The eyes are the window to the soul. Or, at least they used to be. Now, the smartphone is the doorway to the soul… and your heart, your brain, and your wallet. Given how much we entrust to our portable pocket computers, it is amazing how little we focus on security and privacy.
Of course, I’m generalizing. Most of the MakeUseOf team use VPNs at home and on mobile devices. It is a given: why protect your data in the house but flaunt it when you’re in public?
Let’s look at some of the best free mobile VPN solutions on offer.
The Best Free Mobile VPNs
In its simplest terms, a VPN establishes a secure connection between your device and a server operated by the VPN service. Some companies might have specific VPN requirements but, by-and-large, we’re all using similar technology.
The difference, then, is in the technology used by an individual VPN service. What differentiates it from their competitor? What makes it the best on the market and worthy of your trust? Let’s take a look at the best free mobile VPN services out there.
Test Note: VPNs were tested on my home network, which usually clocks in at 75 to 80 Mbps (download) and 30 Mbps (upload). In each case, I tried to connect to a server in the Netherlands. VPNs are listed in no particular order.
1. Windscribe (iOS, Android)
We start with Windscribe. Windscribe is one of the best free VPN solutions, offering an initial 2 GB of VPN bandwidth. This is immediately increased to 10 GB if you confirm your email address. Furthermore, you can receive extra 1 GB each time you convince one of your friends to sign-up. Better yet, if one of those friends decides to upgrade to a Pro account, you’ll receive an unlimited account, too (split the cost with a friend, maybe?).
In addition to the sign-up incentives, Windscribe is actually a solid VPN. There are a limited number of free server locations, as you would expect. The Windscribe VPN was one of the slowest I used, coming in at 10 Mbps download and 13 Mbps upload while connected. They use OpenVPN, in combination with AES-256 cipher, SHA512 auth, and a 4096-bit RSA key. Windscribe also supports IPv6 connectivity, and DNS leak protection.
Finally — and this is a big plus for a free VPN — Windscribe actually takes your security and privacy seriously. Windscribe “does not store any permanent access logs or monitor what our users do.”
Platforms: Windscribe is available for iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux, and routers. Android support is available but requires a manual setup — but there is a native Android Windscribe app planned for the latter half of 2017.
2. SurfEasy (iOS, Android)
SurfEasy, owned by Opera, is a great free mobile VPN for low data users. Their entry-level Starter VPN package allows you to simultaneously protect up-to five devices, but you’re limited to 500 MB bandwidth.
On the plus side, you can expand your bandwidth by 500MB by encouraging your friends, family, and co-workers to sign-up. Confirming your email address adds 100 MB. Adding another device adds 250 MB, and a Twitter follow adds a further 50 MB. There’s more, too: use SurfEasy for five consecutive days to add another 100 MB to your account, with an extra 75 MB for changing regions.
That is all very well and good, but how well does it protect your privacy? SurfEasy uses “bank-level encryption,” but unfortunately, they fail to elaborate on exactly what that means. For the most part, that likely means they’re using AES-256 in combination with a strong hashing algorithm and crypographic key generation. In addition, SurfEasy includes a secure torrenting feature, as well as integrated tracker blocking (to stop tracking cookies following you around).
SurfEasy offers a great connection speed, coming in at 58 Mbps download and 22 Mbps upload while connected.
Platforms: SurfEasy is available for iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Chome, Opera.
3. CyberGhost (iOS, Android)
CyberGhost is an extremely popular free mobile VPN choice. That is for two excellent reasons: it has no bandwidth limit on free accounts, and it does not maintain any user logs. Rather than limit bandwidth, CyberGhost limits time. Free accounts can use the CyberGhost VPN servers for three hours at a time — but you can reconnect straight away.
Once the app is up and running, both Android and iOS users can use the CyberGhost Premium free trial for seven days, after which, it reverts to a free account.
CyberGhost uses OpenVPN (unless you have a paid account), and has servers in 27 countries. The free account uses 256-bit AES, RSA-key pairing, and uses a hashing method called Keyed Hash Message Authentication Code (HMAC) along with MD5 (HMAC-MD5).
I found CyberGhost a little slow on the download side. I ran several tests, returning an average of 17 Mbps download, and 20 Mbps upload (the latter being a good speed).
Platforms: CyberGhost is available for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Linux, Kodi, routers, and more.
4. Yoga VPN (Android)
Yoga VPN is an Android only VPN. It rates among the best Android VPNs on the Google Play Store, and it easy to see why. Yoga VPN offer unlimited bandwidth, unlimited time, server switching, DNS-leak protection, and more. For free.
I was initially skeptical of the vast offerings of Yoga VPN, but it does appear to be legitimate. You contribute to their free model by watching ads, downloading “featured apps,” and earning in-app currency. The currency is then spent on a VPN location.
For instance, I have 2,500 coins. A Level 1 VPN server “costs” 900 coins per day, reducing my total to 1,600. If it seems like you’ll rinse through coins, you’re mistaken. There is a “coin spinner” you can “play” that frequently unlocks. Furthermore, you can earn coins by inviting your friends, or checking-in to the app on consecutive days.
Yoga VPN state they “will never record your online behavior.” And, to be fair, I haven’t seen any complaints online to the contrary. It uses OpenVPN UDP, and has successfully passed a DNS-leak test. I recorded 22 Mbps download and 13 Mbps upload while using the VPN.
Platforms: Yoga VPN is currently available for Android devices, but a native iOS version is in the works.
5. HexaTech (iOS, Android)
HexaTech is a new VPN service developed by Betternet (a popular VPN provider). Betternet have developed a new VPN protocol — Hexa — specifically designed to work with smartphones and mobile networks. The idea is that you can still connect to a VPN server even when your connection is patchy, ensuring your anonymity when your network quality is poor.
While VPN providers actively attempt to avoid censoring (yup, VPN server IP addresses can be censored!), there are times where they’ll get caught out. Betternet alleges that “blocking Hexa protocol is not as easy as other traditional protocols,” though they are silent on exactly how. This is presumably to keep the edge HexaTech has on censors.
The app itself is simple to use. HexaTech offers a single connection to your nearest VPN server — there are no other choices. If you’re looking for control over the outward appearance of your data, HexaTech isn’t what you’re looking for.
Speed wise, HexaTech wasn’t the fastest, coming in at 12 Mbps download and a miserly 8 Mbps upload.
Platforms: HexaTech is currently available for iOS and Android.
Why Aren’t There More?
There are only five entries on this list for a simple reason: free VPNs aren’t all that great. In any situation where you’re getting something awesome entirely free, there is a solid chance that you are the product.
These VPNs are a good starting point, but they shouldn’t be your continual source of data anonymity. I would advise upgrading to a paid subscription if possible. Only paid subscriptions can truly protect your data and offer almost complete anonymity (because complete anonymity is a lie).
Image Credit: elwynn via Shutterstock.com