ExpressVPN 2020 Review
Reviews score: Very good
ExpressVPN is a beautifully designed, fast and highly secure VPN. But more expensive than most.
- Fast: Super fast download speeds, better than 90% of all VPNs.
- Maximum privacy: It has a very clear zero-log policy, and does not track anything you do online.
- Maximum security: It uses all the best security features, including the OpenVPN protocol, AES-256 encryption, its own DNS servers, and a kill switch that is activated by default.
- Servers in 94 countries: More than 2000 servers in 94 countries, covering all continents.
- Premium design: Every app, whether on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS or Linux, looks beautiful, connects super fast and feels premium.
- Works in China: It is one of the few VPNs to work in censored countries.
- Users love it: ExpressVPN has the best user rating in TrustPilot of all VPNs we’ve tested.
- Works with Netflix and torrents (P2P).
- Expensive: ExpressVPN is much more expensive than the other top-tier VPNs CyberGhost and NordVPN. Especially when calculating the price per connection.
- Only 3 simultaneous connections: Although enough for most users, it only allows you to protect 3 devices at the same time.
- Best deal: $ 6.67 / month
- Refund Policy: 30 days
- Customer Support: 24/7 Live chat
- Devices per account: 3
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux
- Works with US Netflix: Yes
- Works with Torrents: Yes
- Works in China: Yes
- Speed: 82 Mbps
- Servers in: 94 countries
- Server count: 3.000+
- IP Addresses: 3.000+
- Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
- Data leaks: None
- Logging policy: No logs
Privacy and Security
The Good: ExpressVPN is one of the most secure and private VPNs on the market. It does not track and store your online activity and is incorporated in the BVI, far from EU and US data retention laws and surveillance. On top of that, it uses the most secure protocol (OpenVPN), the most secure encryption standard (AES-256), its own DNS servers, a kill switch that is on by default, and did not leak any data in our tests.
The Bad: –
What privacy and security elements do we test for?
- Logging Policy
- Own DNS Servers
- Kill Switch Test
- Leak Test
1. Logging Policy
What is a logging policy and why does it matter?
VPN providers have an option to gather info on your internet activity (an activity called logging). As an internet user who wants to use a VPN, you wouldn’t like subscribing to a service that stores your browsing data.
On the other hand, and contrary to popular opinion, some VPN providers use this gathered info in order to better optimize their service (improving it and preventing service abuse). The amount and type of gathered data, however, depends on your VPN provider.
Four types of information that a VPN service can track and store exist. Here they are, listed from the most benign to those that are the most harmful:
- VPN service data: This includes data about the particular server you are connected to, the OS that you use (Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, Linux), and the version of the app that you’re running.
- Connection data: Login and logout times and dates, service usage duration, the amount of data that you’ve downloaded or uploaded.
- Original IP address: Your device’s IP address, which can point to your real location in the world.
- Online activity: The sites that you visit, your searches, used services. In short, this is pretty much your entire browsing history.
VPN service data and connection data aren’t really essential and can’t really harm you in any way. You connect to your VPN as an “anonymous” user and these types of data are generally pooled together as a part of larger surveys. As a matter of fact, it is this type of data that helps the development team to improve the app’s performance. Many VPN services collect VPN service and connection data.
Original IP address collection may sound like a big deal but, in reality, it really isn’t. That being said, original IP address collection is far from the most popular aspect of VPN. People resort to VPN services in order to remain anonymous and hide their IPs. If your VPN provider collects IPs, it should raise a red flag.
If a VPN service collects online activity, well, stay away from that service. Online activity is definitely not something a VPN app should gather data on, provided that hiding the online activity is what most people use VPN for, in the first place.
Not a single one of our recommend VPN providers collects this type of data, although certain free VPN services do. This allows them to sell the data to data collectors, which can put you in harm’s way. This is why free VPNs are always a questionable choice.
What is ExpressVPN’s logging policy like?
ExpressVPN has a very clear zero-log policy. Which means that it doesn’t track anything you do online.
- It does not store activity logs: Which means that does not record the websites you visit, the services you use, or the searches you make.
- It does not store connection logs: Which means that it does not record the times you log in, how long you remain logged in or your originating IP address.
