A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a method to establish a protected connection to your network, regardless of whether you connect to a public or unsecured wifi source. Encrypting your online presence in this way makes it significantly more difficult for third parties to gain access to your data.
As VPNs have grown in popularity, it's no longer a case of "buying the most popular"; instead, there are multiple factors to consider when selecting the right one for you. Features aside, users also need to be aware of server locations, speeds, privacy policies and regulation impact, etc.
We're looking to take the confusion out of the process and outline what you need to know about each top VPN in 2021. With this list as a reference, you'll be able to identify which VPN is right for you, which is worth your investment and expand your knowledge on the topic in general.
We've also created a handy pros and cons list so you can see which VPN has the features - or the same privacy concerns - at a glance. Before we dive into the list, let's refresh what a VPN is and why we'd use one and criteria to know which is suitable.
The technology behind VPNs can be rather complicated but can, fortunately, be explained relatively easily. Typically, your information is stored on your local network, including your IP address. A VPN acts as an 'exit' for this information, funneling it to an external location. The location depends on the server selected through the VPN service and where it is located in the world.
This redirection masks your current location and instead tells third parties that you're in the server's location, including your internet service provider (ISP).
The most common use for a VPN is to mask your IP address and browsing habits, especially when you don't want your ISP to track what you're doing. Security is also another appeal for many users who need to access confidential information on unprotected networks, such as hotspots, free wifi, or otherwise.
Security: An encryption turns your data into a string of random characters and symbols. Malicious attacks on personal data usually involve brute-forcing passwords or codes; doing so for VPN encryptions would take multiple years. The difficulty of attempting this kind of attack is common knowledge and avoided by attackers for that reason.
Masking your location: By altering your IP address, you can remain anonymous from your ISP and browser. These sources track your browsing habits by tieing the data to an IP address. Thus, you prevent their eyes from monitoring your use.
Overcoming Geo-restrictive media: Restrictive media can be a problem for many people, especially those who like watching shows on Netflix or accessing events outside of their geographical location. If you've been blocked from accessing a piece of media with the error message "this video isn't available in your region," then you've experienced geo-restrictive media.
Sites, media, or other applications can be blocked based on your location. An easy way around this is to use a VPN and set your server connection to a server in a different country. Doing so will provide you full access to view the previously blocked content.
Torrenting: Torrenting is an excellent example of an activity that your ISP may frown upon, especially if done consistently. Hiding this, along with your general browsing activity, can help keep your internet use secure and safe. Similarly, many VPNs have a built-in
While the general applications of VPNs may be universal, the functionality that VPN services offer can vary. Functionality can often be gated behind premium versions, drastically limiting your options on what is available should you be looking for a free VPN. Before deciding on which VPN to choose in our list below, first consider the following questions to find what suits your needs.
1. Is your privacy a priority?
The top VPN providers will have a no-log policy. This means that the company will refrain from storing any data associated with you or with how you are using the service and browser. A no-log policy is the true way to stay anonymous online.
2. Are there data limits?
Bandwidth limitations can be disastrous depending on your use. The last thing you want is for your service to cut out while you're doing something important. Check the provider's package for any data limitations, and account for times where you may need additional bandwidth for downloads.
3. Is the VPN accessible on your devices?
It's not uncommon for us to need our apps and software on multiple devices, especially if we need to use them on our travels or outside our household. Almost all current VPNs offer their service on various platforms, but there is no standard practice for how many devices you can have the service on simultaneously.
Before making a decision, think about the number of devices you currently use. Similarly, consider family members and whether or not they would benefit from a VPN as well.
4. Server location
Server location is undoubtedly one of the most crucial elements of VPN selection, primarily if you reside in a smaller country. You will likely connect to the closest server available, yet, if you're not located near one, data retrieval will be significantly slower as a result.
While VPNs try to support multiple countries, every provider can't cover all locations. Thus, it's essential to check where the nearest server is to get the best service possible for you.
5. How costly are the packages?
The pricing structure of VPNs is less about the overall cost and instead more about the cost in relation to the features you gain access to. A high-priced VPN may be worth it if you are gaining access to all of the features you need, including unlimited devices and so on.
We're passionate about providing the best information on the top software available on the market. VPNs play a significant role in supporting anonymous browsing online, and as a result, we have tested dozens of providers for speed, privacy, reliability, and functionality. Save time on your research and trial & error, and check out our top picks of the best VPNs for 2021.
Disclaimer: Softonic receives a commission for purchases made through the links on this comparison.
ExpressVPN lives up to its name, getting high marks on speed – even for servers located far from your physical location. It also excels in privacy, maintaining a strict "no logs" policy whereby no details regarding your identity, location, or IP are stored. It is also located in the British Virgin Islands, which has stringent privacy protection laws.
