NordVPN vs ExpressVPN (2020) – The Ultimate Battle

NordVPN and ExpressVPN are the two most popular service provider in the VPN industry. At first glance, they look pretty much similar and choosing one for another isn’t all that easy.

We have done all the research and extensively compared these two VPN giants to see which comes out the best. Hopefully, our guide will help you pick out the right fit.

Factors to Choose a Good VPN

Below we will go through a few important considerations to take note of before deciding on which VPN service to subscribe to.

Performance

Obviously, a VPN needs to deliver lightning-fast speed that will not interrupt your online activity. It is absolutely pointless to get a VPN service that significantly slows down just when you need it.

Different tests with different services have found that a VPN generally reduces your connection speed by 5 – 20%, meaning the effects on online gaming can range from barely noticeable to barely tolerable.

The first thing you need to look at is the VPN service provider’s server proximity. You should be able to get the same level of security regardless of distance or location. On that note, you also need to decide whether you will be using the VPN from one location only or while traveling. Some VPN providers only have servers in a few countries and the internet performance will drop significantly when you’re outside of these countries.

Next, the overall speed of a VPN provider depends on the company’s technology and implementation. Not all VPN services are created equal – some work better for speed and performance while others may be slower but with a much better user experience. Ideally, you should keep in mind to look out for fast connectivity that is both reliable and consistent.

Unblocking Geo-Restricted Content

Many media content such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC, and HBO are geographically restricted due to license agreements. A good VPN is able to open up access to allow you to continue streaming your favorite movies and TV series regardless of where you are in the world.

On top of streaming Netflix, VPNs can also help you get early access to new games. Let’s say there is a particular online game that you’ve been eyeing for a long time finally drops a release date – but it’s going to be available in Japan first, hours before any other servers go live. If you hope to stay ahead of others, all you need is to connect to a Japanese IP address through a VPN and you’re all set and ready to go.

Security

The main reason most people subscribe to a VPN is to ensure their data remains safe and secured. It is pointless to invest in a protection plan that easily leaks information to other parties.

How secure a VPN company really simply boils down to two main factors: encryption method and country of origin. Some VPNs use older or traditional encryption that is more susceptible to attacks, while only a few VPNs have proprietary encryption technology that is harder to break into.

On top of that, it is vital to know where your VPN service provider is based and what local laws might mean for your privacy. Some countries have local government laws that require companies to retain information on customers and their internet usage that needs to be handed over to the authorities as and when requested.

Customer Support

For a home gamer who does not need all the extra features offered by top VPN providers, you can save a lot of time and effort by choosing a user-friendly VPN that is easy to setup. In any case, customer service should always be available to help you prepare for the worst.

Many VPNs have live chat support that runs 24/7 but is difficult to reach by phone outside of their business hours. Some have phone customer service reps that run on shifts to help you out no matter the time. Others have robust tutorial videos and guides geared towards users who are more technologically proficient that only just need a leg up in resolving any issues.

Cost

Many VPNs now come with a wide range of pricing, now they’ve further complicated decision making by offering subscription period at great discounts. Some have high monthly charges billed monthly, but a much cheaper rate per month if billed annually, while some have lower monthly charges, but their annual bill remains almost the same. Newer VPN providers even offer affordable subscription plans for up to 5 years of service.

NordVPN vs ExpressVPN Review

In our comparison today, we looked into several important aspects listed below:

  1. Servers and Network
  2. Speed
  3. Streaming
  4. Torrenting
  5. Ease of Use
  6. Compatibility
  7. Jurisdiction
  8. Privacy
  9. Security

1. Servers and Network

Number of Servers

A VPN service is really as good as the number of servers available for users to connect to. All the best VPNs can afford to maintain a huge server and IP address park. This way the users can be evenly distributed among the servers to maintain speed and stability.

As of today, NordVPN is packed with more than 5600 servers while ExpressVPN is at 3000+. While NordVPN wins in this category by a huge margin, ExpressVPN is still one of the top VPNs in terms of number of servers.

Number of Countries

Another important aspect to take note of is the number of countries offered by the VPN service providers for their users to access the internet with. Generally, most VPN users prefer to hide their IP addresses, however, there is still a significant number of netizens that need an IP based in an “obscure” state such as in the case of accessing location restricted media content.

NordVPN supports 60 different countries while ExpressVPN has 94. While NordVPN has a larger number of servers, this VPN provider covers fewer countries around the globe as compared to ExpressVPN.

2. Speed

Both VPN service providers had decent speed test results. Just a little background info, all speed tests were conducted using OpenVPN with AES-256 encryption and my baseline speed was at approximately 160 Mbps.

