ExpressVPN Review: What’s new for 2017
ExpressVPN is a British Virgin Islands-based VPN provider that has always led the way when it comes to offering a customer-focused service. Ease of use, a highly responsive 24/7 customer service team, and an industry-leading, no quibbles, 30-day money-back guarantee ensure ExpressVPN’s place at the top of the VPN industry.
In 2017 ExpressVPN’s experience at keeping customers happy is now matched by superb technical excellence. Not only is the encryption used nearly flawless, but VPN connections are also fast.
Being based in the British Virgin Islands, and keeping very minimal aggregated logs, might be issues for some privacy fanatics out there. However, in reality these pose little threat to most users, who will benefit from using what I consider to be the most professionally run VPN service on the market.
- Super fast - great for streaming!
- Super secure - 256-bit encryption
- Unlimited downloading
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- 5* 24/7 customer support
- Special Deal: Save 49% Today
Pricing and Plans
ExpressVPN offers just the one plan, so all customers enjoy all the benefits offered by this service. If paid for monthly, the $12.95 per month price is a little hefty, but this drops to a much more affordable $8.32 if purchased annually.
ExpressVPN does not offer a free trial*, as such, but it does offer a very generous 30-day money-back guarantee. And unlike with some companies out there, there are no catches to watch out for. Cancel any time within 30 days and you will get your money back. No explanation is required.
*A free trial is available for mobile users – seven days for the iOS app and one day for the Android app – as per standard Apple Store and Google Play Store policies.
It is also worth mentioning that ExpressVPN offers quite a groovy referral program. Convince a friend to sign up, and you both get 30 days free.
ExpressVPN accepts payment via credit/debit card, PayPal and bitcoin. It has also partnered with Paymentwall to accept a number of more obscure international payment options.
ExpressVPN Video Review
This video is a little old, and ExpressVPN has since improved various aspects of its service. I should also clarify that, as with any VPN service, ExpressVPN offers privacy, not anonymity.
ExpressVPN supports most VPN protocols, including OpenVPN (TCP and UDP), SSTP, L2TP/IPsec, and PPTP. Please see here for a full discussion on this subject, but the main takeaway should be: use OpenVPN whenever possible. Other features include:
- Servers in 145 cities in 94 countries. This include plenty of more unusual and exotic locations
- Up to three simultaneous connections
- 24/7 customer support
- Smart DNS
- Stealth servers
- A dark web website
I discuss some of these features in more detail below.
Smart DNS is technology used for geo-spoofing your location. This very useful for accessing streaming services such as US Netflix and BBC iPlayer, which are geo-blocked. It works by resolving your DNS requests at a specified location, and has the following advantages over using a VPN:
- It is must faster, as no encryption/decryption is required. This means fewer buffering issues.
- It can be used with any internet-capable device, including many that cannot run VPN software. For example, smart TVs, games consoles, and Roku devices.
- It is less likely to be blocked by services that try to ban VPN users (although this cannot be guaranteed).
On the flip side, Smart DNS does nothing to improve your privacy or security.
All ExpressVPN customers gain full access to both its VPN and Smart DNS services.
ExpressVPN Smart DNS unblocked both US Netflix and BBC iPlayer for me.
Designed specially to defeat censorship in mainland China, these Hong-Kong based servers should be useful wherever VPNs are blocked. ExpressVPN is understandably cagey about how these servers actually work. However, from the reports we receive, they work well.
Just remember that nothing can be 100% guaranteed when a powerful government is actively working to counter technologies such as this.
A .onion Tor Web Address
Sometimes the most difficult thing about defeating censorship with a VPN is actually getting onto a VPN provider’s website so you can sign up for the service and download its software. ExpressVPN has a solution for this!
Just type http://expressobutiolem.onion into the URL bar of the Tor Browser to visit a Tor Hidden Services dark web mirror of the ExpressVPN website. Using a .onion address makes it more or less impossible to censor the website.
ExpressVPN keeps no usage logs:
“We never keep traffic logs, and we also don’t keep any logs that might enable someone to match an IP and timestamp back to a user. We work entirely on the basis of shared IPs, meaning that a single IP does not track back to an individual user.”
However, it does keep some (pretty minimal) connection logs:
“For the purpose of improving network resource allocation, we record aggregate data-transfer amounts and choice of server location, neither of which are data points that can identify a specific user as part of an investigation. We may collect the following information: dates (not times) when connected to our service, choice of server location, and the total amount of data transferred per day.”
“Our software may send diagnostic data to a third party analytics provider for the purpose of identifying connection errors and possible bugs in our application. The information collected is generic in nature and does not contain personally identifying information.”
This last part is important. ExpressVPN only keeps logs in aggregate form. This means that the minimal amount of information collected for troubleshooting purposes is not associated with the IP addresses of individual customers.
Privacy purists may still not be entirely happy about even this level of logging, but it is unlikely to be of concern to most users.
Another potential issue is that ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), which is a British overseas territory. The BVI regulates its own internal affairs, and has no mandatory data retention laws.
However, since it lies under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the UK government, it seems reasonable to assume that the UK could put pressure on the BVI government and businesses. So (and this is something of a guess, as the legal situation is very murky), being based in the BVI is probably safer than being based in a Fourteen Eyes country, but is not ideal.
ExpressVPN uses the following OpenVPN encryption:
AES-256 cipher with RSA-4096 handshake and SHA-512 HMAC hash authentication. Perfect forward secrecy is provided courtesy of Elliptic Curve Diffie–Hellman (ECDH) key exchanges for data channel encryption.
To put it another way, OpenVPN encryption is quite literally as strong as OpenVPN encryption can get. In theory, this could negatively impact performance results, which is why many other providers settle for lower levels of encryption.