Easy, Safe & Fast
ExpressVPN's main app is exceptionally user-friendly, enabling users to connect to the VPN service in a single click. ExpressVPN also offers split tunneling for users who want to access both foreign and local internet services simultaneously, something not provided by all VPN services. You might want to do this if you are streaming content from your home country while traveling and still using a local connection for everything else. In short, a split-tunnel allows you to tell the VPN service which connections you want encrypted and which you wish to exclude. This can allow you to maintain speedy local connections for non-privacy-related surfing while hiding more sensitive online activity.
Another top feature offered by this VPN service is its router-level protection, which is available thanks to an app that is easy to configure and lets you protect all your connected devices at home. Setting up your VPN service at the router level means that all communications and connections leaving your house will automatically route through the VPN service, so you don't have to worry about remembering to turn it on or off as you surf or switch devices. Plus, if your connection drops, ExpressVPN also offers a kill switch that terminates all internet traffic while your connection is unprotected.
With servers in 94 countries, chances are that ExpressVPN will have a location ideally suited for either speed or browsing country-specific content (geo-unblocking). In addition, ExpressVPN offers a whopping 160 servers in these locations.
The company also excels at allowing access to streaming services and gets high marks for its ease of use and unblocking ability with Netflix, Hulu, and other entertainment services. On top of all that, ExpressVPN offers 24/7 live chat support, making it perfect for first-time VPN users. A no-risk 30-day money-back guarantee is also offered. All of that combines to make it our top VPN choice.
With a name that says exactly what it does, Private Internet Access is a reliable and affordable VPN service for guarding your online privacy. While it lacks all the bells and whistles of other providers, it makes up for it with a customer service policy that has earned it a loyal following.
Simple, Fast, Streamlined
If you're like most computer users concerned about privacy, you want a simple and effective VPN service to safeguard your surfing. Private Internet Access delivers precisely that, along with a few other bonus features that helped land it on our list.
Aside from having a one-click connect function, the software also provides a "snooze" feature. This allows you to suspend the VPN service for a certain period, after which it will turn back on. This is helpful if you are trying to stream content or engage in a financial transaction in which it would be beneficial to use your actual IP address from your home country.
Private Internet Access also allows you to engage in P2P sharing and BitTorrent streaming without restricting the particular sites allowable, as is the case with some other VPN service providers. However, the service only unblocks Netflix from the US, Germany, and Japan, so if you are looking to access the streaming service in other countries, you might want to use a different provider. Streaming from other services around the world is less problematic, and good speeds mean smooth video rendering.
In terms of servers, Private Internet Access is a top VPN with a whopping 10,806 servers in 94 locations across 74 countries. It also allows split tunneling, which lets you encrypt all or only part of your online activity. And, like nearly all VPN services, a kill switch comes baked in that stops your surfing should the VPN go down. Plus, it stands out that ten different devices can use the service at once – which is far more than the industry average of 5-6.
Of course, when you're using a VPN service, one of the main concerns is privacy, and Private Internet Access does well here too. It makes use of the cutting-edge WireGuard technology, which encrypts all your data while still offering speedy connections. The company scored as a top VPN in terms of both upload and download speeds in our tests.
And, even though the company maintains a strict "no logs" policy, meaning it doesn't store information on your browsing activity, it is essential to note that Private Internet Access is physically located in the United States, a country that can subpoena any information the company does maintain. Yet despite several subpoenas over the years, the company has never had any information to provide to authorities because it simply doesn't gather any.
If you're a regular streamer, CyberGhost makes a lot of sense. It has servers in over 60 countries and is specially configured to work with major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer. It also comes with a generous 45-day money-back guarantee.
CyberGhost is a top VPN provider when it comes to the number of devices you can connect to the service. In addition, it allows you to extend its protections to seven different gadgets, which means that one subscription will likely cover all of the devices in your home. Also, just like ExpressVPN, the service can work at the router level, protecting all online activity that flows out of your home.
CyberGhost is also one of the best VPN services because it not only has special servers for torrenting and P2P activities, but it has special streaming services that allow you to watch from your platform – such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer – no matter where you are tunneling in from.
CyberGhost offers double encryption in terms of security, scrambling both the authentication connection and the VPN connection. The encryption itself is military-grade, the company keeps no logs or tracking data, and is headquartered in Romania. This jurisdiction has no legal requirement to maintain data on those using its service.
If that's not convincing enough, the company also offers No-Spy servers that are physically located inside the company's headquarters to take advantage of Romania's privacy protections.
While you can feel confident that all of your activity is encrypted using CyberGhost, the No-Spy server offers slightly more protection as your connection doesn't bounce around the world. It also provides dedicated bandwidth, faster uplink speeds, and even its own dedicated hardware, and it lets you connect to the TOR network to access the dark web. What's more, the No-Spy servers can not be accessed by the "14 Eyes," an intelligence-sharing pact between the following countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, US, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.