What is does track is information to improve its service to you:
- The apps and app versions that you have activated
- The dates (but not the times) when you connect
- The server location you connect to
- The amount of data (in MB) you transfer per day
This information does not enable ExpressVPN or anyone else to actually see what you do online. It is only gathered to offer customer service and solve technical issues.
What is a jurisdiction and why does it matter?
A VPN’s “jurisdiction” is the country where it’s incorporated in. This is important because each country has its own regulations regarding data collection and online privacy.
Countries like Australia, the USA, and certain EU members have very serious data retention laws. What these laws do is they legally bind the ISPs (internet service providers) to give them user data they collected. This data mostly revolves around visited websites and sent emails.
Encryption of the data that is sent via an ISP network is one of the main features of a quality VPN. This renders the ISP in question unable to read and, therefore, collect your data. The main reason people use VPN services is avoiding the increasingly worrying mass surveillance.
There is a myth going around that VPN providers have to collect information on their users. VPN services are considered private network providers and, as such, they aren’t bound to gather any data.
The government agencies, however, have managed to bypass this rule. For example, in the US, a federal agency can issue a secret subpoena (like a National Security Letter), which allows the agency to take over data logs of a VPN service, even complete servers.
There are actual historical cases where this happened. For instance, back in 2013, instead of giving over Edward Snowden upon request from the National Security Agency (NSA), an email encryption provider called Lavabit had to close operations. Three years later, Private Internet Access was forced to shut down its servers in Russia on the account of not wanting to abide by incredibly strict rules on data logging. Government agencies are sometimes ready to play dirty to get their hands on VPN user data.
There are two things that a user can do in order to prevent this:
- When selecting your VPN provider, pick one based in a no-data-retention-laws country. Make sure that the country in question isn’t an international intelligence treaty member like the UKUSA agreement. For instance, ExpressVPN is incorporated in the BVI, while NordVPN’s HQ is in Panama.
- Always look for a VPN service with a real zero-log policy that guarantees that it won’t store your online activity like used services, visited websites, searches, etc. If a VPN doesn’t have any stored information, it can’t give it away.
What is ExpressVPN’s jurisdiction?
ExpressVPN is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). As the BVI has no data retention laws and is not part of the five eyes intelligence community, your data is safe from EU and US regulations and surveillance.
What is a protocol and why does it matter?
The way data is transmitted and formatted over the web or LAN is determined by a VPN protocol. Several protocolsexist and they differ in terms of security and speed. OpenVPN is widely considered the safest one. Others are IKEv2, PPTP, SSTP, and L2TP.
What protocols does ExpressVPN use?
ExpressVPN supports nearly every VPN protocol under the sun (IKEv2/IPSec, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN (TCP/UDP), PPTP and SSTP). What matters most, however, is that it supports OpenVPN which is widely regarded as the most safe VPN protocol.
What is encryption and why does it matter?
Encryption is the process of turning the completely legible info into unreadable code. An encryption key is used for encryption and only those who have access to this key can decipher the coded information.
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the best option. The main key lengths it uses are AES-128 (128-bit long) and AES-256 (256-bit long). Although AES-128 is unbreakable, for the most part, AES-256 is even safer.
What encryption standard does ExpressVPN use?
ExpressVPN uses the most secure encryption standard: AES-256.
5. Own DNS Servers
What are DNS servers and why do they matter?
All web addresses, even those like Facebook.com, are actually long number strings. These numbers are referred to as “IP addresses” and they are pretty complex in nature. Given the fact that they aren’t really easy to memorize, sites also have domain names, like Facebook.com.
A DNS-server, on the other hand, is the internet’s phone operator. The amount of domain names stored on a DNS server is huge and all are linked to their IP addresses. It’s the job of a DNS server to make sure that you reach the proper IP address when you search for a domain name.
Now, if a VPN service uses its very own DNS, this allows them to encrypt the entire process, within the exact VPN-tunnel used for performing any other activity performed online. This is important because it means that no third-party can intercept or log the data. This also means that the government can’t censor the info.
Does ExpressVPN use its own DNS servers?
Yes, ExpressVPN uses its own DNS servers.
