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Does a VPN drain your phone battery: Debunking the myth

Using a VPN app, just like using any other app, consumes your device’s battery. But you probably already knew that. A much more interesting question is, “How much does a VPN affect battery life?” To find out, we performed a series of tests. Here’s what we discovered.

Does a VPN drain your phone battery: Debunking the myth

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

VPN drain tests

To determine how much a VPN drains a phone battery, we’ve run three tests: an idle battery usage test over 5 hours, a 2.5-hour audio stream test, and a 1-hour video stream test. The devices were first tested with the VPN turned off, then with the VPN connected to the same German server using the NordLynx, OpenVPN TCP, and OpenVPN UDP protocols.

To ensure accurate results, each test was repeated three times, both on the Wi-Fi network and 4G. Overall, more than 144 tests were performed. We’ve used two Android smartphones and a Lenovo notepad for testing:

  • Google Pixel 6, Android 13
  • Samsung Galaxy 22, Android 14
  • Lenovo ThinkPad L14 G2, Windows 11 Pro

Note that, despite our efforts to perform the most thorough VPN battery drain tests available, the results still represent a limited testing scenario. Battery drainage is influenced by a variety of factors, such as network conditions and device age, so the testing results do not apply to all devices, VPNs, and usage patterns universally.

Does a VPN drain your phone’s battery: A summary

If you only want to know the results, here’s a quick overview of what we found out:

  • Choose Wi-Fi when you can. The cellular network consumes much more battery power compared to Wi-Fi.
  • 5G may have a big impact on your device’s battery. Cellular network tests with 5G enabled showed wildly different results, likely because the devices kept switching between the 4G and 5G networks. These tests were later scrapped and repeated with 4G enabled only.
  • The VPN protocol matters. NordLynx often showed virtually no difference compared to not using a VPN at all, while the OpenVPN TCP protocol performed the worst in most tests (but not always).
  • No difference when streaming. Using a VPN when streaming YouTube videos produced almost identical results to having a VPN off. It’s likely that when resource-heavy activities are involved, such as streaming or gaming, the subtle impact of a VPN is much harder to spot.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the tests.

The idle battery drain test

Before each test, we fully charged the devices. Then, we left them idle for 5 hours. Immediately, the differences between battery consumption on the Wi-Fi network and 4G jumped out. When using a VPN, the differences in battery consumption over 4G grew more than 10 times.

It’s interesting that not using a VPN turned these results upside down, with the Google Pixel 6 consuming more on the 4G network, while the Samsung Galaxy S22 drained more battery on Wi-Fi.

Google Pixel 6 (4G)3.24%6.32% (+3.08)4.91% (+1.67)5.01% (+1.77)
Samsung Galaxy S22 (4G)3.21%5.43% (+2.22)5.05% (+1.84)4.72% (+1.51)
Google Pixel 6 (Wi-Fi)2.19%
2.44% (+0.25)
2.42% (+0.23)
2.61% (+0.42)
Samsung Galaxy S22 (Wi-Fi)3.37%
3.63% (+0.26)
3.63% (+0.26)
5.05% (+1.68)
Battery drain (%) over 5 hours

vpn battery drain test - idle

The radio test

For this test, we streamed an audio feed for 2.5 hours. Again, all devices before testing were fully charged. This was the first time using a VPN (NordLynx and OpenVPN UDP) drained the battery less compared to not using a VPN at all.

The OpenVPN TCP protocol showed the worst results (up to 2.09% more battery drained vs no VPN) in all but one scenario — Google Pixel 6 connected via a 4G network.

Google Pixel 6 (4G)10.41%10.98% (+0.57)11.15% (+0.74)10.82% (+0.41)
Samsung Galaxy S22 (4G)11.75%12.35% (+0.60)
11.61% (-0.14)
13.04% (+1.28)
Google Pixel 6 (Wi-Fi)4.80%
4.66% (-0.13)
4.91% (+0.11)6.27% (+1.48)
Samsung Galaxy S22 (Wi-Fi)6.42%6.77% (+0.35)6.72% (+0.30)8.51% (+2.09)
Battery drain (%) after 2.5 hours

vpn battery drain test - radio 1vpn battery drain test - radio 2

The YouTube test

This YouTube test included charging the devices to 100% battery and letting a YouTube video play for 1 hour. These tests were the most interesting ones because the results were so close. While the largest difference between not using a VPN and using one was 0.29% (Samsung Galaxy S22 (Wi-Fi) 6.09% no VPN vs. 6.38% OpenVPN TCP protocol), on four occasions, using a VPN drained the battery even less. Again, the difference between the cellular network and the Wi-Fi results was stark (9% vs. 6%, respectively).

