Downloading the best VPN possible for your computer and mobile in 2019 is a no-brainer. As well as being the ideal service to help you use the internet securely and get around blocked websites, the best VPN providers will also let you access the freshest films and shows in foreign Netflix catalogs, stream in safety and much, much more.
An abbreviation of Virtual Private Network, a VPN service allows you to change your IP address to a secure server. That helps to make you more anonymous online and let’s you effectively trick your laptop or mobile device into thinking it’s in another location. It’s no surprise that 2019’s best VPN options have become so popular, increasingly being used as a replacement for or in addition to traditional online security.
And it’s similarly unsurprising that so many VPN services have now come out of the woodwork. Compare the current market to two or three years ago and the amount of options now available to download are overwhelming. Luckily for you, I have tested over 20 of the best VPN providers (and the worst!) to come up with a definitive top 5, together with key information and specs on each.
So whatever you’re intending to use your new VPN service for, we’ll give you confidence that you’re installing the right one and avoiding any that could be potentially be downright dangerous.
The best VPN service right now is ExpressVPN. It’s the best all-round option for speed, privacy and unblocking websites. A very close second place is NordVPN, which boasts the admirable combination of fast speed, strong security and affordable pricing. And the third best VPN for 2019 is IPVanish, which is another very reliable VPN that we like a lot – particularly the way it handles P2P and torrenting. Read more about these VPN services and more below.
The best all-round VPN service for speed, privacy and unblocking
Number of servers: 3,000+ | Server locations: 160 | IP addresses: 30,000 | Maximum devices supported: 5
- Runs on almost any platform
- Enterprise-level encryption
- Speedy VPN servers in 94 countries
- Superb 24/7 live customer support
- Fewer simultaneous connections than some
ExpressVPN delivered outstanding performance in our speed tests and excellent customer support plus a 30 day money back guarantee.
ExpressVPN offers access to more than 3,000 servers in 160 locations across 94 countries, alongside maybe the widest platform support you’ll find anywhere.
We’re not just talking about native clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, plus iOS, Android and even BlackBerry. There’s custom firmware for some routers, DNS content-unblocking for a host of streaming media devices and smart TVs, and surprisingly capable VPN browser extensions for anything which can run them.
All that functionality could sound intimidating to VPN newbies, but ExpressVPN does more than most to help. An excellent support website is stuffed with detailed guides and tutorials to get you up and running. And if you do have any trouble, 24/7 live chat support is on hand to answer your questions. It really works, too – we got a helpful response from a knowledgeable support agent within a couple of minutes of posting our question.
The good news continues elsewhere, with ExpressVPN delivering in almost every area. Bitcoin payments? Of course. P2P support? Yep. Netflix unblocking? Naturally. Industrial-strength encryption, kill switch, DNS leak protection, solid and reliable performance and a clear no-logging policy? You’ve got it.
Downsides? Not many to speak of. The ExpressVPN service supports five simultaneous connections per user (increased recently from three), and it comes with a premium price tag. But if you want a speedy service, crammed with top-notch features, and with all the support you need to help you use them, ExpressVPN will be a great fit. While they don’t have a free trial, ExpressVPN has a no-questions-asked 30-day money back guarantee if you aren’t happy with the service.
An ultra-secure provider
Number of servers: 5,300+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 6
- Quality mobile and desktop clients
- Up to six connections and value pricing
- Good Performance
- Not the best user interface
Despite being based in a country located in Central America – hardly a tech hub – NordVPN‘s current products match or beat the competition in just about every area.
You get a choice of over 5,400 servers in 60+ countries, 2048-bit encryption, 6-device support as standard, strong DNS leak protection, kill switches (application-specific and system wide), proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers, and with payment options that include Bitcoin, PayPal and credit cards.
There’s also a fast, smart DNS-like SmartPlay feature which can be used to get around geo-restrictions and unblock a large number of streaming and other services.
Our performance tests found difficulties connecting to a small number of servers, but once we got online, download speeds were well above average on all but the most distant connections.
If we have one quibble, it would be with the user experience that NordVPN supplies. Just little things like the destination cities not being listed in alphabetical order or searching through menus for specialist task functions left us scratching our heads about whether Nord has done enough user testing. But, as we say, these are pretty minor minus points.
NordVPN has a few options available included monthly subscriptions and an excellent value three-year special offer. If you want to give the service a whirl before you commit, NordVPN provides a nifty seven-day free trial which is rather hidden away on the website. So if you want something much better than one of the best free VPN choices, Nord is the obvious choice.
