Whenever you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, including via your Android device, you should use a virtual private network, or VPN, to protect your privacy. Norton Secure VPN (formerly Norton WiFi Privacy) is an attractively and flexibly priced and straightforward Android VPN, and it does block ads, but it doesn’t impress otherwise. Given Norton Secure VPN’s poor performances in our tests, underwhelming server offering, and bare-bones Android app, other VPN services simply strike a better balance between price and features.
What Is a VPN?
Most public Wi-Fi networks are not secure. Malicious users can watch your network traffic and potentially intercept your private data. A layer of protection for your cellular connection is also worthwhile. 3G and LTE infrastructures are encrypted, but 2G has long since been compromised. A skilled-enough individual could block connections to the former two cell networks, and then force your phone to connect to the unsecured 2G bands using a cell jammer and femtocell device. You need to use a VPN to protect yourself from all such threats.
When you connect to a VPN network, your data is encrypted and tunneled to a server controlled by the VPN company. In the process, your traffic is obfuscated and your public-facing IP address changes to that of the server you selected. In simpler terms, a VPN makes your internet activity practically uninterpretable and untraceable.
Still, a VPN, like every other type of security software, is subject to failures and poor implementations. At the very least, you should verify that your VPN is not leaking your real IP address. We also recommend using a VPN alongside other privacy tools, such as a Tor browser or the EFF’s Privacy Badger extension. There’s no such thing as a perfect security system, but a VPN is an excellent first line of defense against potential network-based privacy intrusions. A good strategy is to try to make yourself as inconvenient a target as possible.
Pricing and Platforms
As mentioned, Norton Secure VPN is priced competitively. The subscription cost depends on how many devices you need to use it on simultaneously. For $4.99 per month, you get coverage on a single device. To get support for five or 10 devices simultaneously, you need to pay $7.99 per month and $9.99 per month respectively. As with most VPNs, you can save some money by paying on an annual basis. The prices per year are $49.99 (one device), $79.99 (five devices), and $99.99 (10 devices). Additionally, you can also get Norton Secure VPN at a discount if you bundle it with other Norton products.
All three price plans are lower than the current category average of the top Android VPNs we’ve tested. NordVPN is one of the most expensive options, at $11.95 per month for five licenses. Other services come in much cheaper; Private Internet Access, for example is just $6.95 per month for the same number of licenses. Most VPNs do not structure pricing around the number of simultaneous connections you can use, and many offer more connections with the base pricing tiers. For example, IPVanish and CyberGhost allow for up to 10 and seven simultaneous connections, respectively. In any case, Norton Secure VPN proves that you don’t need to pay a lot for a VPN; check out our roundup of the best cheap VPNs for more options.
If you don’t want to pay any monthly subscription costs, our roundup of the best free VPNs may interest you. ProtonVPN currently offers the best free service because it does not limit the amount of data you can use. It does, however, restrict you to using it on a single device and with specific servers.
In addition to Android (version 4.1 and later), Norton Secure VPN is available for Windows, macOS, and iOS. Many other VPNs offer Linux clients, as well as clients for other platforms, including streaming sticks and game consoles, so Norton’s offerings are limited by comparison. Notably, Norton Secure VPN does include the ability to block ad trackers.
Servers and Server Locations
One of the primary ways we evaluate a VPN service is based on the number of servers and server locations it offers. The more of each there are available, the less likely you are to experience significant slowdowns in your network performance due to overburdened servers or significant geographic distance.
At the time of publishing, Norton Secure VPN maintains around 1,500 servers, which does not compare favorably with our top Android VPNs. For comparison, NordVPN offers over 5,100 servers. Private Internet Access, TorGuard, and CyberGhost all offer over 3,000 servers. A few others, such as TunnelBear, ProtonVPN, and IPVanish offer fewer.
Norton Secure VPN maintains servers in 29 countries, which is also on the low end. For comparison, NordVPN covers 62 countries and ExpressVPN covers 94 countries. A few others cover as many or fewer countries than Norton does. ProtonVPN and TunnelBear for example offer servers in only 27 and 20 countries, respectively.
You also should know whether your VPN provider uses virtual servers. Virtual servers are software-defined servers that can be configured to appear as if located somewhere other than where they are physically located. Multiple virtual servers can also be spun up on existing hardware, thus potentially inflating a VPN’s claimed server count. Virtual servers introduce potential privacy and security concerns. For instance, your data may pass through physical nodes in countries other than the ones you intended to connect to, leaving a trail of your metadata in the process. Those countries may not have as strict user privacy protections.
Additionally, if your VPN’s protocols or encryption are not implemented correctly, your data could be inadvertently exposed in these less-protective countries. Norton says that 1,200 of its 1,500 servers are virtual. That said, all of the virtual servers are located in the country they claim, which addresses our main concern about this practice.
Norton Secure VPN does collect some information, including “subscriber information and mobile device data, including device name, type, OS version, and language; aggregate bandwidth usage; and temporary usage data to assist with debugging a problem with the service.” We would prefer that Norton Secure VPN collect even less information than the noted (particularly the device information), but most of these practices are standard fare for VPNs.
