Why Use a VPN?
There are a large number of ways your information can get stolen online these days. This has only increased as public wifi has become more popular as well. Sitting in a coffee shop and browsing the internet on their free wifi might save you money, but it also exposes you to anyone else on that network. With free software, pretty much anyone can track your movements as long as they can get a hold of your IP address. This is where VPN services like ExpressVPN come in handy.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNS) are increasingly popular because of this. Similarly, the on-going battle over copyright infringement makes it almost necessary for Kodi users as well. Streaming through popular addons such as SALTs, Exodus or Navi-X? Your ISP knows. And if they’re working with the RIAA and MPAA, you could be among the many individuals who’ve received copyright infringement letters or, even worse, lawsuits.
VPNs work by routing your connection through private servers that assign you a new IP address in a different location. That way, anyone who finds your IP address will not be able to connect that IP address to you. VPNs provide full anonymity to those searching the web. There are plenty of free VPNs as well, but most of these lack the resources to provide real benefits and often have very limited security, which is the whole purpose of a VPN in the first place.
Whether you’re trying to mask your identity, keep your viewing habits private or get around geographic content blocking, VPNs are quickly becoming a necessity for internet users.
Below, we provide a thorough review of ExpressVPN. This popular, paid VPN service has a lot to offer. However, we’ve put it through the wringer, offering a fair, multipoint review that should help you determine if this service is right for you.
ExpressVPN Review Summary
ExpressVPN is among the most popular Virtual Private Networks around. We’ve looked into this VPN on a separate occasion, finding that it is among a select few VPNs that still provide access to American Netflix. In our examination of ExpressVPN for its other features, we’ve found a mixed bag of some very excellent features and some areas that could use improvement. Notable is the fact that ExpressVPN is one of the most expensive services we’ve reviewed, but also one of that provides access a large number of geographic locations. Overall, we’ve found that ExpressVPN provides a good service, with clearly identifiable limitations, while also being noticeably more expensive than competitors with similar features.
Summarized Pros and Cons
|VPN servers in 87 countries and 136 locations||Much more expensive than competitors, by as much as $5 per month|
|No logging of any kind||Some malfunctions with Windows 10 application|
|Unblocks websites, including Netflix||Application misleading about connecting to correct U.S. servers|
|Helps circumvent content censoring imposed by ISPs in some countries, including social media networks.||Live chat support often offline|
|L2TP/IPSec, PPTP, OpenVPN and SSTP protocols|
|AES 256-bit encryption|
|3 simultaneous device logins|
|30-day money back guarantee|
|Support for over a dozen operating system families|
|Live chat support|
|Unlimited server switches and bandwidth.|
Pricing and Payment Plans
Much like most VPN services, ExpressVPN maintains three different payment options:
As noted above, ExpressVPN is far more expensive than most of its competitors that offer similar services. As with most VPN services, ExpressVPN gives discounts for those who purchase more than a one-month plan. Anyone using ExpressVPN beyond 4 months should purchase the the 6-month plan at a minimum. If you like the service after the first month and can see yourself using it for a full year, it’s a good idea to go in for the 12-month plan. This offers the most savings by far for the whole year. This service additionally allows a large number of payment options. This includes all major, and some minor credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin and 11 alternative online payment methods via Paymentwall.
The real question with ExpressVPN is whether or not the higher price point is worth it. For Kodi users, this question is extremely important. There are several paid Kodi addons, such as SportsAccess, that provide good service as a cost. And those Kodi users looking to save money while still using a VPN may question putting down so much when using it for the primary purpose of accessing mostly free content.
Whether you see this service as valuable or not depends on what you’re looking for in a VPN. ExpressVPN has far more servers in far more countries than we’ve seen from other VPN services. The service does, however, have fewer servers altogether than many of its direct competitors. The value for Kodi users here may exist from those living in countries that often do not have VPN servers locations in or near them, but can find these through ExpressVPN. Proximity to servers can, after all, have an impact on ping, latency and speed.
