The app has adverts – lots and lots of ads – but otherwise it's entirely free, with no signup required and no bandwidth or time limits.
FlashVPN has a relatively small network, with just five locations to choose from: France, Germany, Singapore, United Kingdom and United States.
We would normally try to find a little more information about a VPN before we installed it, but FlashVPN just doesn't provide any. There's no website beyond the Google Play page, and the developer name (FlashSoftware) and email address only appear in web pages relating to the app. VPNs are supposed to be about anonymity, but usually that pertains to the customer, not the provider.
Specialist VPN providers can use thousands of words to spell out the low-level details of their security technologies, protocol details, logging policies and more, but FlashVPN Free VPN Proxy doesn't bother with any of that.
The closest we could find to a security claim was this line – "Protect your privacy by secure VPN encryption" – which is shorter and less informative than the average tweet.
What we can do is look at the app's required permissions, which often provides clues to its activity.
FlashVPN Free VPN Proxy asks for control over many network functions, much as you would expect for a VPN app: to view Wi-Fi connections, receive data from the internet, change network connectivity, and connect and disconnect from Wi-Fi.
It also asks for the 'phone status and identity' permission, which is a little more dubious. Does the app need to recognize when you're receiving an incoming phone call? We don't see why. This permission could be used to obtain your IMEI number, though, a unique identifier for your device. If a developer captured this during connection, it would allow building up browsing histories over time for individual devices.
Even worse, the app asks for permission to access your photos, media, files and storage, essentially allowing it to read and modify the contents of your storage. This doesn't necessarily mean FlashVPN will behave maliciously, but it leaves that possibility open. As the developer has given us absolutely no reason to trust it, that has to be a concern.
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FlashVPN Free VPN Proxy is easy to install, at least if you're not worried about its scary permissions. It’s a simple matter of tap, tap, tap – done.
We launched the app to be confronted by a full-screen ad. Getting rid of that displayed the FlashVPN interface, which consists of an ad at the top of the screen, another at the bottom, and a small bar in the center with the caption "FlashVPN is ready to connect" and a Continue button.
Tapping Continue displayed another screen, with another ad, and a Connect button. Tapping Connect finally got us connected to our nearest server, although we noticed the connection process took a little longer than usual (around 10 seconds).
A menu button allows accessing a specific location from France, Germany, Singapore, along with the UK and US. Unfortunately, the interface doesn't give you any indication of the currently selected location, perhaps because there's little room left after displaying all those ads. That can be annoying if you need a reminder of where you’re connected.
Speeds were very inconsistent during our review, ranging from around 4Mbps to 12Mbps over a Wi-Fi connection (the free Touch VPN service regularly managed up to 15Mbps in the same environment). That's more than enough for email, browsing and basic video streaming, though, and it's possible you'll see even higher speeds depending on your device and local network.
FlashVPN proved to be reasonably successful at site unblocking, with the app allowing us to access BBC iPlayer and US-only YouTube content while we were connected to one of its servers. Netflix realized we were using a VPN and refused to stream anything at all, but that's not unusual, even for commercial VPNs.
Checking IPleak.net and other DNS leak test sites showed FlashVPN assigned us servers in the locations it promised, and our DNS servers were correctly concealed at all times.
The app displayed plenty of ads during our tests, and these had their annoyances.
The full-screen ads displayed on launch regularly change the way they're closed (an X button top-right here, a Close button there), so if you're not paying attention, and tap where the close button was last time, there's a chance you'll open the ad.
Similarly, the ads on the main screen are so large in comparison to the interface that it's easy to hit them by accident.
As a bonus irritation, the app occasionally displays a pop-up begging for a five-star review on Google Play, although this is at least easy to dismiss.
Despite these hassles, we've seen much worse. Other apps might display pop-up ads when you disconnect or try to select a specific location, for instance. FlashVPN cycles ads on its main screen – and some of these are animated adverts – but there are few others, and overall the app is very usable.
We like that FlashVPN is free and unlimited, but we hate the lack of details and its demands to use some very important Android permissions. The app might be worth using for simple tasks, but we wouldn't trust it with anything faintly confidential or important.