Editors’ Choice: Best overall VPN for privacy protection and speed
49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)
If you’re a regular user of an Android smartphone or tablet and online privacy is important to you, you may want to consider installing a VPN. After all, you don’t want your mobile device, internet activity or apps giving away your geolocation information. While a VPN won’t squash all of your privacy worries, the best Android VPN services can protect your device and keep Google shielded from seeing your location. Moreover, your internet provider won’t see your app usage or browsing habits, and the other apps’ owners will no longer have the ability to track your Android use outside of their apps. In this day and age, where data breaches and constant surveillance is prevalent, this sort of protection will keep you safe from all types of hackers.
CNET’s roundup of the best VPN services grades these apps and others by measuring how well they performed during the testing and evaluation process. That said, this list of the best Android VPNs focuses solely on the mobile services of each VPN provider. CNET regularly tests and ranks new VPN apps — so check back regularly to stay up to speed on new contenders when they emerge.
Read more: You Need to Be Using a VPN on Your Phone. Here’s How to Set It Up in Under 10 Minutes
What’s the best Android VPN right now?
ExpressVPN is currently CNET’s top pick for the best Android VPN, thanks to the outstanding performance of its Android app, along with its commitment to privacy and transparency. The Android app is uncluttered, easy to use and connects immediately. It’s the best option for boosting your privacy and streaming content on the go, but it’s more expensive than others on this list. That said, the other VPNs listed here are also excellent Android VPNs if ExpressVPN isn’t the best fit for you.
The best Android VPN of 2023
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
ExpressVPN remains our Editors’ Choice for best overall VPN in 2023. One of the largest VPN providers globally, the industry titan has been in business since 2009 and is consistently raising the bar for service transparency year after year. In 2022, the company underwent a total of 12 independent security audits.
49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)
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 is an excellent Android VPN, and CNET’s current Editors’ Choice for the best value VPN. It packs a ton of features, is great for streaming and is the perfect choice if you’re on a budget but still want the premium VPN experience.
$2.49/mo with 24-mo plan (+2 free months)
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.
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. In its Android app, IPVanish manages to pack the same extensive suite of digital knobs and dials into a refreshingly clean mobile interface to impressive effect. If you want to do some precision tuning to your VPN connection, IPVanish is a solid bet. With a bevy of switches controlling things like the kill switch, split tunneling, VPN protocol and LAN connection allowance, IPVanish is an app for the methodical tech tweaker who enjoys having exact control over their mobile internet traffic.
How we test Android VPNs
In evaluating the best VPNs for Android, we run through the features offered on each VPN’s Android app and we test them to see how they stack up to similar features offered by other VPN providers. We evaluate the look and feel of the app and the overall usability of the software and we test to see how easy it is to connect to a server and how easy it is to search for and find a specific server to connect to. We test the performance and reliability of the VPN connection on each of the protocols available in the provider’s Android app. We test for leaks and each service’s kill switch functionality to ensure it’s working as it should. We test each VPN’s ability to circumvent geographical restrictions, and we evaluate each provider’s pricing to determine the service’s overall value.
Other VPNs we tested
Proton VPN is a Swiss-based open-source VPN provider that is staunchly committed to user privacy. Proton VPN’s Android app is easy to use and includes a kill switch that is always on by default and a VPN Accelerator feature that can boost your VPN speeds. And if you’re looking for a free VPN, Proton is the only one that CNET recommends. While Proton VPN’s free tier doesn’t include access to all of its servers, its ad-blocker tool or advanced privacy features like its Secure Core servers or Tor Over VPN function, there are no usage limits and the encryption, obfuscation and leak protection is all the same for free users as they are for paid users. Premium plans are priced at $10 per month or $72 per year, with a 30-day money-back guarantee included.
Factors to consider in an Android VPN
With so many Android VPN apps available, it can be difficult to choose the right solution. Based on our extensive research and hands-on testing of VPNs over the years, these are the most important factors to consider when choosing a VPN:
The primary consideration for any VPN should be privacy. If your Android VPN is unable to sufficiently protect your online privacy, then your VPN is useless. At a minimum, your VPN should employ industry standard AES 256-bit encryption along with offering basic privacy protections like a kill switch, DNS leak protection and a no-logs policy. For critical privacy needs, you’ll also want a VPN provider that is based in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction, offers obfuscation and has a RAM-only server architecture. Additional privacy features to look out for include Tor over VPN capabilities, ad and tracker blockers and multihop connections. Also, look for a VPN that undergoes regular third-party security audits, as audits can help bolster trust in the VPN’s ability to protect its users’ privacy.
The speed of your VPN can have a major effect on activities like streaming, downloading, video conferencing, gaming and general web browsing. To keep things running as smoothly as possible, you’ll want to look for a VPN that will have as minimal an impact on your regular internet speeds as possible.
A good Android VPN should run smoothly and be easy to use regardless of your technical expertise. It should have all of the features you need easily accessible with a tap of your finger. Many Android VPN apps also include an easy way to get in touch with support directly from the device, which can be helpful if you need assistance on the go. Your Android VPN should have a large network of servers around the world so you can connect easily and reliably from wherever you are, and it should be able to help you access geo-restricted content from various regions.
VPN pricing varies greatly from provider to provider, so if you’re on a budget, you may want to consider the cost and overall value of your Android VPN. Typically, you can expect to spend about $5 to $13 per month for a VPN subscription plan. If you want to save money, you can opt for an annual subscription, where prices can range from roughly $30 to $100 per year. Be careful with free VPNs, though, because you may end up putting your privacy at risk instead of protecting it. Proton VPN is currently the only free VPN that CNET recommends. However, most VPNs offer a money-back guarantee that can be anywhere from a week to 45 days. You can also get a seven-day free trial with many VPNs when you sign up through the Play Store. So you’ll most likely have options to try various Android VPNs risk-free before you decide whether to fully invest in one.
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. 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 can’t count on your VPN to give you absolute online anonymity — even if it claims it can.