TLDR; If you’re in a hurry ExpressVPN is a better VPN on almost all front!
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Our physical world might be shrinking due to the pandemic, but the virtual world continues to grow, and in ways that are even more treacherous. Now, more than ever before, we rely on online services to continue life in a more or less normal way. But while we cope, it is important to remember that caution cannot be thrown to the wind. We are shopping online, watching films online, swapping personal and professional data online – connected 24/7 and exposed to risks of data theft for equal number of hours. You might already have a strong security software installed on your system, but its job is to protect you against viruses and trojans; online security, on the other hand, calls for a totally different kind of expertise.
This expertise of making you anonymous online comes with a VPN. A Virtual Private Network is a software that encrypts your Internet traffic, re-routes it through an intermediary server and assigns a new IP address to you each time in order to hide your identity. These unique features enable the VPN to protect you from hackers, trackers, legal authorities, copyright trolls, streaming giants, advertisers and – most importantly – from your Internet Service Provider (which can see literally everything you do in the remotest of digital alleys). Add unprotected public Wi-Fi to the equation and your online security becomes even more critical.
Besides security, a good VPN would get your access to geo-restricted content without impacting your streaming/torrenting speeds too much. It would also take you past firewalls of all makes and make you practically invisible while you browse. Achieving all this is far from an easy task, and while you’d come across dozens of VPNs on online search, only a handful of them live up to their promises. We’ve reviewed nearly all VPNs worth their salt, but here we take on two of the top players in the VPN market with a detailed comparison.
First though, let’s take a look at what makes a good VPN. This should guide you along in your VPN shopping spree regardless of what brand you finally go for.
How Do I Choose A VPN?
The number of choices online might make this sound like a tough question, but it’s actually quite simple to separate a good VPN from the faff. By faff I mean the numerous free VPNs flooding the market, which have dodgy logging policies, and which rarely ever manage to keep up with Netflix or Hulu proxy walls (and hence cannot unblock restricted content in places where the copyright doesn’t extend). I’d say steer clear of these hollow claims of security and keep an eye out for the following when selecting a VPN.
Like I said, security and privacy are top priorities. We expect a good VPN to have solid data encryption and DNS leak protection to keep your online activity private. It should also have a clearly stated, strict no-logs policy to ensure that none of the user’s details are being recorded (to avoid being compromised to third parties). Speed is equally important for most of us, especially for those users who intend to stream and torrent. For this, a wide server network – spread across multiple locations and with dedicated servers – would go a long way. Besides that, you should also check out the VPN for multi-platform compatibility, simultaneous connections with more than one device and the ease of its user interface.
Of course, the pricing of a VPN’s subscription plans will be the final clincher in the deal. We’ve used all of these parameters in comparing our two contenders here – one blazing fast VPN and another an old daddy. Read on, for a low-down on ExpressVPN vs IPVanish.
ExpressVPN vs IPVanish VPN
If VPN isn’t anything new for you, chances are you are already familiar with ExpressVPN. It usually tops our annual best-VPN compilations and is the de facto industry leader. It has been around since 2009, steadily climbing up the ladder. IPVanish is older by a whole decade and is well-known to American users, but we wouldn’t take this age and familiarity to necessarily mean better performance or tech superiority. We prefer our review below to speak for itself.
A bit about each VPN’s location before we procced though: ExpressVPN is based out of British Virgin Islands while IPVanish is a US-based vendor. Why should this matter to you? It does, because the jurisdiction that your VPN falls under would determine the safety of your data in the long run. A VPN based out of the States is accountable to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which means your data is vulnerable to the authorities that be. Whereas British Virgin Islands, although a British Overseas Territory, are not directly subject to UK’s data retention laws. That sounds like a one-up already for ExpressVPN, but lets do this step by step.
Below are our findings based on a series of tests run over several months. They pitch ExpressVPN’s features against IPVanish’s using several different locations. The comparison is followed by concise pros and cons to make your decision easier, and our final verdict.
Security being the main aim of all VPNs, both ExpressVPN and IPVanish fare well in this department with a number of privacy-driven features. Both use AES-256 encryption to protect your data, both have a kill switch each (though on desktop versions only) to halt your traffic in case of dropped connections, both support the reliable OpenVPN along with the option to choose other protocols, both have a whopping number of IP addresses – 30,000 for ExpressVPN and 40,000 for IPVanish – to help you get past geo-restrictions, and both use private DNS. We did not detect any DNS or IP leaks during our tests in the case of either VPN.