Of course, you'll pay for this extra protection, on top of the regular subscription fees. Beyond its No-Spy servers, CyberGhost also offers one of the highest numbers of servers seen in the market. It has over 6100 different servers in 90 countries, including some rare ones like Vietnam, UAE, Turkey, Qatar, Pakistan, Russia, and more.
It's important to note that some of these servers are "virtual servers," which means that the physical server is not located in the country indicated, but the location is spoofed so that it appears that you are surfing from that country. Most users won't notice any difference, but if the site of physical servers is important to you, you'll want to look deeper into the offerings from CyberGhost or, indeed, any other VPN service.
Surfshark is an underdog whose name may not be immediately thrown into the hat of popular VPNs, but that doesn't mean there isn't powerful functionality behind this lesser-known VPN. Based in the virgin islands, security policies are assured, along with no VPN logs and an in-built kill switch.
Modern and secure with fast speeds
Surfshark is as secure as they come with some additional features that other VPNs miss. Data is secured using Military-grade encryption - AES 256-bit encryption, to be exact. Most VPNs use this encryption, including governments and militaries. A welcome addition is ram-only servers that use a 100% diskless network, which automatically cleanses your data once you disable the VPN.
Diskless further increases your data's security as there is effectively no data to share or for third parties to get their hands on. Finally, there are four protocols to choose from - IKEv2, Open VPN, WireGuard, and Shadowsocks. Surfshark automatically detects which is best for you on use; however, changing these depending on your activity can sometimes see an increase in speeds, especially if you are further away from your nearest server.
Surfshark excels at providing a seamless, modern user interface with each applicable area of the VPN clearly defined and easy to use. Similarly, users can benefit from family-wide coverage by linking each device to Surfshark, allowing you to protect your data where you are with no limits - a significant benefit over other VPN options for families with multiple devices.
For those conscious about their visibility when torrenting, Surfshark has a built-in camouflage mode that ensures your internet provider can't see that you're using a VPN, including a killswitch that protects all sensitive data should your VPN connection drop. By flicking between their servers, you can also leverage SurfShark to bypass geo-restrictions like Netflix, BBC Iplayer, HBO Max, and more.
Despite Surfshark only having 3200 servers, its functionality and focus on security at a great price make it a real contender for one of the best VPN choices this year. Also, don't overlook its 24/7 live chat support, giving you access to a dedicated team at all times of the day.
It's hard to beat NordVPN's sheer number of protection protocols. The company is also located in Panama, whose laws protect your privacy even more.
Because NordVPN is physically based in Panama, it is not subject to the EU and US data-collection rules that prevail over some other providers. As a result, NordVPN only retains your username and session time – but only for 15 minutes after disconnecting from the server. Although the company is headquartered in Panama, it offers its users about 5,200 servers located in over 62 countries, making it a top VPN in terms of server inventory.
One of the ways in which NordVPN truly stands out as one of the best VPN services is the fact that it has specialized servers, which facilitate the usual activities such as using BitTorrent over VPN. Still, it also takes things a step further by allowing you to connect to the TOR Network. TOR is an anonymous browser that hides your activity and will enable you to access the dark web for those who don't know. So while connecting to a VPN and a TOR browser might be overkill to most, those who are extremely worried about anonymity will welcome this feature.
Adding to its suite of protection protocols is what NordVPN calls "Double VPN," meaning your connection to the internet is routed through two different remote servers. So if somehow one of them failed or was breached, you'd still be safe behind the other one.
NordVPN also offers browser plug-ins for Chrome and Firefox to secure things at the browser level, as well as something it calls "CyberSec," a feature that blocks ads and warns you about malware-hosting sites. In terms of device connectivity, NordVPN is on par with most other VPN services, allowing up to six devices to connect at once.
Some reports have said that NordVPN servers can be a bit sluggish, but that might be the price you pay for such high levels of security. Indeed in our speed tests, NordVPN's download speeds were near the bottom of our list, while the upload speeds were quite competitive.
However, in April 2020, the company introduced NordLynx, their version of the WireGuard protocol. WireGuard is the Next Big Thing in VPN services, providing lean and secure tunnels that dramatically increase surfing speeds.
According to tests by the company and others, NordLynx should rocket the provider to the top of the list of VPN services in terms of speed. Finally, NordVPN offers the opportunity to buy a static IP address. One of the issues with using a VPN is that your IP address will constantly change.
This is what keeps your browsing anonymous, but it's also what can trip up some security protocols. If you connect to your company through the internet, for example, you can buy a static IP to be whitelisted so that you can always gain access. What's more, a static IP makes you look "stable" to financial companies that might otherwise lock you out if they notice you are constantly signing in from IPs around the world.
