Internet privacy is essential due to the fact that various parties have the ability to intercept your browsing habits, financial credential, and personally-identifying information. For example, your internet service provider is able to see domain information of the sites you visit. Trackers and hackers are everywhere and what better way to protect yourself than to use a trusted VPN service.
A VPN service acts as an intermediary between the client and the target server. The intermediate server receives all requests from the client and then forwards to the remote server unchanged. This is known as a transparent proxy. For that reason, the client’s IP address is concealed while the IP address =generated by the proxy server is exposed.
ExpressVPN is the top-rated VPN service right now but does it really do what it says or does it overstate its claims? For that reason, I have made a bare-knuckle review that will help you decide whether to go for it or not. I’ve used a couple of VPN services before which worked fine then after noticing all the positive criticism about ExpressVPN, I decided to sign up for it, test it out and lay bare the facts for you folks.
The review is composed of three sections. First, I will talk about ExpressVPN and what they have to offer. Next will be my honest experience while using the service. And lastly, I will include results of some test which I performed while using ExpressVPN.
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ExpressVPN does not disclose much in their about page but after I did a few digging I found out it is located in the British Virgin Islands. This is a good thing because the laws in this location strongly advocate for the right to online privacy and anonymity.
ExpressVPN has gained leverage over other VPN services in recent years but it was founded way back in 2009. It has received a positive global appraisal for its superfast speeds, multiple device support, customer support, user-friendly, etc.
Plan and Pricing
All the plan options offer the same features and functionality. The only difference is the length of each plan and how much you are going to save. ExpressVPN offers three plan options:
- 1 month: $12.95 per month
- 6 months: $9.99 per month
- 12 months: $8.32 per month
I went for the 1-month plan since I wanted to test it out first. If you are going to use ExpressVPN for a long time, the 12-month plan will save you some dough but before you do, make sure you read till the end.
Features, Functionalities, and Privileges
These are the features highlighted on the app as well as on their website. We will test out some of these in the third section. Here are some of the features, functionalities, and privileges you get out of using ExpressVPN:
- Multiple server options from multiple locations (3000+ servers, 160 locations, and 94 different countries).
- Hide your IP address and location.
- Browse the web anonymously.
- Encrypt your web traffic with 256 bit AES encryption.
- ExpressVPN says it does not keep any logs of your online presence. They also say all the servers are running In RAM rather than the hard drive. This means all information is wiped out when a session is done.
- A Network lock feature which halts all traffic when there is server downtime until the connection is reestablished or when you are switching between servers. Your traffic won’t leak at such events.
- DNS queries are run on an encrypted DNS server.
- Bypass ISP throttling. This whereby your internet service provider slows down your connection speeds.
- Split tunneling feature lets you designate which apps should or should not use the VPN. Whole device tunneling is set by default.
- Various protocols to choose from (PPTP, TCP-OpenVPN, UDP-OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP-IPsec). These are various VPN tunneling and encryption protocols.
- 30-day money-back guarantee. You can request back your cash within a time frame of 30 days in case you are not satisfied with their service.
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Purchasing a single subscription allows you to install ExpressVPN on multiple devices. You can use a maximum of five devices at one time simultaneously. ExpressVPN goes beyond just protecting your computer. These are the supported devices:
- Kindle Fire
- Smart TVs
- Apple TV
- Amazon Fire Stick
- Nintendo Switch
Here are the routers that can support ExpressVPN
- Asus RT-AC56(U/R/S)
- Asus RT-AC68U
- Asus RT-AC87U
- Linksys EA6200
- Linksys WRT1200AC
- Linksys WRT1900AC(S)
- Linksys WRT3200ACM
- ASUS RT-AC5300
- Netgear R6300
- Netgear Nighthawk R7000
Read: Best Mesh WiFi Systems
ExpressVPN can also be set up on NVidia shield, Chromecast, and Roku using their manual setup procedure. Not forgetting there is a browser extension for both Chrome and Firefox.
