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(Credit: Daria Shevtsova)

Whether you go free or paid, an Android VPN is an important component of your online protection kit. It can provide a secure Internet connection, mask your data transmissions over a Wi-Fi connection, avoid Internet filtering and censorship, and allow you access to content in a geographical region other than your own.

VPNs offer a wide variety of capabilities, but we've narrowed those options to a short list of essentials. First, we looked at how easy the VPN is to set up and use, and how many useful exit nodes the VPN connects to. Second, we ran informal speed tests, checking throughput before and with the VPN running, on a Wi-Fi network and over cell data. We looked at which security and privacy tools the services say they use -- and if they aren't using OpenVPN and AES, we asked them why. We checked how easily we could tune the app's security and privacy settings. Finally, we checked whether the VPN was leaking any data, and what user activity the company says it is or isn't logging.

Most VPN providers let you subscribe to their service for a period of time -- from three days up to a year -- and offer a variety of exit servers and security settings to suit your needs. While nearly every Android VPN bundles a dedicated app with its VPN service, a few uncouple the app from the service, allowing you to choose a client to connect with.

If you use a VPN infrequently -- say, while waiting for a flight in an airport terminal -- a free service might be all you need. But if you want a VPN with no data cap, support for multiple devices, or access to servers in multiple regions, a subscription plan would be a better choice.

1. VPN by Private Internet Access

VPN by Private Internet Access (Android) is a simple-to-use service that provides a useful collection of security settings, letting you strike a balance between connection speed and privacy. The service offers exit nodes in 25 countries, with subscriptions available for $6.95 for 30 days, $35.99 for six months, and $39.95 for a year.

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(Credit: PIA)

2. IPVN

The IVPN (Android) app for Android offers an affordable way with little fuss to create a secure connection and guard your privacy. IVPN lets you sign up for a month for $15, three months for $40, and a year for $100. It also gives you a three-day free trial to see if you like the service before you pay. You can use one subscription for five simultaneous connections.

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(Credit: IVPN)

3. NordVPN

For a one-stop service, NordVPN (Android) for Android does a good job of providing what you need to make a private and secure connection. NordVPN uses the industry-standard 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption and OpenVPN by default to provide the VPN service. You can also pick another protocol if you have a specific need.

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(Credit: NordVPN)

4. AirVPN

AirVPN (Android) is a no-nonsense service founded by "activists and hacktivists in defence of net neutrality, privacy and against censorship." Setting up AirVPN requires a few steps -- it takes a roll-your-own approach -- but if you want to work with a company that takes privacy seriously, AirVPN walks the walk. The service offers exit nodes in 18 regions and more than 150 cities. Subscriptions range from $1.13 for three days to $61.28 for one year.

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(Credit: AirVPN)

5. VikingVPN

For a secure and fast VPN, VikingVPN (Android) is one of the best for guarding your privacy. It requires a few steps to set up -- sign up for the service and then set it up in an OpenVPN app. Expect to pay a bit more, but in exchange, you get speed, reliability, and security.

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(Credit: VikingVPN)

6. Mullvad VPN

The Mullvad (Android) VPN offers a secure way to protect your privacy and keep your communications private and encrypted. And it's affordable. Mullvad gives you three free hours to see if you like its service and then charges you 5 Euro, or about $6, a month for unlimited data. While you can set up Mullvad's service on unlimited devices, you can have just five concurrent connections at once.

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(Credit: Mullvad)

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Clifford is an Associate Managing Editor for CNET's Download.com. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he sits next to fellow editor Josh Rotter and roots for the A's.