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Best VPN 2021: Top 7 VPN options for security and streaming

VPNs are a great investment if your conscious about the security of your data, but finding the best VPN in a crowded market is no easy task. 

We’ve rigorously tested multiple VPNs and are committed to updating this list regularly with the best of the bunch, including both free and paid-for options. But if money is particularly tight, you can also check out our Best Free VPNs list. These will usually cap data and endpoints, but are still all perfectly usable.

And if you’re not clued up on VPNs and don’t know what to look for, read the following to check the difference between a free and paid for VPN. Otherwise, keep scrolling down to find the best VPN for you.

SurfShark VPN

1. Surfshark

Proven privacy credentials, excellent speeds, and international streaming service access

Buy Surfshark from £1.82/$2.49/€2.07 per month (24 months)

Pros:

  • Blisteringly fast
  • Solid track record for streaming
  • Great value two-year subscription

Cons:

  • Untested no-logging policy

Surfshark is our favourite all-round VPN right now with unlimited devices, loads of features, blazingly fast transfer speeds of up to 393.6Mpbs and solid streaming support that means you won’t have to disconnect to watch a video.

While it doesn’t currently provide live transparency reports and hasn’t been called to provide evidence in any legal cases we know of, Surfshark has a clear no-logging policy, is headquartered in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands and has had its browser extensions’ security independently audited.

It’s really good value for what you get. If you don’t want to commit to a long-term subscription, £28.48/$38.94/€32.33 per 6 months is comparable to some rivals’ annual subscriptions, but nothing to write home about. However, Surfshark’s longest subscription, at £43.70/$59.76/€49.62 for two years, is an amazingly good deal. The price is comparable to many one-year subs from the company’s closest rivals, and works out to an average of just £1.82/$2.49/€2.07 a month.

ExpressVPN

2. ExpressVPN

Proven privacy credentials, excellent speeds, and international streaming service access

Buy ExpressVPN for £9.71/$12.95 per month

Pros:

  • Consistently good HTTP transfer speeds
  • Wide range of endpoint countries
  • Clear and proven no-logging policy
  • Excellent video streaming performance

Cons:

  • Expensive

ExpressVPN is the all-round best VPN you can buy when money is no issue, offering superb security, speedy transfer speeds and access to all your favourite video streaming services while securely connected.

The no-logging policy is perhaps the best feature, and has been tested by a court of law and an independent audit. No logs were found on the systems on both occasions, giving you peace of mind that your search history will remain safe.

The biggest issue with ExpressVPN is the price, as it’s one of the more expensive options on this list especially when compared to the likes of Surfshark and Windscribe. But if you’re happy to pay up, this is the best VPN available.

ProtonVPN

3. ProtonVPN

Best free VPN with unlimited usage

Buy ProtonVPN from £4.45/$5/€5 per month

Pros:

  • Unlimited-bandwidth free tier
  • Wide range of endpoint countries
  • Plus tier is great for streaming
  • Very quick download speeds

Cons:

  • Slightly confusing pricing
  • Basic tier doesn’t include streaming endpoints

The best thing about ProtonVPN is that its free tier puts no restrictions on usage – you can download as much as you want without paying anything. Instead, ProtonVPN’s free tier limits you to three endpoint servers: the US, Netherlands and Japan.

Pay £4.45/$5/€5 per month (or £42.76/$48/€48 per year) for the entry-level plan and you’ll expand your access to 44 countries. And then there are the Plus and Tier subscription tiers, which expand the simultaneous connections limit. Having multiple tiers offers great flexibility, so you can make sure you’re getting excellent value.

Although it’s transparent and privacy-focused, since ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland you have to be mindful the service could be subject to Swiss data collection orders. Still, this is one of the greatest free VPN options available thanks to unlimited data transfers, especially if you’re content with just the US, Netherlands and Japan as your endpoints.

Nord VPN

4. NordVPN

Our consistently best performer in tests

Buy NordVPN for £8.84 per month

Pros:

  • Large number of servers
  • Wide range of privacy and security features
  • Clear, audited no-logging policy
  • Great for video streaming

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive

NordVPN was once as well known for its bombastic PR claims as it is for good throughput, but following its botch announcement of a 2018 security breach, the company has followed through on promises to tone down its hyperbole and improve overall security.

It maintains a policy of not retaining any user data, and indicates that it hasn’t received (less acted upon) any warrants from government organisations. It doesn’t have the rock-solid credibility of ExpressVPN, which has suffered and survived server seizures without loss of customer privacy, but NordVPN provides credible security against ISP or local network snooping and the ability to watch streaming media securely.

If you are happy to forgive its missteps with the data breach, though, you’re getting decent value here considering all the features and high speeds you get in return. A two-year subscription costs £65.86, and you’ll pay £43.66 for a single year.

Windscribe

6. Windscribe

The best free VPN – with an excellent paid-for option too

Pros:

  • Generous free tier
  • Wide range of endpoint countries
  • Extremely good value
  • Great for streaming

Cons:

  • Slightly slow result in Netherlands speed test

Windscribe is best known for its free-tier VPN subscription – and for good reason. Without paying a dime, you get 10GB downloads per month and access to 11 countries. Pay for the very reasonable £6.82 monthly or £37.11 per year subscription, and you’ll unlock download restrictions and gain access to 50 countries. It’s one of the very best value VPNs we’ve tested.