My experience while using ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN has a simple and easy to use interface. This will give those not technically inclined a friendly user experience. Although there are some advanced settings which you can tweak yourself. ExpressVPN has an option that automatically selects the appropriate settings in case you have no idea how they work. The setup procedure for both desktop and mobile client is quire simplified as well. Apart from the desktop and mobile client, I have to mention I faced a few issues setting up ExpressVPN on other devices. Good thing they have included comprehensive tutorials for devices that may seem a bit tricky to set up.
Connecting or disconnecting from the VPN is just a click of a button away. Switching between preferred servers is quite fast and finding whichever server you want is easy. I’ve come across some VPN services that require a lot of configuration in order for it to work or select the server you want. Some go to the extent of requiring you to input proxy addresses manually. Unless you are conversant with such technicalities, using such VPN providers will give you a hard time.
The network throughput, when connected to ExpressVPN, will vary from time to time. It will also vary from server to server. I think it also depends on the number of users connected to a particular server at one time. ExpressVPN desktop client comes with a feature that lets you test out all the servers and compare which one had the best download speed, latency and speed index. This comes in handy when you want to determine which server is best.
When I compared speed test results with and without using ExpressVPN, the figures vary as well. But generally, there is around a 15 – 20% reduction when I connect to ExpressVPN. I see this as a normal occurrence since I don’t expect to be the only one connected to a particular server. Traffic from your device has to be encrypted then decrypted again before being forwarded to the target remote server. All this requires processing and processing takes time. Furthermore, on a typical network, you are usually bound to experience delays whenever you add more devices.
For Further Reading: Mesh WiFi Buying Guide
As I tested out this service, I got to experience a number conveniences which you would not find in other VPN services. First of all, ExpressVPN comes with a browser extension which works in sync with the desktop client. It is available for both Chrome and Firefox. This enhances convenience in that it allows you to change server locations directly on the browser while surfing rather than going all the way to the desktop client. The browser extension normally does not work without the desktop client.
Multiple device support and being able to operate up to five devices simultaneously in another element of convenience. Once you have a single subscription, you can access all the apps for your various devices. Furthermore, ExpressVPN comes with a speed test feature which lets you evaluate which server has the best connection speeds. You don’t find that in all VPN providers. They also have tools you can use to test out the integrity of their service which you would otherwise use third-party tools while using other providers. That’s convenience right there.
Unblock restricted content
There are a lot of restricted sites and contents across the web. Particular content can be restricted according to your geographical location or it may be censored by your government for whatever reason. For my case, since I am not aware of any sites restricted in my country, I decided to try out a site that is designated for people in the US i.e. Fox shows. Accessing the site was easy and fast but when I picked one show to stream, I got the alert below.
I decided to connect to a server located in the US and I was able to stream seamlessly. ExpressVPN seems like an excellent choice for streaming services that showcase restricted content.
Some VPN providers do not tunnel torrent traffic since multiple heavy torrent downloads can cause speed lag which compromises experience to other users. ExpressVPN seemed to work fine while I was using my torrent client. Although the speed was a bit lower than usual.
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Tests and Results
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ExpressVPN have their own tools to test out their VPN service. But for this review, I decided to use other tools just to be sure the results I was getting was not by design. All the test were carried out on a Windows PC so I assumed the results will be the same for the other devices. The tests are easy to carry out and you can do it yourself for whatever VPN you are using. These are just basic tests a VPN should pass.
Test 1: IP address masking
Your IP address is what identifies you on the internet. It reveals your location and all your online habits are associated with it. The first step in securing your online presence is changing the IP address. Note this is just the first step folks. Masking your IP address with a different address does not totally guarantee online anonymity.
For this test, I used a web tool called xmyip.com which is a powerful tool for testing a couple of variables about your VPN. First off, I checked my existing IP address without connecting to ExpressVPN. Then I went ahead and launched ExpressVPN client. I chose a server somewhere in South Africa. Here is the screenshot:
As you can see from the screenshot, ExpressVPN did fine when it comes to masking my IP address as well as the location. My IP location corresponds to the server location that I chose. Another awesome way of knowing if your IP address and location have been masked, you will notice that the Google search engine will suggest you a different language which is not your usual local language.
