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ExpressVPN review

The best just keeps on getting better...

(Image: © ExpressVPN)

Our Verdict

ExpressVPN has a huge network, plus it's fast, secure, unblocks Netflix, supports torrents, has no serious logging, offers clients for everything, and is easy to use. In short, this is a quality VPN which delivers in just about every area.

For

  • 160 locations across 94 countries
  • Good performance from most servers
  • Clients for almost everything
  • Excellent support

Against

  • Above-average prices
  • Browser extensions require ExpressVPN app
  • Android app is OpenVPN-only

Quite simply the best VPN on the market, ExpressVPN knows exactly how to stand out from the crowd: it piles on the professional features, delivering way more than just about anybody else.

Top-notch platform support includes apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux and other platforms, not to mention custom firmware for many routers, as well as detailed manual setup guides for Apple TV, Fire TV, PlayStation, Chromebooks, Kindle Fire and more.

ExpressVPN's browser extensions aren't the feeble offerings you'll often get from other providers (if they have them at all.) Extras include WebRTC leak blocking, location spoofing and HTTPS Everywhere support, and they're available for Chrome and Firefox.

There are valuable technical features everywhere you look. ExpressVPN protects your internet traffic by using its own DNS servers, for instance. High-end encryption technologies prevent even the most advanced attackers from snooping on your activities. And a clever split-tunneling system allows you to control exactly which apps use the VPN, and which will be routed through your regular internet connection. That's very useful if you find some apps don't work with a VPN, or running through the VPN noticeably slows them down.

The company offers a vast network of more than 3,000 servers spread across 160 cities in 94 countries. Europe and the US have the best coverage, but ExpressVPN also has many locations in Asia and several countries that rarely appear elsewhere. There are 27 Asia Pacific countries alone, for instance – even the massive TunnelBear network only covers 22.

A clear and simple privacy policy explains that ExpressVPN doesn't log any sensitive information. And unlike most of the competition, this isn't some generic marketing promise: the website goes into great detail on exactly what the service does and doesn't collect, and ExpressVPN has recently had its servers audited to confirm that the company is following its own privacy policy.

The real standout feature could be support, though, where ExpressVPN has agents available 24/7 on live chat. This isn't the very basic, outsourced, first-line support you'll often get with other services, either: they're experts who can walk you through just about any technical issue. If you run into trouble, then, you won't be waiting a day (or potentially longer) for a support response. In our experience, there's always someone available on ExpressVPN's live chat, and you could be getting quality help within a couple of minutes.

The service hasn't seen many technical changes in the past few months (maybe no great surprise, considering it has so many features already). The mobile apps have gained some handy troubleshooting tools and in-app help, and the browser extensions now have a dark mode, but there's not a lot else to report.

Other recent improvements are looking smarter than ever, though. After news of NordVPN being hacked broke last year, for example, that rival VPN announced it was upgrading its servers to run in RAM, reducing the chance of being compromised or hackers being able to recover sensitive files. A smart move, but ExpressVPN got there first, introducing its own TrustedServer technology earlier in 2019.

ExpressVPN reduces its monthly price when you sign up for a longer plan

ExpressVPN reduces its monthly price when you sign up for a longer plan (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Plans and pricing

As explained in our dedicated ExpressVPN price and deals guide, the provider has a very simple pricing structure with only three plans, and these start with a monthly-billed product for $12.95.

That's not cheap, but it's similar to many providers (CyberGhost, Hotspot Shield and VyprVPN all charge around $13 for their monthly plans), and not far from the $9-$10 charged by most big-name VPNs.

Sign up for ExpressVPN's 6-month plan and the price drops to $9.99 per month. That's a reasonable discount, and it also gives you more flexibility than you'll get with some competitors, who don't offer a 6-month plan at all.

The annual plan cuts your costs still further to a monthly equivalent of $8.32, a chunky 35% discount on the monthly subscription. While that beats Hotspot Shield's annual $9.99, and isn't far from NordVPN and HideMyAss! which are pitched at $6.99, it's more than twice some of the competition (Private Internet Access asks $3.33 on its annual plan, Ivacy is priced at $3.50, Windscribe is $4.08).

