VPNs aid individuals in making them more anonymous online. By encrypting your internet use, you can make your device think you’re based in another location, hidden by an alternative IP address.
People tend to use VPNs when providing personal information and data like credit card details, as it adds an extra layer of security. However, VPNs can also be used to bypass blocked websites and software like accessing Netflix in a different country.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN can hide your identity online if you don’t want others to be able to access your internet history, keep you safe from hackers, protect your IP address whilst torrenting, and some people simply don’t want the government to be able to spy on them.
A VPN can come in all shapes and sizes, as well as free or at a cost. There’s a wide choice of VPNs on the market so I signed up to a bunch of them to test them out. I’ve weighed up the pros and cons, features, and value for money to give you the list of the best VPNs available today.
#1: ExpressVPN (Overall Best VPN)
ExpressVPN is hands down the best VPN service you can get, weighing up speed, privacy, and features. ExpressVPN works on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux and has the ability to unlock sites like Netflix, iPlayer, YouTube, and Amazon.
ExpressVPN has three options when it comes to their pricing plan. You can choose to pay on a month by month basis which is the most expensive option – it will cost you $12.95 per month (£9.78) along with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
If you want to commit to a longer-term with ExpressVPN, the best option is to sign up for a 1-year period. You’ll save 35% and pay the equivalent of $8.32 per month (£6.28).
Regardless of which pricing option you choose, ExpressVPN offers a 100% money-back guarantee along with access to all apps, 24/7 customer support, and high-speed unlimited bandwidth.
ExpressVPN has a wealth of features which is just one reason they nab the number one spot. You can connect to over 160 server locations across 94 countries worldwide, allowing you to switch at any point, with no limits.
- Connections: You can connect up to 5 simultaneous devices which should be enough to cover you and your family. The ExpressVPN app is available on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux as well as offering browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
- Encryption: ExpressVPN uses AES-256 encryption to keep you safe (the same level of security as the US government uses). You’ll also get a choice of protocols like IKEv2, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPsec).
- Speed: ExpressVPN is super-fast, allowing high-speed connections across the world. Even when connecting to further locations, e.g. the US from the UK, Asia, etc.
- Unblocking: If you want to unblock banned websites and services, you’ll be able to access things like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney+, and lots more.
- Additional Features: There are plenty of additional features which are really handy, like Bitcoin payments, P2P support, kill switch, no-logging policy, and DNS leak protection.
Pros & Cons
+ Very easy to run and manage
+ Enterprise-level encryption
+ Fast VPN service
– Less simultaneous connections than other VPNs
NordVPN is a great contender in the race for the best VPN. With their recent updates, NordVPN rolled out their custom NordLynx protocol which has upped their speeds and reliability, even when testing on further afield servers.
NordVPN is incredibly good value for money, offering plans from just £2.86 per month if you’re happy to commit to a 2-year plan. If you’re not ready for such a long commitment, NordVPN’s 1-year plan is very affordable at just £3.79 per month.
However, if you want to pay on a monthly basis, it’s going to hike the price up to £9.20 per month which is much more expensive. If you do like NordVPN’s service, I highly recommend signing up for longer to get the best discounts.
NordVPN has around 5000+ servers across the world in 59 countries, which is an absolutely whopping amount, especially as there are no limits. NordVPN has also hired a third-party to audit its no-logging policy each year which is extremely reassuring.
- Connections: You can connect up to 6 simultaneous devices under one account across multiple devices including iOS, Mac, Android, Chrome, Windows, Firefox, and more.
- Encryption: NordVPN uses AES-256 encryption as standard, however, you also have the option to enable Double VPN. As the name suggests, your data is encrypted twice which is useful if you’re torrenting or using public WiFi.
- Speed: NordVPN’s speeds are pretty good, even when connecting to a further away destination. We tested how quick it was to connect from the UK to the US and couldn’t find any issues or major drops in speed.
- Unblocking: We tested NordVPN by unblocking Netflix and it worked first time. Other services like Amazon, Hulu, and iPlayer appeared easy to access too.
- Additional Features: Similar to ExpressVPN, NordVPN supports Bitcoin, PayPal, proxy extensions for browsers like Chrome and Firefox, DNS leak protection, and kill switches.
