NordVPN review: A bit too overhyped for the price

You may know NordVPN from its popular ambassador program, taking social media by storm as influencers sign up to make money advertising the virtual private network. But despite its popularity, it didn’t make the list of the nine top providers we published in June. After vigorous testing, I concluded it was a bit overhyped for the price, lacking features considered standard in lower cost options.

Geoblocking, streaming and gaming are the three main VPN use cases. So, to test out NordVPN and its competitors, I used them to watch Canadian Netflix from my US-based home, played an online game from a UK-based server and streamed a news channel on YouTube via a Hong Kong-based VPN.

NordVPN was easy to sign up for, offering options like opting in to automatic updates to keep the service running at the latest version. Depending on the tier you pick, you can also get access to NordPass, the company’s password manager, or NordLocker, a file encryption software. The “complete” package runs at $5.79 per month.

The best VPNs stay out of your way and you’ll barely even notice they’re running. That was pretty much the case with NordVPN. It passed our basic privacy tests, like successfully masking the IP address, and the DNS and WebRTC leak tests.It was also easy to access geo-blocked content, stream on YouTube and game using NordVPN, with little-to-no buffering. We ran a ping test, which measures internet latency. It took 75 milliseconds with NordVPN on, which isn’t a lot slower than 62 ms with it off.

NordVPN supports up to six devices at once, which means I could conduct all tests simultaneously and still had no slowdown. That’s great for sharing it with a family, or folks that like to game, watch TV and scroll on their phone at the same time. Those connectivity options come with a caveat: the devices have to run on different VPN protocols if they’re connected to the same server. NordVPN has more than 5,000 servers in 60 countries, and offers a variety of device support from gaming systems to Raspberry Pi devices to streaming services.

Still, NordVPN’s security history is less than ideal. NordVPN is based in Panama, a country with limited data sharing laws. It uses industry-standard AES 256-bit encryption and a modification on the WireGuard protocol to avoid temporarily collecting IP addresses. It does third-party security audits and has a vulnerability disclosure program, two indicators of taking privacy basics seriously. But it’s not open source, and when it comes to data privacy, it falls short because of its patterns of collecting and storing unnecessary user information. Notably, NordVPN also failed to disclose a 2018 data breach in a timely manner. It wasn’t until a security researcher discussed it publicly, over a year after the incident, that NordVPN owned up to it.

NordVPN’s history of loaded terms and deceptive advertising also just didn’t sit well with me. The UK-based Advertising Standards Authority ruled a 2019 NordVPN ad as misleading, by exaggerating the risk from data theft. It makes sweeping claims about what’s possible with its VPN that are impossible to prove.

For an option so highly talked about, the experience using NordVPN was just… fine. It didn’t stand out, unlike ProtonVPN that offered a more comprehensive suite of products alongside the VPN and higher security measures. That’s why Nord didn’t make the cut as one of the top choices I’d recommend.

NordVPN was easy to sign up for, download and use, but compared to the other services, it didn’t wow me.

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