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Why ExpressVPN Ought to be in Your Toolbox

In Virtual Private Network by andreLeave a Comment

We haven’t reviewed VPNs for a while simply because it is pretty boring. Why write the same thing about yet another service that doesn’t differentiate itself from any of the offerings already on the market? Sure, I can hype up some non-features with the best of them, but do you, dear reader, really care? Enter ExpressVPN…

VPNs have gone mainstream and today most people know what a VPN is. You no longer need to understand the underlying technologies to use one. What had been an installation nightmare just a few years ago is smooth and simple now, at least in most cases…

If you just want to get the gist of the review and get on with your life, here it is:

ExpressVPN is located, at least for legal reasons, in the British Virgin Islands, neutral territory so to speak. Pricing is standard, USD 12.95/month coming down to USD 8.32/month if you prepay for 12 month. All plans offer the same features, 145 server locations in 94 countries, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited server switching, 256-bit AES encryption, apps for every device, and the VPN protocol of your choice. You can use up to 3 devices per subscription, route only some traffic through the VPN (split tunneling), they’ll support you via live chat 24/7 and you get a 30 day money back guarantee.

On to the more detailed version then…. Here are my top 5 questions to ask before signing up with any VPN provider:

  1. Where are they located? ExpressVPN is legally located in the British Virgin Islands.
  2. What are the logging policies? ExpressVPN does not log where you connect from nor what you are doing when you are connected.
  3. What protocols do they support? OpenVPN (TCP, UDP), L2TP-IPsec, SSTP, PPTP
  4. What payment methods do they offer? Credit Card, PayPal, Bitcoin, and several local payment methods
  5. Is there anything out of the ordinary in the T&C and/or Privacy Policy? No, they are actually written well and are easy to read.

So far ExpressVPN is looking mighty good! Let’s look at the nitty-gritty of Express VPN:

Terms of Service

ExpressVPN’s Terms of Service are easy to understand and follow the usual path, you agree to abide by them and they can change them at any time without notifying you – standard! ExpressVPN offers a 30 days, no questions asked refund policy, just be sure not to make changes to your subscription during that time as it voids that guarantee.
The Acceptable Use section basically says don’t do anything illegal, the license sections states that you aren’t authorized to do anything else with the software other than what it is intended for. Furthermore ExpressVPN will not guarantee anything and don’t try to sue them should something go wrong.

So lets move on to the Privacy Policy, which is usually more interesting!

Fortunately ExpressVPN starts out with the important part, listing the things they DO NOT collect:
– activity logs
– connection logs (hence no storing of IP addresses)
– DNS queries
– timestamps or session durations

Please be aware that they will store personal information you submit to them, for example an email address or information required to process your credit card should you choose that form of payment. ExpressVPN will also loosely monitor the aggregate sum of data transferred to identify users that push more traffic than 1000 average users combined, in which case they will ask for an explanation; however, for most of us that should be the exception of the rule, so I am not concerned about it.

ExpressVPN has a convenient service for consoles that don’t support VPNs, called Media Streamer, which due to its nature will store the IP address of your device to authorize you – just something to be aware of…

Their use of cookies is pretty standard and finally ExpressVPN reserves the right to change these terms without notice.

Platforms

ExpressVPN - Platforms

ExpressVPN – Platforms

Express VPN supports Windows, Mac and Linux desktops, iOS and Android, Firefox, Chrome and Safari extensions, and even offer detailed installation instructions for routers – this is, by the way, where setting up your VPN might be anything other than smooth and simple… But I’ll get to that!

VPN Protocols

ExpressVPN supports all the protocols you could ever want, allowing you to decide how safe you want your Internet connection to be or to connect non-standard devices as long as those are able to support one of the following protocols (listed in the order of most to least secure):

OpenVPN (UDP and TCP)
SSTP (Windows)
L2TP-IPsec
PPTP

Zero-Knowledge DNS and 256-AES Encryption

ExpressVPN uses 256-AES encryption to secure your connection, which is the current standard. What’s great here is that your DNS requests are handled by ExpressVPN as well keeping your DNS queries protected from prying eyes, as some VPN services use 3rd-party DNS servers potentially compromising your privacy.

