WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
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Hola VPN is a provider with a twist. They’re happy to let you connect to anywhere in the world with their “free” service, although most of their notable features are locked behind a paywall.
Its free plan can be used by anyone “in exchange for using some of your device’s resources (WiFi and very limited cellular data), and only when you are not using your device.”
They’re open and honest about their business model, showing the following message during sign-up:
For some users, it’s better than paying an unaffordable fee. And the transparency is a breath of fresh air compared to some VPN providers on the market.
However, nothing in life is truly free, so we’ve taken the time to examine the unique business model of Hola VPN, as well as checking out what their premium service has to offer.
As a P2P proxy service, Hola has carved out a massive user base due to the lack of a price tag for the freemium tier, along with its ability to unblock websites and services. On site, it boasts a massive base of over 227 million members.
Of course, there are a number of limitations in place, in terms of the amount of time it can be used for, as well as overall privacy and security. Because of this, we recommend looking into Hola’s premium plan over its free plan if you’re at all serious about your VPN service.
We took Hola through the same tests as other top-rated VPNs we review to find out what actually makes it tick. This Hola VPN review helps explain what we found.
About Hola VPN
Headquartered in Israel, Hola Networks Limited first launched in 2012. Unlike the majority of providers who use physical VPN servers, the free version of Hola uses a peer-to-peer (P2P) system that allows people to unblock websites and services by redirecting and connecting via a local users’ device.
Proving to be extremely popular, they quietly began selling access to their userbase as exit nodes in 2014, under the name Luminati. They charged $20 per gigabyte for bandwidth sapped from users of the HolaVPN service, unbeknownst to the average customer.
In terms of the data they use in the present day, Hola states, “For desktop users, we use less than 100MB per day. For mobile users, it is around 3MB per day. We believe this is a fair trade in return for providing a free VPN.”
They now make their relationship with Luminati clear upon signup. In terms of the data they use in the present day, Hola states, “For desktop users, we use less than 100MB per day. For mobile users, it is around 3MB per day. We believe this is a fair trade in return for providing a free VPN.”
Truthfully, they’re right. Free is nice, but it wouldn’t keep the lights on at the Hola headquarters, that’s for sure. So, the decision to use the free version is yours.
Pros & Cons
Before you rush off to install the software, be sure to consider the main pros and cons we found while using the Hola VPN service.
The pros list is longer than we’d normally offer up, simply because Hola VPN transparently lays out its business model. Check out what we liked most:
- Capable free tier (with some compromises)
- Unblocks many sites without a fee
- They’re very open and honest about how data is used
- Premium version offers privacy and security features
- No payment information required
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Easy-to-use app interface
- Connects to most popular devices and platforms
- Large server coverage (40+ countries) for both versions
- Ideal for users who need a VPN for streaming or torrenting
- P2P proxy service allows for the same speeds as a user’s maximum bandwidth
While short and sweet, this list of cons (primarily for the free tier) should make you pause for a second. You’ll see why below:
- Your connection is used by Bright Data (formerly Luminati Networks) for commercial purposes
- Browser version tier is not really a VPN if there are no privacy/security features
- Timer on the free version
- Logs user data with the free tier
- No native app support for Linux
- No independent audit to verify “no-logs” policy claims
With the free version of Hola VPN, you get pretty standard features as seen below. The UX of its app, however, makes it a lot more enjoyable to use than other clunky alternatives like BTGuard. It does let users choose which country they’d like to connect from. Everything else, though, is locked behind a paywall.
The reason why many of you are reading this right now is likely to be the free version of Hola’s service. So, what’s the catch? As stated on their website:
“Hola VPN provides a free service to overcome censorship and a paid service for secure browsing.”
In other words, the free version isn’t a true VPN service, in that it won’t mask your connection properly. However, it easily unblocks a range of geo-blocked services from Disney + to BBC iPlayer. This is a definite plus for streamers, gamers, and P2P users.
They openly log user data with the free plan, and they sell the insights they collect for commercial use. If you don’t mind that, then the freemium version of HolaVPN might work for you.
For users looking for a little more functionality (and privacy), we recommend checking out Hola VPN’s premium tier.
While Hola VPN’s free plan is best for unblocking streaming sites, its premium plan includes the necessary elements most VPN users look for: a no-logs policy, advanced encryption and security measures, and multiple device connections.
Most of all, we appreciate the transparency of Hola. Before ever signing up, you know exactly what you get. And, if you’re still on the fence, Hola offers a generous 30-day money-back guarantee so you can always test before fully committing.
- 1 Month: $14.99/mo.
- 12 Months: $7.69/mo.
- 3 Years: $2.99/mo.
The freemium model has a daily time limit, coming in at 14 hours for me. That’s enough for a serious session, but the Hola app does like to prompt the user towards the paid service whenever it can.
Premium users get the benefit of not having their data sapped, as well as being able to use the service with no limitations in terms of time. (They also won’t be used as nodes on the P2P network, and there are no logs.)
