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ExpressVPN Review: Voted Best Overall VPN in 2018

ExpressVPN

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Regardless of personal preferences, all VPN users keep two things at the center of their list of priorities: privacy and speed. ExpressVPN delivers on both of those fronts.

Rating

Rating

Price

$12.95/mo

Pros

  • Risk-free money back guarantee
  • Allows P2P and BitTorrent
  • Works with Netflix
  • Fast servers
  • Exceptional security
  • Diverse distribution of servers
  • 24/7 Online Support

Cons

  • Light on customization options for power users
  • Slightly more expensive than rivals

Looking for the fastest, the most reliable, and the overall best VPN around? Every company claims they have the speediest servers and the hardiest encryption protocols, but the only way to know for sure is to put it to the test. We sat down with ExpressVPN and tried everything from the mobile apps to the network speeds to see how well the service stacks up. Read on for our full ExpressVPN review, including a complete run-down of the best features along with detailed speed test results.

ExpressVPN – The Basics

ExpressVPN puts a high priority on speed. The service operates with a full network of 145 servers in 94 different countries, covering major cities across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and beyond. Users praise ExpressVPN’s straightforward software, wide range of device support, and incredible video streaming abilities, all delivered without sacrificing privacy or online security.

Some of the best features of ExpressVPN include:

  • Anonymous access to the internet with support for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS.
  • Good access to Netflix streams despite the company’s attempts at blocking VPNs.
  • Unlimited bandwidth with no speed caps or throttling.
  • No restrictions on P2P networks or torrents.

Installing ExpressVPN – Easy as Pie

ExpressVPN goes out of its way to make the installation process as simple as possible. It’s definitely one of the easiest VPNs to use, making it the perfect choice for anyone who just wants to turn on their VPN and let it do its thing.

ExpressVPN offers custom software for all major devices and platforms. As soon as you sign up you can head to the download page and get started. Links to software, apps, and manual configurations are laid out for every platform ExpressVPN supports, including the following:

  • Windows, Mac, and Linux (desktop)
  • Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod (mobile apps)
  • Chrome, Firefox, Safari (desktop browser extensions)
  • Apple TV and Kindle Fire
  • PlayStation and Xbox
  • Routers (D-Link, Linksys, DD-WRT, Tomato, and more)

Start by downloading the right software for your operating system. Mobile users can even grab apps from their respective marketplaces for easy installation. Windows, Mac, and Linux users will need to enter an activation code from the ExpressVPN site before completing the process, but that only takes a few seconds. There’s nothing to configure once you sign in, all you have to do is install and connect!

Using ExpressVPN

The ExpressVPN software has a similar layout on most platforms. As soon as you launch you’re presented with a big, friendly button you can click to turn the VPN on or off. When you’re connected it glows a comforting shade of green. By default, the app will automatically select the fastest server based on speed and your location, and it’s usually pretty good at choosing the best one for the job.

Changing servers only takes a few moments. First, click the button to disconnect from your current server. A new button will appear marked “choose location”. Tap it and you’ll get a browsable list of all ExpressVPN’s server locations sorted by country. You can even search for a city and set favorites for fast access to your most-used regions, which is incredibly useful if you access out-of-area content on a frequent basis.

VPN options are tucked away in a corner menu and kept to the absolute basics. You can set the app to launch with your operating system, enable or disable the automatic kill switch, change encryption protocols, and check your account details. Everything is optimally configured out of the box, however, so most people will never have to look under the hood to enjoy a secure VPN experience.

Mobile VPN Apps

Using ExpressVPN on an Android or iOS device couldn’t be simpler. Apps are available to download directly from Google Play and the iTunes App Store, both of which are linked from the ExpressVPN installation page. Android users also have the option of downloading a raw .apk file or scanning a QR code for faster installation.

Once the app is running and you’re logged in, ExpressVPN presents you with that same big button to start your VPN experience. Smart locations are chosen automatically to provide the fastest connection, but you can also disconnect and choose a custom server in your favorite location. The overall design of the mobile apps is similar to the desktop software, though you won’t find as many options or security protocol settings to change around.

The ExpressVPN mobile apps do exactly what you need them to do without any fuss, a greatly appreciated feature on portable hardware. They’re lightweight, extraordinarily easy to use, and they provide immediate and fast access to a secure internet no matter where you connect from.

ExpressVPN’s Server Network

One of the most important features in a VPN is the size of their server network. Staying secure is great, but when you have access to location variability you’ll want as many options as possible, especially if you plan on traveling. ExpressVPN operates over 145 servers in 94 different countries. It isn’t as many nodes as some of the competitors, but the distribution is elegantly designed to provide convenient locations around the world.

