Using a VPN can be very daunting for some, but ExpressVPN has streamlined the whole process to help you use, explore and maximise its features.
Among the VPNs we’ve tested, ExpressVPN has the fastest speed to servers in the US, Europe and Australia and the company maintains a strict no-logs policy. The client can be installed on a wide range of devices and it unblocks most geo-restricted content with ease. ExpressVPN is also packed with thoughtful and useful touches, though, and these prove the icing on the cake.
ExpressVPN has practically every base covered when it comes to setting up and using a VPN. Not sure how to use or set it up? Read one of its 100-plus online guides. Not sure what the best locations are based on where you’re browsing from? ExpressVPN lists the fastest servers based on your location. For most people, this is enough to use a VPN, but ExpressVPN has gone several levels deeper.
For example, if you want to switch locations while using the service you’ll see a pop-up message warning you to disconnect before reconnecting for your own safety, and there are even brief descriptions explaining more technical subjects such as protocols. And, if you’re not sure which tools to use to test your connection for speed, IP and DNS leaks, ExpressVPN helps you out with those, too. It’s these helpful features that cumulatively add up to a great overall experience.
Setup and basic use
ExpressVPN can be installed on over 15 devices - including PCs, Macs, browsers, phones and tablets - but you can only use it on three devices at the same time. However, there’s an easy way to secure all the devices connected to your home network using ExpressVPN. To do this, simply install the ExpressVPN app on your router. Doing this only counts as one connection and there’s a detailed guide on how to do this, including the compatible routers you can buy from Amazon. Once you’ve selected your router from the list, just watch the video on how to set up ExpressVPN on it.
Most VPN services automatically send anonymous crash reports from your PC, but we like that ExpressVPN asks your permission first. The PC client also automatically detects your location and recommends the nearest VPN location based on where you are. Click the three dots beside this location to see other Recommended locations based on where you’re using the VPN from. We’re testing from London, so not surprisingly, there were a list of European countries, but we were happy to see the United States on this list, too.
When you turn it on, the VPN indicates your connection progress as a progress bar until you’re connected, which is another small feature that makes a big difference. Other VPNs, for example, take time to establish a connection and you feel like nothing is happening. With ExpressVPN, you can actually tell which connections take longer to load and tune your location preferences accordingly. More importantly, the PC client, MacOS app, Android and iOS apps, and Chrome extension all have the same list of locations - again not something we can say about its VPN competition.
By default, you see a list of recommended locations based on where you’re using the VPN from. While these are mostly countries, you also see individual cities, sometimes with numbers. For example ‘France - Paris -1’ or ‘Switzerland - 2’. Bigger countries like the United Kingdom and United States have an arrow beside them listing more locations you can connect from. For example, we saw four east-coast US servers listed.
You can favourite any option by moving your cursor to it, then clicking the star icon beside it. These then appear in a new Favorites tab at the top. The third and final tab lists four options - Asia Pacific, Europe, Americas and Middle East and Africa - with dropdown menus revealing the entire list of options in those continents. The fastest way to find and connect to a particular location that you want, however, is to simply search for it.
Privacy and security
ExpressVPN is located in the British Virgin Islands, which has no data retention or sharing laws and isn’t part of the Five or Fourteen Eyes Alliance. The service explicitly does not collect any activity or connection logs. In fact, ExpressVPN is the only VPN service I know that’s cutting out hard-disks completely in favour of RAM-only logs. Because RAM requires power to store data, all information on its servers are wiped clean every time the RAM is refreshed. Apart from that, this ensures that all its servers always run the same code and alignment. And if you’re really keen to cover all your privacy bases you can pay via Bitcoin, too.
ExpressVPN is very clear about the data it does collect, however. For example, it knows the client and app versions you’re using, the server location you’re connecting to, and the date you’ve connected, but not the time. This information is used to help you with any troubleshooting problems and to manage the load on their worldwide network of servers without compromising any of your personal data.
The service gives you quite a lot of control over your privacy choices, too. If you dig into Options in the PC client, you’ll find some useful security boxes that are already pre-ticked. For example, the kill switch is automatically turned on so your browsing activity is not exposed in cases where the VPN disconnects unexpectedly.
ExpressVPN automatically selects the best protocol based on your device and network. The PC client has four protocols - OpenVPN (UDP), OpenVPN (TCP), L2TP and PPTP. I don’t recommend the latter two because they are clearly marked unsafe.
In terms of security, the VPN uses AES-256 encryption, which is the same level of security used by the US government and security experts to protect highly classified information. Another positive is that ExpressVPN doesn’t ever leak your DNS. While you can use the built-in tool to confirm this, we came to the same conclusion using tools on other security websites. In short, it’s one of the most secure VPN services we’ve used.
Performance and speed
One of the most impressive things about ExpressVPN is its network of servers. It has more than 3,000 servers in 160 server locations splattered across 94 countries around the globe. That’s among the largest I’ve seen.
That’s not all, though. ExpressVPN is also pretty quick, achieving the fastest connection speeds to Europe, the United States and Australia of all the VPNs I’ve tested. Our speed tests were all carried out from London in the afternoon on a 60MBPS home fibre broadband connection using Speedtest.net. While connecting to a US server in New York, I lost just 12% of my download speed.
