My search for an alternative, iOS-friendly VPN has led me to NordVPN. I have had my eye on NordVPN for quite some time. It is recommended by https://www.privacytools.io/, which is a strong recommendation. Nord has over 2,100 servers in 59 countries. It also offers a ton of features including VPN-chaining, a kill-switch, and Tor-over-VPN. NordVPN is also very affordable, coming in at $69.00 for 1-year of coverage and $79.00 for a two-year subscription.
Affiliate Disclosure: I’ve always written that I wouldn’t try to make money from a product I don’t personally use or believe in. Since the VPN industry is so rife with affiliates I want to make clear that I am not in any way affiliated with NordVPN. I paid full price for my subscription and was given no incentive to write this review.
NordVPN on iOS
I find myself without a whole lot to say about the iOS version of NordVPN. That’s because it just works, and works well. The default interface is a very clean, stylized map. A green bar at the top indicated that the VPN is connected, along with some connection details. If the connection drops this bar turns blue and states, “You are not connected.” I would like for this bar to make it a bit more obvious that you are not connected (by, say, turning red), but with the kill switch I can live with this.
The kill switch is my absolute favorite feature of NordVPN, and the only setting the user can modify. If the kill switch is enabled, device connectivity is dropped until the connection is reestablished. This VPN did a phenomenal job of maintaining the connection, and the kill switch definitely works. With Private Internet Access I have been used to having to open the app several times a day to reset the connection. The “VPN Resolving” notification that PIA so frequently offers has become a familiar sight in my day-to-day phone usage. My favorite feature of using NordVPN is rarely having to open the app to reset the connection; at most I might’ve had to do this once a day.
One other complaint with is that the servers are listed only by country. There are dozens of servers in the U.S. but picking a specific city is an exercise in connecting to a server, going to something like IPLeak and determining the city. If it’s one you like, you can and save it as a Favorite. If not, you are left with trying again. I do really like the ability to “Favorite” servers, but would prefer they be named by city.
NordVPN on macOS
NordVPN’s interface for macOS is very simple and clean, but I do not like the desktop version. Desktop compatibility wasn’t my primary concern, but if I’m going to pay for a VPN, ideally it will work on everything. As with the phone, there is no indication which city each server is located in.
My chief complaint with NordVPN on macOS is the kill switch. While I love the kill switch on iOS, I don’t like it on the desktop. The kill switch works in a novel way; you add applications to a “kill list.” to be killed when the VPN disconnects, instead of killing internet to the application. I don’t like this because there are still a ton of system processes that can’t be added to the list, leaving a lot of data uncovered. That the apps themselves are killed wasn’t abundantly clear to me right away. As soon as I had registered my account I began playing around with Nord. The first thing I did was add every single application on my machine to the kill list. A few moments later I decided to change my exit server. As soon as the connection dropped so did every single app on my desktop.
I realized that VeraCrypt, KeePassXC, Firefox, and a couple other apps had been running at the time. What it took me a bit longer to figure out is why they were all so abruptly shut down. You guessed it – the kill switch. This mean that I had to re-login to the sites I’d been logged into. Before I could do that I had to mount my VeraCrypt volume and open my password manager database. Did I mention I hadn’t yet saved my database after adding the new NordVPN account credentials, and those were completely lost? I let that one slide and promised myself I’d be careful.
I also took the time to go in and remove VeraCrypt and KeePassXC from the kill list, as these shouldn’t be passing traffic anyway. What I was unwilling to remove from the list was Firefox. If the VPN drops in the middle of a YouTube video I definitely don’t want unprotected traffic leaving my connection. Later in the evening when I walked away from my computer for a few minutes, it fell asleep and the connection dropped. Unlocking the computer I realized that everything had been killed again, and I’d lost a bunch of work. I immediately opened PIA, connected it, and deleted NordVPN from my MacBook.
My Take on NordVPN
The performance on iOS was fantastic. NordVPN kept my connection constant and if the connection dropped, nothing was coming in or going out. Though this is anecdotal, I felt like I had to open the app to reset the VPN much less frequently than with PIA (this was agreed upon immediately by a friend who shared my monthly subscription). Unfortunately the issues with the macOS app would keep me from adopting this as my only VPN. If you only own iOS devices, or if you are willing to pay for a separate VPN for your iOS device, this might be the one. Which is exactly what I am going to do – NordVPN is now the VPN on my iPhone.