Cord Cutting Guides, News, and Reviews
Meet Jack, the cutest VPN mascot since the bear over at TunnelBear. I fell in love with Jack the first time I saw him wearing a paper bag over his head. You are probably here to find out about the HideMyAss (HMA) VPN, not hear me gush about their mascot. Well, you’re going to get a bit of both.
It’s okay though: I’m professional enough to talk about security, privacy, and donkeys wearing fake beards all at the same time. By the time you finish with this article, you’ll know everything you need to know about the quality of the HMA VPN, and I think I’ll have you convinced about which of Jack’s many looks is most worthy of becoming your next desktop background.
I’ll try to set aside my obsession with Jack, the HMA mascot, for just a minute so that we can talk about the user experience. Creating an HMA account and downloading the app was easy. The presence of both a 7-day free trial and a 30-day money-back guarantee made it a mostly risk-free venture as well. Do keep an eye on the price you will pay when the trial ends, though. When I signed up for the trial, the price I was quoted for the annual plan — which starts automatically after the trial ends — was 60% higher than the price listed on the pricing page!
HMA has an incredibly simple interface. Basically, all it shows is your selected VPN location, your IP address, and the cutest donkey you’ve ever seen. I flipped on the VPN, Jack changed his outfit, and that was it: I was behind a VPN. The interface changed to show my new IP and an “IP Refresh” button, but not much else was different. I’ll talk more about that IP refresh option later; it’s one of the most unique non-donkey-related aspects of HMA.
I flipped around to a few different servers with relative ease, but I did have to turn the VPN off and on every once in a while when it didn’t immediately connect properly. This seemed to happen most often when I refreshed the IP, and it usually went away after a few attempts. It’s not a crucial issue, but it could be frustrating if you are in a rush to get online.
Since HMA isn’t available on most of my other devices, I only tried it out on my macOS laptop, my Windows laptop, and my iPhone. On all of these systems, the interface maintains its minimalist nature. The macOS and iPhone apps required setting up a VPN profile, but that is the norm for VPN software on those systems and only takes a couple of clicks.
If there’s one thing I like more than fur-covered mascots, it’s streaming content. We are all cord cutters here, aren’t we?
The thing is, VPNs and streaming services battle like donkeys and… whoever the natural enemies of donkeys are (goats, maybe?). Streaming services don’t always like it when users try to view their content through a VPN or other proxym, because VPNs can provide access to content that is only available outside the user’s home region. Some VPNs manage to overcome this limitation, while others fail miserably. Obviously, I had to figure out how well my new donkey buddy did at unlocking Netflix and other streaming services.
For any VPN, I like to test this with Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Netflix. Because these three services have different methods and levels of success when it comes to blocking VPN access, a VPN that works with all three has a good chance of working with all of your other favorite streaming services, too.
HMA has a handful of servers in the USA, UK, and Germany that are optimized for streaming content. Since it’s winter where I am, I started with the one in sunny Miami, FL, USA. Disney+ and Netflix worked with no problem, but Amazon Prime Video was completely blocking my streaming access. Other servers I tried showed the same result. When connected to servers in other regions, specifically Germany, I still had no access to Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ also stopped working altogether. Netflix continued to work, and I gained access to non-US content, including Modern Family. I tried a few other servers in a few countries, and that result seems to be consistent: Of the “big three,” only Netflix worked consistently.
HMA has an unusual distribution of servers. By that, I mean that I’ve never seen a VPN with so few servers spread them across so many countries. HideMyAss’ roughly 1,100 servers put them behind most other major VPN providers. However, they spread those servers across an impressive 190 countries. That compares favorably to leading competitors such as CyberGhost, which has servers in just 88 countries — despite having more than 6,000 servers total. Lots of countries means lots of markets, so location shifting is a real strength for HMA. However, HMA’s low overall server count should come with a note of caution for cord cutters, because having fewer servers makes it is much easier for streaming services to block them.
If you are looking for P2P or file-sharing options, HMA gives mixed results. They do have a handful of P2P-optimized servers spread across 6 countries. However, their support pages indicate that P2P ports might be blocked on other servers. If you can use one of the optimized servers, you should be fine. Otherwise, file sharing over HMA might become a matter of trial and error over their other server options.