The difference becomes even more significant if you're happy to sign up for longer periods. While ExpressVPN stops with its annual plan, some providers offer serious discounts if you sign up for longer. Speedify's three-year plan costs only $3 a month, for instance, while we've seen Ivacy offer an occasional five-year deal (not available at the time of writing) at an effective $1.50 a month, or $90 in total – that's cheaper than one year with ExpressVPN.

There's more to a VPN than price, of course. Anyone can offer low headline rates; it's offering a decent service, too, that's the tricky part.

There are ways to save some cash, as well. Signing up with our exclusive deal adds three free months to the annual ExpressVPN subscription, giving you 15 months of service for an effective $6.67 per month.

If you decide to sign up you'll discover a wide range of payment methods, including cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and a host of other players (AliPay, Yandex Money, WebMoney and more).

If you're not quite convinced, installing the Android or iOS app gets you a 7-day trial. And even after handing over your cash, ExpressVPN's 30-day money-back guarantee allows you to safely check out the service for yourself.

Support

Getting in touch with customer support is fairly easy with ExpressVPN (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

If you decide you want to cancel, it's also very straightforward. There are no small print clauses to catch you out (some firms insist on providing no refund if you've logged on more than x times, or used more than y GB of bandwidth). You can use the service, in full, for 30 days, and if you're unhappy, or you simply change your mind, just tell ExpressVPN and you'll get your money back. That has to be a reassuring sign of just how confident ExpressVPN is in its service.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN runs its own DNS to prevent leaks (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Privacy

Every VPN claims to offer complete privacy, but drill down to the details and there's often very little substance to back this up. ExpressVPN is refreshingly different, because the company doesn't just tell you how great it is – it also has an impressively lengthy list of features to help justify every word.

Take encryption, for instance. Most services might mention that they support OpenVPN, or drop in a reference to AES-256, but ExpressVPN goes much, much further.

The company explains that it uses a 4096-bit SHA-512 RSA certificate, for example, with AES-256-CBC to encrypt its control channel and HMAC (Hash Message Authentication Code) protecting against regular data being altered in real-time.

To confirm this, we examined ExpressVPN's configuration files for OpenVPN, and the details were just as the company had described.

Support for Perfect Forward Secrecy adds another layer of protection by automatically assigning you a new secret key every time you connect, and then replacing it every 60 minutes while the session remains open. Even if an attacker has somehow managed to compromise your system, the very most they'll get is 60 minutes of data.

DNS support is another highlight. ExpressVPN doesn't just offer DNS leak protection, to prevent data about your online activities leaking out of the tunnel, but it also runs its own private, zero-knowledge, 256-bit encrypted DNS on each of its own servers.

That's a major advantage over some lesser providers, which in the worst case might redirect your DNS traffic to OpenDNS or some other third-party service. Apart from the risk of logging at the DNS server, using unencrypted DNS gives attackers the chance to intercept your requests, filter them, block or even alter them – all issues which largely disappear using the ExpressVPN scheme.

We didn't test the DNS server in-depth, but websites such as IPLeak, DNS Leak Test and Browser Leaks confirmed that ExpressVPN servers were using the IP address for their DNS queries, and none of them had any DNS or traffic leaks.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN clearly states that it keeps no logs on its users (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Logging

Check out the typical VPN website and you'll usually find 'NO LOGGING!' claims prominently displayed in a very large font, but often behind that there is a privacy policy which either gives you very little details on any specifics, or reveals that the company does log some of your information, after all.

ExpressVPN does things a little differently. The front page of the website doesn't have any 'zero log' boasting, for instance, and you have to head off to a 'What Is VPN' page to get a first look at the company's position: 'Privacy is a fundamental right. We don’t keep connection or activity logs, and we never share your details with anyone.'

If you need more, the company doesn't force you to go hunting for the relevant details amongst 2,000 words of jargon-packed small print. Just clicking a link within the 'no log' statement takes you to a clearly written 'Policy towards logs' page which explains what ExpressVPN collects, what it doesn't, why the service works this way, and what it means for users.

The page states that the service doesn't keep any logs of your IP address when you connect to ExpressVPN, or of the time you've logged in, the VPN IP address you're assigned, or any information on the websites or pages you're visiting (including via DNS requests), or any of your traffic.

