If you, like most people, spend a lot of your time on the internet, it’s likely that you have come across an article or two related to online privacy and its challenges. From draconian government censorship policies to data breaches of major social media networks, protecting your online traffic is an issue that gets more serious by the week. Fortunately, there are methods to obscure your internet presence. The most straightforward of these is the VPN (virtual private network). This works by routing your public traffic through a separate private network. This masks your IP information with the information of the outside server, so third parties can’t determine your true identity. For many years, VPNs were mostly the domain of governments and businesses whose employees needed remote access to secure servers.
Today, almost anyone can enjoy the benefits of a VPN. Many of us use the most common internet-connected devices in existence: the Android smartphone. In this article, we will give you a few basic tips on what to look for when considering a VPN service for your Android device. We will also provide you with a few suggestions based on our own in-house testing.
The Three Most Common Reasons for Using a VPN on Android
There are several reasons people choose to use a VPN for Android, but the three most common are privacy, security, and content unblocking. Here is a basic overview of each:
- Privacy: By using a VPN, you can navigate the internet anonymously because your personal IP address is replaced with one from your VPN provider. This prohibits third parties–like your government, internet service provider (ISP), or the website you are visiting–from tracing your online activities back to you.
- Security: VPNs not only hide your IP address, they also encrypt your data, providing another layer of protection from the prying eyes of the state, ISPs, and hackers. This is especially important for Android users as their devices are often connected to public networks which are notoriously insecure.
- Content unblocking: Video streaming sites such as YouTube and Netflix are global content providers; but that doesn’t mean that all their content is available globally. All over the world, especially in countries outside of the United States, users commonly find that their favorite (and often paid for) services have blocked them from viewing content due to their location. With the right VPN, you can get the most out of your paid subscription by using an IP address from within an approved country to circumvent a geo-lock.
What To Look For When Choosing a VPN for Android
There are plenty of solid VPN companies to choose from, but no two are exactly the same. Before you begin looking at all the options out there, you should think about your needs first. When deciding on which VPN is best for you, consider these primary characteristics: security, speed, server location options, and cost. If your aim is unblocking certain content, you will need a VPN that has servers in that country. Heavy streamers will also require location-specific networks, as well as minimal bandwidth loss. If your biggest concern is remaining anonymous and keeping your personal information safe, strong encryption is a must-have.
It’s also important to consider the user experience. VPNs are no longer reserved for IT professionals and technology experts. They are for everyone, and there are plenty of services that offer intuitive interfaces that are navigable by even the most average of internet users. And if you do run into a problem, a good VPN service will have easy-to-access customer support with fast response times.
Regarding cost, though there are a number of serviceable free VPNs on the internet, the fact is that a truly worthwhile VPN service won’t be free. It’s a simple matter of resources; a free service is not able to afford networks at full speed. Therefore, it will need to limit your bandwidth, put a cap on your total data allowance, or both. Free services also can’t provide the high level of security and variety of server locations that premium services are able to deliver. Fortunately, a good quality VPN does not have to be expensive. For example, NordVPN is a popular and reputable option that is currently offering a very competitive deal for a long-term subscription.
Tested and Proven VPNs: Our Recommendations for Android
Having lots of options to choose from is great, but it can also be overwhelming. To help make your decision a little easier, we have run our own tests on a few of the most popular VPNs on the market; taking into account upload and download speeds, number and variety of servers, supported services, privacy policies, encryption protocols, and more. Here are the VPNs we recommend.
NordVPN for Android
NordVPN is one of the most popular VPNs on the market. If you watch a lot of YouTube videos, chances are you’ve seen them in an advertisement or as a video sponsor. With its headquarters located in Panama, the company operates outside the reach of the restrictive legislation of many countries. With over 4,400 server locations in more than 60 countries, NordVPN has a footprint on every continent. For the security conscious user, NordVPN offers 2048 bit SSL encryption; support for OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, and IPSec protocols; a zero log policy; and the ability to pay with nonstandard methods like Bitcoin. NordVPN also allows torrent connections and navigation via a Tor browser.
In our tests (via a stable 100/100 connection in the Netherlands), we experienced speeds of 50-100 mbps in Europe and 30-60 mbps in the United States. While some loss in speed did occur due to heavy encryption protocols, the resulting speeds were more than enough to stream high-quality videos.
As far as cost goes, NordVPN is one of the most economic options. One month costs $11.95, but yearly plans are available at a discount. Right now a two-year plan will only put you back $3.99 per month!
