The Best VPN Service (2023)
While other VPNs have aimed 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 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.
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.
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. Here’s the good news: ExpressVPN truly excelled at every test we threw at it. First, we connected to a Toronto-based server, the same one we later used for our speed tests below, then loaded up Netflix on our laptop. We were able to watch out of region films like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Fifty Shades Darker on both Toronto’s servers and a UK-based server without any errors or increased loading times. It just worked.
Of course, streaming to a desktop computer is one thing. The tougher challenge arrives when you try to stream to either a mobile phone or to a device like Amazon’s Fire Stick for it. NordVPN, for example, allowed us to stream to both our Windows laptop and our iPhone 11, 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 iOS 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 the best VPN service available 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 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.
Security and Privacy
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.
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. 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 tunneling 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. 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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjBZvTlVvjc
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 2020, 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. ExpressVPN used to only support up to three devices at once, but with an update in 2019, they’ve extended this limit to five, matching most VPNs on the market today while still providing the same speeds we’ve come to expect from their software. Speaking of which, let’s take a closer look at how ExpressVPN performed.
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 are 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.
Servers and Pricing
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.
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.
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.