In today’s world, the internet has become more than a source of entertainment. For many, the internet is a tool and a utility, used to communicate with colleagues, work around the world, sell products, and so much more. The importance of the internet is unquestioned, but despite the focus on internet security, many leave their connections completely unprotected. More than ever, cyber security should be an important part of your life. As the government works toward allowing your internet service provider to sell your private data, protecting and making your data online anonymous is one of the most important things you can do to create a safe environment for browsing and working online.
The best way to protect your online life is through the use of a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. There’s been a lot of talk about VPNs online lately, but if you’ve never heard of the utility before, you aren’t alone. Navigating the market for VPNs can be confusing, especially if you’re new to the software. Depending on the VPN you choose, you’ll still be tracked by the VPN itself, which can create complications when attempting to browse anonymously. This is why it’s important to choose a great VPN service—you don’t want to just hide your internet traffic from ISPs and advertisers. You also want to ensure your VPN is safe and secure when browsing. Choosing a VPN can be difficult, especially with all the choices available online today.
With our series of guides to the best VPNs you can buy today, we’ll be taking a look at almost every major VPN player online today to determine which is the right one for you. In this review, we’ll be looking at ExpressVPN, one of the most popular VPNs online today. But when it comes to speed, security, and features, does ExpressVPN hold up against a crowded market? Let’s dive in.
What is a VPN?
Simply put, a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online life and your privacy. A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, allows your computer, smartphone, or other device to connect to another computer through a private tunnel secured on both ends of the device. When your VPN is active, instead of using the standard route between your PC or smartphone to access an article, video, or anything else online, the VPN uses the private tunnel to reach its destination. That tunnel is only decrypted at the starting and ending points of the destination, a function known as end-to-end encryption, so your PC and the web page know you’re there, but your ISP can’t view the content your seeing beyond a generic “data” level. With the help of a VPN, your ISP can’t see any of your activity—and therefore, also can’t sell your data to advertisers.
Now, it should go without saying that this data isn’t completely anonymous. Depending on the VPN you choose, you’ll still be tracked by the VPN itself, which can create complications when attempting to browse anonymously. This is why it’s important to choose a great VPN service—you don’t want to just hide your internet traffic from ISPs and advertisers. You also want to ensure your VPN is safe and secure when browsing. Choosing a VPN can be difficult, especially with all the choices available online today, and that’s why we’ve designed this series of guides made to ensure you pick a top-tier VPN capable of supporting everything you want to do online.
Why Do You Need a VPN?
VPNs can be used for so many different utilities and applications that no two users typically use one for the same reason. At its core, VPNs are used to help you with your privacy, staying secure while browsing online. When your VPN is active, your internet service provider is unable to see what you’re doing online. Of course, this opens up several avenues for what you can do online with your devices. Once your internet access is private and able to be moved across the globe, your options for what you’re doing online become incredibly flexible. The obvious use case for VPNs is piracy, something plenty of users already do without protection from their ISPs. Using a VPN for this allows you to protect yourself from potential legal issues down the road.
Whether you’re using classic torrent clients, basic piracy apps like Showbox, or Terrarium TV, or more complicated applications like Kodi, which offers thousands of applications and add-ons to completely change how you watch movies and television online, it’s important to protect yourself online. These systems are easy to setup and use, but there’s a big reason why people turn away from them: they aren’t entirely legal. While thousands of users get away with consuming pirated content on the internet every day, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone gets away with piracy. If you’re caught by your ISP, you can land yourself in some hot water, including losing access to your internet or even facing major fines from groups like the MPAA.
Of course, that’s far from the only reason many have turned to VPNs. By using the geolocation tools within most VPNs, you can gain access to content not usually available in your location. For some, that means using other countries’ Netflix selections to watch movies and shows that are region-exclusives, like catching up on The Good Place months before the full season comes to the US. For others, it means using a VPN to get around the region-locks often placed on content from channels in the US like NBC or CBS. Others may want to use a VPN for more practical cases, like circumventing a ban on websites in countries like China or Russia. Most popular VPNs were designed with piracy in mind, helping you to keep your internet use safe from prying eyes online.