That said, there are subtle differences that set the two apart. Both support the same protocols, but IPVanish has the additional IKEv2 while ExpressVPN has SSTP. These options are somewhat pointless since OpenVPN is the best you can bet on, but SSTP can come in handy when you are in need of bypassing a firewall configured to detect and block the commonplace protocols (such as OpenVPN, yes). Also, IPVanish lets you obfuscate (or ‘scramble’) your OpenVPN traffic, but ExpressVPN has something far more useful – split tunneling, which allows certain apps and sites of your choice to be routed outside the VPN.
Speaking of protocols, you might also eventually come across IPVanish’s SOCKS5 proxy server protocol – meant to spare you the trouble of downloading a client – but I don’t recommend this to users unless they know their VPNs inside out; it tends to come at the cost of weakened encryption.
Lastly, there’s a tiny difference in the kill switches that I’d like to point out here. ExpressVPN’s kill switch – called Network Lock – clearly alerts the user in case of a connection interruption and also when it’s active. IPVanish lacks these notifications which are in fact just another way of strengthening user’s security.
Our overall verdict? Both VPNs are secure, but ExpressVPN has more useful features for that additional protection.
Privacy is the obvious second concern after security. When we rate a VPN, its logging policy is upmost in deciding whether it is a trustworthy vendor. Towards this end, both ExpressVPN and IPVanish claim to have strict no-logging policies, but while the former’s track record is impeccable, the latter has had to answer some tough questions. A few years ago, IPVanish came into the limelight for collaborating with the authorities to catch a child-abuse suspect, thus compromising data that it claims to not keep in the first place. This was enough to have raised doubts about its logging policy, and these are yet to be laid to rest.
ExpressVPN, on the other hand, assures 100% privacy by backing its zero-logs policy with its TrustedServer feature. It simply means that each of ExpressVPN’s servers runs on RAM-disk mode, which means the server is emptied on each reboot, making it impossible for logs to be stored on the VPN servers. So even if the server falls in the hands of an unwanted third party, there wouldn’t be any trace of the user left to find on it.
I’d have rated ExpressVPN the winner in terms of privacy on that note, but there’s more. ExpressVPN boosts your anonymity by allowing payment through cryptocurrency, which is something IPVanish fails us on. Need we say more?
3. Speed & Performance
Let’s admit it, some of us would even take a chink or two in our security armor in the name of speed. Speed is crucial to users who intend to use the VPN primarily to unblock geo-restricted content and are really going to stream in HD until apocalypse comes and pulls the plug. VPNs are ill-famed for reducing speed and rightfully so, but what matters is which VPN reduces it the least. This last bit depends on the strength of the VPN’s server network.
I don’t need to even tell you this as a long-standing ExpressVPN user; ExpressVPN’s performance in this regard is considered superfast by consensus of thousands of users. When they say ‘blazing fast’ they mean it (and what a relief it is!). ExpressVPN’s network includes over 3,000 servers spread across 160 locations in 94 countries, which means you can wave goodbye to painful buffering periods for good. What’s more, this impressive number includes servers optimized for streaming and torrenting.
IPVanish, on the other hand, has a server network one-third the size of ExpressVPN. It does take pride in owning each of its 1,300 servers, and the speeds are not bad at all, but our test results – from servers in multiple locations – favored ExpressVPN, and that’s what matters. If you want speedy performance, you don’t have to finish reading this review to know that ExpressVPN is what you’ve been looking for.
4. Connections & Compatibility
Security, privacy, speed. So we’ve covered the core requirements of a VPN already, but what about a VPN’s flexibility in terms of devices and platforms? Sure, this might not be high on your requirement list, but what if you plan to use the VPN on multiple devices (like we all now own)? Or amongst a large group of people? Or what if you are – God forbid – a Linux user?
At first glance, IPVanish seems to ace this parameter by offering 10 simultaneous device connections, but dig a little deeper and you realize that you’ll need to install it manually on each device. Compared to that, ExpressVPN’s offer of connecting to 5 devices simultaneously seems meagre, but its custom router firmware can fix this easily by letting you install the VPN on the router to cover more devices through a single connection.
If that sounds like a tie to you, wait, because there’s more. At least from ExpressVPN’s end. It offers browser extensions where IPVanish supports none. Its MediaStreamer DNS feature does even better by letting you work with pretty much every platform – including VPN-unfriendly devices such as Smart TVs. And best of all – ExpressVPN has a dedicated command-line interface app for Linux users which, frankly, is the least we expect from a decent VPN in the absence of proper GUI interface for the oft-ignored Linux users. I give full points to ExpressVPN for compatibility and connections alike.
5. Torrenting, Streaming & Sharing
Finally, we come to the content part of the VPN. Statistics prove that maximum VPN users are really looking to bypass regional censorship and access to geo-restricted content more than anything else. And if this indispensable luxury is not in place, you can be sure the VPN is little more than an add-on for your existing security software.