6. Kill Switch Test
What is a kill switch and why does it matter?
There is a safety feature called the “kill switch” that is triggered the very moment your VPN service shuts down and leaves you vulnerable. Essentially, your connection is immediately stopped, helping your online activity remain hidden.
Does ExpressVPN use a kill switch?
Yes, ExpressVPN uses a kill switch. And, unique to ExpressVPN, this kill switch is turned on by default. An excellent feature, as many VPN providers leave this as an option, which could create a security vulnerability for the users that forget to turn it on.
7. Leak Test
What is a “leak” and why does it matter?
When your VPN fails to hide a certain portion of your data (even if the VPN service remains active), it’s called a leak. The most regular and common leaks are WebRTC Leaks, DNS leaks, the Windows Credential Leak, and IP Leaks.
Does ExpressVPN leak you data?
No, ExpressVPN did not leak any data in our tests.
The Good: ExpressVPN is very reliable and fast. It takes less than a few seconds to establish a connection, and both download and upload speeds are excellent. In our tests, ExpressVPN slowed our connection speed down by about 15%, which is much faster than the average VPN, which slows you down by nearly 40%.
The Bad: –
What Is a Speed Test and Why Does It Matter?
Make no mistake, if you use a VPN, your internet speed will slow down. This is because every VPN takes up a certain part of your bandwidth.
This results in slower download speeds, slower loading of websites, lower streaming quality, etc.
There are, of course, the things that you can do in order to make the most out of your internet speed when running a VPN app:
- Certain VPN services take a bigger chunk of your bandwidth than others. This is why you should always aim to get yourself a fast VPN. For instance, Tunnelbear is widely known for its slow speeds, while Hotspot Shield will have almost no impact on your internet speed.
- Always go with a server that’s as close to your actual location as possible. This means that your data will have less distance to travel, further boosting the response times. This is vital for decreasing latency and improving your overall download speed. Most VPN apps allow you to choose the server that you want.
- Don’t blindly go with the default server that your VPN server assigns you. Test a few servers first by connecting to them and running speed tests.
How did ExpressVPN score in the speed test?
ExpressVPN is among the most lightweight VPN apps and our local speed tests support this (we were testing from Europe on a base of connection of 90 – 100 Mbps).
From our initial download and upload speeds of 96mbps and 97mbps, respectively, after connecting to ExpressVPN, these went down to 86mbps and 92mbps. The ping went from the initial 4ms to 7ms.
With a download speed decrease of about 11%, ExpressVPN is among the fastest apps when used locally.
When connecting to servers further way, the performance was still good, considering the distance.
The server in Singapore decreased our download speed to 71mbps, but brought the upload speed further down to 23mbps.
With the US server, the results were more comparable to several locations with Europe – 78mbps download but only 42mbps upload.
Finally, the Australian server predictably had the most significant speed drops. Although the slowest, it still managed to give us 58mbps download. However, upload got crushed to 2mbps.
The Good: ExpressVPN has one of the largest networks of all the VPN providers we’ve tested with more than 2000 servers in 94 countries. It also supports every major operating system (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux), has full-featured browser extensions for Chrome, FireFox and Safari, works on all streaming services (including Netflix), and allows you to download torrents on all of its servers. And if that wasn’t enough; it works reliably in China too.
The Bad: ExpressVPN allows you to install its VPN on 3 devices simultaneously, which is less than Hotspot Shield’s 5 or NordVPN’s 6.
What features do we test for?
- Server Locations
- Platform and Devices
- Number of Connections
- Streaming and Torrenting
- Bypassing Censorship
1. Server Locations
What is a server location and why does it matter?
Your server location is essentially the physical location (country or city) of the server you’re connecting to. Most VPN services have servers in multiple countries, with around 30 countries being the average. Some providers allow you to connect to servers on the country level, while others enable you to choose a server on the city level (New York and Los Angeles in the US, for instance).
Essentially, your data has to go from the device, all the way to the VPN server, and only then to the web. Therefore, if you live in Australia and choose a VPN server based in France, the distance will hugely slow down your connection. So, basically, the more locations a VPN provider offers the better.
Where are ExpressVPN’s servers located?