Avira Phantom VPN Pro is a german made VPN service that provides users with functionality that many VPN users would expect. While they have a free version, the pro version is there for those looking to get the most out of their VPN, and further protect their data online. By focusing on a simplistic, yet functional user interface, Avira Phantom VPN Pro gives you immediate access at the flick of a switch.
Simplicity at its finest
Avira Phantom Pro maintains the industry standard by employing AES 256-bit military-grade encryption, ensuring your data remains completely protected at every instance. You can also rest assured that a killswitch is available to cut internet access should your VPN drop, including DNS leak protection, to shroud your browsing from your internet service provider. Avira Phantom Pro operates on OpenVPN protocol; however, there isn't currently the ability to switch or choose ports, just something to keep in mind.
While keeping things in mind, users in remote locations may find it challenging to achieve higher speeds using Avira Phantom VPN due to their service only expanding across 37 countries with 1400 servers. Despite this, users can expect unlimited data and access to the VPN on unlimited devices, supporting IOS, Android, Windows, and Mac.
On top of the aforementioned kill switch, users can use this VPN to access Geo-restricted apps and sites, torrent, and surf anonymously by altering their IP address. You can also rest assured that your anonymity is a primary focus for Avira as they have a no-logs policy, meaning they don't know what websites you're visiting either. Users open the interface, hit a button, and connect to the closest, fastest server.
Unfortunately, Avira lacks the support department by only having phone or email as their dedicated channels. Email support usually entails waiting multiple days for a response, while phone conversations result in a spiral of back and forth unspecialized direction. This is because Avira is a multi-service provider and doesn't have a dedicated team of professionals to handle their VPN support.
PureVPN is near the top of this list regarding geographic diversity, with over 2000 servers in over 140 countries. A wide range of customization options also makes it ideal for power users.
Startup PureVPN, and it immediately looks a bit different than other VPN services, as you are presented with five selections to begin your anonymized browsing experience: Stream, Internet Freedom, Security/Privacy, File Sharing, and Dedicated IP. Choosing your preferred path allows PureVPN to optimize its settings for your activity. For example, select "Stream," and the service will prioritize speed over safety, while "Security/Privacy" will do the opposite. While it's not entirely clear what you're gaining and giving up with each choice, if you're looking for an easy way to navigate a top VPN, PureVPN offers it up.
Options-wise, the service also lets you choose your VPN protocol based on speed and security (including OpenVPN, but not WireGuard just yet), or PureVPN can choose the best option for you. Alternatively, you can also use a map to select your preferred country. PureVPN offers over 2000 servers in more than 140 countries – trouncing even ExpressVPN in terms of geographic diversity. However, it's worthwhile to note that representation in both China and Russia is missing.
Speaking of geography, PureVPN is headquartered in Hong Kong, so there are no concerns with intrusion from the 5-, 9-, or 14-eyes jurisdictions. You can also get under the hood to make all the adjustments and changes you can think of to make sure the VPN service works exactly how you want it – a nice feature for more advanced users. One of the more unexpected options is that you can not only set the service to connect automatically upon startup, but you can have it launch your favorite browser as well.
And speaking of browsers, PureVPN only offers plug-ins for Chrome and Firefox. However, it has apps that are compatible with all significant operations systems and the ability to set it up at the router level and on TV streamers, including Rokus, Android TV, Chromecast, and Amazon FireStick, including PlayStation and Xbox. All of that device compatibility is complemented by PureVPN's generous ten-device connection policy.
Included in your monthly subscription is the usual bag of goodies offered by the best VPN services, including split tunneling, a kill switch, optimized streaming servers, dedicated P2P servers, and DNS leak protection.
On top of this, you have the option to add on a dedicated IP address, port forwarding, and DDoS Protection (which guards your computer against being co-opted into a denial of service attack) for nominal monthly charges. And about those charges, PureVPN is a bit on the pricey side as it only offers a maximum of a one-year plan.
While this brings the effective monthly price down a bit, it still comes in on the high side. Other VPN services on this list do better at getting the effective monthly rate significantly lower by offering more extended commitment periods. Still, if you want every feature imaginable in a top VPN provider, you can't do much better than PureVPN.
BullGuard VPN triumphs most VPNs with its unmatched speed even when connecting to servers far from your current location. Based in the Philippines, Bullguard provides users with the functionality they would expect from a great VPN, including a 30-day money-back guarantee for those that find it isn't quite what they're looking for.
Speed at the Click of a Button
BullGuard VPN gives you access to an automatic kill switch; however, it requires manual activation to enable it. A great feature of their kill switch is that you can define what apps are killed if your connection were to drop so you can ensure that high-value apps like torrenting apps are the first to be closed. Speaking of torrenting, BullGuard doesn't have a dedicated torrent server but does support P2P connections, so torrenting is supported.
