Want to stay more secure when you’re browsing on your mobile device? Or just want to circumvent region blocking on Netflix? A VPN (virtual private network) is a great option. But can you set a VPN up on Android?
Here’s how to install and use a mobile VPN on your Android device, and which VPN to choose. We’ll also talk about when to avoid using a VPN on your smartphone.
Why Use a Mobile VPN?
Virtual private networks are usually associated with desktop computers and routers. So why would you use a VPN on your mobile device?
Well, you can look at it as the last step of keeping that pocket-sized personal data archive secure.
A VPN will deliver enhanced data privacy for browsing the web and using apps. This is partly done by allowing you to access the web via a specific server of your choosing. Because the connection is encrypted, others can’t sniff any data sent between your phone and the server.
This is particularly important if you regularly use public Wi-Fi. Open wireless networks in shops, shopping malls, cafes, pubs, airports, etc., are notoriously insecure hotspots. They’re easily mimicked, enabling you to fall prey to a man in the middle attack that could steal your identity.
In short, you shouldn’t use public Wi–Fi without a VPN.
Meanwhile, an Android VPN can also help mitigate the effect of mobile malware. In addition, they let you circumvent region blocking on your favorite video streaming service.
Should You Choose a Free Android VPN?
This is the important part. While you’ve certainly seen (and will continue to see) free VPN services, you should absolutely avoid them.
Basically, a truly free VPN is impossible. While the subscription is free, the way the “free” VPN uses your data is simply a different type of breach. It might let you stream some U.K. Netflix to your U.S.-based computer, but meanwhile, the VPN profits from the data you provide it with.
Given that the point of a VPN is to encrypt your data to obfuscate your online activity, it makes no sense to use such a service. In short, you should never use a free VPN, whether on Android or any other platform.
Best VPN Services Offering Android Apps
So you’ll need a paid VPN solution for your Android device. But not all VPNs offer an Android app, so your choice is limited.
Fortunately, almost all the best VPN services do offer an Android app. So you should consider one of the following trusted choices:
Each of these offers an Android app with functionality comparable to the desktop version. All you need to do to use them is to sign up, install the app, and input your credentials. Once you’ve chosen a VPN server, connect and enjoy secure browsing.
Our guide to the best Android VPNs takes a more in-depth look at the apps on offer.
Android VPN: Dedicated App or OpenVPN
Want to get started with a VPN service on your Android phone or tablet? You have two main options: a dedicated app, or manual setup with OpenVPN.
The first option is simpler, letting you set up your VPN connection in seconds. But what if you want to use a VPN service that doesn’t offer an Android app? Well, if it provides support for OpenVPN, you can use that method instead.
Let’s look at how to set up a VPN on Android, first using a dedicated app, then with OpenVPN.
1. Set Up Your VPN Account on Android
So you’ve signed up for a VPN service with an Android app. What happens next?
With your account created and the subscription set up, you should download the mobile app. Alternatively, you can grab the mobile app from Google Play first and sign up via the app.
Upon launching the app, you’ll be prompted to input your newly created credentials. With the app ready, you’ll typically need to select a server location, although many apps suggest a default option.
With the location selected, use the Connect button (this will differ depending on the app) to start using the VPN. Your connection is now encrypted!
2. Set Up a VPN Account With OpenVPN
Prefer to use a specific VPN service that doesn’t offer an Android app? Don’t worry. If the VPN provider supports the OpenVPN protocol (and almost all do) you can manually set up the VPN.
Before you start this process, however, ensure that your VPN provider supports OpenVPN. You should also take the time to make a note of the credentials you need for manual setup, as these can differ from the usual login details. Also, note the IP address of the server you want to use.
On Android, start by opening the Settings app and input “VPN” in the search box to save time. Select VPN in the results, then the VPN menu item.
Tap Plus to create a new VPN, then name the connection. Select the VPN Type (PPTP by default) and address of your preferred server. Use the Always on VPN option if you wish to use the VPN permanently, and tap Show advanced options for more. This will let you specify a DNS server.
All done? Tap Save. Now you can start your VPN from the VPN sub-menu. Note that if you want, you can set up VPNs that have their own Android app in this way too.
Your Android VPN Will Not Protect Tethered Devices
With a VPN installed on your Android device, you’ll probably expect that it will protect every online activity.
And you’d be right. Well, almost.
There is one form of protection that a VPN cannot offer on your Android device. If you’re using a tethered internet connection with a tablet, laptop, desktop computer, or other device, the VPN cannot protect it.
Instead, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve set up the VPN on the device using your phone for internet access. You may also find that you need to disable the VPN on your Android device while tethering.
Just remember to re-enable the VPN next time you use public Wi-Fi!
Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi Without a VPN
By now you should know everything there is about setting up a VPN on your Android device. Whether you opt for a VPN provider’s dedicated app or prefer to use OpenVPN, your mobile browsing will now be protected.
Perhaps the most important aspect to take away from this is that you should never use public Wi-Fi—in a hotel, restaurant, shopping center, airport, or wherever else—without enabling your VPN app.
However, there are other steps to take to ensure you stay safe using public Wi-Fi.