How We Test
At TechJunkie, we take testing VPNs prior to reviewing them very seriously, following the same process each time. After purchasing the VPN from each respective company, we perform speed and security checks (both of which you’ll find detailed below), checking to see how our speeds compare before and after we connect to the VPN, and to check if your IP address and other system information is leaking to ensure total security on your end. We’ll also make notes of which software has the most servers and locations, which software works with apps like Netflix, support for multiple devices and set-top boxes like the Fire Stick, note the price of each tool, and of course, mark down any other issues we’ve found when using the software. Once we’re done with our tests, we’ll tell you whether it’s worth buying at the conclusion of this page. You can read more about our review process for VPNs at this guide right here.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into our review of ExpressVPN.
Unlike other VPNs on this list, which aim to try to strike some sort of balance between value, affordability, and speed, ExpressVPN has done a great job in positioning itself as a “premium” VPN. Though not advertised as such on its website, the lack of free trial (substituted here by a “money back guarantee”), features list, and high pricing make it exceedingly obvious that ExpressVPN is in a different class than its competitors. But is this a bad thing? Well, based on our experience testing ExpressVPN, we’d argue it isn’t. With some neat included features and tools, ExpressVPN is a great choice—so long as you can justify its asking price.
For our speed test, we tested four different servers from ExpressVPN using Ookla’s Speedtest.net, in order to see how our speeds were compared to browsing unprotected. VPNs will always add some slowdown to your internet connection, which is why your client will usually choose a server close to your location in order to prevent slow down along the way. First, we tested our internet speeds without ExpressVPN turned on in order to establish a baseline for our web speeds. After that, we test four of the most popular servers: the suggested Smart Location US server, a random US server, a UK-based server, and a Canada-based server. Unlike some of the other tests we’ve ran for VPNs like NordVPN, ExpressVPN keeps their system simple with quick connect options for most countries. There’s no dedicated P2P server to connect to here. Here’s the results of our five tests.
- Unprotected, normal connection: 285.81Mbps Down, 22.92Mbps Up, 40ms ping
- Quick Connect, Smart Location (New York-based server): 111.41Mbps Down, 20.09Mbps Up, 27ms ping
- Random US-based server connection (Los Angeles-based server): 110.62Mbps Down, 18.48Mbps Up, 81ms ping
- Canada server, any region, fastest (Toronto-based server): 67.36Mbps Down, 12.11Mbps Up, 44ms ping
- UK server, any region, fastest (Docklands-based server): 114.85Mbps Down, 16.45Mbps Up, 104ms ping
Truth be told, this is one of our wildest speed tests yet for our VPN reviews, largely thanks to two factors. First, the quick connect test lowered our speeds as expected (all VPNs feature lower speeds), but actually increased our ping. This may not be the case for everyone who tries to connect to ExpressVPN, since it largely depends on how close the server you’ve connected to is to your actual location. Still, the increase in ping was interesting, and may actually help with certain features like gaming.
The second interesting note from these tests is the drop in speed when connected to Canada. Our other three tests, taking place while connected to New York, Los Angeles, and in the London Docklands, all provided similar speeds, within a margin of error. However, the Canadian test slowed both our upload speed and our download speed to their lowest points within the tests, an odd point in our data. A test performed six hours after our first tests raised Canada’s results to 117Mbps down and 19Mbps up, which puts it right in line with the other results. It’s unclear what caused such a drop during the first test, and despite the recovery in speeds at a later time, we felt that it was still worth noting.
