ExpressVPN review: This speedy VPN is worth the price

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ExpressVPN has muscled its way ahead of the virtual private network (VPN) pack in 2020, 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 $6.67 a month. 

We recommend ExpressVPN as an excellent choice for privacy novices and professionals alike. Find out more about how we review VPNs here

Read more: The best VPN services for 2020

Like

  • Competitive speeds
  • Solid security suite
  • Company is based in privacy-friendly jurisdiction.

Don’t Like

  • Higher-than-average price
  • Limited number of simultaneous connections
  • No Safari ExpressVPN browser extension for WebRTC security

Speed

  • Average speed loss: 52% speed lost in autumn 2020 tests 
  • Number of servers: 3,000-plus
  • Number of server locations: 160 in 94 countries (four in Hong Kong)
  • Number of IP addresses: 30,000

I ran my ExpressVPN speed tests over the course of three days, using both wireless and Ethernet connections. Internet speeds in the US vary widely by state and provider. And with any speed test, results are going to rely on your local infrastructure, with hyperfast internet service yielding higher test speed results. That’s one reason we’re more interested in the amount of speed lost, which is typically half or more for most VPNs. 

In the case of ExpressVPN, I was disappointed to see a 52% speed loss in 2020 tests compared to its unbeatable 2% speed loss measured in 2019. Make no mistake, ExpressVPN is still a speed demon. During my 2020 testing, my non-VPN speeds averaged 193 Mbps, and ExpressVPN’s overall global average speed was 93 Mbps. Peak speeds were reached on European connections, averaging about 122 Mbps between Frankfurt, Berlin and Paris.

Australian speeds outperformed the UK with averages of 101 Mbps and 86 Mbps, respectively. Between the two, however, the UK caught the better individual high score, topping out at 157 Mbps in a single test compared to Australia’s highest single-round score of 136 Mbps. Singapore’s scores also edged out the UK’s by just three points at 89 Mbps. US scores were where ExpressVPN’s averages got dragged down: US speeds averaged just 66 Mbps, despite reaching up to 134 Mbps on a single test round. 

expressvpn-devices

You can use ExpressVPN across different devices.


ExpressVPN

After doubling back to check my gear and getting the same speed range in a retest, my results appeared consistent with other sites whose automated speed testing I trust. I reached out to ExpressVPN to find out what’s happening with the recent dips in its speeds. The company looked into it, and said several of its in-house tests were seeing speeds between 200 and 275 Mbps using OpenVPN protocol — results far above my own.

“We think one possible explanation is that there was network saturation between your ISP and our data center during the time period that you tested, which again should not be a typical result,” an ExpressVPN spokesperson said.

The company also said that speeds may be improved as it transitions its OpenVPN infrastructure to Lightway, an in-house protocol based on Wireguard, which is currently in development. 

Read moreNordVPN vs. ExpressVPN: Speed, security and price compared

Security and privacy

  • Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands 
  • Encryption: AES-256, 4096-bit RSA key, Perfect Forward Secrecy
  • No leaks detected
  • Includes kill switch

We like that ExpressVPN is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, which is generally considered a privacy-friendly country due to its lack of surveillance-sharing agreements with other countries. Although a territory of the UK, the British Virgin Islands is a separate legal jurisdiction to the UK with no data retention laws, whose national High Court is historically averse to extranational business records requests.

Its encryption is standard AES-256, and it supports Perfect Forward Secrecy, which means it frequently changes encryption keys to avoid security compromises. The company offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails.

ExpressVPN’s lengthy privacy policy is explicit in its stance against keeping logs of personally identifying user data. Like almost every VPN, it does collect maintenance-related data including server location choices, the total amount of data transferred, server connection time, and which app versions you’ve installed. You can opt into sending the company crash reports to help improve diagnostics.

One of the clearest ways a VPN provider can prove it keeps no logs is to have its servers seized by authorities. That’s exactly what happened to ExpressVPN in 2017, when an investigation into the 2016 assassination of Russia’s Turkish ambassador, Andrei Korlov, led Turkish authorities to seize one of ExpressVPN’s servers looking for logs of criminal conversation. Authorities came up empty-handed, and since then ExpressVPN has retained a no-logs reputation.

In 2019, the company went into RAM-disk mode, meaning it’s not storing anything on hard drives. That’s not something every VPN offers. NordVPN, for example, only moved to full RAM-disk use as a security response following this year’s breach. That said, about 3% of ExpressVPN’s server fleet are virtual servers (which are often argued to be less secure than physical machines), but those virtual servers, the company says, are limited to use for countries without enough supporting network infrastructure, or those where having hardware would be riskier, like Turkey. 

No IP address, DNS or other potentially user-identifying data leaks were detected during our testing. Even so, we recommend some caution here. Previously in 2019, reviewers at ProPrivacy detected an IPv6 leak on both MacOS and Windows during testing. That leak shouldn’t come as a surprise, though; a piece of technology built into most browsers called WebRTC — used to help voice and video applications run — has been known to have data-leaking problems, even if you’re using a VPN.

That kind of leak could compromise your identity and location but, despite sounding complicated to the average user, it’s simple to avoid. ExpressVPN’s browser add-ons plug most gaps, and you can get them free via the company’s user-friendly walk-through on disabling WebRTC. You can also test for IPv6 leaks yourself, independent of ExpressVPN’s site, by going to the widely-used IPv6 Leak Test provided by a competitor VPN, Private Internet Access, for free (if you’re fluent in internet, we recommend the classic standby, IPLeak).

Read more: Norton Secure VPN vs. ExpressVPN: Security, speed and price compared

Cost 

Its clean interface, easy-to-navigate server options, and one-click connect make ExpressVPN a welcoming choice for VPN newcomers. ExpressVPN has nearly all of the same configuration options you’re likely to find in VPNs aimed at power users, but it’s miles friendlier to the privacy-minded beginner. ExpressVPN also offers 24/7 customer service support through live chat, with an email option and a crop of tutorial videos. 

Setup on both desktop and mobile is a cinch. It not only works on most operating systems — whether desktop or mobile — but 10 media streaming consoles, nine router brands, and even e-readers. ExpressVPN imposes no data caps, allows unlimited server switching and torrenting, and we had no problems using it to access Netflix. Unlike some competitors, however, you can only run five devices simultaneously on a single subscription.

The price is a little higher than many of its competitors’, but we’re still convinced it’s worth it. ExpressVPN’s best plan is priced at $6.67 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free. It does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. You can pay with credit card, PayPal or via Bitcoin. 

Read more: IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN: Security, speed and price compared


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