Sitting in your pocket is arguably the defining technology of our times. Even the most humble Android handset allows you previously undreamed-of access to all of human knowledge, and an easy way to communicate with people anywhere in the world.
It also lets you share plenty of amusing pictures of cats.
More people now access the internet using Android phones than with any other device. This means that installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your phone is at least as useful and important as it is on a desktop device.
Quick Links to our best 5 VPNs for Android Phone or Tablets
With a VPN on your Android phone or tablet you can:
- Protect yourself from hackers when using public WiFi
- Spoof your location, so you can watch services such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer from abroad
- Hide what you get up to online from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and government
- Hide you real identity (IP address) from websites you visit
- Torrent safely
In other words, a VPN for Android can do everything on your phone or tablet that it can on a full desktop computer. There are, however, a couple of caveats to this. I will discuss these after we have looked at the BestVPN.com team’s pick of the best VPNs for Android.
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- 30-day money-back guarantee
- No usage logs
- Servers in 94 countries
- Great customer service
- Peer-to-peer (P2P): yes
- Connection logs
- A bit pricey
Great customer service and ease of use are the primary reasons that ExpressVPN remains such a popular choice for Android VPN users. As with its Windows, Mac and iOS clients, the ExpressVPN Android app strips things down to ensure that using it is simplicity itself. This focus on customer satisfaction is also amply demonstrated by ExpressVPN’s 24/7 customer support and industry-leading, 30-day money-back guarantee.
When reviewing ExpressVPN, we found they keep no usage logs, but it does keep some connection (metadata) logs. It is based in the British Virgin Islands, but how this affects privacy is a little unclear. Users in China will appreciate ExpressVPN’s special “stealth” servers in Hong Kong, which also work using its Android app.
Additional features include three simultaneous connections and free Smart Domain Name System (DNS).
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- No logs at all
- Six simultaneous devices
- Servers in 61+ countries
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- “Double-hop VPN”
- Speeds can be slow
Based in Panama, NordVPN is well outside of the immediate reach of the NSA. It backs up this distinction by being very privacy-focused. NordVPN keeps no logs at all, uses strong encryption, and accepts payment via bitcoins. Some may appreciate NordVPN’s “double-hop” VPN chaining feature, although I am dubious about its value.
The encryption used by NordVPN is very good. Speeds on many of NordVPN's servers can be rather slow, but you can find fast servers with a little trial and error. Android users are well-served with a dedicated Android VPN client, which in addition to OpenVPN provides the option to use the Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) protocol.
Additional features: Torrenting permitted, DNS leak protection, per-app kill switch (desktop clients).
- No logs at all
- Five simultaneous connections
- Smart DNS included
- Accepts bitcoin
- P2P allowed
- Based in the US
Although based in the US (so not for the more NSA-phobic out there), this high-profile VPN company has good privacy credentials. It keeps no logs (at all), accepts payment in bitcoin, and permits torrenting. IPVanish also throws in a free Smart DNS service for all customers.
Much like its desktop client, IPVanish's Android VPN app is a little basic. However, it's easy to use and works well, making it a great VPN for Android.
Additional features include apps for Android and iOS, and servers in 61 countries.
- Servers in 190+ countries
- Two simultaneous connections
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Can still unblock Netflix
- Keeps extensive logs
- Known to betray users
Fourth on this tightly jostled list is high-profile VPN provider, HideMyAss (HMA). HMA boasts arguably the largest server network on the market - it currently stands at 190 countries and counting - but this positive is dampened by its serious lack of privacy. Not only does HMA keep extensive connection logs, but it's been known to betray its users and hand over information when asked by the authorities. Some perks to make up for its lack of security measures? HMA is one of the only services that can still access Netflix, and you can watch it on up to two simultaneous connections. Give the 30-day money-back guarantee a look below.
- No logs policy
- Servers in over 24 countries countries
- Five simultaneous connections
- Five-day money-back guarantee
- Excellent customer support
- A little slow
- Random VPN protocol allocation
- US company
StrongVPN is another US-based VPN provider that offers good value for money if you’re in the market for a VPN for Android. If you get a yearlong subscription you pay a paltry $5.83 for month. A bargain, considering that you can use one subscription on up to five of your devices!
