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 intuitive and easy to use the Android application is.
- How fast it is on Android, and whether or not it will slow down internet speeds.
- How trustworthy the logging policy is, and what data it retains.
- What encryption is in use, and if there are any useful security features.
- How many streaming libraries and services it can unblock, particularly Netflix.
- Whether P2P traffic is permitted and on how many servers.
- Just for free VPNs, whether there is a data usage limit per day or per month.
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, it should at the very least have a functional, bespoke Android app. It shouldn’t just be a lazy copy of the desktop app and it shouldn’t be missing too many features.
Options and buttons should be clearly labeled, with a simple layout and intuitive menus. Ordinarily we consider a VPN kill switch essential. Without it, your IP address could be left exposed should the VPN connection drop. However, they’re rarer on Android than other platforms.
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 viruses, tapjacking, URL spoofing, or any other manner of sinister side effect. Make sure that you find the official Play Store link or download the .APK directly from the VPN service’s website.
2. Download 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.
Much like a data cap, download speeds have a similar impact when you’re using a VPN.
Whether you’re on WiFi or using cellular data, a VPN will negatively affect your internet speeds. But, most importantly, the best free VPNs will affect them as little as possible.
Our testing has found that many free VPNs offer speeds noticeably slower than their paid app counterparts. That’s why we make sure to manually test the speeds of every VPN we review on a regular basis.
While free VPNs can be slower than the paid ones, our expectations for the bare minimum you should accept remain the same. There’s no reason for a good VPN, free or otherwise, to slow down your internet by more than 40% on a nearby connection. And an ideal one will still slow it by 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 will have to accept slower speeds.
Our speed testing process for free Android VPNs is simple. Using a Galaxy S9, we connect to as wide a spread of global servers as we can, and record their speeds via speedtest.net. We compare the figures recorded to the figures with no VPN connected, and see how large the drop-off is. We always use the same 100Mbps wireless office test connection. Download speed is prioritized, but upload and latency is also considered.
We conducted speed tests specifically on a Galaxy S9, so the results may vary from our reviews and other pages, which use speeds on Windows desktop clients.
3. Logging Policy: 20%
Minimum Requirement: Minimal aggregated or anonymous usage data collected.
We Recommend: No logs retained whatsoever.
Logging policy is one area where you absolutely do not have to compromise when choosing a free Android VPN. Most trustworthy VPN services use the same core logging policy for both their free and paid product, across all platforms.
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 much more generic or shared information. The total amount of data you use in a month, how many times you’ve connected, or the total number of users connected to a server at one time are all acceptable. Information like this should be deleted every few months at most.
The perfect VPN records no account-tied logs of any kind. There are a few that genuinely offer this, although the collection of anonymized metadata and top-level server statistics is also acceptable.
4. Security & Encryption: 20%
Minimum Requirement: AES-128 encryption and the IKEv2 VPN protocol.
We Recommend: AES-258 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.
While proxies may change your IP address, they do 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 still the super-secure level to aim for, though AES-128 is perfectly safe as well. It has been the standard for years now and is virtually uncrackable.
So long as OpenVPN, WireGuard, or IKEv2 protocols are present then it’s safe. Provider-specific protocols like NordLynx and Lightway are also good choices.
That said, we feel that OpenVPN just edges it out as the more secure protocol. We can also fully recommend WireGuard, a newer protocol, which is faster than both IKEv2 and OpenVPN.
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, 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 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 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+.
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 when torrenting.
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.
7. Data Cap: 10%
Minimum Requirement: 10GB of data per month.
We Recommend: Unlimited monthly data allowance.
This category only applies to free VPNs for Android because all paid VPNs do not have a data cap.
Data cap is by far the most important factor for a free Android VPN. No matter what you do online, and no matter why you use a VPN, it will always consume bandwidth.
If a free VPN has a data cap, we will reduce the overall score by 10% to reflect the restriction. The best rated free VPNs offer at least 10GB of data per month, which will allow you to browse the internet for approximately 120 hours.
You don’t need to be a VPN testing expert to know that more data is better. Unfortunately, very few trustworthy VPNs actually offer an unlimited data cap. It’s the best case scenario, but you may need to compromise if you want other specific features from your free Android VPN.
Anywhere between 4-10GB is both a common allowance as well as a decent figure for a free VPN to offer. This will allow you to stream a few hours of HD video, plus keep your general web browsing protected.
Anything less than 2GB is extremely restrictive. You’d have to be very disciplined about using your VPN, making sure to only activate it when absolutely necessary (for example if you do some online banking on public WiFi).