Technology

Best Android VPN 2023 – CNET


If you’re an Android user and you don’t like the idea of your phone or apps giving away your geolocation information around the clock, using a VPN is a good idea. Will a virtual private network totally quash all your privacy worries while you’re using a mobile device? Definitely not. But the best Android VPN can offer you whole-device protection so your internet service provider can’t view your app usage or browsing activity, Google can’t see your geolocation, and your other apps’ owners won’t know what you’re doing outside of their app. And that kind of protection is enough to prevent you from being low-hanging fruit in an era of constant surveillance and rapidly increasing data breaches. 

Android-specific VPN downloads have accounted for about 75% of the mobile VPN surge over the past few years, according to the most recent trend reports. More than 480 million mobile VPN apps were downloaded around the globe in just 12 months between 2019 and 2020, according to research firm Top10VPN. That’s 54% more than the year before. Although free VPN services accounted for 84% of all mobile VPN downloads, we strongly recommend you avoid using a free Android VPN and instead go with a trusted paid VPN that’s among one of our recommended providers. It isn’t about promoting premium services; it’s about safety. In the murky world of VPNs, you really do get what you pay for.   

If you’re on a budget and trying to save money or you simply need a temporary VPN on your Android device, we suggest you test-drive one of our recommended VPN providers with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Though it isn’t the same as a permanently free VPN, most premium VPN providers are more than willing to offer you a sample of their goods to prove their service is worthy of a long-haul subscription.

Check out the best Android VPN options we’ve tested. While CNET’s directory of the best VPN services ranks these apps and others by how well they held up during the testing and evaluation process, this list of the best Android VPNs specifically focuses on the mobile offerings of each VPN service provider. CNET regularly tests and evaluates new VPN apps — so be sure to check back here to get up to speed as new contenders emerge.    

Read more: You Need to Be Using a VPN on Your Phone. Here’s How to Set it Up in Under 10 Minutes

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN

Savings 49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)Latest tests No leaks detected, 2% speed loss in spring 2022 testsNetwork 3,000-plus servers in 160 locations across 94 countriesJurisdiction British Virgin Islands

Despite battling major upheavals through the end of 2021, ExpressVPN clinched our Editor’s Choice Award for best VPN in 2022. One of the two largest providers globally, the VPN titan has been in business since 2009 and once again aggressively raised the industry bar for service transparency this year.

49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)

surfshark.png

Surfshark

Savings $2.49/mo with 24-mo plan (+2 free months)Latest tests Zero data leaks and 19% internet speed loss in fall 2022 testsNetwork 3,200-plus in 99 countriesJurisdiction Netherlands

Surfshark boasts an impressive suite of privacy and security features, unlimited simultaneous connections, easy-to-use interface and expansive global network. And it’s still significantly cheaper than most of its competitors. That’s what helped Surfshark earn CNET’s Editors’ Choice for Best Value VPN in 2022.

$2.49/mo with 24-mo plan (+2 free months)

NordVPN

NordVPN

Savings 59% off with 24-mo plan (+ 3 extra months)Latest tests No leaks detected, 13% speed loss in summer 2022 testsNetwork 5,600-plus servers in 84 locations across 59 countriesJurisdiction Panama

NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. Part of that brand recognition is based on its distinct, straightforward design. Nord’s app for Android is just as easy to interact with as its desktop VPN client, with a similar design. It poses no learning difficulties for a first-time user looking to move from desktop to mobile.

IPVanish VPN logo

IPVanish

Savings 66% off with 12-mo planLatest tests DNS leaks detected, 58% speed loss in spring 2022 testsNetwork 2,000-plus servers in 75 locations across 52 countriesJurisdiction United States

A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for those who are interested in learning how to understand what a VPN does under the hood. With its newly redesigned app for Android, IPVanish manages to pack the same extensive suite of digital knobs and dials into a refreshingly clean mobile interface to impressive effect.

66% off with 12-mo plan

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Android VPN FAQs

What’s the best Android VPN right now?