NordVPN offers an easy to use Android app that will have you browsing anonymously in no time. In terms of customer support, NordVPN has a lengthy FAQ section, comprehensive installation manuals, and fast-response email support. They also have a “24/7” live chat option, but the system was offline when we attempted to use it.
ExpressVPN for Android
One of the largest premium VPN services in the world by subscriber base, ExpressVPN boasts secure connections and excellent speeds. The company’s 2000+ server network is spread out over more than 94 countries. Founded in 2009, ExpressVPN is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, which allows them to operate without keeping logs. Using 256-bit encryption, ExpressVPN supports several security protocols, three simultaneous connections, and allows bittorrent connections.
In our speed tests we noticed a slight drop of 5mbps in the Europe, and a drop of 16mbps when connected across the Atlantic in the U.S. For everyday use, our connection was unwavering and showed no signs of latency when watching YouTube and Netflix.
ExpressVPN is secure and fast, but what stood out to us most was the user-friendly experience. The professional-looking Android app is well laid-out and intuitive. You don’t have to be an expert to operate it. The basic function works with the tap of one button. We have no problem saying it is one of the most user-friendly VPNs we have worked with. Installation is as easy as downloading it from Google Play, and they have 24/7 live chat support.
ExpressVPN costs $12.95/mo but if you pay for a year it’s just $6.67. The yearly subscription also earns you an extra three months free. All subscription options are backed by a 30-day money back guarantee.
IPVanish for Android
Arriving to the VPN scene in 2012, IPVanish has quickly established a name for itself thanks to fast connections and wide reach. IPVanish boasts more than 1,000 servers in 60 countries, provides unlimited bandwidth, and allows for five simultaneous connections. In our tests we were able to reach our ISP’s maximum transfer rates in Europe, though we did notice a hit when connecting to the United States. An important note: we were unable to access American Netflix content when using IPVanish. We reached out for comment and they indicated that they were working on a solution. However, for now it’s better to operate under the assumption that IPVanish does not work with American Netflix content.
IPVanish uses L2TP / IPsec, OpenVPN, and PPTP protocols, and offers unlimited switching between servers. The service also augments anonymity by using shared dynamic IP addresses. It is important to understand that while IPVanish claims to not keep traffic logs, the U.S. based company is subject to strong American internet laws like the PATRIOT Act and NSA monitoring. It’s worth noting, however, that the IPVanish network is sealed from unauthorized access.
The Android app is clean and user-friendly, and customer service via email is sufficient. The company used to offer live chat but that has since been disabled.
CyberGhost for Android
Another economic VPN option for Android is CyberGhost. Founded in 2009 in Romania, CyberGhost has more than 2700 servers in 60+ countries. Moreover, they supports both torrent and Netflix connections. An outspoken supporter of internet freedom, CyberGhost keeps no logs and even publishes a transparency report regarding how often government authorities make requests for data. CyberGhost uses OpenVPN, L2TP-IPsec and PPTP protocols and connections are 256-bit AES encrypted.
Though we didn’t notice much difference in day-to-day usage with CyberGhost, speed tests show significant drop from 60 mbps down to 34 mbps with the VPN. Interestingly, our speeds via U.S. servers were about the same as servers in The Netherlands, though ping times were much slower abroad. Video streaming and file transfers are reliable, but CyberGhost might be a handicap for gamers. Another possible negative is that it does not offer a dedicated IP server. This can potentially trigger Netflix’s anti-VPN measures. However, CyberGhost does have an “Unblock Streaming” option that can help you find an unblocked connection.
The CyberGhost mobile app is both intuitive and aesthetically pleasing. They offer live chat support and a 30-day money back guarantee. One month of CyberGhost costs $12.99, but if you pay for 18 months up front, you can drop that down to $3.50 a month.
The Best VPN for Android – Our Opinion
When it comes to the question of which VPN is best for Android, the answer is…it depends on your priorities. With that said however, in our experience, ExpressVPN offers the best combination of speed, security, and user-friendliness. It does cost a little more than some of the budget options that are available. Still, you get what you pay for with the ExpressVPN service: a wealth of server choices, reliable speed and security, an intuitive interface, and confidence-inspiring customer service.
If your primary concern is connection speed, IPVanish gave us the most impressive results. However, any service within the reach of the United States government gives us pause. If you are looking for a long-term economical option, NordVPN delivers a solid all-around experience with sufficient connection speeds and trustworthy security for a very low three-year price tag. All options work especially well on Android devices.