Let me start at the beginning: I have heard A LOT about ExpressVPN. I’ve even used it before, but not consistently or in-depth.
And in the meantime, ExpressVPN has reigned as one of the most popular VPNs around.
This is ONLY from the Google Play store:
To say nothing of all the other platforms ExpressVPN is on.
But it’s not just the number of people who use it or have used it.
ExpressVPN is also highly rated by people like me—people who love and review VPNs:
Needless to say, it has a huge reputation—and it has a reputation for being exactly the type of VPN I like:
The kind that prioritizes privacy and doesn’t get TOO simple. I was really looking forward to testing this bad boy.
And then I did.
And you know what?
…Well, I’ve got a lot to say. Mostly positive, but it’s not the dream VPN I built in my head.
I want to make sure you know what the real deal with ExpressVPN is. And I think we should start off with some cold, hard info:
Yep. This is the thing that we all need VPNs to do well.
Because VPNs, by their nature, are usually going to slow you down a bit. So the best VPNs will MINIMIZE your speed losses.
ExpressVPN, among other things, is widely considered to have excellent speeds. Which is what made this test…interesting.
This is what my internet speeds looked like normally:
And this is what ExpressVPN did to my speeds:
Now, I really wasn’t sure about this. I was using ExpressVPN’s recommended server for that test.
I decided to try again, using a location I KNEW to be closer to me:
Even if the upload speed wasn’t as good as the first test, the download speed and ping speed were MUCH better.
Now, there’s still the elephant in the room:
That’s still WAY below my normal download speed.
Now, I can’t really lie: these are somewhat disappointing results. I should also clarify: if your internet speed NORMALLY is 30 mbps, this DOESN’T mean necessarily that ExpressVPN would cut your speeds as significantly.
But, there is still some risk in slower than usual speeds.
Now the truth is, I didn’t notice these differences in speeds when actually USING ExpressVPN. I think that’s because for regular web browsing, 33 mbps is just fine.
But of course, many people don’t just want to use VPNs for regular web browsing—they want to stream and unlock content.
And if ExpressVPN really causes your speeds to take a hit—then that’s important for people who want to watch movies.
So I tested out Netflix. I started off by deciding to pick a new country:
And then I logged in:
That’s the proof of it working: three of these shows aren’t available on American Netflix.
But how did it actually PERFORM?
REALLY well. Of course, it was indeed slow. But that’s just the price of using another country’s Netflix with a VPN.
RELATIVE to other VPNs, I found ExpressVPN to be pretty fast in accessing Netflix. Entire pages loaded, I had no problems logging in, and playback was mostly uninterrupted.
So whatever comments we can make about the general speeds, it’s certainly good for streaming.
What about torrents? That’s a HUGE deal for many potential VPN users.
So I grabbed a copy of a book I heard about:
It downloaded just as I managed to grab a screenshot. In other words, super-fast.
Now, the catch is I torrented using the closest location I could—when I tried torrenting from other countries’ servers, my speeds were LOWER than other VPNs’.
All this has led to me having some mixed feelings about ExpressVPN’s performance.
Understand that ExpressVPN has a REPUTATION for being a GREAT performer and one of the fastest VPNs around.
This, unfortunately, has not been my experience—a bit of a let-down.
But on the other hand, it definitely hasn’t been too slow IN PRACTICE. It’s worked just fine for me when doing normal web activities, and also has been good for streaming and torrents.
The end-result is that even if I didn’t find ExpressVPN to be AS FAST as its reputation, it was still a GOOD performer. Just not one of the best.
But performance isn’t all that matters—so let’s take a look at the next item on our list:
Ease of Use
Yep, ease of use.
ExpressVPN is sufficiently well-received that one would EXPECT it’s pretty easy to use. After all, most VPN software is.
I’ll start at the beginning. Purchasing a plan and creating an account is extremely simple, and exactly what you’re used to.
Once I paid and set up my password, I was directed to this:
Where I could choose from a long list of download and setup options.
So I went ahead and downloaded a version for my Windows desktop. It took a few seconds:
And then I could choose to either log in with my account on the software, or purchase a subscription if I hadn’t already:
Express VPN is one of the few popular VPNs to require you enter an activation code (given to you upon purchase):
And then you’re good to go:
And as you can see, the home page of the app itself is REALLY straightforward.
