When you’re about to commit to a monthly or yearly virtual private network subscription, there are three factors to weigh: speed, security, and price. NordVPN and ExpressVPN are CNET’s leading VPN competitors, in no small part because of their exceptional performance when we stress-tested their privacy and security promises.
Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN are based in countries with competitively stringent privacy laws generally considered outside the reach of US and intelligence allies take aim at tech companies over encryption, and both come with a kill switch, which prevents data exposure in case your service cuts out. Both are solid for media torrenting and accessing Netflix when you’re traveling out of the country. Both offer 24/7 live-chat and email customer service support.
Since these two performers are at the top of their field this year, the best way to pick the right one for you is to slice up their speed and price. Here’s how the two privacy titans stack up in 2020.
Read more: How we evaluate and review VPNs
This heavy-hitter stays on our list of best 2020 mobile VPNs for many reasons, including its status as the reigning champion of value. Hands-down, you aren’t going to get a VPN anywhere else that can do more than NordVPN does, as cheap as NordVPN does it. Despite a security breach reported last year, you’ll be hard pressed to find another VPN that can do what NordVPN does at all.
Sure, NordVPN could offer a little more privacy if it boosted the number of servers it owns, but we’re talking about 5,000-plus servers in 62 countries, a strict zero-log policy and a jurisdiction in Panama. It’s an encryption powerhouse that recently switched to RAM-disk mode, and has a feature that allows you to VPN into Tor. It’s available for not only iOS and Android, but also Windows Phone and even Blackberry.
With all that security, NordVPN has no business being as fast as it is. In our speed tests, NordVPN performed admirably, cutting our internet speed by about 32% on average, where most VPNs can reduce speeds by half or more. We found NordVPN’s speeds were reliably fast; There were never any sudden dips or service interruptions, and where we expected the VPN to underperform, it proved itself up to the task. But despite having more servers, NordVPN just couldn’t catch up to ExpressVPN when it came to speed. But then, we’ve yet to see any VPN catch up to ExpressVPN.
For all that, how much are you paying? The company’s one-year subscription plan costs $7 a month ($84 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than most other contenders, the month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. As of September 2019, the company’s other pricing tiers have crept up a bit: It’s now $3.49 a month for a three-year plan ($126 total), up from $3/$108 total. And the two-year plan is now $5 a month ($120 total), up from $4/$96. And yes, NordVPN also has a full 30-day refund policy if you aren’t happy with the service.
While a three-year plan is a big commitment to make to any service provider in the privacy field, NordVPN has developed a reputation for offering fair refunds, and its three-year subscription price beats ExpressVPN’s best offer of about $7 a month for an annual package with three months free.
Read more: NordVPN review: Still the best value for security and speed
No matter how fast the service, a secure VPN will always slow your connection speeds. Combine that with the sluggish speeds of most public Wi-Fi (when you need your VPN the most), and speed moves to the forefront as a crucial feature for many VPN shoppers.
Enter ExpressVPN. Offering more than 3,000 servers in 160 locations and 94 countries, this British Virgin Islands-based service might have fewer servers than NordVPN, but they’re in a greater number of countries. And they fly. Our speed tests found ExpressVPN resulted in less than 2% overall loss of speed, compared to NordVPN’s 32% speed loss.
Read more Special report: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
ExpressVPN muscled its way ahead of the VPN pack last year and has been hard to beat ever since, offering outstanding speeds and a reputation for reliability and security. Its easy-to-navigate interface makes it an apt choice for newcomers just learning about VPNs, and its multiplatform compatibility expands its value to a wide base of consumers. These factors more than justify ExpressVPN’s slightly higher-than-average prices, starting at about $7 a month (with three months free). It does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, and you can pay with credit card, PayPal or Bitcoin.
ExpressVPN only offers five simultaneous connections compared to NordVPN’s six, but it snagged a 4.5 out of 5 in our list of the best mobile VPN services for 2020 thanks in part to its wide hyper-flexible platform compatibility. Android, iOS, BlackbBerry, Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation, Xbox — if it’s something you surf on, ExpressVPN is probably going to work with it. By contrast, NordVPN doesn’t appear to have any gaming console apps.
The best part? ExpressVPN’s fast speeds don’t require the kinds of privacy sacrifices you often see with other stress-tested, high-speed VPNs. While the British Virgin Islands are a UK territory, they aren’t explicitly subject to UK data retention laws nor do they participate in intelligence-sharing agreements. Sure, its status as a UK territory gives us pause when considering the potential privacy exposure if political pressure is ever applied. But right now, we’re feeling the island breeze.
Read more ExpressVPN review: A VPN speed leader with a secure reputation