If you’re using an Android phone and you want to keep your apps and device from giving away your geolocation data around the clock, you’re going to want to begin building your privacy wall with a solid foundation — a reliable virtual private network. Will a VPN solve all of your privacy problems? Absolutely not. But a quality VPN will provide whole-device protection so that your Internet Service Provider can’t see your browsing history or app use, Google can’t see your geolocation, and your other apps’ owners can’t see what you’re doing outside of their app. And that kind of protection is enough to keep you from being low-hanging fruit in an era of encroaching surveillance and rapidly increasing risks of data breaches.

Read more: Protecting Your Privacy in the Post-Roe US

According to the most recent trend reports, Android-specific VPN downloads accounting for about 75% of the past few years’ mobile VPN surge. More than 480 million mobile VPN apps were downloaded around the globe in just 12 months between 2019 and 2020, according to research firm Top10VPN. That’s 54% more than the year before. And yes, free services did account for 84% of all mobile VPN downloads — but we recommend you avoid using a free Android VPN whenever possible and instead go with a tried-and-true paid VPN. It’s not about promoting premium services; it’s about safety. In the murky world of VPNs, you really do get what you pay for. 

However, if you’re strapped for cash or just need a temporary VPN, we recommend test driving one of our recommended providers with a 30-day money-back guarantee. It’s not the same as a permanently free VPN, but most premium VPN providers are more than willing to give you a sample of the goods to prove their product worthy of a long-haul annual subscription.  

While CNET’s directory of the best VPN services ranks these apps and others by how well they held up during the testing and evaluation process, this list specifically focuses on the mobile offerings of each VPN service provider. Keep in mind, though, that CNET regularly tests and evaluates new VPN apps — so be sure to check back here as new contenders emerge. For now, here are the best Android VPN options we’ve tested.

Read more: You Need to Be Using a VPN on Your Phone. Here’s How to Set it Up in Under 10 Minutes

ExpressVPN

Despite battling major upheavals through the end of 2021, ExpressVPN clinched our Editor’s Choice Award for best VPN in 2022. One of the two largest providers globally, the VPN titan has been in business since 2009 and once again aggressively raised the industry bar for service transparency this year. 

In the past year, ExpressVPN increased its independent third-party audit count, published details about its TrustedServer deployment process, joined the i2Coalition to call for improved VPN industry ethics, and released an open source Lightway encryption protocol.

After a set-back in 2020, ExpressVPN is again currently in first place as the fastest VPN we’ve tested. While most VPNs will cause you to lose half or more of your normal internet speeds, ExpressVPN caused us to lose just 2% of speeds in our 2022 speed tests. It also unblocks Netflix and other streaming services more reliably than most other VPNs, and seamlessly surpasses geo-blocking for access to international gaming servers and torrenting sites. 

Lightway’s flexible nature allows it to take on both TCP and UDP connections, seamlessly balancing speed and stability. It’s a brilliant choice for a default protocol on Android devices, since it’s so responsive to varying connection types and strengths. 

All of our top-rated VPNs have wide compatibility across platforms and operating systems, but ExpressVPN’s collection of setup guides, detailed FAQs and troubleshooting articles give it a clear advantage for users. So do its round-the-clock customer support and its no-questions-asked, 30-day money back guarantee.  

While you can get a better month-to-dollar bargain with ExpressVPN’s two-year subscription, we don’t recommend anyone purchase any two-year VPN subscriptions at this time due to overall market volatility. ExpressVPN’s best plan offers five simultaneous connections for $80 a year (which includes three extra months, for a limited-time deal totaling 15 months of service). You can also opt for a $13 monthly plan, or pay $60 for six months. Read our ExpressVPN review.

Read our ExpressVPN review.

 

Surfshark

  • Intuitive app interface, with plenty of power under the hood
  • Number of servers: 3,200-plus
  • Number of VPN server locations: 95
  • 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.

