Are you wondering if it’s a good idea to use a VPN with your Android phone or tablet? Considering that your mobile devices hold some of your most sensitive information, the short answer is: Yes, we strongly recommend it. A VPN, or virtual private network, can offer you peace of mind, particularly if you ever use public Wi-Fi on your Android device. And I have good news for Android users: It’s now possible to find a number of VPNs that are fast, lightweight, easy to use and optimized for mobile.
The mobile VPN market has been booming. Over 480 million mobile VPN apps were downloaded around the globe in just 12 months between 2019 and 2020, according to a report from research firm Top10VPN. That’s 54% more than the year before. And approximately 75% of those downloads were via an Android phone or other Android device.
While free services accounted for 84% of all mobile VPN downloads, we strongly recommend avoiding a free Android VPN app and going with a tried-and-true paid VPN whenever possible. That means getting your money’s worth out of a secure, glitch-free VPN app for Android.
While CNET’s directory of the best VPN services ranks these apps and others by how well they held up during the testing and review process, this list specifically focuses on the mobile offerings of each VPN service provider. Each Android VPN app listed here has a cost — there isn’t a free VPN service included. That just means you’re going to be paying for connection speed and a reliable and secure VPN, which is essential on an Android smartphone, Android tablet or other mobile device. Here are the best Android VPN options CNET’s tested so far this year. CNET regularly tests and reviews featured VPN apps, so be sure to keep checking back here as I regularly update this list.
Editors’ note: Following the Sept. 13 sale of ExpressVPN to Kape Technologies, a company that has raised significant privacy concerns for us in the past, we’re carefully re-evaluating ExpressVPN to determine the implications that its new ownership may have on users’ privacy. We’ll update our recommendations and reviews if and when warranted.
- 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 options — 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 in 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 anti-malware, 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, Fire TV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. I particularly like the security 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 testing, I 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 $2.21 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).
- 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. I 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 I’ve reviewed, ExpressVPN offers a useful VPN 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 CNET’s 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.
- An easy to use, reliable app
- Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
- Number of VPN server locations: 62
- Country/jurisdiction: Panama
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 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 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
The VPN service provider 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. I detected no privacy leaks during tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast.
The company’s one-year subscription plan costs $5.75 a month ($69 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than some other contenders, the month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. However, the two-year plan is now $4.89 a month ($117). And yes, it also has a full 30-day refund policy.
While NordVPN has lived on my top VPNs list for a long time, I moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate the 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 I’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 my list as a recommended vendor.
- Most customizable VPN app
- Number of servers: 1,600-plus
- Number of server locations: 75-plus
- Country/jurisdiction: US
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 app for Android, IPVanish manages to pack the same extensive suite of digital knobs and dials into a smaller screen to impressive effect.
If you’re looking for the ability to do some precision-tuning to your VPN connection, IPVanish is a solid bet. From generating visual graphs of your internet activity to a bevy of switches controlling split tunnelling, LAN connection allowance and more — IPVanish is an app for the methodical tech tweaker who enjoys having exact control over their mobile internet traffic.
Read more: IPVanish review: Get under the hood with this zippy VPN
Its multiplatform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN.
A unique feature of IPVanish, and one I’m intrigued by, is the VPN’s support of Kodi, the open-source media streaming app that was once known as XBMC. Any serious media fan has used or built Kodi or XBMC into a media player, and the integrated IPVanish Kodi plugin provides access to media worldwide.
At $10 a month or $80 a year, IPVanish is obviously trying to move you towards its yearly program. I’m a little disappointed that it only allows a seven-day trial, rather than a full 30 days, but it does offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for its recent increase from 10 to now unlimited simultaneous connections. I also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.
What’s the best Android VPN right now?
Thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support, Surfshark is CNET’s current top pick for the best Android VPN. ExpressVPN is a close second among the Android VPN picks and offers a simple and effective app. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s among the fastest of all the VPN options. NordVPN, the third best option, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has an enormous network that’s constantly getting faster and more secure, and is easily the most reliable service I’ve tested. Rounding out the group, IPVanish is a solid choice for beginners.
What is a mobile VPN?
Use a mobile-friendly VPN to avoid slower speeds and ensure greater data privacy for your whole device. Mobile VPNs generally have a smaller memory footprint, and require less processing power than desktop VPNs, so they run faster and save more battery. The top three VPNs listed above all have excellent, easy-to-use mobile app options for their services. Some VPNs will only work with one type of platform — like Apple or Android — and some are universally compatible. To find the right mobile VPN for you, check out CNET’s other mobile-specific VPN guides below. They’re routinely updated with retesting information, so check back often.
What’s the best free VPN?
None of them. Seriously. While there are plenty of excellent free security and privacy apps online, VPNs aren’t among them. Safe VPNs cost companies a lot of money to operate and keep secure, and free ones are almost always malware-laden data snoops. But there’s good news: The burgeoning VPN market is hypercompetitive right now, so prices for even the best VPNs regularly drop to less than $5 a month. In fact, the least expensive VPN I’ve seen so far ranks in CNET’s top three VPNs overall for security and speed. Check out this quick list of budget-savvy VPNs to find one in your price range.