The paid plans are split into a number of different contracts, depending on how long you’re willing to commit to. With one month priced at $14.99, that puts it directly in competition with some of the biggest names in the sector, such as Surfshark.
A three-year deal lowers the price down to $2.99 per month, but you will have to pay the full amount of $107.55 upfront.
Hola VPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for their premium plans, although they can’t issue refunds for purchases made on Apple’s App Store (a function of Apple itself VPNs can’t get around).
When you first attempt to download the VPN from the App Store, it gives you a three-day free trial so you can take it for a test run. Be sure, though, to cancel before the 72 hours is up, or you’ll be charged the full price of the term you selected upon downloading the app.
Hola was more expensive than I expected, especially compared to traditional VPNs. However, their website contains numerous deals and codes to choose from. Compared to other VPN providers, it hangs with the best of them.
Hola VPN doesn’t beat about the bush, clearly stating that they do keep logs for free users in their FAQ.
“Hola makes it clear on its web site that it employs technology to catch potentially malicious uses of its network, and that we do keep logs and will report any malicious use to the authorities. These measures are probably what make Hola the least attractive VPN for people with malicious or illegal intent to use.”
“They much prefer the various other VPNs that promise not to keep logs (winking at their view of illegal uses of their network). In our over 8 years of existence and more than 250 million users, to our best knowledge there has not been even one user that has been suspected (much less charged) with illegal use as a result of another user’s actions.”
This is fair to an extent, especially as the service is free of charge for the majority of users.
Meanwhile, freemium users are subject to a dizzying amount of personal data collected, that we’ll go through below:
- Non-Personal Information: This information cannot be used to identify the user from which that data was collected. Such Non-Personal Information include aggregated usage information and technical information transmitted by your device, such as your approximate geo-location, hardware specifications, OS and SDK version, browser type and version, the date of the Software installation, your URL requests, and respective time stamps.
- Personal Information: Personal Information is information that identifies or may identify you. The only Personal Information we may collect and retain is your IP address, which is necessary in order to provide our Service. Any Non-Personal Information that is specifically connected or linked to any Personal Information, is treated by us as Personal Information as long as such connection or linkage exists.
When sifting through the settings, you’ll find a tab named “Privacy”:
As a freemium user, I couldn’t turn off the “No logs” tab. Personally, I’d avoid any VPN that logs data. Though, my primary use for a VPN is online privacy, not streaming.
Their Premium Tier promises no logs, and it’ll allow you access to change the privacy settings found above. With no third-party audit to back up their logging policy, you’ll have to take their word for it, which is inadvisable from a security perspective.
Given most of the work is done via a browser and it’s mostly concerned with being able to unblock websites, I figured speeds were unlikely to be an issue while using the freemium version of Hola VPN. Firstly, I tested my typical connection stats, heading over to speedtest.net to do so.
I switched over to a U.S. version of the website using Hola VPN, with the results seen below:
As expected, I was able to access my normal download speeds, although the ping went up sevenfold. The proxy was working as it should be, connecting me via a server found in Secaucus, New Jersey.
I decided to test Germany next. Download speeds were similar, while the ping was closer to my own, as I connected via a node near Frankfurt.
However, I came back to my desk after the test to see that Hola was pushing me towards the premium version of their software, going so far as to add popups to my screen.
Since it’s more of a P2P proxy service, Hola is as fast as your connection allows while using the freemium service. This likely explains the huge customer base Hola has. Nearly 230 million users see value in this VPN’s performance.
The premium version uses real locations rather than a P2P system, so speeds were slightly slower when I connected to their UK servers.
Still, Speeds of 220 Mbps are great, even if it’s only 66% of my normal rate with no VPN connected. Overall, Hola scores highly on our performance tests.
Server Locations & Network
Given their P2P setup, the Hola network is as vast as the number of users that have installed their VPN. They claim to have thousands of servers and millions of IPs to choose from, scattered across 41 countries.
Think of it this way. When you connect, you use someone else’s IP to do so. However, the same is true for your IP address, so there’s a definite trade-off.
However, the large number of users is a positive in this respect, as you’ll never have trouble connecting to a region such as the U.S. or the U.K.
Here are the countries with Hola servers you can see connect to with the premium desktop version:
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
It’s worth noting that the Chrome extension offers double the countries compared to the desktop app, which is an impressive selection encompassing most of the world.
This server network coverage is the same for both Hola VPN’s free and premium versions. For a free VPN app, this spread is actually quite impressive. For a premium version, it’s more or less what you’d expect or want.
Streaming & Torrenting
Streaming is one area in which Hola VPN excels. Upon opening the browser extension, I was greeted with a host of apps and services that can be unlocked with the service.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from loading up another website that isn’t on the list. This worked successfully for me, as seen during the speed test as I connected to a local IP address multiple times.