There is still some logging. The company records each date of when you connect to the service, and your choice of server. But as it doesn't store the connection time, or the IP address you’re allocated, there's no way anyone can use this data to definitively link an internet action back to a specific ExpressVPN account.

The company also records the version number of any clients you've installed, along with the total amount of data you've transferred each day. This data also doesn't constitute any kind of privacy risk, and we've no doubt that other VPNs do similar things: they just don't admit it.

The country isn't a part of '14 Eyes', the intelligence sharing agreement also known as SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR), and not known to be a party to any of its intelligence sharing arrangements.

Despite its small size, the BVI (British Virgin Islands, where ExpressVPN is based) regulates its own affairs and the UK and US don't have jurisdiction to automatically compel ExpressVPN to release any data.

To make this happen, a complainant would have to raise the issue in the BVI High Court, show that the records related to a serious crime (one punishable by a year or more in prison if it happened in the BVI), and explain how those records would provide relevant evidence to that case. It's hard to see how the minimal ExpressVPN records could provide useful evidence of anything.

There's a lot to like here. It's clear that ExpressVPN understands the issues and is making considerable efforts to explain them, properly and in full, to its customers. That in itself is reassuring, and a huge improvement on the detail-free privacy policies of many VPNs.

Independent audits are a growing trend in the VPN industry and for good reason

Independent audits are a growing trend in the VPN industry and for good reason (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

You don't simply have to take what ExpressVPN says on trust, though. The company has had its TrustedServer technology and backend systems audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers to confirm that it's living up to its privacy promises. Legal restrictions mean we can't quote from the summary report, but it's freely available for customers to download and read.

ExpressVPN has a number of useful articles on a variety of topics on its site

ExpressVPN has a number of useful articles on a variety of topics on its site (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Performance

Speed is an important factor in the choice of a VPN, and we use several intensive tests in two countries (UK and US) to find out how a service performs.

The process began in the UK, where we logged into a sample 25 of ExpressVPN's OpenVPN-enabled servers, recorded the initial connection times and ran some ping tests to check for latency issues. These won't necessarily affect download speeds, but they're still a crucial part of the service experience (if half the servers are always down, or connection times and latencies vary hugely, that's going to be bad news.)

Our first test saw no connection failures at all, and every server connected within a speedy two to five seconds, a very good start (many VPNs take twice as long, some are even slower). These tests were taken over a short period of time and won't necessarily reflect the long-term experience of using ExpressVPN, but from what we saw, the service has no significant connection issues at all.

Elsewhere, latency was within our expected range, and geolocation checks showed all servers were in their advertised locations.

We checked performance by using the benchmarking sites SpeedTest and TestMy.net to measure download speeds from UK and US locations.

UK performance was excellent at 68-70Mbps on our 75Mbps test line, a minimal 5-6% reduction on our normal VPN-free speeds.

Our US connection was capable of up to 600Mbps, giving us a much better idea of just what ExpressVPN could do, and the results were impressive at a typical 200-250Mbps. Even the lowest figure across all tests, 157Mbps, would be more than fast enough for just about anything you might want to do.

Note that these might sound like irrelevant figures if your internet connection is a fraction of that speed, but we think they matter for everyone. The higher the speeds a server gives us, the more bandwidth it has available, and the more likely it'll deliver decent performance, even at peak times.

Long distance tests are more difficult to interpret, as there are a whole host of non-VPN-related factors which might affect performance. But we ran our sample set of 25 ExpressVPN servers past some benchmarking sites, anyway, just to see what would happen.

The results were generally very positive, with most of Europe, the US and even some more distant locations – Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Karachi – managing close to 60Mbps from our UK base. There were a few more disappointing exceptions – Brazil peaked at 15Mbps and a handful were even slower – but that can happen in any testing conducted over a short period of time, and overall ExpressVPN performed very well.

Netflix

In our tests ExpressVPN was able to unblock Netflix (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Netflix

One major benefit of a VPN is that it can give you access to geoblocked websites. If your favorite streaming site only allows US visitors to view some content, for instance, log in to a US VPN server and you might bypass the block.

Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. Providers such as Netflix know exactly what users are doing to try and get around their rules, and they're constantly updating their systems to detect and block individual VPNs. Specific websites might also be blocked by anyone from a Wi-Fi hotspot administrator who doesn't want users accessing YouTube, to a nation state trying to control the internet use of its entire population.

Netflix 2

Getting around region blocks is one of the most useful features of using a VPN (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

ExpressVPN scored an immediate thumbs-up from us by listing the sites the company claims it can unblock: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and others (there are more than 25 services on the list). Most VPNs don't make that kind of commitment, presumably because they don't want users to complain if they can't deliver, so it's good to see ExpressVPN spell out exactly what it can do.

To get a feel for ExpressVPN's unblocking abilities, we ran several tests, checking whether we could access US Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and geoblocked YouTube sites while connected to various ExpressVPN servers.

Netflix results were great, with a perfect 10 out of 10 locations unblocking the service. It's no surprise that it tops our list of best Netflix VPNs.

Amazon Prime Video also worked, though in a much more limited way. The ExpressVPN website explains that you're able to watch UK or US Amazon Prime Video content, but only if you have an account with a billing address in that country. We tried this, and it worked; we streamed video from Amazon's UK site without it detecting that we were connecting via a VPN. But as we were in the UK anyway, this wasn't particularly useful.

(Keep in mind also that Amazon's Prime Video terms states the company will 'use technologies to verify your geographic location' and 'you may not use any technology or technique to obscure or disguise your location', so you break these rules at your own risk.)

Unblocking YouTube is always much easier, and sure enough, ExpressVPN gave us instant access from each of its US servers.

The good news continued with BBC iPlayer. The platform has far better VPN protection than YouTube, but ExpressVPN didn’t care, and each of its UK servers allowed us to browse and stream content.

ExpressVPN does support torrenting

ExpressVPN does support torrenting (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Torrents

ExpressVPN doesn't appear very torrent-friendly at first glance, as its website doesn't seem to mention the topic at all. There's so little torrent awareness that if you type 'p2p' 'in the knowledgebase search box, for instance, it assumes you've made a mistake and searches for 'pap' instead.

No need to worry, though, ExpressVPN isn't trying to hide anything. We dug around the FAQ, ran a few tests and eventually discovered the truth.

The service not only supports torrents, it also avoids the common hassles and annoyances you'll often get with other providers.

Torrent users aren't forced onto a small number of overloaded servers, for instance. You can choose from the full set of ExpressVPN locations.

There are no bandwidth or transfer-related catches, either. The company has no data cap, and says it will never throttle your connection.

Factor in other key features of the service – no activity logs, lots of locations, apps for everything, Bitcoin support, the 30-day money-back guarantee – and ExpressVPN looks like a great choice of VPN for all your torrenting needs.

ExpressVPN has clients available for most popular platforms 

ExpressVPN has clients available for most popular platforms  (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Client setup

Getting a VPN client installed and working properly can sometimes be a challenge, but the well-designed ExpressVPN website has clearly been set up to keep hassles to an absolute minimum.

Log in to your account dashboard, for instance, and you don't have to hunt for a Download link. The website detects the type of device you're using, displays a Download button for that client, and enables grabbing a copy with one click.

If you need something for another platform, clicking 'Set up on all your devices' takes you to a huge list of options, including Windows, iOS, Amazon Fire, Mac, Android, Linux and more. Tapping any of these displays more download links and instructions.

Even these are far more helpful than you would expect. Tap the 'Android' link with most VPNs and you'll probably just be redirected to Google Play. ExpressVPN has a Play Store link, but it also gives you a QR code, a button to email yourself a setup link (ideal if you need to install it on another device), and even an option for experts to directly download the APK file.

In a neat setup touch, ExpressVPN doesn't force you to find and manually enter your username and password. Instead, all you have to do is copy the unique activation code displayed on your download page, and paste it into the client when you're asked. The software then automatically sets up your login credentials, and you won't have to think about usernames and passwords, at all. (Very handy if, say, you're using a password manager and don't even know what your passwords are.)

Your other option is to set up a third-party OpenVPN client. ExpressVPN makes this much easier by providing sensibly named .OVPN configuration files (my_expressvpn_argentina_udp.ovpn, as opposed to something like NordVPN's ar1.nordvpn.com.udp1194.ovpn), and we had the OpenVPN Connect client up and running within minutes.