The packages available are:
- 36 month plan – US$2.99 per month (US$107.64 total cost)
- 12 month plan – US$6.99 per month (US$83.88 total cost)
- 1 month plan – US$11.95 per month (US$11.95 total cost)
Awesome for torrenting and other P2P traffic
Number of servers: 1,200+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: 40,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 10
- Owns and manages its own servers
- Speedy live chat support
- Powerful, configurable apps
- Excellent download speeds
- No free trial
IPVanish claims to be ‘The World’s Best VPN’, and although we wouldn’t quiteagree, the service does have some impressive stats: 40,000+ shared IPs, 1,200+ VPN servers in 60+ countries, unlimited P2P traffic, ten simultaneous connections, 24/7 customer support and a 7-day money-back guarantee.
The apps are a powerful highlight. Not only are there loads of them (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, even Fire TV), but they’re absolutely stuffed with unusual features, options and settings, trampling all over the horribly basic “list of flags and a Connect button”-type apps you’ll usually get elsewhere.
The good news continued when we tried some real-world tests. Servers were always up, and connected quickly; download speeds were above average; torrents are supported on every server, and we were able to unblock BBC iPlayer and US Netflix.
There are some issues, too. The apps are powerful, but that means there’s a lot to learn, and we noticed a few small usability issues. A small number of servers didn’t appear to be in the advertised locations. There are no kill switches on the mobile apps, and the price is very much at the premium end of the VPN range.
Overall, though, if you need its ten simultaneous connections, or the power and configurability of its apps, take the plunge with this VPN service, and if somehow you end up unhappy you’re protected by a 7-day money-back guarantee.
- 12 month plan – US$4.87 per month (US$58.44 total cost)
- 3 month plan – US$6.75 per month (US$20.25 total cost)
- 1 month plan – US$7.50 per month (US$7.50 total cost)
Feature-packed clients and impressive configurability
Number of servers: 3,700+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 7
- Clients have plenty of smart features
- Good performance levels
- Torrents are supported
- Some irritations with the interface
Romanian and German-based CyberGhost is a popular VPN provider whose mix of power and ease of use has won over more than ten million users.
The company covers the basics well, with more than 3,700 servers spread across 60 countries, apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, torrents allowed and speedy live chat support.
The task-based app interface is a major highlight. CyberGhost doesn’t just leave you to guess which server to use to unblock a website, for instance. Just choose a geo-blocked service from the list – Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, more – and the app automatically connects to the best server and opens a browser window at the target site. Now that’s what we call helpful.
There are plenty of extras, too. The service can block ads, trackers and malicious websites. Automated HTTPS redirection ensures you’re always making the most secure connection. Optional data compression can save money on mobile devices.
It’s not all good news. The desktop interface can seem complicated, the support site is poor, the desktop trial is a stingy 24 hours and although US and European speeds are good, a few of our long-distance connections barely reached 10Mb.
Overall, though, CyberGhost offers you a lot of unusual functionality for a very fair price, and it’s well worth a closer look.
- 36 month plan – US$2.75 per month (US$99 total cost)
- 12 month plan – US$5.99 per month (US$71.88 total cost)
- 1 month plan – US$12.99 per month (US$12.99 total cost)
A VPN service which gives you unlimited connections
Number of servers: 400+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
- Unlimited device connections
- Free plan with 10GB of monthly data
- Only average speeds
Windscribe is a capable VPN service which delivers more than you might expect in many areas. You get clients for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux, for instance, as well as Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions, and guides for manually setting up the service on routers, Kodi and more.
The network is a good size with locations in 110 cities spread across more than 60 countries.
While this sounds great on paper, real-world testing highlighted some problems. Connections times could be slow, and although performance was generally good, some long-distance servers barely managed a crawl. There was mixed news on website unblocking, too: we could view US Netflix, but Windscribe didn’t get us access to BBC iPlayer.
There’s no 24/7 support, either, so any questions you have might not get answered for a while. Although the company does at least point out that it uses its own in-house staff, rather than outsourcing it to some minimum wage worker who just reads off a script, so it could be worth the wait.
Windscribe doesn’t tick every available box, then, but the service does have a lot of interesting features. If you’re looking for a new VPN, use the free plan to find out what Windscribe can do for you.
Looking for a bargain? A free plan limits you to ten locations but gives you an exceptionally generous 10GB data allowance a month.
- 12 month plan – US$4.08 per month (US$48.96 total cost)
- 1 month plan – US$9 per month (US$9 total cost)
VPN services: what will they let me watch?
As well as keeping you safe and sound while browsing the web, VPNs are also handy for catching your favourite TV shows and live sports while you’re out of the country. If you’ve ever tried to stream something on your tablet while on holiday only be told that rights restrictions mean you can’t then this is for you! Changing your IP address to a server in your homeland will get around the problem.
