Our readers had a lot of great suggestions for free VPN apps for Android over at MakeUseOf Answers, and I’m here to put some of those to the test. VPNs can be useful for a whole host of reasons, but their main benefits are that they keep your data private even over a public WiFi connection (which are surprisingly easy to exploit) and they allow you to access region-blocked content (although there are other ways to do that).
There are plenty of great VPN options for PCs and Mac, but there is a surprisingly diverse array of options for Android users as well. My favorites include Hotspot Shield VPN, TunnelBear VPN, Hideninja VPN, and Hideman VPN. Today, I’ll be looking at three aspects of these Android apps: speed, user interface, and value. Because what good is a VPN service if it’s slow, ugly, and expensive? Let’s jump right in.
I’ve be tested all of the VPN apps’ download and upload speeds with the Speedtest.net app. I tested the free versions of these apps, but most of these have an upgrade version that gets you better download speeds. I ran three tests for each and put the average below. I also noted my home WiFi speed without any VPN as a control test.
Download: 30.21 Mbps
Upload: 11.37 Mbps
Download: 2.45 Mbps
Upload: 4.75 Mbps
Download: 1.85 Mbps
Upload: 2.26 Mbps
Download: 1.21 Mbps
Upload: 2.85 Mbps
Download: 2.21 Mbps
Upload: 2.86 Mbps
Winner: Hotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield narrowly edged out Hideman for the best download speed, but it had upload speeds of 4.75Mbps that the others didn’t even come close to.
It doesn’t get much simpler than the Hotspot Shield Android app. When you open it up, you get three options in a list: connect, upgrade, and share. There’s an options button in the top right with a few options like the ability to enter a code to activate your account across multiple devices and the ability to have the app start on boot. It looks nice and does what it needs to do. The downside of this simplicity is that you don’t get to choose what country’s server you connect to, but if you want to connect to the US, then you’re set because that seems to be where it connects every time.
TunnelBear gets a little skeuomorphic, which might throw you off if you are used to modern Android styling. There are two knobs in the top left which you can tap to turn the VPN on or off and to switch the country you’re connected to. The top right is your remaining balance of data along with an options button, but most of the screen is filled with an animated bear who crouches down when you tap it. There’s also an upgrade button and a running stream of tweets about TunnelBear at the bottom.
Hideninja‘s design is very clean and modern. A little ninja sits at the top of the app and you can swipe between three pages: location, connection, and settings. There is an options button, but the options just redirect you to one of those pages. It’s gorgeous and easy to use.
Hideman also has a very well-styled app. The little Hideman sits in the top left with an option button on the top right. There’s a timer for how much connection time you have left and a button to add more; take note, however, that my timer started as soon as I opened the app, not when I actually connected to the VPN service. The timer continues to run in the background, even when I’m not connected. It also shows your location, the location you want to connect to, and a giant connect button. Under the options button, you get options for support, selecting a country, settings, and purchasing more hours or a monthly plan.
Winner: Hideninja. This obviously comes down to personal preference, but I like the modern, simplistic styling of Hideninja. It’s easy to use if you have no experience at all with a VPN while still offering a lot of options.
The free version of Hotspot Shield puts no caps on your data or time usage, but you can’t choose what country’s server to connect to. The free version also played a video ad for me a few times while I was using the app, taking up the entire screen; this was a bit annoying, but I don’t imagine you’ll spend much time in the app itself anyway. Upgrading to “Elite” will get rid of the ads, gives you malware protection, and gives you the ability to compress data so that you use up less of your wireless carrier’s data limit, but you still can’t choose what country’s server to connect to. Elite for Android costs $0.99 for 1 month or $11.99 for 1 year. You can also buy the PC or Mac version and share it among 5 devices for $19.99 for 6 months or $29.95 1 year.
TunnelBear starts you off with 500MB of free data and you can get another 1GB by tweeting about their service. If you want unlimited data just on your Android device, it’s $2.99 for 1 month, $7.99 for 3 months, or $29.99 for 1 year. However, they also offer two plans for your Mac or PC that include two mobile devices: $4.99 for 1 month or $49.99 for 1 year.
Hideninja is free to use without a data or time cap, but to unlock faster speeds, more locations, and autoconnect options, you’ll need to pay a $4.99 one-time. Hideninja is only available on Android, though, so no using it for your computer or iOS device.
Hideman sells the time that you can connect. For free, you get 5 hours a week. Their website also states that you’re limited to 2GB a month, 512kbps speed (although I achieved faster rates on the Android app), and only 5 countries. To unlock unlimited data caps, faster speed, and more countries, their “Premium” plans start at 10 hours for $1 and end at 100 hours for $9.50, with a bunch of steps in the middle. You can also subscribe for 1 month for $2.90 or up to 1 year for $24.90. Since it’s also available on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS, and iOS, there are plans for both your computer and mobile device. Those plans starts at $3 a week and end at $69 a year.
Winner: Hideninja. The free version of Hideninja only has servers in Europe, but its paid version is the only service to use a small one-time fee rather than a monthly subscription. That $4.99 gets you faster speeds, even more locations including the US, and autoconnect options, easily making it the most for your money in the long run. Hotspot Shield was in a close second because its free version is a fast and easy connection to US servers, and its paid version is inexpensive (only $0.99 a month) and offers helpful features like malware protection and data compression.
Hideninja takes the crown here, snagging a win in two of the three categories. Its free version might not be the fastest, but the smooth user interface and cheap one-time fee make this a worthy investment. Plus it has a wide array of servers in different countries to connect to, giving you lots of options. Unfortunately, its only available on Android, so if you have non-Android devices you need a VPN on, you might want to try out the runners-up: Hotspot Shield (if you want to connect to servers in the US) or TunnelBear (for connecting outside of the US).
What do you think? What’s your favorite VPN app for Android? Let us know in the comments.