With data breaches and identity theft running rampant, everyone should have access to a VPN. A VPN protects your online privacy and data. While we’ve put together a very in-depth guide to what a VPN is and what they do, a more basic definition is:
A VPN routes all your device’s incoming and outgoing data through a secure server, which it encrypts while obfuscating the sender and receiver.
There are hundreds of various VPNs available on the market. Not all of them are equal. Some may not even do the primary task of protecting your privacy. When choosing a VPN, you want to make sure they meet the following requirements:
- Use of modern encryption and protocols
- No logging or leaking of your online activity
- Your identity is obfuscated or hidden
Let’s see how ExpressVPN stacks up!
ExpressVPN brands themselves as “The VPN that just works.” In my test, I found this to be a fair claim. But before diving into the app, it’s worth exploring the site further. The menu bar at the top leads to a series of rather good tutorials explaining what a VPN is and why you would want one. They’ve even got a few cute videos that give you a decent overview of how this all works.
All of this is designed to get you to use ExpressVPN. However, their website provides a surprising amount of content. There are descriptions of how to use the service to access blocked sites, protect your privacy by surfing anonymously, and why it’s beneficial to hide your IP address from the websites you visit.
ExpressVPN Plans and Pricing
Clicking the “Get Started” button takes you to a page where you can select a payment option. There are not tiered service levels, but they do offer discounts for paying for six months or a year in advance. There isn’t a free trial, but they promise a money-back guarantee within the first 30 days. I asked about this via the customer support chat and was immediately connected to support. The “agent” repeated the information on the purchase page. I was happy with the fast response, even if canned.
Pricing options are:
- $12.95 per month
- $9.99 per month for six months paid in advance
- $8.32 per month, if paid yearly
The last choice is allegedly the most popular. You can check out the plans on their website.
Payment options include all major credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and a host of other smaller payment providers.
You can cancel automatic payments from the dashboard on the website. You’ll have to click through a few windows, begging you not to leave, but it only takes a few moments. However, there is not an option to take advantage of the 30-day guarantee without talking to customer service.
How To Use ExpressVPN
To start, select a plan, enter an email address, and complete payment using the method of your choice. You will be presented with a page reminding you of the importance of choosing a secure password and displaying their recommended, eight-character password. Eight characters is not a strong password. I’d suggest using the option on the page to change it to something more appropriate.
The next page is where you download the actual application. Be sure to copy your activation code to the clipboard with the conveniently provided button. Download options are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as every major browser, mobile platform, and gaming device. They even provide an option to install the software directly onto several models of routers.
The app downloads and installs very quickly. The installer installs an installer, which is mildly annoying, but with a few extra clicks, you are prompted to enter your activation code. You are given the option of whether or not you want the software to launch automatically when your computer starts. This is an excellent example of a tech company choosing to acquire positive user consent.
The app itself has a straightforward interface. It declares that it is not connected, and recommends Miami, the closest major US city to my current location, as the default. Other recommended location options are several other major cities in the United States, and Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland. Switching to the “All Locations” tab provides options for nearly 100 countries.
After deciding to start with the default option, I clicked the inviting power button and was quickly connected. A visit to a free IP checking site confirmed that I was now surfing from a Miami IP address.
Speed tests showed comparable download speeds with and without the VPN active, although in one of the initial three tests, the download with the VPN was a little less than half of the expected speed. However, I was unable to replicate that result so that it may have just been an isolated incident.
While the interface is simple, the options are very robust and allow for a great deal of customization. You can modify startup and auto-connect options, choose whether or not to cut off network access automatically if the VPN disconnects, and even create a list of app-specific settings. You may also select from a number of popular protocols and install browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
ExpressVPN supports the industry recommended AES-256 encryption with OpenVPN, which is what we want to see from a top-notch VPN. Below is a list of ExpressVPN tech specifications.
- Encryption: AES-256
- Supported Protocols: OpenVPN (recommended), L2TP/IPsec, IPsec, IKEv2, PPTP
- Number of Devices: Up to 5 devices connected at one time
- Number of Servers: 160 Servers in 94 countries
- Client Support: Nearly every OS, Mobile Device, Gaming Console, and Smart TV
- Privacy: No name required when signing up, can pay with Bitcoin, Encrypted Private DNS, Personally Identifiable Data never stored on any server, Servers only run on RAM, Headquartered in the British Virgin Islands
ExpressVPN provides an easy-to-use app for nearly every device imaginable. The app is simple to use but provides robust customization options for advanced users. ExpressVPN’s TrustedServer architecture means that it’s physically impossible for any VPN server to store any data permanently. VPN servers are available in a wide variety of countries.
Priced slightly under $100 a year for the annual plan, ExpressVPN is one of the most expensive options on the market. While the app is excellent and works on almost every device, I can’t help but wonder if most consumers wouldn’t get better value out of a cheaper option.
I also can’t help but be a little concerned that a company in such a security and privacy-focused space would generate an 8-digit password for their users and allow those users to keep that password without resetting it.
ExpressVPN Review Rating
When it comes to encryption, protocols, and privacy ExpressVPN checks all the boxes for what we expect to see in a VPN. We love that ExpressVPN provides anonymous methods to sign-up and pay for their service and doesn’t keep logs of their users. The ease of access to support is a plus. The only negative we could find was the price is slightly above others in the industry, but this is a quality VPN.
Overall we score ExpressVPN a 4.5 out of 5.