Some of the stand-out servers in the ExpressVPN network include locations in Hong Kong, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, Russia, and South Africa. The U.S. is quite well-represented with over a dozen cities on both coasts and throughout the Midwest. Cities in Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany, France, and Italy also have multiple nodes to choose from.

ExpressVPN maintains a full list of active servers that’s constantly updated with new acquisitions. Closer is always better, but remember you don’t need connection options in your backyard to get lightning-fast speeds.

ExpressVPN and Speed

It’s great that VPNs give you privacy and anonymity, but what really makes them stand out is speed. Your experience streaming movies through Kodi, downloading torrents, grabbing large files from cloud storage, or simply browsing the web all depend on how fast a network is. VPNs can be between 10 and 25% slower than a standard ISP-based internet connection. A lot of this has to do with encryption overhead and server distance, but it also comes down to the quality of the VPN itself.

ExpressVPN has always billed itself as one of the fastest VPNs around. The service isn’t afraid to show this off by including a built-in speed test in several versions of its app. Windows and Linux users can run a quick speed test on the entirety of ExpressVPN’s network. It can take a few minutes to complete, but once it’s done you’ll have an incredible amount of information at your disposal.

Speed test results are ranked by location (country/city), latency (lag), download speed, and a combined speed index score. You can sort these lists by category and connect to any server you like, all without any limitation. ExpressVPN offers a similar testing option in its Android app, though it’s limited to ping scores instead of the full spread of data above.

Testing ExpressVPN’s Speed – Our Methodology

ExpressVPN is known for its incredible speeds and low-latency network. We put these claims to the test by running evaluations on multiple servers in the network and comparing the results to our own unencrypted ISP connection.

Getting reliable speed test results isn’t easy. There are dozens of variables involved, everything from local hardware to server load, time of day, quality of the ISP, etc. Each user will also get different speed test results depending on their location and distance to servers. To eliminate as many of these variables as possible, we ran three independent tests using three different methodologies, checking both our unsecured ISP connection and the VPN’s encrypted network back to back. Below is an overview of how we tested ExpressVPN’s server speeds.

  • VPN Speed Test #1 – We downloaded a series of 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16 MB files in quick succession. These were served by a content delivery network which automatically detects location for faster results.
  • VPN Speed Test #2 – A ten-minute-long test where we downloaded a 100 MB file from the same server every 60 seconds. This checks for reliability and can be a good indicator for video streaming speeds.
  • VPN Speed Test #3 – A basic speed test that connected to a single server to record the best burst speeds.

Whenever possible we used servers in the same city for all the above tests. We also configured the VPN software for optimal speed, which in ExpressVPN’s case meant switching from automatic mode to the UDP protocol. Tests were conducted at different times of day with no other software running in the background.

ExpressVPN Speed Test – Results

ExpressVPN performed extraordinarily well in our speed tests. Using default settings and connecting to servers as close to the test areas as possible, we consistently snagged downloads between 75-90% of our full ISP speed, often with less variance between the highest and lowest numbers. This held true for both the short tests as well as extended 100 MB tests, which is promising news for both casual browsers and movie streamers.

Below is a quick summary of our speed test results. Your results will vary depending on location, time of day, ISP connection, and other variables.

Multi-file download (Test #1):

Highest recorded ISP speed: 14.43 mb/s

Highest recorded ExpressVPN speed: 11.07 mb/s

ExpressVPN Review - Speed Test 1

100MB repeated download (Test #2):

Local ISP – 4.91 mb/s (low) – 7.96 mb/s (high) – 5.81 mb/s average

ExpressVPN – 4.09 mb/s (low) – 6.54 mb/s (high) – 6.45 mb/s average

Single burst test (Test #3):

Best ISP speed (single server): 55.41 mb/s download, 6.61 mb/s upload

Best ExpressVPN speed (single server): 34.41 mb/s download, 5.28 mb/s upload

Testing servers around the world produced predictably varying results. Our location is in the United States, so using a node in the Netherlands or Vietnam will naturally produce lower scores across the board. We ran ExpressVPN’s internal speed test, then chose its slowest server and ran our speed tests. Even with extreme distance as a factor, we still got a reliable, if somewhat sluggish, score.

Want to try ExpressVPN? Check out the website here

Privacy and Security Features

Let’s face it: you wouldn’t be reading this article if security and privacy weren’t concerns. So how does ExpressVPN stack up? We take an in-depth look at the most important criteria below.