I tested out the server speeds in several locations as listed below:

Despite NordVPN having more servers than ExpressVPN, NordVPN seems to offer a slightly slower speed. If performance is your top priority, ExpressVPN may be the better option to go for.

3. Netflix & Streaming

If you are a major Netflix lover, you’re gonna want to find out if your VPN supports streaming. Fortunately, both NordVPN and ExpressVPN are able to access US Netflix without any issues. This is a great feat as streaming Netflix through a VPN is often hit-or-miss, there are only a handful of VPN services that unblock Netflix. 

NordVPN proves to be a better pick for Netflix fans as it works effortlessly to unblock content in the US, UK, Canada, France, Japan, and Brazil. This provider is well-equipped for consistent streaming with their great choice of servers and proprietary SmartPlay DNS feature.

Other than that, these two VPNs also can unblock a large number of streaming services, both in the US and internationally such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, and others.

All-in-all, both VPNs are good choices if you’re looking to stream media.

4. Torrenting

The great news is that both VPNs allow P2P connections on their servers. You can find a separate tab in NordVPN’s app provides hundreds of servers that are optimized for P2P activities in different locations around the world.

ExpressVPN is also completely file-sharing friendly and allows such activities on all of its servers. If you have any questions, they even have helpful instructions on how you can best use their service with a P2P app.

ExpressVPN supports BitTorrent in all 94 countries while NordVPN only supports 37 countries. On top of that, both VPNs support SOCKS5 proxies which require an extra authentication instead of just encryption. These proxies also tend to provide better speeds.

Lastly, NordVPN and ExpressVPN are based in Panama and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) respectively. Since both are not a US-based service, they are not obliged to follow a strict Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) policy. This makes them suitable for torrenting. 

5. Ease of Use

What good would a VPN be if you face a difficult time trying to use it? Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN understands this and that is why their apps have stylish and intuitive interfaces.  Both like to keep things simple with a sharp design and a one-click protection with their quick connect button.

They offer ready-made apps specifically for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Both apps are very minimalistic, and they offer the ability to browse through different servers in various regions seamlessly. Other than that, you also have the option to tweak security settings, such as protocols, kill-switch, and DNS settings on both VPNs.

6. Compatibility

As one of the best commercial VPNs available on the market, NordVPN and ExpressVPN work seamlessly on a variety of platforms. They both have dedicated apps for each major operating system, as well as specialized support for many other devices.

The majority of internet users prefer Windows operating system and both VPNs work impressively here. NordVPN app support starts from Windows 7 and up – similar to ExpressVPN. Although, NordVPN does have a little more flexibility with manual setups for XP and Vista versions.

Additionally, NordVPN offers native VPN apps for macOS, iOS, Linux, Android, Android TV, and Amazon Fire. There are even browser extensions available for Chrome and Firefox. platforms.

Rounding back to ExpressVPN, this service provider also features native apps for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Kindle Fire, BlackBerry, and Amazon Fire TB platforms. They offer browser extensions for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox platforms.

Lastly, Both VPNs also can be set up through a router. Clear instructions can be found on both websites to help you set up your VPN router.

7. Jurisdiction

If you’re concerned about the safety of your data, you need to take a good look at where your VPN service provider is based at. There have been many cases in the United States where government agencies have forced VPNs to handover user information. That is why it is important to look for a VPN provider that is in a “Safe” location far away from the fourteen eyes alliances.

In terms of jurisdiction, NordVPN is based in Panama which is considered to be in a safe country. Panama is not a member of any of the international surveillance alliances and is not obligated to submit your information to the authorities.

ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands and it is located in one of the safest countries for users’ online privacy. BVI does not have any kind of data retention laws, meaning the company is legally permitted to hide your online activity from the government. 

Regarding jurisdiction, NordVPN seems to have chosen a better location in Panama as it does not require any data storage. While ExpressVPN is officially based in BVI that also does not have mandatory data retention law, BVI does have strong ties to the UK that is known for its strict regulation.

In any case, there is no real direct evidence to prove that jurisdiction will affect the privacy of your VPN users in a bad way. Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN were never caught gathering or sharing their customers’ private data.

8. Privacy

Logging Policy

Considering the main reason people subscribe to a VPN service is for better privacy, almost every VPN claim that they do not keep any logs. However, most of the time you’ll find loopholes in the fine print or hidden behind intentionally vague statements. One way or another, VPN service providers do need to retain a certain amount of data on their users. This is where it’s critical to understand the difference between connection logs and activity logs.

NordVPN is headquartered in the data retention-free jurisdiction of Panama on top of employing a strict no-logs policy. Although it does not record your browsing activity, the company does collect some information like your email address and payment details. This is completely normal as any VPN service that accepts credit cards and PayPal.