Pros & Cons
+ 6 simultaneous connections
+ NordLynx protocol is amazing
+ Great at unblocking sites and services
– Not as easy to use as other VPNs
Surfshark offers a VPN at great value for money, compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux, you can also activate your VPN on iOS and Android. Similar to ExpressVPN, Surfshark offers a 100% 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you don’t enjoy the service you can always get your money back.
Surfshark is one of the cheapest VPNs available that also offers awesome features and solid service. From just £1.68 per month, when you sign up for a 24-month plan, you’ll get one account for all of your devices and 24/7 customer support.
If you don’t want to pay for such a long term, their 6-month plan is just £4.93 per month, totalling £29.57, or £9.83 per month on a month-by-month basis.
- Connections: One of the many great benefits of Surfshark is that you can connect to an unlimited amount of devices, unlike ExpressVPN which is limited to 5, and NordVPN limited to 6.
- Encryption: Surfshark encrypts your internet traffic by using AES-256 encryption, which is the industry standard. They also use secure protocols like IKEv2/IPsec or OpenVPN.
- Speed: Surfshark wasn’t a match for the likes of ExpressVPN and NordVPN, however, their speeds weren’t terrible in any sense, they just weren’t as quick as their competitors.
- Unblocking: It’s really easy to unblock websites and services with Surfshark as well as torrenting. Surfshark keeps things very simple and uncomplicated, much like ExpressVPN, making it suitable for beginners.
- Additional Features: Surfshark boasts a private DNS, double VPN hop, quick connect, WireGuard and a no borders mode to access restrictive regions like China.
Pros & Cons
+ Affordable pricing
+ Simple interface
+ Unblocking geo-restricted access is easy
– Could do with more regular audits of no-logging policy
#4: Hotspot Shield
Hotspot Shield is one of the few premium VPNs that also offer a free plan. In recent years, they’ve put a lot of time and effort into bettering their premium service, offering some of the fastest speeds I’ve come across. Hotspot Shield gives you access to 1800+ servers across 80 countries worldwide.
Instead of just offering one pricing plan with different payment options, Hotspot Shield has three separate VPN plans; free, Premium, and Premium Family.
The free plan offers connections to just one device, limited streaming access, 2Mbps connection speed, 500MB daily limit, and one virtual location. Whilst the plan may be limited, I consider it quite generous considering its 100% free.
When you’re ready to step up your VPN game, the Premium plan offers a lot more including access to all locations, advanced features like Kill Switch, unlimited data limits, faster speeds, and lots more.
The Premium Family plan is designed for families, funnily enough! It allows 25 total connections with 5 per family member coming in at an affordable $11.99 per month.
Hotspot Shield Premium and Premium Family boast many features within their plans. There’s a wealth of servers and locations on offer as well as 35+ cities across the world.
- Connections: Link up to 5 devices including phone, TV, and tablet, as well as a total of 25 connections on the Premium Family plan (5 connections each).
- Encryption: Hotspot Shield uses the industry-standard AES-256 encryption as well as blocking 57 million malware and phishing sites per day. Hotspot Shield also uses their own proprietary Hydra VPN protocol, offering one of the most secure connections.
- Speed: Hotspot Shield’s speed is one of the biggest plus points for me. Testing a connection to a US server from the UK yielded up to 400Mbps download speed which is absolutely crazy-fast.
- Unblocking: Hotspot Shield can unblock streaming services like Netflix and iPlayer, certain websites, and you can enable Smart VPN which means the VPN will only become active on certain internet sessions, e.g. when streaming or accessing banking.
- Additional Features: Hotspot Shield offers a 7-day free trial for their Premium plan along with a 45-day money-back guarantee. You’ll get access to great features that come as standard with most VPNs including a Kill Switch, SmartVPN, password management, and Identity Guard.
Pros & Cons
+ Some of the fastest VPN speeds
+ Free plan
+ Generous money-back guarantee
– They do log browsing activity but it can’t be linked back to the user
IPVanish can be accessed from your iOS or Android device, as well as Windows and Mac. This VPN offers unlimited connections, unmetered P2P traffic, 24/7 support, and 40,000+ shared IPs, 1500+ servers in 70+ countries.
