(Pocket-lint) - If you're trying to use a VPN to keep yourself secure and hidden from prying eyes online, or want to access content from another country as if you are there then you are in the right place.
There are plenty of reasons to use a VPN on your desktop, mobile, or even TV, with a bevy of news stories about companies like Facebook collecting your data has sparked a huge debate about how companies use your data in the first place.
Here we round up the best VPN providers available including ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark and more.
What is a VPN?
VPNs, or virtual private networks, are becoming more popular as a means to keep internet browsing private. In normal internet use, your data flows from your computer, mobile device or home network across your ISP and during this journey all manner of people could be snooping on your data.
Potentially put you in the firing line of hackers and cybercriminals, and by effectively creating a secure connection between your computer and a VPN server, your actual IP address is hidden from snoopers.
But VPNs have another trick up their sleeves: they can spoof your location, for unlocking specific regions websites such as Facebook in China or Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer.
Our current Top Pick is NordVPN with a 72 per cent saving on a two year deal for $3.30 or £2.44 a month. Others worth considering are ExpressVPN, which has a 49 per cent discount on 1 year deal for $6.67 or £4.97/m and Surfshark with 81 per cent off on 24 month plan for $2.49 and £1.79 a month.
- 5,000+ servers worldwide in 59 countries
- Six connections
- 30-day money-back guarantee
Our recommended plan costs $3.30 or £2.44 a month on a two-year deal with three months free and there's even a 30-day money-back guarantee to sweeten the offer, but plans do start from $11.95/£8.84 for a month.
A well-established name in the VPN world, NordVPN is known for offering very secure connections thanks to using military-grade 2048-bit encryption which it applies twice to connections to its 5,000 plus servers spread across 59 countries and counting.
A straightforward interface means you can easily connect up to six devices, whether they run Windows, Mac, iOS, Android or even BlackBerry OS, to the secure service.
Alongside peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing support, a kill switch, and fast connection speeds, NordVPN offers additional privacy features like the ability to use dedicated IP addresses, enable ad blocking, and pay using bitcoin.
NordVPN boasts no data logging and a cybersecurity option to help you avoid malware riddled websites while still enjoying your web surfing freedom.
Finally, unlimited bandwidth as well as being one of the few services to support access to The Onion Router (TOR) network over VPN completes NordVPN's features.
- More than 3,000 servers worldwide in 94 countries
- 30-day money back guarantee no questions asked
Prices start a $12.95/£9.63 for a month, but Pocket-lint readers can get 49 per cent off a 12-month plan with three months free for $6.67 and £4.96 a month.
ExpressVPN supports up to three connections, but if you don't feel like it's going to fulfil your VPN needs then a 30-day money-back guarantee means you can give it a whirl across a couple of devices and see if the performance and features on offer justify the price.
Aimed at people who want a VPN outside their home country to access region-locked services like US Netflix from the UK, as well as keep their internet browsing private, ExpressVPN offers more than 3,000 servers across 94 countries.
Thanks to a clean user interface, ExpressVPN is easy to setup for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux devices, as well as offering support for kit such as smart TVs and games consoles, and it also comes with 24/7 live chat customer support if you happen to get stuck.
Alongside a reputation for solid support, the service offers a "kill switch" to hide your IP address if the VPN connection happens to drop, peer-to-peer support and powerful encryption.
- Use on unlimited devices
- More than 3,200 servers worldwide in 65 countries
- 30-day money back guarantee no questions asked
Surfshark offers access to unlimited devices rather than just a limited amount. There's a range of plans on offer from one month, to half a year, and the best value - 2 years with an 81% discount for $2.49 and £1.79 a month.
The tech hides your IP address, protects access on public Wi-Fi and can deliver access to those region locked services, such as like Netflix in the USA from the UK.
This is all from more than 3,200 servers across 63 countries, giving you access to secure browsing no matter where you are or want to be.
That's protecting your identify while online banking, blocking malware, down to securing yourself when online gaming.
With support for Chrome, Firefox, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android Linux and Fire TV, there bound to be a platform ready for you to use at any and all times.
Sometimes you just want an easy way to get started with VPNs, that's TunnelBear's greatest strength. User friendly and easy to set up, TunnelBear works across a variety of devices, including Windows PCs, iPads, iPhones and Android devices.
TunnelBear might not have as many servers on offer as other VPN providers, but the Canada-based service still covers more than 20 countries and can be used with up to five devices per account.
