Much of our lives is spent online, and a lot of that is done through our smartphones. From banking to entertainment to social networking to work, our Android phones allow us to access the online world with ease.
But we’re not always safe there. Cybercrime is a growing threat, and identity thieves are constantly looking for ways to get their hands on your personal info. What’s more, you’re most at risk when you’re using your phone to connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks like the ones you’d find at coffee shops and restaurants. If you’re connected unprotected, you’re gambling that no one sharing the network is engaging in nefarious activities.
And to be frank, you shouldn’t like those odds.
FYI: VPN use has exploded in recent years. It is currently estimated that about 30 percent of internet-connected individuals access the web through virtual private networks.
Instead of rolling the dice, it’s best to ensure your data remains hidden and your activities are obfuscated with a virtual private network (VPN). We’re going to get into how to set up a VPN on your Android device in just a minute, but first, let’s take a quick look at how these services operate.
What Is a VPN, and How Does It Work?
Virtual private networks have been around for years but have only recently grown in popularity. There are a few reasons for this, but their rise in popularity can be attributed to two main factors: People are realizing just how vulnerable they are online, and the products themselves have become more user-friendly and accessible.
FYI: The first VPN was built back in the ’90s by engineers at Microsoft who were looking to protect data on open networks. Up until recently, VPNs were used primarily by companies looking to protect data on remote machines.
For more information on how VPNs work, you can check out our VPN guide, but for our purposes, you need to know only two things. First, they establish a private tunnel from your device to your online destination, and they encrypt your data so that if it’s intercepted by anyone — nefarious or not — it simply can’t be read.
This is important for Android users in particular. Our lives are stored in our phones, and as you’re going about your day, you’re likely connecting to unfamiliar networks. It’s here that hackers and identity thieves trawl for information like passwords, banking details, and other personally identifying information. You’ll be able to head them off at the pass, though, with a strong VPN.
Which VPN Should I Select for Android?
There are a number of great options on the market for Android users. I suggest starting with our guide to the best VPNs for Android. And if you want more options, head over to our best VPNs list. That said, there are some general features you should look for when making your selection.
First, you should consider the VPN’s speed. This is usually a function of network size and capacity, but reading reviews and tests will go a long way in selecting a VPN that won’t be sluggish. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, see our review of NordVPN. NordVPN is one of the fastest VPNs I’ve seen, and it can easily connect to Wi-Fi networks from your Android device.
Finally, consider the features. In most cases, this will be the VPN you’re using across all of your devices. Want to stream Netflix? Want to torrent with your VPN? Some VPNs are better than others for these activities.
FYI: Don’t get into trouble using your VPN. Just because they increase your privacy doesn’t mean you should use them to download copyrighted materials that don’t belong to you.
Once you’ve made your final selection, it’s time to install your VPN on your Android device. Luckily, there’s not much to this process.
How to Install a VPN on Any Android Device
Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that most Android devices come equipped with an onboard VPN; however, I don’t recommend using it. The built-in VPN isn’t nearly as robust as other products and runs some pretty outdated protocols.
Instead, find a quality VPN in the Google Play store. There you’ll download the mobile client. Once the download is complete, open the app, and it should take care of the rest. You’ll have to create a username and password if you haven’t already done so on your desktop. Enter that information, and you should be off to the races.
It’s worth pointing out that these are general instructions. Some apps might require a few additional steps during setup, and certain settings might have to be configured to optimize performance. That said, in my experience, most VPN apps are well-designed and intuitive. If you can navigate a settings window, this should be smooth sailing.
So that’s all there is to it. Before we wrap up, though, I have some final thoughts on using a VPN on Android devices.
To VPN or Not to VPN?
You might think all of this is overkill, but these days you can never be too careful. Taking a few minutes to purchase and set up a VPN on your Android phone is an extremely easy thing to do, and the benefits are manifold. Not only will you increase your privacy in your day-to-day browsing, but you’ll also keep prying eyes out of your business and bad actors away from your sensitive data.
While VPNs aren’t a surefire cybersecurity solution, they are one of the best tools available to protect everyday consumers. And the great news is VPNs don’t cost all that much; you’ll likely pay more for your daily coffee than you will to protect yourself online.
Android VPN FAQs
You don’t need a VPN, per se, but if you find yourself connecting to unsecured, unfamiliar Wi-Fi networks — like those you’d find at a coffee shop — you’ll greatly benefit from the protection and privacy a virtual private network provides.
In our experience, Private Internet Access is one of the best VPNs for Android. We also like Surfshark, ExpressVPN, and NordVPN.
Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of using a VPN is that it can slow down your connection speeds; however, most modern VPNs use sophisticated server networks with high throughput capacity, meaning that any slowdowns you experience are likely to be negligible.
It depends on the service you select, but you can expect to pay between $3 and $15 per month for your VPN subscription.
Most consumer-grade VPNs are extremely user-friendly and designed with accessibility in mind.