ExpressVPN

A virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection

ExpressVPN

What is ExpressVPN?

ExpressVPN is a virtual private network service offered by the British Virgin Islands-registered company ExpressVPN International Ltd. The software is marketed as a privacy and security tool that encrypts users’ web traffic and masks their IP addresses.

PROS

  • A large, diversely distributed fleet of servers
  • Strong privacy and information security practices
  • Split tunneling
  • Supports OpenVPN protocol across all platforms
  • Simple interface

CONS

  • Expensive
  • It Maybe challenging for inexperienced users
  • Would benefit from widely distributed audits

ExpressVPN knows exactly how to stand out from the crowd: it piles on the professional features, delivering way more than just about anybody else.

Top-notch platform support includes apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, and other operating systems, not to mention custom firmware for many routers, as well as detailed manual setup guides for Apple TV, Fire TV, PlayStation, Chromebooks, Kindle Fire and more.

A strong set of core features give you multiple layers of protection. ExpressVPN protects your internet traffic by using its own DNS servers, for instance. High-end encryption technologies prevent even the most advanced attackers from snooping on your activities. Even if the VPN drops, no problem: a top-quality kill switch activates immediately to block your internet connection and keep you safe.

There are plenty of valuable extras, too, ranging from Lightway (ExpressVPN's own super-fast and secure VPN protocol) to browser extensions which include WebRTC leak blocking, location spoofing, and HTTPS Everywhere support.

The company offers a vast network of more than 3,000 servers spread across 160 cities in 94 countries. Europe and the US have the best coverage, but ExpressVPN also has many locations in Asia and several countries that rarely appear elsewhere. There are 27 Asia Pacific countries alone, for instance – TunnelBear only has 34 countries in its entire network.

A clear and simple privacy policy explains that ExpressVPN doesn't log any sensitive information. And unlike most of the competition, this isn't some generic marketing promise – the website goes into great detail on exactly what the service does and doesn't collect. Furthermore, ExpressVPN has recently had its servers audited to confirm that the company is following its own privacy policy.

The real standout feature could be supported, though, where ExpressVPN has agents available 24/7 on live chat. This isn't the very basic, outsourced, first-line support you'll often get with other services: they're experts who can walk you through just about any technical issue. If you run into trouble, then, you won't be waiting a day (or potentially longer) for support response. In our experience, there's always someone available on ExpressVPN's live chat, and you could be getting quality help within a couple of minutes.

What's new?

ExpressVPN's Android app has been certified by the most Alliance, a group of leading tech companies which includes Amazon, Google, Facebook, Comcast, and more.

The Alliance is mostly focused on setting standards for IoT security, but it's now looking at VPN apps, too. And in some detail, with certification considering factors like cryptography, network security, software updating, and even whether there's a vulnerability reporting program in place.

App improvements include a new Android look, with extra features including a Protection Summary to show the amount of time you've used ExpressVPN over the previous week.

ExpressVPN's router app can now check for and install any updates on its own, entirely automatically.

ExpressVPN plans and pricing

The provider has a very simple pricing structure with only three plans, and these start with a monthly-billed product for $12.95.

Sign up for ExpressVPN's 6-month plan and the price drops to $9.99 per month. That's a reasonable discount, and it also gives you more flexibility than you'll get with some competitors, who don't offer a 6-month plan at all.

The annual plan cuts your costs still further to a monthly equivalent of $8.32, a chunky 35% discount on the monthly subscription. But it's still substantially more than some of the competition (Private Internet Access asks $3.33 on its annual plan, Windscribe is $4.08), especially if you're willing to sign up for long periods. Speedify's three-year plan costs only $3 a month, for instance, while Ivacy currently charges just $2.45 a month on its two-year plan, less than a third of ExpressVPN's annual rate.

When you're comparing headline prices, though, be sure to check the small print, because ExpressVPNis closer to many competitors than you might realize. For example, many vendors have low prices which increase later. IPVanish looks cheap at $3.75 a month in year one but doubles on renewal to $7.50. NordVPN starts at $4.92, renews at $9.92. Norton Secure VPN's 10-device plan starts at $5 a month, then renews at $10, and for service with far, far, far less functionality.

If you decide to sign up you'll discover a wide range of payment methods, including cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and a host of other players (AliPay, Yandex Money, WebMoney, and more).

If you decide you want to cancel, it's also very straightforward. There are no small print clauses to catch you out, and you don't have to justify your decision to the company. You can use the service, in full, for 30 days, and if you're unhappy, or you simply change your mind, just tell ExpressVPN and you'll get your money back. That has to be a reassuring sign of just how confident ExpressVPN is in its service.

Privacy

Every VPN claims to offer complete privacy, but drill down to the details and there's often very little substance to back this up. ExpressVPN is refreshingly different because the company doesn't just tell you how great it is – it also has an impressively long list of features to help justify every word.

Take encryption, for instance. Most services might mention that they support OpenVPN, or drop in a reference to AES-256, but ExpressVPN goes much, much further.

