Android OS doesn’t just run in Android phones and tablets. It also functions inside newer Chromebooks, and now also — improbably, but in a fully-supported way — Windows 11 devices, and even Intel-based Windows 11 computers.
Because Android functions in a variety of devices, Android VPN implementations are particularly interesting. If you want to run a top VPN on your Chromebook, your best bet is to install an Android VPN client to do the heavy lifting. ZDNET experts discuss that in-depth in our Guide to the Best VPN for Chrome and Chromebooks 2022.
But because Android OS has a more open environment, many versions aren’t regularly updated. Malware is also prevalent, but VPN malware scanners can help.
In this overview, we look at four of the most popular Android VPNs. Here’s what we think: pros Solid speed and performanceExtensive server networkEasy-to-use app cons Only six simultaneous connections
NordVPN Android specifications
Google Play Store rating: 4.5 average, 616k reviewsSimultaneous Connections: 6Kill Switch: YesNative app support: Android 6 or higherLogging: None, except billing dataCountries: 59
Money-back guarantee: 30 days
With more than 600,000 reviews, NordVPN is one of the most popular consumer VPNs in the Google Play Store. But that’s not why we think it’s the best VPN for Android. Its useful features and rock-solid performance carried it across the finish line.
Also: Our NordVPN review
NordVPN supports peer-to-peer file sharing, streaming, and a number of other platforms outside of Android. Its Onion over VPN feature removes the need for a separate Tor browser. Plus, the brand’s Double VPN sends your data through two servers instead of one, encrypting your information twice. There are also add-ons available for an extra fee, including a dedicated IP address, password manager, and encrypted cloud storage.
In our speed tests, NordVPN only reduced download speeds by an average of 28%. It also connected quickly and reliably to all the servers we tested. But if you’re still not 100% sold on choosing NordVPN, you can try it out with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Also: Our ExpressVPN review
In addition to supporting Android 5 and above, ExpressVPN works with a variety of platforms and browser extensions. So you should be able to use its app regardless of what devices you own.
ExpressVPN has servers in 94 countries that are spread across 160 locations, so you can easily find a server to connect to wherever you are. Using OpenVPN protocol vs. a direct connection, our sister site CNET found that ExpressVPN reduced speeds by less than 2%.
Exclusive offer: Get 3 extra months free
Keep reading: Trust, but verify: An in-depth analysis of ExpressVPN’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week pros Unlimited connectionsUltra-fast connection speedFlexible with a wide range of protocols cons No two-year plan, price increases after one yearDoesn’t hide VPN connection
IPVanish VPN Android specifications
Google Play Store rating: 4.6 average, 36k reviewsSimultaneous Connections: Unlimited
Kill Switch: YesNative app support: Android 5.1 and upLogging: None, except billing dataLocations: 75
Money-back guarantee: 30 days
IPVanish seems to sell itself as a click-and-go service, but it’s much more than a generic VPN service. When it comes to performance, IPVanish excels with connection speed and solid transfers.
Although IPVanish is secure, it doesn’t hide your VPN connection. It works well for home connections — as long as you’re not trying to hide the fact that you’re on a VPN.
Also: Our IPVanish review
IPVanish also features a number of protocols and server options, and the UI has solid performance graphics. Plus there are extensive options for configuring the app itself. Overall, IPVanish delivers a solid user experience and high-ranking VPN service compared to other options out on the market.
pros Unlimited simultaneous connectionsVariety of useful features cons Occasionally slower connection times
Surfshark VPN Android specifications
Google Play Store rating: 4.3 average, 59k reviewsSimultaneous Connections: UnlimitedKill Switch: YesNative app support: Android 5 or higherLogging: None, except billing dataMoney-back guarantee: 30 day
You can pick up a two-year Surfshark VPN subscription with an exclusive offer for three free months through ZDNET’s link. This deal lowers your average monthly cost down to $2.21 ($59.76 upfront); not bad for a VPN with unlimited connections. It also offers browser plugins designed specifically to combat WebRTC leaks. These browser extensions are available for Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.
In our Surfshark review, we found that Surfshark’s speed performance was on par with NordVPN, reducing our download speed by roughly 28%. However, anecdotally, connection times were slightly slower than with other VPNs.
