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Aimee O'Driscoll on in VPN

Hide.me is a Malaysia-based VPN provider that hangs it hat on blazing fast speeds and excellent security. It does come with a pretty hefty price tag in exchange for these offerings. It has a fairly small network of servers but has accrued over five million users in its five years of operations. While it’s certainly not one of the biggest providers around, this isn’t too shabby.

So does the performance of Hide.me warrant its price? Let’s find out!

Features and pricing

Hide.me offers a free version which is okay for occasional users and is actually ranked as one of our top three free VPNs in our recent guide. However, speed is limited to 3 Mb/s and data transfers to 2GB. This means it’s no good for things like streaming via Kodi or other players, or for torrenting. Moreover, you can only use it on one device and are limited to three server locations.

Hide.me pricing table.

Moving onto the Plus version, you can still only use one device, but you get 75GB of data transfer and access to all servers. This starts at $4.99 (GBP £3.90) per month for 12 months. This seems surprising because some competitors we’ve reviewed have premium options at lower prices.

Speaking of premium options, the Hide.me Premium package is fairly comparable to others in terms of offerings. You can use up to five devices simultaneously and get unlimited data transfer. You also get port forwarding – not available in the other packages – which will mainly appeal to torrenters.

Premium pricing options.

If you go for the monthly option, you’re looking at $19.95 (GBP £15.58) per month. As is usual with other VPN providers we’ve reviewed, you’ll get a steep discount if you sign up for a longer term. You’ll pay $13.32 (GBP £10.41) per month if you sign up for six months and $9.99 (GBP £7.80) per month for 12 months.

Overall, Hide.me is in the upper pricing tier as compared to other providers. All paid options do include a 14-day money-back guarantee. This isn’t quite on par with the 30-day guarantee offered by providers like ExpressVPN, but it’s decent all the same.

Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. One feature that you don’t see with many VPNs is a full suite of protocols to choose between. This VPN ranks highly in general when it comes to privacy and security with zero logs, plus IPv6 and DNS leak protection. There’s also a kill switch to act as a backup in case the VPN connection is lost.

For torrenters, servers are marked as to which allow P2P and you can also view their current usage from the website. Adding those features to unlimited bandwidth and fast speeds, this is an ideal VPN for torrenters.

Setup and interface

Once you’ve selected your plan, getting set up with Hide.me is straightforward. Simply go to the Download VPN tab on the website to download and install the relevant app.

For the purposes of this review, we will use the apps for Windows and iOS.

Desktop

The main screen of the desktop app is simplistic, showing your connection, your data transfer, and the current IP address masking yours. Here you can choose which server to connect to by using the dropdown menu. The server list on the desktop app shows you which servers are available for P2P (green P2P symbol versus red). Bear in mind you need to disconnect from a server before you choose a new one.

Main screen of desktop client.

In the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, you’ll see the Settings button. Hit this to open up a four-tabbed screen with a myriad of options.

The General screen.

In the General tab, you have application settings, including whether to launch on startup and remember selected location. You can also adjust connection settings, which include opting to reconnect automatically and enabling the kill switch.

The Advanced screen.

Over in the Advanced screen, you have network settings, including the option to select specific primary and secondary DNS servers. There are also a couple of OpenVPN settings as well as SoftEther VPN settings should you be using that particular protocol.

The VPN Protocol screen.

Heading to the VPN Protocol tab, you can easily toggle between protocols. This is especially handy if you’re running into issues while traveling. Some VPNs require you to manually set up different protocols (if they’re even available), so being able to try out different ones by simple toggling is a big convenience.

The Information screen.

Finally, within the Information tab, you have some general account details, along with information about the release channel and application version you’re using.

Mobile

The mobile interface has very few features compared to the desktop version. This does make it simple to use and ideal for on-the-go use. While this may be welcome news to beginners, more advanced users may miss some extras.

The main screen simply shows whether you’re connected and your current IP address. Unlike in the desktop app, there is no option to switch servers from the main screen. You have to disconnect in the main screen and go into Settings to choose your server location. While it’s not a huge pitfall, it is a bit of a UX downer. If you simply click on Enable VPN, the auto server feature will automatically choose the fastest server for your current location.

The mobile app interface.

Moving onto the Settings screen, there’s really not a ton to discuss. Here you can change your server location before heading back to the main screen to enable the VPN. You can also switch the language between English and German. There’s a mobile-specific FAQ page and links to support and privacy pages, among others.

Servers and performance

According to its website, Hide.me currently has over 100 servers covering more than 30 countries. This is a relatively small network compared to larger providers such as ExpressVPN with over 1,500 servers. One nice feature about the server list is it gives you tips on which servers to choose for which purposes. It also tells you which servers are available for P2P, similar to the list within the desktop app.

The server page.

Overall, even with the small network of servers, our experience was pretty good. We streamed 1080p video with no buffering while connected to servers in New York, Los Angeles, and London. We also played online games using the same servers with no issues.

