What is a VPN and why do you need one?
VPN stands for virtual private network. The key word is private. A typical Internet connection (especially through a fixed IP address) can easily be exploited to locate the device used to connect to the Internet. That’s because a standard unencrypted connection gives your device a public IP address that’s easy to geolocate and track. Nowadays people use VPNs for various reasons: streaming, chatting, or reaching restricted sites, and there are even dedicated VPN services for different apps and programs like Opera, Chrome or Safari.
A safe VPN for Android connects you to an external server, masking your true IP address and effectively fooling someone into thinking you’re connecting from a completely different location. In addition to safeguarding your private data while you’re browsing the Internet, it also allows you to bypass geo-blocked content. For example, using a VPN app can give you access to region-blocked streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
Another key aspect of VPN services is data encryption. Some messaging or social network messaging apps, such as Viber and WhatsApp use advanced encryption techniques, while others don’t. Good VPN apps pick up the slack, ensuring that your private communication (either through messaging or VoIP calls) actually stays private.
Still not convinced? You can also use VPN apps to overcome government censorship in countries like China or to protect your phone when connecting to unsecured open Wi-Fi connections in public. They can even block annoying YouTube ads.
Considering how often we use our phones, it only makes sense to protect them with a good virtual private network solution. Furthermore, VPN providers often offer licenses that cover multiple devices, making it simple and cost-effective to cover your Android phone along with your PC or laptop.
What to look for in a VPN?
Although there are differences when it comes to specifics, the best VPN apps on the market all share some common traits.
First off, you’ll want to think about security and privacy protection. What sort of encryption does the VPN protection use? The 256-bit advanced encryption standard is the norm these days, though some services still use the less-resource-intensive (and less secure) 128-bit and 192-bit encryption.
Next you have to look at the VPN protocols being used. IPSec? SSL/TLS? OpenVPN? SSH? We won’t get into details about each protocol type, but unless the company has its own custom solution, IPSec and OpenVPN variants tend to be the most commonly used ones as they provide the highest degree of protection.
Network coverage is another obvious component to consider when looking for the best VPN for your Android phone. The more servers and server locations a VPN provider offers, the better your chances of finding a high-speed virtual server near your location and enjoying a VPN service with minimal drops in speed. The same goes for accessing regionally locked content or overcoming censorship.
For many people, speed is another important consideration. Running servers costs money, so even the best free VPN solutions are usually no match for the hardware found with the best–paid VPN alternatives. Every VPN solution slows down your Internet connection speed (routing through virtual servers, sometimes multiple times, takes bandwidth), so ensuring that you connect to the fastest possible servers will minimize the negative impact on your connection.
Then, there’s the logging policy. Quite simply, the ideal service is one that keeps no logs of your activities whatsoever, but not all VPN providers can ensure that in practice. At the end of the day, you’re using a VPN precisely so that nobody except you would know what you’re doing on your phone. Some providers record sessions in order to delete them later, and the best Android VPN apps store them on RAM so that every time a server is rebooted the logs are deleted.
Generally speaking, no one has the time or the will to go through your logs, and your data is encrypted anyway, but there have been cases in the past when VPN services turned data over to the government. As such, companies operating outside the jurisdiction of the Five Eyes alliance (an intelligence-sharing network that groups the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand) are your best bet for complete anonymity online.
Finally, there’s the user experience and price. You want software that is easy to use and customer support that’s easily accessible and helpful. Bonus points are given to software that supports multiple device logins with one subscription. You also don’t want to get ripped off. The best mobile VPN solutions offer long term deals that significantly drive the price down. Ideally, you’ll want a free trial to check out the app’s features, but never select subscriptions on a monthly basis if you can help it, as the price tends to be much higher.
When choosing between the various popular Android VPN options on the market, we use a methodology based on many of the same principles that we’ve outlined above. The key aspects that make a good VPN for Android were evaluated as follows:
Server Coverage and Speed
This category looks at the number of servers and their geographical coverage, as well as the average and top speeds that are achievable when using a VPN solution. The more servers you have available, the higher the chances of finding a less populated one near your location, which in turn increases the chances of getting a fast connection. Although many people believe that the best VPN for Android is free, top Android VPN options that offer speed and extensive server coverage invariably come with a price tag.
