1How can you best protect your identity and data when online? The simple answer is with a virtual private network, or VPN. This is the easy part. Actually picking a VPN is much tougher. Which VPN is best for you, and do you need to pay for the service?
Based on customer reviews, we have compared the best VPNs (both paid and free) to give you a clear answer to this question. But first, we’re going to explain how these services protect your identity and data. Stay with us.
A VPN is basically a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks. VPNs are becoming increasingly popular as more of the modern world transitions to the web. A VPN improves online privacy because the user’s initial IP address is replaced with one from the VPN provider. Those subscribed to a VPN can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides.
So why do you need a VPN in your life? Well, without one you are basically cruising the online world naked, baring all to the world. A VPN keeps you covered up by hiding/changing your IP address, hiding your location, and encrypting your data transfers.
The final question is whether you should pay for a VPN. The answer really depends on your priorities. A paid VPN is generally going to have the edge on most features. A paid VPN will most often be faster, available in more locations, and offer greater support (but not always). If anonymity is top of your list of priorities however, then a free VPN may be the better option as a free VPN provider won’t usually ask you to sign up to use its service.
Before making your selection, you should think carefully about what you want from a VPN and which aspect of the service you want to prioritise. Once you’ve given that some thought, we recommend checking out the options we have lined up, including leading services NordVPN, CyberGhost VPN, TunnelBear, and ExpressVPN.
These are the best free VPNs (and paid alternatives) in 2021.
Servers in China, Russia, and Turkey • Lots of servers • Multi-device support
Relatively expensive • Only three simultaneous connections
It might be on the pricey side, but ExpressVPN offers a selection of high-end features to keep you protected.
ExpressVPNStrong distribution of servers and a slick interface make up for higher price.
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ExpressVPN has over 1,000 servers in 145 locations, covering 94 countries. This list includes China, Russia, and Turkey, three countries that have notably repressive control over the internet. So that’s a pretty impressive feather in their hat.
It’s not all good news, though; ExpressVPN does limit you to three simultaneous connections from different devices. Other services generally offer slightly more than this. However, three connections is probably plenty for one user. If you are using a VPN for a household, though, then another service may be better suited.
ExpressVPN has all the essentials covered. This service includes multi-device support, a lot of servers, good geographic distribution, BitTorrent support, and a nice interface. It is however a little more expensive than some, at around £10 a month (or £5 if you commit to 15 months), and it doesn’t offer nearly as many simultaneous connections as cheaper alternatives. It’s a strong VPN, so the extra cost may be worthwhile.
There is no free trial available, but there is a 30-day money back guarantee. So once again, you are protected against disappointment.
Money-back guarantee • Number of servers • No ads
On the pricier side
One of the most popular services on the market, due to large number of servers and high degree of privacy.
NordVPNOne of the most popular services for securing your online activities.
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Privacy is a major issue when it comes to VPNs, and NordVPN makes all the right noises about keeping your information private. NordVPN states that the company does not insert ads into your web traffic, and doesn’t profit from the sale of user data. On top of that, NordVPN only collects aggregated app-crash statistics and voluntary diagnostic data, meaning that the service doesn’t collect any personally identifiable information. Good news.
NordVPN is consistent across every platform on which it’s offered, and includes ad blocking as an added bonus. You can also connect up to six devices at the same time.
A major issue with NordVPN has been its price, positioning it at the upper end of the VPN price scale. This has now changed, however, after NordVPN released a new deal. You can now purchase NordVPN for two years at just over £3 a month, a 66% saving on list price. Even if NordVPN doesn’t work out for you, they have a 30-day money-back guarantee. So you are completely covered either way. You can either be impressed with the service, and continue with your plan, or — if you don’t like what NordVPN offers — you can get out for free.
Note: NordVPN has announced that it suffered a breach in March 2018 when a hacker exploited an insecure remote management system at a Finnish data centre from which the company was renting servers. Fortunately, this isolated attack affected just one NordVPN server — and thanks to its strict no-logging policy, no user activity was compromised in the incident. Click here to learn more.
Easy to use • Good value • Money-back guarantee • No restrictions on browsing
No free version • Not as many servers as NordVPN
CyberGhost could be the best option if you’re new to the VPN game, and want an easy to use service with a strong set of features.
