ExpressVPN reviewon February 17, 2023 at 12:49 Tech Advisor
Fast, reliable connectionsStrong privacy & securityGreat unblocking
More expensive than rivalsNo double-hop optionOnly five simultaneous connections
ExpressVPN delivers a great service that’s fast and offers support for many different types of devices. It’s expensive, though, and lacks a few features which rivals offer at a lower cost.
Price When Reviewed
From £5.60 per month
Best Prices Today: ExpressVPN
With so many VPN services to choose between, it helps if you have a well-known brand so you can stand out from the crowd. ExpressVPN certainly has that, and it has subjected itself to a variety of third-party audits which show that its apps and servers are secure, and that it sticks by its no-logs policy.
ExpressVPN – as with all consumer VPN services – grants an extra layer of privacy online, extra security on public Wi-Fi networks (such as in cafes and hotels) and the ability to unblock region-locked content, such as videos and websites.
When you use a VPN, you’re routing all your activity through its servers, so it’s crucial that you can trust it with all your internet traffic.
This is also why factors such as the history of ExpressVPN’s current owner – Kape Technologies – and the hot water its CIO found himself in back in 2021 don’t matter very much. This is a VPN service we feel more than comfortable using.
ExpressVPN positions itself as a premium VPN service, which is why it costs more than a lot of its rivals. You won’t see any crazy deals offering 80% off: there’s only ever one deal: sign up for 12 months and you’ll pay almost half what you’d pay if you subscribed on a one-month rolling basis. And, at the end of the first year, you get three extra months tacked on for free.
The big question, of course, is whether or not ExpressVPN worth it when you can get a two-, three- or even five-year subscription to a rival VPN service for the same money? Keep reading to find out.
3000+ servers in 94 countries5 simultaneous connectionsAllows torrentingUnblocks 200+ streaming services
Although some VPNs have more servers than ExpressVPN, few cover as many countries. What’s important, though, is whether it has servers near you, and in the countries where you want to get around regional blocks.
It offers 24 locations in the US, four in the UK (three in London and one in the Midlands). There’s a choice of seven locations in Australia, but only five countries covering the whole of Africa and the Middle East.
It’s worth mentioning that ExpressVPN allows P2P and torrenting, which some VPN services specifically forbid.
Although ExpressVPN rents its servers – as opposed to owning them and having exclusive access to them – it uses what it calls TrustedServer technology. This is where the software runs entirely in RAM and doesn’t save any data to the hard drive. Although servers still have hard drives, these are read-only and contain only the operating system image needed to boot up the servers.
Put simply, it means anyone seizing a server (such as local authorities) wouldn’t be able to retrieve any user data from it.
It’s a commendable setup, but where it used to have this advantage over rivals, some have now caught up and effectively use the same setup. It still isn’t quite as secure as a wholly owned and operated network where there isn’t an underlying operating system that – potentially – datacentre employees could access. But not many VPN providers run their own servers.
Unblocking streaming services is one of ExpressVPN’s biggest strengths. It claims to reliably unblock over 200 streaming service and also gives you a backup option – the MediaStreamer proxy service – if you find that the VPN isn’t unblocking DAZN, say, at the exact moment you want to watch a live sports event.
ExpressVPN also has its own encryption protocol, Lightway. This offers very fast connection times and good speeds. This is important if you have a fast internet connection and don’t want a VPN to slow it down.
If you have any problems, live chat is available round the clock, too.
Another feature is Threat Manager. This blocks traffic from websites known to be malicious, protecting your devices from malware, scammers and trackers. It works only when the VPN is connected, but isn’t present in the Windows or Android apps. ExpressVPN says it is rolling out on those “soon”.
WindowsAndroidiPhone, MacRouterLinux (command line)
One of ExpressVPN’s other strengths is the range of apps it offers: Windows, macOS, iPhone, Android, iPad, Linux and Amazon Fire TV. But it doesn’t stop there. There are browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Edge.
And unlike all other VPN services, whose extensions are merely proxies masquerading as VPNs, ExpressVPN’s extensions are more akin to a remote control for the main VPN app, so when you use them, you’re getting the full protection of a VPN rather than simply changing your IP address.
