Written by: Joe Robinson
I’ve used a lot of Android VPN apps over almost a decade working in the data privacy and cyber security industry. In fact, I’ve reviewed a great many VPNs for this website and others.
One thing I’ve learnt is that there is a huge difference between a “good” VPN, and a not so good one. That’s not in a subjective way, but some work really well at providing a fast and uninterrupted connection to a wide range of server locations, and keep your private data private, whilst others are riddled with issues. Android devices will often be used on the go to connect to public WiFi, so a stable VPN connection with good privacy is a must.
Today I’ve chosen four of the best VPNs for Android, based on the above prerequisites and important factors that make a solid VPN for use on an Android device, further details of the testing criteria can be found at the bottom of the page.
NordVPN starts at just $2.99/ month for a three year subscription ($107.55), which is a pretty amazing price. Many people will be unsure about buying a three year plan, but at this price you can’t really go wrong. Nord is a really solid company who treat their customers’ privacy seriously. For a two year plan, you’ll pay $95.75 ($3.99/ month), one year is $83.88 ($6.99/ month), and a single month is $11.95. All plans offer six simultaneous devices.
You can pay with Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc, various online payment processors such as Yandex and Alipay, along with a range of Cryptocurrencies for those who require more anonymity. All plans come with a watertight 30 day money back guarantee, which is easily long enough to test the service on all your devices.
Setting up and using the NordVPN Android app is extremely easy. I’ve got quite a few VPNs on my phone, but Nord is my go to. It takes two to three seconds to start the app and connect to a server, which is incredibly quick. Many VPNs take up to ten seconds or so to connect. Some reviews I’ve read have complained about the app’s GUI design, which is a vaguely abstract world map, but unless you don’t know your Australia from your Austria, you should be fine. I really like the GUI, the menus are easy to navigate and all features are clearly marked. Once running the app works seamlessly for all uses I’ve tried so far, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, internet browsing, etc.
As you can see from the test results further down the page, NordVPN performed slightly slower on average than ExpressVPN and HMA, but in actual use, I found no noticeable drop in speed on my mobile data connection and no problems streaming Netflix in HD. There are many IPs available in most countries, and you can easily switch IP if needed.
Along with their normal VPN servers, which are already great, NordVPN offers several specialty servers:
P2P servers Especially kept aside for P2P downloading (torrents). While most people will do their torrenting on an actual computer, this feature is great for downloading movies (non-copyrighted, of course) on the go. In my test I got an average download speed of 57.8Mbps, and upload of 34.2Mbps. This is easily fast enough to download a large file such as an HD movie in a short amount of time.
Onion over VPN This option offers a level of anonymity that is hard to beat. The TOR network adds extra layers of data privacy by encrypting your data by sending it through at least three nodes, each time encrypting the data so it can’t be intercepted. The major benefit of using NordVPN’s Onion over VPN is that anyone monitoring the initial TOR exit node you connect to won’t be able to see your true IP address, just Nord’s server IP. The TOR network is very slow. It’s designed to protect people who need as close to absolute anonymity. The network is also used by whistleblowers in countries where their life could be in danger for doing so. Simply put, the TOR network is an incredibly important system that allows users to retain anonymity, and shouldn’t be misused.
Double VPN Encrypts data and sends traffic through a NordVPN server, where it is encrypted again and sent through another server, where it is decrypted and sent on its way through the internet.
Dedicated IP As it sounds, gives you a dedicated IP address, rather than a shared one. With shared IPs it is very difficult to match a single user to online activity, whereas a dedicated IP address means you won’t have other people using the same IP address, which can be important for certain networks or services.
Obfuscated servers Some countries ban VPNs. NordVPN’s obfuscated servers hide the fact that a VPN is being at all by making it seem like regular non-encrypted packets are being sent. You should only use these servers is you actually need them.
Nord takes your privacy seriously. Based in Panama, where there is no legal requirement to log user activity, their statement is: “NordVPN does not monitor, store or record logs for any VPN user. We do not store connection time stamps, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses.” So that’s a +1 for NordVPN. Other providers should take a leaf out of their book.
For packet encryption, NordVPN uses 256-AES-CBC which is the most secure widely used algorithm, and at 256-bits is practically impossible to brute force. IKEv2/IPSec ciphers are used for the encryption and authentication of keys, which are hashed using SHA-384 and exchanged using 3072-bit Diffie-Hellman protected with PFS.