Finally, compared to two of ExpressVPN’s closest competitors (NordVPN and IPVanish), it’s important to note that ExpressVPN is by far the most consistent of the three. Though NordVPN offered us the best speeds with their Quick Connect feature (with just a 13 percent drop between unprotected and the Quick Connect tests), the speeds on our later tests with Nord experienced drops up to 95 percent in speeds versus unprotected tests. IPVanish, meanwhile, featured higher but less consistent speeds, but with similar percentage losses in speed compared to the unprotected test from that review. The overall takeaway is that ExpressVPN is a fast VPN that manages to uphold consistently fast speeds no matter what region you connect to, an impressive tool to say the least.
Servers and Locations
In terms of numbers and specs, here’s what ExpressVPN looks like: the service has over 3000 VPN servers located in 160 different locations spread throughout 94 countries, making it one of the larger networks of VPN servers today. The simple, intuitive interface of the platform makes it easy to select from dozens of servers around the world quickly, without much thought on the end user required. If you want to ensure your selected server and location supports a specific security protocol, however, you can use the server list provided by ExpressVPN’s website makes it easy to search for specific servers.
Unsurprisingly, ExpressVPN offers the same level of security as almost every other popular VPN on the market, with full AES-256 bit security, zero traffic logs, OpenVPN protocol support, and unlimited bandwidth when using your account. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a solid offering for sure, and we’re happy to see it used here. Alongside this, a 24-hour live support chat service online and a private DNS on every server help to ensure you’re always protected online. This helps you browse anonymously without tracking, as does some cool built-in tools, like a built-in speed test for each server we’ll discuss more below. While not as fast as some of its competitors, ExpressVPN isn’t slow either, making it a great choice for those looking to download and stream through the service. The simple interface for ExpressVPN makes it easy to use and setup, too.
Like with our other VPN reviews, we ran standard IP address tests with ExpressVPN, as well as a WebRTC test to ensure our identity wasn’t leaking. Once we ensured our IP address had changed, we activated a WebRTC test to check our public IP address. Thankfully, ExpressVPN had no issues hiding our IP address from prying eyes, and without the need for an additional extension for our browser to secure our platform. In our tests, ExpressVPN was as secure as any other VPN on the market today, though the lack of additional security options like double IP addresses was a bit disappointing.
Like its competitors, ExpressVPN boasts an impressive specs list, touting impressive data speeds (as we saw above) and security protection. With their one-size-fits-all subscription plan, the company offers unlimited speed, bandwidth, and server switches while using the application. Like other VPNs on this list, ExpressVPN touts its ability to watch content from other countries without having to worry about content blocks. However, services like Netflix have been growing more aware of IP addresses that belong to popular VPNs, and ExpressVPN is no different. Not every server will allow you to bypass Netflix’s IP blocks; however, ExpressVPN’s customer service will typically do everything in their power to help users find a correct IP address unblocked by Netflix. We’ll discuss Netflix more below, but rest assured that ExpressVPN does a great job in managing to stream shows from other countries.
ExpressVPN has a few unique features that may draw eyes. The app has a built-in speed test feature designed to help you pick the fastest server for your location, making it easy to stay secure online while ensuring you’re getting the fastest speeds available to you. ExpressVPN also uses VPN split tunnelling that allows you to route your device traffic through Express’s servers while forwarding the rest of your traffic directly access the internet through your ISP, which should, in theory, protect the data you need protected while giving you the best data speeds you could possibly achieve. And perhaps most importantly, ExpressVPN offers 24/7 support for their customers available through both live chat and email, which means you should be able to solve your internet problems no matter the time of day.
Like most popular VPNs on the market, ExpressVPN supports a whole host of different platforms for protecting your browsing data. We don’t live in a one-device world in 2019, and ExpressVPN makes sure you’re covered no matter what device you’re using. Dedicated apps exist for iOS and Android on the App Store and Play Store, respectively, allowing you to activate your VPN on your phone whenever you need to secure your internet. The usual desktop apps are here, with support for Windows, Mac, and Linux, making it an option no matter what platform you’re using for your daily computing.
