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What Is NordVPN SmartDNS & How Does It Work?

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NordVPN’s SmartDNS feature lets you bypass geo-restrictions on many media streaming services not available in your country.

Keep in mind that SmartDNS is part of NordVPN’s subscription.

It’s already included in the cost, so you don’t have to pay extra.

So, you might wonder, what’s the purpose of NordVPN’s SmartDNS?

After all, you can use NordVPN and 5,000+ of its VPN servers to unblock streaming services.

Well, there are many reasons why this feature exists and why you should use it.

The most important one is – NordVPN’s SmartDNS reaches devices that don’t typically support VPN software, such as your TV and game console.

However, before you get to use it, it’s crucial to know exactly what to expect.

That’s because SmartDNS uses no encryption, meaning it doesn’t protect your privacy.

It’s used for media streaming only.

Don’t worry; I’m here to explain everything and answer all your questions.

So, if you want to know more, join me as I explain what NordVPN’s Smart DNS is and how it works.

And if you’re eager to test this feature out, jump to the segment of this article explaining how to set up NordVPN on smart TVs, media streaming devices, and game consoles.

What Exactly Is NordVPN’s SmartDNS?

When you use NordVPN’s app(s), your Web data is routed through a VPN server.

That process changes your IP address and encrypts your incoming and outgoing data.

That means as your data leaves NordVPN’s servers, it’s stripped away of any (meta)data that might point to your location or your Web destination.

While your session is active, no one will see what you do online.

However, there’s no encryption involved when you use NordVPN’s SmartDNS.

Instead, your requests are sent through NordVPN’s DNS servers, which hide your location and make it look like you’re somewhere else entirely.

And that’s it!

As such, NordVPN’s SmartDNS doesn’t work through an interface.

It’s not a feature you can find in NordVPN’s apps.

Instead, you rely on your device’s settings to add a new DNS server and re-route your Web traffic through NordVPN’s SmartDNS.

In case you didn’t know, many devices out there don’t support VPN software.

For example, you can’t install a VPN on most smart TVs, many media streaming devices, or your game console.

All of those devices let you change your DNS settings, though.

That means you can use NordVPN’s SmartDNS on practically any device.

And since there’s no encryption, your Web connection’s speed won’t take a hit.

However, NordVPN’s SmartDNS only lets you unblock a limited number of streaming devices.

Based on my experience, you can use it with:

  • ABC GO
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Disney Plus
  • Fox Now / Sports GO / News
  • Showtime
  • HBO Max
  • Netflix Originals

You’ll get to access the US version of the above-listed services.

You can’t pick any other location or DNS server.

How Does NordVPN’s SmartDNS Work?

As mentioned above, NordVPN’s SmartDNS allows you to access select media streaming services – and only their US-based libraries.

Let me explain what that means.

This feature is powered by special proxy servers run by NordVPN and found in the United States.

When you change your device’s DNS to Nord’s DNS server, your data will start flowing through Nord’s US-based proxy servers.

Your IP address will remain the same.

However, the portion of your traffic that deals with geo-location will change.

Your “true” geo-location data will vanish, which means that websites can’t see or read it.

Once you start using NordVPN’s Smart DNS, here’s how your traffic will flow from your device to the website you want to unblock:

Your Device > SmartDNS Server > End Website

And now, here’s how that traffic returns to you (from your destination to your device):

End Website > Your Device

As you can see, your data goes through NordVPN’s proxy (SmartDNS) server once you try to visit (or, better said – contact) any media streaming platform, like Disney Plus, for example.

Since Disney+ will see that your traffic comes from the US, you’ll unblock its US library.

However, once you start streaming Netflix, that data will flow back directly to your device, letting you experience the full speed of your connection.

There’s no point in redirecting it through NordVPN’s SmartDNS on its way back, as there’s no encryption involved.

NordVPN vs. SmartDNS vs. SmartPlay - What’s the Difference?

When you sign up for NordVPN’s subscription, you’ll get access to three services: NordVPN, SmartDNS, and SmartPlay.

Sounds confusing, right?

Don’t worry; I’ll explain the differences between them.

