There are so many VPN services that it can be very confusing when it comes to choosing which one to pay for. Although there are some free options, you will quickly discover that they don’t offer what you need, whether it’s speed, unlimited data use or security.
But why consider a service that costs more than the rest? We asked the same question but after months of using ExpressVPN we have the answers.
The idea behind ExpressVPN – as with all consumer VPN services – is to grant anonymous internet access regardless of technical ability. That means you need only press the big ‘power’ button in the app and within seconds you’re protected from ISPs, governments and any other interlopers sniffing your computer’s traffic. Then you’re free to visit any website and download any file without anyone knowing or being able to track you.
Another benefit is that you can choose a VPN server in different country which causes websites and online services to think you are in that country. This means you can access content – catch-up TV for example – that isn’t available in your country. Some streaming services such as Netflix have different content available in different regions, so you may be able to watch something when connected to a US VPN server that you can’t watch if you’re in the UK.
ExpressVPN is one of the largest VPN providers with thousands of servers. The list currently runs to 160 cities in 94 countries, ranging from Monaco to Mongolia.
Apps are available for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, iPad, Linux and Amazon Fire TV. But it doesn’t stop there. There are browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox and you can also use the step-by-step tutorials on ExpressVPN’s website to get the VPN running on devices including Apple TV, Android TVs, NAS drives and more.
You can go one step further and install software on supported routers, too. This involves downloading specially modified firmware for the device (Asus, Netgear and Linksys models are supported) which means the VPN connection can work on every device that connects to the internet through it, but also lets you pick which devices connect without using the VPN.
ExpressVPN has a video for Linksys routers, so you can decide whether you think it’ll work for you. Alternatively, you can purchase a router with ExpressVPN already installed.
We could nitpick and point out that there’s no browser extension for Opera or Safari, but the bottom line is that ExpressVPN is supported on more devices than any other VPN service we know of.
The newest feature is TrustedServer. It aims to increase security by running each and every ExpressVPN server entirely in RAM. Although servers still have hard drives, these are read-only and contain only the operating system image needed to boot up the servers. Every server runs the same version of this software and the setup means no user data is ever written to a hard drive. (See Security & Privacy below for more.)
When the server is restarted, the operating system and VPN software is essentially re-installed afresh, so it also mitigates any threat from being hacked and malicious code persisting.
Until just recently ExpressVPN limited you to using the service on just three different devices at the same time.
But now, to bring itself in line with many of its competitors, you can now use up to 5 devices simultaneously (or unlimited connections if you run ExpressVPN on a compatible router).
Available on Windows, macOS, Linux and now the Android app, Network Lock is ExpressVPN’s kill switch. It stops any data being sent or received if the VPN connection unexpectedly drops, keeping you protected. If the connection is ever lost, the apps will automatically reconnect and restore your encrypted connection quickly.
On top of this, split tunneling is available in the Windows, Android and macOS apps (as well as the router version). What this does is let you choose which apps use the VPN connection and which don’t. The advantage is that you can still access local websites or devices – such as wireless printers – without any problems while simultaneously accessing overseas sites via the VPN.
Alternatively, you can install and use the Chrome or Firefox browser extension to limit the VPN’s scope to only websites you’re visiting in that browser. These extensions offer HTTPS everywhere, which ensures you have a secure connection to a website even if the site itself hasn’t implemented HTTPS.
It’s worth mentioning that ExpressVPN allows P2P and torrenting, which some VPN services specifically forbid.
Performance & ease of use
For most people, the apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android will cover most of their needs, and the simple interface – below – couldn’t be easier to use. Once you’ve logged in with your username and password and approved requests to allow the app to access your device’s VPN settings, it’s a simple case of picking a country and pressing the big button.
The Android app (below) has been completely updated and now features a useful widget that makes it really easy to connect to a server without even launching the app. Another thoughtful touch is that, in the app itself, there are shortcuts to launch apps after you’ve connected to a server, and you can add shortcuts to your favourite apps.
The servers we tested were all rock steady and speeds were very good. And by very good, we mean we saw only a small drop in download speeds on our 100Mb/s leased line, so this is a VPN you can use all the time without putting up with slower internet.
One box that most people will want ticked off is support for Netflix US-only shows. And whenever we’ve checked this we’ve had no issues streaming from one of ExpressVPN’s US servers.
ExpressVPN also unblocks BBC iPlayer, but don’t try checking this if you’re within the UK (as we did) as you’ll find the service is blocked. It does, however, work fine when you are abroad.
Not all VPN providers have 24/7 live chat but ExpressVPN does, and it’s great. It’s a shame this is only available on its website and not directly through the mobile apps. In those, the Help section basically lets you email tech support and wait a few hours for a response.
Security & Privacy
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which is a self-governing territory that isn’t subject to British laws. This means it’s outside of the “14-eyes” and you can find out more about why some users prefer their VPN service to be based outside of the 14-eyes here.
Fortunately you don’t have to worry about these acronyms and any of the more advanced security features if you’re using one of the main apps: you’re protected simply by being connected to the VPN.
In terms of security, ExpressVPN uses OpenVPN with 256-bit encryption, which is exactly what you want. And as mentioned earlier, extra security comes from the kill switch facility, called Network Lock, which focuses on traffic rather than applications. If the VPN tunnel collapses, all traffic stops, rather than applications being killed. You can also tune this feature to still allow local traffic while dropping all remote traffic, to prevent other devices such as printers from losing connectivity when the kill switch is activated.
It used to be the only service which offered extra privacy and protection by layering TOR over VPN, but NordVPN also supports this now. It won’t be necessary for many users, but it does give you maximum security, and using a VPN means you can access the TOR network even in places where it is blocked.
Pricing & plans
And so, we come to the sticking point with this service. At $12.95 (about £10.50) per month or $8.32 (£6.70)/month when you pay by the year, ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive VPNs reviewed here, but for ease of use and the features on offer it still represents good value for money.
If you buy ExpressVPN through this link you’ll get three months free when you commit to a year’s subscription, which brings the price closer to £5 per month.
The company also offers 30-day money back guarantee, so you’ll get your money back – no questions asked – if you’re not happy with the service for any reason. Payment is by all the usual credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and a wide range of other options including GiroPay and YandexMoney.
ExpressVPN is one of our favourite VPN services, which has always been fast and reliable. It’s hard to find a device that can’t be protected, though if you’re a Safari or Opera user you’d have to switch to Chrome or Firefox if you want to use one of ExpressVPN’s browser extensions.
The old 3-connections limit has now been raised to 5, so it’s no longer the negative point it once was.
Price is the biggest drawback, and rivals such as NordVPN a similarly excellent service for less.