Windows Client

This is the interface of ExpressVPN's Windows Client (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Windows client

The ExpressVPN Windows client has a comfortable and familiar interface which immediately makes you feel at home. A big On/Off button allows you to activate the service when required, a clear status display shows you the current server, a Choose Location button enables picking something else, and a menu button top-left gives speedy access to other features. This is a very strong PC VPN for Windows 10.

There are a host of ways to choose the best server. A Smart Location feature picks your closest server. You can double-click a country to access its best location, or browse every location within a country and choose one manually. A Search box allows you to find locations by keyword, and you can add individual locations to a Favorites list.

The latest edition of the client even displays the currently selected location, the 'smart location' (ExpressVPN's recommended server) and your last choice of location on the main client window. You can connect to any of these with a click, no need to head off to a location list at all.

The client also makes smart use of its system tray icon, too. Right-clicking displays a menu which includes your last three locations, and choosing one of those will get you connected immediately, without having to open the full client.

Windows speed test

ExpressVPN was able to get acceptable speeds from a number of locations (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

The Location list doesn't initially display any information on the speed of its servers, something which can help you choose the fastest location. The client has a Speed Test feature which can add this for you, and it provides far more useful information than the competition, including latency and an estimate of download speed.

This took a while to run for us – around six minutes to check every available location from our system – but if you're likely to use a range of more distant servers, it's worth the wait, giving you an instant overview of which locations are worth trying right now, and which should be left alone.

A capable Settings dialog allows you to choose from four protocol variations: OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, L2TP - IPSec and IKEv2 (PPTP is no longer on offer as it's just too insecure.) It's good to have that choice, although we're less enthusiastic about the default 'Automatic' setting, where apparently 'ExpressVPN will automatically pick the protocol most appropriate for your network.'

Not only do we have no idea how that decision is made (the website offers no clues), but we can't even check it, because the client doesn't say which protocol is currently active. This seems a poor design decision to us, but if you're concerned, it's easily fixed: choose a specific protocol (IKEv2 or OpenVPN UDP, probably) and the client will use that, every time.

Elsewhere, a kill switch blocks all internet traffic if the VPN connection drops, reducing the chance of any data leaks. There's no setup involved with this, it's enabled by default, and always ready to protect your privacy.

It works, too. We used multiple tricks to forcibly close both OpenVPN and IKEv2 connections, but the client handled everything perfectly, blocking internet traffic, keeping us informed with a desktop notification, and reconnecting in seconds.

Low-level technical touches include basic IPv6 leak protection, and the ability to use your default DNS servers when using the VPN (you'll use ExpressVPN's own by default).

ExpressVPN's most advanced feature is probably its support for split tunneling, a smart technology which enables defining which apps use the VPN, and which use your regular internet connection. If an application won't work when your VPN is up (an email client, say), you can make it use your normal internet connection, instead. And if you use your VPN for one or two applications only – a browser, a torrent app – then redirecting everything else out of the tunnel could improve their performance.

Android client

ExpressVPN's Android client is well designed and easy to use (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Android app

If you're new to ExpressVPN, installing the Android app works much like any other. Go to the Play Store, find the app, notice its impressive stats (10 million+ installs and a 4.2 rating), install it as usual and work through the signup process.

If you've already set up an ExpressVPN account, there are some easier options. We went to the ExpressVPN web console on our Windows system, chose the Setup > Android page, scanned the QR code and automatically downloaded and installed the app (your phone must allow installations from outside of the Play Store for this to work).

We still had to make a couple of basic setup choices, for example deciding if we wanted to allow the app to send anonymous analytics back to ExpressVPN, but otherwise the process was completed in seconds.

The app looks good, and works in much the same way as the Windows edition. An excellent Location Picker makes it quick and easy to find and reconnect to particular servers, you can connect and disconnect with a click, and the straightforward interface allows you to check your current location and Android VPN status at a glance.

ExpressVPN

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

A new Privacy and Security Tools menu adds some useful features to help you check your connection, with options to display your current IP address and location, check for DNS and WebRTC leaks and generate secure passwords. ExpressVPN has had most of these tools on its website for quite some time, but it's far more convenient to access them from within the apps.