But before I do that, I need to explain their primary roles:

  • NordVPN: This is Nord’s “premier” service. As you already know, this VPN gives you access to 5,000+ servers, the ability to encrypt and hide your data, and more. You can learn more about that in my NordVPN review.
  • SmartDNS: This feature is used only for media streaming and unblocking services that check your location based on your DNS. You access it through your device’s settings, not NordVPN’s app.
  • SmartPlay: This is a combination of NordVPN’s standard and SmartDNS features. It works in the background (via NordVPN’s apps), letting you use individual VPN servers to unblock media streaming services. On top of that, your data is encrypted. So, you get the best of both worlds.

Hopefully, you now have a rough idea about the differences between NordVPN, SmartDNS, and SmartPlay.

If you want an in-depth explanation, you’ll find it below.

Security & Data Protection

NordVPN allows you to use OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec, and NordLynx.

All three are highly secure VPN protocols.

They’re also coupled with up to AES-256 NGE (Next Generation Encryption), making your sensitive data practically vanish from the Internet.

nordvpn data protection

So, when you want to put an end to digital tracking and ensure your privacy on the Internet, NordVPN’s apps have the power to protect you.

Then, we have NordVPN’s SmartDNS, which isn’t made for privacy.

As explained earlier, NordVPN’s SmartDNS tricks websites into thinking you’re somewhere else.

That happens thanks to Nord’s DNS servers, which route your traffic – but without any encryption.

Since there’s no encryption, there’s no data privacy.

That’s why the SmartDNS feature is used for media streaming and occasional website unblocking.

Speed & Performance

NordVPN is one of the fastest VPN services out there.

That’s because it comes with a high level of customization.

You can switch between VPN protocols (by visiting NordVPN’s settings) and pick any of Nord’s 5,000+ standard and specialized servers.

That allows you to fine-tune your VPN connection and reach speeds with minimal throttling.

speed performance

Still, even with in-depth customization of Nord’s settings, you’ll never reach the same incredibly fast speeds as you’ll get with NordVPN’s SmartDNS, and here’s why.

NordVPN’s SmartDNS isn’t a VPN.

It doesn’t use a VPN protocol to route your data, nor does it encrypt your data.

By eliminating that “overhead,” your Web connection’s speed won’t take a hit.

Even though Nord’s SmartDNS servers are found in the US only, the speed of your Web connection will be very fast in all cases.

For example, even if you connect from the opposite side of the world.

Media Streaming Capabilities

NordVPN’s SmartPlay is what you can use for media streaming.

And trust me, you’ll get to unblock and watch any streaming service out there.

All it takes is to pick a server – and that’s it!

However, NordVPN’s SmartPlay is actually a combination of its VPN and SmartDNS features.

It all works seamlessly in the background (via NordVPN’s apps) without any fine-tuning.

Based on my tests, NordVPN unblocks Netflix, HuluHBO Max, Disney PlusAmazon Prime Video, DAZN, BBC iPlayer, and countless other services.

You can access those streaming services from outside the US.

And in some cases, you can access different versions of the same service (like Netflix, for example).

media streaming

Unlike NordVPN, its SmartDNS comes without an interface.

To use it, you need to input two DNS addresses into your device’s settings.

As soon as you do that, Nord will start routing your data through its SmartDNS servers.

As you can see, NordVPN’s SmartDNS doesn’t let you pick a server, which is a limiting factor.

Since its SmartDNS servers are in the US, you’ll get to unblock only a handful of American media streaming services.

Device Coverage

To use NordVPN, you need to install its app(s).

They are available on pretty much every popular platform, like Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS.

You can even install it on your router (and protect your entire household at once).

NordVPN also gives you six simultaneous connections.

You can install its apps on as many devices as you want – but you can have up to 6 connections active at any given moment.

nordvpn platforms

When it comes to Nord’s SmartDNS, you can set it up on any device – as long as that device lets you adjust DNS settings.

However, this feature is most often used on devices that don’t support VPN apps.

For example, smart TVs, game consoles, and dedicated media streaming devices (like Apple TV, for example).

Even though these devices don’t support VPNs, they support SmartDNS services.

What Are the PROS & CONS of NordVPN’s SmartDNS?