ExpressVPN provides a wider range of device compatibility than many competiting services. The following devices and operating systems have functional ExpressVPN apps:
- Windows XP or better
- Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or better
- Linux CentOS, Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu
- Android 4.4 KitKat or better
- iOS 7 or better
- Some Asus, D-Link, Netduma, Sabai, TP-Link
ExpressVPN: Main Features
ExpressVPN has a large number of features, many of which are extremely valuable for Kodi users. The vast majority of these features are security-related, which we will get into later. Outside of security features, the following list of features should provide some benefit while streaming through Kodi:
- Free trial offered. Very few paid VPNs provide free trials. This is extremely beneficial for any Kodi user hoping to determine whether they will find value from paying for this service first before paying for it. The “free trial” is not direct, however. It exists in that you can get your money back within 30 days if you do not like the service.
- Smart Location. This feature on the application connects users to the most optimal server. This should ensure the best bandwidth for your location.
- Fast live chat. Running into problems? The addition of a live chat offers a great option for anyone looking a quick fix to an annoying issue.
- Website unblocking. ExpressVPN delivers on the goods when it comes to unblocking content. This includes geographically blocked content and content blocked by ISPs. U.S. Kodi users looking to stream content from UK channels may find this highly valuable, and international Kodi users hoping to access American content will find this useful as well.
- Most operating systems supported. ExpressVPN has some of the widest OS and device support we’ve seen. The inclusion of router software is particularly impressive, and something that could be valuable to Kodi users who run the application on multiple devices.
- Extensive country list. There are over 80 countries and over 130 server locations. Kodi users outside of the U.S. may find a lot of value in this. Particularly, those looking for the fastest servers are more likely to find ones closer to them, potentially resulting in better download speeds.
We gave extra attention to speed in our review of ExpressVPN. While speed (or, more accurately, bandwidth) is important when using most Kodi addons, there are some in particular that require much higher bandwidth than others. HD addons and movies, such as those accessbile through HD Box, Movie4k.to and GoodFellas, all require more speed than normal. A typical SD movie can be streamed without loading or interruption with as little as 1.5 Mbps, while an HD video can easily require 5 Mbps, although often more if one is hoping to stream without annoying buffering.
ExpressVPN has a speed tester on its website. However, we sourced our speed tests through Speedtest.net. Our tests were conducted against a control test based in Washington D.C. The control test was conducted without a VPN to give us a better idea of how much speed loss and ping increase we’d experience through various servers and server locations. For this test, we also chose the countries with the most server locations.
It’s important to remember that there are a large number of factors that can affect bandwidth through VPN servers. Results may vary, but these tests should give a good picture about whether ExpressVPN delivers on its promises of unlimited bandwidth and high-quality servers.
|Server||Ping (ms)||D/L Speed (Mbps)||U/L Speed (Mbps)|
Our ExpressVPN speed tests revealed some positive, negative and odd results. First, we struggled to actually connect to a working U.S. server. All attempts to connect to an East Coast U.S. server failed. Each time we did so, we instead landed on servers in Singapore. This was verified by information from Speedtest.net. We eventually hit a U.S. server, but only after trying to connect to a West Coast server. Each time, however, the ExpressVPN application told us we were connected to the U.S. servers, which was not true.
Servers in the other countries, however, all connected appropriately. We found a few interesting results here. First, Kodi users who use P2P addons such as VidTime or Castaway will be happy to know that ExpressVPN’s servers had some of the best upload times we have seen, and much less speed loss than we have seen. This is especially true from the UK servers. Although the download speed decrease from 60.93 Mbps to 7.23 Mbps is extremely large, other services we’ve tested have resulted in far lower results from UK servers. The results here indicate their UK servers have enough bandwidth for HD streaming and decent P2P streaming.
Oddly, the ping seemed to be mostly unaffected by the distance. This is a good thing for Kodi users hoping to stream through a VPN. Most services we’ve tested have had understandable increases in ping the further away the servers from our location. However, ExpressVPN’s servers experienced little increase in ping for us.