The company explains that it uses a 4096-bit SHA-512 RSA certificate, for example, with AES-256-CBC to encrypt its control channel and HMAC (Hash Message Authentication Code) protecting against regular data being altered in real-time.

DNS support is another highlight. ExpressVPN doesn't just offer DNS leak protection, to prevent data about your online activities from leaking out of the VPN tunnel, but it also runs its own private, zero-knowledge, 256-bit encrypted DNS on each of its own servers.

That's a major advantage over some lesser providers, which in the worst-case scenario might redirect your DNS traffic to OpenDNS or some other third-party service. Apart from the risk of logging at the DNS server, using unencrypted DNS gives attackers the chance to intercept your requests, filter them, block or even alter them – all issues which largely disappear using ExpressVPN's method.



Performance

Speed is an important factor when choosing a VPN, and we use some intensive tests to find out how a service performs.

The process began in a US location with a 1Gbps connection. We used the standard ExpressVPN Windows 10 app to connect to our nearest location, then checked the download speeds reported by multiple speed test sites and services (SpeedTest's website and command-line app, TestMy.net, Netflix's Fast.com, and more). We fetched at least five results from each site, repeated the test using three protocols (OpenVPN, IKEv2, and ExpressVPN's own Lightway), and ran the entire test set in both morning and evening sessions to look at variations over time.

ExpressVPN's OpenVPN speeds were well above average at 270-280Mbps (HideMyAss! managed 300-330Mbps in recent tests, but CyberGhost, IPVanish, VPN Unlimited, and many others didn't reach 200Mbps). That's not far away from the 200-220Mbps we saw in the previous tests, or the 200-250Mbps in the review before that, suggesting these figures are a reliable indicator of ExpressVPN's peak speeds.

The real star is ExpressVPN's Lightway protocol, though, which soared to 490-630Mbps. That romped ahead of Hotspot Shield (360-380Mbps) and NordVPN's NordLynx (240-280Mbps), and its only real competition came from StrongVPN's consistent WireGuard results of 590-600Mbps.

Going long-distance often means a major drop in speeds, but ExpressVPN and Lightway performed very well. The UK to Malaysia connections reached 68Mbps on a 75Mbps connection, more or less what we'd expect with no VPN at all. And although we switched to other faraway locations, they were all very similar: Brazil reached 69Mbps, Nepal managed 64Mbps, and even the slowest location for us, Kenya, reached 42Mbps, which is fine for browsing and streaming HD video.

Netflix and streaming

Unlike most of the competition, ExpressVPN doesn't just make vague claims about its unblocking abilities, it actually specifies which platforms are supported: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and others (more than 25 services in total). It's good to see a provider being upfront about what it's claiming to do.

 

Client setup

Getting a VPN client installed and working properly can sometimes be a challenge, but the well-designed ExpressVPN website has clearly been set up to keep hassles to an absolute minimum.

Log in to your account dashboard, for instance, and you don't have to hunt for a Download link. The website detects the type of device you're using, displays a Download button for that client, and enables grabbing a copy with one click.

If you need something for another platform, clicking 'Set up on all your devices' takes you to a huge list of options, including Windows, iOS, Amazon Fire, Mac, Android, Linux, and more. Tapping any of these displays more download links and instructions.

Even these are far more helpful than you would expect. Tap the 'Android' link with most VPNs and you'll probably just be redirected to Google Play. ExpressVPN has a Play Store link, but it also gives you a QR code, a button to email yourself a setup link (ideal if you need to install it on another device), and even an option for experts to directly download the APK file.

In a neat setup touch, ExpressVPN doesn't force you to find and manually enter your username and password. Instead, all you have to do is copy the unique activation code displayed on your download page, and paste it into the client when you're asked. The software then automatically sets up your login credentials, and you won't have to think about usernames and passwords, at all.

Support

ExpressVPN's support site gets off to a good start with its lengthy list of troubleshooting guides. Whether you're trying to diagnose slow speeds or dropped connections, understand error messages, change your password or cancel your account, there's useful information to hand.

Most articles are well-written and deliver in all the key areas. They don't assume technical knowledge, instead of taking the time to explain the background, offering multiple suggestions to resolve most problems, and linking to other relevant articles. For example, where other VPNs might have a single line suggesting you "try another server" to help diagnose speed problems, ExpressVPN also links to a detailed article explaining how to find the best location for you.

The setup articles are even more impressive. You don't get just one generic installation tutorial per platform, for instance. Guides are covering how to install the app, how to set up manual connections or use third-party apps such as OpenVPN GUI. And this isn't just about Windows. You'll find tutorials for Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chromebooks, eBooks, BlackBerry, Smart TV, routers, and... well, you get the idea.

If the website can't help, ExpressVPN's support team is available 24/7 via email and live chat.

ExpressVPN recommends live chat for the fastest results, but we sent a test email question anyway to check response times. Although the company suggests it can take up to 24 hours to reply, we got a friendly, detailed, and helpful message in under an hour. That's much faster than we expected, and the reply contained everything we needed to diagnose and resolve our issue.

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