Nord’s SmartDNS is a convenient feature – but you need to keep in mind its benefits and limitations.

So, here are the pros and cons of NordVPN’s SmartDNS.

PROS

The most significant benefit of Nord’s SmartDNS is that it works on devices not compatible with VPNs.

So, when it comes to unblocking and using streaming services on your smart TV or game console, your best option is SmartDNS.

Another benefit of SmartDNS is its ultra-fast performance.

Once you start routing your traffic through NordVPN’s SmartDNS, you won’t experience any throttling or slowdowns.

So, even if you have a 20-25Mbps Web connection, you’ll still get to stream in 4K.

Something like that isn’t possible when using a VPN (as encryption introduces slowdowns).

And lastly, SmartDNS is very simple to set up and use.

All you need to do is visit your device’s settings and adjust Internet-related options.

For more information about that, keep reading, as I’ll give you step-by-step directions.

CONS

The biggest limitation of NordVPN’s SmartDNS is its lack of security.

Without encryption, your data is left exposed on the Web.

Of course, that’s not an issue when streaming media, when all you want is to unblock and watch new streaming services.

Speaking of media streaming, Nord’s SmartDNS lets you unblock a handful of highly popular streaming services restricted to the US only.

However, NordVPN (its fully-featured app) enables you to unblock streaming services available in countries outside the US (this VPN has servers in 60 countries).

How to Set Up & Use NordVPN SmartDNS?

Finally, let me show you how to set up NordVPN’s SmartDNS.

I made sure to cover smart TVs, streaming devices, and game consoles.

Set Up NordVPN SmartDNS on Smart TVs

set up nordvpn smartdns on smart tv

For the following procedure to work, you need a smart TV that lets you customize DNS settings and install media streaming apps.

Do the following:

  1. Make sure your smart TV is connected to the Web. It also needs to be connected to the same (Wi-Fi) Web connection as the device you’ll use to access your Nord account (your computer or smartphone, for example).
  2. Using your computer or smartphone, use any Web browser to log in to your Nord account. Provide you credentials and access your dashboard.
  3. Select ‘NordVPN’ on the left side (in the ‘Services’ section). On the right, click on the ‘Activate’ button in the ‘SmartDNS’ section. Doing so will whitelist your IP address on your specific network (that’s why your TV and your computer/smartphone must be on the same network).
nordvpn smartdns activation
  1. Turn to your smart TV now and navigate to its settings. You need to visit Internet- or Network-related settings. That’s where you can adjust your TV’s primary and secondary DNS addresses. For more precise info, I recommend doing a Google search based on the exact model of your TV.
  2. Once you input your primary (103.86.99.103) and secondary DNS (103.86.96.103), leave the settings menu. You are now free to use your TV like you normally would. Try installing new media streaming apps, or use those you’ve already installed.

NordVPN offers a handy tutorial video on setting up SmartDNS on LG TVs with detailed step-by-step instructions.

Watch it here:

Set Up NordVPN SmartDNS on Media Streaming Devices

set up nordvpn smartdns on media streaming device

If you have a media streaming device that runs on Fire OS (like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick) or Android TV (like Nvidia’s Shield TV), it’s better to use NordVPN’s fully-featured app.

Just download it from Amazon’s or Google’s App Store.

Therefore, you can use Nord’s SmartDNS on media streaming devices that don’t support VPNs natively, such as Apple TV.

Here’s what you must do:

  1. Your media streaming device and the device you’ll use to set up SmartDNS must be on the same network. For example, your home Wi-Fi.
  2. Use your computer or smartphone to access your Nord account. Provide your username and password, and you’ll see Nord’s dashboard.
  3. Select ‘NordVPN’ on the left, in the ‘Services’ section. On the right, click on ‘Activate’ in the ‘SmartDNS’ section. Your IP address will now register and whitelist, and Nord’s SmartDNS will go live.
  4. You need to finish the rest of the procedure on your media streaming device. More precisely, you need to navigate to your device’s Internet settings (typically located within the Settings app).

If you use tvOS (Apple TV), navigate to Settings > General > Network > Wi-Fi > (select your network).

