Many VPN services have adjusted their privacy policies over the last year or so in order to conform to what’s now expected from a consumer service: zero logs. Hide.me is a relatively new service (it has been running since 2011) that was conceived with this in mind, so has never and will never log any data about its users.
It offers a good number of servers (1400) in plenty of countries (35). It claims to be the world’s fastest VPN – a bold assertion which at least one or two of its rivals also claim – and now offers a completely free service.
Pricing & plans
It’s unusual to find a VPN service that offers a free tier rather than a trial, and most don’t even offer free trials these days.
If you sign up on hide.me’s website you’ll find a button to register for a Free account. This gives you 2GB of data which lasts for a month, and you need provide only an email address, username and password, so you can remain anonymous.
When the month is up, you can log in and extend the free plan for another month, and get another 2GB of data.
You have a choice of five locations: Netherlands, Singapore, Canada and two in the USA. The latter could be useful for some people who don’t need to stream lots of video but need to unblock other US-based content.
If you don’t even want to supply an email address, you can get 500MB of data (every fortnight) by installing one of the apps and choosing the Free Trial option. This doesn’t require any registration but limits you to three locations: Netherlands, Singapore and Canada.
If the Free plans are too limiting for you, you have two alternative subscriptions: Plus, which gives you access to all locations but only one connection at a time and a limit of 75GB of data transfer, and Premium which removes the data limit and lets you connect up to five devices simultaneously.
Plus starts from €4.17 per month, which is about £3.70 / $4.99, and Premium can be had for €5.41 / $5.41 per month if you sign up for the longest two-year deal. That works out at about £4.80 per month.
You can see these options on hide.me’s website.
If you do need unlimited data and five connections, there are cheaper alternatives such as NordVPN. You can see our recommendations of other excellent VPN services.
Features & apps
Hide.me offers apps for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Amazon Fire TV, and – oddly – Windows Phone. There are browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, and you can install hide.me onto a compatible router and there are guides which show you how to set up various protocols on a Linux machine.
You can use the service with BitTorrent clients, and there’s support for port forwarding – ideal for more technically minded users.
All the apps are easy to use, and you can just hit the connect button if you’re not bothered about which server is used. But you can pick a specific server in a country if you want to, though there’s no indication of the load or ping time.
The Windows client has by far the most options, most of which will be irrelevant to undemanding users. But they’re not on show, so you’ll only find them if you’re looking for them: all the important stuff is handled automatically.
Unfortunately we ran into a few problems with the Windows version, which we’ll get to in the performance section.
Based in Malaysia and with that zero-logging policy, hide.me is ideally located for privacy, being outside of the “14-eyes”.
It says it will comply if asked to hand over information to local authorities, but thanks to the fact it stores no data, there’s no record of what you have used the service for, or when or how long you used it. Ultimately, then, there’s nothing to give the authorities. The only logging is to keep tabs on how much data you’ve used if you’re on a Free or Plus plan, and that’s to be expected.
You can pay anonymously via Bitcoin, too, so you can use the Plus or Premium subscriptions anonymously.
You can choose from a range of VPN protocols, but we’d recommend OpenVPN , which uses 256-bit encryption on hide.me’s servers.
It’s worth noting that these are not owned and operated servers, so they’re not as secure as some rival services which have their own hardware and software. However, this shouldn’t make a huge difference to you as a user considering – again – that no-logs policy.
A kill switch is present in the apps, and this adds security by stopping any incoming or outgoing data if the VPN tunnel collapses. There’s also split-tunnelling in the Windows and Android apps, so you can choose which apps use the VPN and which don’t.
For convenience you can choose to automatically connect to a server when your device boots up, and you can also specify what to do when using secure Wi-Fi, insecure (open) Wi-Fi and mobile networks: ask, enable VPN, disable VPN or ignore the network.
Last but not least is Stealth Guard. This does a couple of things. First, you can set it so that certain apps must use the VPN. That sounds like split-tunnelling, but with Stealth Guard, those apps won’t work unless the VPN is running. So if you want to ensure you’re protected before downloading a torrent, you can choose your BitTorrent client in Stealth Guard.
The second way it can work is to limit all apps to the VPN connection. This can be used on the mobile apps to ensure your data allowance is better protected: data will only be consumed while the VPN is active.
It’s a risky strategy to claim to be the world’s fastest VPN. We expected amazing results when testing hide.me, but ultimately we were left disappointed.
Speeds aren’t the worst we’ve seen, but all the servers we tried reduced our usual (download) connection speed by around 50 percent or more, and our upload speed by more than 90 percent in some cases. Ping times were also poor.
You could happily stream HD and potentially even 4K content when connected to most servers but given that some rivals offer speeds much closer to those of our leased line, not only does it lag behind those competitors, it also fails to deliver on its promise.
We had a couple of minor issues with the mobile apps (but only when we’d enabled the Auto Connect feature), but became very frustrated with the Windows app. We installed it on two separate test machines. Even after a reboot following installation, the app refused to connect to a server on both PCs, yet remained silent with no error messages.
The issue turned out to be not having other VPN apps installed (though we did uninstall those at the request of tech support) but our antivirus & firewall software which had to be disabled. We’ve not had this problem with any other VPN app in Windows, and having to add hide.me as an exception is the opposite of convenient.
On one of the Windows PCs, we enabled Stealth Guard which successfully prevented any apps from connecting to the internet unless the VPN was enabled. However, after disabling it, those apps still couldn’t connect and nothing we tried would restore that connection: not even uninstalling the hide.me app. In the end, we had to completely reset the network settings to fix the issue.
Another black mark, then.
We saw no security problems when testing for IP or DNS leaks: hide.me always kept our real location hidden. It was a little annoying that we experienced a couple of dropped connections, but at least the kill switch worked as advertised and cut the internet connection to prevent an IP leak.
One of the big questions is whether a VPN service unblocks Netflix. When we tried using hide.me’s Android and Windows apps, we found Netflix detected the use of a VPN and prevented us watching anything. Even selecting the two servers instructed by hide.me did nothing to change this.
The same happened with iPlayer, although hide.me’s website does acknowledge that it is currently blocked by the BBC.
On paper, hide.me is a decent VPN service. In reality, though, it proved frustrating to use, didn’t offer the amazing speeds it promised and wouldn’t unblock Netflix or iPlayer.
Add to this our woes with the Windows app and it simply isn’t a service we can recommend, and that’s before factoring in the limited bandwith unless you opt for the most expensive subscription tier.