IPVanish’s pricing plans all offer the same features, however, you can choose to pay on a month-by-month basis which will cost $5 per month (£3.79), 3-monthly at $4.50 (£3.41), or yearly at the equivalent of $3.25 per month (£2.46).
IPVanish is certainly one of the most affordable VPNs I’ve come across giving users the ability to sign up for a years’ worth of VPN service for under £40!
IPVanish’s features are available to all users, offering great value for money in comparison to other VPN services.
- Connections: You can connect to unlimited simultaneous devices with apps to suit all your connections.
- Encryption: IPVanish uses 256-AES encryption as well as IKEv2, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols to ensure your browsing sessions are protected.
- Speed: In comparison to other VPNs, IPVanish isn’t as fast, but it’s certainly not slow by any means. You can easily connect to faraway servers like the US and China without a major drop in connection or download speeds.
- Unblocking: Our testing revealed it was easy to access and unblock services like Netflix, iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video. This kind of service is pretty standard across most VPNs.
- Additional Features: Whilst IPVanish doesn’t offer many advanced features that differ from other VPNs, they do give a 250GB bonus of cloud storage using SugarSync which is a great freebie for those wanting to store videos and photos.
Pros & Cons
+ Manages their own servers
+ Free 250GB cloud storage
+ Unlimited connections
– New protocols required
Best VPNs: Ways You Can Use a VPN
VPNs were once used solely as a security measure when browsing the internet, however, they have since offered many more uses which have become popular amongst VPN users:
- Public WiFi: Public WiFi is a big risk, especially if you’re accessing your banking information or booking appointments. By accessing public WiFi via a VPN, your data will be secure and encrypted.
- Torrenting: P2P sharing, even when done legitimately, can raise red flags and people can steal your data. Enabling a VPN means your data will be encrypted and your identity will remain safe.
- Netflix: Enabling a VPN means you can watch Netflix in a multitude of locations, accessing US Netflix from the UK and so on. You can watch your favourite shows all of the time.
- Internet access: Using a VPN allows you to access services and websites in blocked countries like China, UAE, etc. You can access Facebook, YouTube, and lots more.
- Remote Working: With the recent COVID-19 global pandemic many more people are working from home. A VPN can aid in protecting your identity and staying safer online.
Best VPNs FAQs
What’s the Best VPN in 2024?
Currently, I rank ExpressVPN as the best VPN. The VPN service offers ease-of-use, reliability, high speeds, and decent levels of security. You can use ExpressVPN on desktop, mobile, and a range of other devices, allowing you to unblock websites, streaming services, and other advanced features.
How Does a VPN Work?
VPNs work by creating secure connections between you and the site or service you’re accessing. All of your internet traffic is encrypted so no one else will be able to detect it’s you or see what you’re doing.
Without a VPN, your device would access a website or service, then the website or service would ping back to your device and deliver the content.
With a VPN your device passes through secure VPN servers to the website, and the website delivers content via the secure VPN and back to your device.
Are Free VPNs Good?
Free VPNs aren’t necessarily bad, but they often limit the amount of data you can use and don’t come with advanced security features. If you want to ensure you are protected online and your data is encrypted, I would always recommend paying for a VPN. You wouldn’t buy a house without a lock on the door, so you shouldn’t browse the internet without security and privacy.
How Do I Use a VPN?
Most VPNs are really easy to use. You can either download the service for your desktop or if they offer a mobile app you can download it from the App Store or Google Play Store.
VPNs are often very simple to get started with and most offer a quick connect option so you can start browsing online safely within seconds. Once installed, you can choose to add your VPN to your browser as an extension, e.g. Google Chrome.
Using a VPN can offer many benefits, and really the only downside is potential slow connection and download speeds or VPNs that log your information. We cover all of this in our reviews to help you choose the best VPN for your requirements.
VPNs come in all shapes and sizes, offering different features for a wide range of purposes, e.g. streaming, unblocking websites, protecting against DDoS attacks, etc.
If you can afford to sign up for a VPN for a 1-year period, I highly recommend it as you’ll get a lot of discount off of your plan and your internet traffic will be protected for a long period of time.