StrongVPN offers other perks besides its wallet-friendly pricing. This includes accepting Bitcoin as payment, zero logs, servers in over 24 countries, and extra-strong encryption. What’s more, you can experience these all yourself without committing to the service, thanks to StrongVPN’s five-day money-back guarantee.
VPNs for Android: What to Consider?
Avoid Mobile Apps
Using a VPN on your Android device routes all your data via a VPN server. However, the benefits of this can be rendered useless if the app you are using is sending your phone’s unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, Global Positioning System (GPS) location data, contact lists, Google Play/iTunes ID and more to the app publisher and/or Google.
Many perfectly legitimate apps do this. In order to gain the full privacy benefits of using a VPN for Android, or if you want to hide your real location, use a service’s web portal via your phone’s mobile browser rather than downloading the app for it.
Say, for example, that you want to browse for certain items on Amazon privately. Do turn on your VPN and visit amazon.com using your favorite web browser (e.g. Chrome) – without logging into your account, of course! Don’t fire up the Amazon app, or Amazon will know exactly who you are and where you are.
The good news is that VPNs will work for the Netflix apps if those specific services have not been blocked by Netflix.
Beware Free VPN Apps
There are shocking numbers of cowboy and malicious VPN apps available for Android that can be downloaded from the Play Store. These track your web activity, access your sensitive phone data, and can even infect your Android phone with malware.
In order to avoid such scam apps, avoid any that are “free.” Running a VPN service costs money, so if you’re not paying with money then you’ll be paying in some other way.
Reputable free VPN apps do exist, but these are invariably very limited, and are aimed at convincing you to upgrade to a full, premium service.
The other thing you can do to avoid scams is to only choose VPN providers that are recommended by reputable sources, such as BestVPN.com!
Secure Your Android!
If you’re using a VPN on your Android device because you want to improve your online privacy and security, that’s a great start! As I discuss in our VPNs for Beginners guide, a VPN is a vital tool in your privacy and security toolkit. It should not, however, be your only one.
Check out How to Encrypt your Android Phone for a full look at pros and cons of taking this step
Below are some ideas for further improving the security, and above all the privacy, of your Android phone.
Use the Firefox Browser with These Privacy Add-ons
The Chrome web browser that comes bundled with all versions of Android is basically spyware for Google. After all, that’s what Google does. Ditch it for open source Firefox, developed by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation.
This is a great start, but you can improve Firefox with the following open source add-ons:
- uBlock Origin – a lightweight, free and open-source software (FOSS) ad-blocker that does double duty as an anti-tracking add-on.
- HTTPS Everywhere – developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), this tries to ensure that you always connect to a website using a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) connection, if one is available.
- Self-Destructing Cookies – this automatically deletes cookies when you close the browser tab that set them. This provides a high level of protection from tracking via cookies, without “breaking” websites. It also provides protection against Flash/zombie cookies and Etags, and cleans Document Object Model (DOM) storage.
Note that using any browser add-on makes you more susceptible to being tracked by browser fingerprinting.
Remove Google Play Services
As I hinted at above, Google’s business model is in direct conflict with any notions of privacy. It makes money by harvesting as much information about you as possible. It then uses that data to generate highly targeted advertising revenue.
Although undoubtedly a pain in the rear, it is therefore worth considering de-Googling your Android phone. Most crucially, you should consider removing the Google Play Services framework. This is closed-source code that allows Google to perform extensive low-level surveillance on almost every Android device.
Note that removing Google Play Services and other Google system apps (Gapps) will prevent other apps from working properly. Good news is that F-Droid allows you to download many apps that either don’t need Gapps, or have been modified to no longer need them.
Here are some further suggestions on how to get by without Google on your phone.