You can expect the industry-standard AES 256-bit military encryption to secure your internet traffic, making any data leaks virtually impossible. Similarly, BullGuard enforces a no logging or tracking policy to keep your data away from prying eyes.
One thing that users may find lacking with BullGuard VPN is their server support. Users have access to servers in 16 countries. However, the number of servers within these countries isn't specified. What's more is that BullGuard doesn't include this information on its VPN sales page, indicating that they are aware it is limited. Given the shortage of country locations, users outside these locations will experience slower speeds, although the drop-off isn't too significant.
Device support follows the same notion as well, with six devices being supported simultaneously. Six devices may not be an issue for the average user but seeing as many alternatives offer unlimited support, only having six falls short, especially for families looking to use the service.
Despite the limited device support, users can benefit from BullGuard VPN on all major operating systems, including IOS, Android, Mac, and windows. Yet, there currently is no browser extension to support your browsing habits directly through there. Like many great VPNs, support can be had through live chat - including numerous languages as well. You can find help through their email, too, albeit with delays.
HotSpot Shield is a VPN many of us won't have heard of. However, it boasts some serious speeds and server locations not seen by many of the big players. One of Hotspot Shield VPN's main and unique selling points is its own protocol aptly named "Catapult Hydra," which prioritizes speeds without sacrificing security. A generous 45-day guarantee period makes it even more attractive for those looking to benefit from the premium packages.
The Free, Fast VPN
Like most VPNs, Hotspot comes with industry-standard encryption. In addition, users can rejoice as P2P support is available for torrenting and other download use. Regarding speed - catapult hydra certainly sets itself apart with its consistently above-average speeds, even when connecting to a server on the other side of the globe. They are currently operating with over 3,200 servers in over 80 countries, including a presence in China which isn't too common.
Unlike many VPNs, Hotspot shield does have a free version that you can benefit from immediately, albeit if it does come with some limitations. Hotspot VPN includes a streaming mode to overcome geo-restrictions from apps like Netflix, Youtube, Disney+, and more. This is specifically optimized to do so, so you shouldn't experience any problems when trying to access the shows you want to see.
Similarly, they also have a gaming mode optimized to minimize input lag and latency while gaming with the VPN active. On top of this, users can benefit from a kill switch, smart VPN and anti-phishing protection, and incorporated Anti-virus software.
The trouble is, these are only available to customers that purchase the full version. Yet, free version users still gain access to the VPN and its associated security benefits, making it perfect for those that only need it active for a short period each day. However, free users are also limited to one device and one virtual location, connection speeds up to 2mbps, and a data limit of 500MB a day.
Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield VPN is located in the US, one of the founders of the 5/9/14-eyes alliance, meaning total privacy is an issue for users. While Hotspot doesn't keep logs of your online activity, they do note other information like your actual IP address, email, username, and so on.
Finally, we noticed that while our IP address was masked correctly when using the app, it would occasionally fail to hide it when using their extensions. We recommend sticking to the app for all use for this reason.
McAfee Safe Connect is a VPN option for those that are a fan of McAfee products. Many of us know McAfee from their anti-virus products, but now they're dipping their toes into the VPN space. McAfee Safe Connect has an easy-to-use interface and boasts industry-standard AES 256-bit encryption to keep your online profile secure.
A VPN From a Known Name
McAfee has extensive documentation of its anti-virus products, but the same cannot be said for its VPN. Their website has limited information about their Safe Connect VPN. Interestingly, there is no mention of total servers, countries with supported servers, available speeds, or most functionality you would expect to see from a VPN in general.
Multiple devices are supported, five consecutively to be exact. Advanced users - which is their way of specifying those that have purchased a full version - have access to a total of 18 servers, a dramatic limitation compared to other dedicated VPN services. Despite this, the speeds seen from our speed checks exceed other VPNs on this list, even when looking at international connections.
Similarly, McAfee does not explain whether their VPN supports torrenting or whether or not it can overcome geo-restricting applications or sites. Again, not acknowledging outright whether the service can be used for torrenting makes it unclear whether it is allowed.
Unfortunately, while we have sung the praises of many services in this list for their security and privacy, we cannot say the same for McAfee Safe Connect. The reason for this is due to their US ownership. Unfortunately, the US is part of the Five-Eyes Intelligence alliance, meaning that they share their data with Canada, Uk, Australia, and New Zealand. Furthermore, the PRISM surveillance program allows the US government to view online communications from US companies.
If that wasn't scary enough, the Stored Communications ACT grants the US government the power to seize VPN user's information. So, regardless of functionality, McAfee logs almost all data, making it one of the worst options for user privacy. This, on top of the inability to unblock streaming services, makes it an unappealing option.
Finally, users have voiced their concerns regarding the support available to users. Many explain that their support team doesn't seem to know much about the VPN they're attempting to provide support in.
