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I resisted the urge to get a decent VPN for my Android phone for years. Why bother with an extra app just to get online, now that internet connections are ubiquitous?
Over time, however, the scenarios in which I needed a VPN became more common. I needed to check what this or that site looked like from another geolocation. Or I needed to test an app that wasn't available in my country. But what finally made me cave in was being unable to watch some of my favorite TV shows while traveling.
A VPN, or virtual private network, provides an additional layer of privacy when connecting to the internet. It's like using a private tunnel to browse the web, keeping you safe from prying eyes and enabling you to surf as if you were connecting from a server in a different place. Typically, all you need to do as a user is install the app on your smartphone, start it up, choose a server location, and then you can just continue browsing as usual.
Choosing which VPN provider to go with, however, is both easy and incredibly difficult. There are hundreds to choose from, but it's very hard to test how reliable they are in different scenarios. So below, you'll find a list of some VPNs, both free and paid, that are just plain good.
Various VPNs offer versions of their service for Android devices. Here are the best ones that we've tried, in no particular order:
Even though it's not as good as some of the paid options out there, I like Opera's VPN because it's free and because it has a big, reliable brand behind it (Opera has been making web browsers for two decades).
And if you just skimmed over that paragraph above, let me repeat the important bit: It's free. It costs you nothing to try it out, and with Opera's reputation, you don't have to worry about getting your phone infected by malware. The app also offers a built in ad blocker and the ability to determine the security level of the Wi-Fi network you're connected to.
Opera won't give you the amount of versatility you'll get from paid options, though. There are only five virtual locations to choose from, and torrenting is not supported.
NordVPN has a fairly affordable long term payment plan.
Image: Stan Schroeder/Mashable
NordVPN has a reputation for being amongst the sturdiest, most reliable VPNs out there and my experience has confirmed that. Whenever I needed to mimic being in a different geolocation, NordVPN had a server that was fast, and, even more importantly, the server was not on any blacklist. With it, I was able to stream Hulu shows in several European countries without issues.
NordVPN says it offers over 3,533 servers worldwide. It lets you connect six devices at the same time, and it claims to keep no logs of your activities.
Unlike Opera, NordVPN isn't free, but here's the bad news: It's very, very hard to find a decent VPN that's free. NordVPN does have some pretty sweet long-term deals, like a three-year subscription for $99. This might sound like a lot of money out of the gate, but divide it into monthly installments, and it's just $2.75 per month.
F-Secure Freedome VPN
F-Secure Freedome VPN offers various pricing models.
If you're looking to get a VPN with a premium brand, the one from antivirus software maker F-Secure might fit the bill. Besides allowing you to privately browse the internet without activity logs, F-Secure also offers protection from third-party tracking and malicious sites.
The app's circular UI is a little odd, but after a while you'll get used to it, and you'll find that it does give you a solid overview of what's happening. The app's settings don't offer a lot but the basics are there: You can set up trusted Wi-Fi networks or allow some apps to bypass the VPN altogether.
F-Secure's paid tiers are a little different to most VPN services. A 49.90 euro ($62.44) one-time payment (this boils down to 4.16 euros or $5.21 per month) will get you 12 months of access with the ability to use it on up to three devices at the same time. If you need support for more devices, the price goes up, with the most expensive tier offering support for seven devices for 6.66 euros ($8.34) per month.
F-Secure Freedome VPN is available here — and don't worry, you can download and try out the Android app for five days without paying anything first.
Like essentially all VPNs out there, ExpressVPN promises a ton of servers (more than 1,700), unlimited bandwidth, no restrictions, and great speeds. It also openly advertises the fact that it's based in the British Virgin Islands, which doesn't have data-retention laws, meaning the company isn't required to keep activity or connection logs.
One area where it stands out is the number of available locations, a whopping 148 cities in 94 countries. It also supports a ton of security standards, including 256-bit AES encryption.
The starting monthly price for ExpressVPN is pretty steep: $12.95 per month. But you can also buy a 15-month subscription for $99.95, which means you're actually paying $6.67. Not the cheapest option out there, but still OK. And if you're a cryptocurrency fan, you'll like the fact that you can pay that in bitcoins.
Using the app is simple enough: Fire it up and choose a location (you get a recommended location depending on your actual geolocation which should give you good speed), and then surf away.
First things first: TorGuard has no relation to the Tor anonymizing project or the underlying technology. But it's still a very versatile VPN for all platforms, including Android, aimed primarily at folks who like to do torrenting without worrying about getting an unwanted letter in the mail telling them to stop.
The service claims it has more than 3,000 servers in more than 55 countries, effectively giving it unlimited bandwidth (i.e. you don't have to worry about too many users taxing the system at any one time).
TorGuard is not the most beginner-friendly option out there; in fact, the first thing it'll ask you after you fire it up is to choose between a variety of security protocols that most people don't know much about. Still, once you've clicked on those and connected to a server, you'll be fine.
The pricing starts at $9.99 per month but that can be lower if you pay on a quarterly, semi-annual, annual or a biennial basis. Bitcoin as well as Litecoin are accepted as payment.
TunnelBear isn't just a cute interface.
TunnelBear's main selling point is simplicity and ease of use, and it delivers. After downloading the app, all you need to do is create an account (only your email address and password is needed), confirm the registration via email, and you're good to go. The animation of a bear actually tunneling from one place to another is pretty great, too.
The app is free, but it only gets you a monthly 500MB, which will be enough for a little bit of work but definitely won't do for video streaming. If you want more, you can get a paid account with unlimited data. The two tiers — Giant and Grizzly — offer the same deal, but the former will cost you $9.99 monthly while the latter is paid on a yearly basis for $49.88 (which works out to a monthly price of $4.16).