Test 2: Proxy detection
The next thing that a good VPN service should be able to overcome is proxy detection. This means it should be able to hide the fact that you are surfing the internet while using a VPN service. There are a few websites that usually flag IP addresses suspected to be using a proxy as malicious and further access will be restricted.
For this test, I still used the same tool as the one for the previous test. As you can see from the screenshot, a proxy/anonymizer was detected. In order to clarify this, I used another tool called iptest.club which was not able to detect I was using a proxy. But if xmyip.com was able to detect a proxy, then other websites with strong proxy detection can.
Test 3: DNS leaks
One of the parties that your DNS information leaks to is your internet service provider. A VPN service does a good job of protecting you from DNS leaks by shifting the task of resolving DNS requests from your ISP to a different DNS server that is more secure. For this test, I used a web tool called dnsleaktest.com. If there are no DNS leaks, all the ISP servers discovered during the test should be associated with the VPN I am using.
Otherwise, if there is a DNS leak, one of the servers from your internet service provider will be listed. From that result, ExpressVPN does not suffer DNS leaks.
Test 4: WebRTC leak
Websites have the ability to reach into your system and request certain information such as the operating system you are using, screen resolution, browser plugins that are installed, the CPU information, etc. WebRTC is one of the things that leak your IP address.
WebRTC is functionality implemented in most browsers which returns the local and public IP address of the user. While using a VPN service, the public IP address should be the IP address of the VPN server you are connected to. If this is not the case then WebRTC is leaking your IP address.
A good VPN service should be able to secure your IP address from WebRTC leaks. Many WebRTC testing tools will flag your connection as leaking WebRTC even when you are using a good VPN service. You should note that, as long as your IP address is masked, you are not leaking WebRTC. There is no cause for concern if your local IP address is exposed. The public IP address is the most important.
Test 5: Packet encryption
For the fifth test, I decided to check if packets were encrypted while they are being sent across the network. A dedicated hacker can easily intercept packets containing confidential information, especially on a public WiFi network. I used a free software called Glasswire which is an excellent tool for monitoring a network. Conversely, you can use Wireshark which is more comprehensive but a bit technical to use.
As you can see from the screenshot below, more traffic was tunneled by the OpenVPN daemon which ExpressVPN implements in their service. This means the traffic was being encrypted. At no point should the other apps exceed the traffic that has been tunneled by OpenVPN daemon.
Conventionally, when you access a site that has SSL certificate installed, the packets should be encrypted, even without being connected to a VPN service.
Test 6: Torrent IP leak
It is highly advocated to use a VPN service while downloading files via torrents. When you are downloading or seeding a torrent file, all the peers associated with the same file are able to see each other’s IP addresses. Individuals with malicious intents can join these networks and monitor your activity. A good VPN service should be able to protect the user against address leaks when on a pear-to-pear network while using a torrent client.
For this test, I used a web tool provided by TorGuard. How this works is they provide a magnet link which I added to my torrent client. Then the web tool displayed whatever IP address was detected. If your torrent activity is encrypted, IP address of the VPN server you are connected to will be displayed. With the result I got, ExpressVPN works fine. Here is a screenshot which shows the IP address of the VPN server I was connected to:
Apart from the third test that I carried out (Proxy/Anonymizer detection), ExpressVPN worked fine for the other tests. ExpressVPN supports multiple platforms although it may seem a bit technical for some users when it comes to setting up ‘uncommon’ devices. About the speed, it is normal for your connection to slow down a bit when you are using a VPN service. One downside that I would like to mention is that the prices for their plans are higher compared to rival VPN services, but that’s what you pay for a premium service. It even supports Netflix US unblocking. So would I recommend ExpressVPN? Yes, I would.