ExpressVPN Review 2021 – Next-Level Excellence

Verdict
ExpressVPN's performance was stellar in terms of speed, privacy, features, streaming, and geo-unblocking. Lightway, ExpressVPN's WireGuard patched variation, was one of my favorite features as it feels ultra-fast. The only downside is the high price tag. I would love to see the Lightway source code open-sourced sooner than later though.

Table Of Contents

Grade – 9.5/10

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

For the past month, I had the opportunity to use and evaluate one of the best VPN providers out there, ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN is the best VPN I have used so far in my life to give you an idea of how this experience went. I will start by discussing some key features and VPN protocol support. The rest of this review is organized as follows:

  1. ExpressVPN Features
  2. ExpressVPN Performance
  3. ExpressVPN Privacy & Security
  4. ExpressVPN Streaming, Geo-unblocking & Torrenting
  5. ExpressVPN Support
  6. Overall verdict

ExpressVPN features

ExpressVPN offers a plethora of features, some of them unique to only the most premium VPN providers:

  • 160 server locations in 94 countries, over 3000 individual servers
  • Anonymous browsing when combined with Tor
  • Content geo-unblocking anywhere in the world (yes, anywhere)
  • Complete device availability (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, game consoles, and smart TVs).
  • VPN split tunneling, a must for modern VPN providers
  • Network Lock kill switch is the best and fastest kill switch I have used; I was lucky to watch it in action due to my below-par internet connection. The kill switch is only missing from iOS.
  • Private encrypted DNS
  • AES-256 encryption
  • The strict, proven no-logging policy
  • TrustedServer technology – All your data is kept in memory and never written to a hard drive on ExpressVPN's servers. This is no-logging at its best
  • Built-in speed tests, ExpressVPN-supported IP, DNS, and WebRTC leak tests
  • First-class security audits and security breach tests
  • 24/7 live chat support and handy stream unblocking guides

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VPN protocol support

ExpressVPN supports all the popular and the most secure VPN protocols while having dropped the unsafe ones. It also supports a unique one and can automatically select the best VPN protocol for your network.

  • OpenVPN UDP – A great combination of speed and security, but may not work on all networks.
  • OpenVPN TCP – Slower than OpenVPN UDP but more likely to work on every network
  • IKEv2 – Fast, but not compatible with every network
  • L2TP/IPsec – Less secure, useful for anonymization and location switching when other protocols don't work (available on fewer locations)
  • Lightway – Quite possibly the next big thing in protocols, a fast, secure, and stable VPN protocol developed by ExpressVPN. The code for Lightway is not yet available, and it's still in Beta, yet this review primarily focuses on this VPN protocol

Virtual server locations

With the vast majority of ExpressVPN locations, the physical server and the registered IP address are located in the same country. We have a huge footprint physically covering every continent (except for Antarctica). We have invested in building a network with servers in parts of the world where bandwidth is expensive, including Australia, Japan, India, and Brazil.

For less than 3% of ExpressVPN’s server count, the registered IP address matches the country you have chosen to connect to, while the server is physically located in another country, usually nearby. These are called virtual server locations, and they help ensure your connection is fast, secure, and reliable.

You can find the list of virtual VPN server locations here.

ExpressVPN apps

I tested ExpressVPN on Windows, macOS, Linux using the browser extensions and Android. I find it hard to imagine that anyone would have an issue setting it up and using it. My evaluation of ExpressVPN is based on Windows and Android, but I had no problem unblocking anything on Linux and Mac. I did not exhaust the available options.

Split-tunneling

To put it simply, with split-tunneling, you can choose which apps use the local network instead of ExpressVPN. For instance, you can have one server connected to the US, dedicated to streaming, and the rest of the system connected to your local network. Or you can do the exact opposite, depending on what your actual needs are. Just keep in mind that for anything not running under ExpressVPN, your privacy is at risk.

ExpressVPN Performance

The question to answer here is simple: Is ExpressVPN as fast as people say it is? The simple and honest answer is, “Yes, it is.” I used Ookla's speed test to evaluate my baseline speed without VPN in Athens, Greece, and the result was the following:

  • Speed: 26.59Mbps
  • Latency: 16ms

I evaluated ExpressVPN's performance first by using the built-in speed test and comparing it to the baseline. You will notice that the best location for me in Romania, and when connected to Romania, I can do everything, like when I'm not using VPN.

