I’ve used a lot of Android VPN apps over almost a decade working in the data privacy and cybersecurity industry. In fact, I’ve reviewed a great many VPNs for this website and others.
One thing I’ve learned is that there is a huge difference between a “good” VPN and a not so good one.
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.
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I liked: Hardcore privacy, advanced settings, loads of servers
I disliked: Not much
Based in: British Virgin Islands
DNS leak test: No leak
Netflix USA: Yes
Netflix UK: Yes
P2P allowed? Yes
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 does 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 is very well regarded from a privacy perspective. Their official logging policy is:
“ExpressVPN does not and will never log: IP addresses (source or VPN), browsing history, traffic destination or metadata, DNS queries. We have carefully engineered our apps and VPN servers to categorically eliminate sensitive information. As a result, ExpressVPN can never be compelled to provide customer data that do not exist”.
These can’t be tracked back to an individual, so no worries there.
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.
I liked: Streaming, choice of servers, great speed
I disliked: Some users have gone to jail
Based in: UK
DNS leak test: No leaks
Netflix USA: Yes
Netflix UK: Yes
P2P allowed? I wouldn’t
I don’t recommend HMA 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, HMA has a pretty good Android VPN app, with good speeds and works with Netflix.
HMA 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 signup 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.
HMA 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 HMA 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 HMA handed over internet records and personal details of Cody Kretsinger, leading to his arrest and prison sentence for his part 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.
HMA 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. HMA 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:
HMA 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.
Not request access to things that are unnecessary for it to operate, such as photos, contacts, etc. A lot of Android apps – even VPN apps – ask for permissions to all sorts of things they don’t need access to, for me this is a massive security flaw.
Be energy efficient – no one wants to use a VPN app that drains their phone battery in an hour. Preferably have at some advanced setup options and access to at least most servers. Some android VPN apps are a very watered down version of the full service.
Run quietly in the background and not stay connected, and not contain any ads or popups.Be properly maintained. App updates are really important to keep the service running smoothly and to make sure any security concerns are patched quickly.
Be quick and light – the initial download size and when in use, the app shouldn’t be memory hungry or slow.