Logging Policy

One of the biggest privacy concerns with VPNs is a company’s policy on keeping data logs. Logging user activity can have legitimate uses for things like gauging server reliability and measuring user patterns to make improvements to the network. The catch is these logs can also be used to record and trace user activity back to individuals. Third parties can also get their hands on this information and use it for mass surveillance, destroying your privacy in an instant.

The basic rule of VPN logs is this: less is better, zero is optimal. Some logs keep sensitive information like traffic information and IP address access records. Others are more benign and hold things like bandwidth usage information that has no direct connection to any user. The important thing is that it shouldn’t be possible for a VPN to match a user’s IP address with a website access timestamp.

ExpressVPN has a strict zero-logging policy that covers traffic, DNS requests, and IP addresses. Put simply, this means that no website you visit, no file you download, and no device you connect from will ever be stored on their servers, affording an incredible amount of privacy and anonymity. ExpressVPN does keep logs of timestamps and bandwidth, however, though both are used internally and have a minimal impact on your privacy.

In the five main areas of data logging, ExpressVPN has a firm policy against three of the most crucial areas:

  • Traffic logs – No
  • DNS request logs – No
  • IP address logs – No
  • Timestamp logs – Yes
  • Bandwidth logs – Yes

ExpressVPN’s Jurisdiction

An often overlooked feature of a VPN service is where the company is registered as an entity. A VPN in the U.S. or UK, for example, has to follow the laws of those countries, just as any company in any area must. Depending on the jurisdiction this can have positive or negative effects on your privacy. If a local government demands access to a user’s information, an in-country VPN is forced to comply. If a foreign government demands the same information from a VPN in another country, they’re not obligated to fulfill the request.

Another consideration is the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes surveillance agreements between many of the major powers in the western world. Countries like the UK, U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and others share information with cooperating governments, allowing them to bypass border laws to obtain information about their citizens. The UK government may not be able to access a VPN user’s data from Canada, but because the governments are working together, the Canadian government can make the request and share it with the UK. An ideal situation is to find a VPN with no ties to the Fourteen Eyes countries for the highest amount of privacy possible.

ExpressVPN is registered in the British Virgin Islands, a territory in the Caribbean with legal and citizenship ties to Britain. An important distinction is the British Virgin Islands are classified as a dependent territory of the United Kingdom, making them separate and distinct with their own governing laws. Legislature and courts take place outside of Britain’s influence, placing ExpressVPN’s jurisdiction in a region largely safe from surveillance agreements.

DNS Leak Tests

DNS servers are computers that contain a massive database of public IP addresses and their associated hostnames. When you type a URL into your browser, DNS servers translate that into a string of numbers that points to the website’s actual location. We have a much easier time remembering addictivetips.com instead of 209.58.137.71, for example. If it wasn’t for DNS servers, we’d have a lot of random numbers to memorize just to check our e-mail.

When you connect to the internet you normally use DNS servers operated by your ISP. Switching to a VPN service means using their DNS servers instead, which is one of the things that helps keep your identity hidden. DNS leak protection in VPN software ensures your connection doesn’t default to the ISP’s DNS servers. Without it, third parties can look at which DNS system you’re accessing and determine your location in seconds.

We ran DNS leak tests using two different third-party services while connected through ExpressVPN on both a Windows computer and Android. We also used the ExpressVPN DNS leak test website for good measure. Our DNS information remained secure the entire time, keeping our real location hidden and showing that ExpressVPN’s leak protection was active on both platforms.

Kill Switch Protection

When you use a VPN the local software takes charge of your internet connection. Everything you do gets encrypted and directed through their servers, forming a solid foundation for online privacy. It’s easy for some part of that process to fail, however. Maybe your computer crashes or you temporarily lose connection to the VPN. In those cases, you want to make sure your computer doesn’t bypass your VPN and connect directly to your ISP. This is a common cause of identity leaks and can happen without your knowledge. Fortunately, automatic kill switches are here to save the day.

The desktop versions of ExpressVPN’s software offer kill switch protection that works without any configuration. You can manually disconnect from the network and return to your local internet with ease, all without any noticeable delays. If a force disconnect happens, ExpressVPN steps in to lock everything down in a matter of seconds.

During our testing we lost connection to a VPN server and our operating system attempted to reconnect through the ISP. Not only did ExpressVPN stop the attempt, it also reconnected to the VPN and provided a notification that everything was safe and secure.