Security and Privacy Features
ExpressVPN does not slack on its security features. Indeed, this service takes security very seriously, even locating its headquarters in the British Virgin Islands, where it’s protected from most security-related laws common in the U.S. and Europe. The more sought-after security features for Kodi users include:
- AES-256. This helps prevent any brute-force attacks on your system while you’re browsing.
- OpenVPN standard. OpenVPN is used by a majority of the high-quality paid VPN services. This is one of the most common and accepted encryption protocols around, and Express VPN offers both TCP and UDP connections.
- L2TP, IPSec and PPTP. These are less preferable protocols are all implemented. ExpressVPN’s application allows for easy switching between any of them.
- No logging. ExpressVPN does not log browsing history, DNS queries or traffic data.
- No information selling or sharing. Although ExpressVPN does collect some basic information, it does not pass on this information to others.
ExpressVPN maintains several ways to find support for the service. The FAQ page provides some benefit for those with rather simple to solve problems. ExpressVPN also provides setup tutorials for every operating system, and troubleshooting guides for slightly more complex problems. Should you be completely in the dark about how to solve a problem, you can send them an email, or attempt to use their live chat system on the website. ExpressVPN claims that they have 24/7 support; however their chat system was offline when we went in to test it out:
We sent them an email regarding our issues connecting to U.S. servers, and will update with their response when this comes in, as well as how long it took to get a response.
ExpressVPN sign up is easy. The only thing that is different with this service is the requirement of an activation code. This is a security measure, however it does add an extra step to the process. You will need an email address for sign-up purposes, but this will primarily serve as your primary log-in. Once you’re registered, accessing the VPN is fairly quick and easy.
We found some good success using ExpressVPN, while we did run into some problems as well. After downloading the Windows 10 application, we punched in the activation code and watched as the application froze. The screen didn’t change for several minutes. However, after closing the application and reloading it, it appeared that the activation code went through, although it didn’t register in the original session.
When attempting to connect to different servers, ExpressVPN’s Windows 10 application was also extremely slow on the uptake. During the speedtest, it took several minutes for us to connect to the Washington D.C. server, despite that server being the closest location. Additionally, attempting to connect to the server caused an interruption to internet access on the test computer. We were forced to cancel the VPN server connection and try again. This occurred with several attempts to connect to U.S. servers on the East Coast.
Switching over to using ExpressVPN on an Android-based mobile device worked quickly and easily. There, we were able to conduct all of our speed tests. It was here that we identified some additional problems that would be particularly concerning to Kodi users looking to connect to U.S. servers. When we connected to a New York server through the VPN, but ran a speed test through Speedtest.net, we got a result that showed we were connected to a server location in Singapore, not the U.S. We tried this again through the Washington D.C. server and got the same result. The noticeably increased ping (233, up from 32 with a VPN) and significantly decreased download speed (11.83 Mbps, down 60.23 Mbps) would seem to confirm this.
When we attempted to connect to a U.S. West Coast server, we did finally land onto a U.S. server — but in Baltimore on the East Coast. Interestingly, we only experienced this problem when trying to connect to U.S. servers. Nevertheless, Kodi users who are hoping to gain access to U.S. content due to geographic content blocking, or for whom local ISPs or governments block content, may not be happy having to play roulette with the application in an attempt to find a U.S. server.
The service additionally does not have any indication of when servers are down. Nevertheless, servers we did connect to were fast, with the UK server surprising us with its download and upload speeds. Given the low speeds we’ve found when testing servers in this country through other VPN services, this was a plus.
Based on the level of service, however, ExpressVPN’s price is a bit questionable. Yes, there are servers in more countries than most of the competition and yes, ExpressVPN has a large number of servers. However, we struggled a bit much just connecting through the Windows 10 application. And ExpressVPN failed to connect to the correct U.S. servers, and at times connected us to non-U.S. servers while still claiming on the application that we were connected to the correct server. Furthermore, ExpressVPN has a far fewer number of servers than most of their competitors. ExpressVPN offers a good service, with excellent speeds, but it is one service that may be more worthwhile if the price was brought down just a bit to match the quality.