VPN stands for ‘virtual private networking’, which is a popular internet security method. The latter involves technologies that aim to add a layer of security to both private and public networks. These include broadband and internet hotspots.
A VPN (virtual private network) is therefore a secure and private solution within the wider internet itself that allows users – whether they are individuals, or part of an organisation, or business – to send and receive data while maintaining the secrecy of a private network.
That means you could use one to create a secure “tunnel” into your company network to enjoy access to private internal systems, but also means you could browse in complete privacy online and access content you might otherwise not be able to get such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer.
All the traffic that passes through your VPN connection is secure and cannot, in theory, be intercepted by anyone else, making it the safest mainstream way to browse the web privately (but not always anonymously).
Just bear in mind though that VPN setups are only as secure as the weakest link in the entire chain. So if your device has already been compromised with malware already, using a VPN won’t save you from being spied upon, although a good antivirus could.
How do VPNs work?
A VPN is designed to make using the internet safer, more private and more convenient, and it does that by creating a secure connection between you and the site or service you want to access. All traffic between you and the site or service is encrypted, so it’s meaningless to anyone else.
To make this happen, a VPN takes your internet traffic and reroutes it through its own servers – so instead of going like this:
Your device —> The website
And back again like this:
The website —> Your device
It goes like this:
Your device —> Secure VPN servers —> The website
And back again like this:
The website —> Secure VPN servers —> Your device
That doesn’t just improve security – although that’s the main reason for doing it – it also disguises where you are. Your computer, smartphone, tablet or games console might be in London, but as far as the website is concerned you could be connecting from New York, or from Mumbai, or from Naples.
That means VPNs can also protect your privacy and get round “geo-blocking”, which is when a site uses your location information to decide whether or not it’s going to let you see or hear something.
Why do I need a VPN?
There are lots of reasons why you might need a VPN. One of the most important ones is data security, especially when you’re out and about. How often have you connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot somewhere public, such as in a bus terminal, train station, café or airport? Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t particularly secure things, but with a VPN you can be confident that nobody’s eavesdropping when you do your online banking or send the boss your top secret world domination plans.
A VPN protects you from fake hotspots, which are convincing-looking Wi-Fi hotspots designed to steal people’s data and/or personal information. Even if you connect, your data can’t be intercepted.
VPNs can also protect your privacy by disguising your location. For some of us that means it prevents those ubiquitous trackers from following us around the internet, and it enables us to get past geoblocking when we travel – handy if you want to catch up on that box set but aren’t in the same country as your subscription. But for others it’s life-saving, because it evades censorship and government monitoring of communications. A VPN makes it much harder to identify the source of an upload, or what websites a person might have visited.
VPN services: what can I use them for?
If there’s one worry when it comes to using technology and the internet, it’s privacy. By using a VPN, you can, in theory, prevent your internet service provider (ISP) and government from seeing your internet history.
VPNs have also emerged as a popular tool in the freedom of speech movement. You’re able to avoid censorship within organisations and from third-parties. For example, if you have a view that goes against the priorities of your employer, you don’t have to worry about them finding out.
People also use VPN technology to “geo-spoof” their location. This results in users customising their location settings to be able to use overseas services. A great example of this is watching a TV programme or online product that’s only available in a specific country, perhaps due to legal or licensing issues – that’s why using a VPN for Netflix has become so popular.
You can resort to a VPN to protect yourself from hackers too. If you’re outside and sign up to use a public internet hotspot – perhaps in a cafe or library – there is the chance someone could try to break into your device. This can lead to you losing valuable data, such as passwords.
This technology is also emerging as a popular force in the world of business. When you’re traveling around for meetings all the time, it’s normal to connect to third-party networks. With a VPN, you can access your firm’s intranet without the worry of being targeted by cyber criminals.
Many VPN services – there are about 400 of them on mobile and desktop – offer different pros and cons, so if you’re looking to access Hulu or BBC iPlayer from a different region, dial into your office network or simply stay safe and secure online, you’ll find a service tailored precisely to your needs.
Furthermore, a VPN can be used to avoid having your internet connection throttled, and that’s certainly relevant at the moment given what Verizon is up to over in the States. According to reports, the ISP has capped Netflix streaming at 10Mbps, and also throttled video on its unlimited plans meaning that smartphone viewers can’t achieve a better quality than 480p.
It’s also interesting to note that while phishing remains a major danger online, a VPN can help protect you against malware or con tricks when web browsing.
Free vs. paid VPN: Which is truly better?