I was particularly impressed at how fast speeds were connecting to Australia. Generally, the further the VPN location you’re trying to connect to is, the slower your connection tends to be. Because connections to India were relatively slow (I lost 90% of my download speed), I had little expectations from Australia. Surprisingly, only 35% was knocked off our download speed. With every other VPN I’ve used, I’ve lost around double that figure connecting Down Under. Keen gamers will be happy that ping times were also much lower than other VPN services I’ve tested.
ExpressVPN is not only nippy in far flung locations. I also witnessed impressive results when connecting to European servers, with losses of just between 10% to 20% of download speed. Connecting to a server in Belgium, for example, the download speed loss was a mere 7%, which is again, the best speed I’ve seen.
That said, ExpressVPN clearly seems to have prioritised some VPN locations over others. I saw download speed drops of 20% when connecting from London, UK to a server in the same city. While other VPNs provide slightly faster speeds, this was still fast enough to browse and stream HD video, though, so I wouldn’t necessarily count that as a negative. While we would never promote using a VPN to access restricted content, ExpressVPN does let you access a wide range of content if you’re travelling abroad and want to access content from your home country, including BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Prime.
The Android and iOS apps look and work exactly the same as the PC client, so there’s no learning curve when moving from device to device. The only change is that the PC client has little star icons that appear beside VPN locations so you can favourite them, while on Android and iOS you need to slide the locations you want to the right to add them as favourites.
As with the desktop client, the ExpressVPN mobile clients let you select which protocol you want to use. On Android, the options are UDP and TCP, while the iOS app adds two additional options - IPsec and IKEv2. As with the PC client, the mobile apps also helpfully let you know which protocol is best for speed and security, which ones have the fewest VPN locations, and which ones won’t function on all networks.
The Android app does have a few additional extras compared to iOS, though. For example, you can enable split tunneling so that only certain apps use the VPN, while others use the internet as normal. Another unique feature is the option to launch specific websites directly from the ExpressVPN app, thereby saving you valuable time. You’ll see the option to add websites when you first turn on the Android VPN.
ExpressVPN’s Chrome extension works in sync with the PC client. This means that if you’re connected to Germany on the PC client and launch your browser, the extension will automatically display a notification telling you that it’s connected to Germany. Switching the VPN off or changing locations on either PC client or Chrome extension will automatically be reflected on the other.
The Chrome extension interface is a bit basic given the uniformity across the PC client, and the Android and iOS apps – for example, you can’t favourite locations – but the company has admitted this will be resolved soon via an update. Connection speeds are not vastly different from what we experienced on the other platforms.
The Chrome extension does, however, have tools to let you check your IP address and for any DNS or WebRTC leaks. HTTPS Everywhere is enabled by default, which means you’re automatically directed to safer HTTPS versions of thousands of websites. Even better, this works regardless of whether or not you’re using the VPN, so long as you’ve installed the extension.
Apart from that, the extension doesn’t have any of the bells and whistles that other services provide, such as ad-blockers. ExpressVPN’s Chrome’s apps were independently audited by security firm Cure53, who backed up ExpressVPN’s claims that it doesn’t comprise the privacy and security of its users in any way.
In the world of VPNs, premium speeds and features mean only one thing: premium prices. Sign up for one month and ExpressVPN will cost you £9.92 and its six-month plan is £45.94, which works out at £7.66 per month. If you refer a friend, you and your friend both get extra 30 days free.
The cheapest way of paying is to stump up for the whole year in advance; this costs a grand total of £76.59, which amounts to £6.38 per month. Unlike other services we’ve reviewed, ExpressVPN doesn’t have plans that exceed a year. Both NordVPN and Surfshark, for example, have three-year plans that amount to £2.29 and £1.59 per month respectively.
And there’s no need to panic if you decide you don’t want the service after a couple of weeks or so. All plans have a 30-day money back guarantee and cancellation is done via ExpressVPN’s Live Chat service. If you want to try ExpressVPN without having to pay anything, you can do that via the Android and iOS app. Both can be used without paying for seven days, but note that if you use this method, you’re restricted to using the VPN on the device you sign up with; it doesn’t give you cross-platform access.
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In most cases, you may never need ExpressVPN’s customer support because there are more than 100 tutorials, including videos and step-by-step picture tutorials helping you install and find your way around the software. We also like that ExpressVPN’s entire website is well optimised for search engines, so simply typing a search query into Google will likely take you to the correct webpage.
If you need something outside the tutorials, help is always at hand, via ExpressVPN’s 24/7 customer online chat support. I quizzed them on a variety of topics, varying from easy through to quite technical and I found the customer service agents were always quick to send across the relevant links or provide clear instructions. The agents were all polite and friendly, always started by introducing themselves, and never took longer than a minute or so to answer our queries.
There are many reasons why ExpressVPN is one of the best I’ve ever used. Its PC client and apps are well designed and easy to use, speeds when connecting to the US, Europe and Australia are super fast, it’s extremely safe, easy to use and has 24/7 customer support.
As with any software or service, it has minor flaws but overlooking these is easy because the rest of the package is so good. To summarise, ExpressVPN is among the best VPN services around. It might be expensive, but you get what you pay for.