VS1 Cloud Blog
These are the best virtual private networks for protecting your privacy on your Android mobile device.
Working remotely has become the new norm for millions of people, which means using a VPN to protect your online privacy and security is more important than ever -- you may even want to use one on your Android phone or tablet. And I have good news for Android users: Virtual private networks are no longer the exclusive domain of bloated software and bulky desktop clients. It's now possible to find a number of VPNs that are lightweight, easy to use, and optimized for mobile.
The download rate of mobile VPN apps has been growing exponentially. Over 480 million mobile VPN apps were downloaded around the world in the last 12 months, 54% more than the year before, according to a 2019 report from research firm Top10VPN. And approximately 75% of those downloads were via an Android phone or another Android device.
While free services accounted for 84% of all mobile VPN downloads, we recommend avoiding free VPN apps and going with a paid VPN whenever possible. That means getting your money's worth out of a glitch-free, secure VPN app for Android. We regularly test and review our featured VPN apps, so be sure to check back here in the future as we update our list.
While our directory of the best VPN services of 2020 ranks these apps and others by how well they held up during our testing and review process, this list focuses specifically on the mobile offerings of each VPN provider. Each Android VPN app listed here has a cost -- there isn't a free VPN service included. But, that just means you're going to be paying for connection speed and a secure virtual private network, which is essential on an Android phone, Android tablet or other mobile device. Here are the best Android VPN options we've tested so far this year.
Best speedy up-and-comer, packed with features
Intuitive app interface, with plenty of power under the hood
Number of servers: 3,200-plus
Number of VPN server locations: 65
Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
Despite its customizability and powerful performance as a VPN, Surfshark's app for Android offers an interface that's surprisingly intuitive for first-time users. Its four-tab design elegantly conceals a host of privacy tools and connection options, highlighting a single-click connection button on the app's landing screen.
Quickly access one of Surfshark's multihop connection option -- one of its most promising features, which jumps your connection through multiple countries to hide your trail -- through its main location-selection screen, with no need to rummage through the app's settings. Surfshark also gets bonus points for making its customer support options for the dedicated Android app readily available, including its help ticket feature and user guide library.
Read more: Surfshark VPN review: A feature-rich service with blazing speeds and a security focus
While Surfshark's network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes up for it on features. Let's start off with the biggest win it offers: unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark's VPN, you don't have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.
Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) -- though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark. Its encryption is standard AES-256-GCM, and it supports Perfect Forward Secrecy, which means it frequently changes encryption keys to avoid security compromises.
The company has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireTV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important.
Along with multihop, Surfshark also offers two more special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn't know you're using a VPN. And NoBorders Mode "allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions."
Just be careful. Doing any of those three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we saw no DNS or IP address leaks, and had no trouble accessing Netflix.
Unlike many of the other VPN providers, Surfshark doesn't offer a one-year plan. Its best offer is $2.49 a month, for its two-year plan (you pay about $60 up front). A six-month plan is $6.49 a month (about $39 up front), and month-by-month plans are $12.95 a month. Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and if you choose the two-year plan, maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).
Best Android VPN for blazing speeds, privacy
Simple, fast, effective app
Number of servers: 3,000-plus
Number of VPN server locations: 160
Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
Just as ExpressVPN consistently tops the list as the fastest VPN on the market, its app for Android is designed with a streamlined approach aimed at connecting fast without a fuss. A single button on its landing screen directs an Android user to connect quickly, with the only accompanying option a drop-down location selector with your fastest nearby city selected by default.
ExpressVPN's other options -- its security and privacy tools, account and settings options, and support page -- are all kept neatly tucked away under a garden variety three-bar icon in the screen's top left corner. And they're worth checking into. ExpressVPN has included an on-board IP address checker, along with two leak testers and a password generator.
Read more: ExpressVPN review: A VPN speed leader with a secure reputation
The company tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users' online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a VPN server seizure by authorities which proved their zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN's setup guides, and the detailed information in its FAQ.
Like the rest of the top five VPN services we've reviewed for 2020, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method -- something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.
The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free.
Best Android VPN for reliability and security
An easy to use, reliable app
Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
Number of VPN server locations: 62
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. Part of that brand recognition is based on the user-friendliness of its design. Nord's app for Android is just as easy to interact with as its desktop VPN client, with a very similar design. It poses no learning curve for a first-time user looking to move from desktop to mobile.
Just as the desktop client does, Nord's app opens to a familiar blue-scale landing screen map where users can opt for to either select a country or connect to the fastest server automatically. Nord gets bonus points for its split tunneling feature, which allows you to select other apps that you don't want to run through your encrypted VPN connection.
Read more: NordVPN review: Still the best value for security and speed
Nord offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six connections allowed through its network -- nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast.
The company's one-year subscription plan costs $7 a month ($84 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than most other contenders, the month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. As of September 2019, the company's other pricing tiers have crept up a bit: It's now $3.49 a month for a three-year plan (or $125.64 total), up from $2.99/$107.55. And the two-year plan is now $4.99 a month ($119.76), up from $3.99/$95.75. And yes, it also has a full 30-day refund policy.
While NordVPN has lived on our top VPNs list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord's actions following the discovery included -- eventually -- multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security.
While we'd have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of user activity. As a result, Nord remains on our list as a recommended vendor.
By: Rae Hodge