WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
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As growing numbers of workers are making the switch to a home office, the need for a reliable VPN has never been more prevalent. ExpressVPN is one of the better-known providers on the market, offering users the chance to browse the internet anonymously with their premium software. They have a strong logging policy, capable connection speeds, and it’s perfect for tasks like streaming or torrenting.
We’ve tested ExpressVPN extensively to produce the following review, listing everything you could possibly need to know about the provider, as well as whether or not it’s worth the significant asking price. In our ExpressVPN review, we cover all aspects of the service, but we’ll start by discussing the company behind the service.
Registered in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN has picked up a lot of steam since they launched back in 2009. They continue to add new servers and features each year, while they’ve enhanced their reputation with a number of notable moves in the privacy sector over the last decade.
In the present day, there are lots of reasons why ExpressVPN is seen as one of the better providers on the market. From quick speeds, to independent audits to ensure the software works as intended, they’ve built up a solid following. They have native app support for almost every device imaginable, and it’ll handle your entertainment needs without a hitch.
But do they really live up to the hype, and is their service really one of the best that money can buy? In short, yes! However, there are a couple of flaws to consider, so where could improvements be made?
Formed in 2009, ExpressVPN has quickly built up a reputation as one of the best premium providers on the market. Being based in the British Virgin Islands, it means their servers are located outside of the 14 Eyes group of countries, which is great in terms of jurisdictional authority.
(The 14 Eyes group is an intelligence-sharing agreement between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, later expanded to include Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Sweden. It’s also known as SIGINT.)
However, ExpressVPN was sold to Kape Technologies in September 2021, as part of a deal worth $936 million.
Kape Technologies is a major player in the VPN industry. They’ve thrown money at a number of competing providers, reaching an overall user base of six million heading into 2022. They began by purchasing CyberGhost in 2017 for $10.5 million and went on to acquire Zenmate VPN a year later for a fee of approximately $5.6 million.
Their VPN stable was boosted by the popular Private Internet Access (PIA). Kape bought PIA for $127.6 million in cash and shares in late 2019. They also purchased Webselenese in March 2021 for $149.1 million in cash and shares. (Webselenese runs the review site vpnMentor.)
ExpressVPN has worked with the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) to produce a “list of questions that any VPN service should be able to answer to signal their trustworthiness”.
What you see is what you get with ExpressVPN, while they’ve taken a number of positive steps to improve the landscape for the average user. Even if you don’t use their service, it’s worth considering the list of questions they produced with the CDT, if only so you have a better understanding of what to look out for when picking a VPN provider for the first time.
Pros & Cons
If you just want the most important info in a concise fashion, we’ve listed many of the major pros and cons you’ll find with ExpressVPN below. Your own experiences may vary, but this is what we’ve discovered after extensively using the software over a significant period of time.
Happily, there are numerous perks to be found with ExpressVPN. Here are some of the most important aspects to consider;
- ExpressVPN has a strong stance in terms of online privacy, offering great online security for multiple devices
- Superb logging policy, and they’ve passed numerous independent audits over the past few years
- Speeds are fast, and they’re also consistent enough for tasks like HD streaming or gaming
- Released the proprietary Lightway protocol in September 2021
- Useful in terms of unblocking various streaming platforms worldwide such as U.S. Netflix or BBC iPlayer, along with many others
- Over 3,000 servers in 94 countries, which is a significant amount
- Great compatibility with a range of devices, including routers and consoles
- Simple money-back guarantee, with no need to give a reason as to why you’re canceling the service
- New security methods and measures are continually being developed to improve the user experience
- Lots of tutorials and tips to help novice users, and 24/7 live chat support
It’s a great service, but there are a number of negatives to bear in mind if you’re looking at one of the longer ExpressVPN subs. Here’s a list of the flaws we found;
- It only allows the user to simultaneously connect five devices, which is a bit stingy
- Owned by a company that has a stable of other VPN providers
- Reasonably expensive, although you do get what you pay for
- The UI isn’t the greatest, even though it manages to get the job done
- No free trial available (they advertise a 30-day money-back guarantee instead)
Overall, we think that the pros far outweigh the cons, as long as you’re willing to pay a little extra for the peace of mind it allows.
ExpressVPN tends to rely on the overall quality of their VPN as opposed to packing their software full of additional features, but there are a few that are definitely worth mentioning.
For example, TrustedServer is the name for their custom server tech, which ensures that all user data is wiped with every reboot, as VPN servers run on RAM only. The software stack is also reinstalled each time, while servers will never write to the hard drive, offering further protection to user data. It has also been independently audited by the likes of PwC and Cure53.