Then, pick Configure DNS > Manual.

  1. Enter the primary (103.86.99.103) and secondary DNS (103.86.96.103), which you’ll also see on your Nord dashboard. Double-check if you’ve entered the correct numbers and return to your streaming device’s home screen. Feel free to try out SmartDNS using any media streaming app.

Set Up NordVPN SmartDNS on Game Consoles

set up nordvpn smartdns on game console

NordVPN’s SmartDNS works on Xbox, PlayStation, and even Nintendo Switch consoles.

They all let you set up a custom DNS.

So, do the following:

  1. Your console and the device you’ll use to activate SmartDNS must be on the same network (your home Wi-Fi, preferably).
  2. Use your computer or smartphone to access Nord’s login page. Provide your credentials, and you’ll get to your Nord Account dashboard.
  3. Pick ‘NordVPN’ in the left-placed sidebar. On the right, use the button that says ‘Activate.’ Wait a couple of moments until NordVPN registers your IP address and activates SmartDNS.
  4. You’ll finish the procedure on your game console. Make sure to visit the settings app and find a group of options related to Web connectivity. Your goal is to find DNS-related settings.

Trying to find DNS settings on your console can be tedious.

So, I’ll help by pointing you in the right direction:

Xbox (One / Series X and S): Settings > General > Network Settings > Advanced Settings > DNS Settings > Manual > (enter your DNS addresses).

PlayStation 4: Settings > Network > Set Up Internet Connection > Use a LAN Cable/Use Wi-Fi > (continue until you get to DNS Settings) > Manual > (enter your primary and secondary DNS).

PlayStation 5: Settings > Network > Set Up Internet Connection > Use a LAN Cable/Use Wi-Fi > Pick ‘Custom’ (when asked how to set up your connection) > (continue until you get to DNS Settings) > (enter your DNS addresses).

Nintendo Switch: Settings > Internet > Internet Settings > (pick your network) > Change Settings > DNS Settings > Manual > Select ‘Primary DNS’ and hold the ‘B’ button to delete your DNS > Enter your new DNS address > (repeat the same for ‘Secondary DNS’).

  1. Once you change your console’s DNS addresses (primary: 103.86.99.103 / secondary: 103.86.96.103), feel free to return to its home screen. Try using SmartDNS with any media streaming app.

NordVPN SmartDNS Not Working? - Try These Troubleshooting Steps

If you’re experiencing issues with NordVPN’s SmartDNS, there’s a group of quick actions to take that will help you determine the cause of the issue.

So, here’s what you need to do.

Internet Connection Not Working?

If you can’t connect to the Web after setting up SmartDNS, that means your device isn’t routing your traffic through Nord’s servers.

There could be two reasons why that is happening.

First, determine whether you have an IPv4 or IPv6 address.

That’s the IP address assigned to your device by your ISP (Internet service provider).

NordVPN SmartDNS doesn’t work on IPv6 addresses.

Actually, as far as I am aware, no SmartDNS services support IPv6 natively.

To check if you have an IPv6 address, you can use this website.

Just open it in your browser and give it a minute.

If it says ’No IPv6 Address Detected’ once the test is complete, that means NordVPN SmartDNS should work fine.

ipv6 connectivity test

Your next course of action should be to check your DNS settings.

Unless you’ve entered your primary and secondary DNS correctly, you won’t be able to use the Internet.

Can’t Unblock Media Streaming Services?

If you can’t unblock a streaming service after setting up SmartDNS, the chances are that your streaming apps use their cache memory to determine your location.

So, you need to remove that data to force your streaming apps to “read” the location of NordVPN’s SmartDNS servers.

The easiest way to do that is by re-installing your apps.

So, no matter if you use a smart TV, streaming device, or game console, go ahead and delete your streaming apps.

Before you redownload them, I recommend restarting your device.

This ensures that no cache data is left behind.

Finally, redownload your apps and try accessing them.

Additionally, don’t forget that Nord’s SmartDNS (like any other SmartDNS service) works with a limited selection of streaming services.

More precisely, it works with Netflix’s originals, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, ABC GO, and FOX Now / Sports Go / Showtime.

Experiencing Some Other Issue?

