States, which means it doesn’t have the same protection level from government interference as services located in other countries. The United States does not have any data retention laws, which is good, but the privacy standards are still much lower than in VPN-friendly jurisdictions like Panama.
Ultimately, IPVanish falls into the same category as ExpressVPN when you compare it to NordVPN. IPVanish isn’t fundamentally bad, but it’s just not as big and doesn’t have all of the same features. Since the pricing is competitive, NordVPN is ultimately a better choice.
NordVPN vs. Avast VPN
Avast VPN has an unusual pedigree. Based in the Czech Republic for its VPN services, the company is better known for its antivirus software. That also gives it a base of financial support that VPN-focused companies can’t match. If you have a different income stream that allows you to pay your employees, you can offer new services at a far more competitive price.
Unfortunately, possibly due to its split focus, Avast VPN has a few issues holding it back. It’s only available in 35 countries, and the servers aren’t quite fast enough to handle high-speed needs like gaming or live video streaming unless you’re extremely close to them.
Avast VPN offers support for most devices but does not cover routers. That’s a problem these days because of how many devices are connected to the internet. The lack of a monthly subscription in favor of annual billing can hold some users back, though the very low cost per month makes Avast VPN a better choice if you’re on a budget.
The company also has a long history of protecting users, and that can make it better for people who want to go with a trusted brand. In general, Avast VPN isn’t as good as NordVPN, but it’s a viable option for casual use on a smaller number of devices.
NordVPN vs. TunnelBear
As far as TunnelBear vs. NordVPN goes, TunnelBear isn’t an especially well-known name compared to many other VPN providers. However, this Canada-based network offers about 1,800 servers in 23 countries. That’s an especially low number of areas, which means it’s not a good choice for people who want to access services in less-popular areas.
On the positive side, TunnelBear has a free option with a relatively low data limit, and it’s been audited by third-party experts to ensure it’s safe for people to use. Canada isn’t a great jurisdiction to base a VPN service in, but regular audits help a lot.
However, the big negative here is that TunnelBear doesn’t support streaming. It also keeps a small number of logs for a short period, including the number of connections and amount of data you used. TunnelBear is currently owned by the digital security company McAfee, but it’s generally worse for privacy than most of its competitors.
The main reason to consider TunnelBear is its relatively low price. However, for most users, a few dollars a month doesn’t outweigh the bigger problems here. NordVPN is better than TunnelBear on every level that matters to users.
As you can see from the comparisons above, there are plenty of alternatives to NordVPN. You can also consider options like Cyberghost and Surfshark, both of which are viable choices as VPN providers. Instead of browsing top VPNs randomly, however, it’s better to take a methodical approach and consider their features. There are a few major components to think about.
- Number Of Servers: NordVPN has about 5,500 servers worldwide, placed in 59 different countries. This is relatively high for a VPN service, so most competitors can’t beat it. Having more servers also means better uptime and less chance of congestion.
- Price: NordVPN ranges from about $12 a month (for the monthly plan) to $5.75/month (for the one-year plan). This is a bit high for VPNs, so other services may be more affordable.
- Features: Features include things like streaming capability, browser extensions, router options, and anything else that helps set a VPN apart from others. Unique features are particularly valuable. For example, NordLynx is unique to NordVPN, but other VPNs may allow port forwarding and other helpful options.
- Bandwidth: Bandwidth determines how much you can use a VPN in a particular amount of time (usually monthly). Unlimited bandwidth is the best, especially because watching high-definition streams can eat your bandwidth up quickly.
Reddit About NordVPN
NordVPN has an active presence on Reddit, including its own subreddit, where users can ask questions, chat with company employees, and get help with technical issues. This is a great way to get responses from people if you want to know more about NordVPN before starting a free trial, though particularly technical questions should go to their customer support instead.
NordVPN Reddit posts include a variety of responses to company activity, including this thread about the hack described earlier in their review. One of the top responses includes a user feeling the public perception was overblown, especially because the data transmitted wasn’t as bad for privacy as some people felt.
Unsurprisingly, other people on that thread were still upset about the breath, as people tend to be. A few individuals also noted that there was some confusion over what happened and when. That can be difficult for any company to work with.
Other Reddit NordVPN posts include things like responses to public announcements, such as this one about their second no-logs audit. That was especially important to have done, given the effects of the hack, and it’s always helpful to see user responses to things.
If you’re looking for a NordVPN review Reddit offers, consider glancing at the VPN Reviews subreddit. Nothing there will be anywhere near as comprehensive as the review you’re reading right now, but it’s never a bad idea to compare reviews from several sources.
This is particularly helpful if you’re looking at NordVPN Netflix Reddit posts to get a better sense of the speed of the service. Companies can claim anything they want, but nothing substitutes for personal experience as detailed by real users.
NordVPN Free Trial
The NordVPN trial is not technically free. While there used to be a NordVPN 7-day trial, they’ve increased the NordVPN refund period to 30 days. This means you have to submit payment information when you sign up for the app, and cannot delay your first payment to the end of your trial period.
If you need to know how to cancel NordVPN subscription options, follow the steps below.
- The best way to cancel is by going through their website. Log on to your active account at www.nordvpn.com.
- Click the Payments button in your account area.
- Move down to the bottom of the page. You should see a button marked ‘Cancel Subscription.’ Click on that.