ExpressVPN

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Hopefully the company will upgrade the desktop clients to present the tools in the same way (the Windows builds only have web links, which then open the tools in a separate web page).

The Android app leaves out some of the more advanced features from the Windows client. There's no Speed Test, for instance, which means you'll only ever see the names of ExpressVPN locations, with no indicator of how fast, slow or overloaded they might be.

The Settings section can't quite match the features of the desktop builds. Protocol choices are restricted to OpenVPN TCP or UDP, for instance. There's no IPv6 leak protection, and no control over DNS.

You do get an integrated kill switch, though, to protect your real IP address if the VPN drops.

Split tunneling, a handy bonus addition, enables defining which apps should or shouldn't use the VPN. If you're only interested in Netflix, for instance, you could set up ExpressVPN to channel your Netflix app traffic through the tunnel, while allowing everything else to go through your regular connection, perhaps improving performance.

The auto-connect feature is particularly welcome, optionally connecting you to the VPN whenever you join untrusted networks.

The 'App and Website Shortcuts' feature provides a configurable toolbar on the connection window which can hold up to five icons for your favorite apps and shortcuts. It's a very simple idea, but a useful one, which facilitates launching commonly used apps with a tap just as soon as you're connected.

Problems? If any of this doesn't work as you expect, new in-app help gives you speedy access to support documents without having to head off to the website, while an 'Email us' link should give you more hands-on assistance when required.

It's not quite the most powerful Android app we've seen (in particular, we'd like more choice of protocols), but otherwise ExpressVPN's Android offering is well-designed and easy to use. Even better, install the app and you can try the service for free for seven days, an offer you won't get if you sign up on the website. If you're at all interested in Android VPN apps, ExpressVPN needs to be on your shortlist.

iOS client

ExpressVPN's iOS client is quite similar to its Android offering (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

iOS app

ExpressVPN's iOS app takes a few more taps to install than its Android cousin, but that's mostly due to Apple's extra security measures. You have to spend a little longer confirming that the app is authorized to do what it needs, and there's no Android-like direct download link to save you some time.

The setup procedure still only takes a couple of minutes, though, and once it's done, the app opens with the same clean and straightforward interface that you'll see on other platforms: a recommended location, a big Connect button to get online, and a menu button to explore further.

iOS client

This is what ExpressVPN looks like running on an iPad (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

The well-designed Location Picker offers multiple ways to find specific cities or countries, as well as maintaining a Recent Connection list and allowing you to add commonly used locations to your Favorites.

As with the Android app, the iOS edition allows you to switch servers without manually closing the current connection first. This only saves you a single tap, but if you regularly switch servers, it's going to be a welcome usability plus.

Your choice of protocol doesn't just include OpenVPN UDP and TCP, for instance – you also have access to L2TP and IKEv2, neither of which are available on Android.

Although the app doesn't have a kill switch, it does include an auto-reconnect option which will try to re-establish the tunnel if your connection drops.

Like its Android cousin, the iOS app has gained a Privacy and Security Tools menu since our last review. If you're not quite sure about the VPN or its safety, the tools here should confirm that your IP address has changed, it's from your selected country, and the VPN doesn't have any DNS or WebRTC leaks.

We've seen more feature-packed VPN apps, but on balance ExpressVPN's iOS offering is likeable, easy to use and delivers the functionality most folks are likely to need. And if you'd like to check the service for yourself, good news: as with Android, there's a risk-free 7-day trial available.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN even offers a browser extension for Chrome  (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Browser extensions

The ExpressVPN clients are generally very polished and user-friendly, but they're not your only way to work with the VPN. The company also offers Chrome and Firefox extensions which allow you to control the client and service directly from your browser.

Unlike just about every VPN provider, ExpressVPN's browser extensions aren't simple proxies. They are browser-based interfaces for your Windows, Mac or Linux client: they won't work unless you have them installed. That's inconvenient, but there are some major benefits, too.

Launch ExpressVPN's browser extension, for instance, and it's able to communicate with the desktop client and read its state. The default location will be set to the same as the client. And if the client is currently connected, your extension will reflect that.

