VPNs with a data cap receive a reduction to their overall rating.
Read on for the specifics on how we assess these criteria, as well as our recommended standards for each one:
1. Android Application: 20%
Minimum Requirement: A bespoke, easy to use Android app.
We Recommend: The above, plus extra features like a kill switch.
Regardless of whether the VPN is free or not, we expect a VPN’s Android app to be functional and easy to use. It shouldn’t just be a lazy copy of the desktop app, and it shouldn’t be missing any important features.
Options and buttons should be clearly labeled, with a simple layout and intuitive menus. We consider a VPN kill switch essential. Without it, your IP address coule be exposed if your VPN connection drops.
Split tunneling and ad blocking is less common, but equally useful. With split tunneling, you can choose which apps are rerouted by the VPN and which operate outside of it.
You should always make sure that you have downloaded the correct, official version of any Android VPN. Both free and paid VPN apps have many clones on the Google Play Store.
Downloading these copies can result in malicious viruses, tapjacking, and URL spoofing. Make sure you find the official Play Store link or download the apk directly from the VPN service’s website.
2. Speed: 20%
Minimum Requirement: Less than 40% download speed loss on local connections.
We Recommend: Less than 20% download speed loss on local connections, or 40% on distant ones.
Whether you’re on WiFi or using cellular data, a VPN will slow down your internet speeds. The best free VPNs for Android will only make a small difference to your speeds.
Our testing found many free VPNs offer speeds significantly slower than their paid app counterparts. That’s why we make sure to manually test VPNs using our Android testing device.
While free VPNs can be slower than the paid ones, our expectations remain the same. There’s no reason for a good VPN, free or paid, to slow down your internet by more than 40% on a nearby connection. The best VPNs for Android will slow your internet speeds less than 20%.
Something you should bear in mind, however, is the reduced server list of most free VPNs compared to paid VPNs. If your VPN does not offer a server in the country you live in, then you likely have slower speeds connecting to another country.
3. Privacy & Logging Policy: 20%
Minimum Requirement: Minimal aggregated or anonymous usage data collected.
We Recommend: No logs retained whatsoever.
You should never download a VPN which stores identifiable, personal usage data. Your full IP address, browser timestamps, and DNS requests are always off limits – no good VPN will collect or store them.
We think it’s fine if a VPN stores some account or anonymized information. Monthly bandwidth usage or the total number of users connected to a single server can be necessary for running a seamless VPN. However, this information should be routinely deleted every month.
The perfect VPN records no account-tied logs of any kind. There are a few that genuinely offer this, and even less have a free tier available.
4. Security & Technical Features: 20%
Minimum Requirement: AES-128 encryption and the OpenVPN protocol.
We Recommend: AES-256 encryption, plus OpenVPN, WireGuard, or a bespoke protocol.
The Google Play Store is filled with hundreds of free apps which claim to be ‘VPNs’, but in reality only act as proxies.
In short, they change your IP address, butdo not encrypt your traffic and DNS requests. It’s important to make sure that your free VPN of choice specifies what encryption it uses.
AES-256 is the level of encryption to aim for, though AES-128 is safe as well. It has been the standard for years now and is virtually unbreakable.
So long as OpenVPN or WireGuard protocols are present, then it’s safe. In our speed tests, we found WireGuard to be the faster VPN protocol. Provider-specific protocols like NordLynx and Lightway are also good choices.
5. Streaming: 10%
Minimum Requirement: Can access at least one Netflix library – ideally US or UK.
We Recommend: Can access other streaming services and additional Netflix libraries.
Streaming is the most popular reason to use a VPN on Android.
We can’t just rely on our testing data from desktop platforms. Sometimes a VPN which streams a certain service on Windows won’t be able to on Android, or vice versa.
We install a VPN on a Samsung Galaxy S9, running the latest version of Android, connect to a server in the desired country, and try to watch a specific streaming service.
The ability to stream the US Netflix library is a priority due to its popularity. Other Netflix libraries like Germany, Japan, and the UK are also desirable.
We also routinely test for other services like BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+.
6. Torrenting: 10%
Minimum Requirement: Permits P2P activity on a wide choice of servers.
We Recommend: Permits torrenting on all servers, with good P2P bitrate.
Torrenting is popular on Android, but lots of mobile VPNs fall short when compared to their PC alternatives. Data-caps and throttled speeds lead to bad experiences on mobile.
The best VPNs for torrenting on Android have a bitrate of over 8MiB/s on our 100Mbps connection. They also include a kill switch and never leak IP information.
We put every Android VPN through a torrenting benchmark test, using a test file on a fixed 100Mbps connection. All mobile torrenting tests are carried out with the LibreTorrent client on a Samsung Galaxy S9 test phone.
Ideally, a good mobile torrenting VPN should allow P2P traffic on all servers, or offer clearly marked P2P servers across their whole server network.
Data Cap Penalty: Up to 50% Reduction
Nearly all free VPN services implement a data cap. As with most limitations on free VPNs, this is used to encourage you to upgrade to a paid subscription.
The best free VPNs offer 10GB a month, or 500MB a day for free. This adds up to enough for light streaming throughout the month or a shorter high-intensity period of streaming.
We recommend paid Android VPNs that come with unlimited data. We also look for services that don’t throttle or limit certain types of traffic, such as P2P.
We apply a penalty to the VPN’s overall rating for Android based on its data cap:
- Unlimited bandwidth: No deduction to the overall rating
- 10GB per month: -20% to the overall rating
- 500MB per day: -25% to the overall rating
- 5GB per month: -30% to the overall rating
- 1GB per month: -35% to the overall rating
- 200MB per day: -40% to the overall rating
- 500MB per month: -50% to the overall rating