ExpressVPN Review 2023: Still the Best Overall VPN

ExpressVPN Review 2023: Still the Best Overall VPN

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ExpressVPN retains CNET’s Editors’ Choice best overall VPN thanks to its increased transparency efforts and solid commitment to privacy.

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attila-tomaschek.png

Attila is a Staff Writer for CNET, covering software, apps and services with a focus on virtual private networks. He is an advocate for digital privacy and has been quoted in online publications like Computer Weekly, The Guardian, BBC News, HuffPost, Wired and TechRepublic. When not tapping away on his laptop, Attila enjoys spending time with his family, reading and collecting guitars.

Expertise Attila has nearly a decade’s worth of experience with VPNs and has been covering them for CNET since 2021. As CNET’s VPN expert, Attila rigorously tests VPNs and offers readers advice on how they can use the technology to protect their privacy online and

ExpressVPN

Like


  • Unmatched transparency

  • Top-notch security with no leaks detected

  • One of the fastest VPNs

  • Excellent for streaming

Don’t like


  • Expensive

  • Only five simultaneous connections

  • Owned by Kape Technologies

2023

If you need a top-of-the-line VPN that’s committed to transparency and user privacy, or even if you’re a casual user who simply wants a VPN that’s fast and excellent for streaming, ExpressVPN should be at the top of your list. You’ll pay more than you would for other virtual private networks, but ExpressVPN continues to exceed the competition for users who want the most out of their VPN.

ExpressVPN is our Editors’ Choice best overall VPN for a reason. Even following the intense outside scrutiny, the company was subject to following the 2021 acquisition by Kape Technologies and a DOJ investigation of the company’s CIO (related to his work with an earlier employer), ExpressVPN continues to prove that it takes privacy seriously and that it’s worthy of its best VPN designation. Its total of 12 independent security audits in 2022 alone sets ExpressVPN apart from its competitors and is a testament to its ever-increasing transparency efforts. And its TrustedServer technology helps cement its place as a VPN provider that has what it takes to protect users with critical privacy needs like journalists, dissidents, activists, doctors and lawyers.

I evaluated ExpressVPN through the lens of speed, cost and privacy. My evaluation of ExpressVPN’s speeds included 500 hands-on speed tests across protocols and VPN server locations, from multiple testing locations. I evaluated ExpressVPN’s privacy policy, along with its audit reports and tested for leaks and the performance of its kill switch feature. My evaluation of ExpressVPN’s cost/value included examining its overall feature set and testing its apps across platforms while assessing the provider’s capabilities for streaming. I also tested Aircove — ExpressVPN’s new Wi-Fi 6 VPN router — to see how it worked with the various devices I connected to it at home.  

The result? The service is one of the fastest VPNs I’ve tested, is incredibly easy to use (even for beginners) and privacy features work flawlessly. Even though it’s on the expensive side, ExpressVPN has proven once again that it’s the best of the best.   

ExpressVPN logo on phone

Speed: Still speedy, but no longer the fastest VPN

  • Average speed loss: 18% in 2023 tests
  • Number of servers: 3,000-plus
  • Number of server locations: 160 in 94 countries 

VPN speeds are a fickle thing. In 2022, Rae Hodge registered an incredible 2% speed loss with ExpressVPN during her testing, matching the VPN’s 2019 speed performance and easily catapulting it to the very top of CNET’s fastest VPN list at the time. However, ExpressVPN evidently couldn’t sustain those speeds for too long, as our latest tests in February and March 2023 registered an 18% speed loss. Even if it’s a step down from last year, that 18% drop is considerably better than the 51% speed loss we measured in 2020. And after our latest round of speed tests, ExpressVPN still ranks second on our list of fastest VPNs, behind NordVPN. 

I tested ExpressVPN’s speeds over the course of several weeks in the first quarter of 2023 from Ohio as well as from Central Europe. From both testing locations, I connected to servers in New York, the UK, Australia, Germany, France and Singapore using both the OpenVPN UDP protocol and ExpressVPN’s proprietary Lightway protocol — a lightweight VPN protocol built for speed and security. While the best speed performance I measured with ExpressVPN was via OpenVPN from Europe (9% speed loss), the average speed loss overall was smaller with Lightway than with OpenVPN. Across 500 total tests, I lost an overall average of 15% of my base speeds through Lightway and 21% through OpenVPN. 

