It's fair to say that - to quite a substantial extent - day-to-day life is ruled by how far we can stretch out the battery life of our handset. You may be concerned, then, by how much the best VPN might drain your battery. Particularly when it comes to an iPhone VPN, with these handsets notorious for not having the most efficient battery lives.
With screens stretching to the very ends of the earth (or the width of the smartphone, anyway), not to mention dual, triple and even quad camera modules weighing down the backs of our handsets, smartphones have to work a lot harder. Unfortunately these flagship phones don't necessarily have the big ol' battery cell to support these features and the heavy daily usage a lot of us put our handsets through, either.
Add to that an additional piece of software like a VPN and you may concerned it'll drain your battery even faster. But will the use of a VPN on your iPhone completely deplete the longevity of your battery day-to-day?
We put our top VPN to the test on an iPhone to find out how much a VPN drains iPhone battery, as well as offering advice on ways to salvage your battery life while using a VPN, and explaining why they're a great tool to use on your Apple handset.
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Test: Does using a VPN drain iPhone battery?
In order to determine whether using a VPN substantially drains the battery on an iPhone, we put an iPhone 12 Pro through the ringer with our top-tier choice ExpressVPN (opens in new tab), carrying out three different, every day tasks the average user would carry out. This included:
- Watching Netflix for 15 minutes in each condition with the VPN on and then off
- Scrolling and watching Instagram stories for 5 minutes in each variable
- Browsing on Safari for 5 minutes in each variable
While we carried out this test in a real life context, we kept the control variable of only having the ExpressVPN iPhone app and either Netflix, Instagram, or Safari open. Our other control variable was a consistent connection throughout, relying on Wi-Fi over cellular signal.
Of course, this test won't take into consideration performance on different iPhone models. With an A14 Bionic chip and iOS 14 released with the 12 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro is currently the best performing iPhone on the market. Results for other models like the iPhone 11, or iPhone SE (2020) could see variations, particularly in far older models like the iPhone 6, 7 or 8.
No, we're not going to pretend that this was done in strict laboratory conditions, but it's also important to note external factors like background refresh settings. Every iPhone owner will have their own range of apps downloaded to their handset, as well as different apps toggled on and off for background refresh. With background refresh meaning apps are constantly running, this means battery usage could be happening elsewhere as well as from our VPN testing. Push notifications were also kept onfrom the likes of iMessage, WhatsApp and emails to replicate real life usage.
Results: Does using a VPN drain iPhone battery?
The first task we carried out was watching 15 minutes of Netflix with the VPN on and then off. Hopping on to a server in our own country (the UK in this instance) so as not to activate a foreign Netflix library, we continued our rewatch of the cosy, quick-witted Gilmore Girls.
Starting battery life - 97%.
After 15 minutes of Netflix with VPN on - 95%
After 15 minutes of Netflix with VPN off - 93%
During both variables, there was a loss of 2% across both tests.
Next we spent 5 minutes scrolling through Instagram and watching Instagram stories with the VPN on and then off.
Starting battery life - 91%
After 5 minutes of Instagram with VPN on - 90%
After 5 minutes of Instagram with VPN off - 89%
Here with a VPN on battery dropped by 1%, whereas when the VPN was switched off, it stayed the same. While this could be down to having the VPN off, it's fair to say interaction with Instagram content can differ, with both the feed and stories presenting a mix of images and video, with watching video content draining battery more rapidly than loading pictures.
Finally we spent time browsing on Safari for 5 minutes
Starting battery life - 89%
After 5 minutes of Safari with VPN on - 88%
After 5 minutes of Safari with VPN off - 87%
Once again, much like with Netflix, we see the same drop of battery in both variables, this time by 1%.
Diving into Settings, iPhone offers the ability to see your battery health and what apps are sucking up the most battery. 25 minutes of running ExpressVPN in the background is said to use up just 1% of battery. In a 24 hour period with ExpressVPN on continuously, then, this could see a usage of roughly 48% a day if burned through a rate of just under 2% an hour.
What do other tests say about VPN draining iPhone battery?
Of course, our small testing of VPN usage on iPhone wasn't exactly the most strenuous and lacks the wider picture of different ways one might use their iPhone, as well as the plethora of iPhone models in circulation.
However, there's no definitive testing around the web, although some sites speculate that you may lose between 5-15% throughout the day.
How does a VPN drain iPhone battery?
As an app that sits on your phone right alongside other iOS apps, ExpressVPN and other VPN clients for iPhone will use up battery as they run. Of course, VPN has to run in the background as you complete other tasks. Much like emails where you receive push notifications, or any kind of mapping app that allows you to navigate where you're going on a journey, they run quietly in the background, therefore using up battery and, indeed, data if you're out of reach of Wi-Fi.
How much battery it uses up can depend on a number of things, too, including:
- How strong your signal is whether on Wi-Fi or 3G/4G/5G - this is the case with or without VPN usage, with your handset having to crank up the power to deliver on tasks when signal is low.
- CPU - it's likely the iPhone 12 Pro worked well under the pressure of a switched on VPN because its CPU is optimised to work more efficiently with no detriment to battery life. It's probably fair to say, then, that older iPhone models will have batteries that drain faster.
- Encryption level - there are a variety of encryption formatting options out there depending on just how secure you need your information to be. This of course uses up more processing power when heavily encrypted.
How you can save battery life when using a VPN on iPhone
- Only turn on your VPN on your iPhone when you need it and turn it off when you don't.
- If you're finding your VPN is draining your iPhone at an exceptional rate, it may be worth trying out a different VPN provider. There are plenty of fantastic options out there. The same goes for the best iPad VPN, with each service having its own perks and weaknesses.
- See what settings options there are for your VPN - some may offer battery saver mode features, switching off features you don't need, or even boasting a auto-connect function so it only connects to a server when it detects an untrustworthy connection.
Why to use a VPN on iPhone
There are plenty of reasons to use a VPN on your iPhone, as well as across your Apple devices - why not find the best Mac VPN for you with our dedicated buying guide?
While Apple is known for building gadgets that are incredibly secure in comparison to its Windows and Androids counterparts, malicious hackers and malware are out there to make every attempt to break through and steal your sensitive information and spy on what you're up to. For security's sake alone, having a decent VPN for your iPhone helps to keep your details under lock and key, encrypting any data end-to-end as you carry out the likes of online shopping, or whilst dealing with private information at work.
If your download speeds are lagging, hopping on a VPN can also deliver lightening fast speeds with many VPN providers offering thousands of servers across the globe that could give your connection that extra omph.
Of course, with servers all around the world, this also blows any geo-restrictions you're faced with out of the park. If you're holidaying abroad but want to access your Netflix subscription, hopping on a server based in your native country can open up the gates to watch as if you were right at home.
Similarly, if you face blocks on websites or apps when travelling, or in an office or school, changing your server can allow you to bypass any of this geo-restricted content.