Lightway is ExpressVPN’s proprietary VPN protocol. ‘Designed to be light on its feet, Lightway runs faster, uses less battery, and is easier to audit and maintain’.
It has a built-in Speed Test which is accessed via the main tab. This measures both Latency and Download Speeds and then combines those two into a number called the ‘Speed Index’. In other words, it’ll show you the best servers to connect to in a particular country, as well as what speeds to expect. It’s a nifty extra and should save time if you want to try a new location quickly.
Additional features also include an IP Address Checker, and access to Diagnostic Information. It’s great for more advanced users, or if you just want to be sure that everything is working as it should be. (The diagnostic info will help to troubleshoot any issues, and is wiped every time you restart your computer.)
With that in mind, you’ll also be able to perform both a DNS Leak Test and a WebRTC Leak Test. Once again, it’s great to have the option, and should help to eliminate any lingering paranoia if you’re worried about your current connection status.
Live Chat Support is also available, in case you run into any unexpected issues with the service and you need a quick fix. They were responsive in a query I’ll get into below, getting back to me via email within a few hours.
There are also the typical features you’ll find with most premium VPNs, such as the ability to stream videos and unblock websites and services, as well as to stay anonymous and prevent online tracking.
You’ll find a Random Password Generator on their website if you’re desperate for more security features, such as in the example seen below. (Don’t worry, I didn’t use it!)
There’s no sign of an ad-blocker or any particularly exciting features that help to set it apart from other providers, but ExpressVPN does have a couple of logical extras that will help to ensure that the user is properly hidden while they’re online.
That’s all you can really ask for, although it would be nice to see something other than the basics covered. For example, DNS Leak Test and WebRTC Leak Test facilities should really come as standard with any VPN, although the TrustedServer tech and Lightway protocol are undeniably interesting.
- 1 Month: $12.95/mo.
- 6 Months: $9.99/mo.
- 12 Months: $8.32/mo.
ExpressVPN subscriptions are pricier than the majority of VPN providers, with a one-month deal coming in at $12.95. They claim that they have to charge more because “running a secure and ultra-fast network on the scale that ExpressVPN does is expensive”.
However, you get what you pay for – and then some. ExpressVPN is one of the best providers on the market and packs its plans with many bonus features. In terms of deals and offers, they do pop up from time to time, such as 35% off its 12-month plan when I checked the website just now.
ExpressVPN covers nearly every form of payment you could think of. All major credit cards, PayPal, BitCoin, and more are accepted at checkout.
Each subscription also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, which I used after an unexpected subscription payment came out of my account after six months. I’d forgotten to turn off the auto-sub, and they were very helpful when I got in contact via email.
I ended up getting the money back roughly a week later, and it was a reasonably painless experience. I’ve yet to hear of any users having difficulties obtaining a refund within 30 days, so you’re sure to be safe in that respect.
There is a 7-day free trial on Android and iOS devices, but their money-back guarantee works as described if you’d like to extend your testing period a little further. All in all, it’s decent flexibility, although, we’d like to see the price come down a smidge. That’s why we like to highlight any deals ExpressVPN is currently offering to new users.
A logging policy describes what a VPN will do with the data they gather while it is connected. Essentially, if you don’t want your online movements to be tracked, this is highly important information.
Thankfully, ExpressVPN has one of the clearer ‘no-logs’ policies, listing what little they collect in plain English;
“Our commitment to your privacy means we never keep sensitive information and eliminate both activity logs and connection logs. Our systems are built around NOT knowing how customers use our services. ExpressVPN cannot answer questions like ‘Which users were connected to a given IP address at a specific time?’ or ‘Which users accessed a particular website?’ because we simply never possess that data.”
As for the ‘minimal usage info’, it’s as follows;
- Apps and app versions successfully activated
- Dates (not times) when connected to the VPN service
- Choice of VPN server location
- Total amount (in MB) of data transferred per day
It’s true that none of the data above can be linked to a specific individual or action unless you’re transferring massive amounts of data every day. They’ve been independently audited a number of times to verify their claims, such as when they released a full report by auditing firm PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) in 2019.
They also submitted to third-party auditing as Cure53 put their security claims to the test. (Cure53 is a respected German cybersec firm.) ExpressVPN came up trumps once again, and it’s hard to see any obvious flaws considering their continued commitment to providing their users with increased transparency.
Another more recent example would be when their current app for Windows was reviewed by a third-party cybersecurity firm, F-Secure, via a penetration test to confirm the app’s privacy protections and overall security.