From there on, there is a significant drop-off even when I'm connected to Greece. That drop off ranges between 50-60% in terms of speed. There is an important thing to clarify here, though. I spent most of the time connected to New Jersey, and while the speed is not great, the latency was good enough for me to think that ExpressVPN was not enabled. So, I was ready to jump to Netflix US or Disney+ while still writing on my blog without noticeable latency. This is the wow factor for me, even with a bad internet connection.

However, it's worth investigating why Greece is slower than Romania. Is it the server quality, the connection quality, or the server load?

LocationLatency [ms]Download Speed [Mbps]Speed Index
Baseline - Athens, Greece, no VPN1626.59n/a
Romania - Bucharest3424.863679
Greece - Athens6114.941224
France - Strasbourg6114.471186
Netherlands - Amsterdam6116.161321
UK - East London6215.81279
UK - Docklands63161266
Netherlands - The Hague6415.451208
Netherlands - Amsterdam - 26714.821106
Germany - Nuremberg6814.311056
France - Paris - 16913.8997
Italy - Cosenza8511.35668
Switzerland - 28710.91625
USA - New York1267.31290
USA - Washington DC1356.8252
USA - New Jersey - 31357.35273
USA - Los Angeles189n/an/a

Now let's see if these results are close to what happens in practice. The next table contains key European locations and some long-distance ones, like the US, Canada, and Australia. I want to pinpoint another key feature here. Contrary to other VPNs I have used, ExpressVPN changes the smart connect location depending on current conditions. For instance, it switched between Romania – Bucharest, and Spain – Barcelona for me.

LocationLatency [ms]Download Speed [Mbps]
Baseline - Athens, Greece, no VPN1626.59
Romania - Bucharest3824.73
Span - Barcelona14625.11
France - Strasbourg8024.16
UK - London10024.81
Netherlands - Rotterdam8323.84
Germany - Nuremberg9225.37
USA - New York24623.39
USA - Los Angeles19424.61
Canada - Toronto14225.41
Australia - Melbourne29523.11
Hong Kong - 225321.21

One thing is clear from this performance test. ExpressVPN with Lightway has amazing performance. During my switches from one location to another, the kill switch blocked everything instantly. As you can see, the actual speeds are significantly higher than ExpressVPN's test, and I think that is because, during the test, ExpressVPN uses a US server or a similar suboptimal set up to perform the tests at speedtest.expressvpn.com (you cannot access it without VPN).

My verdict here is that you have to connect to a galaxy far away to experience significant performance loss. ExpressVPN is beyond excellent in terms of performance, and I was really amazed during my use of it. Blistering fast with as low latency as you can get.

ExpressVPN privacy and security

ExpressVPN is really outstanding in terms of encryption standards, privacy, and security.

Encryption

ExpressVPN uses the highest standard of encryption to keep your data private and secure. By default, its apps use AES-256 bit encryption in combination with the OpenVPN protocol, a 4096-bit RSA key, and SHA-512 HMAC authentication, which is the level of encryption recommended by governments and security experts to protect classified information. This is obviously not an extra point for any VPN in 2021. It's what is expected. 

Leak Tests and Leak Protection

A VPN does not necessarily guarantee that there won't be any DNS, IP, WebRTC, or IPv6 leaks. If your IP leaks, then your location and privacy have been compromised, while a DNS leak means that your online activity is visible to your ISP and third-parties.

Testing leaks on ipleaks.net leads to exactly what you want to see

A reliable VPN protects you against DNS leaks and guarantees your privacy and anonymity. I tested several countries, including the US, Canada, UK, Romania, Spain, external IP, DNS, WebRTC tools, and ExpessVPN's tools, and I did not observe leaks of any kind. 

ExpressVPN uses its own private and encrypted DNS servers to handle your DNS requests so they never leave the network to be handle by some third-party or your ISP. This is top-class privacy that only the top VPN providers offer.

It is worth noting that checking your VPN for leaks is not a one-time thing, it should be a constant check, but I have not found a better way to do this.

Tor compatibility, security audits, and breach testing

ExpressVPN has Tor compatibility – a feature only a handful of VPNs offer. ExpressVPN only supports Tor over VPN, meaning you get maximum anonymity, as your VPN is oblivious to your data and online traffic. However, let's see how usable it is.

  • Spain – Barcelona: 300ms, 6.80Mbps
  • Hong Kong: 700ms, 1.35Mbps

ExpressVPN + Tor is pretty usable when connected to Spain, but Hong Kong is a tough cookie. It is expected that the performance loss is significant under Tor, though.

