An enticing package of Google services
This subscription membership from Google sweetens its cloud storage plans by adding photo editing tools, a mobile VPN, and priority support.
Rather than a product per se, Google One is a subscription plan for a bundle of services, including cloud storage, from the online giant. All the tech giants—Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft—now sell subscription packages for their various digital services, most of which include online cloud storage, as Google One does. Google’s package is generous, adding photo effects to its photo editing software, support by phone or chat, discounts on Google products, and now a VPN service for Android phones. None of its individual components is exceptional—you can find better pricing for online storage, more-powerful photo apps, and more-capable VPNs as standalone products, but Google One conveniently bundles the services to make it an appealing deal.
You can start out with Google One’s Basic plan for the pittance of just $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year. That gets you 100GB online storage that’s shared among your Google Drive, Google Photos, and Gmail services. You also get some handy photo tools in the Google Photos mobile app, and support via phone and text chat from Google staff. Anyone can get 15GB of storage free with any Google account, but that doesn’t get you these Google One extras.
For a buck more per month, the $2.99-a-month (or $29.99 per year) Standard plan bumps storage up to 200GB and you get a 3% discount in the Google Store on Pixel phones, Next smart home devices, and other products. If you’re interested in the VPN service, you need the $9.99-per-month (or $99.99 per year) Premium plan, which brings 2TB of storage and increases your discount at the store to 10%.
Higher price plans go all the way up to $149.99 per month for 30TB of storage. All plans can be shared among five of your family members and friends. You get a slight discount if you pay annually rather than monthly for a Basic, Standard, or Premium plan.
For comparison, a $9.99-a-month or $99-per-year Microsoft 365 account gets you 6TB of OneDrive storage—1TB each for six people. You also get the installable Office productivity applications, Teams, premium Office templates, Family Safety features, and support by phone and chat. A single user account is $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year. Free users get just 5GB and use of the web versions of Microsoft Office.
Apple One, though it shares a One in its name, is less comparable with Google One because it focuses less about cloud storage (50GB with a $14.95-per-month account) and more on entertainment (Apple TV+, Music, and Arcade). Apple One is more expensive, too, and it only works with Apple’s hardware. Apple’s Premier plan adds Fitness+ and News+, increases the cloud storage to 2TB, lets you share the account with five people, and runs $29.95 per month.
For an Apple subscription without entertainment, iCloud Drive costs 99 cents per month for 50GB; $2.99 per month for 200GB; or $9.99 per month for 2TB (the last two are the same as Google One). With all levels, you get the quasi-VPN service Apple calls Private Relay, but it only works in Safari. Purchasers of Apple devices get a measly 5GB free.
Amazon Prime ($139 per year) is another online bundled service, with some overlap, though it doesn’t get you much cloud storage—except for photos, for which it gives you unlimited storage! You also get Prime Video and Amazon Music (the excellent Amazon Music Unlimited is a separate $7.99 per month). And of course, you can’t forget the free delivery for items bought from the online retailer.
For pure cloud storage and syncing, check out our Editors’ Choice service IDrive (5TB for $79.50 per year) or the highly rated Dropbox (2TB for $9.99 per month).
In addition to the online cloud storage mentioned above, subscribers get to use a Google One app to manage all their account services (see the next section). You also get highly effective photo-editing tools in the Google Photos mobile apps. We discuss those and the VPN at length below. Time-limited benefits include three months of free YouTube Premium and Stadia Pro (though that game-streaming service’s fate is uncertain).
You may even find unexpected benefits: For example, during research for this review, we discovered a $5 credit in Google Play that came with our $1.99-a-month One subscription that we hadn’t realized existed—it’s not listed among the benefits on the main plan-comparison page. Finally, you get chat and phone support with every Google One account level.
The Google One app lets you back up your mobile device, including contacts, calendar, and photos; on Android you can also back up apps. The Android backup space is taken out of your Google Drive allowance. The app shows you how much storage you’re using in Google Drive and for what, with suggestions of ways you can trim it down. (For more on that topic, read How to Free Up Space in Google Drive.) For example, the app suggests clearing out space taken up by deleted mail and other large items. You can also add family members with whom you want to share your account storage and features.
Support for Google One subscribers is available via phone and chat. You can initiate a session either on the web or in the mobile app. We tested the support service by requesting a callback and asking what security features our account provided. Our call came in at a mere 25 seconds after the request; a robot voice answered first, but we were connected with a live support person just ten seconds after that. This was despite the site’s warning, “Google One support services may be impacted due to the COVID-19 situation.”
When you request support, you have to specify a product and topic, and can optionally upload a screenshot of your issue. You also enter the phone number where you want to be called; more than a hundred country codes are supported.
The support rep we were connected to had a ready answer for our concerns about securing our Google account, offered help with setting up multi-factor authentication, and informed us about the availability of a physical security key we could purchase. We were pleased as punch by the experience. Afterward, you see a record of your conversation at the bottom of your Support page. We also tried chat support, which was excellent, too: our only beef is that the rep didn’t get the question we typed in the original request when starting the help session, so we had to type it again. At the end of every support session we tried, we were offered a satisfaction survey to fill out.