Support for devices doesn’t end there. After covering your computer and your smartphone with protection while browsing, you can also install ExpressVPN on a number of other platforms, perhaps the most we’ve seen to date. Express offers apps for Amazon’s Fire Stick and Fire Tablet, Google’s Chrome OS, extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and even tutorials for getting a VPN up and running on your PlayStation, Xbox, Apple TV, or Nintendo Switch. Being able to use a VPN on a smart streaming device isn’t something that every VPN supports, so it’s great to see the app offering users support on these platforms. Likewise, you can follow the instructions on Nord’s website to get the VPN up and running on your router to protect all traffic coming in and out of your house.
If we have one major complaint regarding ExpressVPN, it comes down to their support for devices. Most modern VPNs typically offer between five and seven devices to be in use at once, but despite their wide support for devices like game consoles and streaming sticks in addition to their usual lineup of computers and smartphones, ExpressVPN only allows three devices to be in use at once. By their own website, using more than three devices requires a secondary license, which means you’ll need to pay up to an additional $12 per month in order to use more than three devices.
As always, we’ll kick this off by talking about Netflix, one of the most important tests you can give any VPN on the market today. Netflix is constantly trying to track IP addresses that aren’t originating from an actual user, which makes it a vital part of any VPN’s toolset. This is especially important as Netflix is one of the most popular ways to use VPNs, allowing for connections to new countries in order to access content libraries from Netflix normally blocked in our region. Though most users try to access content either from Canada or from the UK, gaining access to content from any region outside of the US through Netflix is a must for any top-tier VPN, especially because of how hard Netflix works to block this activity, and thankfully, we can say that ExpressVPN passes with flying colors.
There isn’t much to say here really. ExpressVPN did so well in all three of our tests that we were admittedly a bit shocked. First, we connected to a Toronto-based server, the same one we used for our speed tests above, then loaded up Netflix on our laptop. As we’ve been doing in our previous VPN tests, we selected Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to play on our laptop. It worked like wonders, so much, in fact, that we tested it again with a United Kingdom server just to ensure it wasn’t a fluke. This time, we selected Fifty Shades Darker, a film not streaming within Netflix’s United States region. Sure enough, the film immediately began playing the Universal logo. Both times, quality was solid, with the stream quickly switching to HD after just a few seconds.
Of course, streaming to a desktop computer is one thing. The tougher challenges come when you try to stream to either a mobile phone or to a device like Amazon’s Fire Stick, which, as we covered above, has an ExpressVPN application available for it. NordVPN, for example, allowed us to stream to both our Windows laptop and our Pixel 2 XL, but failed to stream to our Fire Stick without Netflix detecting a VPN running in the background. To our surprise, ExpressVPN succeeded in both tests, streaming Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to both our Android device and to our Amazon Fire Stick in crystal-clear HD with no issues whatsoever. This is one of the most impressive things about ExpressVPN by far, marking it as a strong contender for one of the best VPNs on the market today.
As far as non-Netflix apps go, we see no reason why other platforms wouldn’t be fooled by ExpressVPN’s IP rerouting. We tried both a copyright-striked video not available in our country and tried watching a BBC video through iPlayer (a streaming site that is similarly hard to crack) and both played with no issues. We also had no problems loading sites while connected to a VPN, most notably Amazon, which we had run into issues using with NordVPN.
As we saw with our speed tests at the start of this guide, using a VPN to protect your data from prying eyes leads to a drop in speed when running in the background. This can cause slowdown or buffering when torrenting or streaming movies, but it’s even more important for gaming, where high speed connections could make or break your performance in games like Overwatch or Apex Legends. That’s why it’s important to run tests to check and see what VPN allows for the best experience when gaming, something we check by looking at the ping scores for each VPN.
If you take a look at the normal ping scores in our speed test above, you’ll see that the speed of our ping depended on the distance from each server, and generally, this is true. However, you can’t just look at normal speed scores to see how your ping might be affected in a video game when playing online. Because you also have to connect to that server to game, your ping score will likely be even more different than you’d otherwise expect.
