Mobility

NordVPN offers powerful mobile VPN service and app, but there's Wi-Fi gotcha

Using a VPN can secure your browsing and give you access to region-locked websites and video. NordVPN's mobile apps overhaul promises easy use, but there's a potential problem that users have noticed.

nordhomescreen.jpg
iOS (left) and Android (right) homescreens
TechRepublic/Brandon Vigliarolo

Connecting to a VPN can be daunting for people who don't understand technology, which is where apps like NordVPN come in. It's new iOS update is designed to be easier to use and more secure, boasting support for the mobile-friendly IKEv2/IPsec protocol. If you're considering a subscription-based VPN service this might sound enticing, but don't get too excited yet.

SEE: Three ways encryption can safeguard your cloud files (Tech Pro Research)

I had the opportunity to test both the iOS and Android versions of NordVPN. The first thing I noticed was the ease of use—going from install to connected only takes a few taps after logging in.

The app is also able to store your last connection, which you can reconnect to using the nice, large Quick Connect button at the bottom of the screen. The Android version also boasts a feature called "Smart-Play" that will allow you to watch region-locked content with the push of a single button.

So what's the problem?

Ease of use doesn't correct fundamental app flaws, and there's a serious one here: trying to connect on an iOS device while on Wi-Fi kills every data connection on the device. Don't worry—it's not permanent. All you have to do is uninstall the app and you'll be back to working order.

This data-killing problem is a common one: almost every single comment on the app's iTunes page has to do with this flaw, and they were all posted after the latest update.

To be fair to NordVPN, I was able to connect using the app on my home Wi-Fi network without a problem. The TechRepublic office's Wi-Fi gave me trouble, and the support team told me that it may be a matter of the way certain networks are configured.

Android too?

If you're hoping that your Android device is going to escape these issues you're only partially correct. You won't have to worry about the app killing your data, but you'll still get stuck in a loop of failed connections.

When I cancelled the attempts to connect and killed the app my device was fine. So, the problem isn't as bad on Android as it is on iOS, but it's still there. Just like with iOS, I had no problems connecting on my home Wi-Fi.

The workaround

My testing found a reliably consistent way to fix the problem: turn off Wi-Fi. As soon as I tried connecting to a VPN server—it didn't seem to matter which one—it worked almost instantly. Speeds were good, the connection seemed reliable, and I didn't experience any problems trying to browse the web or stream video.

SEE: How to connect to a VPN from your Chromebook (TechRepublic)

A lot of mobile users rely on Wi-Fi to conserve their limited data plans, making this flaw a real non-starter. It's one thing to have a VPN connection using a bit of extra data while on Wi-Fi, but those precious gigabytes can disappear quickly when using cellular data for everything.

The word from the team

I contacted NordVPN's support team to find out if they had an answer. Their response: it's a problem with the configuration of certain Wi-Fi networks.

They provided me with steps to correct the problem on iOS and Android, but those steps don't amount to anything else besides configuring the VPN connection manually. Testing these steps on both iOS and Android were ineffective, at least in the TechRepublic office.

Our office in Louisville is connected with a site-to-site VPN with our east coast headquarters, so it's likely that's the problem. If you're experiencing similar issues with your device it's a good idea to try connecting using the steps NordVPN provided— just be aware that you might not get the results you're looking for.

Is NordVPN a good choice?

The problems with the current release of NordVPN are serious. It has a great interface, good options, and is easy to use, but if it can't connect on Wi-Fi it's not particularly beneficial.

Users have positive things to say about NordVPN's desktop client, so if a desktop or laptop is your primary device you may find it useful. With subscription fees coming in at $8.99/month, $42/6 months, and $69/year you're probably better off saving the cash if your usage is going to be primarily mobile.

Gambling on a subscription might be risky if you're not sure about your Wi-Fi's compatibility, but there's good news if you want to try it: you can email support@nordvpn.com to request a free three day trial. The app is free to download from both iTunes and Google Play.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  • NordVPN is a good looking, simple to use app, but it has a fundamental flaw: it won't connect over some Wi-Fi networks. If your primary use of its service is going to be mobile you should probably wait to subscribe until you're sure yours will work.
  • Your mobile devices can be manually connected to VPN servers without an app. If you are subscribed to a service or want to use a free VPN you don't need an app acting as a middle man.
  • NordVPN users on laptops and desktops seem pleased with their service. If you want to watch region-locked TV shows at home NordVPN may be a good choice for you.

Also see

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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