right privacy protection

A VPN, or virtual private network, helps safeguard your devices and protects your privacy while using the internet by encrypting your data. In a day when data is one of the most valuable resources, protecting your data is critical. As evident as the need for a VPN is, the decision on which to choose is not as apparent. And with many types to choose from—each with different benefits and costs—it’s not only about which VPN to choose, but which type of VPN to choose. 

Follow along to learn more about router VPNs vs. VPN apps to make your decision clear and you and your devices safer. 

Here’s when to use a router VPN vs. VPN app at a glance: 

  • Router VPN: Best for home offices and professional use 
  • VPN App: Best for personal devices frequently used on the go 

Let’s dive into the key differences between the two popular types of VPNs to quickly determine which is right for your needs, budget and lifestyle. 

What Is a VPN? 

VPNs, or virtual private networks, safeguard your online behaviors by encrypting your data to a server in a remote location. In return, it’s much more difficult for third parties such as hackers to access your data and information. While the primary function of a consumer VPN is to secure browsing data, there are a number of reasons to use a VPN, from increasing speed while gaming and accessing streaming sites such as Netflix while abroad to torrenting or blocking cookies online in order to get better deals while online shopping. 

Get a more detailed breakdown of what is a VPN and how it works

What Is a Router VPN?  

Router VPNs are your standard router but with the ability to run a VPN connection. Unlike a VPN app, router VPNs do require hardware, making them more expensive. However, it is higher-end firmware, so it’s best for protecting home networks as you can connect all devices—including devices that do not natively support VPNs. While it’s not as easy to set up as a VPN app, once it is set up, you no longer need to worry about it or any of the devices you have connected to it. 

Pros: Cons: 
  • Stable and reliable VPN 
  • Encrypts all of your internet activity by default 
  • Maximum control and customization 
  • Connect multiple devices simultaneously 
  • Protect devices without native VPN support 
  • Can be difficult to set up  
  • The hardware cost can be expensive 
  • Not all VPN features may be accessible via a router 

What Is a VPN App? 

VPN apps (or VPN software) are installed on your devices. As with any VPN, it effectively creates a secure tunnel to the internet. Unlike a router VPN, a VPN app is generally very easy to set up and affordable—if not, free. They also come with a number of benefits that router VPNs do not, such as the ability to switch server locations as you please or set different servers to different devices. Also, because a VPN app is installed on a device, it offers full access to all VPN features, whether that’s the ability to torrent or unblock content such as Netflix in a restricted country. 

Pros: Cons: 
  • More affordable with both free and low-cost options available 
  • Generally easy to set up 
  • Easily switch server locations 
  • Connect while traveling or on the go 
  • Access all VPN features 
  • Must install on each device 
  • Limited control and customizations 

When To Use a Router VPN vs. VPN App 

Whether you are running a VPN through a router or software installed on a device, such as an app, the end result is ultimately the same. Both offer secure connections for connected devices. However, which is best for you will depend on where you use your devices, how many devices you need to connect and how easily you want to connect. It’s also important to note that services and service quality will vary by provider. 

Router VPN vs. VPN App at a Glance 

Router VPN  VPN App 
Average Price  ~$100 to $250 ~$0 to $100 per year 
Best For  Professional use and for in-home devices  Personal use and on the go  
Devices  Connect to multiple devices  Must download to each device
Change Server Locations  Varies by provider (however, not a standard feature)   Yes 
Ease of Use  Moderate, varies by provider  Generally easy 
Protection Level  High  Medium-high 
No Logs  Yes  Yes 
Unblock Streaming  No  Yes 

Bottom Line 

Router VPNs and VPN apps or software are both quality solutions when it comes to securing your connection. For the best in-home network that protects all of your devices simultaneously, opt for the router VPN. If you’re frequently on the move and looking to reap the benefits of a VPN from anywhere you are, choose a VPN app or software.