You can do plenty with the Google Photos mobile app without a Google One account, but you’ll be tempted to pay for the service when you see the effects that have a colorful 1 logo appended to their buttons. These include Dynamic, Vivid, Luminous, Radiant, Ember, Airy, Afterglow, and Stormy. Newer effects, Portrait Light, and Blur recently arrived on iOS of the Google Photos app, which tends to follow Android in feature adds. Google One subscribers also get an HDR tool. These effects and tools really can improve and enhance your photos.
The new VPN service from Google One is only for Android devices—a crucial factor for anyone shopping for a VPN. The service is coming to iOS, and the service’s site says, “Over time, we plan to scale it across more platforms like iOS, ChromeOS, Windows, and Mac,” but we saw no evidence of any of that during our testing and the current service page only refers to Android phones.
As mentioned above, the VPN service only comes with the $9.99-per-month (or $99.99 per year) and up plans. The average VPN we’ve tested costs $9.96 per month or $68.49 per year, and that’s just for VPN service—no cloud storage or other benefits you get with Google One. There are cheap and free VPN options, however, but the latter usually come with serious limitations. One downside with the Google One VPN is that there’s no way to test it temporarily with a free account, as you can with many standalone VPN providers.
Aside from the Android-only limitation, the Google One VPN is a very bare-bones affair, lacking many of the basic features of a commercial VPN. It’s clear that Google regards it as an add-on and not a leading product in its own right.
You can install the VPN on up to six Android devices total. That’s better than the industry average of five devices. However, some VPNs—such as Editors’ Choice winner Surfshark VPN—place no limit on devices or simultaneous connections.
Most VPNs include a Kill Switch, which prevents your device from sending data if the VPN becomes accidentally disconnected. Google One VPN includes this feature, but we weren’t able to induce a fault to test it.
Split Tunneling is a convenience feature that allows you to send some app traffic outside the VPN connection. Google One VPN includes Split Tunneling, and we confirmed its works as advertised. This is a useful tool for any activity that’s high bandwidth but low risk, like gaming or streaming.
Other VPNs include additional privacy features. Some let you route all your traffic through the Tor anonymization network via the VPN. Some include multi-hop connections, which route your traffic through a second VPN server. Google One VPN doesn’t provide these features, but NordVPN and ProtonVPN are among the very few that have both.
The way you set up and activate Google One VPN isn’t obvious. It’s completely inaccessible within the Android Google One app until you fork over for the 2TB plan. And nothing in the app lets you know a VPN is included at this level. You have to get this information from somewhere else. Once you do pay, the VPN is accessible from the Settings and Home sections of the app. Despite being in two places, it’s easily overlooked.
Once you find the VPN controls, you have only a few options. A toggle switch turns the VPN connection on and off. A handy Snooze button appears both in your notification tray and in the Google One app, which shuts off your VPN for 5 minutes and then automatically reconnects. It’s perfect for when you’re having trouble with a VPN connection and need to just drop it for a few minutes and send an email or a text. Another toggle controls the Kill Switch. A final option lets you select apps to bypass the VPN via split tunneling.
It’s all resoundingly clear. But there’s a lot missing. Most VPNs let you select a VPN protocol. Google One VPN does not. Every other VPN we’ve tested lets you manually select a VPN server so you can spoof your location, but Google One VPN doesn’t. In fact, Google is very clear on the Google One VPN page that you can’t use its VPN for streaming content not available in your area.
A good VPN shouldn’t leak your DNS information or your IP address. We used the DNS Leak Test tool and confirmed that both our DNS and IP addresses information weren’t visible.
Our performance testing is aimed at determining how much the VPN affects your connection—usually meaning how much of a slowdown it imposes. Typically, we do not evaluate the speed of VPNs on mobile devices. Instead, we do all our VPN speed benchmarking on a Windows 10 desktop connected via Ethernet to a gigabit connection in PCMag’s Labs. Since Google One VPN is not available for desktop use, we decided to test it anyway using the same methodology we do for other VPNs. However, this testing was done on a home network due to limitations caused by COVID-19 and via Wi-Fi on an Android device. Therefore, we don’t believe the results are comparable with our other VPN speed testing.
That said, to test the impact of Google One VPN on speeds, we used the Ookla Speedtest app on a Pixel 3a running the latest version of the Android OS. We ran the test 10 times with the VPN and 10 times with the VPN turned off, took the median result of each set, and then found the percent change between the two.
(Editors’ Note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)
In our tests, we found that Google One VPN did quite well. It reduced download Speedtest results by only 17.5% and reduced upload results by just 8.93%. It performed less well in the latency test, where it increased results by 100%.
Keep in mind that speed is one of the factors VPNs can control the least, and your experience will surely differ from ours. That said, Google One VPN impressed us in these tests.
For some, the idea of Google running a VPN is a little like a fox guarding the henhouse. Google has built its empire on gathering user data, collating it carefully, and turning it into advertising revenue. Google One VPN, however, seems to have been conceived with that criticism in mind.