So, using the DeepFocus.io ping tool, we’ve tested four games for their ping while connected to ExpressVPN: Minecraft, Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Overwatch. The latter three games are competitive, requiring the best ping possible in order to maintain a solid connection and to get a leg up on the competition. Minecraft isn’t quite as competitive, but it’s still one of the most popular games online today, and connecting to servers is especially important when joining Minecraft communities. For our test, we first looked at our ping with the VPN disabled using the US East server on DeepFocus.io. With a baseline established, we used the smart connect feature in ExpressVPN to connect to the suggested server in our area, and ran the tests again. Here are our results for ExpressVPN (all results are displayed in milliseconds).
Starting off with our Minecraft tests, we were surprised to see improvements in ping across the board, with our ping times actually decreasing across the board. Though our minimum ping times were fairly similar, it was the range and max ping times where we saw some real improvements, with our range about 10ms faster and our max ping 17ms faster.
Results (VPN Off/On)
Min Ping: 23/18
Max Ping: 71/54
Apex Legends is the latest game to take the internet by storm, taking the battle royale genre in some exciting new directions. Like Minecraft, we saw some major improvements with our ping when connected to ExpressVPN, with our max ping dropping by more than 33 percent and reducing our range from 8 points to just 2.
Results (VPN Off/On)
Min Ping: 24/17
Max Ping: 90/58
Fortnite is by far the biggest game in the world, so performing a ping test to see how it compares to the rest of our tests in this article. ExpressVPN kept up with the pattern we’ve seen previously, increasing our ping when connected to a server, though not quite by the same amount we saw for Apex Legends.
Results (VPN Off/On)
Min Ping: 26/17
Max Ping: 79/59
Though not as popular as it used to be, Overwatch continues to be an important game in the eSports scene, and that makes having fast ping all the more important. Interestingly, Overwatch finally broke the pattern we saw through the first three games when it came to ping times. Although our minimum ping did gain speed, dropping from 24ms to 18ms, the ranges and max ping times were nearly identical, with the max ping for ExpressVPN actually hitting one millisecond slower than when running tests unprotected.
Results (VPN Off/On)
Min Ping: 24/18
Max Ping: 89/90
Despite the outlier in Overwatch, the conclusion is obvious: ExpressVPN actually helped to make our ping faster when gaming, making it an ideal VPN for anyone looking to game with a VPN running in the background. Color us impressed; we were fully ready for ExpressVPN to increase our ping times. Just remember to use smart location when connecting to ExpressVPN, as connecting to a server thousands of miles away will increase your ping to unreasonable times.
Price and Conclusion
Unfortunately, though ExpressVPN is packed with features and security, it doesn’t come at a cheap cost. This is an expensive product, even more so than what we’ve seen in other products on this list. The cheapest way to get into ExpressVPN is to buy their year-long subscription, which runs you $99.95 upfront. This is far more expensive than other apps like Private Internet Access, NordVPN, and IPVanish, and it only gets more expensive from there. The month-to-month plan is a full $12.95 per month, or $155 over a full year’s use, and the six month plan is $59.95 billed upfront, meaning half the amount of time you’d get from similar VPNs in the same category. And unlike other plans, we very rarely see ExpressVPN go on sale, which means these prices are the plans you should expect to pay.
Just because ExpressVPN is expensive doesn’t mean it’s not worth the price. This is a great VPN, with a solid support team, applications and device support for nearly every platform under the sun, and of course, the best Netflix region-breaking we’ve seen from any VPN to date. ExpressVPN is a premium service, but for many, that’s exactly what they want in a VPN they’re paying for, regardless of the price. For some, other cheaper VPNs will provide the experience they want online. But for those who want a simple VPN that strikes a perfect balance between ease of use and powerful tools, ExpressVPN is a near-perfect VPN.