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Updated 5:38 PM EST, Tue March 9, 2021
As the time we spend online continues to increase — especially as remote work has become the norm — it’s even more important than ever for people to protect all the personal data they store across the internet. That’s where a VPN comes in.
A VPN, or virtual private network, disguises your computer, internet activity and data by routing it through a separate server, making it harder for anyone to intercept it.
There are a number of factors that make one VPN better than another, namely the number of servers and how well the VPN handles privacy concerns (which you can read more about below). So to find the best VPN out there, we rounded up the most popular options currently available and consulted Scott J. Shackelford, the cybersecurity program chair at Indiana University Bloomington, for further guidance on our picks. After running the finalists through their paces, we had one clear winner on our hands.
A VPN is all about security. And if there are privacy concerns with your VPN itself, well, you might as well not be using one at all. ExpressVPN’s stellar privacy record impressed us more than any other VPN we tested. The company has been running annual independent transparency audits on its service since 2018. Plus, it made its Chrome extension open-source, allowing anyone to inspect the code to ensure the developers aren’t hiding anything from the users. “They try to make privacy the name of the game for their service,” Shackelford says about ExpressVPN.
Aside from its expert handling of privacy concerns, ExpressVPN also impressed us with its performance. For one, you’re not limited to using the service solely on your computer. In addition to PC, Mac and Linux, ExpressVPN is also available for iPhone and Android, smart TVs, Chrome and Firefox browsers and your router itself. You can even set it up on your PlayStation 3 or 4, Xbox One or 360 and Nintendo Switch. It’s rare to see such a huge spectrum of usable devices, and you can use the same account across five different ones, so you should be able to install across all your most-used devices.
ExpressVPN is also a cinch to use. Once you log in, you simply turn it on (with a virtual switch) to connect to the best server available. Connecting takes less than 10 seconds, which was about average among the VPNs we tested. If you want to connect to a specific country rather than the nearest server, you can do so manually. This feature allows users to view content that is otherwise blocked in their country, or to view content that is only available in another country.
Where this VPN truly shone was in the number of services and countries of operation: 3,000 servers in 94 different countries. Although NordVPN has more servers, ExpressVPN covers more countries than any of the others we tested. That’s extremely important — if a ton of people are using a VPN and there aren’t enough servers to go around, users could experience slowdowns. Similarly, if there aren’t any servers in your country, you may have to connect to one that’s far away from you, also hampering speed and usability.
With the VPN switched on, we experienced no noticeable latency when watching videos and browsing the internet. Only when playing a multiplayer online game were there some occasional lags. But that’s by no means a deal breaker, as we experienced the same with a majority of the other VPNs. In rare cases, using a VPN can reduce lag if you connect to a server close to the game’s server, or circumvent a congested server. But a majority of the time, you’re simply giving your connection a longer distance to travel, contributing to lag. That being said, if you’re on public Wi-Fi, it’s worth the security.
In terms of speed, all the VPNs we tested were able to produce 60% to 70% of the download speeds and 40% to 60% of the upload speeds that we measured without a VPN enabled, ExpressVPN included.
Again, one of the most important subjects to pay attention to when using a VPN is privacy, so you need to put in some time investigating to be sure the service won’t take advantage of you. ExpressVPN makes it easy to do just that.
Like most VPNs, ExpressVPN upholds a no-logging policy. In other words, the company states that it does not collect information like traffic destinations and browsing history. It will also refrain from recording your IP address, session duration and other session information. To put these promises to the test, as well as screen for other vulnerabilities, ExpressVPN has been subjecting its service to annual third-party audits since 2018. These have been performed by a cybersecurity firm called Cure53.
After each audit, Cure53 creates a report of its findings, which you can view on its website once you sign up for the service. Anyone, whether they have an account or not, can check out ExpressVPN’s explanation of what is covered by the audit here.
Cure53 also performed an assessment on ExpressVPN’s Chrome extension in 2018, yielding what it described as positive results. It also noted that fixes were made by the ExpressVPN team in response to these results. That report is publicly available here. But that’s not all — ExpressVPN has also open-sourced the code for its browser extension. Thus, the entire code for its extension is open and available for the public to see over on this GitHub page. As Shackelford aptly put it, “That’s a good sign. Totally.”
Overall, ExpressVPN provides a secure VPN service with competitive speed and a solid privacy record. Plus, it’s easy to use and install on a large variety of devices so you can keep your information safe at home and on the go.
We tested the VPNs with the best features and the most buzz. Specifically, we looked at those that were best reviewed, provided the most servers and speed and had a documented good history with privacy.
With each VPN, we started at the beginning by downloading installers and setting up accounts. We then ran each VPN and tested it under various conditions, including running speed tests for more objective measurements. We also looked into the maximum number of devices it could be installed on.
VPNs aren’t just for work: Here is the best one we tested
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