Although ExpressVPN doesn’t offer a GUI for Linux, a workaround is to install a browser extension and use that to connect to a server.
The apps are generally easy to use. They have a simple home screen with a big button to connect. You don’t even need to pick a location: it’ll do that for you.
You only need to choose a location if you have a specific need, such as unblocking videos in another country. In the Windows app, the country list isn’t particularly obvious, and across all apps defaults to a list of recommended locations. You’d be forgiven for missing this fact and wondering why there were so few locations available in the US.
However, these are minor gripes, and we like that popular countries are listed at the top, rather than the typical alphabetical order that puts the US and UK near the bottom.
Recent servers stay on the home screen, but you can also favourite them to quickly reconnect at a later date.
One feature you won’t find is ‘double hop’, which routes your connection via two servers for even better privacy. It’s also a shame that the few virtual servers (such as India and Indonesia) aren’t marked up as being virtual in the apps.
All apps have the same look and feel and work in the same way. The desktop apps can get a bit messy because the list of locations and settings open as separate windows. It isn’t a dealbreaker, of course.
A nice feature is that you can quickly connect to recent servers from the taskbar menu on both macOS and Windows.
Jim Martin / Foundry
Android and iPhone owners will appreciate the useful widget that makes it easy to connect to a server without even launching the app. Another thoughtful touch is that, in the app itself, there are shortcuts to launch apps after you’ve connected to a server, and you can pick your favourite apps for the list.
If you want a VPN primarily to unblock video and you have an Apple TV or another device for which there’s no VPN app, then ExpressVPN is a good choice. That’s because you can configure compatible routers to use ExpressVPN. That means every device connecting to the internet via the router uses the VPN connection, and this also gets around the five-device limit that ExpressVPN imposes for simultaneous VPN connections: a router counts as only one device.
Ordinarily, running a VPN connection on a router would be uninteresting to most people, but as router apps go, ExpressVPN’s is the best we’ve seen.
It’s surprisingly easy to use. You can change server fairly easily, and it doesn’t force all of your computers and Wi-Fi gadgets to use the VPN: you can choose which devices do or don’t. In fact, you can even create device groups, so all your smart TVs could connect to a US server, while your IoT devices could connect via your nearest server. You can also specify devices that don’t use the VPN at all.
You can’t install ExpressVPN on any old router – you’ll need a compatible Asus, Linksys or Netgear – or you’ll have to buy a router with ExpressVPN already installed from a company such as FlashRouters.com.
ExpressVPN has even released its own Wi-Fi 6 router with the same software. You can buy the AirCove from Amazon (in the US) for $189.99 or from FlashRouters which will ship to other countries.
The TrustedServer tech that ExpressVPN uses is only part of the overall privacy story. The company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, a self-governing territory that isn’t subject to British laws. This offers extra peace of mind because, even though ExpressVPN (just like virtually every other VPN) operates a no-logs policy, even if some user data did somehow get saved, the local laws mean they can’t be asked to hand over data to authorities.
Most VPN services have a similar business setup, especially if they’re based in a country with unfavourable privacy laws such as the US, UK and others which share intelligence with each other.
ExpressVPN also runs its own DNS servers, which are also part of its MediaStreamer feature. This removes the risk that all the websites and services you use could be leaked and recorded by third-party DNS servers (or even your ISP’s DNS servers).
Another good security feature is the kill switch (called Network lock) which is available in the Windows, macOS, Linux and Android apps. This stops any data being sent or received if the VPN connection unexpectedly drops, keeping you protected.
You can also set Network lock to allow local devices (on your home network) to continue working while stopping all remote traffic. When the VPN connection is reestablished, the internet connection to any other app that requires it will be restored.
Split tunnelling is available in the Windows, Android and macOS apps (as well as the router version). What this does is let you choose which apps use the VPN connection and which don’t. The advantage is that you can still access local websites or devices – such as wireless printers – without any problems while simultaneously accessing overseas sites via the VPN.