Some companies now offer a basic service that won’t cost you anything at all. Are the free VPN services as good as their paid-for counterparts then? Not so fast.
As you’d expect, there are catches, and they typically start with a data cap. Avira Phantom VPN’s free plan limits you to 500MB a month, PrivateTunnel offers 2GB, whereas ZPN has a generous 10GB allowance – not bad at all.
Free products also typically have usage restrictions. Most companies don’t want you to soak up all their bandwidth on torrents, so ZPN is typical in blocking P2P.
Hide.me’s 2GB free plan also has some common limits. There’s “best effort” bandwidth, which means paying customers have speed priority and you get what’s left. And the choice of locations is limited to three: Canada, Netherlands and Singapore.
Hola’s free-for-personal-use plan doesn’t have the same kind of restrictions, but even here there’s a catch. The service routes traffic through its free users rather than dedicated servers, so signing up allows others to (securely) share a small part of your bandwidth and resources.
Then there’s the adverts and the session limits (CyberGhost) and the general lack of service level agreement: free means that it doesn’t come with any implicit warranties.
Free plans are fine for simple needs, then – maybe protecting your laptop’s wireless hotspot traffic on the occasional trip – but if you’re looking for anything more advanced, a commercial product is best.
The immediate benefit is that you know your personal data remains safe, even if you’re on a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Local snoopers might be able to see the connection, but there’s no way to find out what it is or where it’s going.
VPNs also give you a new digital identity in the shape of an IP address from another country. This makes it harder for websites or anyone else to track you, allows some people to bypass government censorship, and helps the rest of us avoid those “not available in your country” messages on YouTube or other streaming sites.
Best of all, despite the low-level network technology involved, you don’t need to be any kind of expert to make VPNs work. For the most part, all you have to do is choose the country where you’d like an IP address, click Connect to start, Disconnect when you’re done – and that’s it.
How to choose your VPN
There are several factors to consider when you’re choosing a paid VPN. Here are six tips.
1. Does the plan have servers in every country and region you need? Having more than one server in a country can help spread the load, but doesn’t guarantee improved performance, so don’t assume a plan with 500 servers will automatically beat another with 100.
2. Check the number of simultaneous connections supported. Typically, this is 3-5, which allows you to have a PC, mobile and tablet connected at the same time. But beware, many companies say this is for a single user only, and they all have fair usage policies to prevent people hogging resources. If you let the entire family download and stream videos separately then you’ll run into trouble.
3. Some providers list the connection protocols they use. OpenVPN and IKeV2 are good choices, fast and secure. You might see SSTP and the older PPTP, as well as protocol options (TCP or UDP for OpenVPN). You don’t need to understand the low-level details, but having the extra choice can help the service make faster and/or more reliable connections.
5. It’s important to consider the client, the software which handles your connections. These all have a list of servers and a Connect/ Disconnect button, but could you use more? Some clients display server load and ping time in the interface, helping you choose the right server. Regular users might appreciate a “Favourites” system to save and recall specific servers. If you know what you’re doing, having access to low-level network settings will help you tune the whole system.
6. Finally, there’s the price. Beware of apparently cheap deals: these may have restricted features, exclude taxes, be discounted for the first billing period only, and renew automatically, so that apparent one-off £3.99 might become almost £10 next month. Look for a ‘Pricing’ link, read the small print, and if possible use something like PayPal where it’s easy to check and cancel a subscription yourself.
Once you’ve found what looks like a good VPN candidate, be sure to take it for a trial before you spend any big money. But a short trial can only tell you so much, so once that’s expired, pay for a month, run as many tests as you can, then upgrade to a better value plan (usually yearly) if you’re still happy.
Are VPNs legal?
VPNs are legal in most of the world, but some countries have either banned VPNs altogether or put very severe restrictions on their use. Those bans are more relevant to the people that live there than to people who travel there: we’re not aware of any tourists being thrown in the clink for running a VPN to secure their hotel Wi-Fi, but clearly it’s wise to be careful in more repressive regimes.
In countries that do restrict VPN use there’s often a distinction between approved and unapproved ones. For example, in China VPNs must be approved by the Chinese government, which suggests that they’re the last things you should rely on to hide your activities from the Chinese government. If you use an unapproved one, you can be fined heavily.
In the United Arab Emirates, you can be fined over half a million dollars and/or thrown in jail for using any VPN. It’s a similar story in Russia, while in Iran use of an unapproved VPN can put you in prison. In Uganda, ISPs block all VPN services, Oman bans unapproved ones and Iraq, Belarus and Turkmenistan ban all VPNs. So does North Korea.