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NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN: Which VPN is best for you?

Once again, we pit two of the most popular VPN services against each other to see which comes out on top. This handy guide will help you decide which is right for you.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

We've narrowed down the best VPN service from the 50+ branded commercial options to about 10, which we spotlighted in our best of and speed test guides. At some point, though, you need to make a choice. In this article, we've taken two of our top choices -- ExpressVPN and NordVPN -- and compared them.

Must read: 

VPN providers are always tinkering with their pricing, so these numbers are bound to change. That said, NordVPN is less expensive. Nord is asking for $3.71 (or a wallet hit of $89 on signup for two years of service).

ExpressVPN's best deal is what they tout as $6.67 a month (you'll really be paying $99.95 now for 15 months of service). After that 15 months, you'll be charged $99.95 every 12 months, so the per-month price is essentially going up about a buck and a half after that first year. Nord reserves the right to change prices, but it doesn't have a baked-in price increase in its "special offer" deal.

NordVPN allows you to connect six client devices at once with its VPN service, while ExpressVPN allows five. Both offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Chart: ZDNet/David Gewirtz

In our fastest VPN guide, we took a look at both our own in-house tests and how the Internet overall rated VPNs. We compared VPN rankings in speed tests from 10 sites besides ZDNet. Of potentially more interest, we compared the standard deviation of those rankings, which helps us determine whether a given VPN has a consistent ranking all across the internet, or different reviewers got wildly different numbers.

As the above slide shows, NordVPN not only had a better aggregate average ranking but a lower standard deviation. This means that pretty much wherever you are, your NordVPN performance should be pretty good. ExpressVPN came very close, though. We're giving NordVPN the technical win, but we doubt you'll be able to tell much of a difference during real-life usage.

Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN support the big four: iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. ExpressVPN also supports Linux, routers, and Kindle Fire. It supports Xbox, Playstation, and the Nintendo Switch as well as browsers Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. When it comes to TV support, ExpressVPN lists Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Samsung, Roku, Nvidia Shield, Chromecast, LG Smart TVs, Android TV, and others that require more of a manual setup process. Additionally, it offers setup instructions for Synology and QNAP NAS appliances.

NordVPN lists Android TV, Linux, and Chrome and Firefox extensions on its download page, but has a support page for installing NordVPN on other platforms, including routers, Raspberry Pi, and NAS boxes including Synology, Western Digital My Cloud, and QNAP.

The fact is, both products support a reasonably wide range of devices, but we have to give the win to ExpressVPN. You can keep digging down in the support pages and there are more and more devices with install tutorials, the deeper you dig.

I always like to make sure this point is stressed in all my VPN coverage: if you're counting on a VPN for your physical freedom or to protect your life, it's important that you do a lot more research than just reading an article like this. With that said, let's look at the overall profile for these two vendors.

NordVPN has gotten a lot of mileage out of its Panamanian corporate registration, claiming that Panama puts its records out of the legal reach of governments and lawyers.  As I discussed in great depth in my analysis of NordSec, it's possible that countries with Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) may well be able to pierce the corporate veil.

Although I didn't do as deep an in-depth analysis of ExpressVPN, the company has similar claims and limits as Nord. ExpressVPN lists its registry in the British Virgin Islands but is a company with developers based in many MLAT countries as well.

Both offer warrant canaries. Both capture email addresses and billing information. NordVPN does capture your billing address and country. Both vendors support cryptocurrency.

Both vendors tout a no-logs policy. Both vendors say they don't capture connection time stamps, traffic logs, IP addresses, or browsing data. NordVPN says it doesn't track used bandwidth, while ExpressVPN says it tracks total amount of daily data transmitted each day. ExpressVPN also tracks the location of VPN servers you connect to. That's not good, because it means they can tell where your connection originated from (or at least the country) and where you're trying to connect to. For this reason, we'll give NordVPN a slight win.

Both vendors offer a kill switch, which we consider table stakes in terms of VPN special features. Both companies offer split tunneling, allowing you to channel some traffic through the VPN and the rest through your local connection without VPN interference. ExpressVPN says it's running a private DNS, but any VPN provider is going to need to do domain name resolving. So while other vendors don't list "Private DNS" as a feature, they all need to be running a DNS as a consequence of their role in packet forwarding.

NordVPN advertises its support for P2P, allowing you to torrent your favorite Linux distros (and possibly other digital sharing activities of dubious legality, which we categorically do not recommend). ExpressVPN makes no mention of P2P.

NordVPN has a few interesting features not provided by ExpressVPN. NordVPN also provides Onion Over VPN, which allows you to use both the Onion anonymizer and Nord's VPN together. NordVPN also allows you to buy a dedicated IP address, which can help if you're dealing with anonymous servers or gaming connections. NordVPN also offers business plans.

ExpressVPN has an interesting blog post about how it prevents its apps from getting malware but doesn't offer malware protection for traffic run over its VPN network. NordVPN provides malware and adware filtering.

Both vendors come to the game with many of the features you'd expect. Nord has more features, ranging from additional business options to additional protection options. We have to give this win to NordVPN.

Decision tree

The winner in this competition is pretty decisively NordVPN, with four wins to one. But just because we awarded big category wins to Nord doesn't mean that's all you should consider when buying a VPN service. So how do you decide? Here are a few options that may make that decision easier.

There you go. ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN. NordVPN pulls ahead in most of our comparisons, and the pricing advantage is particularly noticeable. Fundamentally, ExpressVPN stands out mostly in terms of its wide range of supported devices. So if Nord doesn't support the device you want to use, check out ExpressVPN.

How do these choices fit your needs? Have you chosen a VPN provider already? What capabilities and characteristics helped you to make up your mind.

For more about ExpressVPN, see our video overview:

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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