Surfshark’s once limited network of server locations has recently expanded to cover 95 countries, making it now one of the largest VPN server networks in the industry. Though Surfshark and NordVPN announced a merger in February, the companies tell us that each VPN operates independently and runs its own separate network. 

One of Surfshark’s other big draws is its 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. The provider’s range of app support is impressive. You can run Surfshark on MacOS, Windows, iOS, Android, Fire TV and on a variety of VPN compatible routers. Additionally, you can configure Surfshark on devices like gaming consoles or smart TVs via DNS settings.

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.

We 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. Additionally, you’ll have access to other security and privacy features like anti-malware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking.

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, we saw no DNS or IP address leaks, and had no trouble accessing Netflix. 

Like an increasing number of other VPNs, Surfshark offers several different introductory pricing packages that are cheaper the longer your contract runs, but that get more expensive after the first term of your subscription plan. One of your options is to lock in 26 months of service for about $60 — which Surfshark frames as “24 months plus two free” for $2.30 a month. It’s a decent intro deal, but the plan then recurs at $60 annually. For the standard yearly subscription plan, you’ll pay about $48 initially for the first year of service, then $60 per year for any additional years of service.

Surfshark’s regular monthly plan offers no discounts and is available for $13 a month. If you’re not satisfied with the service, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our Surfshark VPN review.

 

NordVPN

  • An easy-to-use, reliable app
  • Number of servers: 5,500-plus servers
  • Number of VPN server locations: 58 countries
  • Country/jurisdiction: 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.

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, connect to the fastest server automatically or browse specialty servers like Onion over VPN, Double VPN or those optimized for P2P. 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.

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. We detected no privacy leaks during tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast. 

NordVPN’s pricing structure is similar to that of its sister company Surfshark, but its longer-term plans are more expensive. A two-year plan carries an introductory price of about $79, but that price increases to a little under $100 annually for each subsequent year of service. However, we don’t recommend committing to a single provider for more than a year at a time, given how fickle the VPN industry tends to be. If you opt for the yearly plan, you’ll pay $60 for the first year of service, then just shy of $100 a year for any additional years. NordVPN’s monthly plan is a dollar cheaper than Surfshark’s, though, at $12 a month. And like most other VPN services, NordVPN offers a full 30-day money-back guarantee in case you’re not satisfied with the service. 

While NordVPN has lived on our top VPNs list for a long time, we 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 we would have preferred if Nord had 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 our list as a recommended vendor.

Read our NordVPN review.

 

IPVanish

  • Most customizable VPN app 
  • Number of servers: 2,000-plus in 75-plus locations
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Country/jurisdiction: US
  • $4 a month for the first year of service

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 newly redesigned app for Android, 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, the IPVanish VPN 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. 

Its multiplatform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN. 

While IPVanish isn’t the fastest VPN, the 58% speed loss we measured in our most recent speed tests is about on par with most VPN providers. However, we noticed that IPVanish’s Quick Connect feature doesn’t always connect you to the best available server, so you may need to optimize your speeds by connecting manually to a server showing a lighter load. In IPVanish’s Android app, you can check the current load of each server by tapping on Locations, selecting Cities and tapping the number next to each city.

IPVanish’s yearly plan is on sale now at $40 for the first year. However, the plan more than doubles in price to the regular $90 annual rate for any subsequent years of service. You can also choose a quarterly plan that starts at $13 for the first three month period and increases to $30 for each three-month billing period afterwards. IPVanish’s monthly rate is priced at $11 a month, which is about on par with other providers’ month-to-month rates. The provider offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, but only if you get the yearly plan — which could be a disappointment to anyone who bought a monthly subscription and decided they didn’t like the service. That said, the company gets kudos for allowing unlimited simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill-switch feature, which is a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.

Read our IPVanish review.

 

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 to use. 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’ 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 of 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 usage 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 cannot count on your VPN to give you absolute online anonymity — even if it claims it can.  

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