It's hard to believe that no more than five years ago, the term 'VPN' was barely known outside IT infrastructure personnel. But now they are so mainstream that millions of us carry Android VPN apps around with us on our smartphones and tablets.
As well as helping use the web securely – particularly if you’re using public Wi-Fi or cellular – Android VPNs are celebrated software for their ability to help you access geographically restricted apps, stream content that might normally be blocked (from foreign Netflix catalogs, to overseas sports action) and much more.
Fortunately, pretty much all of the best providers out there have dedicated Android VPN apps you can install, specially designed with mobile use in mind. And because the Google Play Store is jam-packed with hundreds of Android VPNs vying for your attention, we're on hand to explain what features to look out for and the very best Android VPN apps that we’ve found from our testing and reviews.
How to choose the best Android VPN app
A dedicated Android VPN app should of course be as user-friendly as possible. Ensure it supports your version of Android, with most going back at least to Pie and usually beyond. As you're probably going to want to use your Android VPN on loads of other devices as well, you'll also want one that works with your computer's operating system and has enough licences to cover all your gadgets.
And a word of warning: avoid the dodgy ones on the Play Store as quite a few promise to provide free privacy but don't mention the strings attached. Instead, go for one of the ace Android VPN apps that we've listed below.
Today's top 3 best Android VPNs:
1. ExpressVPN - #1 best Android VPN app
ExpressVPN has the speed, security and simplicity of use that really makes it stand out from the crowd. That's no different on Android, which makes using a VPN on your smartphone an absolute doddle - plus, it comes with a no-questions-asked 30 day money back guarantee and 3 months extra free.
2. NordVPN - VPN's biggest name is ace on Android
Nord's popularity (counting over 10 million Android users) is not unfounded. It may be a tad clunkier to use than Express's in our view, but it really brings the goods when it comes to security and speed. And it's really well priced, too!
3. Surfshark - simple to use and affordable Android app
This could well be your VPN of choice if you're after something a bit more affordable. Go for its multiyear plan and get the price down to less than $2.50 USD per month. That doesn't prevent it from being a really strong and simple-to-operate Android VPN though, with a very friendly interface and added features.
The best 5 Android VPN apps in 2021:
Best Android VPN 2021 - Get 3 months free with an annual plan
There are so many things to like about ExpressVPN and its Android offering. The dedicated app is extremely user-friendly and straightforward, but also offers lots of advanced options.
Once installed, using the Express Android app is ludicrously easy to do - it's really no different to the desktop version. So that means a nice, obvious On/Off button and an easy-to-navigate list of servers - over 3,000 in all, across 94 countries ranging from Albania to Venezuela. What's more, the app is now available in a mix of 16 languages.
The app itself has some neat options like an excellent location picker, insecure network detection, split tunnelling, specialist privacy tools menu and a kill switch to improve security. Indeed, on the security front, it boasts AES 256-bit encryption and the Android app has now been certified by the ioXt Alliance (further details on that at the bottom of this page). While the speeds we witnessed using the mobile VPN were consistently fast. They're only getting faster, too, now that Express's proprietary Lightway protocol is available.
If the main reason you're downloading an Android VPN app is for streaming, then once again Express excels. It flew through our tests with ease when we used it for watching Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and more, as well as letting us watch our domestic sports coverage when abroad.
If you run into any difficulties at all with this VPN - whether that be when you install the ExpressVPN Android app or during use - its website features a wide array of handy content and video guides, as well as 24/7 customer support by live chat.
ExpressVPN isn't the cheapest VPN out there, but there's some excellent value to be had when you sign up for a 12-month plan: three months extra free and a whole year of unlimited cloud backup from Backblaze. So it may be worth the price for those who want the best Android experience, knowing that there's a 30-day money-back guarantee in place to let you try it 100% risk free.
Get the best Android VPN 2021 with 3 months FREE
TechRadar readers can get a little perk when you sign up to ExpressVPN, as it has agreed to give you three months extra together with free secure, cloud backup from the brilliant Backblaze. You could get started by grabbing it from the Play Store , but you'll miss out on this offer if you do.