Just note that split tunnelling still isn’t available on macOS Big Sur or later.
Another option if you don’t want all apps using the VPN connection is to install and use one of the web browser extensions to limit the VPN’s scope to only websites you’re visiting in that browser.
Performance & ease of use
Rather than do what others have done, ExpressVPN decided not to use WireGuard but to instead develop its own protocol called Lightway.
It’s pretty fast, too, and fairly consistent. We tested using a gigabit connection (for both upload and download speeds) in San Francisco. The results below are good, although not the fastest we’ve seen. Surfshark and NordVPN’s download speeds were quicker, but ExpressVPN did well on upload speeds overall.
Adam Patrick Murray / Foundry
As in previous years, ExpressVPN did not leak our real IP address or DNS in any of our tests, the latter thanks to using its own DNS servers. It doesn’t support IPv6, so simply blocks any IPv6 requests.
Unblocks HBO Max, Disney+, Netflix, BBC iPlayer
ExpressVPN has an excellent track record for unblocking, and it was no different when we tested the service in February 2023. We were able to watch exclusives on Netflix’s US library from the UK, as well as HBO Max and Disney+. We also tried the Australian streaming service 9Now and found ExpressVPN allowed us to stream in HD with no issues for hours on end.
It also unblocks Netflix Japan, Australia and France, and BBC iPlayer in the UK.
If you do have any issues, ExpressVPN also offers its MediaStreamer DNS servers. You’ll find instructions for how to use it on the company’s website for various devices, from laptops and PCs to smart TVs. Essentially, you’ll lose the encryption from the VPN but will be able to unblock the content you want.
Not all VPN providers have 24/7 live chat but ExpressVPN does, and agents respond quickly and are knowledgeable. There’s now a link to the support centre from the mobile apps, but when we tested this on an iPhone, it simply showed us a blank white page.
Price & plans
At £11.07 / US$12.95 for one month’s use, ExpressVPN is roughly the same price as rivals. However, almost no-one pays for a VPN month by month. Typically, providers offer huge discounts for subscribing for a year or two.
ExpressVPN doesn’t really do these offers: its longest subscription is 12 months, although with a special deal for the first year will give you 15 months for the price of 12. This costs
After this, the annual subscription renews at $99.95 / £85.47 per year after the initial deal. That’s $8.33 / £7.12 per month (inc VAT). That’s almost three times the cost of most VPNs.
One mitigating factor is that ExpressVPN now includes a password manager in the subscription. That usually costs extra with other VPN services, but Keys is currently in beta.
It’s important to know that most VPNs charge you a higher price when you subscription renews, something ExpressVPN doesn’t do. However, there’s nothing stopping you from cancelling your subscription with a rival and renewing on a new two-year deal. ExpressVPN is simply expensive all the time.
We’ve mentioned it already, but ExpressVPN is a bit stingy with the number of devices you can connect at the same time. Where Surfshark allows you to use its subscription on an unlimited number of devices, ExpressVPN restricts you to five (unless you use the router app).
There’s a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not happy with the service for any reason. You can pay by credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and a wide range of other options including GiroPay. So if you want to pay anonymously, you can do so.
Overall, we’re impressed with ExpressVPN. It’s quick and great at unblocking streaming services – going beyond the usual US Netflix, Disney+ and other US-based services.
The apps work well, there’s a wide choice of countries and servers, solid support and plenty of step-by-step guides for installation on devices where apps aren’t available and decent security features to ensure your activity remains private.
Given the price, though, there are a few features missing that you get with other, cheaper services. NordVPN and Surfshark, for example, both offer double hop, but ExpressVPN does not. It also doesn’t support Tor-over-VPN. Lastly, it doesn’t offer dedicated or static IP addresses. Not many people need one of those, but the option isn’t there if you do.
Price remains the biggest drawback. Unless you want to run a VPN on a router – which ExpressVPN does better than anyone else – then it’s hard to justify that price when rivals such as Surfshark and NordVPN offer similar security, unblock popular streaming services and offer even better speeds.
Personal Software, Security, VPN