Of all the VPNs we have tested, ExpressVPN has the most extensive server network in the world. It features servers in 94 countries, allowing nearly every user to find a server close by.
2. Platforms and Devices
What are platforms and devices and why do they matter?
Platforms are devices, browsers, and operating systems that a particular VPN service is compatible with. OS platforms usually include Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS, although certain providers support Linux, too. Some VPN services, in fact, can offer installation directly to your router and browser extensions for Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.
When considering browser extensions, though, you should keep an eye on whether an extension works on a proxy server, an encrypted proxy server, or on a full-on VPN level:
- A proxy server: This essentially means that your IP address is masked. Every website that you visit will consider your VPN server’s location as your true location. This is often used for unlocking services that are not supported in your location – watching American Netflix from abroad, for example. With a proxy server extension, though, your data still remains unencrypted and vulnerable to hackers and ISP data collection.
- An encrypted proxy server: If your browser extension has encryption, it means that your entire browser is actually encrypted. As such, it makes no sense for hackers and ISPs, although activities like Spotify streaming still remain open.
- If the browser extension in question has complete control over your VPN app, you can rest easy, as this means that your entire online activity is encrypted within a VPN tunnel. This means that your IP address remains masked. Also, you can change the VPN settings within the browser itself.
What platforms and devices does ExpressVPN support?
ExpressVPN supports everything you could possibly need.
All major operating software have their own dedicated app: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux. And even some routers, Amazon Fire TV Stick, BlackBerry and Kindle have a dedicated setup.
ExpressVPN also features browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. These are full featured VPNs, rather than simple proxy extensions, which is great. Recently, ExpressVPN’s Chrome extension has been put through a independent audit by Cure53 which concluded that it was “compliant with all major security and privacy standards”.
3. Number of Connections
What are connections and why do they matter?
Depending on your VPN subscription, you’ll have a certain number of connections. Some subscriptions offer three connections, while others offer more and some even less.
This number is the number of devices that you can use your VPN subscription on at the same time – simple as that. As a rule of thumb, for a casual user, three connections are considered more than enough. You can hook up your computer, your phone, and a tablet, for instance. However, if you want to add more people as subscription users, it is advisable to go for a more expensive subscription plan.
How many simultaneous connections does ExpressVPN support?
ExpressVPN supports 3 simultaneous connections. This means that you are allowed to install the VPN on 3 devices at the same time. For most users, this will be enough. However, if you are interested in sharing your VPN connection with a friend or family, perhaps Hotspot Shield’s 5 connections or NordVPN’s 6 connections are better.
4. Streaming and Torrenting
What are streaming and torrenting and why do they Mmatter?
A VPN service can be used to gain access to, for instance, US-only content from abroad. This is great if you live outside the USA or are a US citizen who happens to be traveling overseas. To gain access to content available strictly in the US, just choose a USA-based server on your VPN app. You can watch the American Netflix this way, for instance.
On the other hand, if you want to download torrents, use VPN to download them safely and anonymously. This means that your ISP won’t see what you’re doing online and that you won’t have to suffer the legal consequences related to using P2P.
Does ExpressVPN support streaming and torrenting?
Yes, ExpressVPN works perfectly with all streaming providers such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Sling TV, Hulu, Now TV, Sky and Playstation Vue. However, to use BBC iPlayer through ExpressVPN’s servers you can’t be physically located in the UK.
ExpressVPN allows users to download torrents (P2P) and use Kodi on all its servers. This is great as some VPN providers only allow this on some of their servers, which can create congestion on the P2P servers.
5. Bypassing Censorship
What Is Censorship and Why Does It Matter?
You can us a VPN service to go around censorship. However, not all VPN providers is available in every single country. China is generally used as a test subject for a VPN’s ability to circumvent censorship owing to its strict regulations and to the fact that it covers a large part of the planet’s human population.
If you want to discover more regarding online censorship, here are some useful sources:
- Internet Defence League
- Access Now
- Open Media
- Fight For The Future
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Freedom House
- Center for Democracy and Technology
Does ExpressVPN bypass censorship successfully?
Yes, ExpressVPN works reliably in all highly censored countries, including China, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
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