Thanks to its impressive performance, speed and usability, ExpressVPN is CNET’s current top pick for the best Android VPN. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s the fastest of all the VPN options right now. Surfshark is a close second among the Android VPN picks and offers a simple and effective app. NordVPN, the third-best option, is a die-hard heavy hitter that costs more than Surfshark but less than Express. While it doesn’t offer quite as many server locations as the others, NordVPN’s network is constantly getting faster and more secure, and is easily the most reliable service we’ve tested. Rounding out the group, IPVanish is a solid choice for beginners.

A mobile VPN is a VPN that’s optimized for use on mobile devices. The best VPN providers we’ve tested all offer excellent mobile apps that work well on Android as well as iOS devices. Using a mobile VPN can also yield faster speeds than desktop VPNs since they generally require less processing power and have a smaller memory footprint. Check out CNET’s other mobile-specific VPN guides below for more information on mobile VPNs. They’re updated regularly with new information as we continue to test VPNs, so check back often.

What’s the best free VPN?

We don’t recommend using a free VPN because they’re risky to use. Free VPNs typically make money by selling user data, and some have even been found to be riddled with malware. What’s more, free VPNs are often slow, enact usage and data limits, offer a minimal selection of servers and are generally less secure than paid VPNs. Check out CNET’s list of the best cheap VPNs if you want to find a budget-friendly, premium VPN.

Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?

Unless you’re in a country like China or Iran where VPN use is banned or illegal, you don’t have to worry about getting into any legal trouble just for using a VPN. In most countries, using a VPN is perfectly legal. But if you’re in a country where VPN use is restricted, you’ll need to connect to an obfuscated server. Doing so will disguise your VPN traffic as regular HTTPS internet traffic, so authorities won’t know you’re using a VPN in the first place. 

What are the downsides to using a mobile VPN?

There are a handful of disadvantages to using a mobile VPN, but they depend on a few key factors: your usual geographic location, your choice of VPN provider, the quality of your phone’s mobile service and the relative processing speed of your phone. 

  • Slower speeds: VPNs can slow down your typical browsing speeds by as much as half of their typical pace. We’ve speed-tested the VPNs we recommend, however, and routinely update them so you can find the fastest speeds if you’re concerned about a slowdown. Check out our list of the fastest VPNs we can find
  • Dropped connections: If you live in an area with poor mobile data speeds or internet service connection quality, you’re going to notice that a VPN may cause you to drop your internet connection more often. You can prevent that by switching from a UDP-based protocol (like Wireguard, used by Surfshark or NordLynx from NordVPN) to a TCP-based protocol. The trade-off is that UDP is generally faster, while TCP is generally more stable. If you’re an ExpressVPN user, we recommend switching to Lightway in the settings menu. It’s a custom encryption protocol which blends UDP speed with TCP stability for a much more seamless experience. 
  • Some sites will be inaccessible: Some sites rely on your IP address to verify your identity and let you use their services. A VPN hides your IP address. If those sites can’t identify you, they may not let you in. Other sites like Netflix, frequently fight VPN user access and will block you from accessing their services if they detect your VPN. Few VPNs are able to circumvent Netflix’s blockade, but we test each VPN for streaming ability and report the results in our full reviews. So if streaming on mobile is important to you, be sure to check the full review before you commit to a subscription.

What does my ISP see when I’m connected to my VPN?

Your ISP will see that you’re connected to a VPN, but it will not be able to see any of your internet activity like the websites you visit or browsing history since your traffic is encrypted. It will also see things like the IP address of the VPN server you’re connecting through, the timestamps when you’re connected and the amount of data transmitted. You can connect to an obfuscated server, if offered by your VPN, to hide your VPN use from your ISP. 

Can a mobile VPN make me totally anonymous online?

No VPN can make you totally anonymous online. There seems to be a common misconception that VPNs can make you anonymous, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security when using a VPN. Online anonymity is virtually impossible to achieve, given the size of the average person’s digital footprint. VPNs are great for protecting your privacy and keeping your data safe from snoopers online, but you cannot count on your VPN to give you absolute online anonymity — even if it claims it can.

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