Windscribe is a lesser-known VPN with Canadian roots. While users can expect the typical military level of encryption, many will be excited to know that they have a very generous free version data limit at 10GB per month.
The Full Bundle
As mentioned, Windscribe VPN users have access to an entirely free version of the software with a 10GB per month data limit. Users can also use Windscribe on any number of devices and access 11 countries. Given the low country coverage for the free version, users outside of the more popular covered areas may struggle with connectivity speeds.
For those interested in the pro version, you gain access to 60 countries, with servers in 110 major cities, more than enough to find one relatively close, if not closer to your current location. For general users, the free version should suffice; however, it does come with some limitations that long-term users may find doesn't entirely cover what they need.
To start, the free version doesn't include dedicated Winflix servers - the servers used to bypass Netflix and other geo-restrictions. On top of this, the data limitation, while generous, will often be too small for regular users or downloaders.
Moving into the finer details, Windscribe VPN provides you with protocol decisions, including UDP, OPen VPN, and IKEv2 - IKEv2 being the default choice. Users can also use their "stealth mode," which hides the protocol (OpenVPN) in a TLS tunnel, making it an excellent option for countries that block VPN traffic.
While they collect information regarding byte use - mainly to enforce their free use limitations - they don't collect personal or private data. VPN users that desire anonymity above all else can rejoice, and you'll find that here.
Windscribe VPNs support has received positive feedback for being generally reactive to responses too. Finally, Windscribe can be used on Android, IOS, Mac, Windows, Linux, and popular browsers.
Now that you've gone through the list, the decision should be simple. Right?
Picking the right VPN at face value can be tricky, especially because many providers offer similar, if not the same, functionality. When this is the case, we have to look deeper at the overall packages provided to find what best suits our needs.
The VPN market has grown in popularity over the last few years and has become increasingly competitive. Finding one factor that immediately makes a decision the right one isn't possible, and as such, we have to refer to the questions we asked ourselves at the start of this post.
What functionality do you require from a VPN, and how vital are the subsidiary features to you? Let's tackle some of these areas and compare the above VPNs.
Server speed: No one likes watching the buffer wheel, hoping that our connection will load soon. Server speed relies on location availability in conjunction with your current residence. BullGuard excels with its quick speed, assuming you live within one of the 16 countries it has servers placed. If you are outside of these regions, you may see a drop in connectivity speed, which would make PureVPN an attractive solution with their 140 country server support or Private Internet Access with their 94 country support and their whopping 10,806 servers. However, these pale in comparison to the incredibly fast and consistently reliable speeds we saw through Hotspot VPN "Catapult Hydra” protocol. HotSpot was the fastest VPN by a considerable margin, even when connecting to servers far away from our current location, making it the top choice if speed is a must.
But what about security?
Security: Industry standards have set the bar for VPN security, with AES 256-bit encryption becoming expected amongst VPNs. It's safe to say that a VPN without this level of encryption isn't worth investing in. However, additional functionality can be added to give an extra layer of support for those who use unsecured networks. Cyberghost VPN offers built-in double encryption, including access to the TOR network, which Avira Phantom VPN Pro blends security with ease of use nicely. NordVPN provides a complete security package, including access to the TOR network as well.
Streaming and downloading: A fast VPN is essential for those looking to stream video content, stream through a streaming service, or download large files. We found that ExpressVPN performed the best in our multiple speed tests, showcasing its power in bringing consistent speeds to its users.
Free Options: While Hotspot VPN has a great free version, we found the restrictions too much for the average user. Windscribe, on the other hand, provides a great amount of functionality while maintaining all privacy requirements. Similarly, they have a generous free data limit of 10GB. While this limit might turn the most avid internet users off, we believe it to be adequate enough for the everyday browser. If you’re looking for a VPN that covers what it needs to without having to break the bank or commit to a premium version, Windscribe is a great option!
Protocol Options: Having options there to alter your protocol is something many users won't necessarily need. By default, most VPNs select the protocol that gives you the best experience, usually Openvpn. However, those looking to customize their protocol in reaction to their internet usage will find Surfshark to be an asset. Being presented with four different protocol options, Surfshark empowers those that know what they're doing with further functionality.
The Outlier: McAfee Safe Connect falls into an odd category. It may not traditionally appeal to the regular VPN user, primarily due to being US-owned and restrictions due to regional policies. For those that cannot compromise on anonymity, we recommend using a different VPN on this list.
However, if you already use McAfee products or the appeal of a VPN is strictly for protection rather than pure anonymity, we can recommend using McAfee, especially if incorporated into their other packages.
One final point to note that we haven't covered thus far is the topic of pricing. As the VPN industry has become more competitive, so has the pricing model. Many VPN providers have opted for a less is more approach - that is, offering you deals on annual packages.
Knowing this, deciding on two close options can be made easier by checking out each provider's current deals on offer. While we don't recommend basing your decision on price alone, if functionality remains similar, the cost can be the defining factor.
