How to use a VPN on Android. The 3 Best Android VPN apps according to RoboBat

How to use a VPN on Android. The 3 Best Android VPN apps according to RoboBat

Your Android device needs the protection of a VPN. RoboBat, our Android specialist, is here to show you how to use a VPN on Android and to present his picks for the best Android VPN app.

VPNs are often used when working remotely and using a laptop to connect to a company’s private network, thereby protecting sensitive data. Nowadays, many Android or iOS smartphones or tablets also contain sensitive data that needs to be safeguarded from hackers and snoops.

Enabling a VPN on your Android phone while connected to the Internet is necessary to keep your data safe and secure.

Android makes it easy to create a VPN connection using either the built-in VPN features or by installing third-party VPN apps. Learn how to set up a VPN on Android, how to use a VPN regularly on Android, and what we consider to be the best Android VPN apps.

BTW, did you know that robotic bats exist?

How to use a VPN on Android – RoboBot is alive! Kind of …

“Eureka!” yelled TomBat when he saw RoboBat flying for the first time. A quick bat-five with AnonymousBat and GrandPaBat followed. They have pulled an all-nighter trying to build their own robotic bat. And they did it!

Two days before, GrandPaBat was reading the newspaper hanged from his favorite spot on the cave ceiling when he discovered an article describing the first robotic bat.

You can image what followed: GrandPaBat told TomBat. TomBat was so excited to have a safe way to spy on their aggressive neighbors (the Megabats) that immediately flew to Vlad’s castle. He asked Vlad permission to use his garage and the 3D-printer.

And, that is how RoboBat (or R2B for friends) was (kind of) born.

The final touch was to install a camera, the Android OS and to turn on the Google Assistant for communication.

To protect the transmission TomBat set up a … you guessed, a VPN. Thus, R2B (I can call him that because I am his friend 😊) was able to fly to the Megabats and stream live through a secure channel.

And that is how our Transylvanian bats have stepped into the robotic age. Hurray!

How does a VPN work on Android?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) uses encryption to secure the Internet traffic that gets out of your Android device, sends it through an encrypted channel to a VPN server (using a certain VPN communication protocol) that decrypts the data and passes it to the destination Web server. The response from the Web server is sent back to the VPN server that encrypts it and sents it back to the Android device.

Finally, the VPN client (app or built-in) decrypts the data and forwards it to the application that may consume it (e.g., the web browser).

Diagram showing how does a VPN work on an Android device (VPN client, VPN server, Internet)

Thus, an Android VPN provides secure online browsing, online anonymity by hiding your public IP address, and access to geo-restricted web sites by changing your virtual location. I know this sounds too be good to be true, but the VPN technology is legal and safe to use. Still, there are a few countries where VPNs are banned due to a series of serious reasons.

Why do you need a VPN on your Android device?

Smartphones are constantly connected to the Internet and exchange data while syncing social media accounts, emails, and other profiles. 

It is highly probable that that traffic can be intercepted, allowing someone to obtain credit card numbers, Facebook passwords, confidential messages and emails, and browsing history. This is especially true when you use unsecured public WiFi networks.

Mobile phone ransomware attacks are on the rise. These lock a device and demand payment, normally in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, to restore it to its original state.

It is often easier to reply to an email from an Android smartphone or iPhone. If confidential documents such as presentations or worksheets need to be attached, these are typically fetched from the company’s servers, which can only be done via a secure connection (provided by a VPN).

Some content on Netflix, BBC, Hulu, YouTube is geo-restricted. This content can only be accessed from abroad by using a VPN service for streaming that will allow you to connect to a server within the area where the content can be accessed.

To conclude, VPNs offer Android users many benefits:

  • Full data encryption.
  • Public IP address hiding while browsing the Web.
  • Geolocation-based restrictions bypass.
  • Website tracking prevention.
  • Protection against hackers while using public Wi-Fi connections.