By geo-restricted content we mean content whose copyright does not extend beyond certain locations, and which – as in the case of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and similar streaming services – we very much like to access (partly because we’ve paid for that monthly subscription and partly because, what the hell?! I wanna watch!).
Unfortunately, in this regard IPVanish turns out to be a real disappointment. We thought that over the years they’d catch up on the game, but no. IPVanish cannot unblock any of the popular streaming services. It did unblock Netflix, but only if we used a US server, which beats the whole purpose. Also, it allowed us to torrent (it even actively encourages it on its website), but as mentioned before, the speeds are dismal. A bit of a killjoy when you can see hundreds of seeders and are still gathering bits and bytes like rain in your hands.
Next to it, ExpressVPN comes across as a lifesaver. The sheer size and range of its server network, and the fact that it maintains dedicated servers for streaming and torrenting which you can select (and which their customer support will guide you to within minutes) – all this means ExpressVPN was easily able to unblock geo-restricted content on Netflix, HBO, Hulu, iBBC Player and Disney during our extensive tests from locations around the globe. We got smooth HD speeds, and unsurprisingly, could bypass China’s Great Firewall as well with ExpressVPN (the main website as such is blocked in China, but you could use a different site like get-express-vpn.com to get in).
That’s one too many reasons to ignore ExpressVPN, especially if all you want is a life full of video and hassle-free P2P sharing!
6. User Interface
User interface can actually make a huge difference to how much you get out of your VPN, and getting the most out of it requires ease of use as well as intelligent, helpful features. Both VPNs, in this regard, are easy to setup, install and start using, and both have an interface that is easy and inviting for beginners. Here too, though, certain differences struck us as significant.
ExpressVPN has a neater look. Its Smart Location feature auto-recommends servers and displays your last location. One click on the button will drop down a long list of servers for you to choose from (something we missed in IPVanish), and a built-in Speed Test to help do it. The split tunneling feature as well is easily accessible for you to switch between connections. IPVanish is more cluttered, trying to bombard us with info we don’t necessarily care to gobble down as graphs. Also, it lacks instructions on how to activate the SOCKS5 proxy, which I thought was weird. All in all, user interface is a subjective choice, and if you care to know ours, we do prefer the cleaner ExpressVPN look.
7. Customer Support
The simplest, cleanest interface would fall flat without requisite customer support on the other end. Sounds trivial, but one error message is all it takes to get frazzled and wish for a lifeboat in the form of a customer care executive.
Both VPNs have vast knowledge bases online, including written guides to take you through step-by-step tutorials as well as how to implement solutions to all sorts of technical glitches. ExpressVPN has obviously taken the care to find more articulate writers, as the texts are easier to read and have more finesse (spelling errors on a page meant to solve errors? That’s not cool yo!). ExpressVPN also offers super-prompt 24/7 live chat support; they took seconds to point out the current-best server for us to connect to for torrenting. IPVanish works instead on a mail ticketing system. It also offers phone support, which we weren’t sure what to make of (a bit late in the day for that no?).
If response time (and with quality response that actually resolves our queries) is any indication, then ExpressVPN wins hands-down in proving itself to be the more caring VPN.
8. Price Points
All those wonderful features listed above amount to nothing if you are left with a hole in your pocket. I wouldn’t blame you for keeping this aside as the most important deciding factor; we are attuned to believe that something as peripheral-sounding as a VPN ought to justify itself as an investment.
If you consider each VPN’s monthly subscription cost, you’d notice that both sort of fit into the higher end of the budget. IPVanish will set you back by a princely $10 a month while ExpressVPN costs even more at $12.95 a month. The equation changes when you take in their annual subscriptions, which cost $6.49 per month for IPVanish and $8.32 per month for ExpressVPN. IPVanish earlier only offered a 7-day money back guarantee, but as of now both IPVanish and ExpressVPN come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
So is IPVanish better because it is less expensive? We wouldn’t say so. If you weigh the cost difference against the array of features you get, ExpressVPN’s rates seem well justified. Literally, the only things that IPVanish is offering extra is the option to scramble your OpenVPN traffic and simultaneous connections to 10 devices. Hardly enough to beat ExpressVPN, which has held fast to its positioning as a speedy leader no matter how many VPNs came and went from the market.
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The Summary: Pros & Cons
Before we proceed to the conclusion, here’s a quick summation of both the VPN’s main pros and cons to help you make the best choice:
ExpressVPN Pros and Cons
IPVanish Pros and Cons
ExpressVPN vs IPVanish VPN Verdict: Which Is The Best VPN?
As you have seen for yourself, IPVanish loses out to ExpressVPN in every single aspect except price. This is not to say that IPVanish isn’t a good VPN – I might even have gone for it if better options didn’t exist – but does it make sense to act stingy for 2 dollars a month and compromising one’s privacy in the process?