The assessment was conducted from November 2021 to December 2021. ExpressVPN published the following excerpt from their report;
“It was not possible to gain information about ExpressVPN’s clients or out of the network traffic, nor was it possible to execute code remotely through attacks such as, but not limited to, Man-in-the-Middle (MitM), TLS downgrading, packet injection.”
As we’ve mentioned, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) has nothing to do with the UK in terms of jurisdiction. ExpressVPN explains;
“An order for a BVI company to produce evidence and records (pursuant to an investigation) must come from the BVI High Court. Other countries including the United Kingdom and the United States do not have jurisdiction to compel a BVI company to produce records relating to its customers. These governments must petition the BVI High Court to make such an order under BVI jurisdiction.”
There’s no connection to the UK despite the name, and as they’ve stated, only BVI courts have the authority to see records. ExpressVPN deserves top marks for its logging policy, which is watertight.
As you’ll be connecting to their servers, decent speeds are necessary to ensure you’ll encounter no lag or difficulties during use. I’ve probably tried hundreds of their servers over the years, but for the purposes of this review, I tested the optimal U.S. and UK locations to see exactly what they had to offer.
The first image shows connection speeds without using ExpressVPN, to give you a better idea of the baseline.
There’s not much to note here, aside from the fact that the ping is usually lower.
The second image shows the overall impact on download and upload speeds while connected to one of their UK server locations. (I tested it in the morning, so it wasn’t a peak time for the region.)
As you can see, download speeds took a serious hit, coming in almost 45% slower than the baseline. Their UK servers were obviously under some strain at the time, but that’s still a significant difference and one that will be more pronounced if you don’t have the fastest speeds in the first place.
Upload speeds weren’t affected, and the ping was actually reduced ever so slightly. As I’m located in the UK, I was expecting to see better results overall.
Next, I tested the optimal U.S. server location:
When connected to ExpressVPN’s New York servers, download speeds were slightly faster, although the ping was arguably too high for online gaming at a massive 148 compared to the average rate of 10-20.
It’s actually pretty good considering the server is located halfway around the world, and it’s definitely quick enough for accessing 4K Netflix shows, or for uploading particularly large files.
Typically, download speeds for their UK servers are quicker, and comparable to the U.S., although the tests do show the impact of multiple users on the network on a Monday morning.
I was expecting more from the tests, while a 40-50% decrease could be a problem if you don’t have a high-speed internet connection. If you only get 1-2 Mbps, half of that is practically nothing, and you’ll have trouble loading complex web pages quickly. (A HD video Zoom call requires a consistent 3 Mbps, so it’s something to consider.)
You’ll obviously see better results during off-peak hours, but it is the main flaw I found with ExpressVPN, other than the high asking price. Once more, it would be great to use a trial version to check performance before handing over the cash, but there’s still a money-back guarantee.
If you do have issues with slower servers, you can also use their inbuilt Speed Test, which will give you an estimate of the download speeds and the latency you’ll find with each server location. For example, I would have been better off connecting to either Germany or Belgium according to the stats. It’s not ideal if you need to unblock a specific streaming platform, but it could be helpful during day-to-day usage.
Server Locations & Network
VPN server locations are important for a variety of reasons. You’ll be able to access content that is subject to geoblocking, while you won’t have such a high ping if you have to connect to somewhere a little closer to home.
ExpressVPN has 160 locations in 94 countries. It’s an eclectic mix, with the likes of Europe and the Americas represented strongly, along with a range of servers that can be found in Asia and the Middle East.
Key locations include the U.S, the UK, Israel, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, Australia, and India, although they have a decent amount of servers spread across other regions around the globe. Numerous smaller countries are also covered, which is great news if you’re hoping to unlock a specific service, or if you need to access a website that is only available locally.
In 2019, it was reported that they had over 3,000 servers spread across the 160 locations, focusing on quality as well as quantity. It’s a fairly impressive amount, although it pales in comparison to the likes of NordVPN, which has over 5,200. (As of 2022, no exact figure is listed on their website.)
ExpressVPN also has a number of virtual locations, which come in handy if you’re having issues relating to performance. When you connect to a virtual location, your traffic will appear to come from an IP address that is registered in the location you’ve selected, while being routed through a server in a country with a better connection. This should lead to better speeds and latency in theory.
For example, you can use their servers to connect to India via the UK, Turkey via the Netherlands, or even Taiwan via Hong Kong. You can find a full list of ExpressVPN’s virtual server locations here.