How to get a VPN for Android

Android has a free VPN client built-in. This feature is, however, just a client module, and not the entire service. Although it can be used to connect to a VPN server that your company sets up, or that an external VPN service provider sets up for you, it does not actually protect your traffic on its own.

Some users prefer using their own server or connecting to a VPN service through this Android VPN client. VPN service providers, however, provide servers in many different countries and often include special servers optimized for additional security, streaming, or P2P file sharing.

Thus, the first step when setting up a VPN connection is to get access to a VPN server. More precisely, you need to know the server address (IP address or name) and the authentication credentials (username, password, security certificate).

Several options are available for getting access to a VPN. On your Android devices, you may:

  • Download and install an Android VPN app offered by a VPN service;
  • Access a VPN server managed by your company or school;
  • Set up your own VPN server.

How to set up a VPN for Android

The fastest and simplest way to set up an Android VPN is to download a VPN app from Google Play. This approach does not require any technical knowledge or deep understanding of how a VPN works.

If your goal is to connect to a private Virtual Private Network, like the one provided by your company or the one built by you, you need to manually set up the VPN connection on your Android phone or tablet.

Use an Android VPN app from a VPN provider

Top VPN providers (NordVPN, ExpressVPN) have their VPN apps listed in Google Play and allow one-click installation. Additionally, some apps can be downloaded directly as VPN apk files.

An Android VPN app, as well as an iOS VPN app, has the following advantages:

  • It automatically configures the device for establishing the VPN connection from the phone or tablet to the VPN server.
  • It provides easy access to various VPN protocols.
  • Implements a one-click switch between servers and locations.
  • Offers access to advanced VPN settings.

The easiest way to get started and use an Android VPN is by searching a VPN app in the Google Play Store:

  • Open the Play Store.
  • Type “vpn” in the Search box.
  • Select a VPN client app, install it, open it;
How to search for an Android VPN in Google Play Store

Further, create an account and subscribe (if necessary). Lastly, select a location or server and connect to the VPN.

Important: To create a VPN connection the VPN app needs explicit permissions. It is a security measure to prevent unauthorized access to your data.

Thus, you will be required to Allow the VPN connection setup. Tap OK if you trust the VPN provider (if you don’t you should better uninstall the app and check the best Android VPN apps that I recommend below), the VPN will be configured automatically on your Android device.

How to install an Android VPN app - Permissions required - ibVPN

Manually set up a VPN connection on your Android phone

Should you have the VPN server credentials (server address, username, password) you may manually set up a VPN connection on Android:

  1. From the Home screen, go to the Settings app.
  2. Select Network & Internet. Next, tap Advanced.How to manually set up a VPN on Android - Network and Internet
  3. Tap on VPN.
  4. Tap on “+” sign to the left of VPN. How to manually set up a VPN on Android - Add VPN connection
  5. Select Type. Choose the VPN type or protocol (PPTP, L2TP/IPSec PSK, L2TP/IPSec RSA, IPSec Xauth PSK, IPSec Xauth RSA, IPSec Hybrid RSA). If you don’t know what to choose you should ask the VPN administrator.
  6. Enter the required VPN settings information (you should get them from the administrator of the VPN). How to manually set up a VPN on Android - Edit VPN profile
  7. Type your authentication login, i.e., your username and password.
  8. Tap Save. You will see the newly created VPN profile in the VPN list.
  9. To connect tap the key icon and, then, Connect.How to manually set up a VPN on Android - Connect to VPN
  10. To turn the VPN off, go to Home > Settings > Network & Internet > VPN > tap on the connected VPN > tap on the Disconnect button.

Use a third-party VPN app [Advanced]

An alternative option to the ones presented above is the installation of the OpenVPN app, an open-source VPN client.

The important advantage of using the OpenVPN client application is that you get access to a lite VPN client with no tracking libraries, no adware, or spyware. As you probably are aware, many apps in the Google Play monitor user behavior, serve personalized ads, or share the users’ bandwidth.