The fastest average speeds I achieved with ExpressVPN were 327.69 Mbps through the Lightway protocol from my testing location in Ohio. ExpressVPN’s European servers in France and Germany generally tested the fastest across protocols and testing locations, with the top speed reached overall being 350.20 Mbps to Germany via Lightway from Ohio. Average speeds to the UK topped out at 343.05 Mbps, followed by New York at 341.49 Mbps. As expected, speeds were a bit slower to Australia and Singapore, averaging 323.13 Mbps and 287.43 Mbps, respectively. 

Overall, I was happy with the speeds I was able to achieve through ExpressVPN’s servers from both testing locations and through both protocols. I found ExpressVPN’s overall speed performance to be impressive and consistent across all VPN server locations and through each VPN protocol. That was nice to see because many other VPNs tend to struggle with consistency. When I tested the speed performance of Surfshark, Proton VPN and IPVanish this year, I was surprised to see significant fluctuations in speeds from each provider — often from one test to the next. The only VPN I tested that performed more consistently well in my speed tests than ExpressVPN was NordVPN, which propelled Nord to the top of CNET’s fastest VPN list.

Either way, ExpressVPN’s speeds are fantastic and plenty fast for any online activity you can think of. Whether you’re streaming, video conferencing, torrenting or just surfing the web, it’s unlikely that you’ll notice a dip in your speeds regardless of where you’re connecting through with ExpressVPN. And with ExpressVPN upgrading its server fleet to 10Gbps servers, you can expect faster speeds and greater reliability going forward from its global network of servers in 94 countries.

Read more: Fastest VPN of 2023

Cost: Premium pricing for a premium product

  • Price: 5 simultaneous connections for $13 per month, $60 for six months, or $100 for a year (plus three months free)
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 days
  • Payment options: Credit/debit card, PayPal, bitcoin
  • Compatible with: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Fire TV, routers

Higher pricing doesn’t always translate to higher quality, but in ExpressVPN’s case, it does. ExpressVPN is the best VPN available right now, and you’ll need to pay a premium if you want to purchase a subscription. 

ExpressVPN offers three different subscription plans: An annual plan for $100 per year (which includes three free months for the first term), a bi-annual plan for $60 every six months or a monthly plan for $13 per month. ExpressVPN’s yearly price is equal to that of NordVPN’s (following the expiration of Nord’s first year introductory $60 price), but considerably more expensive than Surfshark’s $60 annual price.

You can purchase an ExpressVPN subscription with a major credit/debit card, PayPal, bitcoin or various other payment methods including Giropay, UnionPay, iDeal and Sofort. Each subscription plan includes a 30-day money back guarantee in case you’re not happy with the service. 

Read moreBest Free VPN: Try These Services for Up to 30 Days, Risk-Free

Once you purchase ExpressVPN, you can use the service on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS, FireTV, Chrome and on compatible routers including ExpressVPN’s own Aircove Wi-Fi 6 router. Using ExpressVPN on a router allows you to run the VPN on all of your connected devices, including those without native VPN support like gaming consoles and most smart TVs

That said, I’d like to see ExpressVPN increase its simultaneous connections allowance. Express offers only five simultaneous connections, while many other premium VPNs are much more generous with their allowances. For example, top VPNs like Surfshark and IPVanish offer unlimited simultaneous connections, and ProtonVPN allows for up to 10 connections at once — each at a cheaper price than ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN is a bit behind the times in terms of its connections allowance, especially considering the ever-increasing number of connected devices inhabiting the modern household and the higher cost of Express’s service. ExpressVPN could add a considerable amount of value to its offering if it gave its simultaneous connection count a bump.

If you’re into streaming content online, ExpressVPN is well worth its premium pricing because it’s the best VPN for streaming that I have encountered so far. In my testing, I was able to access content on Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max without issue. I was even able to bypass blackout restrictions on MLB.tv and watch locally televised baseball games. 

