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.
Their free plan can be used by anyone “in exchange for safely 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 free VPN providers.
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 streaming services. It boasts a massive base of over 243 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 tier if you’re serious about your VPN service.
We took Hola through the same tests as other top-rated VPNs to find out what actually makes it tick. This Hola VPN review helps to 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.
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 go on to clarify:
“Please also note that Hola VPN doesn’t show ads or sell information. Furthermore, free users can just install our browser extension. In this case, they are not part of our P2P network and don’t contribute any resources.”
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 to make.
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 open and honest about how data is used
- Premium version offers extra 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 network (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 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 completely. However, it easily accesses 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, along with multiple device connections.
Most of all, we appreciate the transparency of Hola. Before signing up, you know exactly what you’ll 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, working out to 30 minutes per hour. 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 to worry about.)
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.
They’ve also added an ‘Ultra’ tier, allowing for 20 simultaneous devices, rather than 10. It’s either $29.99 for one month, $19.99 for 12 months, or $7.99 per month upfront for a three-year deal.
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 (Due to Apple itself rather than the VPN).
When you first 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 to cancel before the 72 hours is up if you’re not satisfied, or you’ll be charged the full price for the term you selected.
Hola was more expensive than I expected, especially compared to many established VPNs. However, their website often contains numerous deals and coupons to choose from.
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 website 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, you won’t be able to 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 testmyspeed.com 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, Hola is as fast as your connection allows while using the freemium service. This likely explains the huge customer base Hola has. 243 million users seem to 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 218 countries.
Think of it this way. When you connect, you use someone else’s IP to do so. However, the same is true for IP address, so there’s a definite trade-off.
You’ll be able to find a list of countries with Hola VPN servers here.
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.
Streaming & Torrenting
Hola VPN excels as one of the best VPNs for streaming. 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.
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 freemium plan. As a browser-only VPN, there was no way to encrypt the traffic going to and from my device. We do have a list of the best torrenting sites if you decide to go with Hola’s premium plan.
If you want to stream, torrent, or game from anywhere online, you’ll want to upgrade to Hola’s premium service 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 to avoid the possibility of your information being compromised. However, with a free plan, you can’t have 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 do offer Windows, Android, and iOS apps.
- Hola Browser
- Microsoft Edge
- Fire TV
- Smart TVs
They note that the Opera browser add-on operates as a standard VPN service, and is 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.)
Apps tend to allow for more functionality, along with added privacy features that are missing with the free version.
You can use Hola VPN Premium with the following devices:
- Windows: Win 8 and higher
- Mac: OS 10.11 El Capitan and higher
- iOS: iOS version 8.0 and higher
- Android: version 5 and higher
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.
Protect PC mode:
- IKEv2/IPsec, PPTP/L2TP (default: IKEv2/IPSec)
- Encryption: DES3,AES128,AES192,AES256 (default: AES256)
- Integrity check: MD5, SHA1, SHA256,SHA384 (default: SHA1)
- Diffie-hellman group: MODP1024, MODP2048, MODP2048_256 (default: MODP2048)
Protect browser/site mode:
- SSL (HTTPS proxy)
Access site mode:
- Proxy split tunneling (not all your traffic is encrypted)
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 is 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.””
You can check out 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 idle 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 to be found.
Summing up this Hola VPN review, it’s a mixed bag. 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 torrenting VPNs go, it’s a great idea in principle. In the interest of balance, Hola does go farther than most freemium VPNs to cover its bases.
Both the free and premium versions are easy to use, have decent functionality, and speeds were 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. If you’re looking to save extra money on a paid Hola VPN subscription, check if they have any available deals today.