To start using the OpenVPN Android app, you need access to OpenVPN config files (.ovpn) that describe the VPN connection properties. If you have installed your own VPN server, you may create such a file yourself. Otherwise, you need to get them from your VPN provider.

To connect to a VPN server using the OpenVPN Android VPN client follow the steps below:

  1. Open the Play Store and search for “openvpn” or “openvpn connect”.
    How to install the OpenVPN app on Android
  2. Install and open the OpenVPN app.
    How to use the OpenVPN app for Android
  3. If you have access to an OpenVPN Access Server, you may import the VPN profiles from there (the Access Server).
  4. If you already have access to an ovpn file, you may download it to your device or to mail it to yourself.
    Important! The ovpn file needs to be built for Android. Different OpenVPN settings may be available for iOS, Windows, macOS, or Linux.
  5. Tap on the file.
  6. Choose Open with OpenVPN Profile > Just once or Always. How to open an ovpn file for the OpenVPN Android app
  7. In the OpenVPN app, you will be asked to confirm if you want to import the .ovpn profile. Tap OK.
  8. Enter your VPN username and password.
  9. Tap OK to the warning OpenVPN attempts to create a VPN connection.
  10. You are now connected to the VPN using the OpenVPN app. How to connect to VPN using the OpenVPN Android app
  11. To disconnect tap the ON/OFF button.

Test run your VPN connection

Hurray! You are almost done. It’s time to make sure you are properly connected to the VPN.

The quick test consists of the followings:

  1. Check the VPN ‘key’ icon on the top of your Android phone or tablet.Test VPN connection on Android - Check the key icon
  2. Check your public IP address with an IP locator website (e.g., XMyIP).

If the key icon is not visible and the IP checker website shows your real IP address you should try to re-connect. If the issue persists you need to contact the VPN provider or administrator.

How to use a VPN on Android with a router

Using a VPN at home or at your office may be easier if you first set up the VPN on the router and then use the router to connect to the Internet.

The important advantage of this approach is that you don’t need to install any VPN app or set up anything on your device.

The downside is that you need to set up the VPN on your router and that may involve some advanced settings. Additionally, it is critical to acknowledge that the connection between the Android device and the router is not encrypted.

Diagram showing an iPhone and iPad connected to a router that is part of a VPN network.

Here are several tutorials you may follow to set up a VPN connection from your router:

Once your router is connected to the VPN and your Android tablet or phone gets connected to the router (Settings > Wi-Fi > select the network exposed by the router), you are using the VPN.

The Best Android VPN services recommended by RoboBat

Although there are many free VPN services available, most of the paid apps are priced reasonably. We do not recommend free VPN apps due to security and privacy concerns.

Important: According to an academic study most of the free VPN apps track their users’ behavior.

Thus, you must be very careful when you select your Android VPN provider. You should look for one that has a good reputation, does not keep data logs, provides strong security. Additionally, the service should be reliable, it should offer fast connection speed, and good customer support.

It is not easy to find VPN providers that have all these characteristics. That is why RoboBat comes to the rescue and recommends three strong Android apps.

NordVPN

The most important thing about the NordVPN Android app is that it comes from a trustful provider. NordVPN, as well as the other two providers recommended by RoboBat, are well-known in the VPN market. Thus, you are (almost) sure that no malware or spyware is installed on your device.

Additionally, the NordVPN Android client is smooth, fast, secure.

After creating a NordVPN account, you may log in to the app, and press the Connect button. It selects the closest VPN server to your location and creates a VPN connection. That is it!

Screenshots of the NordVPN app - Quick Connect, CyberSec, location selection - Best Android VPN app

A nice feature of the NordVPN Android VPN client is the CyberSec option. When activated, CyberSec blocks ads and suspicious websites automatically.

ExpressVPN

The ExpressVPN Android app is great. One tap and you are connected to the VPN on your Android device. Easy to use, fast connections, unlimited bandwidth. Create an ExpressVPN account, open the app, and connect. Nice and simple!