You can control the desktop client from the browser, too. If you want to unblock a single website, you can choose a VPN location from within your browser, connect to it, do whatever browsing you need, and disconnect ExpressVPN when you're done. It's all very quick and convenient, with no need at all to switch backwards and forwards between your browser and the ExpressVPN client.

This works well at a simple level. The browser extension interface looks much like the regular clients and apps, with a similar system for browsing and selecting locations.

As it is just a basic frontend for the desktop engine, it's no surprise that the extension has some limitations. There's no Favorites system, for instance, or no speed testing. There are only two significant options, too ('Connect on browser launch' and 'Show desktop notifications'), although you're able to open the desktop app's Settings dialog directly from the browser extension.

There's good news, too, with some welcome privacy tools. Both the Chrome and now the Firefox extension include settings to prevent HTML5 geolocation from revealing your real location while you're connected to the VPN, as well as blocking WebRTC leaks at the browser level, and using HTTPS Everywhere to automatically force connections to the HTTPS versions of websites whenever they're available.

The browser extension won't be for everyone, especially as you must have the app installed to use it. But the ability to control the application from within the browser is a genuinely useful feature that you won't find with the competition, and overall, it's a very worthwhile addition to the package.

live chat popup

Live chat support makes it easy to solve any problems you have with ExpressVPN (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Support

Much like any other networking technology, a VPN can misbehave in many ways, and figuring out exactly what's going on can be a real challenge. That's why even the most experienced user can benefit from quality VPN support.

ExpressVPN's support site gets off to a good start with its lengthy list of troubleshooting guides. Whether you're trying to diagnose slow speeds or dropped connections, understand error messages, change your password or cancel your account, there's useful information to hand.

Most articles are well-written and deliver in all the key areas. They don't assume technical knowledge, instead taking the time to explain the background, offering multiple suggestions to resolve most problems, and linking to other relevant articles where they'll provide relevant details. For example, where other VPNs might have a single line suggesting you "try another server" to help diagnose speed problems, ExpressVPN also links to a detailed article explaining how to find the best location for you.

The setup articles are even more impressive. You don't get just one generic installation tutorial per platform, for instance. There are no less than eight different Windows tutorials covering the installation of ExpressVPN's own apps, and manual setup for various Windows versions. You get four tutorials for Mac, four for iOS, and four for Android, and even Linux has separate setup guides for Ubuntu, Raspberry Pi, Terminal (via OpenVPN) and more.

An accurate search engine scans more than 250 of these articles to find whatever fits your requirements. It's hugely refreshing to enter keywords on a VPN support site and actually view a lot of useful content. (OpenVPN gets 41 hits returned, DNS gets 70, there's 50 for Android, 16 for Ubuntu, 14 for DD-WRT, and the list goes on.)

If the website can't help, ExpressVPN's support team is available 24/7 via email and live chat.

ExpressVPN recommends live chat for the fastest results, but we sent a test email question anyway to check response times. Although the company suggests it can take up to 24 hours to reply, we got a friendly, detailed and helpful message in under an hour. That's much faster than we expected, and the reply contained everything we needed to diagnose and resolve our issue.

Live chat also performed very well. We ran several checks on the service, there were always agents available, and typically we had a first genuine response (a real comment on our issues, not just an automated 'I'm Steve and I'm here to help you' bot-type reply) within two or three minutes.

The quality of chat support was well above average, too, with the agent spending 30 minutes patiently walking us through some well-chosen diagnostic steps.

If you're a networking expert, it's tempting to assume this doesn't really matter. You know what you're doing, so there's no need to pay a premium for this kind of handholding, right?

Well, maybe, but keep in mind that there's more to VPN support than explaining the low-level geeky technicalities. We've also asked about system status issues like temporary connection problems, or the best server to use for US Netflix or Amazon Prime. Unlike some providers, there's no waiting for a day to get an email response – we've always had useful advice within minutes of asking, and that ability to get speedy help makes a huge difference to the service experience.

ExpressVPN

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Final verdict

This is a top-quality VPN which exceeded our expectations in everything from platform support and privacy, to ease of use, unblocking abilities and its excellent support. It's more expensive than most, but you can see why: this is a polished, powerful and professional service.