Cord Cutting Guides, News, and Reviews
Choosing a VPN involves a large amount of trust. You are putting your security and privacy into the hands of a company, so you need to believe that they will respond with the level of respect and professionalism that you deserve. That trust takes time to build, and few companies have been in the computer security spotlight for longer than Norton. I was using Norton’s famous antivirus software long before I’d ever even heard of VPNs. This company has been steadily expanding its offerings over the past several years, adding services and features like firewalls, cloud storage, and password managers.
Given that history, it came as no surprise when Norton joined the VPN market. I don’t play favorites with new VPNs, so I’m going to put the Norton VPN through the same rigorous, hands-on testing that I’d do with any other VPN. Whether you are rooting for or against them, it’s time to see whether Norton is ready to compete in the VPN world.
Thanks to Norton’s 7-day free trial and 60-day money-back guarantee, I had no qualms about getting started with my Norton VPN. I got my MacBook out, started the Norton VPN download, and brewed some coffee to prepare myself for a long afternoon of VPN testing and VPN-fueled streaming.
Well, I’m glad I made the coffee. After I logged in to my new Norton VPN application and clicked the toggle switch to activate the VPN, Norton failed me: After trying to connect for about a second, the program gave up. I tried three more times but had no luck. I even tried connecting through a few other servers, but nothing worked. I dug through Norton’s support pages and forums, trying several different proposed fixes to no avail. It seems that this is not an uncommon issue for Mac users, and there is no reliable fix. This was not a strong start for Norton VPN.
Things went much more smoothly on both my Windows laptop and my iPhone. On those platforms, I was able to download, install, and run Norton VPN with absolutely no issues. The iPhone did require me to set up a VPN profile, but that’s a standard thing with VPN services on iOS devices and only took a couple of clicks to get through.
The first word that came to mind when I saw the Norton VPN app was this: simple. As I’ll talk about later, that impression turned out to be accurate. There’s not a lot to do and not a lot to see in the app. You’ll be able to tell your connection status with a little map showing your VPN server location, but that’s about the end of our tour. In a perfect world, I’d like a bit more information on the screen, including what VPN protocol is being used, but I did appreciate Norton VPN’s straightforward design.
Now that I had Norton working on at least some of my devices, I decided it was time to stream some content. I always like to use Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Netflix when trying out a new VPN. These services are all good at blocking VPNs, and they do it in slightly different ways. If a VPN manages to work with all three of them, it will probably work with just about anything.
While connected to the default U.S. server, I was able to watch both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video with no problems. Disney+, however, was completely blocked.
Being able to use Netflix from a U.S. server is one thing, but unlocking Netflix with a foreign server is another. When I switched to a server in the U.K. to see if I could catch some region-locked content on any of the services, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video still worked — but I couldn’t access any region-locked content on either of them. It appears that they detected my VPN and controlled the content I saw. At least they let me access their services, though: Disney+ still did not work at all. To confirm these results, I tried a German server next. The results were exactly the same as with the U.K. server.
Speaking of changing VPN locations, I should mention that Norton VPN has 2,800 servers spread across 30 countries. This puts them on the low end for both of these counts. Norton isn’t dead last in this department — TunnelBear has still fewer geographic options, with a total of 23 countries — but this is an area where Norton clearly lags behind high-end VPN services, which typically have at least 50 countries for users to choose from.
Countries aren’t everything, though: The server count is an important statistic, too. This is particularly true for cord cutters, as having fewer servers makes it easier for streaming services to block access.
For you P2P or file-sharing fanatics, I’ve got some bad news: Norton completely blocks P2P traffic on all of their VPN servers. You’ll have to look elsewhere to fulfill that particular need.
There aren’t a lot of customization options or other features with Norton VPN. Of course, you have to remember that Norton typically sells its VPN as part of a larger security suite. Some of the extra features that other VPNs offer are actually included in Norton’s other applications instead of in their VPN. However, the standalone Norton VPN service does include an option to block ad tracking. This feature also even shows you how many such events it has blocked for you.
One particularly useful feature, which is available only in Norton VPN’s Windows app, is split tunneling. Split tunneling lets you run some programs through the VPN while other programs use your standard network access. This is great for when you want to maintain security across most apps while still being able to use apps and services that don’t work with your VPN — like Disney+, for example, which doesn’t allow any streaming when accessed through the Norton VPN. Split tunneling is a fantastic feature that not all VPN services have, so I was happy to see that Norton VPN had it. I wish that this feature was available on all of Norton VPN’s apps, though — being limited to Windows makes it much less exciting. I hope Norton VPN expands this feature to its other apps in the near future.
Norton gives no options when it comes to security protocols. On Windows, macOS, and Android, Norton VPN uses the OpenVPN standard. While I would have liked the option to change, I was glad to see that Norton VPN at least chose a highly secure option. However, the iOS app uses IPSec, a subpar security protocol that other VPNs have largely replaced with IKEv2. The use of this protocol, combined with the inability to change it, should concern iPhone users.
