When you hear the term “virtual private network,” bloated software and bulky desktop clients might spring to mind. But I have good news: It’s now possible to find a multitude of VPNs that are more lightweight and far easier to use than ever before, and they’re optimized for mobile.
With remote work now the new normal for millions of people, the rate of mobile VPN app downloads keeps growing at an impressive clip. More than 480 million mobile VPN apps were downloaded around the globe in the past 12 months, according to a 2019 report from research firm Top10VPN. That’s 54% more than the year before.
While the report showed that free services accounted for 84% of all mobile VPN downloads, we recommend avoiding free VPN apps and going with a paid VPN whenever possible. That means getting your money’s worth out of the best iPhone VPN available today. You can check out our picks for the best Android VPNs, too.
This list is effectively a subset of our main best VPN list, focusing on those specifically seeking mobile browsing protection for their iPhone or other iOS device. If and when a service is ranked higher here than on our main list, it’s because the mobile app experience was better. Keep in mind that this is an evolving list: We’re actively working on more research and testing, so expect this list to change periodically throughout the year.
Here are our picks for the best iPhone VPN. These are the top VPN apps for iPhone that we’ve tested so far this year.
Despite its customizability and powerful performance as a VPN, Surfshark’s iOS VPN app (and Android) offers an interface that is surprisingly intuitive for first-time users. Its four-tab design elegantly conceals a host of privacy tools and connection options, highlighting a single-click connection button on the app’s landing screen.
Quickly access one of Surfshark’s multihop connection option — one of its most promising features, which jumps your connection through multiple countries to hide your trail — through its main location-selection screen, with no need to rummage through the app’s VPN settings. Surfshark also gets bonus points for making its customer support options readily available, including its help ticket feature and user guide library.
While Surfshark’s network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes up for it on features. Let’s start off with the biggest win it offers: unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark’s VPN, you don’t have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.
Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) — though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.
The VPN provider has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireTV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important.
Along with multihop, Surfshark also offers two more special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn’t know you’re using a VPN. And NoBorders Mode “allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions.”
Just be careful. Doing any of those three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we didn’t see a DNS leak or IP address leak, and had no trouble accessing Netflix.
Unlike many other VPN providers, Surfshark doesn’t offer a one-year plan. Its best offer is $2.49 a month, for its two-year plan (you pay about $60 up front). A six-month plan is $6.49 a month (about $39 up front), and month-by-month plans are $12.95 a month. Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and if you choose the two-year plan, maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).
Just as ExpressVPN consistently proves itself to be one of the fastest VPNs on the market, its app for iOS (and Android) is designed with a streamlined approach aimed at connecting fast without a fuss. A single button on its landing screen directs you to connect quickly, with the only accompanying option a drop-down server location selector with your fastest nearby city selected by default.
ExpressVPN’s other options — its security and privacy tools, account and settings options, and support page — are all kept neatly tucked away under a garden variety three-bar icon in the screen’s top left corner. And they’re worth checking into. ExpressVPN has included an on-board IP address checker, along with two leak testers and a password generator.
The company tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of its users’ online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved their zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN’s setup guides, and the detailed information in its FAQ.
Like the rest of the top five VPN services we’ve reviewed for 2020, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method — something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.
The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free.
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. Part of that brand recognition is based on its intuitive design. The Nord VPN iOS app is just as easy to interact with as its desktop client, with a similar design. It poses no learning curve if you’re new to the app and looking to move from desktop to a mobile iOS device like an iPhone or iPad.
Just as the desktop client does, Nord’s iPhone app opens to a familiar blue-scale landing screen map where an iPhone user can opt for to either select a country or connect to the fastest server automatically. Nord gets bonus points for its split-tunneling feature, which allows you to select other apps that you don’t want to run through your encrypted VPN connection.
Nord offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six connections allowed through its network — nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast.
The company’s one-year subscription plan costs is for $7 a month ($84 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than most other contenders, the month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. As of September 2019, the company’s other pricing tiers have crept up a bit: It’s now $3.49 a month for a three-year plan (or $125.64 total), up from $2.99/$107.55. And the two-year plan is now $4.99 a month ($119.76), up from $3.99 ($95.75 total). And yes, it also has a full 30-day refund policy.
While NordVPN has lived on our top VPNs list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord’s actions following the discovery included — eventually — multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security.
While we’d have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of its VPN user activity. As a result, Nord remains on our list as a recommended VPN service provider.
A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for those who are interested in learning how to understand what a VPN does under the hood. With its iOS app, IPVanish manages to pack the same extensive suite of digital knobs and dials into a smaller screen to impressive effect.
If you’re looking for the ability to do some precision-tuning to your VPN connection, IPVanish is a solid bet. From generating visual graphs of your internet activity to a bevy of switches controlling split-tunnelling, LAN connection allowance and more — IPVanish is an iOS app for the methodical tech tweaker who enjoys having exact control over their mobile traffic.
A unique feature of IPVanish, and one we’re intrigued by, is the VPN’s support of Kodi, the open-source media streaming app that was once known as XBMC. Any serious media fan has used or built Kodi or XBMC into a media player, and the integrated IPVanish Kodi plugin provides access to media worldwide.
At $5 a month or $39 a year, IPVanish VPN is obviously trying to move you towards its yearly program. We’re a little disappointed that it only allows a seven-day trial, rather than a full 30 days, but it does offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for its recent increase from five to now 10 simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.
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Virtual private network, iPhone, ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Internet service provider
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