A lack of technical jargon comes with the caveat that there's not a lot of options and features for advanced users to deeply customise their VPN configuration. But its ease of use is handy for people who want to quickly set up a VPN for streaming Netflix or using gaming services from abroad.
TunnelBear is also proficient at protecting privacy thank to avoiding logging session data and IP addresses assigned to the account and applying 256-bit encryption to connections.
To make things easy for beginners, CyberGhost's interface asks people what they want to use the VPN service for, whether that's for surfing anonymously or torrenting, rather than ask users to select a server. Pretty much everything you need from a VPN has been designed to be enabled through just a single click.
There are more options available for more experienced users to dig into as well, such as being able to set up a proxy server, and live chat support is on offer if you need help to get more out of the service.
CyberGhost still offers access to more than 7,100 servers spread across 91 countries, with seven connections, if you decide you want to use it on your smartphone and tablet rather than just a Windows or Mac machine - and it now supports Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Sky streaming.
Other VPNs we considered
The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours researching a good number of products before recommending our best picks for you.
We have considered a range of factors when it comes to putting together our guides including testing the products ourselves, consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. These VPNs below are still worth a look, if the ones we've chosen above aren't right up your street.
- IPVanish - save 65% on a year plan costing $3.75 a month
- PureVPN - 2 year plan discounted by 73% at $2.91/m
- Hotspot Shield - get 76% off a 3 year deal priced at $2.99 and $2.69/m
- Private Internet Access - 83% saving on a 3 year plan for $2.08 / £1.71 a month
- VyprVPN - 87% off 36 month plan coming in at $1.67 and £1.25/m
Why do you need a VPN?
VPNs are really useful things. We’ve used them for catch-up TV when we’re travelling, to ensure that we’re safe when we use public Wi-Fi and to help prevent tracking networks from building up too-detailed pictures of our browsing history.
But if you’re new to VPNs you might not know how to use the features that matter to you, or what to do if the performance isn’t as good as you need it to be. So we’ve provided the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions right here.
How can I access content that’s geoblocked?
One of the most common reasons to use a VPN is to be able to access content such as streaming video when it’s geoblocked. For example, you might be travelling for work and want to watch Netflix – but your Netflix account is for the country you live in, not where you are right now. Many VPNs enable you to change your apparent location so the streaming service thinks you’re somewhere else. You’ll usually need a paid-for VPN that supports streaming.
Are there other kinds of blocking I can get past?
VPNs can be handy on airplanes, which often provide very limited Wi-Fi that stops anybody from streaming. A VPN means the network doesn’t know what kind of site or service you’re accessing.
I’m an ex-pat. Can I use a VPN to access iPlayer?
You shouldn’t access the UK iPlayer if you aren’t a UK licence fee payer. But technically speaking, yes you can.
What do I do if the server’s sluggish?
Switch to another one. This might not be an option with a free VPN, or you may have a limited choice of servers to choose from. But paid-for VPNs have access to thousands of servers, so if your connection seems a bit crap you could try connecting to other servers or servers in other countries.
What do I do if I’m blocked by a site for using a VPN?
You could try switching servers again. Unfortunately some sites do operate an ongoing whack-a-mole operation against VPN providers, shutting down access whenever they discover new servers.
How do I protect all my devices at once?
Many VPN services have apps for all kinds of things, but on a home or office network you can protect everything you connect by installing your VPN at the router level rather than on individual devices. It’s important to remember that this only works when the devices are using the router; for example if one of them is your smartphone and you go out, you’re no longer protected if you don’t also have an app on your phone.
Can a VPN stop my boss knowing what I’m doing online?
Whether you’re whistleblowing or talking to a recruitment firm, it’s wise not to use your work PC for anything you wouldn’t want the boss to see. The very act of installing a VPN on the office PC is a pretty clear sign you’re doing something the boss won’t like.
But if your home internet connection is provided by the company you work for – something that’s fairly common in the US, where some tech or academic organisations provide housing for the people who work there – then you might want to encrypt what you’re doing or use a VPN to evade whatever filtering is on that network.
How can a VPN deliver better video or torrents?
Some ISPs look for specific kinds of data traffic, such as video streaming or BitTorrent, and restrict its speed to reduce the demands on the network. A VPN can help you evade such restrictions by encrypting all your traffic so your ISP has no idea what it is.
Can I get my VPN to switch on automatically?
That depends on the app. Some services do have apps that’ll automatically detect new networks and turn the VPN on to protect you; others, particularly free ones, may require you to do the switching on and off manually.