Norton is a division of Symantec, which is based in California. Thus, Norton falls under the legal jurisdiction of the US. Norton says that if it were to receive an order from law enforcement to hand over user activities, it would not be able to do so. Norton also says that subscriptions are its only source of revenue.
Note that the United States is a member of the 14 Eyes alliance. We aren’t completely confident in our knowledge of international treaties to judge a VPN based on this fact alone, but you should at least be aware of this fact.
It is increasingly common for VPN companies to undergo third-party code audits to uncover any vulnerabilities. TunnelBear’s results are public, and NordVPN and AnchorFree Hotspot Shield have also completed this process. Norton also says it has undergone third-party evaluations, but it doesn’t make the results public.
Hands On With Norton Secure VPN
We downloaded the latest version of Norton Secure VPN on a Google Pixel running Android 9. We had no issues downloading the app and logging in to our test account. We didn’t encounter any issues with the app crashing or the VPN disconnecting. As a VPN is such an important protective barrier between you and privacy threats, this is an important consideration. The app’s layout is functional, though a bit dull from a design standpoint.
You mainly navigate Norton’s Secure VPN app via the four icons on the bottom bar of the screen: Secure VPN, Regions, Ad Tracker, and WiFi Security. The main Secure VPN page is pretty simple. In the middle of the page, you get a circular Turn On VPN button. Below that, the app shows your connection status. Once you initiate the connection, the connection button expands to show your chosen VPN server location, your public-facing location, and IP address with the VPN.
Oddly, you can’t manually select a server location until after your initial connection. Switching between regions is moderately quick, but the server location list is very basic. For example, you cannot view or select individual servers; selections are restricted to the region (country) level. There’s also no indication of server latency, which is disappointing.
The last two sections offer the only significant options for the app. Here, you can toggle the Block Ad Tracker option and configure the VPN to turn on automatically when you connect to an unsecured network. Both of these options are enabled by default, and you should leave them enabled. These two settings don’t necessarily warrant a permanent spot on the bottom navigation bar, and we’d rather they be organized into a dedicated settings section, alongside missing options such as connection protocol configuration, split-tunneling, and advanced startup settings.
How Fast Is Norton Secure VPN?
Using a VPN usually has an effect on your internet connection speed, but its extent depends on several factors, including geographic location, available servers, and device type. Accordingly, our results should be taken as a comparative snapshot of Android VPN performance rather than the final word. If network speed is your top concern, our roundup of the fastest VPNs will interest you.
See How We Test VPNs
To test the speed of Android VPNs, we run Ookla’s internet speed test app several times to establish a baseline network performance with the VPN turned off. (Ookla’s Speedtest.net is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s publisher.) Next, we let the VPN connect to the closest server (or switch it to the nearest US-based one), and rerun the tests. We calculate the median of each category of results and compare the percent change between the values recorded with and without a VPN connection. For each test, we use the download (Mbps), upload (Mbps), and latency (ms) results.
Norton Secure VPN turned in results that were next-to-last or last in all our tests, which does not bode well for its performance. The VPN increased latency by 1,675 percent, decreased download and upload speeds by 82.6 and 91.3 percent, respectively. Note, however, that except for the latency results, none of these numbers is outlandishly out of line with the competition.
For comparison, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and Tiger VPN led the latency tests, only increasing ping by 20 percent. Speedify VPN took the top spot in our download tests, only slowing down our connection by 3.4 percent. NordVPN turned in the best results for our upload tests, only decreasing speeds by 22.6 percent.
Note that although some percentage changes may appear more severe than others, the real-world difference may not feel quite so drastic. Speed is just one of many factors you should consider when choosing a VPN, so don’t discount any VPNs solely because of subpar test results. That said, if you need a VPN for gaming or other tasks that absolutely require low latency, then these results should factor into your choice more heavily—latency in particular may be an issue.
Does Norton Secure VPN Work With Netflix?
To test Netflix compatibility, we installed the latest version of the Netflix app and Norton Secure VPN on a Nexus 5X running Android 8.1, since we experienced playback issues with our test Google Pixel on Android 9, even without a VPN enabled. Norton Secure VPN did not cause any problems with our streaming of Netflix.
However, even if your VPN and streaming service combination currently works, there is no guarantee that things will stay compatible in the future. Many video streaming services continue to find new ways to detect and block VPN usage. Of course, you could always disable a VPN when using certain streaming services or create an exception for it if your VPN offers split-tunneling features, but know that your traffic will no longer be encrypted.
Safe But Slow
Norton Secure VPN is a low-cost VPN that struggles to stand out in the crowded field of Android VPNs. While we appreciate the flexibility of its pricing and its ability to block ads, it performed poorly in our speed tests and doesn’t offer as many servers and server locations as the top options in the category. Furthermore, its Android app lacks many of the advanced options and friendly touches of top competitors. Our Editors’ Choices for Android VPNs are NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TunnelBear. Those services excel with their feature sets, value, and user-friendly interfaces.