Virtual private networks are no longer the domain of bulky desktop clients and bloated software. As general use strategies among those quarantined during the pandemic, the rate of mobile VPN app downloads also continues to grow exponentially.
A 2019 report from research firm Top10VPN found that over 480 million mobile VPN apps were downloaded around the world in the last 12 months, which is 54% more than the year before. Some 75% of all of those downloads were on .
While researchers found free services accounted for 84% of all mobile VPN downloads, wewhenever possible. That means getting your money’s worth out of a secure, glitch-free VPN app for Android. We routinely test and review our featured VPN apps, so be sure to check back here in the future as we update our list.
While our directory of the best VPN services of 2020 ranks these apps and others by how well they held up during our testing and review process, this list focuses specifically on each VPN provider’s mobile offering. All of the apps listed here have a cost — there isn’t a free VPN service included. But, that just means you’re going to be paying for connection speed and a secure VPN, which is essential on a mobile device. Here are the best VPN for Android apps that we’ve tested so far this year.
- Intuitive app interface, with plenty of power under the hood
- Number of servers: 1,000
- Number of server locations: 60
- 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 option — 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.
While Surfshark’s network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes up for it on features. Let’s start off with the biggest win it offers: 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. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.
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.
The company has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireTV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important.
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 our testing, we saw no DNS or IP address leaks, and had no trouble accessing Netflix.
For a year plan, Surfshark comes in close to many of the other full-featured VPN providers, at $72 for the first year. Be careful, because it looks like that will jump to $143 after your first year is up. Month-by-month plans are $12. Its best offer is $2 a month, for its 24-month plan (you pay $48 up front). Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).
- Simple, fast, effective app
- Number of servers: 3,000-plus
- Number of server locations: 160
- Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
Just as ExpressVPN consistently proves itself to be one of the fastest VPNs on the market, its app for Android is designed with a streamlined approach aimed at connecting fast without a fuss. A single button on its landing screen directs a user to connect quickly, with the only accompanying option a drop-down location selector with your fastest nearby city selected by default.
ExpressVPN’s other options — its security and privacy tools, account and settings options, and support page — are all kept neatly tucked away under a garden variety three-bar icon in the screen’s top left corner. And they’re worth checking into. ExpressVPN has included an on-board IP address checker, along with two leak testers and a password generator.
The company tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users’ online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved their zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN’s setup guides, and the detailed information in its FAQ.
Like the rest of the top five VPN services we’ve reviewed for 2020, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method — something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.
The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free.
- An easy to use, reliable app
- Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
- Number of server locations: 62
- Country/jurisdiction: Panama
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. Part of that brand recognition is based on the user-friendliness of its design. Nord’s app for Android is just as easy to interact with as its desktop client, with a very similar design. It poses no learning curve 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 for to either select a country or connect to the fastest server automatically. 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.
Nord 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 our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast.
The company’s one-year subscription plan costs is for $7 a month ($84 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than most other contenders, the month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. As of September 2019, the company’s other pricing tiers have crept up a bit: It’s now $3.49 a month for a three-year plan (or $125.64 total), up from $2.99/$107.55. And the two-year plan is now $4.99 a month ($119.76), up from $3.99/$95.75. And yes, it also has a full 30-day refund policy.
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 our 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’d have preferred that Nord 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.
- Most customizable VPN app
- Number of servers: 1,300
- Number of server locations: 60
- Country/jurisdiction: US
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 app for Android, IPVanish manages to pack the same extensive suite of digital knobs and dials into a smaller screen to impressive effect.
If you’re looking for the ability to do some precision-tuning to your VPN connection, IPVanish is a solid bet. From generating visual graphs of your internet activity to a bevy of switches controlling split-tunnelling, LAN connection allowance and more — IPVanish is an app for the methodical tech tweaker who enjoys having exact control over their mobile traffic.
Its multiplatform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN.
A unique feature of IPVanish, and one we’re intrigued by, is the VPN’s support of Kodi, the open-source media streaming app that was once known as XBMC. Any serious media fan has used or built Kodi or XBMC into a media player, and the integrated IPVanish Kodi plugin provides access to media worldwide.
At $5 a month or $39 a year, IPVanish is obviously trying to move you towards its yearly program. We’re a little disappointed that it only allows a seven-day trial, rather than a full 30 days, but it does offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for its recent increase from five to now 10 simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.