Whether you will use Tor over VPN comes down to the threat model you have in mind. Your VPN provider (ExpressVPN in this case) still knows your IP, so by using Tor over VPN you have added a single point of failure to your model.

ExpressVPN performs independent security audits by the distinguished cybersecurity firm Cure3 and professional services and advisory leader PwC. This provides a strong guarantee that your data is well-protected.

Privacy Policy

ExpressVPN has one of the most comprehensive privacy policies you will find from any VPN provider, entirely committed to protecting your data and privacy.

Moreover, ExpressVPN’s headquarters are located discreetly in the British Virgin Islands, outside of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance. As I have explained, I do not consider VPN providers in 5/9/14 Eyes countries riskier, but with BVI, you have less online research to do.

The British Virgin Islands are a privacy-friendly country, meaning no constant government pressures for access to your in-memory data.

Telecommunications companies based in the British Virgin Islands are not subject to any data retention laws or legal government surveillance.

The British Virgin Islands doesn't even have its own national foreign intelligence agency. There is another popular VPN service located in the British Virgin Islands too, Surfshark.

Does ExpressVPN Keep Activity Logs?

ExpressVPN'ss policy states that it keeps no logs of any activity or connection logs, including all of your online traffic, websites visited, data content, and DNS queries.

The only data ExpressVPN collects is your email address and payment details, which you use to sign up for the service, something necessary for all paid online services

ExpressVPN's no-log policy tested in practice: In 2017, one of ExpressVPN’s servers was seized by the Turkish government to extract information about an assassination. Since there was no stored data available due to ExpressVPN's RAM-only server technology, the investigation led nowhere.

ExpressVPN Streaming, Geo-unblocking, and Torrenting

So far, so good for ExpressVPN, but is streaming and torrenting the icing on the cake? Well, it really is. Let's start. ExpressVPN unblocks:

  • Netflix US, UK, Australia, Germany
  • Disney+ US, UK, Italy, Australia (Keep in mind that Disney+ on desktop requires a credit/debit card of the same region you are signing up for. To bypass this, use a US Google Play Store account – make a new one – and Google Play will accept payments from anywhere in the world. I don't know if this works for iOS too).
  • Amazon Prime Video US
  • HBO Max
  • CBS Sports
  • Hulu
  • ESPN+
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Eurosport

Well, I hope you get the pattern here. ExpressVPN unblocked pretty much everything I threw at it. This icing on the cake connected to Hong Kong and accessing Baidu and every Chinese site I could imagine. China Great Firewall bypassed, and it works in reverse too, although I couldn't test that, obviously.

Instead, I spent quite some time watching the Mandalorian on Disney+ and a few movies on Netflix, both on my laptop and mobile.

ExpressVPN did well in terms of torrents, there were no leaks and I downloaded files at around 19-21 Mbps when connected to Spain which is pretty close to the maximum I get from torrents.

Overall, I have to admit that this is another category where ExpressVPN excels.

ExpressVPN support

I do not have much to say about support; 24/7 chat support is pretty excellent, to be honest. Add to that the fact that most of what you will need is so intuitive and everything is so well-documented; you can guess that the support is excellent.

ExpressVPN pricing

Now let's address the elephant in the room. ExpressVPN is pretty much the perfect VPN provider in all aspects you can imagine.

ExpressVPN offers three standard subscription plans. Subscriptions cost $12.95 per month for a one-month plan, $9.99 per month for a six-month plan, and $8.32 per month for a 12-month plan.

Subscription planPrice/Month
One-month$12.95
Six-month$9.99
12-month$8.32

Each subscription comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee so that you can try the service risk-free. 

If we compare these prices to NordVPN's $12.95/month for the monthly plan, $4.92/month for the 1-year plan, and $3.72/month for the 2-year plan, the difference is significant for the more extended plans.

Cyberghost is offered at $12.99/month for the monthly plan, $3.99/month for the yearly plan, $3.49 for the 2-year plan, and $2.25/month for the 3-year + 3-month free plan.

It's hard to answer whether the price difference is worth it. Right now, I am reviewing Cyberghost, while I have used NordVPN in the past. Honestly, I think ExpressVPN is better and if I could afford I would prefer it probably.

Overall verdict

The last sentence of the previous paragraph is pretty much my verdict on ExpressVPN. If you are looking for the best of the best VPN providers, this is your final destination. The only negative I could find for ExpressVPN was its price tag. Lightway performs exceptionally well. Everything else was exceptional, and I believe ExpressVPN is worth investing in.

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