In the whitepaper, Google says it does not log user network traffic or DNS logs, originating IP addresses, bandwidth, or connection timestamps. That’s good. The document goes on to list the data that are logged, all of which is aggregate and not individualized. That includes VPN tunnel failure rates, throughput, and similar events. It’s a remarkably thorough list.
Google One VPN does log how often the VPN was used by individual users over a 28-day period, but not the precise times of use. The system performs a concurrent session check to enforce simultaneous connection limits.
The best VPNs issue transparency reports to document their interaction with law enforcement. Google already issues many transparency reports, but they relate to all of Google’s services, not just the VPN.
Many VPNs commission third-party audits to help establish their privacy bona fides, and Google has done the same. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the audit by NCC Group is a sober and thorough assessment of the Google One VPN. In it, NCC outlines four ways the Google One VPN could be used for evil and how Google has worked to prevent that from happening. NCC Group says three of these ways are endemic to all VPNs, and one relates to users accessing a different Google service through the Google One VPN. In theory, that service could be configured to send identifiers through the tunnel that would ID the user. NCC says there’s no evidence that Google is working to undercut any of its claims, but notes that Google could make changes in the future. The code for Google One VPN is open-source, so such changes would presumably be detectable. This is about as close to a glowing assessment as one can expect from such an audit.
Ultimately, whether you trust the Google One VPN comes down to whether you trust Google. If you’re already signed up to store up to 2TB of data on its servers, you probably trust Google enough.
Depending on how you look at it, Google One VPN is either the worst VPN on the market or among the best. If you’re looking to spoof your location, unblock streaming services from other countries, select your VPN protocol, or just have more control over how your machine talks to the internet, it isn’t for you.
If, however, you don’t care about server choice, protocols, or spoofing and you just want a little more protection from the modern panopticon of surveillance capitalism, Google One VPN has a lot going for it. It doesn’t place a huge footprint on your device and can be controlled entirely from the notification tray. It’s a true set-and-forget service that includes Split Tunneling for any app that doesn’t play nice with VPNs.
There’s a lot of money flying around the VPN world, which has led to a sometimes toxic environment that trades off paranoia and hyperbolic marketing. That’s frustrating because, although VPNs are not—despite claims by VPN providers—a solution to all your privacy and security problems, they are a simple way to improve your privacy online. Google One VPN is a simple, affordable service that delivers on a very specific promise of privacy. It doesn’t need to be more than that to be successful. However, it should at least be easier for customers to find, and some ability to switch servers would vastly improve the product.
We’re not reviewing Google One VPN on its own, but if it were, we would give it a rating of 3 out of a possible 5.
Google One throws in some appealing perks for subscribers—nifty photo-editing tools, priority support, discounts on Google products, and now an acceptable VPN for Android phones. If you use Google services like Google Photos, Gmail, and Google Docs heavily, subscribing is a no-brainer. It’s a fine deal even if it were just for the cloud storage—in fact we rate it’s Google Drive component higher, with a score of 4.5 and an Editors’ Choice award—but this review is based on the collective rating of all the included components. Just go in knowing that you can find cheaper online storage, more-powerful photo apps, and more-feature-rich VPN services elsewhere.
This subscription membership from Google sweetens its cloud storage plans by adding photo editing tools, a mobile VPN, and priority support.
Sign up for Security Watch newsletter for our top privacy and security stories delivered right to your inbox.
Your subscription has been confirmed. Keep an eye on your inbox!
Michael Muchmore is PCMag’s lead analyst for software and web applications, with an emphasis on photo editing, video editing, and Windows. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up coverage of web development, enterprise software (including databases and application servers), and display technologies (monitors and TVs). Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of web services for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine‘s Solutions section, which educated readers about programming techniques like C+ and Visual Basic, as well as offering tips on using office productivity software. He previously covered services and software for ExtremeTech.com.
Max Eddy is a senior security analyst at PCMag, reporting on security trends and reviewing VPNs, secure messaging systems, and other privacy tools.
Beginning in 2012, Max covered the growing Android and iOS ecosystems, particularly the security and anti-theft features. He’s gone on to review such sundry products as scrapbooking software and multiple iterations of the game Myst.
With a focus on security and privacy, Max has looked at the threats posed by the Internet-of-Things, industrial IoT attacks, infrastructure attacks, demystifying the Dark Web, the continuing battle for encryption, election security, and the rise of misinformation.
Max lives in New York City, lurks on Twitter, but is currently living his best life on Mastodon. Follow him@[email protected]
PCMag.com is a leading authority on technology, delivering Labs-based, independent reviews of the latest products and services. Our expert industry analysis and practical solutions help you make better buying decisions and get more from technology.
© 1996-2022 Ziff Davis. PCMag Digital Group
PCMag, PCMag.com and PC Magazine are among the federally registered trademarks of Ziff Davis and may not be used by third parties without explicit permission. The display of third-party trademarks and trade names on this site does not necessarily indicate any affiliation or the endorsement of PCMag. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product or service, we may be paid a fee by that merchant.