The NordVPN app is hugely popular with 10 million+ downloads, and a strong Google Play rating. And it has some notable strengths including ‘Double VPN’ technology which passes your connection through two separate VPN servers, as opposed to just the one, for an extra layer of security. The service also boasts a ‘zero logs’ policy (audited by PricewaterhouseCooperss no less) meaning it doesn’t track the user’s online activity, which has now been backed up on Android with ioXt Alliance certification.
While the focus is clearly on security and privacy, NordVPN doesn’t lack in other areas. The Android app is easy enough to use and has a list of nice features like split tunnelling, enhanced CyberSec malware shield, the ability to automatically connect to NordVPN whenever you join a Wi-Fi network, and the speedy NordLynx protocol. The app also provides a live chat feature for 24/7 customer support. And although there's no integrated kill switch as such, it's really easy to implement a similar tool in the settings. It's easy to access extra special features like P2P and obfuscated servers, too.
As far as we're concerned, it's time that Nord took a look at the presentation of the app and ditched the somewhat fiddly default map system for choosing your location (although we do note that you can do so via a more standard list format if you scroll down). And why not just implement a regular kill switch without the hoop jumping?
But as far as 'cons' go, they're pretty minor. And Nord's overall strength when it comes to unblocking websites and getting around streaming restrictions is almost unparalleled.
It's reasonably priced, too, and has a 30-day money-back guarantee if you just want to give the app a try before you commit. The multi-year offer is clearly the best choice in terms of overall value.
- Follow our easy steps to download NordVPN on your Android
Surfshark is an obvious first choice for many thanks to its market-shattering pricing (you'll see it ranking around the top of our best cheap VPN guide). But don't be deceived, as it really doesn't lack in the quality department. And that applies to its Android app, too.
Unlike a lot of other providers, Surfshark barely alters the user interface from desktop to mobile. We suppose that the sheer simplicity of its desktop offering means that its developers didn't have too hard a time in translating to the smaller screen size. It means you can easily get to security features like the dedicated kill switch, split tunnelling and integrated malware blocker.
In such a crowded market, it can be hard to come up with something truly original, but Surfshark is certainly giving it a go. It's the only Android VPN app we've seen that includes a GPS spoofing feature, enabling it to return the coordinates of your chosen VPN server. Not something everybody will use, but a handy feature if you want to, for example, get a location for fake GPS for Pokémon Go playing (although, even then, it requires some workarounds).
If you do need support, then it's easy to raise support tickets right from the app itself. But in our experience, you won't be using that function too much. Surfshark keeps things really straightforward on mobile.
And assuming you'll want to use this VPN on your laptop, TV streaming device, router and other gadgets as well, then the fact one subscription covers unlimited devices will be music to your ears.
Just to be absolutely clear from the outset, the reason Hotspot Shield has made it to the top five of our best Android VPN chart is due to its 'Premium' app rather than the free VPN version. They're both one in the same app on the Play Store, but only upgrading to the full version will give you an smartphone security app really worth having (rather than slumming it with a 500MB per day limit and only one server to connect to).
Much like others on this list, the designers have done a great job of taking Hotspot's Windows 10 VPN version to the smaller screen. That means you still get the same fantastic UX and a whole host of features, including the ability to set up when you want the app to automatically connect (when you open certain apps, for example).
Hotspot Shield has been towards the top of our tests when it comes to pure server speed for a long while now, thanks to its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol. That's good to know when it comes to your smartphone, as it means you can just have it running along in the background without having to worry about an adverse effect on performance.
This provider has really improved its unblocking game of late, making it a solid recommendation when it comes to streaming VPNs. And if you're willing to commit, its multi-year subscription pricing is among the best out there right now.
Private Internet Access's Android app is easy to use with an abundance of options and settings you can tweak.