This is not unreasonable, as the settings used by ExpressVPN are arguably overkill! As we shall see later, however, ExpressVPN still manages to show great performance results, which is a spectacular technical feat, given the high levels of encryption it uses!
The ExpressVPN website is a slick looking and very professional affair. There is a great deal of information available on it, although I do feel this could be a little better organized.
A good example of this is the existence of an excellent page detailing the encryption that ExpressVPN uses, which I would not have found without the assistance of the live support staff.
A blog is also available, which is regularly updated and contains useful and interesting articles.
ExpressVPN in large part built its reputation on the level of support it provides to customers. Instant 24/7/365 support is available via live chat or a ticketed email system.
As is to be expected, front-line staff are not all technical whizz-kids. However, even with more difficult questions they always managed to point me to relevant resources, or answer my questions knowledgeably after a quick consultation with other staff members.
Registering with ExpressVPN is easy enough. Other than payment details, the only information you are asked for is a valid email address. There is nothing to prevent you from using a disposable email address, and because ExpressVPN accepts payment in bitcoins, if care is taken it is possible to register anonymously. Do please remember, though, that however you register and pay, ExpressVPN will know your real IP address.
Once signed up, you will receive a welcome email, which includes a number of useful links for setting up the service.
The ExpressVPN Windows Client
ExpressVPN specializes in making its service easy-to-use and as layman-friendly as possible.
One wrinkle is that you need to enter a unique activation code. This is available via your subscriptions page on the ExpressVPN website.
Once installed, all you need do is select a location and hit the big friendly Connect button!
If you wish to delve deeper, however, the ExpressVPN client contains some powerful features. This includes a firewall-based kill switch and DNS leak protection.
Various VPN protocols are available. I sort of wish that, given how insecure it is, PPTP wasn’t even offered, but at least ExpressVPN clearly warns you about the issue.
So the Windows client is very easy to use, but packed with powerful features that are actually useful.
Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Tests)
Note: Speed test results, IP leak tests, and checking for Netflix availability updated on 16 June 2017.
All tests were performed on my Virgin Media UK 70 Mbps/5 Mbps fiber connection, using the OpenVPN UDP protocol.
The graphs show the highest, lowest, and average speeds for each server and location. See our full speed test explanation for more detail.
As you can see, these are very decent results.
I detected no IPv4 DNS or WebRTC leaks.
Please note that Private Use RFC IPs are local IPs only. They cannot be used to identify an individual, and so do not constitute an IP leak. Unfortunately, my ISP (Virgin Media UK) does not support IPv6 connections, so I am unable to test for IPv6 leaks at this time. This is a situation that should change in the near future.
BBC iPlayer worked when I connected to suitable servers. I was blocked by US Netflix when connected to its New York server, but all other servers worked fine. This is part of the usual cat-and-mouse game played by VPNs with Netflix, and I would expect to see the New York server find a way around this issue soon.
Custom VPN apps are available for Windows, Mac OS/OS X, Android, and iOS. A custom Linux app is also available. This is terminal command-line only, but does include DNS leak protection.
The website features a ton of setup guides for a wide range of devices and platforms. In addition to this, pre-configured ExpressVPN routers are available via FlashRouters. These use custom firmware developed by ExpressVPN, and feature DNS leak protection and split tunneling for connected devices.
New additions to the ExpressVPN app lineup are browser add-ons for Chrome and Firefox (Windows ans MacOS only).
Unlike most such extensions, these are not browser-only proxy servers. They are instead a front-end to the full desktop software, which must also be installed.
This means that when the VPN is turned on with the browser extension, your entire computer is protected by the VPN. The primary advantage of using a browser extension over just using the full VPN client, therefore, is convenience.
Mac OS X/Mac OS client
Recent changes to the Windows client mean that it now matches the Mac client in looks.
Both clients offer the same functionality.
The Android App
Available for Android 4.2+, this app can be installed from the Google Play store or downloaded directly as an .apk file. This is great news for anti-Google privacy heads.
The app has the same aesthetic as its desktop siblings, and is similarly easy to use. When using it I detected no DNS or WebRTC leaks, but please bear in mind that I cannot currently test for IPv6 leaks.
I don’t use iOS, but the app looks to be more or less identical to the Android one, and unlike many custom iOS VPN apps, OpenVPN is fully supported.
ExpressVPN Review Conclusion
- Great customer service
- 30-day genuinely no quibble money-back guarantee
- Superb encryption (with perfect forward secrecy)
- Free Smart DNS service
- Great mobile apps
- Servers in 94 countries
- Three simultaneous connections
- DNS leak and WebRTC protection
- Excellent speed performance
- Generous referral program
- Works with US Netflix and iPlayer (at date tested)
- .onion address
- “Stealth” servers located in Hong Kong
- Fully featured and easy-to-use software
- A Linux client (basic but it works)
- Browser add-ons for Chrome and Firefox
I wasn’t so sure about:
ExpressVPN offers a fully featured and highly polished service that oozes professionalism. Its superb customer service, easy-to-use software, and generous 30-day money-back guarantee have always been big pulls.
I am glad to say that ExpressVPN’s technical security now matches the professionalism it shows in making the service as user-friendly as possible. Encryption is truly excellent, which makes ExpressVPN’s great speed performance all the more remarkable.
The minimal aggregated connection logs kept by ExpressVPN may concern privacy purists, but they really do present very little threat to your privacy.
Throw in an excellent, free Smart DNS service, anti-censorship stealth servers, and a very generous referral program, and I think it fair to say that ExpressVPN is a market-leading VPN service that is at the very top of its game.
Note: Speed test results, IP leak tests, and checking for Netflx availability updated on 16 June 2017.