Your final decision should be a VPN that offers the functionality you need at a price you can afford with the knowledge that your privacy is that provider's main priority.
We hope this list has helped you make an informed decision, and we wish you safe browsing!
Private Internet Access
Avira Phantom VPN Pro
McAfee Safe Connect VPN
|Label||Best Privacy||Best Overall Value VPN||Best VPN for Streaming||Best VPN for security||Best Overall VPN for 2021||The Best VPN for Simplicity||Best VPN For Customizing Options||Best VPN for Local Speeds||The Best VPN for Overall Speeds||The Best VPN For McAfee Integration||The Best free VPN|
|# of Servers||160 servers in 94 countries||2,000+ servers in 46 countries||1,250 servers in 90 countries||3200 servers in 65 countries||5,361 servers in 59 countries||1400 servers in 37 countries||2,000+ servers in 140+ countries||Unknown server # in 16 countries||3,200+ servers in 80+ countries||18 servers in ??||11 countries (Free) 63 (Paid)|
|Platform||Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Router, Chrome, Firefox, Gaming Consoles||Windows, Mac, Linux, Ubuntu, iOS, Android||Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, Amazon Fire Stick, Android TV, Router||Android, IOS, Mac, Windows||Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Android TV, Linux, Chrome, Firefox||Android, IOS, Mac, Windows||Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Chrome, Firefox, Router, Android TV, Amazon Fire Stick, Kodi, Roku, Xbox, PlayStation||Android, IOS, Mac, Windows||Windows, Android, iOS, Mac, Chrome, Android TV, Linux, Router||Android, IOS, Windows, Chrome OS|
- VPN split tunneling
- Private DNS
- Network lock kill switch
- Strict no-logs policy
- AES 256-bit encryption
- IP address masking
- Encrypted WiFi
- Strict no-logs policy
- Private IP address
- Advanced firewall for blocking unwanted connections
- Anonymous browsing
- Strict no-logs policy
- AES 256-bit encryption
- Hides IP address
- No-logs policy
- DNS & leak protection
- Two-factor authentication
- AES 256 GCM encryption
- Kill switch
- Strict no-logs policy
- Automatic kill switch
- IP address masking
- Private IP address
- No data leaks
- P2P Networks
- AES 256-bit encryption
- DNS Leak Protection
- Kill Switch
- No-logs policy
- Data encryption
- Data security
- Anonymous browsing
- Kill Switch
- AES 256-bit encryption
- No-logs Policy
- Private DNS Servers
- Automatic kill switch
- Identity theft protection
- Malware and phishing protection
- AES 256-bit Encryption
- IP address masking
- No-log policy
- AES 256-bit Encryption
- Free Version
- Split Tunnelling
- Monthly - $12.95
- 6-Month Plan - $59.95
- Annual - $194.20
- 30-day Free Trial
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Monthly - $11.95
- Annual - $39.95
- 2-Year Plan - $69.95
- 30-day Free Trial
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Monthly - $12.99
- 6-Month Plan - $47.94
- Annual - $49.50
- 1-day Free Trial
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Monthly - $11.95
- 6-Month Plan - $9.00
- 2-Year Plan - $286.80
- 30-day Free Trial
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Monthly - $10.00
- Annual - $78.00
- Mobile - $5.99
- 30-day Money-back guarantee
- Monthly - $10.95
- 6-Months - $49.98
- Annual - $77.88
- 7-day free trial
- 31-day money-back guarantee
- 1-Year Plan - $143.88
- 2-Year Plan - $287.76
- 3-Year Plan - $431.64
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Monthly - $12.99
- Annual - $95.88
- 7-day Free Trial | Offers free basic plan
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Monthly - $7.99
- Yearly - $47.99
- 30-day refund policy
- Monthly - $9.00
- Yearly - $108.00
- Build a plan option
A VPN or virtual private network is a server found somewhere other than your physical location. Before getting online, if you are using a VPN service, you will "tunnel" to that server and do all of your surfing from there. Because the server is located at a remote location, your IP address is replaced with one from the VPN service provider and, thanks to a range of encryption technologies, your browsing activity is hidden.
There are three basic types of VPN services: remote access, mobile, and site-to-site.
Remote access VPN services are the most popular for consumers and the ones you are most likely to encounter. These services provide a secure connection from your computer, to a remote server, and on to the internet. This pathway is known as a tunnel and the best VPN services provide complete security and encryption throughout the entire tunneling process. All of the VPN service providers we feature in our list of the 10 best VPNs are considered remote access.
Mobile VPN services are really the same as remote access VPNs. You still connect to a remote server and all of your browsing activity and personal data is encrypted and protected. The difference here is that the VPN is specifically designed to work on mobile devices which means it can handle network switching without breaking the connection. Virtually all VPN service providers offer mobile VPNs for phones and tablets. If you find one that doesn't, or that doesn't work on your device, keep looking because there are dozens that will.
