Why does NextDNS want to present itself as a VPN on devices?

I'm a happy (paying) customer of NextDNS (beats running the PiHole that keeps crashing every other week and then I don't have "internet" until I get to a terminal to restart it), but I'm curious why the setup on both Android and Windows wants to present itself as a VPN?

Concrete problems I see on Android:

  • I can't use it with an actual VPN (or rather: as soon as the VPN connects, NextDNS is deactivated and it's not re-activated even if the VPN in question discconnects)
  • When using "mobile data" (ie. LTE/3G), if the signal gets weak enough, Android disconnects the VPN provider (this is with Android 11 on a Pixel 3XL). I never had this problem when using DNS-over-TLS (there, if the signal wasn't strong enough, it just blocked the connection rather than deactivating it)

On Windows I didn't see any problems, but I wouldn't have expected the installer to add a new network interface. I would have it expected though to detect the browsers that are installed and offer the option to set up DNS-over-TLS/HTTPS in them (instead of me having to follow the instructions on the website). The only platform where the app worked/works as expected is the iPad: it set the DNS server and that's it.

Why this focus on making it act as a VPN rather than just setting the DNS?

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  • Following up (because it just happened again on my Android phone): not only will the app / VPN switch off "randomly", it will continue to show the "NextDNS is active" message on the top of the screen. I only notice that it switched off by seeing advertising unexpectedly. Then, if I launch the NextDNS App, it correctly shows as off and I can turn it back on again.

    But why use this fake-VPN approach when it is less reliable and also has compatibility problems (compared to setting the actual DNS server)?

  • You can always leverage Private DNS on Android to remove the VPN dependency

  • Just use the private DNS feature built into Android. You can also name the device so you can look at device specific logs on the portal if you want. That's what I have done on Pixel 3 XL and Samsung Galaxy S10. Works when outside the home network on 4G LTE as well.

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