CyberGhost VPNCyberGhost combines usability with unique tools and powerful features.
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CyberGhost hosts over 4500 servers in 90 locations across over 60 different countries. This makes CyberGhost a preferred VPN for those that travel the world for business or pleasure. It doesn’t place restrictions on browsing habits, so users benefit from unlimited traffic and bandwidth.
CyberGhost utilises 256-AES bit encryption to protect your payment info from cyber-criminals and hide your browsing data from ISPs. So you can rest assured that your sensitive data is secure.
It’s not a free service, but CyberGhost can usually be picked up for just £2.10 a month, depending on what deal is being offered. If the price is currently too high for you, then chances are CyberGhost will offer a special discounted price soon enough.
If you do take the plunge on CyberGhost, then rest assured that, just like NordVPN, you do get a 45-day money back guarantee. So it’s not free but it is low-risk.
Free version • Improved privacy • Fun interface (bears)
Data is restricted in free version
Probably the best free service out there, but this version of TunnelBear does restrict users.
TunnelBearOne of a small number of providers that offers a truly free VPN service.
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You can earn more data by selling your Twitter soul and tweeting about the company, which can raise your limit to 1GB for one month. This isn’t a long-term solution, however, and you may find yourself glancing at the paid options, particularly if you find TunnelBear to be a usable service.
The paid-for plan removes the restrictions associated with the free plan, such as the download limit, the numbers of available locations, and the amount of connected devices. This can be picked up for £76 for two years.
Not as many servers as NordVPN
A strict zero-logs policy keeps your identify under wraps, meaning you should opt for IPVanish VPN if you prioritise your privacy.
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IPVanish is also an impressive service in terms of locations. It boasts over 1,000 VPN servers across 60 countries. Only a few other services can compete with a list like that.
So with some seriously impressive features, it was always unlikely that it would be free. It is, however, available for under £5 a month if you commit to a year. That’s a 46% saving on list price. It also comes with a seven-day money back guarantee. So not as long as some of the other services on this list, but perhaps that’s a sign of confidence?
Editor’s Note: IPVanish is owned by J2 Global, the parent company of Ziff Davis, Mashable’s publisher. Any J2 products featured on Mashable are covered independently by our content team.
Free service with decent data allowance • More data than Tunnelbear
Speeds are average • Limited number of server locations
Windscribe offers a real alternative to paid VPNs, but still fall short if you require a good number of server locations.
Windscribe VPNWindscribe offers up an interesting alternative to paid VPN services.
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Windscribe offers up an interesting alternative to paid VPN services as it doesn’t really follow these unwritten rules of a free VPN. For example, Windscribe gives you a decent 10GB per month data allowance if you register your email address (2GB if not). That is considerably more than the 500MB you get with Tunnelbear’s free service. Speeds are average, but usable, making Windscribe one of the best free VPNs on the market.
We aren’t saying Windscribe is the complete package. There are always downsides to a free service. More often than not, free services are limited in terms of location, and Windscribe is no different. You only get access to eight countries, for instance, but that’s not so bad if you aren’t a regular traveller.
Windscribe is an all-around strong free service, but if you do require more, spending £7 gets you a month of unlimited access to 47 locations. Pay for a year upfront, meanwhile, and the price drops to around £3 a month.
Windscribe offers a real alternative to paid VPNs, but still flounders if you require a good number of locations. If you do, then you may be persuaded to upgrade.
It’s important to carefully research the wide selection of free and paid VPNs before making any decision. Whether you need to pay for a service or go with the free option comes down to what you need from your VPN. Data limits are the usual stumbling block when it comes to a free service, so if this doesn’t bother you, go right ahead.
If you do however need more data, more locations, and more servers from your VPN, then a paid service is the solution.
Best VPN deals this week
- ExpressVPN (Partner Exclusive) — 49% off a one-year plan with an extra three months for free
- PureVPN — seven-day free trial
- CyberGhost — 82% off a three-year plan with an extra three months for free
- Private Internet Access — 78% off a two-year plan with an extra three months for free
- NordVPN — 68% off a two-year plan