Site-to-site VPN services are primarily used for business. There are extranet site-to-site networks that allow a set of businesses to securely tunnel into each other's systems and intranet site-to-site systems that allow remote employees to tunnel into their company's intranet and conduct their electronic business as if they were onsite.
VPNs work by creating a tunnel between the device you are on and your connection to the internet. In terms of the specifics of how they do this, you might want to think of a simple internet search coming from your home computer as a person looking for information out there in the ether.
If you are using a VPN service, that "person" gets wrapped in a disguise and sent to a server that is maintained by your provider. The disguise is known as encrypted encapsulation.
Once the "person" reaches the server, the VPN provider – and only the VPN provider – can recognize the person beneath the disguise and get it to where it needs to go on the internet. But before it leaves, it is once again wrapped up in an encrypted packet. The process works in reverse as the information you requested is sent back to you. And it's all done in a matter of seconds.
There are a variety of protocols that different VPN services use to encrypt data but the most secure and popular at the moment are OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec. If your VPN service uses these, then you know your activity is being encrypted by the same technology used by militaries around the world. WireGuard is an upcoming VPN technology that is poised to become the new gold standard thanks to its improved speed, but at the moment, there are only a handful of companies using it.
Obviously, anyone concerned about protecting their identity and surfing activities needs a VPN. But the benefits of a VPN go even further. Because your IP address is anonymized everytime you connect to the internet, your activity can't be linked to you which means those annoying ads that seem to follow you everywhere based on your search history will no longer be able to do so. It's also much harder for you to become infected with malware when you are inside a secure VPN tunnel.
Also, if you need to access content or networks in other countries a VPN can be your best friend. That works both if you are traveling and want to access content in your home country like Netflix or your online banking, as well as if you want to watch a program on a service in a different country. VPNs make it appear that you are actually surfing from whichever location you choose, so it's a surefire way to get access to a much greater portion of the world wide web.
Of course, you don't strictly need a VPN for any device, but if you are at all concerned about privacy, then a VPN is a must for your mobile devices. In fact, based on your surfing habits, it might even be more important to install VPN protection on your phone if that's how you primarily shop, look up information or interact with the internet in a myriad of other ways. You might not always realize how often your phone connects to the internet because it's not always clear when apps are doing so, but your VPN service will have you covered.
They certainly are! Of course, they are just the route onto the internet. What you do there still requires your judgement in terms of local and international laws.
The short answer is that a paid service is better. No matter which free service you use, you will encounter restrictions such as data caps or limited access to servers. While free VPN services offer you a chance to try out the offerings from different companies, to truly take advantage of all that the technology can offer, you will need to go with a paid service.
As VPN technology improves and providers proliferate, the downsides of a VPN are dwindling. That being said, one of the things you'll want to be aware of is that your surfing speeds may slow down a bit. Remember, when you use a VPN, your internet requests are encoded, sent through a server somewhere on the globe, forwarded to the internet and then the process is reversed. That takes time. It usually only takes seconds, but depending on where you're connected, the time of day and other factors, it can slow things down.
You also need to know that some services can get a bit wonky when using a VPN. Let's say you are tunneled into a server in France, for example. If you head your favorite shopping site, you may suddenly find that all of the prices are in euros. Also, if you try to access online banking, certain streaming services or other types of sites, you may be blocked depending on the country you're tunneled into and the policies of the provider. In such cases, you would need to drop your VPN service temporarily, or connect to one in the right country.
Yes, but it of course requires the proper subscriptions. Let's say you're a Netflix subscriber living in the US and are on vacation in Japan. If you try to watch your shows using a Japanese server, you will likely be blocked by Netflix. Tunnel into the US, however, and all should be well. That being said, Netflix and other streamers have gotten wise to VPNs, which are sometimes used by people in other countries accessing content that isn't available where they live. So even if you are tunneled into the country in which you have a subscription, you might still be blocked. That's why, if you have a specific streaming need, it's always best to see if your VPN provider guarantees your access to the service, which many do.
First, figure out what's most important to you. The top concerns to consider are: safety protocols, speed, price, streaming access, and number of servers. If you're on a budget, there are plenty of great VPN services you can still afford. If money isn't as much a concern, then you'll be able to access the companies offering maximum security, speed, and server locations. If you have a specific streaming need, you might be able to find a VPN provider that is both budget-friendly and need specific.
Your first step is to sign up with a VPN provider. It will then walk you through the instructions on how to download its software to your devices step-by-step. Thanks to more user-friendly VPN services than ever before, once the software is installed, usually all it takes is a simple click or tap to activate it. More advanced settings are always available and your provider will explain what they are and how to access them.