The list of features is instantly impressive: auto-connection, kill switch. snooze, favorites lists, and a useful set of connection status details to help you keep a track of your own activity. Add to that port forwarding support, proxy support, UDP and TCP protocol settings, you can define local and remote ports, choose custom encryption and handshaking methods, even vibrate the handset to indicate when you're connected. 'Fully-functioned' doesn't even come close!
It does feel like PIA falls behind some of the other best Android VPNs out there with its lack of live chat support, however. And the once stratospheric user rating has fallen in recent times - some Android users have found the recent updates have had a negative impact on their experience with the app.
While there is no free trial, the subscription is fairly affordable no matter what plan you choose. Obviously, the multi-year plan gives you the best savings.
Android VPN FAQ
Which is the best Android VPN?
When it comes to the best Android VPN, ExpressVPN tops the lot. It's a beautifully presented app that's super simple to set up and operate, but is still jam-packed with handy features. Split tunneling, dedicated kill switch and access to over 3,000 servers are all included, as well as the ability to unblock websites and get access to overseas Netflix shows.
What can I do with with an Android VPN?
First thing's first, they act as an excellent first line of defence alongside Android antivirus in protecting yourself when online. As referenced above, the nature of their encrypted tunnelling and ability to keep your IP address secret makes them a wonderful way to keep cyber criminals at bay - no more worrying about online banking and shopping while using unfamiliar networks.
But it's their shapeshifting, geo-spoofing abilities that have made the popularity of Android VPNs explode. The fact you can log into a server in another country elsewhere in the world means that you don't have to miss out on the stuff you'd usually stream to your mobile/tablet when abroad on holiday or business.
And they've proved a great way of getting around blocked websites. Where mobiles are concerned, a fantastic example is using WhatsApp in China, as well as other sites and service. The state may have blocked some of the big hitters, but they can't do anything about it when you use your Android VPN app to make it look like you're in another country entirely!
How can I fake my location on Android?
While all good Android VPN apps will let you change location of your IP address to a server elsewhere, they don't all include fake GPS technology.
In fact, of the big players out there, only Surfshark has an integrated GPS spoofing tool. That makes it the obvious choice if your main reason for getting a VPN is for use with Pokémon Go or similar mobile games.
How do I setup a VPN on my Android phone?
First thing's first...it's reeeeeally easy. And you even have two options to choose from.
The first involves you scrolling back up this page, choosing the app that you like the look of best (and don't forget, all these VPNs have free trials, so you really don't have to worry too much about committing) and click the link to go through to the website. From there, you'll be able to select your plan, sign up, download and install. Away you go!
Alternatively, get yourself over to the Play Store and search for your chosen VPN app. But it's worth noting that if you go down this road, you might end up missing out on some of the awesome exclusive pricing and VPN deals that only TechRadar readers can get by clicking through to the provider from our pages.
Should I get a free VPN app for Android?
Even a quick dip into the Play Store menu will show that there are ridiculous amounts of available free apps that you can download. Some will be fine, some will be far from fine, but none will really be excellent.
We'd suggest only going for a freebie if you really don't tend to use your VPN app very much at all. Otherwise, you'll soon bump in to annoying usage restrictions and realise pretty sharpish that free versions only tend to have a handful of servers each (unlike the 5,000+ odd like providers such as NordVPN offer). And when you consider that downloading Surfshark costs less than $2.50 USD per month, you may as well put your hand in your pocket for one of the very best Android VPNs around.
What is the ioXt Alliance?
With their spelled out no-logging policies and growing number of independent audits, the challenge VPN companies face is it show that your private web usage is safe in their hands. A new way they have started to do this is by getting certification of their Android apps from the ioXt Alliance - an organisation that seeks to build confidence in the Internet of Things.
In order to get the certificate, providers need to show that their Android VPN apps meet eight strict criteria:
- No universal passwords
- Secured interfaces
- Proven cryptography
- Security by default
- Verified software
- Automatic security updates
- Vulnerability reporting program
- Security expiration date