When testing VPNs for Android we focus on the aspects of a VPN that are most relevant to Android users.
For Android VPNs specifically, we consider:
- How easy it is to stream, and how many services it can access.
- How fast the VPN is, both for upload and download speeds.
- The features present in the Android app, and how easy it is to use.
- How secure the VPN is and what level of encryption is used.
- Whether you can trust the VPN logging policy, and how much data is retained.
Here’s how we test all of those criteria, along with the specifics that we look out for. You can also see the weightings of each category to better understand how we calculate the overall rating for Android:
1. Streaming: 30%
Minimum Requirement: Can access US Netflix.
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, though. 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 test handset, connect to a server in the desired country, and try to watch a specific streaming service.
The ability to stream the United States 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+.
2. Speed: 20%
Minimum Requirement: Less than 40% speed loss on local connections.
We Recommend: Less than 20% speed loss on local connections or 40% on distant ones.
Even the very best VPNs slow down internet connections. The difference between a good one and a bad one is in just how great the slowdown is.
This statement is true on mobile, too. Whether you’re using cellular data or a WiFi connection, you need a VPN which alters your download speeds as little as possible.
When testing speeds on Android we follow the same manual process as outlined on our ‘How We Review VPNs’ page.
As a rough guideline, if you connect to a server near your real-world location, a good VPN will slow your internet by less than 20%. If you’re connecting to one further away (to watch Netflix from that region, for example) then less than 40% slowdown to your download speeds is very good.
Those figures should be good enough to keep your app store downloads quick and your streams buffer-free.
3. Android App: 20%
Minimum Requirement: A bespoke Android app with a VPN kill switch.
We Recommend: The above, plus extra usability features like split tunneling.
The bare minimum we expect from a VPN provider is a proper Android app, built specifically for the platform. It shouldn’t just be a lazy copy of the desktop app and it shouldn’t be missing too many features.
Good Android VPNs are intuitive and easy to use on a small touchscreen. The kill switch is the most essential feature, which prevents your IP address from being exposed should the connection drop.
Split tunneling is less common, but equally useful. With it, you can choose which apps are rerouted by the VPN and which operate outside of it.
4. Security & Encryption: 15%
Minimum Requirement: AES-128 encryption and a reliable default protocol like IKEv2.
We Recommend: AES-256 encryption and either OpenVPN or a bespoke protocol.
One area which can see the biggest difference between desktop VPNs and mobile VPNs is the actual encryption technology used.
Even the most popular VPNs tend to offer different standards of encryption on Android compared to the Windows program. AES-256 is still the super-secure level to aim for, and is commonplace in most good Android VPNs.
It’s rare to see a broad selection of VPN protocols on Android, too. You don’t necessarily need a wide choice, though. So long as OpenVPN, WireGuard, or IKEv2 are present then it’s safe. Provider-specific protocols like NordLynx and Lightway are also good choices.
5. Logging Policy: 15%
Minimum Requirement: Minimal aggregated or anonymous usage data collected.
We Recommend: No logs retained whatsoever.
VPN logging policies can actually vary by platform. If you use a VPN on Android there’s a chance that there may be trackers, analytics, and third-party data sharing that doesn’t happen on a desktop version of the app.
We make sure to fully explore all the ways your personal data is tracked and retained when you use a VPN on Android. We read through lengthy privacy policies, check the accuracy of app store labels, and read all the terms and conditions of any third parties.
You shouldn’t use a VPN which logs anything that can be used to identify you. This includes your IP address, DNS requests, and browser timestamps.
The ideal VPN collects no information whatsoever. There are a few that genuinely offer this, although the collection of anonymized metadata and top-level server statistics is also acceptable.
Additional research by Liam Mullally