How to De-Google Your Android Phone
A guide to disabling default system apps (including Google ones) without rooting your phone is available here. If you want to completely remove all Google apps, this can be done using Titanium Backup. However, this does require rooting your phone.
Another option is to replace the version of Android your phone came with with modified version of Android (often called a “custom ROM”) that has already been de-Googled.
Use Signal to Chat with Your Contacts
Making phone calls or sending text messages using your regular phone network is about as private as standing outside a police station and shouting. Your network provider can hear and see everything you say, the police can monitor your conversations directly using Stingray devices, and more.
Most online messaging and internet telephony (VoIP) apps are little better. No matter what promises a service makes, if it doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption it can monitor your conversations.
If you want to communicate privately with others, then by far the best option (short of meeting in person and whispering) is to use a secure end-to-end messaging app.
This means that messages and voice conversations are encrypted on your phone, and can only be read or listened to on the intended recipient’s phone. No trust in a third party is required.
The most well-regarded such app among privacy and security experts is Signal, from Open Whisper Systems. Check out our full Signal Review to find out why.
A Google-free version of Signal can now be downloaded directly from Open Whisper Systems
How Do I Set up a VPN for Android?
Many, if not most, VPN providers offer custom Android apps. Simply download them from the Play Store and sign up when the usual free trial expires, or sign-in with your existing account details. If you are going Google-free, most good VPN services will allow you to download the .apk file for their apps if you ask them.
As I discussed earlier, just be sure to download a reputable VPN app!
Most decent VPN providers also provide setup guides for manually configuring their services on your Android device. Even so, I’ll outline the main steps below.
PPTP and L2TP/IPsec Manual Setup
Android comes with a VPN client baked right into the operating system. This VPN client can be manually configured with a provider’s settings in order to run a VPN using the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) VPN protocols. If you don’t know what these are, please check out VPN Encryption: The Complete Guide.
1. Go to Settings –> More networks -> VPN. Note that you are required to set up a lock screen for this. If you have not already done so, just follow the prompts.
2. Touch + to Add VPN network. Enter a name for your VPN connection, choose Type, and enter the details given by your VPN provider.
PPTP setup is ridiculously easy, but is horribly insecure, so don’t bother.
L2TP/IPsec setup is still pretty easy, but is much more secure. It usually requires you to enter a long, pre-shared key (preferably unique)
3. Check you are connected.
The key icon in the taskbar lets you know that you are connected to a VPN server
OpenVPN Manual Setup for Android
OpenVPN is now the industry standard VPN protocol. It is the one that BestVPN.com recommends you use under almost any circumstances.
The main third-party OpenVPN apps for Android are OpenVPN Connect and the more fully featured and open source OpenVPN for Android. Below are instructions for configuring OpenVPN for Android, which now features full Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) and Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) leak protection.
1. Download the OpenVPN configuration files from your VPN provider’s website. Unzip them (if required) and transfer to a folder on your Android device. Alternatively, download them directly to your Android device and unzip them with an app such as ZArchiver.
2. Download, install and run OpenVPN for Android (if you haven’t already). Touch the + icon to the top right of the screen to Add Profile. Give the profile a suitable name, then hit “Import.”
3. Navigate to the folder where you saved the unzipped OpenVPN config file(s), and choose a server (.ovpn file). Once imported, touch the tick ✔ icon to continue.
4. Once done, you’ll see the server name under the Profiles tab. To start the VPN, just touch it. You can import .ovpn files for as many servers as you like, and they will show up here.
Many providers include all necessary keys and account information in customized .ovpn files, so no further configuration is needed. Others may require that you enter your account information and other details. Please see your provider’s documentation for specific instructions.
Best VPNs for Android: Conclusion
Mobile phones are not privacy-friendly, and never will be. With a VPN and various other steps, however, they can be made much more privacy-friendly, especially if you use online services via their websites rather than their apps.
A VPN will also protect you from public WiFi hackers and allow you to access many service that are otherwise blocked based on where you are.
Given that a good VPN service typically costs just a few bucks each month, it is silly not to use one!
Best Android VPNs: Summary
- Our Score
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