I did not see many customizability options in HMA, aside from the fairly standard “kill switch” feature and the IP shuffle that I’ll discuss later. In particular, I was looking for the ability to change their VPN protocol. I had to dig through HideMyAss’ online documentation to figure out that the only way to change VPN protocols or access most other customizations is to download a separate VPN client — none of those options exist in the HMA client itself. Their Android app does have a split tunneling feature, letting you run some programs through the VPN while others use your standard network connection. Although that is a great feature, it is not available in their apps on any other platforms.
As I mentioned above, there is no option to change the VPN protocol in HMA’s app. In fact, the app itself doesn’t even tell you which protocol it is using on your device. This led me to more digging in their support docs to find that the default option is either OpenVPN or IKEv2 on all devices. These are both excellent security protocols, but it would have been nice to just have them shown in the app itself.
HMA is based in the UK. From a privacy standpoint, that is important because the UK is part of the Five Eyes Alliance — a group of countries that can force companies to hand over user data on request. HMA’s no-logging policy offsets this concern, but it is still worth mentioning.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that HMA submitted to a 3rd-party privacy audit earlier this year. They have not publicly released the full details, but VerSprite — the company that did the audit — gave them a low-risk user privacy impact rating.
There is one privacy feature that HMA has that most of its competitors do not: IP shuffle. You can set your IP address to change periodically (every 30 minutes, daily, etc.), making it harder for anyone to track your internet traffic. You can also manually randomize your IP address at any point.
VPNs often slow down your internet speed because of how they re-route your internet traffic. When I think of speed, I don’t usually think of donkeys. I try not to judge a VPN’s speed by their choice of mascot though, so I tested HMA with the Ookla Speedtest. I tried a few of their servers across multiple countries, including their specialized streaming and file-sharing servers.
I was getting download and upload speeds of around 60 Mbps without the VPN. When I connected to the fastest VPN server option, both my upload and download speeds dropped to about 40Mbps. Nearly every other server I tried was much slower. The streaming-optimized servers maxed out at around 30 Mbps for download speeds and 15 Mbps for upload speeds, often dipping as low as 20 Mbps for download. While it was still possible to stream at these speeds, the slowdown was definitely noticeable when streaming HD content or browsing some content-heavy websites.
HMA supports mobile devices (iOS and Android) as well as desktop and laptop computers (Windows, macOS, Linux). Aside from Android TV, there is no direct support for streaming devices or smart TVs. You can protect all of those devices, but only by installing the VPN on your router. If you are looking for apps specific to those devices, you will need to look elsewhere.
At $11.99 per month, HideMyAss’ monthly plan costs more than the average consumer VPN. Paying in advance helps, with the 6-month plan running $53.94 ($8.99 per month). An annual plan will cost you $52.69 per year ($4.39 per month). Their 24- and 36-month plans go for $119.76 ($4.99 per month) and $100.44 ($2.79 per month), respectively. Most of those discounts are just decent. The 36-month option, though, is cheaper on a monthly basis than most other VPN plans.
Like many other VPNs, HideMyAss’ pricing plans incentivize long-term commitments. Since renewal is automatic, though, you might end up being surprised by the “real” costs of these discounted plans. This isn’t an issue that’s unique to HMA, but it’s something to watch out for.
HMA tries to be a contender, and it sometimes succeeds — particularly with its range of server locations, which really impressed me. In general, though, I think that HMA is bringing a donkey to a horse race. The lack of customizability, slow speeds, and limited device coverage left me wishing I could keep Jack (a wonderful mascot) and ditch the rest of the VPN. I also felt that HMA lacked in transparency on its website and within its apps. I shouldn’t have to dig through support docs to find what VPN protocol I’m using.
If you just need simple protection for your mobile, desktop, and laptop devices, HMA’s 7-day free trial and 30-day money-back guarantee might be enough reason to give them a shot. For most users, however, I would suggest looking elsewhere for the best VPN for your needs.