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Best VPNs for Chrome and Chromebooks: Chrome extensions aren't enough
What is the best VPN for Chrome? IPVanish came out on top! We did an in-depth analysis of servers, performance, Chromebook compatibility and locations to give you our top pick for the ultimate VPN for Chrome and Chromebooks.
You would think that the method of protecting Chrome browsing would be the same for Chrome as for Chromebooks. After all, Chromebooks are pretty much machines designed to run Chrome. But there are differences, and we'll discuss that in this article.
Desktop Chrome on PCs and Macs is best protected by VPN applications designed for those operating systems. We've done a closer look at articles in both of those categories, which should help.
Essentially, you're installing a VPN application that runs in the background and protects all network traffic. Chrome extensions are available for most of the popular VPN services that allow you to turn on and off features, and provide some added WebRTC protections.
For iOS and Android, users also will install a device-wide application. Mobile Chrome doesn't support extensions, so your device-based app is your best defense.
If you want to protect a Chromebook, the Chrome browser extension isn't enough. The way most VPN vendors recommend you protect your Chromebook is by installing their Android app. Android apps now run on most modern Chromebooks, but older Chromebooks don't have that capability. Be sure to check each vendor's compatibility list. Once you install their Android app on the Chromebook, you're generally protected.
Finally, for Linux devices running Chrome, some vendors offer a Linux binary, but the most common method is to install VPN software on a router, and then run all traffic through that router. That doesn't help for mobile Linux users, but it's a start.
Let's take a look at four of our favorite VPN services and see how they do with Chrome and Chromebook.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, plus routers, Fire Stick, and Kodi
Logging: None, except billing data
Trial/MBG: 30 day
IPVanish is a deep and highly configurable product that presents itself as a click-and-go solution. I think the company is selling itself short of doing this. A quick visit to its website shows a relatively generic VPN service, but that's not the whole truth.
Its UI provides a wide range of server selection options, including some great performance graphics. It also has a wide variety of protocols, so you can know what to expect no matter what you're connecting to. The company also provides an excellent server list with good current status information. There's also a raft of configuration options for the app itself.
In terms of performance, the connection speed was crazy fast. Overall, the transfer performance was good. However, it wasn't able to hide from a security perspective that I was connecting via a VPN -- although the data transferred was secure. Overall, a solid product with a good user experience that's fine for home connections as long as you're not trying to hide the fact that you're on a VPN.
The company also has a partnership with SugarSync and provides 250GB of encrypted cloud storage with each plan.
ExpressVPN has been burning up the headlines with some pretty rough news. We've chosen to leave ExpressVPN in this recommendation, and I wouldn't necessarily dismiss ExpressVPN out of hand because of these reports, but it's up to you to gauge your risk level. The best way to do that is to read our in-depth analysis:
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPN providers out there, offering a wide range of platforms and protocols. Platforms include Windows, Mac, Linux, Routers, iOS, Android, Chromebook, Kindle Fire, and even the Nook device. There are also browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. Plus, ExpressVPN works with PlayStation, Apple TV, Xbox, Amazon Fire TV, and the Nintendo Switch. There's even a manual setup option for Chromecast, Roku, and Nvidia Switch.
With 160 server locations in 94 countries, ExpressVPN has a considerable VPN network across the internet. In CNET's review of the service, staff writer Rae Hodge reported that ExpressVPN lost less than 2% of performance with the VPN enabled and using the OpenVPN protocol vs. a direct connection.
While the company does not log browsing history or traffic destinations, it does log dates connected to the VPN service, the amount transferred, and the VPN server location. We do want to give ExpressVPN kudos for making this information very clear and easily accessible.
NordVPN is one of the most popular consumer VPNs out there. Last year, Nord announced that it had been breached. Unfortunately, the breach had been active for more than 18 months. While there were failures at every level, NordVPN has taken substantial efforts to remedy the breach.
In our review, we liked that it offered capabilities beyond basic VPN, including support of P2P sharing, a service it calls Double VPN that does a second layer of encryption, Onion over VPN, which allows for TOR capabilities over its VPN, and even a dedicated IP if you're trying to run a VPN that also doubles as a server. It supports all the usual platforms and a bunch of home network platforms as well. The company also offers NordVPN Teams, which provides centralized management and billing for a mobile workforce.
Performance testing was adequate, although ping speeds were slow enough that I wouldn't want to play a twitch video game over the VPN. To be fair, most VPNs have pretty terrible ping speeds, so this isn't a weakness unique to Nord. Overall, a solid choice, and with a 30-day money-back guarantee, worth a try.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Firefox, Chrome
Logging: None, except billing data
Trial/MBG: 30 day
At two bucks a month for a two-year plan (billed in one chunk), Surfshark offers a good price for a solid offering. In CNET's testing, no leaks were found (and given that much bigger names leaked connection information, that's a big win). The company seems to have a very strong security focus, offering AES-256-GCM, RSA-2048, and Perfect Forward Secrecy encryption. To prevent WebRTC leaks, Surfshark offers a special purpose browser plugin designed specifically to combat those leaks.
Surfshark's performance was higher than NordVPN and Norton Secure VPN but lower than ExpressVPN and IPVanish. That said, Surfshark also offers a multihop option that allows you to route connections through two VPN servers across the Surfshark private network. We also like that the company offers some inexpensive add-on features, including ad-blocking, anti-tracking, access to a non-logging search engine, and a tool that tracks your email address against data breach lists.
I'm running a VPN app. Do I still need a Chrome extension?
The answer will differ a bit from vendor to vendor, but generally the Chrome extension will give you in-browser control over your app. More important is that sometimes sites using WebRTC can punch through the VPN's tunnel and grab your actual IP address. Chrome extensions can usually block that behavior.
Does Chrome have built-in VPN?
While Chrome is one of the safest and most well-featured browsers, it does not have built-in VPN. That is why we created a list of the best VPN's for Chrome; to give you the most secure experience on your Chrome browser.
What is the best VPN for Chrome?
The best VPN for Chrome is IPVanish. We found that it was highly compatible with Chrome and Chromebooks, with great security features and consistent speeds throughout our testing.
Is a VPN for Chrome safe?
All of the VPN services on this list are trusted and vetted by ZDNet, with companies like NordVPN and ExpressVPN having been around for more than a decade, providing the safest and most secure connections for Chrome and other browsers.
If I have a Chrome VPN extension, do I need a full app?
Yes, because Chrome extensions only work in Chrome. If you are doing anything else on a network that's outside of your browser, Chrome's extensions won't catch it.
What is the best VPN for Android?
We analyzed and tested the top-rated VPN's on the Google Play Store, to find the best VPN for Android. Our review showed NordVPN to be the best overall.
What is the best VPN for iPhone?
We found NordVPN to be the best VPN for iPhone, according to our analysis of simultaneous connections, servers, logging, ability to unlock streaming service, and more.
How can I stay protected if my older Chromebook doesn't support Android apps?
The answer to this is much like the answer to anyone asking how to stay protected on old gear: sometimes you can't. If your gear can't keep you safe online, either don't go online or upgrade your gear. Sorry, but the cost of an upgrade is far less than the damage that can be caused if you're a victim of identity theft.