Read moreBest VPN Service for Amazon Fire TV Stick in 2023

And like any quality VPN service, ExpressVPN offers 24/7 live chat customer support if you run into issues or have questions. Alternatively, you can browse and search through ExpressVPN’s extensive knowledge base for setup guides, troubleshooting guides, FAQs and other information. 

ExpressVPN is also poised to roll out its own password manager solution, called Keys, to all users at no additional cost. Keys is currently in beta and available only to select ExpressVPN users, but during my testing of the tool, I found it to be a solid password manager with a ton of potential. 

Read more: Best Cheap VPN 2023

Privacy and security: Advanced privacy and unmatched transparency efforts

  • Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands 
  • Encryption: AES 256-bit
  • Diskless TrustedServer technology
  • No leaks detected 
  • Multiple annual security audits

In her previous review of ExpressVPN, Rae Hodge broke down in extensive detail how the VPN provider weathered its bumpy ride through 2021 and remained true to its commitments to transparency and user privacy. Hodge’s analysis still holds true a year later. In fact, ExpressVPN has taken further steps in the past year to strengthen its position as a VPN solution that users with critical privacy needs can rely on. 

Since CNET’s previous review was published in August, ExpressVPN has undergone seven independent security audits, bringing its total to 12 audits in 2022. Publishing 12 audits in a year is a level of transparency that’s unmatched in an industry notorious for its opacity — even as other VPN companies like NordVPN have recently begun publicly releasing their full audit reports. In 2022, ExpressVPN published security audits of its apps across all platforms, along with its browser extension, no-logs policy, Lightway protocol, Aircove router and TrustedServer technology. 

ExpressVPN’s TrustedServer technology offers protections that go beyond what a traditional RAM-only server infrastructure does. When a VPN’s servers run on RAM only, it means that theoretically no data is stored on a hard disk and that all information on the server is wiped when the server is turned off. This makes it difficult for an outside party to collect any user information. With TrustedServer, ExpressVPN says that not only is all data wiped from each server whenever it’s rebooted, but the latest version of the entire software stack is reinstalled on each server as it starts up. 

“TrustedServer means that we know exactly what’s running on each ExpressVPN server, minimizing the risk of vulnerabilities or misconfiguration,” ExpressVPN says in a video posted on its website. “With the operating system effectively reinstalled with every single reboot, TrustedServer dramatically reduces security risks.”

The multiple third-party audits on TrustedServer along with the still-on-the-table $100,000 bug bounty make a compelling case for the security of the technology. 

Still, it’s important to remember the limitations of these claims and audits. Initiatives like third-party audits are an effective way to build trust with users, and ExpressVPN has done an exceptional job of leading the pack in terms of transparency. But a VPN’s no-logs claims can only really be verified for the duration of the audit itself. Aside from third-party audits, ExpressVPN had its no-logs claims tested in the real world when Turkish authorities investigating the 2016 assassination of a Russian ambassador in Turkey seized ExpressVPN’s servers in an attempt to collect evidence. ExpressVPN’s servers turned up nothing, confirming the company’s no-logs claims at the time. In all other cases, you just have to take a VPN provider’s word that they’re not collecting logs, but audits and real-world cases like this help bolster the veracity of ExpressVPN’s claims — the more times they come up clean in tests and audits, the more persuasive the claim.

“We do not collect logs of your activity, including no logging of browsing history, traffic destination, data content, or DNS queries,” ExpressVPN’s Privacy Policy states. “We also never store connection logs, meaning no logs of your IP address, your outgoing VPN IP address, connection timestamp, or session duration.” So far, the audits back it up.

ExpressVPN encrypts user traffic via industry standard AES 256-bit encryption — the same level of encryption used by other top VPN providers like NordVPN and Surfshark. With the open source Lightway protocol, ExpressVPN defaults to AES-256-GCM in most cases, but uses ChaCha20/Poly1305 as a fallback in some cases on lower-end routers and mobile devices. I found ExpressVPN’s kill switch and DNS leak protection to be reliable during my testing of the service. I detected no leaks whatsoever, and the Network Lock kill switch worked as expected.

