- Since this review was last updated in October 2017, Express has doubled the number of servers available to more than 2,000. It has also introduced split tunneling, a host of browser extensions and open sourced a number of tools including leak testing ones.
ExpressVPN is a large British Virgin Islands-based provider of VPN services. The company's products start off a little more expensive than most, from $12.95 (£10.35) for a one-off month option, although it drops to $8.32 (£6.65) for the standard yearly plan.
- You can grab the latter offer from our best VPN services page
There are plenty of services which can beat that, but ExpressVPN gives you a lot for your money. We’re talking more than 1,000 servers across 145 locations in 94 countries, P2P support, and easy setup with custom clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, even Linux. You also get a lot of genuinely helpful web-based tutorials and troubleshooting guides, and 24/7 email and live chat support if you have problems.
There's no free plan or trial, but you're able to try the full service for up to 30 days with no sneaky small print restrictions on bandwidth or sessions, and if you still want a refund you can just email and ask. We tried this and there were no questions at all, just a quick acknowledgement the next day, and a full PayPal refund three days later.
If you like the service, ExpressVPN also has a simple referral scheme which can help reduce costs. Get a friend to sign up and provide your email address during the order process, and you both get a free month.
Take logging, for example. While other providers can be vague and leave you guessing, ExpressVPN gets straight to the point:
"We do not collect logs of your activity, including no logging of browsing history, traffic destination, data content, or DNS queries. We also never store connection logs, meaning no logs of your IP address, your outgoing VPN IP address, connection timestamp, or session duration."
There is a little session logging, with your connection dates, choice of server and total amount of data transferred all being recorded. ExpressVPN doesn't collect your connection times or IP addresses, though, so this can't be used to identify you.
ExpressVPN's clients have a telemetry feature which may "collect anonymized analytics data used for network diagnostics." That may be a concern for some, but ExpressVPN takes the time to explain exactly what can be sent, who it's sent to, and points out that you can stop sharing this data at any time by toggling a client setting.
- Want to try Express VPN? Check out the website here
ExpressVPN’s signup procedure is carried out almost entirely on a single page, where all the key details are clearly displayed.
The first step is to choose from the one, six or twelve-month plans. The company shows both the monthly and total amounts and the billing frequency, so you shouldn't have any unpleasant surprises later.
Registration is kept to a minimum in terms of requested details, with the company asking for your email address only.
A good selection of payment options includes card, PayPal, Bitcoin, and many others via Paymentwall.
After handing over our cash, the ExpressVPN website generated and displayed a secure password for us. That's a smart move as it hopefully reduces the chance that users will enter the same credentials that they use elsewhere. But if you like to keep control, no problem, there's also an option to enter a password of your own.
The next page displayed a link to download the Windows client for our laptop, and offered links for other devices.
You can install ExpressVPN's clients on as many devices as you like. This is a little more complicated than usual as the firm asks you to enter a 23-character 'activation code' allocated to your account. You only have to do this once, though, and then you're able to connect up to three devices to the service at one time.
If you've got problems with any of this, links point you to some helpful support pages. We checked out the article on ‘how many devices can be connected to ExpressVPN simultaneously’ and found it clear and straightforward, with useful examples and helpful links to other details you need to know.
We downloaded and launched the Windows client. The setup program prompted for the activation code we'd just been given on the website, gave us a couple of simple configuration options, and then installed in a few seconds.
A quick check of ExpressVPN's files showed the package grabbed a little more hard drive space than usual at around 60MB. But the service scores where it matters, with its two background processes only taking around 40MB RAM (we've seen CyberGhost, for example, grab as much as 200MB RAM).
It can be interesting to see how often a VPN client is updated, as this gives you some idea of how much time and effect has gone into the app. Very few providers give you any clear idea of this, but ExpressVPN has a 'What's New' page which spells it out. In the first half of 2017 the app had 10 releases, for example, more than you might expect from many specialist developers.
The ExpressVPN desktop client is all about simplicity. Launch it, the nearest location is automatically selected, one click on the Connect button is enough to get you protected, and clicking it again turns the VPN off.
The Choose Location button enables browsing locations by continent, country or individual server, as well as providing a simple favorites system.
The location lists don't have any details on server load, but a separate Speed Test window can benchmark the servers, giving their download speed in Kbps as well as simple latencies. This takes two or three minutes as ExpressVPN insists on testing every server, unfortunately: the client really should allow for benchmarking only the countries or servers you select. Still, this more thorough approach has its benefits, giving you measurements of download speeds as well as the basic ping times you'll get elsewhere.
The client's Settings dialog doesn't contain many options, but there are a couple that stand out from the crowd.
You're able to choose your preferred protocol from options including OpenVPN via UDP, OpenVPN via TCP, L2TP – IPSEC, PPTP or SSTP. Alternatively, accept the default Automatic setting and the client will decide itself.
The client also provides a Network Lock feature, a kill switch which stops all network traffic if the connection drops. You can enable and disable this, and there's an option to allow access to network devices such as printers or network shares.
ExpressVPN achieved solid results in our performance tests*. UK-UK connections were fast and reliable at 31-36Mbps; near European connections were less consistent but still very acceptable at 14-35Mbps.
There was little change in UK-US traffic with downloads averaging 15-25Mbps, and connecting to even the most distant Asian server still gave us 3-7Mbps, maybe enough for basic video streaming.
ExpressVPN completed the positive picture by doing well in our leak tests, with its DNS protection ensuring our identity was protected at all times.
ExpressVPN costs more than most VPNs, but then it also gives you more locations, better performance, and a real focus on your web privacy. If you value service quality more than price, this is a VPN you need to try.
- We’ve rounded up the best free VPN services of 2018
*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we've reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.
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