VPN Protocols and Encryption
There are multiple types of encryption and protocols used in VPN solutions these days. The ideal service comes with 128-bit SSL encryption, paired with 2048-bit public/private keys, but some of the top solutions around offer military-grade 256-bit AES encryption. In terms of protocols, OpenVPN and IPSec are increasingly common due to their high-security measures, although SSL/TLS and the older PPTP are still being used.
While most good Android VPN providers offer unlimited monthly bandwidth, some don’t. This is especially true if you choose the free option, which typically has monthly caps, after which you’ll either experience a drop in connection speed or VPN access will be cut off completely.
Speaking of cutting off access, even the best solutions on the market might sometimes run into issues with their servers. Losing a connection can potentially expose your private data that the VPN was busy hiding. If you maintain an Internet connection, you may not notice anything until it’s too late. This is why the safest VPN for Android will have the option of automatically killing all data transfers until a connection with the VPN is restored. This effectively cuts all access to the Internet for however long it takes to connect to a VPN server again (typically no more than a few seconds).
DNS Leak Protection
A Domain Name System or DNS converts domain names into IP addresses. While connecting to a DNS server and requesting an IP address in order to establish a connection with the site, some of your online traffic may leak through to the default DNS servers owned by your Internet service provider. The best VPN apps for Android feature DNS leak protection, which prevents leaks by ensuring that all DNS queries are resolved on the same VPN server that you’re using.
This category examines one of the most important aspects of a smartphone VPN: how session logging is handled. Most big companies have strict no-logging policies, but this isn’t always implemented in practice. Ideally, the company should be based in a country that falls outside the jurisdiction of international surveillance networks, such as the Five Eyes alliance and hold the session logs in the server RAM, ensuring that it gets deleted every time the servers get reset.
Ad Blocking and Content Unblocking
The best VPN software often offers extensive options for both blocking and unblocking content. The former refers to various sophisticated ad-blocking features that enhance your experience while browsing the Internet or watching YouTube videos. The latter is all about bypassing geo-blocked content on streaming services, such as HBO, Netflix, and Hulu.
These vary greatly between providers and can be anything from sophisticated double encryption and specialized P2P servers for torrenting to malware and antivirus protection. While not essential, bonus features offer further functionality that helps distinguish one Android VPN from another.
The best mobile VPNs offer more than just fantastic tools for safeguarding your online privacy. A solid user experience is just as important as the product’s features. This includes everything from a well-designed and intuitive user interface to a snappy operation that’s free of lag and crashes. It also includes great customer support that’s always available to answer questions or solve any problems that may arise. This category looks at everything from the general experience of using the software to the available customer support channels and the team’s working hours.
Price and Value
Our final category is all about the overall value a VPN provider offers for your money. The best VPNs for Android aren’t typically low-cost products, but there are varying prices when it comes to VPN services. While paying more tends to give you access to more/better servers and advanced security features, there are a number of other things to consider. Providers may focus on completely different aspects of the software, offering different benefits with each price tier. Knowing what you need and what you should expect to pay for it is crucial when picking the right VPN service.
The Best VPN for Android:
What is the best Android VPN?
The answer to this question depends on both your needs and budget. ExpressVPN offers staggeringly quick speeds, NordVPN has the best security features, while CyberGhost and Surfshark offer some of the most affordable deals on the market. Any option from our list is solid. You’ll just need to decide what features you want and at what price.
Are VPNs illegal?
Unless a country specifically outlaws using a VPN, it is perfectly legal. That being said, downloading pirated software and copyrighted materials while using a VPN is still illegal. VPNs can be a gateway to many illegal or dubious activities, but using them is not considered illegal in the vast majority of countries around the world.
Is it illegal to watch Netflix with a VPN?
No. In fact, the best phone VPN apps are often sought out precisely for this feature. Netflix and other popular streaming platforms often limit their library for non-US viewers and offer different regional repertoires when it comes to movies and TV shows.
Can VPNs be traced?
Yes and no. If you are using top-shelf VPN solutions with advanced security features and encryption protocols, the chances of your real IP address and other personal data being compromised are very slim. If the provider also has a strict no-logging policy, your session logs won’t be available to anyone. Using low-cost or free VPN services, however, opens you up to potential problems with data anonymity and security online.
Is VPN safe for Android?
If you pick the right one, yes. The best VPN for Android will have military-grade encryption and advanced security features as well as a strict no-logging policy. All this ensures that your sensitive data is protected from prying eyes at all times.