VPNs are a reliable and affordable way to protect yourself from digital snoopers, as well as accessing forms of entertainment or websites which are unavailable in your country.
On an Android phone, another excellent reason to use a VPN is whenever you connect to an unknown Wi-Fi network - especially those which don't require a password to join, as most free public hotspots don't. It will encrypt your connection to the internet and prevent anyone stealing your personal or financial details.
A couple that will suit any Android user include:
It's amazingly simply to get one up and running on your device, so here's how it works.
How to set up a VPN on an Android phone
We're using ExpressVPN here to illustrate how to get a VPN up and running. First go to the Google Play Store and search for ExpressVPN. Download the app and then tap the Open button when the installation process has been completed.
You’ll need to set up an account, so choose the Start Free Trial option and enter an email address. The trial lasts for seven days, during which time you have access to all the services on offer. After that you’ll need to subscribe to continue using it.
Most paid VPNs cover multiple devices, and in the case of Express VPN you can use the service simultaneously on a combination of five phones, tablets, or PCs.
You may be asked for permission to configure your VPN (i.e. to automatically set up the connection). Don't deny this request, as the VPN won't work otherwise.
A final option is to let the VPN share crash reports and other technical data to the developers. This is anonymous and is only there to help them monitor how the system is performing. You can tap Allow if you’re happy to send this information, but there’s also a Don’t Allow option just below.
With the account created you can now start your adventures in Virtual Private Networks.
When it comes to actually enabling the VPN, it's as easy as pressing the big power button.
Open the app and you’ll be presented with that big button in the centre. As you might guess, this turns the VPN on and off. Beneath it you’ll see the recommended server location. This can be changed by tapping on the Choose Location button.
The latter is important if you want to watch, say, Netflix from other countries, as you simply select a server in that country. It’s also handy if you find that your connection is slow, as sometimes a particular server can experience problems due to heavy traffic or because it's further away.
When you press the button, or choose a country, you'll see a green shield around the button.
Now you’re free to use your normal web browser in the knowledge that any activities are hidden from prying eyes. In the notification bar you’ll see the icon of a key, which represents that the VPN is running and encrypting your connection.
Of course, if you log onto a website or an app such as Facebook or YouTube then the sites themselves will know it’s you and record your actions, but for surfing and general online entertainment you’re practically anonymous.
One of the nice things about ExpressVPN's Android app in particular is that it offers a homescreen widget so you can connect to a sever from your homescreen and see the VPN status without having to launch the app.
You might possibly notice a slow-down in the speed of your connection, which is inevitable due to the encryption and re-routing of your data, but hopefully it should be only minimal.
If you do find it too slow, then try switching servers. Otherwise you can restrict the use of the VPN to only certain activities that you want to remain private, or for catching up on Season 3 of The Expanse.
When you’re finished, go back to the app and tap the On/Off button once more and your handset will revert back to its normal connection.
Which is the best VPN?
Getting a VPN up and running on your Android device is very easy. First of all, you’ll need to choose one to download. There two main types of service available – free or subscription based.
We recommend paying for a VPN service, and prices can be as low as just a couple of pounds or dollars per month. Most of them offer a trial or a money-back guarantee. See the services we recommend in our roundup of the best VPNs.
What is a VPN?
If you're curious about how it all works, a Virtual Private Network is a software-based connection between two points which encrypts all data sent and received. People often use VPNs to use public Wi-Fi, hotel connections, or other potentially unsecure networks without the threat of hackers stealing their information.
Another benefit of VPNs is that they disguise the location of your computer and can make it look like you’re logging in from Los Angeles when you’re in fact sitting in a coffee shop in London.
This can be useful in a couple of ways. First it provides you excellent privacy because your ISP and the government can't monitor your online activities, and second it means you can circumvent regional restrictions on services like Netflix.
For more information on the latter read How to watch US Netflix in the UK.