This is extremely strong encryption, in-line with their privacy-focused zero logs policy, and assures users will enjoy a high level of protection whilst using NordVPN on Android. IKEv2 is another bonus for Android users, not just because it’s fast and secure, but it’s very stable and protects against short disconnection, such as when a train goes through a tunnel or you have spotty public WiFi.
A twelve-month plan costs $99.95 ($8.32/ month), six months is $59.95 ($9.99/ month), and a single month is $12.95. This may sound a little steep, but ExpressVPN do provide one of the best VPN services around, and were only just beaten by NordVPN today, so if you’ve got the budget they’re definitely worth a look. All plans come with a 30-day money back guarantee, so you have plenty of time to test out all the apps across devices.
The ExpressVPN Android app is clean and uncluttered, with a simple on/off button for connecting. Unfortunately, that’s also one of the app’s weaknesses, there aren’t many advanced features to choose from, only a choice of UDP or TCP protocols, and whether to automatically connect on Android startup. The desktop apps have far more features though. I mentioned the speed at which NordVPN starts up and connects, so it’s only fair to mention that Express is also lightning fast in that department. I’ve been using, testing, and reviewing ExpressVPN for around the past five years, and can say I’ve rarely encountered any issues, and when I have, the technical support is 5 star.
ExpressVPN consistently scores very well in speed tests due to their excellent network of servers. Plenty of countries are catered for, although the Android app doesn’t let you choose a new IP, just a location. I used ExpressVPN a lot to watch the World Cup 2018 on UK BBC and ITV, and had no trouble with geoblocking or getting a stable HD stream. I’ve very occasionally been blocked from watching Netflix USA, but quickly connecting to a different location has always solved that.
ExpressVPN provides a very secure online environment. Similar to Nord, Express uses an AES-256-CBC cipher with SHA-256 authentication. For handshake encryption there’s an AES-256 GCM cipher with RSA-384 handshake encryption with PFS from a 2048 Diffie-Hellman key exchange.
ibVPN has four packages that offer various selections of their three main services – VPN, Proxy, and SmartDNS. The Ultimate VPN plan contains all services and costs $41.47/ year if bought in advance ($3.46/ month), or $5.47 for a month at a time. The standard package includes VPN and Proxy, and costs $18.47/ year ($1.54/ month), or $2.47 for a month at a time. SmartDNS servers are good if you only want to unblock content, but they do require a slightly more involved set up than a simple VPN and don’t provide any encryption.
There’s a 24 hour free trial which should be enough time to give it a good try if you’re organised.
The app is simple to use and easy to connect. You can easily choose the fastest server for the USA, UK, EU, Asia, and South America. The VPN settings page allows you to choose between TCP and UDP OpenVPN protocols, and port. The option to disable IPv6 traffic helps keep you online activities private when connecting to sites that don’t support the protocol. The “Keep Connection Alive” option is a killswitch.
There are a lot of servers around the world to choose from, with several for each country and an indication of how “full” the servers are (if there are many others using the same one it will slow down). There’s a “fastest country” servers option, which most people will probably end up using most of the time especially if they want to quickly connect to the best server for Android whilst out and about.
The “Fastest US server” worked straight away with Netflix, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a working UK server for Netflix at all. However, I was able to watch live British TV on both the BBC and ITV. There are a few specialty servers in there too, which is great, including loads of P2P servers in ten countries around the world, ibDNS over VPN, a gaming server in the Netherlands, DoubleVPN, and TOR over VPN. These are similar options to NordVPN, and are a great addition to this already solid service.
ibVPN keeps no logs at all, which is great! From their website: “ibVPN does not collect or log any traffic or use of its Virtual Private Network service. We cannot relate any specific activity with any specific user. If any legal notices are forwarded to our legal department we will comply with that notice. However, we cannot be compelled to hand over information which we do not have”. Spot on.
OpenVPN users enjoy a range of VPN protocols including very strong OpenVPN encryption – AES-256 cipher and HMAC SHA-384 hash authentication. Handshake encryption is RSA-2048 with PFS from DHE keys
I don’t recommend HideMyAss for anyone looking for privacy, as they are based in the UK and therefore have to comply with archaic anti-privacy laws. They have also been involved in scandals on more than one occasion, where they produced logs for authorities in the USA that lead to arrests (I don’t condone breaking the law, but authorities shouldn’t be getting their leads from VPN companies).
However, HideMyAss has a pretty good Android VPN app, with good speeds and works with Netflix.