The Canada-based firm is very transparent about its privacy policies, with the VPN keeping logs to manage the service, but promises that it does not retain any identifying information.

Data transfer speeds weren’t the absolute fastest, but they were reasonable in the majority of regions although the likes of Netherlands did have an uncharacteristic blip. Performance speeds for UK and US were solid though. If you’re happy to sacrifice a little bit of speed to keep expenditure down to a minimum, we strongly recommend plumping for this VPN.

5. Private Internet Access (PIA)

Best budget VPN for security – excellent features and server choice

Buy Private Internet Access from £8.09/$9.95 per month

Pros:

  • Fast transfer speeds
  • Wide range of privacy and security features
  • Cheap

Cons:

  • Frequently detected by most streaming services

Private Internet Access (PIA) is among our top recommended VPNs for the security conscious who aren’t fussed about video streaming. With a no-logging policy, which has been demonstrated in court and an abundance of security features, you can have peace of mind in terms of your privacy. However, we’ve yet to see if PIA’s change of ownership (parent company London Trust Media is now a subsidiary of Kape Technologies) has any effect on this; a pending court case is likely to provide an answer in the relatively near future, and we’re optimistic about the outcome.

Private Internet Access supports up to 10 simultaneous connections from a wide variety of devices and operating systems, and has a good range of international endpoints. It offers rapid transfer speeds too, at least for Europe – its US connection speeds aren’t quite as impressive.

And with affordable subscriptions – £8.09/$9.95 per month, £32.49/$39.95 per year and £56.99 every two years – Private Internet Access truly is one of the best value VPNs for security. You’re best looking elsewhere for streaming video though, as it often fails to access geo-locked services such as BBC iPlayer and All 4.

VPNHub

6. VPNHub Premium

Great VPN with free plan for smartphones

Pros:

  • Wide range of endpoint countries
  • Typically fast performance

Cons:

  • More expensive than most rivals
  • Doesn’t support less common devices & operating systems
  • Not great for streaming
  • Free version only works on Android and iOS

VPNHub has a superb free plan that provides unlimited downloads, but it’s unfortunately only available on smartphones. Desktop and laptop users will have to pay for the Premium account instead, and even that’s limited to macOS and Windows.

If you’re just looking for a VPN that provides excellent data transfer speeds, then VPNHub is among the best, but a two-year Surfshark subscription costs half the price and is better both streaming and features.

With that in mind, we reckon that VPNHub only has one real standout feature and that’s the free unlimited smartphone plan.

HMA VPN

7. HMA VPN (aka HideMyAss!)

Unbeatable for server and endpoint choices

Buy HMA for £39.48/$59.99 per year

Pros:

  • More endpoint countries than any rival
  • Recently improved transparency & logging policy

Cons:

  • Expensive

The defining feature of HMA VPN is the massive number of endpoints it offers, covering 190 countries and territories in total. This proves handy if you want to use a server in a specific country not normally covered by VPNs.

An update, to the company’s present privacy and logging policy makes it clear that no identifying browsing or originating IP address data is stored. Parent firm Avast has public transparency and warrant canary pages for all its services. As the company freely admits, it once handed over logs in the notorious lulzsec case, and this is a definite move to distance HMA from its past logging policies.

HMA has also revamped its pricing, with an annual subscription now priced at £39.48/$59.99. However, the service’s recent performance in our speed tests is unremarkable, and streaming endpoints are only available in three countries. With this in mind, HMA VPN is only really worth coughing up the cash for if you want to access a country not normally covered by competing VPNs.

How we test each VPN

While it’s not possible to carry out conclusive performance testing on VPN services due to the wide range of factors that can affect the speeds users see, we carry out speed tests to get a general feel for how each service performs. We test all services using their clients’ default settings.

We run tests from a London-based connection that typically sees speeds between 500Mbps and 700Mbps, which means that we’re able to get a good idea of what each VPN’s maximum speeds currently are. We test multiple endpoints from each provider in three locations: the UK, the Netherlands and the U.S.

Provider UK (MB/s) NL (MB/s) USA (MB/s)
Steganos 48.8 37.84 10.56
Windscribe 133.6 86.4 51.76
VyprVPN 103.2 70.4 15.2
Avast SecureLine VPN 100.8 73.04 29.6
HMA VPN 128 80 23.6
CyberGhost 128.8 88.8 21.36
Private Internet Access 207.2 166.4 35.2
Avira PhantomVPN 168 171.2 101.6
Norton Secure VPN 300.8 57.6 106.4
AVERAGE 179.7 160.13 91.805
F-Secure FREEDOME 156 217.6 128.8
ExpressVPN 175.2 211.2 124
ProtonVPN 184 195.2 157.6
Tunnelbear 203.2 216.8 138.4
VPNHub 269.6 177.6 124
NordVPN 174.4 393.6 206.4
Surfshark 393.6 318.4 194.4

Our table (above) shows the best results we are able to obtain by carrying out large file downloads via a serious of command line tests using cURL. However, it’s important to note that these figures are a snapshot of performance at a single point in time, rather than being fully representative.

While UK and Dutch endpoints typically have only a moderate impact on speed with most providers, connection speeds to the US are usually a bit slower, averaging around 90Mbps.

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