ExpressVPN does not collect or log any of your activities and even accepts Bitcoin as subscription payment to ensure all your information is completely incognito.

ExpressVPN’s logging policy clearly outlines that they will never log:

  1. IP addresses
  2. Browsing history
  3. Any website you visit/Torrent you download
  4. DNS queries

Though the service does record some information when you connect, none of it is tied to your account. The information saved by the company includes login date, server location used, and the amount of data transferred.

9. Security

Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN take security functions very seriously, which is why you’ll find that they offer plenty of useful features with a lot of depth to them.

Protocols & Security

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer multiple protocols and the best among them is the OpenVPN system that you should probably use if you’re seeking top-level security. However, the encryption process of OpenVPN can be slightly slower compared to the other protocols, but it’s a small compromise compared to the amazing security it brings to the table. With the recent data bread in NordVPN, ExpressVPN currently takes the lead in security.

If you do need to squeeze a little extra speed out for certain situations like online gaming, you have the option to switch to L2TP with ExpressVPN or the IKEv2 with NordVPN. PPTP is also offered by ExpressVPN but this is an older standard that is no longer considered secure. In replacement, ExpressVPN provides SSTP protocol.

Overall, the choice of VPN protocols is solid for both providers though NordVPN has a slight advantage as it offers fast IKEv2 for use with mobile devices.

Encryption

ExpressVPN wins NordVPN in terms of the encryption standard offered. Both companies use military-grade AES encryption with a 256-bit key that is currently uncrackable for cast-iron security.

ExpressVPN is better in terms of security as it offers for the control channel. This cipher is used to protect the distribution of AES keys and for session establishment. While both companies use RSA encryption, ExpressVPN uses a longer 4,096-bit key against NordVPN’s 2,048-bit key.

This is particularly important if you are hoping to use a VPN in China. It is commonly believed that the Chinese authorities can now crack RSA with 1,024-bit key and is now working towards the 2,048-bit key version. When they do get there, NordVPN will no longer be secure in China. As of now, ExpressVPN has over-engineered its control channel encryption to ensure total crack-proof security.

DNS Leaks

DNS calls are actually unencrypted, so all the websites you’ve visited can be logged by your ISP, hackers, or the authorities if the VPN lets you carry on with the default DNS service nominated by your ISP. Luckily, both NordVPN and ExpressVPN force all DNS references to travel down their encrypted tunnels to prevent anyone from seeing your web activities.

Both offer the same security options in their app to help prevent your IP address from getting exposed. You can even set the apps to start immediately when the operating system boots up to ensure they run on your computer all of the time. Both apps also include a kill switch option that prevents any app on your computer from connecting to the internet without an active VPN.

However, NordVPN has an overall kill switch that also allows you to create selective kill-switch for each app. ExpressVPN currently does not feature the per-app kill switch but it does offer split tunneling which allows you to nominate apps to bypass the VPN while the others remain protected.

Final Verdict

Overall, both of these VPN services are highly recommended. In a nutshell, ExpressVPN is faster and works better to unblock geo-restricted content such as Netflix and the Great China Firewall. NordVPN, on the other hand, is a VPN that does what is required at a cheaper range.

Regardless of which VPN provider you find is best for you, it is always best to test them out first with a shorter subscription before committing to a cheaper but much longer payment plan. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is using VPN legal?

Yes, using a VPN is completely legal. It is in your right to protect and encrypt all your internet connection to protect your personal data. It is the same concept as using an envelope to cover your letters. Some information is better kept private to ensure you’re not vulnerable to all kinds of malicious cyber-attacks.

Am I anonymous when browsing through a VPN?

No, you are not anonymous when browsing through a VPN. Many providers advertise complete anonymity, but their privacy policy may suggest otherwise. Also, there is no real way of knowing how credible their zero-logs claim really is.

While a VPN greatly increases your security and privacy, it does not make you anonymous. By subscribing to their services, you essentially expose yourself and your online activities to the VPN provider.

You also need to take note of where your VPN service provider is based in. Many countries have a data retention law that compels a company to log user activity that they are required to hand over to the authorities. VPN companies that focus on privacy will accept gift cards cash, or Bitcoin as your subscription payment. You will also not be required to submit your real name, phone number, address, or banking details in order to use their services.

Am I safe when using public Wi-Fi hotspots with a VPN?

In most cases, it is safe to use public Wi-Fi hotspots with a VPN. VPN encrypts the traffic between your device and VPN servers. This way hackers won’t be able to read your data. Even if they somehow are able to intercept your traffic, all they will really see is useless encrypted gibberish.

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