Additional privacy and security features include split-tunneling (not available on MacOS 11 and above, iOS or Linux) and Threat Manager (not available on Windows or Android), which blocks third-party trackers and potentially malicious sites. 

The VPN’s British Virgin Islands jurisdiction is a major plus for privacy-focused users. The BVI doesn’t impose any mandatory data retention laws and isn’t part of any intelligence-sharing alliance that may obligate the company to share customer data. Similarly, despite its 2021 acquisition by Kape Technologies, ExpressVPN isn’t obligated to cede control of user data to its parent company.

“Your Personal Data is controlled by and stored under ExpressVPN, and not by its ultimate holding company, Kape Technologies PLC (UK) or other related entities. Express Technologies Ltd. operates under BVI jurisdiction, in accordance with BVI laws,” reads ExpressVPN’s Privacy Policy. “Consequently, any demand via legal means for Personal Data (or other types of data) is subject to BVI jurisdiction and laws. We fight vigorously to defend our rights (and those of our users) if an attempt is made to bypass the privacy protections provided for by the BVI. A parent, subsidiary, or related entity cannot be compelled to, nor would it voluntarily, provide Personal Data stored by Express Technologies Ltd.”

Aircove Hands-On: Intuitive and easy to use VPN router

  • Easiest VPN router to set up and use
  • Group connections in up to five different locations at once
  • Kill switch always on
  • Automatic updates

If you’re an ExpressVPN user (or are looking to sign up for a subscription) and are in the market for a VPN router that eliminates all the hassle of setting up and using a traditional VPN router, then Express’s Aircove router is an excellent option. My hands-on with the Aircove didn’t factor into CNET’s overall evaluation of ExpressVPN, but the product was impressive enough to warrant a mention here.

Even though most VPNs are compatible with routers, using a VPN router often involves a complicated setup that can potentially result in a “bricked” (i.e. ruined) router if done incorrectly. VPN router interfaces also tend to be clunky and cumbersome to navigate once the setup is complete. The Aircove router, ExpressVPN’s own hardware device, has turned all that on its head.

Aircove is a Wi-Fi 6 router that comes with ExpressVPN fully integrated into it out of the box. After I unboxed the test unit ExpressVPN sent me, I was set up and running within a few minutes. Once I was set up, what impressed me the most was that I could use the Aircove online dashboard to connect all of my devices to one of five different locations or groups. I could either use ExpressVPN’s preset groups such as Streaming, Gaming, Privacy or Guests, or I could create my own custom groups. And I could drag and drop the devices to each group at any time. This meant that I could have my laptop connected to the US for general privacy and my Amazon Fire TV Stick connected to Japan for streaming, simultaneously using the same router. And speeds were excellent even with multiple devices connected to Aircove at the same time.

You can even set a group to run outside of the VPN tunnel or to be cut off from the internet entirely. These are great options if you don’t want a particular device to run through the VPN, or if you’re a parent who wants to limit your child’s screen time. ExpressVPN tells me that the company is in the process of developing additional parental controls for the Aircove as well.  

Though the ExpressVPN apps limit the number of simultaneous connections to five, Aircove allows you to connect an unlimited number of devices at once and can cover an area up to 1,600 square feet. The Network Lock kill switch is built-in and always on, so you don’t need to worry about having your privacy compromised if the VPN connection drops out. From the Aircove dashboard, you can choose between VPN protocols, share Wi-Fi access with others, adjust internet and LAN settings, change the router name and password, and add port forwarding rules. And Aircove is set by default to automatically install available updates daily at 4 a.m., so you can be sure it’s always running the latest version with the most up-to-date features and security patches — though you can always opt to update the router manually if you prefer.

You can use Aircove as a stand-alone Wi-Fi 6 router, but you will need to purchase an ExpressVPN subscription separately to use the VPN on the router. You can purchase Aircove from Flashrouters for $200 (which includes a 30-day trial of ExpressVPN for new users) or from Amazon for $190. It’s currently only available in the US, but is expected to roll out in Europe later on this year. There are cheaper VPN routers available, but for ExpressVPN users who want a router setup, Aircove is a powerful, intuitive and user-friendly piece of hardware that can’t be beat. 

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