It also has what it calls MultiHop, which is a double VPN feature that creates a more secure connection by routing you through two VPNs. Additional complimentary tools include ad-blocking, anti-tracking, and split tunneling (Bypasser). For an extra fee, you can access a non-logging search engine, anti-virus software, and a data breach scanner.
Exclusive offer: Get 3 free months
NordVPN is ZDNET’s top pick. It offers capabilities beyond basic VPN. Overall, it’s a solid choice, and with a 30-day money-back guarantee, it’s worth a try.
VPN for AndroidPriceGoogle Play Store ratingCountriesAndroid OS compatibilityExpressVPN$6.67/mo w/1-year plan w/3 free months4.394Android 5 or higherSurfshark VPN$2.21/mo w/2-year plan w/3 free months4.365+Android 5 or higherNordVPN$3.69/mo w/2-year plan w/3 free months4.559Android 6 or higherIPVanish$3.99/mo w/1-year plan4.650Android 5.1 or higher
When you’re deciding which VPN service is the right one for you, personal preference can be just as important as objective performance. Since these VPNs have 30-day money-back guarantees, your best bet is to try one out and see if you like it.
Choose this Android VPN…If you want…NordVPNA do-it-all VPNExpressVPNSpeedSurfsharkTo pay lessIPVanishA plug-n-play service
We analyzed the best VPNs for Android using the most important criteria to help you make an informed decision.
Kill switch: This feature automatically cuts your internet connection if your VPN connection drops. Price & refund policy: How much does the service cost, and how long is the money-back guarantee period?Countries: Having more servers is better, but server locations also matters. Does the VPN have servers in countries you want to connect through?Simultaneous connections: You’ll want to use a single VPN subscription for all of your devices. Platforms: Most VPNs have native apps for the most popular operating systems, but make sure your VPN is compatible with your devices.Logging: VPN providers maintain data logs, which could put your privacy at risk. Does the VPN provider log your traffic or just log critical billing info?
Probably not. Many Android-based devices are not updated to the latest Android releases and have no update path. Some vendors even ship brand-new devices running older (and far more vulnerable) versions of Android.
However, these VPNs support Android OS as far back as versions 5 and 6. Chances are that most people are running a version that’s fully supported by a native VPN app. Some providers may even support older versions of Android with a manual installation. You may need to connect with customer service to find out which older versions are supported and get step-by-step instructions on installation. That’s why it’s good to take advantage of money-back offerings and test your download shortly after purchase.
While both technologies are intended to protect you and your device, they protect different aspects of your usage. VPNs fundamentally protect data in motion, which is the data being sent to and from the internet. VPN protection is generally provided by encryption, so hackers can’t spy on the data while it moves.
Anti-malware software protects against execution of bad software on your device. Those apps scan data, monitor apps, and intercept the actions of apps while they’re running on your machine.
As an analogy, think of VPN software as an armored car moving a payload from one location to another in safety. Think of anti-malware as building inspectors constantly looking at your building’s infrastructure to see if there’s mold or unwanted pests.
Although we do not recommend free VPN services due to their lack of reliability and low-quality performance, there are several free VPNs for Android. ProtonVPN is one of the most widely-known free VPNs. There are also services like Atlas and Hotspot Shield that offer free VPNs supported by their premium paid subscriptions.
Most people’s phone data runs through a local carrier, which is moderately difficult for hackers to intercept. Generally, if you’re using your carrier’s LTE or 5G connection, you’re reasonably safe. But carriers have data caps and data carriage fees that can get expensive. Even if you have an unlimited data plan, carriers charge for hotspot use.
To avoid extra costs, you can use local Wi-Fi that coffee shops, airport lounges, hotels, and schools often offer to the public for free. Unfortunately, that Wi-Fi is often open and easy to intercept. Having a VPN on your phone can protect your data when you’re accessing the internet through one of these hotspots. In fact, I recommend never accessing the internet through a Wi-Fi hotspot without an active VPN on your device.
<p>There are a number of other Android VPNs you can consider outside of this list. Here are a few more of our favorites:</p>