Google One VPN review: Convenient bundled protection for Android devices

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
per month

While it’s far too basic to challenge the VPN champions, Google’s VPN is a decent add-on to its cloud-storage services

Easy to use
Covers privacy basics with no fuss
Free with higher Google One storage plans
Only works on Android – for now
Doesn’t let you choose server location
Not available as a standalone product

Slowly but surely VPNs are hitting the mainstream. Ordinary people are increasingly aware of the risks to their online privacy and security – and of the benefits of routing your connection through a secure, anonymous server.

Not content with watching from the sidelines as other services take centre stage, Google has thrown its hat into the ring with its new Google One VPN. Like other services, the Google One VPN is designed to protect and conceal your identity online; what makes it different is that it comes with the backing of a real technology giant.

Whether that’s a plus point depends on how much you trust Google – although, as we’ll discuss below, the company is saying all the right things on this front.

Note, too, that you can’t buy Google’s VPN as a standalone package. It’s integrated into the Google One storage platform, and to get access you’ll need to be on the 2TB tier (costing £7.99 a month or £80 a year) or above.

That’s not necessarily a bad price given that most VPN packages can often cost more, and they don't come with any online storage space, let alone from a reputed service like Google. Even better, if you’re sharing your Google One plan with family members, they can all use the VPN too, with no limit on simultaneous connections.

However, right now the Google One VPN only works on Android, and it’s missing one core feature that we normally expect from any good VPN: the ability to choose the location of your exit node.

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Google One VPN review: What’s it like to use?

Google One VPN could hardly be easier to use. If you have a qualifying Google One membership then you simply need to open the Google One app, tap to access the VPN settings and tap again to toggle on the switch. A tip below shows you how to add the VPN to your Quick settings menu so that, in future, you can swipe down from the top of the screen to instantly start or end a VPN session.

As usual, on Android, you’ll see a key icon in the notification bar whenever the VPN is active. A system notification is also permanently available while you’re connected; tap to expand it and you’ll see options to end the connection or snooze it for five minutes.

The Google One app also lets you set a list of apps that should always bypass the VPN. This only works with user apps – not system components – but it’s very easy to configure, showing a list of programs with a “plus” icon next to each one, which you can use to add it to the bypass list.

Aside from that, there’s just one other control: a kill-switch option, which blocks all internet access if the secure connection is lost. If you need help then Google One support is available 24/7 in the UK, via phone, email or live chat.

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Google One VPN review: How fast is it?

I tested the Google One VPN over a domestic 200Mbits/sec fibre internet line. First I tried it on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 tablet, connecting to the router via wireless.

Using Google’s own speed test service with the VPN disabled, I saw download speeds of 86Mbits/sec and upload rates of 20.5Mbits/sec. After I’d enabled the VPN, the test reported 43.8Mbits/sec downstream and 19.2Mbits/sec upstream.

I then repeated the test with a Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone, connecting to the same router over a Wi-Fi 6 link. Without the VPN, this device reported a download speed of 196.1Mbits/sec and an upload speed of 20.7Mbits/sec. After turning on the VPN, these speeds dropped to 76.7Mbits/sec and 18.8Mbits/sec respectively.

Clearly, Google One VPN has a big impact on download speeds, knocking more than 50% off the bandwidth of my internet connection on both devices. Even so, the data rate remained well above the 25Mbits/sec requirement for streaming 4K HDR video, so the VPN shouldn’t have any noticeable effect on your everyday activities.

Since you don’t get to choose which server you connect to, it’s also possible that using the VPN at different times might get you a faster connection. However, I saw very little variation over the course of a day of testing.

Google One VPN review: Is it good for video streaming?

The Google One VPN is of limited use for location spoofing. In fact, it’s officially designed to prevent you from accessing geo-blocked content: Google’s help pages explain that the VPN gives you an IP address that’s registered in the same country that you’re connecting from, “so that websites can show you the right content for your region”.

That’s the theory, anyway. A little digging revealed that my VPN connection was in fact routed through a server in California; this did allow me to access the US Netflix library on my tablet, but there’s no guarantee I’ll be connected to the same server tomorrow or next week. Meanwhile, BBC iPlayer and other British services were blocked altogether.

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Google One VPN review: Is it secure?

If you want a VPN service to protect your privacy, you need to trust its operator. Google evidently understands this, and on its VPN information page it promises that “we will never use the VPN connection to track, log or sell your online activity”. The company has also open-sourced the underlying code and submitted itself to an independent audit by security group ioXt to provide reassurance that its system is secure against hacker attacks.

The software ticks the most important security boxes, too. We’ve mentioned that it features a kill-switch to prevent accidental information leaks and split-tunnelling capabilities, which should mean there’s really no need to ever disconnect entirely. The VPN will also automatically reconnect if you restart your phone or tablet while it’s running.

We do have some caveats, however. Although Google says it won’t track your online activity, the US authorities could still force it to store and share your information – something that’s less of a concern if you choose a VPN service based in a more neutral territory, such as ExpressVPN, which is based in the British Virgin Islands, or NordVPN in Panama.

And even if you have the VPN set to automatically connect when your phone or tablet starts up, I found the connection wasn’t established until at least 10 seconds after the home screen appeared, during which time my internet traffic wasn’t protected. To be fair, the same applies to all Android VPNs – it’s just the way the OS works.

Finally, remember that no matter where your VPN server is based, websites and apps can still use Android’s native geolocation features to pinpoint your real location. Even after I’d turned the VPN on, services such as “Locate My IP Address” correctly reported my full home address; if that’s a concern, make sure you block location services for all untrusted apps and pages.

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Google One VPN review: Should you buy it?

The Google One VPN is one of the most basic VPNs available. It can obscure your online identity, but it gives you no control over your virtual location. It’s also potentially vulnerable to loopholes both legal and technical. And, of course, it only works on Android devices.

The service does have its plus points. Basic privacy protection is better than none, and if you need 2TB of online storage or more, then the VPN is essentially a freebie – Google has added it to its existing Google One bundles without raising the prices. While not the fastest VPN around, it’s fast enough to leave switched on all the time.

The Android-only limitation shouldn’t be forever, either. Google hasn’t revealed a time frame, but it says it plans to extend client support to Windows, macOS, iOS and (unsurprisingly) its own Chrome OS. It’s also exploring whether its servers could actively filter out malicious content, so the VPN would protect you not only from snoopers but also from phishing, malware and other online nasties.

For those reasons, even though it seems underbaked now, Google One VPN is definitely one to watch going forward. For multiple reasons, it’s impossible to recommend as an all-round VPN solution, but if you’re already a Google One subscriber (or thinking of becoming one), then it’s hard to complain about a bit of extra online protection.

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