VPNs – or Virtual Private Networks – serve a variety of purposes. First, they offer a secure, encrypted connection even over insecure networks like open Wi-Fi hotspots. Second, they allow you to spoof your location and identity, bypassing both regional and workplace restrictions.
Opera VPN unashamedly targets this market with its free Android app, coming hot on the heels on the recent introduction of VPN services to its desktop browser.
The VPN works in conjunction with all your apps – in other words, it sets up your encrypted connection, and that’s it. You still use your regular browser, email and other apps as per normal. There’s a noticeable lag, but this is the price you pay for re-routing your connection, and is found with all VPN services.
Opera VPN tries to sweeten the deal by offering to block all ads and cookies – this will speed up your browsing, but remember you’re denying websites the opportunity to earn money to pay for their services. Thankfully these features can be switched off by the conscientious.
You can currently spoof up to five countries: US, Canada, Netherlands, Singapore and Germany. More should subsequently follow.
VPNs can also be used to bypass restrictions put in place by local networks, such as university campuses or workplaces. This is hit and miss – an increasing number of companies are taking steps to block VPN access, so success is never guaranteed and check you’re not breaching any T&Cs before you take the plunge.
Installation and setup is straightforward – the app will also scan your network to give it a security rating from A to F. Even encrypted Wi-Fi networks will struggle to get above a B, but while the additional security offered by a VPN is welcome, it's not critical for most people in day-to-day use.
Opera VPN does what it says on the tin – we’d like more control over ad-blocking (support for whitelisting trusted sites) and a wider range of geographic locations, but otherwise it’s a good start.