ExpressVPN scores strongly again, with enough server locations to placate even the most ardent power user. If you’re interested in what they can be used for entertainment-wise, check out the section below for more info.
Streaming & Torrenting
Streaming and torrenting are obviously important for the average VPN user. Endless hours of content are blocked due to international broadcasting rights and agreements, while the price of traditional cable continues to increase each year. Something has to give, so a quality VPN will be able to unblock streaming platforms and torrent clients around the world, from Netflix to BitTorrent.
ExpressVPN is a beast when it comes to streaming, unblocking almost every service you can think of. It’s essential if you’re interested in watching live events like sport, or for accessing platforms that are currently geo-blocked in your country.
Here’s a quick rundown with some of the key streaming websites you should be able to access with ExpressVPN;
- Disney +
- Sling TV
- YouTube TV
- Sling TV
- TV Now
- Sky Go
- Amazon Prime Video
- beIN Sports
- French TV
It’s far from a comprehensive list of everything you’ll be able to unblock with the VPN, but it gives you some idea of what you can expect.
As well as streaming, ExpressVPN has guides for watching live events which are broadcast online, and lots of tutorials and tips in case you run into any problems.
It’s hard to find a better provider if unblocking streaming platforms is the main reason why you’re currently looking at VPN reviews.
ExpressVPN is positioned as a torrent-friendly VPN, allowing its users to download whatever they want. Of course, there are no bandwidth limits to speak of, and they have no idea about what a user is up to in the first place.
Of course, we’d advise against downloading copyrighted material, and we’re legally obliged to do so.
It’s another strong showing for ExpressVPN. There are no limits to what you can use it for while you’re online, so it gets top marks once more.
Considering their stance when it comes to streaming and torrenting, it’s no surprise to find that ExpressVPN is also useful if you’re worried about online censorship. As well as unblocking streaming platforms, it can be used to access social media websites, which are often helpful for sharing information quickly in affected regions.
If you don’t have the fastest connection speeds it’s possible that the Network Lock could be annoying, as it’s activated by default. However, it’s useful if you live in a region affected by high levels of censorship.
The Network Lock causes internet traffic to automatically be blocked if the VPN drops or your network is disrupted in any way. Traffic will be unblocked as soon as the VPN is back up and running, so there’s no chance that any of your data will be exposed.
Meanwhile, their logging policy was put to the test in 2017, after Turkish investigators alleged that an unknown individual used ExpressVPN to delete evidence related to the 2016 assassination of Russian diplomat Andrei Karlov.
It’s alleged that the individual logged into both the Gmail and Facebook accounts of the assassin (off-duty police officer Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş) to delete conversations that would have been relevant to the investigation.
ExpressVPN issued a response in 2019;
“As we stated to Turkish authorities in January 2017, ExpressVPN does not and has never possessed any customer connection logs that would enable us to know which customer was using the specific IPs cited by the investigators. Furthermore, we were unable to see which customers accessed Gmail or Facebook during the time in question, as we do not keep activity logs. We believe that the investigators’ seizure and inspection of the VPN server in question confirmed these points.”
It’s an unfortunate example, but it’s further proof that their logging policy works as intended, and that they have no data to hand over regardless. Once again, this is great background info, but the company now has a new owner (Kape), and their reputation should start afresh rather than relying on past glories.
Platforms & Devices
You’d expect the VPN to be able to connect to a range of devices, especially considering the high price of entry. Native support makes a massive difference, as it ensures that an app is up-to-date in terms of features while allowing for any changes based on the specific OS.
We’re happy to report that ExpressVPN does have a host of apps and support for a selection of devices, which we’ll list in full below.
They have native app support for the following desktop devices;
I’ve tried out both the Windows and Mac versions, with little to differentiate between the two. Either will serve you well, and there’s no loss of functionality unless you’re testing out a shiny new beta feature. Its Linux app also proved to be efficient, with all recommended server locations working just fine on my end.
They also have a browser extension for Chrome, as well as Firefox and Microsoft Edge support. Again, it’s a good selection, with more variety than most. However, they note that “you cannot use the ExpressVPN browser extension without the ExpressVPN app”, and it needs to be an activated version. So, no freebies.
It’s worth mentioning that the browser extension controls the VPN app, so all traffic will be routed through the network. It’s always nice to have a selection to choose from.
Every popular mobile device is covered, with additional functionality included for tablets such as the Kindle Fire. In practice, it’s pretty much the same as the desktop app, with nothing of note to report on the iOS version I tested.