Kill Switch

ExpressVPN has a build-in kill switch for their Windows and Mac apps, stopping all Internet traffic should your VPN unexpectedly disconnect for some reason. This is a great feature especially if your computer remains active online while you aren’t watching, severing the Internet connection completely should the VPN suddenly quit.

ExpressVPN Split-Tunneling

I like this feature, it allows the user to decide what traffic goes through the VPN and what traffic doesn’t. ExpressVPN provides 2 ways to accomplish this, either sending all traffic through the VPN allowing you to deselect those applications you don’t want to use the VPN or the other way around by allowing you to select only those applications and devices you want to send their traffic through the VPN.

Split-Tunneling allows you for example to connect to a local network printer without having to disconnect the VPN on your machine first or to use one browser to use a different country than another browser, for those of us who enjoy movies from all over the world rather than just the selection chosen for us…

Setup

Laptop and Mobile Setup

ExpressVPN - Setup

ExpressVPN – Setup

Setting up ExpressVPN on my Macbook and iPhone was easy, as I would expect from a serious contender in today’s VPN space. The biggest hurdle was entering username and password correctly, because I like long and complicated passwords!

Router Setup

ExpressVPN - Router Setup

ExpressVPN – Router Setup

Usually this is my least favorite part to test and write, but it wasn’t bad at all. I followed the instructions I received in their welcome email and was able to get my ASUS router’s OpenVPN configuration set up in just a few minutes. Connecting was a breeze and everything worked on the first try – which I have to admit, was a first!

ExpressVPN Speed

Lets talk about Speed… after all what good is a secure connection that is so slow you can’t wait to turn it off? In contrast to what some VPN providers claim, using a VPN decreases your Internet speed, even if it is for no other reason than that you are adding encryption and an additional server between your device and whatever web server you are communicating with. My testing showed an average download speed of around 15 Mbps and uploads around 8 Mbps, pings were around 50 ms. I used speedtest.net for testing and without VPN my connection speeds are about 100+Mbps upload and 12 Mbps download with pings around 11 ms. While this is a huge difference it is in line with the other VPN services installed on the same router, with ExpressVPN being one of the faster VPNs.

So what is it going to cost?

I know, I know why should you pay for a VPN when there are free ones out there? Let’s be blunt, there is no such thing as free. If you aren’t paying for it you are the product!

Gmail is a great service and yes, it is free I hear you say. You are correct, but you are paying by sharing your personal data. Chances are by now Google knows more about you than your Mom…

ExpressVPN - Purchase

ExpressVPN – Purchase

Running a VPN service costs money, so somehow someone needs to pay for it. ExpressVPN gives you three choices:

  • Month-to-Month for USD 12.95/month
  • 6 Months for USD 9.99/month
  • 12 Months for USD 8.32/month

All plans come with the exact same features, so pick your price! They accept many forms of payment, including PayPal and Bitcoin next to Credit Cards, but also many local payment methods such as WebMoney, GiroPay, or iDeal.

Summary

ExpressVPN offers an impressive list of features for a very reasonable price. Located in the British Virgin Islands – neutral territory – they are determined to keep your private data private. ExpressVPN was easy to set up and immediately worked as advertised. They support a wide array of platforms and protocols making it easy to connect just about any device. During testing we achieved speeds up to 15 Mbps, enough to smoothly stream HD content or download large files, so nothing to sneeze at, and a brief support chat was friendly, efficient and answered our question.

ExpressVPN - Connect screen on iPad

ExpressVPN – Connect

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Thank you for reading and we would love to hear about your thoughts about ExpressVPN in the comments!

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