Should you use a VPN extension or the client app?

Confused about whether you want to use a VPN app or a browser extension? We compare their pros and cons to help you choose the one that meets your needs.

Illustration of a VPN lock on a computer

Choosing between a VPN (virtual private network) extension or the client app for your device can be a bit tricky, as the difference between the two may not be clear. Users are always asking what the differences are between a VPN app and a browser extension, and whether they should prefer one over the other.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a VPN extension versus a VPN client app? Which one best suits your needs? Let’s find out.

What is a VPN extension?

A VPN extension is a simple plugin or add-on used to establish a fast VPN connection. It is user-friendly and only works on the browser without affecting the rest of the traffic entering or leaving your device. This is a light version of a VPN app and only works at the browser level.

What is a VPN extension for?

The Google Chrome icon on a black phone resting on a red surface

Much like a VPN app, a VPN extension hides your real IP address and maintains the anonymity of your browser activity.

Once you install a VPN extension on a browser, such as Chrome or Firefox, it only affects internet traffic on that browser. VPN extensions do not affect other activities such as gaming, torrenting, or using other apps on the device.

For example, when you add a VPN extension on Chrome, the extension protects all your internet activity on the Chrome browser. When you exit Chrome and launch an app like Skype, the private connection ends there. Your Chrome VPN extension will not protect your Skype communication.

The advantages of using a VPN extension

If you are relying on a browser extension for VPN access:

  • VPN extensions are lightweight and fairly easy to use.

  • VPN extensions are generally free, which gives them an edge over client applications.

Related: The Best Free VPN Extensions For Google Chrome

The disadvantages of using a VPN extension

VPN extensions and add-ons have some drawbacks:

  • VPN extensions are generally slower than desktop VPN apps.

  • They only protect browser traffic, which can make personal information on the device vulnerable to cybercriminals.

  • VPN extensions are less secure and most of them don’t actually encrypt your connection.

  • Most free VPN browser extensions purposely follow users’ browsing habits and sell personal information to third party advertisers. This is how they keep their service operational.

What is a VPN client application?

A VPN shield between a computer and the Internet

A VPN client app is a stand-alone VPN app that creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and a remote server. Once connected to the VPN, everything you do on the internet goes through this encrypted connection, keeping your data safe from prying eyes.

Read more: What is a VPN? How tunneling protects privacy

Unlike a browser extension, a VPN client app secures all of your internet traffic, regardless of which browser you are using. Most VPN apps use strong encryption protocols that ensure complete privacy and anonymity.

The benefits of using a VPN client app

Think a VPN client is a smarter option? Consider these points:

  • VPN applications use strong encryption protocols that secure all of your internet traffic.

  • They usually offer multiple server locations that are regularly serviced for quality.

  • VPN apps provide secure and reliable connections with minimal reduction in speeds.

  • Unlike VPN browser extensions, VPN apps support multiple simultaneous device connections, so you can protect multiple devices with just one account.

The disadvantages of using a VPN client app

VPN client applications have their drawbacks:

  • VPN services typically charge a fee, either a one-time payment or a subscription, as they have to manage a network of servers that are expensive to maintain.

  • VPN apps may require time and knowledge to install on some devices. However, reputable VPN providers now have customer service specialists to help their users.

Related: What’s the Annual Cost of a VPN?

Final verdict: VPN extension against client application

As you can see from the discussion, VPN extensions and client apps have their pros and cons.

If you are looking for a tool that encrypts all of your internet traffic, you should use a VPN client app. However, if you only want to hide your IP address for occasional browsing without worrying about installing an app on your device, a VPN extension makes more sense.

Before committing to a VPN, do your research and make sure that you are purchasing the services of a real VPN provider.

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