There’s an ongoing quest to improve VPN speeds without sacrificing security features. Just by doing what they need to do, they can slow your connection down in different amounts, depending on which one you use. This means the best VPNs are intuitive, secure, and they do their thing without slowing you down too much.
That’s exactly what I saw when I was testing ExpressVPN.
“Wait… has it been on this whole time?”
Registering for ExpressVPN was pretty straightforward, and installing it was even easier. After I got the welcome email, I installed and set up the app in the background while working on some other things on my laptop. It was so easy that I didn’t even really have to think about it, so I finished up what I was doing online and went to turn the VPN on to take a closer look.
That was when I remembered that I’d started it up already.
We tested ExpressVPN and found that it delivered in all of these areas, making it one of the best VPNs on the market. It isn’t exactly replete with options for customizing your actual experience; for that, you’d have to turn to NordVPN. But it does everything that most people would want by default, and if you need help, the support team is quick to respond.
Easy as TV dinners
I’ve never understood the expression “easy as pie.” Pies can get pretty complicated, and if you’re making your own crust? Forget about it. This VPN is as easy to use as firing up the microwave to warm up a frozen meal. Some may want to play with the protocols or set it up to connect automatically, but you can also pretty much just start it up and let it go to work.
Both the “power” button and the button to choose your server are front and center. And to make things even easier, some devices — macOS, Windows, and Android — allowing you to create shortcuts right from the home screen.
What ExpressVPN looks like when you’re connected.
Credit: screenshot: expressvpn
As far as using other options like split tunneling and “network lock” goes, they’re very well-organized, so you won’t have any trouble finding what you’re looking for. And if you don’t know what those are, the menus include descriptions of what they do, so you can experiment without any confusion.
I appreciated that both the interface and the features are more or less the same across the four types of devices I tried: a MacBook, a PC, an iPhone, and an Android phone. There isn’t much to look at, but what’s there is modern enough and well thought-out.
ExpressVPN offers three pricing options:
6-Month: $59.95 ($9.99/month billed every 6 months)
12-Month: $99.95 ($8.32/month, billed every 12 months)
You can use several payment methods in order to sign up, including PayPal and even bitcoin, which may not appeal to everyone, but is nonetheless pretty cool.
VPNs work by routing your internet connection away from your ISP’s servers and through private servers owned by the VPN provider. They also encrypt the data you send and receive, adding an extra layer of security on top of the protection offered by the HTTPS protocol used by most modern websites.
Doing all of this allows you to manipulate things like the location that sites receive via your IP address, but that ability comes at a cost: speed.
Speedtest while connected to ExpressVPN.
Credit: Screenshot: expressvpn
Speedtest with normal connection.
Credit: Screenshot: branford shaw
Technically speaking, I did get Speedtest results that showed a drop in speeds compared to my normal connection. But those numbers don’t really tell the whole story. Websites appeared to load just as quickly either way, and I could still watch HD video without pausing or buffering.
I also noticed that the recommended settings seem to do a pretty good job of offering the best experience. I played around with the location and protocol, but I never got faster Speedtest results than when I left them both at their default settings. Again, those numbers aren’t everything, but they’re a useful marker to look at for reference.
Unblocks most things
One of the main reasons a lot of people use VPNs is to access content that isn’t available in their region. I actually used to think that Netflix US had the full catalog, but in doing these tests, I discovered that some of my favorite shows are on Netflix UK while they aren’t available here. The danger of this knowledge aside, a VPN is a powerful tool for opening up the web.
To add to the complexity, some streaming platforms (hello again, Netflix) have implemented software to detect when you’re connected through a VPN. This means providers who want to advertise that they allow users to pass through geoblocks have this to navigate as well.
ExpressVPN isn’t perfect, but it does a pretty good job in this area. There was one instance where I went to watch Netflix while connected, but it detected that I was using a VPN and the library was limited. After trying a few different servers and doing some digging, I found that other people were seeing the same thing. I read that someone had contacted support, and was told that they knew about it and were working on a fix.
Sure enough, I tried again the next day and everything worked like normal. The same thing happened with BBC iPlayer, and since there wasn’t much chatter about it, I contacted customer support myself. I got a response immediately, and before we even finished the conversation, I tried it again and found that it was back online.
The point of all this is that it may not work to unblock sites 100% of the time, but the team is extremely responsive and helpful, and they seem to care about providing a quality experience.
A strong contender
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPNs out there, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s easy to use, it works well, and there’s ample support available whenever you need it. To the casual user, it’ll feel like a full-featured VPN without being overly laden with complexity.
My only gripe is that it’s probably on the higher end of the cost spectrum, but I think it works well enough to justify the cost. You save a lot with the annual plan, and it did everything I needed it to do. Plus, if you try it out and find it isn’t the right one for you, you can always get your money back as long as you request it within the first 30 days.