- Kindle Fire
A router can be used with a VPN, to secure every device that is connected at any given time. It eliminates the need for separate apps on every device, and you’ll be able to connect as many as you like. (It’s a decent option if you’d like to bypass the 5 device only limit.)
Of course, there’s a caveat, in that they only support a number of recommended brands, which we’ll list below;
If you do happen to have a compatible brand, you’ll be able to follow their setup guides to get started. They also provide specific models to look out for, as some can use the ExpressVPN app, while others have to be set up manually. You can find a compatibility list here.
Streaming devices (via DNS)
Finally, you’ll be able to connect to a collection of different streaming devices by messing around with the DNS settings. However, their MediaStreamer DNS is not a VPN. This means that it doesn’t offer the same privacy and security benefits as a VPN, but it can be used to access content and apps that were previously blocked.
As for a list of compatible devices;
- Amazon Fire TV
- Android TV
- Apple TV
- Boxee Box
- Nintendo Switch
- Nvidia Shield
- PlayStation 5
- PlayStation 4
- PlayStation 3
- WD TV Live
- Xbox One and Series X
- Xbox 360
- Xiaomi Mi Box
They have a range of setup guides to help the average user. For example, here’s one for connecting the VPN with a PS4.
Overall, it’s a great selection, and configuring the MediaStreamer DNS shouldn’t be too difficult for the average user as long as they follow the guide properly.
It’s hard to fault ExpressVPN in terms of their commitment to compatibility. No matter your preferred OS, you’re likely to be covered with at least a few options.
Encryption & Security
A VPN uses encryption to secure the connection to and from their servers. It’s incredibly important, and ExpressVPN comes up with the goods.
Their encryption is handled using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) with 256-bit keys – also known as AES-256. This is often referred to as military-grade, as it’s used by the U.S. government and the NSA to secure their classified data. As of now, AES-256 has yet to be hacked into, making it one of the strongest options available.
If it’s good enough for Uncle Sam, it’s probably going to be able to handle whatever you throw at their servers. It’s also why you should pay special attention to a VPN’s logging policy, as it’s the only way your personal data could be compromised.
ExpressVPN supports a variety of protocols, which are the methods by which your device connects to a VPN server.
- OpenVPN (UDP) and OpenVPN (TCP)
Generally, it’s advisable to stick with the recommended settings, but it can be useful for advanced users who may need a different level of protection to access better connection speeds.
ExpressVPN released Lightway in early 2021, which they claim is “a next-generation VPN protocol that provides the best in speed, security, and reliability”. It should lead to improved speeds and lower power usage, while they hope that it’ll be easier to audit. It’s another example of how they’ve managed to set the pace, especially when compared to other providers who seem content to rest on their laurels.
Their VPN browser extension is open source, which means that the code is available for anyone to delve into, whether it be for testing, or just to see how it works.
Security is one of the major perks of using ExpressVPN. They’ll obfuscate your data as promised, while they’ve worked to verify that they don’t keep anything on their servers afterward. There are real-world examples of this over the years, from the numerous audits which are available to view, to the 2017 investigation by Turkish authorities. If online security is your main concern, we’d stick with ExpressVPN. You just can’t beat their audited servers.
If you’re on the market for a premium VPN that can be used for work, leisure, or anything in between, ExpressVPN is highly recommended. Having reviewed a number of providers over the years, it’s good enough for personal use, while they’ve built up a strong following thanks to a succession of prudent moves in the privacy sector, as well as a massive marketing budget.
It seems like they funnel the money they make back into the service, which explains why it continues to improve with each passing year. Their ability to unblock streaming services should be lauded, and the software and servers have been independently verified on multiple occasions. They’ve put their money where their mouth is, and the end result is a top-notch VPN.
ExpressVPN sees itself as a privacy company first and foremost, and that’s reflected in the overall quality of its service. Each of their features adds another small layer of online security, and together, it combines to form a great package that is sure to keep your data safe.
If I was being overly critical, I’d look to the dated user interface, which isn’t the smoothest I’ve ever used. It works, but it could probably do with an overhaul when compared to slicker apps on the market. Then there are the connection speeds, which took a significant hit during testing when I tried out their UK servers. 55-60% of the average speeds could see an impact on your connection if it’s not that fast to begin with, so it’s worth testing out first to ensure that you won’t run into any significant problems.
There are a few minor issues, but they’re not enough to hold ExpressVPN back from being recommended. There are comparable services on the market, but you’ll struggle to find many that are better, even if it is slightly more expensive than the norm.