Unfortunately, we did experience several connection issues which would no doubt create frustration for many users. One noticeable, albeit relatively small, annoyance was that disconnecting often took a lot longer than we’re used to with other providers. However, in one instance, it appeared to get stuck for a prolonged period (several hours before we gave up). Logging out and back in didn’t help, but reinstalling did. Of course, this isn’t exactly a user-friendly option.

There was also one occasion where it appeared to get stuck for about a minute when connecting but this was resolved with hitting Disconnect and retrying the connection. However, we didn’t have any issues while surfing, streaming or downloading, so in our experience the reliability issues stop at connections and disconnections.

Of course, when we carry out speed testing, we aim to be as empirical as possible. In order to do this, for each test, we downloaded the same file (~100MB) from a server in Oregon. We conducted the tests at three different times of the day using three sample VPN servers. We compared the results to another VPN that was tested in the same manner. In addition, we carried out a control test without a VPN. The tests were performed from Toronto, Canada using servers in the US West, US East, and UK (London). In the boxplots below, the thick black line represents the median download time, while the red diamond represents the mean. Lower is better.

Boxplot of speed test results.

As you see from the results, Hide.me stands up to its promise on speed. It performed far better than the other VPN we tested for all servers at every time of day. When connected to the US West server, which is geographically close to the server the test file resides on, speeds were comparable to those when not connected to a VPN. There was also a relatively tight spread in results which is indicated by the small box size.

Of course, it’s important to point out that these tests aren’t definitive and can only serve as a general indication of the performance you might see. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness, so these tests should be taken with a grain of salt. They were run while using a 30Mbps connection, so you’ll likely see longer wait times with a slower connection, and perhaps smaller or larger discrepancies.

Does Hide.me unblock Netflix?

Unfortunately, Hide.me did not unblock Netflix using any of the servers we tested (US East, US West, and London, UK). This is an ongoing struggle for many VPNs as streaming sites like Netflix crack down. Once they detect an IP address is actually one from a VPN provider, they’ll block usage and deliver an error message. If this is a deal-breaker for you, then you’ll need to look elsewhere.

We were also unable to unblock BBC iPlayer using a UK server. On the other hand we had no issues with other streaming sites, including Amazon Prime Video.

Does Hide.me work in China?

According to a recent post on their blog, connecting to Hide.me servers while in China is still a go. This is in spite of China’s “Great Firewall” having blocked the actual Hide.me website. According to the post, “Our team of experts know what strategies the government and authorities use to block VPNs in a country, and we always keep our strategy a step ahead.”

Since the Hide.me website has been blocked, if you’re planning to connect while travelling to China, make sure you have all your apps downloaded before you go.

Security and privacy

As mentioned, Hide.me is based in Malaysia which means it isn’t subject to western data retention laws. It doesn’t store any logs, so you can be sure that there’ll be no records of your browsing history. This has been corroborated by independent security analysts as a show of complete transparency. To sign up, you’ll need to provide an email address and password. You can pay through credit card, various payment platforms including PayPal and SOFORT, as well as Bitcoin.

When it comes to data security, Hide.me uses 256-bit encryption which is considered pretty much as strong as you can get. This is in conjunction with 8,192-bit RSA keys. This might sound a little excessive (2,048-bit is pretty standard and considered highly effective) but isn’t a bad thing for security. However, this could offer an explanation for the slow connect/disconnect times. Perfect forward secrecy is also provided to ensure session keys can’t be compromised. You also have multiple encryption protocols to choose from including PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, and IKEv2. As mentioned, you can toggle between these within the VPN Protocol screen of the desktop client.

There is a kill switch in the desktop client but just bear in mind that it’s not enabled by default. Once enabled, this acts a privacy backup so that, if the VPN connection drops, internet traffic will be blocked. Hide.me also protects against IP leaks, IPv6 leaks, and DNS leaks. It uses its own non-logging DNS servers, so there’s no worries about Google or another public DNS server provider tracking your activities.

Customer service

The customer support page offers a few options. The first two are Support Ticket (for opening a support request) and Live Chat (for billing and sales questions). However, each time we visited the page, these options both sent us to the same email form. We sent a support request at around 7pm ET and it was responded to about six hours later which included an apology that live chat agents weren’t available at the time.

This is surprising since Hide.me is using Zendesk for support. While this should offer reliable around-the-clock support, it is always nicer to have the privacy of in-house support. However, in this case, it seems we’re getting the worst of both sides.

The other option on this page is to join the Hide.me community. Here, you’ll find help forums in English or German that cover many of the questions you might have. Within the community, a VPN Tutorials tab contains various tutorials for different operating system and protocol setups, among others.

Finally, there is a limited set of FAQs, but your best bet would probably be to check in forums or hope the “live chat” doesn’t take too long.

Verdict

One of the first things that stands out about Hide.me is its high price tag. In theory, this could be justified by its fast speeds, which indeed meet expectations. Other than its main sell point of speed, it’s also extremely secure, and is willing to prove it. This provider is also an excellent option for torrenters and includes features geared towards this corner of the market.

The major marks against Hide.me lie in the connection issues we experienced and the lack of immediate support to resolve the problems. While these could have been isolated issues, we’d recommend careful evaluation during the 14-day period if you’re signing up for a paid package.

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