Screenshots of the ExpressVPN Android app - Connect, VPN locations, Split tunneling - Best Android VPN app

The ExpressVPN Android client implements two VPN protocols: OpenVPN UDP, and OpenVPN TCP. The Automatic option that picks the most appropriate protocol for your network.

Another feature that you may find useful is the Split tunneling that allows you to select apps that use the VPN or apps that do not use the VPN while the app is connected to VPN.

ibVPN

The ibVPN Android app has some attractive features for those interested in unblocking websites. Besides the VPN connection, the ibVPN app allows you to use the proxy or SmartDNS technologies. Both have several advantages compared to VPN, like better speed and reliability when it comes to accessing streaming channels.

To get started with ibVPN, you may create a 24-h free trial and test the Android app extensively. Log in, select the location, and connect.

Screenshots of the ibVPN Android app - Connect, locations, VPN protocols, Proxy, SmartDNS - Best Android VPN app

Risks of using free Android VPN apps

If you are a regular reader of our site (if you are not I recommend that you subscribe to our newsletter), you probably know that I (we) do not recommend free VPN apps. It is simply too risky to have your private data passed through obscure VPN servers.

Here are a few more reasons not to use free VPN apps on Android:

Browsing sessions may be monitored

When using a VPN on a mobile device, a private network is used to access the Internet from the device. When a good private network is used, there won’t be any monitoring of the online activity. Many free VPN apps have however been found to monitor browsing activity while their app is used

Your data may be sold to advertisers

Many VPN service providers that provide free apps make their money from advertisers displaying their ads on the mobile device. Many of the apps in the Play Store are in fact integrated with Google’s advertising. There are, however, still app providers that want to make even more money than this. These providers record the online behavior of users and sell this data to advertisers to increase their profit

Connections may not be private

Although VPNs supposedly keep connections private, it has been found that free VPN apps on mobile devices often have IP address leaks or DNS leaks. This results in the supposed private connection not being private at all. 

Spyware may be installed on mobile devices

Even apps scanned by Play Protect may still contain types of malicious code. This code is then used to monitor online activity and to install spyware on the mobile device. Private data is then sent to third parties and may be used for nefarious purposes.

Hacker attacks

Free mobile VPNs often use very weak encryption systems, making them vulnerable to hacker attacks.

Build safety habits – How to use a VPN on the Android on a daily basis

I know: you take your phone everywhere and use it for online shopping, sending photos to your friends, storing passwords for various accounts. How would you feel if all this data gets accessed by some else (that obviously does not have the best intentions)?

You need to take care of your private data and you need to do it every day.

VPNs are no longer nice-to-have applications that you have heard your friends use. You need to have a VPN app at hand on your Android device.

Keep yourself safe and:

  • Have a VPN app installed on your Android device.
  • Subscribe to annual plans to make sure your VPN account does not get suspended for billing reasons. BTW, annual subscriptions are better deals when it comes to monthly costs.
  • Enable the Always-On VPN feature to ensure that all Internet traffic on your Android device will go through the VPN tunnel.
  • Do not install VPN apps from VPN providers you have never heard about. Take your time and inform yourself (by reading a blog like ours, search Reddit or any other blog/forum/website you trust) or ask a friend.
  • Do not download apk files from obscure websites. Better: never download apk files for VPN applications.

Summary

With mobile devices increasingly being connected to the Internet and used to transmit sensitive and private data, it is crucial to protect your data and privacy by using a VPN on your Android device.

While many free VPN services are available for mobile devices, the security of these are often not up to scratch and using them could open you up to more problems than what they solve. Paid-for VPN apps for mobile devices are reasonably priced and these will prevent your private data from being leaked or hacked.

As presented above, a VPN can easily be installed on your Android device. It does not take you more than 5 minutes. You should use it every day and keep your data protected.

RoboBat is pleased that you have taken your time to inform yourself on how to use a VPN on Android. Now, make a Transylvanian baby-bat happy and subscribe to our newsletter. You will have the chance to learn a lot of useful things about online privacy and anonymity.

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