Google Pixel 6 (4G)8.78%8.83% (+0.05)8.89% (+0.11)
8.57% (-0.21)
Samsung Galaxy S22 (4G)9.08%
8.82% (-0.26)
9.01% (-0.07)
9.31% (+0.23)
Google Pixel 6 (Wi-Fi)6%6.01% (+0.01)
5.92% (-0.08)
6.08% (+0.08)
Samsung Galaxy S22 (Wi-Fi)6.09%6.17% (+0.08)6.21% (+0.12)6.38% (+0.29)
vpn battery drain test - youtube 1vpn battery drain test - youtube 2

Does a VPN drain your computer battery?

By now, you’ve probably noticed that while we used three devices for testing, we only showed you the results of two. We couldn’t replicate the same tests on a notebook because it simply doesn’t support 4G. Instead, we ran three separate tests using the Wi-Fi network — leaving the notebook idle for 2 hours, playing a 1-hour YouTube video, and writing in Google Docs for 2 hours. The first two tests were repeated three times, while the writing task was done once with every VPN protocol.

The idle battery test and the YouTube test results were incredibly close, just like when testing the battery drain on the two smartphones. The last set of tests involved testing the impact of a VPN while working on this blog post — some browsing, a lot of writing inside Google Docs, but no music or video streaming involved. Interestingly enough, while so far the OpenVPN protocols produced similar results compared to NordLynx, on the last test they performed significantly worse.

The idle battery test1%1%2%2%
The YouTube test23%23%25%26%
The writing test32%33%39%37%
Lenovo ThinkPad battery drain test results

Why a VPN might drain your battery faster

Every VPN slows your connection but the best VPNs ensure that the effect is unnoticeable. The same applies to battery usage. All VPN apps drain your device’s battery, but the best ones do it the least.

The truth is that if you choose the right protocol and use Wi-Fi more often than 4G, your device battery shouldn’t be drained any faster. Both in smartphone and notebook testing, using a VPN consumed as little as 0.5% more battery. If your device battery discharges noticeably faster than it used to, the culprit is probably not the VPN.

  • Encryption needs device resources. A VPN needs resources to encrypt and decrypt data, but it translates to minimal differences in battery drain, even when a lot of data is involved, such as during video streaming.
  • Apps active in the background. Try restarting your device first. There is a chance that some background processes are consuming your battery power without your knowledge.
  • Screen brightness. If you’ve ever checked your phone’s battery drain, you’ve probably noticed that its screen consumes a lot of power. The simplest solution is to reduce brightness as well as use the dark mode, when possible.
  • Malware. A virus, especially on a Windows computer, can eat up resources and cause your battery to discharge faster.
  • Old battery. A battery’s ability to hold a charge is constantly decreasing. If your device is quite old, the best way to improve your battery may be getting a new device.

How to minimize a VPN drain on your device’s battery

As our tests showed, choosing the right VPN protocol or using Wi-Fi over a cellular network can significantly prolong your device’s battery life.

  • Connect to trusted Wi-Fi networks. Cellular networks drain your battery more. If you are within range of a Wi-Fi network you trust, use it.
  • Use NordLynx. NordVPN’s NordLynx protocol proved to use the device battery less in most of the tests. That’s why choosing the right protocol depending on the conditions can extend your device’s battery life.
  • Set up a VPN on your router. A VPN uses resources to encrypt and decrypt your data traveling through the internet. If you employ your router to perform these tasks, your mobile device will use less battery.
  • Use VPN split tunneling. Not all apps on your smartphone need a VPN connection. If you feel like leaving a VPN on all the time drains your device’s battery too much, you can use split-tunneling to pick which apps use a VPN to connect to the internet (or which ones shouldn’t).

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Does NordVPN decrease your phone’s battery life?

NordVPN specifically shouldn’t have a bigger impact than using a calculator or checking your email. Battery life, or in other words, its ability to charge to its full capacity, decreases because the chemical reactions that store and release energy affect the battery’s chemistry. These changes are irreversible, which means that your device has been losing its battery life since the first time you charged it.

Also, lithium-ion batteries, now commonly used in mobile devices, have a finite number of charge cycles (times it’s charged to 100%). With every new cycle, the battery’s ability to hold a charge decreases.

You can slow down these processes by ensuring your device is never left in freezing temperatures or under the scorching sun. Extreme temperatures can significantly damage battery life. Also, avoid resource-intensive activities such as gaming or streaming videos. Lastly, some research suggests that charging the battery to 80% is more beneficial to its health than discharging it to 0% and then charging it to 100%.

So, what should you do?

If you can save your device battery by using the tips mentioned in this article, by all means do it. But there is really nothing you should worry about. Every battery drains as you’re using the device — that’s just the price of using it. Instead, remember why you’re using an app like NordVPN. Maybe you need to bypass internet censorship? Increase your privacy? Prevent malware? Whatever it is, security and privacy are always worth consuming a few extra percentage points of your device’s battery.