Encryption and Security Protocols

ExpressVPN locks down all data with 256-bit AES encryption, the industry standard for nearly unbreakable cryptography. This provides solid bedrock for your entire VPN experience and makes it so third parties can’t access your data, even if they had a supercomputer and a few million years of spare time. This encryption strength works on every device that supports ExpressVPN’s custom software, including desktop operating systems and smartphones.

Most VPNs use the OpenVPN protocol to handle encryption and traffic management duties. It’s by far the best general purpose method around, offering the perfect balance of speed and security for most users. Some platforms won’t support OpenVPN, however, and there are some stand-out cases where separate protocols and security options are necessary. ExpressVPN offers a few of these unique settings for the desktop versions of its software to help you fine tune your security experience as you see fit.

By default, ExpressVPN is set to “automatic” for its security protocol, which is the best choice for almost everyone. If you need to make a change, visit the options screen in the desktop software and choose from the following:

  • UDP (OpenVPN) – The best balance of speed and security, though it may not work on some networks.
  • TCP (OpenVPN) – Better network compatibility but is usually slower than UDP.
  • L2TP/IPSec – Not as secure as OpenVPN with UDP or TCP, but it’s extremely fast and good for devices that don’t support third-party VPN software.
  • PPTP – The least reliable protocol that should only be used if you can’t access the internet through OpenVPN or L2TP.
  • SSTP – Establishes a connection over the secure HTTPS port 443 to bypass tough censorship blocks. It’s slow and not very reliable, however, and is best reserved for users having extreme issues with their internet access.

Other Security and Privacy Features

Encryption, zero-logging policies, and smart jurisdiction play a huge role in how safe your data is with a VPN. There are many other features that can contribute to this, however, most of which aren’t standard practices that all VPNs strive for. ExpressVPN happens to include a few smart privacy and anonymity policies that go above and beyond the norm. Not only are these features important, but they also illustrate ExpressVPN’s dedication to preserving the privacy of its customer base.

Cryptocurrency payments add a layer of anonymity to any VPN subscription. By paying with a credit card or PayPal, you’re attaching your name and address to an account. This makes it easier to associate your identity with traffic passing through the VPN, even if no logs are stored. To help keep your information and your online activities separate, paying with a cryptocurrency such as bitcoin is highly recommended. ExpressVPN does support bitcoin payments and subscriptions through BitPay.

Legal requests for user information and activity are a common occurrence in the daily life of a VPN company. What the VPN does when these requests are received says a lot about their security. ExpressVPN actively states they can legally ignore almost all subpoenas sent to their offices. The main reason for this is the company’s jurisdiction in the British Virgin Islands. A court order would need to be placed within BVI for it to be valid. ExpressVPN responds to all other requests with a simple message: “we don’t maintain logs that would enable us to match an IP address to an ExpressVPN user”.

ExpressVPN Access in China

China is one of the most censorship-heavy countries in the world. If you live in or are visiting the mainland you’ll find your internet access severely restricted, cutting off common worldwide services such as Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, and much more. Fortunately, there are ways to bypass the Great Firewall, the most effective of which are VPNs.

The Chinese government actively blocks most VPN services outside of the country. This makes VPN availability within the borders spotty and unreliable. The banned list grows and changes on a regular basis, which means what works one day could be broken the next. Your best bet for reliable VPN access in China is to choose a company that puts forward a solid effort to maintain availability within the country. ExpressVPN is one of those services, and it’s arguably the best.

The ExpressVPN website is blocked in mainland China, which means you won’t be able to directly download the software while in the country. You’ll still be able to connect and use the VPN, however, just make sure you install it before crossing the border. Most users report surprisingly fast speeds using ExpressVPN in China. Censorship restrictions are lifted and the internet is open and free, all without having to run secondary tunnels or software configurations.

ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs for access to the internet in China and is trusted by thousands of users around the world.

Netflix Availability

Netflix started cracking down on VPN users in recent years, blocking a massive number of IP addresses to prevent cross-region video streaming. VPN companies fired back by opening up new IP ranges so users could bypass those restrictions and watch whatever movies they want. This back and forth battle is an ongoing struggle between the two groups, which makes it difficult for anyone to watch geo-restriction-free streams regardless of their chosen VPN.

Most VPN services are completely blocked by Netflix, but ExpressVPN does offer limited availability. In our tests we were able to connect through several servers on the network, including one in the U.S. and one in Canada. Worldwide options didn’t pan out as well as we wanted, but being able to switch between a few countries is more than most VPNs can currently claim.

Keep in mind Netflix availability is variable no matter which VPN you use. ExpressVPN has a great reputation for constantly keeping open access to the streaming service, so you should always be able to find an open option. Just keep trying servers and reloading Netflix, you’ll eventually find one that works!