MOST VPN software is more or less a decorated “on” button. But even with this being the case, a lot of companies like to pile on extra things here and there to make it more complicated outwardly.
But the ExpressVPN software is practically BLANK.
But this little bar, despite not taking up much space, can be expanded for a lot more control:
This is something that’s kind of UNIQUE to ExpressVPN.
Usually, other VPNs will open up a dropdown list of servers to choose from, or go to a different page or tab within the same window.
But expanding that location area just opens up a NEW window. You can move it around or resize it however you want.
Some people won’t like this, because it takes up more space on your computer.
I personally dislike one aspect of it:
I can minimize or close the second window, but minimizing the first (the main app window) will minimize/close both.
Which seems to defeat the purpose of having a second window to me.
But on the other hand, you can do this with the second window:
You can better manage your server options.
So the only issue there is that some people might not like the format—but I DON’T think anyone will find it DIFFICULT.
So aside from that, the other way you access options is by clicking the little settings expansion button in the upper left corner:
And that lets you access some of the extra stuff, like support (more on that soon!) or more specific settings.
Opening up options also expands in a new window:
Is that easy to use?
I’d say that for a lot of beginners, or people who don’t care about VPN protocols, this is on the rougher side. Especially because, at least for me, the window opened on protocols, not “general.”
But here’s the thing:
If you look more closely, you can see that ExpressVPN explains the protocols very quickly.
And a lot of popular VPNs DON’T explain what switching between protocols will do, they just give you the option. So that could be a plus for user-friendliness.
As you switch between the different tabs in the option section, you’ll find nothing is too complicated.
And everything is EXPLAINED.
I think ExpressVPN might SEEM a bit less user-friendly because it doesn’t simplify all its settings into two or three colorful buttons.
But when you actually look at it, a beginner would have an easy time figuring things out.
And a more advanced user, with more advanced tastes? They’d still be able to customize ExpressVPN to their liking without having to concede too much user control.
In short, ExpressVPN hits a great sweet spot in ease of use.
But that’s hardly ALL that matters:
Pricing and Features
Pricing and features are a very important category for ExpressVPN, and will definitely affect your interest in it.
Here’s the short version:
The features are good. But the prices…well, have a look:
Arguably, this is what most ordinary people will find UNATTRACTIVE about ExpressVPN.
In fact, its general reputation is of being a high-end VPN that also comes with a bit of a higher cost.
A single month of service is relatively expensive, a few bucks higher than normal. The 6-month option?
Even more so. I’ve seen other VPNs offer ONE month of service for $9.99 a month, so I certainly consider half a year at that price above average.
And the year-long (15 months, really) option? Even if it’s the best deal, it’s still more expensive than a lot of other yearly options.
From this, it’s kind of easy to make a couple statements:
FIRST: if your PRIORITY is an affordable VPN, ExpressVPN might not be your best candidate.
SECOND: if affordability is important but not your priority, ExpressVPN might not be so bad. As you’ve seen it’s pretty easy to use and performs well.
But what will really make it “worth” the price or not at THIS POINT—it’s the features.
Let’s start with the basics:
This is definitely one of ExpressVPN’s ADVANTAGES.
First of all, the basic number of servers ExpressVPN claims in its network is one of the HIGHEST—over 3,000.
Secondly, these are spread out over 94 countries with a total of 160 locations available for use.
Some other large VPNs also have thousands of servers, and some have more countries available—but there’s NO DOUBT that ExpressVPN is on the higher side.
What are the other basics of ExpressVPN?
All the usual stuff: a TON of platforms are covered (which you caught a glimpse of earlier), plus gold-standard encryption, unlimited bandwidth and server switching, etc, etc.
ExpressVPN definitely gets all the basics down.
…Except for this:
Three devices simply aren’t that many, at least for a popular VPN. Most of ExpressVPN’s rivals offer AT LEAST 5 devices—that’s considered standard—and some offer 7.
So that’s unfortunate, but again—most of the basics are fine.
What’s more interesting is the advanced features that ExpressVPN includes beyond the BASIC service.
One of the features that I find really neat, and surprisingly useful, is ExpressVPN’s speed test feature.