Streaming with the freemium plan was hit and miss. For instance, it unblocked BBC iPlayer with no issues:
It also worked with Disney +, loading up their US library when I switched the Hola location:
Netflix is slightly different depending on which plan you choose. It’s generally difficult to unblock Netflix with a free VPN provider, as the streaming service vigorously blocks their connections to protect international broadcasting rights. Results will vary depending on the time and the IP address you’ve been assigned.
Hola has assured me that they can properly unblock Netflix in any country you want with the premium version, which is great news if you’re starved of entertainment.
Torrenting is a no-go with the “free” plan. As a browser-only VPN, there was no way to encrypt the traffic going to and from my device.
If you want to stream, torrent, or game from anywhere online, you’ll want to upgrade to Hola’s premium plan where you can take advantage of the fast speeds and unblocking capability.
Overall, it’s not a bad result for Hola VPN if you just want to access content in the short term.
If you frequently travel to geo-restricted countries like China, you understand all too well the struggles of finding a solid VPN to bypass censorship. And, while Hola VPN is great for unblocking websites, the P2P nature of its free service is concerning; after all, you’re letting other people use your internet connection, whether that be local users, or via Luminati.
On its site, Hola discloses that:
One bonus is that their software is free to use, helping some people to bypass firewalls by accessing local versions of websites, be it for news or social media. It’s not bad for a quick fix.
We’d prefer to see that no data is collected at all to avoid the possibility of your information being compromised. However, with a free plan, you can’t get it all.
Its premium plan does come better equipped with advanced encryption and security measures that make it more reliable for obfuscating firewalls.
Platforms & Devices
Hola VPN is available on a variety of different platforms and devices, with an emphasis on browser versions for freemium users. Linux support is nowhere to be seen, but they have catered for mobile users with Android and iOS apps.
- Microsoft Edge
- Fire TV
- Smart TVs
They note that the Chrome browser extension and Opera browser add-on operate as a standard VPN service, and are not part of the Hola VPN peer-to-peer network. (This means that it uses the traditional methods of a VPN to connect a user to a website, rather than the P2P network employed by the app.)
Hola VPN will be downloadable for the majority of users, although a lack of app support is a major drawback. Apps tend to allow for more functionality, along with added privacy features that are missing with the free version.
Encryption & Security
It’s worth noting that the freemium version of Hola can only be used to access sites, whereas “for secure browsing and unparalleled security, a Hola Premium subscription is required.” The Hola app will helpfully remind you that you’re not protected, so consider yourself warned.
Hola VPN Premium offers IKEv2/IPsec and PPTP/L2TP protocols, with the former used by default.
Is Hola safe? Its transparency is a breath of fresh air in the VPN arena, but we wanted to look at their policies directly to understand them.
As of 2021, they have updated their website to reflect their relationship with Luminati, who are now known as Bright Data. When delving into their End User License Agreement (EULA), Hola states:
“In return for free usage of Hola Free VPN Proxy, Hola Fake GPS location and Hola Video Accelerator, you may be a peer on the Luminati network. By doing so you agree to have read and accepted the terms of service of the Luminati SDK SLA. You may opt out by becoming a Premium user.”
So, what are the terms of service for the Luminati SDK SLA? They collect user info, while they go on to note that:
“Bright Data gives its customers the ability to route traffic through its peers’ idle resources. Bright Data treats certain devices of peers as nodes in the Bright Data network used to operate the Services. Peers agree to share their idle resources and become part of the Bright Data network in return for free features, ads free app, etc.”
Explore the full terms here. There are numerous privacy limitations with a proxy VPN, and that’s without considering their logging policy, as well as their ‘use of ideal resources’.
As for the premium edition, they say they’ll look after your data and collect no logs. We searched for a third-party audit of Hola’s service, which would help to provide proof and backing for these claims. Unfortunately, there were none.
If you just want to unblock a few websites or watch a new show through a browser extension, HolaVPN is a viable option that will get the job done. Of course, as a freemium service there are a number of caveats, and it does come at the expense of privacy.
Arguably, a VPN that has no security/privacy features isn’t really a VPN. It’s better to think of Hola’s free tier as a glorified website unblocker, and treat it accordingly. Judging by the vast number of positive reviews for Hola VPN, the majority of users trust the service, but I’d be careful regardless.
However, they do claim that the premium version collects no logs, and it’s a decent alternative if you’re in need of a traditional VPN.
The lack of information is a common theme while using the Hola app. How many servers do they have? Are their logging claims legitimate? There’s no way to know for sure. As P2P VPNs go, it’s a great idea in principle, however, Hola goes farther than most freemium VPNs to cover its bases.
Both the free and premium versions are easy to use, have decent functionality, and speeds perform great while unblocking websites. However, the free version is let down by a number of limitations due to the nature of the model and a lack of additional features outside of streaming.
For serious users, we’d look to the premium edition for any entertainment needs, be it streaming, torrenting, or gaming.