Nearly everyone uses the internet daily at this point, there’s almost no way around it. Between cybercriminals, phishing emails, and targeted ads, though, many people are looking for ways to protect themselves while they use the internet. This is where VPN apps come in handy, since they can help protect your browsing habits and data on virtually any device.
What Is a VPN?
A virtual private network, or VPN for short, is essentially a service that protects your online privacy. These virtual networks create a sort of encrypted tunnel to mask your personal data and web browsing from other people on the same network as you and third parties who may want to collect your online behaviors and information.
Here’s how it works. Usually, when you open up your internet browser and enter a website’s name, your computer connects first to the internet connection you are using, then to the server that hosts that domain. Unfortunately, this means that both the network you’re using and the website you’re accessing receives certain data about you and your computer. Most of the time, websites use this data to target ads to you based on your browsing habits. However, some internet hackers may use this as a way to collect other critical data or even commit identity theft.
When you use a VPN, though, your connection is funneled through a private server that encrypts or scrambles your data before going to the website you requested. This makes it harder for anyone to access your personal data or track your online activity.
While many people use VPNs when they hop onto public Wi-Fi networks, there are also benefits to using a VPN even when you’re browsing from the comfort of your home.
What About Mobile VPNs?
As you may have guessed already, you can use VPNs on any type of device from a desktop computer that remains connected to a wired network to a smartphone that jumps between Wi-Fi networks and cellular data connections. However, not all VPNs work with devices that switch between networks frequently. In these cases, you need what’s called a mobile virtual private network, or mobile VPN.
As the name implies, a mobile VPN is a specific type of virtual private network that continues to function even if you experience changes in physical connection, IP address, or network attachment. Mobile virtual private networks can be used on any type of device, though there are unique benefits to having a VPN on your smartphone or other small device.
The Benefits of Having VPN Apps on Your Mobile Device
You may think that there isn’t a lot of reason to install a VPN on your cell phone. However, those mobile devices are actually the ideal hardware for VPN apps.
Most of the time, people hop between mobile data and free Wi-Fi hotspots when using internet on their cell phone. Unfortunately, these hotspots are rarely secured, making it easy for anyone to access any data you send over that connection. This includes everything from your email address and passwords to banking and credit card information.
Furthermore, VPNs can help make what you’re doing on the internet more private too. VPN apps essentially make your browsing habits incognito all the time, meaning you don’t have to worry about companies tracking what you do.
Of course, VPNs can do more than just keep your private information safe or prevent companies from targeting you. In fact, if you are traveling, they can also help you access content that may otherwise be unavailable. This includes popular streaming apps that are cracking down on access from abroad and social media sites that are censored in some areas.
All that being said, we’ve aggregated a list of some of the most reliable mobile VPN apps for Android and iOS.
NordVPN is one of the most notable mobile VPN apps out there. The company has been offering VPN services since 2012, and has ratings of over 4.5 stars in both the Android and Apple app stores.
It’s hard to beat NordVPN in terms of power and options. It has a large and diverse collection of over 5,400 servers in over 60 countries. Their average connection speeds run at least 6730 Mbps, and uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with 256 bit-keys. Nord uses PGP keys to protect your account details. It also includes double VPN protection, and no DNS leak.
Furthermore, NordVPN offers an excellent collection of advanced features. The app offers an automatic kill switch to disrupt browsing if the VPN server suddenly stops. NordVPN is one of the few mobile VPN options that offers Tor via VPN, which is a handy feature for those who want it. Nord also offers malware protection, tracking cookies blocking, and an ad blocker.
NordVPN offers three pricing options, all of which include coverage for six devices:
- Monthly billing: $11.99/month
- Annual billing: $4.99/month
- Bi-yearly billing: $3.99/month
If you’re looking for an outstanding mobile VPN that doesn’t have a device limit, then you’ll want to check out Surfshark.
Surfshark is packed with features. Its server network includes over 3,200 individual servers across 65 different countries. The VPN also offers fast speeds, with each server running at 1 Gbps (minimum). And, like NordVPN, Surfshark offers AES 256 GCM encryption.
However, where Surfshark really shines is in its dedicated features. For example, Surfshark offers a split tunneling tool, meaning you get to choose which websites and apps use the VPN and which don’t. Surfshark also offers multi-hop, which essentially lets you establish one VPN connection then bounce it to a second VPN for added protection. Other perks include custom DNS service, a built-in ad-blocker, and a private search tool.
In terms of pricing, Surfshark offers three subscription options:
- Monthly billing: $12.95/month
- Annual billing: $47.88 for the first year ($3.99/month)
- 24 month billing: $59.76 every two years ($2.49/month)
ExpressVPN made it their mission to create one of the best possible mobile VPN apps on the market, and although their prices are a bit higher than the competition, it seems they’ve mostly achieved that goal.
ExpressVPN offers over 3,000 servers across an impressive 94 countries, making it one of the most widespread VPN options out there. Additionally, Express VPN is one of the few mobile VPN apps on this list to allow Lightway, an open-source protocol that increases the speed and reliability of the VPN connection. The app also offers the standard 256 AES encryption plus an added 4096 bit RSA certificate, making your data virtually undecipherable.