Hide My Ass is one of the major VPN players out there and has an impressive list of servers in just about any country you can think of. To get the best deal, you’ll need to sign up for 24 months, which works out to $119.76, or $4.99/ month. A month by month subscription is $11.99. All plans have a 30 day money back guarantee. The sign up process is easy and quick. Payment options include credit card, PayPal, and Skrill, but there’s no sign of BitCoin or other cryptocurrencies that could be important when signing up in a country with an oppressive government.
The HMA app is quick to set up and simple to use. There are just three main options on the main screen: Instant mode to quickly connect to a server close to your real location, Location mode to choose a server from the full list, as well as extra fast streaming servers, and Freedom mode which chooses the fastest server in a close country. It’s easy to change IP address with just a couple of taps from the home screen, and the settings menu has an IP Shuffle feature that automatically cycles through IPs at a rate chose by you. To me this seems slightly gimmicky, as the service on the whole isn’t really privacy focused, as we’ll come to shortly.
Hide My Ass for Android did very well in our speed tests for their USA servers, with a 65.44Mb/s average download speed over a range of IPs from ten tests, which is the fastest of any in this list. Their UK servers were not nearly as fast, with an average speed of 35.88Mb/s. Testing was done on Android with mobile data. The Android VPN app does range of HideMyAss servers available, and there are a lot of them. 280+ locations in 190 countries, with 197 servers and 955 IP addresses in the USA alone.
In 2016, HMA user Chris Dupuy, a judge from Texas, was arrested for placing fake adverts in escort websites, featuring photos of his ex-girlfriend. Now, the behaviour of Dupuy is inexcusable, but the very fact that law enforcement was able to track his IP shows that HMA will hand over user data at the drop of a hat. Despite this, their website actually says:
Don’t believe the marketing hype. This isn’t even the first time HMA have given logs to law enforcement. Most people who follow the cybersecurity industry or VPNs in particular, will remember the great VPN scandal of 2011, when Hide My Ass handed over internet records and personal details of Cody Kretsinger, leading to his arrest and prison sentence for his port in hacking the Sony Pictures website. So what about their logging policy? Now, most people looking for the best Android VPN will be mainly using it to encrypt their data when out and about – public hotspots, for example, are notoriously insecure – It is worth noting the privacy flaws of HMA. They are supposed to provide a Virtual PRIVATE Network.
HideMyAss uses a 128-bit cipher with HMC SHA-1 hash authentication for their data channel, and AES-256 cipher with RSA-2048 handshake encryption and SHA-1 hash authentication and PFS of Diffie Hellman key exchange for control channel. The control channel is strong, so it’s unlikely any normal attacker could gain access to data. HideMyAss provides a good level of security to have on your phone when traveling.
I tested all four Android VPN apps using the Speedtest by Ookla app from Speedtest.net. I ran a control using my data connection, then each VPN service connected to the USA then UK. I did this ten times and used the average in the results.
USA Android VPN speed test results:
HideMyAss had by far the fastest USA servers, followed by ExpressVPN, then NordVPN, with ibVPN being the slowest. Interestingly, ibVPN had the second highest maximum speed, after HMA, but also by far the slowest minimum. The most consistent across the ten tests was from ExpressVPN.
This time ExpressVPN had the fastest servers, closely followed by ibVPN, then NordVPN, with HMA trailing far behind. This time ibVPN had the highest maximum speed, with HMA at the other end with the slowest minimum speed. ExpressVPN was once again the most consistent.
There are some important criteria you should be checking at when choosing an Android VPN service:
A slow VPN is one you’re unlikely to use, especially if you’re trying to unblock Netflix or Skype family from your phone while travelling. One of the factors that got NordVPN the title of best Android VPN is their support of IKEv2, which is excellent for mobile users thanks to its great stability. You also want many locations and plenty of servers in each location, so that the network doesn’t slow down when a lot of people are using it. There may be locations you specifically want, such as USA for content, or your home country to simply encrypt your traffic without too much loss in speed. Always have a think about which locations you need before you sign up to a VPN (or at least make sure they have a solid money-back guarantee or free trial).
Logs are data the VPN provider keeps about your activities when using their service. I always recommend using a VPN service with strong zero log policies. For this list specifically, I did mention HMA and their scandals with logging, however many people looking for a good VPN for Android will mainly want to encrypt their data while connecting to public WiFi, which HMA is fine for.
One of the absolutely essential elements of a quality VPN service is the security and encryption protocols used. This means OpenVPN with a secure suite of encryption and authentication.
This one seems pretty obvious but I’ve seen so many VPN providers with low-quality apps it’s definitely worth mentioning. Of course the app needs to be easy to use and have at least some aesthetic quality to the GUI, but there are other important aspects to consider.