ExpressVPN Customer Support

ExpressVPN has some of the easiest-to-use software around. There’s still a chance you might run into a few problems, however. To make sure you’re always safe and secure, ExpressVPN provides an extensive support site that’s filled with troubleshooting guides, tutorials, and help articles covering a ton of common topics. Can’t figure out why a website is blocked? Follow the guide and you’ll be good to go in no time. Need step-by-step instructions on how to manually configure your device? Illustrated tutorials are at your disposal!

In addition to the support pages you can also submit tickets or e-mail customer service for answers within a few hours. If you need help right away, ExpressVPN has a convenient live chat box built into their website. Open it and you’ll have instant access to their support team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We tested the live support and received a response from an actual human being within seconds. They were also remarkably knowledgeable and conversational, so if you do encounter a problem, ExpressVPN has your back.

Best Extra Feature: Browser Extensions

A nice bonus feature of the ExpressVPN experience is a set of browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. These provide the encryption of the full VPN software without having to access a program outside of your browser, useful if you want to stay lightweight or reserve a separate browser for encrypted-only access. Most of the advanced options stay tucked away inside the full software, but you will be able to select and connect to servers without leaving your browser.

If you spend all of your time surfing social networks and downloading files, these extensions are the fastest and easiest way to lock down your information for a safe online experience. You’ll still need to download the full desktop software for the extensions to work, however, and it’s worth noting that programs outside of your browser won’t be encrypted by the plug-in.

Pricing and Plans

Speed and security features are a huge part of choosing the best VPN. but when it comes time to actually sign up, all of your attention focuses on one thing: price. The good news is that the VPN market is extremely competitive. Dozens of high-quality providers are in a race to provide the most affordable plans, driving prices down to increasingly attractive lows.

ExpressVPN’s plans offer all of the features listed above with absolutely no limitations. Everyone who signs up gets easy to use software for desktop and smartphones, unlimited bandwidth, no speed throttling, no restrictions on torrent or P2P traffic, and full access to a fast server network, plain and simple. The only decision you have to make is selecting the length of your subscription. You can even get as much as a 35% discount with a full year of service!

  • 1 month – $12.95 per month billed each month.
  • 6 months – $9.99 per month billed at $59.99 every six months.
  • 12 months – $8.32 per month billed at $99.95 every year.

EXCLUSIVE DEAL: Addictive Tips readers have access to an exclusive deal with ExpressVPN. Sign up for a full year of service at just $6.67 per month and you’ll get three months absolutely free! It’s by far the most affordable of all ExpressVPN’s plans, and it’s still covered by the money-back guarantee!

All of ExpressVPN’s plans are backed by a 30-day no questions asked money-back guarantee. This gives you the chance to try out the VPN on all of your devices and test the speed and reliability every day of the week. No risk, no worries, just a fast and easy VPN experience.

What We Liked, What We Didn’t

We spent a lot of time with ExpressVPN trying out its various options, connecting to different servers, and downloading all kinds of files and movies. After running it through a variety of tests on a few different platforms we got a feel for how well the service performs. Here’s a quick look at our final thoughts about ExpressVPN.

We liked…

  • Excellent upload and download speeds to much of the server network.
  • Incredibly intuitive software that works perfectly right out of the box.
  • Smart subscription plans with a risk-free money back guarantee.
  • Easy to access the censorship-free web in places like China.
  • Great selection of alternative encryption protocols.
  • Surprisingly good Netflix access.

We didn’t like…

  • Built-in speed tests aren’t included in all versions of the software.
  • Light on customization options, which may frustrate power users.

Is ExpressVPN Right for You?

Everyone is looking for something slightly different in a VPN. Some users want powerful software that lets them customize everything down to the byte. Others just want to fire up an app and forget about it. Regardless of personal preferences, all VPN users keep two things at the center of their list of priorities: privacy and speed. ExpressVPN delivers on both of those fronts.

ExpressVPN performed well in every test we ran it through. The software is easy to install and a breeze to use, suitable for the most technologically illiterate among us. The speed test results were consistently high, even for sustained large file downloads. There are also plenty of side benefits such as reliable access to Netflix, bitcoin payments, and being able to bypass the Great Firewall of China. All in all, this provider lived up to its promises and then some. If you want an incredible VPN that’s fast and easy to use, you can’t go wrong with ExpressVPN.

Got a question about this VPN we didn’t answer? Are you a long-time ExpressVPN user and just want to share your enthusiasm? Let us know in the comments below!

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