- Give them your reason for unsubscribing if you have one.
- Click ‘Continue.’
- Click on the following prompts as necessary. They may ask you to confirm that you’re canceling.
You can also have NordVPN cancel your subscription by going through an app store if you bought its service on mobile devices. Note that this only works if you purchased through the app store, not if you went directly to NordVPN’s website and downloaded it there. All purchases on iOS devices go through the app store, so there’s no risk of misunderstandings there.
The good news about NordVPN’s trial period is that it includes full access to its services. Some VPN companies have free trials that sharply limit what you’re able to do, which makes it difficult to make a fully-informed decision about continuing to use their service.
The NordVPN price options are simple and straightforward. As with most VPN companies, asking, “How much is NordVPN?” is a slightly difficult question because the answer varies. This is particularly true when you look for NordVPN deals that can complicate an already-shifting cost.
The NordVPN cost for one month on a recurring basis is $11.95, which is relatively high for any VPN service. This is approximately $143.40 annually if you continue the service for a whole year, but most people who choose this plan only need a VPN for a short period (like a vacation).
The NordVPN discount drops it to $9 per month if you get their six-month plan, which is billed all at the same time. This is an average cost of $54/year, which is still somewhat high but reasonably considering the services and features they offer.
The lowest price is always the annual subscription. The actual discount here often varies depending on the promotion they’re running, but hovers somewhere around 51%. That gives it a cost of about $5.75 per month or $69 for a whole year. This price range is about the highest we ever want to see a VPN charge.
For comparison, many other VPN services charge about $2-$3 each month if you have their longest-term plans. Given that, it’s fair to say that NordVPN is more expensive than other choices, but they put that money to good use by developing features that help users.
In the past, you could buy a NordVPN lifetime plan. However, that was a limited-time offer and is no longer available. The best NordVPN pricing you’ll find will still be on their website most of the time.
NordVPN offers several payment options to users, including some that are friendlier to international customers. While credit and debit cards tend to be the most popular, you can also make NordVPN PayPal payments, go through Amazon Pay, Sofort, or use prepaid cards.
NordVPN even accepts some cryptocurrencies, which is handy for security-conscious individuals. If you’re on mobile devices, you can pay through iTunes and Google Pay, either directly or through card purchases. There’s one other way to pay for NordVPN, and it’s a little different than what most companies offer.
NordVPN In Retail Stores
Aside from direct payment options, NordVPN is available in many physical and digital stores. This includes large retailers like Amazon, electronics companies like Best Buy, and business-oriented stores like Staples and Office Depot. Unfortunately, these are limited mainly to the United States, Canada, the UK, and Germany.
While digital payments are possible, it’s usually better to buy straight off their website if that’s how you want to get access. Physical stores, however, are something else entirely. These allow you to pay cash for a new or continuing subscription to NordVPN, preventing anyone who’s snooping on your transactions from seeing what you purchased.
Retail versions are also viable gifts for anyone you know that’s interested in improving their online security. Some people are hesitant to buy things online, but respond better to physical products bought through trusted retailers.
Keep in mind that you may have a harder time getting a refund if you buy a retail copy, so it’s better to go this route only if you’re sure you want NordVPN.
Outside of its regular pricing options, NordVPN offers additional discounts for students and youths to the tune of 15% off any plan. This brings the annual cost of NordVPN down to about $121.89 (for twelve months of one-month subscriptions) or $58.65 (for the one-year plan).
Students often have to work with school or college internets, which aren’t always as secure as home networks because so many people use them. Considering the elevated risk, students can benefit more from having a VPN than many other people.
Some of NordVPN’s student discounts are available worldwide, so this isn’t limited to US and Canadian students. You may also qualify for the discount if you’re outside of the normal age range (about 18 to 26 years old) as long as you qualify for the platform offering the discount.
NordVPN is one of the largest and best VPN providers around, which is why we give it high marks and recommend it for most people who are looking for a VPN. While not entirely perfect, the company’s actual problems have been minor and aren’t a serious concern for most users.
What things come down to is the balance of price, features, and trustworthiness. While you’re already familiar with these factors if you read all of this incredibly extensive review, we’re going to briefly summarize those here for the benefit of anyone skipping to the conclusion.
- Price: 4/5. NordVPN costs more than many other VPN options, although the difference is just a few dollars each month. It’s not painfully high, but it’s definitely in the upper range for VPNs.
- Features: 5/5. NordVPN offers excellent features, including some customized software that drastically improves the speed of their connections. They have many servers located around the world, as well as multiple specialty servers for P2P sharing, streaming, or even getting additional protection through a double VPN setup.
- Trustworthiness: 4.5/5. While their record has a few blemishes, the same can be said for any VPN company of significant size, and this doesn’t hurt or impact most users. Their willingness to go through third-party audits is a strong point in favor, especially because they have a no-logs policy.
NordVPN is better than most other VPNs in most areas, making it a good default option for many people. The pricing deserves a special mention because they have more options than many other VPNs, including a presence in some physical stores.
There’s a lot to like here, so if you’re making comparisons (and you should be), keep NordVPN’s unique features in mind when narrowing down your list and making your final decision.
Here are some of the most common questions people ask about NordVPN. Most of these are discussed in detail earlier in this NordVPN review, but we’ve included shorter versions of the answers here for anyone who wants to get the basic information as quickly as possible.