You should always check where your VPN company is headquartered, as different countries have very different privacy laws. Norton is based in the United States, which means that they are subject to the rules of the Fives Eyes Alliance, an international collaboration that requires companies to hand over user data upon request. Fortunately, Norton does have a no-logging policy, which decreases the potential amount of user data that could be handed over.
The one major limitation of Norton VPN’s no-logging policy is this exception, which I found in the service’s privacy documentation: “Temporary Usage Data to assist with debugging a problem with the service.” This vague language makes it difficult to determine how much of a concern this should be.
Although it’s not yet standard across the industry, some VPNs have started doing regular third-party privacy audits. A third-party audit would go a long way toward relieving my concerns about Norton VPN’s vague privacy language and unclear logging standards, but Norton does not seem to have undergone such an audit since the launch of its VPN.
Those of us who are cord cutters need security and privacy, but we also need speed. Because of how they reroute traffic, some VPNs can cause a significant drop in your internet speeds. There’s nothing worse than turning on your VPN only to feel like your internet connection is running at 1990s dial-up speeds. I tested out Norton VPN with Ookla’s Speedtest, using servers in a few different countries to get a full picture of their abilities.
Before turning on my VPN, I was getting download and upload speeds of about 45 and 55 Mbps, respectively. When I connected to the fastest VPN option (a U.S. server), my download speed dropped slightly to just below 40 Mbps, and my upload speed was unaffected. Connecting to a server in Spain dropped my download and upload speeds to 15 Mbps and just under 30 Mbps, respectively. Other international servers I tried had similar download speeds and, quite often, slower upload speeds. In my testing, relatively few of Norton VPN’s servers in Europe or Asia were able to provide me with speeds fast enough to allow me to stream movies without lag.
If you want a VPN for your mobile device (iOS or Android) and your PC or Mac, Norton has you covered. However, the Mac app gave me significant trouble when I tested it. While Norton VPN technically supports Macs, Apple fans should proceed with caution.
If you’re looking to protect your smart TVs and streaming devices, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Since Norton doesn’t have apps specific to platforms like Roku or Fire TV — and since it doesn’t have apps for routers, which would have given tech-savvy cord cutters a workaround — there is absolutely no way to cover those devices with the Norton VPN.
Norton VPN can be purchased as part of a larger security suite or as a standalone product. Their standalone pricing depends on how many devices you want to cover. For coverage of one device, the monthly plan costs $4.99 per month and the annual plan costs $49.99 per year ($4.17 per month). To cover a maximum of five devices, the cost is $7.99 per month or $79.99 per year ($6.67 per month). The priciest standalone VPN plan covers up to 10 devices and costs $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year ($8.33 per month). In case you didn’t see the pattern: Norton VPN’s annual plans are always 20 percent cheaper than their monthly plans.
Norton VPN’s pricing offers pretty good value. Norton’s competitors tend to take aggressive approaches to long-term pricing, which is why CyberGhost’s three-year plan is so remarkably cheap compared to its monthly plan. Norton VPN’s pricing is a little less extreme in this way: It’s annual plans offer good value, but its monthly plans look pretty cheap compared to the $12 or $15 per month you might pay for a competitor’s monthly deal.
I also like that Norton VPN offers the extra granularity of choosing how many devices are covered. That may help lead you to a plan that fits both your needs and budget well, especially if you feel that you only need a few devices covered.
The biggest value with Norton’s VPN comes when you purchase it as part of a larger security package or as an add-on to your existing Norton security package. The add-on prices for five and 10 devices are only $4.99 per year ($0.42 per month) and $39.99 per year ($3.33 per month), respectively.
The Norton VPN service generally has the same features no matter how you subscribe, but different device limits are available with different subscription types. Getting Norton 360 with LifeLock’s “Ultimate Plus” package, which also includes a large suite of identity protection features and services, gets rid of the VPN device limit entirely.
If I were to describe the perfect Norton VPN user, I would describe someone who already uses Norton’s security products. This ideal Norton VPN user would also be a user of Windows and Android machines, so they’d never have to worry about the subpar security protocols on iOS and the bugs on Mac. This user wouldn’t be interested in unlocking Netflix with a foreign server, and they would have no interest in P2P services.
If all of that describes you, great: Norton VPN is a perfect fit for you. But if any of it doesn’t sound quite right, then I think you’ll find that Norton VPN has some significant drawbacks. If you are looking for a VPN that protects your streaming devices and lets you watch UK-only Netflix content as well as Disney+, Norton VPN is not for you. If you want to protect iOS or Mac devices, then I don’t recommend using Norton VPN. And if you’re not already using Norton’s antivirus software or identity protection services, then you’re not going to enjoy the deep discounts that existing Norton customers will.
Generally, I don’t think that Norton VPN is in the upper tier of VPN servers. But you don’t have to take my word for it: If you already subscribe to Norton 360 or one of Norton’s other application suites, you likely already have access to their VPN or can get it as a cheap add-on. Even if you don’t, the 7-day free trial and 60-day money-back guarantee should give you plenty of time to decide whether Norton VPN is right for you.