If you went through all of the troubleshooting steps explained above, and you’re still experiencing issues with NordVPN’s SmartDNS, I recommend turning to NordVPN’s customer support.

NordVPN SmartDNS Alternatives for Media Streaming

NordVPN isn’t the only VPN to offer SmartDNS.

So, if you’re looking for an alternative, I recommend the following VPN services:

  • ExpressVPN comes with a feature called MediaStreamer, which is close to identical to NordVPN’s SmartDNS. It works on devices that don’t support VPNs natively, letting you unblock Netflix US, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and HBO Max. And if you stick to ExpressVPN’s VPN part, you’ll unblock pretty much any streaming service out there (even those based outside the US).
  • Surfshark comes with a fairly standard SmartDNS, which you can activate using the VPN’s website (after accessing your account’s dashboard). You can unblock Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, which means its reach is somewhat limited. However, Surfshark’s VPN apps can unblock an endless array of streaming services.
  • CyberGhost is yet another alternative that offers a SmartDNS component. If you’re after unblocking Netflix US and Hulu, you’re in luck. On top of that, CyberGhost’s SmartDNS can unblock the British version of Netflix, which is something you won’t find elsewhere.

FAQ

NordVPN’s SmartDNS is legal to use.

You have every right to change your device’s DNS settings (which is precisely what SmartDNS does) and decide which DNS server you want to use.

That means that you won’t get in trouble with your Internet provider or anyone else.

The same applies to using NordVPN’s fully-featured apps.

There’s also the question of what you plan on using Nord’s SmartDNS for.

Legally speaking, “altering” your access to streaming services such as Netflix is against its ToS (Terms of Service).

However, there isn’t a single report of someone getting banned for using a VPN or SmartDNS.

It’s perfectly safe to use NordVPN’s SmartDNS.

You won’t harm your device in any way, as you’ll simply re-route your Web traffic through Nord’s DNS servers.

In terms of how safe and effective NordVPN’s SmartDNS is against online threats – well, not very effective.

Remember that SmartDNS does not encrypt your data, which leaves it exposed on the Web.

Its only use is to unblock streaming services, so privacy and safety are beyond SmartDNS’ reach.

If you’re looking to upgrade your digital safety and security, I recommend turning to NordVPN’s apps.

You get them included with your subscription, so why not take advantage?

NordVPN’s SmartDNS isn’t better nor worse than its VPN.

That’s because we’re talking about two similar yet crucially different technologies.

I could say that Nord’s SmartDNS is better if you want to unblock streaming services on your TV, streaming device, or game console.

The only alternative is to install NordVPN on a compatible router, which is a somewhat complex procedure.

NordVPN’s native apps can unblock more streaming platforms while bringing much-needed security through data encryption.

However, you can’t install those or any other VPN app on most TVs, streaming devices, or game consoles.

NordVPN’s SmartDNS works by rerouting your Web traffic through US-based servers.

There’s no option to pick another country, which means that NordVPN SmartDNS doesn’t offer UK servers.

As far as I am aware, CyberGhost is the only VPN/SmartDNS that offers UK-based DNS servers.

However, it unblocks Netflix only (it doesn’t work with BBC’s iPlayer or other UK-based streaming services).

Using NordVPN’s SmartDNS, you’ll unblock Netflix’s original content, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, ABC GO, and Fox Now / Sports Go / News / Showtime.

More precisely, you’ll unblock the US version of all those services.

I have to add that Nord’s SmartDNS is perhaps the most capable service of its kind, as other SmartDNS services are typically limited to Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video only.

And - It’s a Wrap!

NordVPN’s SmartDNS is a feature often misunderstood, which is a shame.

Since it’s already included in NordVPN’s subscriptions, there’s no reason not to try it on your smart TV, streaming device, or game console – especially if you want to reach new streaming services.

So, plenty could be done using Nord’s SmartDNS, but only if you adjust your expectations.

With that said, if you want full encryption for your data, your only alternative (in terms of getting NordVPN to work on ANY device) is to install this VPN on your router.

Sign up for NordVPN using this link to get a HUGE discount on its subscriptions, and start using SmartDNS today!

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