Take a look:
Now, as you can see, it’s more than just a gimmick, and is practically useful.
You can run these tests on the locations you’re interested in, to see which is best for your situation at a given time. Plus, you can save the results.
This is not something I see with a lot of VPNs, and if you asked me, I would NOT have thought it useful. But I stand corrected: it’s a cool feature, albeit more for advanced users.
Another extra ExpressVPN includes is a split-tunneling option:
This is increasingly common on VPN apps but it’s still not universal, unfortunately.
Split tunneling basically lets you choose WHICH applications you would like to put through the VPN, as opposed to simply putting your ENTIRE device connection through the tunnel.
It’s very handy and ExpressVPN goes even a step further in giving you control over split tunneling.
I already showed you the protocol options—but I’ll quickly note that ExpressVPN offers the usual amount of protocols—perhaps one or two more than average.
The “advanced” options are largely security related:
IPv6 and DNS leak protection are normal, but still essential options.
You can also activate a kill switch—except it’s called “Network Lock.”
The cool thing is you can allow access to devices on the local network, an option I haven’t seen on other VPNs’ kill switches.
And that mostly sums up ExpressVPN’s features.
I will admit to feeling a little let down:
ExpressVPN has such a big reputation for being a “quality” VPN, especially for those who are more privacy-oriented than entertainment-oriented.
Because of that, I expected some extra features—for example, something I LOVE are features that disguise your VPN traffic as regular internet usage.
There is some good news though:
THIS is for ExpressVPN’s Google Chrome extension—as opposed to the Windows desktop app I’ve been using.
As you can see, the Chrome extension includes HTTPS everywhere, an increasingly popular browser feature, that automatically connects to secure versions of sites.
So the lesson here?
Features do vary slightly between platforms and devices. Nothing major, but also more than ZERO differences.
Overall, I can’t lie—I was hoping for a little more out of ExpressVPN, but that’s mostly because of the hype it gets.
The REALITY is that it DOES have all the features you need—and it does have some good extras.
Plus, you have a little more control over the existing features than you would with other VPNs.
So the end result is that ExpressVPN DOES do pretty well in the features department—even though it’s not the best featured VPN out there, it’s still pretty good.
The prices are noticeably above average, but so far, they seem worth the price to me.
Of course, performance, ease of use, and features are NOT all that go into figuring out how “good” the prices are. Up next:
Customer support is an essential, even if your software is easy to use.
Hiccups happen, servers go down, and streaming services get wise to certain VPNs—so even if you’re experienced, it’s good to have good support.
One way of contacting support is by using the actual software itself:
But that’s not how you’d access immediate answers.
For that, you have to use the website’s live chat.
You can do this pretty easily by just logging into your account—though it’s also possible to live chat without an account.
Anyway, the live chat is good:
As you can see, I got an answer within a few minutes, including an answer to a follow-up question.
So the live chat is pretty good.
But the on-site information?
…Well, that’s pretty good too. Most VPNs don’t have super robust on-site resources, but ExpressVPN holds up well.
Aside from contacting customer support directly, you can access troubleshooting guides (which are basically FAQs) or installation/setup guides for different platforms:
The troubleshooting guides/FAQs are not that numerous, and the answers aren’t always detailed.
So that’s too bad.
But the set-up guides cover most platforms and cover multiple methods of installation—WITH good detail, too.
That mostly wraps up the support. It’s pretty straightforward: you can contact through email/ticket or live chat. Both are reliable and relatively responsive.
The on-site information is decent in that it’s better than most VPNs—especially for the setup guides—but still lacking in some areas.
Overall, pretty strong customer support for a VPN!
But don’t sign off on ExpressVPN just yet. We’ve got one last important area to cover:
Security and Privacy
Aside from performance, ExpressVPN’s strengths in privacy and security were the things I looked forward to the most before testing it.
But after taking a closer look, I have more mixed feelings.
Let’s start with a quick recap of the features:
You get good control over the VPN protocols, kill switches, split tunneling, and IPv6 and DNS leak protection.
All of these mean that you’re already set-up pretty well to beef up your own security.
But we also need to know how the VPN company itself manages its own end of things.
I’ll start with a fundamental element:
Logging is EVERYTHING for a VPN.
