The mobile VPNs of 2021 that you need to try

Privacy is essential, especially on a mobile device. These five options available for both Android and iOS can help keep your device secure and your traffic private, but not without cost.

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Image: Shutterstock/Ksenia Zvezdina

We take mobile internet for granted in 2021: It's an established technology that we all treat as something that "just works," and that means that much of the "how" gets forgotten. Like the amount of data being transmitted through the air whenever we step out the door.

That data is rich in information about you, your device and your life — you wouldn't leave your phone sitting around unlocked, so why allow all that data to go to a potential bad actor sitting behind you at Starbucks? 

If you do a lot of work out of the home on public, or even public but secured, Wi-Fi networks you need a VPN for your phone or other mobile device that will anonymize your traffic and prevent your personally identifiable information from being handed over to an attacker on a silver platter.

SEE: Password breach: Why pop culture and passwords don't mix (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

One thing to note here: I'm not including any free VPNs in this list of five, each of which is a premium product. When it comes to securing your online traffic you don't want to trust it to an app that isn't charging for the service. Online security services, like VPNs, are expensive to operate and maintain, and a free VPN service is just as likely to be spyware as it is to protect you. 

I've also written this to include VPNs that only have apps for both iOS and Android, but you may notice a big name is missing: ExpressVPN, which was purchased by Kape Technologies in September, 2021. It's being left off over concerns about it's new parent company, which was determined to be a major affiliate of ad injectors in 2015. It's unknown whether this purchase will make ExpressVPN less reliable or safe, and Kape said it isn't the same company it was in the past, but ExpressVPN is being excluded until the future of the app becomes clear.

The big player: NordVPN

NordVPN has been around for some time, and in that period has built itself a good deal of name recognition and celebrity endorsement from high-profile YouTube and streaming personalities. Along with that flashiness is a reputation as a solid, reliable VPN service that it has definitely earned. 

NordVPN allows users to connect up to six devices at a time, has over 5,000 worldwide servers to select from and app that's simple to use (a big perk since VPNs can be a bit confusing to new users). Business users will also find NordVPN valuable for its dedicated IP address option, and its NordVPN Teams product for remote workers.

Nord starts at $11.95 a month, but is way cheaper when you buy a one- or two-year plan, which brings the price down to $4.92 a month if you buy a year upfront, and $3.29 if you buy two. 

All-you-can-eat VPN data: IPVanish

IPVanish isn't nearly as big as NordVPN or some of the other players in the mobile VPN space, but it does offer something that a lot of other apps don't: lots of customization options that give it more flexibility than other VPN services. 

It's still perfectly usable for the average user who doesn't want to know every detail of their VPN and internet traffic patterns, but power users will find it a great fit for custom setups and granular control.  

IPVanish's price isn't bad either. It starts at $10.99 for month-to-month service, and plans decrease to $4.50 and $3.96 per month when buying one or two years up front.

The best international VPN: Surfshark

Surfshark offers many of the options that other VPNs do, but with some neat additional features that make it ideal for people planning to travel internationally, especially to places where VPN traffic may be seen as suspicious. 

First, Surfshark will allow you to spoof your GPS location, and if the spoof is uncovered it only directs whoever is looking to NordVPN's servers. Surfshark is also able to route traffic through  multiple countries, has a camouflage mode that it said will hide your VPN's presence from your ISP, and a "NoBorders Mode" that Surfshark claims will allow people in restrictive regions to safely access the outside internet.

SEE: Google Chrome: Security and UI tips you need to know  (TechRepublic Premium)

As for price, Surfshark comes in at average for month-to-month, billing for $12.95. If you choose to buy year the price drops to $2.21 per month (with the coupon code surfsharkdeal) and comes with three months of service free. For two years you'll be billed $6.49/month. 

The VPN for families and small businesses: Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield stands out from the pack in one really notable way: It has a family plan that, for $11.99/month (if an annual plan is purchased) provides five accounts and connectivity to 25 devices. That's the perfect size to use for a small business or a family.

Reviews point to Hotspot Shield being one of the faster VPN providers, so if speed is a concern it's not a bad idea to check this one out. It has an attractive price point, too: $7.99/month for an individual (when a year is paid upfront), or $12.99 if you go month-to-month. Each plan also comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee, so if you decide you don't like it there's no big loss except your time. 

A VPN that packs in other security: PIA

PIA, or Private Internet Access, is a relatively small player in the mobile VPN space, but that just means it's going to try harder to get your attention. 

This mobile VPN app for iOS and Android comes with the same features you would expect from a premium VPN service, but when you purchase a two-year plan you also get BoxCryptor, a cloud storage encryption service that works with most public cloud providers. It also has browser extensions that block access to cameras and microphones and an email breach scanner. PIA is also open source, so if that's part of your tech ethos this is the one to choose. 

PIA starts at $9.95 if you pay per month, drops to $3.33 per month if paid annually, and $2.19 per month if you buy two years upfront. 

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