To start using NordVPN, simply visit its website and click ‘Get NordVPN’ to create an account. Then download the appropriate software for your device.
Once installed, NordVPN provides a below-average onboarding experience. Unlike most other VPNs, it doesn’t give you a tutorial on how to use the app’s features when you open it for the first time.
All of NordVPN’s apps were given a refresh in December 2022. However, we preferred the older interface as fewer settings were hidden behind unlabeled buttons.
Across its apps, NordVPN has several features designed to make using it easier and more convenient. Here’s a quick summary of them and their impact on the app’s usability:
- Auto-connect initiates a VPN connection any time you connect to WiFi. With this, you get the benefits of NordVPN without having to even open the app. We found this useful when using the VPN solely for encrypting traffic, but not for accessing geo-blocked sites.
- Pausing allows you to temporarily disconnect from NordVPN for 5, 30, or 60 minutes. We didn’t find this feature useful for any purpose. We’d prefer it if it removed it rather than giving it a dedicated button on the app’s home screen.
- Presets lets you create a customized shortcut to add to the app’s home screen. You can choose a server location, VPN protocol, and which website you’d like to open automatically. This saved us some time when connecting to a Japan server to access Japanese Netflix, for example.
- Split Tunneling lets you choose which apps to route inside and outside of the VPN tunnel. This is useful for keeping compatibility with apps that require your true IP address, like smart home devices, without having to disconnect from the VPN.
Here’s a more detailed overview of our experience using NordVPN on different devices and operating systems:
Desktop & Laptop (Windows & Mac)
NordVPN has easy-to-use apps for both Windows and Mac. While the two versions look similar, we prefer the Mac version because of a minor difference.
On macOS, the full server list is always visible in alphabetical order. The Windows app requires you to click a drop-down icon and scroll through a long list that starts with specialty and Meshnet servers. This becomes frustrating when you change server location frequently, meaning NordVPN has a much slower experience than ExpressVPN and other competitors.
NordVPN’s Mac app (bottom) is more user-friendly than its Windows app (top).
The main issue that applies to both desktop clients, though, is that the minimum window size is too large due to the server map. In our experience, this made it difficult to use other apps side-by-side with NordVPN on our 13-inch Lenovo ThinkPad or MacBook Pro. We’d prefer it if you could collapse the window down to a single column, similar to Proton VPN.
As stated previously, we also dislike how many of the app’s features, like server options and Threat Protection, are hidden behind undescriptive icons. You’ll have to hover over each of them to understand their purpose.
More positively, NordVPN recently added a dark mode to its Windows app, although we do wish the app would automatically match the system settings. This isn’t available at all on Mac.
Mobile (iPhone & Android)
NordVPN’s mobile apps are easier to use than its desktop clients. To allow simple connections to the fastest server, the app displays a ‘Quick Connect’ button in the middle of the home screen. This layout is identical on iOS and Android.
Unlike on Windows, you can simply scroll to access the full list of countries, making it a lot easier to find your desired IP address. We also like how you don’t have to tap to access more server locations, as you do with ExpressVPN or PIA.
NordVPN’s iOS app (left) is almost identical to the Android software (right).
The app’s bottom tabs allow you to switch between the VPN, Meshnet, Statistics, and Profile. We don’t find the statistics feature useful in our experience, so we’d like the ability to customize the tabs to suit individual preferences.
Disappointingly, the kill switch is difficult to set up on NordVPN’s Android app. To enable it, you’ll have to go to Settings > Wireless and networks > More > VPN > Always on VPN. We’d prefer it if it could be toggled on or off from within the app’s settings.
NordVPN still does not offer a graphical user interface (GUI) app for Linux. It’s controlled solely via the Linux command line interface (CLI), making it difficult to use.
NordVPN’s Linux CLI app needs a lot of work.
This is far from ideal, and for a service of NordVPN’s scale and reputation we expect much better. That said, as far as Linux CLI VPNs go NordVPN is one of the most user-friendly.
It clearly spells out what commands you can use to control it, it gives you access to a range of advanced features, and it even lets you log in via a browser link rather than leaving you to fumble around entering account details into the Terminal.
We strongly feel a proper Linux GUI app that matches the ones on offer for Windows and macOS needs to be introduced in the near future.
Amazon Fire TV & Android TV
NordVPN provides user-friendly and fully-featured apps for Amazon Fire TV and Android TV. It looks different from its other apps, though, so it won’t be immediately obvious how to use it.
Unlike NordVPN’s other software, the TV app doesn’t include a map interface. Instead, you’ll have to scroll through a horizontal list to select the server location, which was time-consuming when using the TV remote. We’d prefer it if there was an option to search the country name instead.
We also believe the ‘Disconnect’ button should be larger and more prominently placed on the home screen. Currently, disconnecting from the VPN server requires scrolling to the far left rather than simply clicking the location or a standard ‘Off’ button.
NordVPN’s Fire TV app is optimized for larger screens.
Despite these drawbacks, NordVPN’s TV apps are still easier to use than its competitors’. For instance, ExpressVPN and PrivateVPN have not updated the user interface for larger screen sizes, making them uglier and more difficult to use.
NordVPN’s browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox are easy to set up and use.
Instead of a map interface, like in the regular desktop apps, the NordVPN extensions let you quickly search for server locations. We found this to be a more user-friendly and efficient experience than using the Windows or Mac app.
NordVPN’s Google Chrome browser extension is simple to use.
The extensions are made easy to use as all the important privacy-protecting features, like WebRTC leak protection, are enabled by default. You can start using the extension right away without dealing with complicated settings or customization options.