Like Surfshark, ExpressVPN offers split tunneling. It also brings an automatic kill switch, which it calls Network Lock. Every ExpressVPN server comes with encrypted DNS, which is also a nice privacy perk.
However, there are other privacy features that ExpressVPN is lacking in, especially given the price. For example, ExpressVPN does not offer double VPN (also called multi-hop), nor does it offer Tor over VPN. While these aren’t deal breakers per se, they may matter to anyone who wants tight security from their VPN.
As mentioned, ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive options. You get a total of five simultaneous devices using your account for the following price break downs:
- Monthly: $12.95/month
- 6-month billing: $59.94 ($9.99/month)
- Annual billing: $99.84/year ($8.32/month)
As a relatively new player to the VPN space, Datacappy doesn’t have as many servers as some of the competition (just 14 servers across 10 countries). Unlike most of the other mobile VPN apps on this list, though, Datacappy doesn’t require an account to use their app. This means it doesn’t have access to your logs, history browser activity, or email addresses. You also receive 100MB of VPN data for free.
In terms of other features, Datacappy offers customizable privacy settings, ad blocking, and non-tracking capabilities. Datacappy also has something other VPNs don’t: an integrated, private browser. The Datacappy Browser and the Datacappy VPN can be used on their own, or combined together for top-notch protection.
As mentioned, users can receive 100MB of free data use with Datacappy, with no expiration date. After that, Datacappy offers the following pricing options:
- Monthly billing: $5.99/month
- Yearly billing: $50.04 ($4.17/month)
CyberGhost hosts over 7,900 servers across 90 countries, making it one of the largest VPN networks out there. Everything uses AES 256-bit encryption, and the company is currently implementing 10G throughout the server network. This makes CyberGhost also one of the fastest VPN networks as well.
One of CyberGhost’s standout features is the option to receive a dedicated IP address. It uses a tokenized system to dispense these, meaning the company doesn’t keep any info, and the dedicated IP helps you not appear as using a VPN when online. Additionally, CyberGhost offers an automatic kill switch, split tunneling, ad blocking, and malware protection.
CyberGhost backs their product with a 45-day money back guarantee, and they offer pricing in a total of four payment options:
- Monthly Billing: $12.99/month
- Annual Billing: $51.48 ($4.29/month)
- 2 Year Billing: $78 ($3.25/month)
- 3 Year Billing: $89.31 ($2.29/month)
Windscribe is an affordable and popular option for VPN apps for iPhone and Android devices. In fact, it’s one of the few options on this list that offers a free plan.
Although Windscribe just launched in 2015, it has already built a relatively large network of 170 servers across 69 countries. Like most of the others on this list, the servers use AES 256 encryption, and offers WireGuard throughout the server network.
When it comes to added features, Windscribe has you covered. The app offers split tunneling, ad blocking, malware protection, and tracker disabling. Furthermore, the app also has MAC address spoofing, which helps reduce tracking and blocking far beyond the common DNS blocklist that other VPNs use.
In terms of pricing, Windscribe offers 2GB free per month to anyone, with the option to upgrade that to 10GB per month just for adding and confirming your email address.
However, the free plans do come with some limitations on the servers you can use, meaning you may want to also look at their paid options:
- Monthly billing: $9/month
- Annual billing: $49 ($4.08/month)
ProtonVPN is another solid VPN for Android and iPhone that offers a free version.
ProtonVPN offers a network of over 1,700 servers spread in 63 countries. The entire network runs on 10 Gbps speeds, plus the company boasts VPN Accelerator technologies that increase the speeds even further. The app offers an auto kill switch and an “always on” feature, as well as Tor over VPN.
However, one thing that ProtonVPN prides itself on is its Secure Core servers. Essentially, you can set up your most secure data to multi-hop through one of these secure servers before going to the VPN network of your choice. This protects your data even if, the VPN server were to get hacked. Other key features include NetShield (an ad blocker, malware protection, and anti-tracker system), a split tunneling system, and DNS leak protection.
As previously mentioned, ProtonVPN does offer a free option with unlimited data — although it does limit you to specific servers and only allows one device to use the VPN at a time. So, if you decide you need more than that, you’ll have to select from these paid tiers:
- Basic (2 device connections) – $48/year ($4/month)
- Plus (10 device connections) – $96/year ($8/month)
- Visionary (adds ProtonMail account) – $288/year ($72/month)
Frequently Asked Questions
Are VPNs legal to use?
Yes, VPNs are totally legal to use – they just help you protect your data and browsing habits further.
Do VPN apps collect my data?
Although some VPN apps temporarily store data, most VPN companies operate with a “no logs policy.” This means they will not keep data on file or use the temporary data in any way.
Do VPNs completely cover my digital footprint?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely cover your digital footprint, even when using VPN apps on your devices.
Image credit: A man holds a phone with a vpn application in hand. by 123RF
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