I know that sounds weird—almost every VPN says they don’t keep logs. Because that is, after all, the point of a VPN.
But not all VPNs stick to their word. And many of them have loopholes that involve more logging than you’d like.
As you’re taking VPN companies on faith—unless their logging practices have been independently audited—you want their logging policies to be explicitly minimal.
And ExpressVPN DEFINITELY has minimal logging.
Another basic issue, which overlaps a bit with their logging policy:
A VPN’s location may make it vulnerable to government surveillance, hacking, or forced compliance with surveillance (such as being forced to keep certain records without telling users).
So people who care a lot about privacy will usually most prefer VPNs in countries that are known to be less vulnerable to government targeting.
So what’s the deal with ExpressVPN’s location?
Check this out:
This is from ExpressVPN’s terms of service, and it gives us EXACTLY the answer we hope for.
The British Virgin Islands are a place where lots of companies will head over to, to evade taxes.
Which also makes it, incidentally, an ideal location for avoiding the eyes of American, British, or Chinese intelligence agencies, or the eyes of their allies.
Of course, I don’t want to get too cheerful on you. If an intelligence agency is dedicated to finding your identity, ExpressVPN’s location won’t protect you.
In fact, a VPN won’t protect you. If your privacy needs are that serious, then you’ll need to do a lot more than ONLY using a VPN (though VPNs could still be useful to you).
BUT, for most people who just want a VPN that can credibly protect their privacy, this certainly sets ExpressVPN above the crowd—MOST of its competitors are not located in such a “secure” place.
There’s also a flaw I encountered in the previous section:
The servers—at least some are managed and maintained by third parties.
Is this the end of the world? Nope. But it does affect the level of ambiguity that goes into the whole global network.
But when you put everything together, I think the lack of direct server management is a secondary issue.
The BIG issues—the logging policy and the VPN’s location—are resounding wins.
And that, plus the generally good security features, mean that ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs for those who care about privacy and security.
I think it’s time to put all these wins together:
These are ExpressVPN’s strengths:
- ExpressVPN is overall a good performer. It’s very good for torrents and streaming content, including Netflix. Although I experienced not-great speeds compared to my normal internet speed, many people credit ExpressVPN with fantastic speeds—so it’s worth trying on your own device.
- It’s pretty easy to use, though not AS easy as the most user-friendly VPNs. Particularly, ExpressVPN has a great strength in being user-friendly without sacrificing user control.
- Although it’s not super-loaded with features (which can be a good thing sometimes), ExpressVPN has a good set of features plus a couple useful extras.
- ExpressVPN has a huge server network and access to a LOT of locations.
- Customer support is overall pretty strong, especially for a VPN.
- ExpressVPN is headquartered in one of the best locations a VPN can be headquartered in, plus its no-log policy is pretty good.
Unfortunately, ExpressVPN isn’t perfect:
- Once again—although other people say ExpressVPN has great speeds, my repeated tests showed they weren’t that great.
- ExpressVPN is more expensive than most other VPNs, which means that if you don’t love its other qualities, it might not be worth it.
- ExpressVPN maybe could use another feature or two to make its prices better.
- ExpressVPN is specifically geared towards streaming or torrents the way other VPNs are. It can do those things just fine, but some VPNs specifically target those aims and have specialized servers, more resources for those activities, etc.
- Not all servers are managed directly by ExpressVPN—some third parties are involved.
Conclusion: Do I Recommend ExpressVPN?
It’s time we wrap this up.
Like I’ve told you, I had very high expectations for ExpressVPN when I began testing it.
And in the end?
I do feel a bit let down. But the end result is still that ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs around.
Of course, it’s definitely not for everyone:
ExpressVPN’s higher prices and lack of specific focus on streaming or file sharing will mean it’s not a great option for people who JUST want to do those things.
But it’s a great all-around VPN, and it’s especially great for people who prioritize protecting their privacy. For many people, it’s worth the investment.
But the good news is that you don’t NEED to invest to be sure of how you feel—you can try it risk free for 30 days!
Add your own review
Have you ever tried ExpressVPN before, or do you currently use it? If so, I’d love to hear what you think about it. What was your experience like? Where do you agree, or disagree with me?
I’m always interested in hearing what fellow VPN-enthusiasts have to say! Let me know below: