Buy a VPN service and you’ll probably expect access to a carefully managed network of high-powered servers, smartly linked via highly secure protocols to block all unauthorized access to your traffic.
Hola isn’t like that at all.
The Israeli company describes its offering as a “community powered (Peer-to-Peer) VPN”. You’ll get to choose a destination country from a list of 41 options, but Hola routes your traffic through other user’s computers, rather than its own network.
The service is much more limited than regular VPNs – there is no P2P support, no dedicated IPs, no port forwarding – and its technology has all kinds of potential performance issues, but there are some possible benefits. For example, as your traffic will always be taking different routes, depending on the available systems, it should make it more difficult for the service to be detected and blocked.
One obvious concern about the free edition is that although you get to use the bandwidth of other Hola nodes, they can also use yours. But Hola points out that its demands are low, no more than 3MB a day from mobile devices, 100MB from desktops.
Additionally, Hola only uses a system as a peer if it’s completely idle and not running on battery power, ensuring it shouldn’t make any noticeable difference to the operation of your device.
There’s still scope for problems with Hola Free. If your system becomes the exit node for another Hola user who’s hacking, sending spam or downloading something illegal, for instance, your IP address may be recorded as the offender.
Uncomfortable with that? Then you might want to upgrade to Hola Premium. The service supports Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices, and can be set up to run on routers, gaming consoles, smart TVs and more. It also unblocks a few more sites, including Netflix. Hola VPN Premium allows you to connect up to 10 of these devices simultaneously, and as you’re a paying customer, no one else will be able to use your bandwidth.
Hola VPN Premium pricing
The Hola VPN Premium monthly plan is expensive at a chunky $14.99 to protect up to 10 simultaneous connections. Pay for a year upfront and this drops to a (still costly) $7.69, but if you’re willing to sign up for three years, it plummets to a low $2.99.
Hola also has an Ultra plan, offering faster servers and supporting up to 20 simultaneous connections. It’s so expensive that we’re struggling to take it seriously, though ($29.99 billed monthly, $19.99 a month over a year, $7.99 on the three-year plan), and so we’re not going to consider it here.
There’s no option to pay via Bitcoin, but Hola does support paying via card, PayPal, Google Pay, Alipay, Sofort and more. A 30-day money-back guarantee protects you if anything goes wrong.
Your account is set up to auto-renew, and there’s no option to change this, either, but you can cancel manually online.
Hola still has free browser extensions for Firefox, Opera and Edge (more on Chrome in a moment), but they’re not as handy as they used to be. Usage is now limited to a maximum of 30 minutes in every hour, for instance. It doesn’t take long for that to become really annoying.
You can’t get by with just the extension anymore, either. Hola’s Firefox add-on wouldn’t work until we installed the desktop app, which is also a little inconvenient.
Google and Hola
Google removed Hola’s extension from the Chrome store in September 2021. We’ve seen no official statement from Google on why this happened, and even Hola says it has ‘no idea’ of the cause, beyond a Chrome store warning that it contained ‘malware’.
Hola responded: “Make no mistake, the Hola extension does NOT contain malware, does not display ads, and above all, respects user privacy. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, it meets or exceeds all of the Chrome store’s policies and guidelines. We made sure of that.”
Hola’s Android app isn’t available on the Play Store right now, either. The Hola site mentions that, but doesn’t explain it.
This clearly has to be a concern, but as Google hasn’t accused Hola of anything, let alone provided any evidence, we’re not going to consider it as a privacy or security issue in this review.
We’ll keep an eye on this situation, though, and will update this review when any new details emerge.
Privacy and logging
Most VPNs route your traffic through their own servers, in theory giving them an opportunity to log some of what you’re doing. Hola’s model of routing data through its users might seem a better way to protect your privacy, but it’s not quite that simple.
Here’s an interesting section from Hola’s FAQ:
“Hola VPN regularly monitors the consumer network for traces of misuse or security breaches. In addition, architecture modifications allow Hola VPN to see the origin of each request, thus if a cybercriminal were to use the Hola VPN network, the cybercriminal’s information may be passed on to the authorities. This makes Hola VPN un-attractive to abusers. Some VPN networks don’t see both ends of the connection, and are therefore much more attractive for these uses.”
The company says it monitors some of what users are doing on the network, and that it can track back to identify the origin of any request it considers as ‘misuse’ or part of a ‘security breach’. This is great for catching hackers, but it also requires more monitoring and logging than you’ll see with standard VPNs.
Personal data Hola ‘may collect and retain includes your IP address, your name and email address, screen name, payment and billing information or other information we may ask from time to time as will be required for the on-boarding process and services provisioning.’ That applies to free and paid users.
It also collects ‘details of applications that are installed on the user’s device’, which you might not expect.
If you sign up with a social network account, this gives Hola access to details ‘such as your full name, home address, email address, birth date, profile picture, friends list, personal description, as well as any other information you made publicly available on such account or agreed to share with us.’
There are plenty of logging possibilities here, then, and when you factor in the lack of detail about other crucial areas of the service – like how your traffic is encrypted and protected (we’ve no idea) – this has to be a concern. If anonymity is your top priority and you’re looking to reduce even the possibility of monitoring, Hola is absolutely not for you.
But if you can live with all the protocol-related uncertainties, there is some good news. Our final privacy tests gave a thumbs-up to Hola, with no sign of DNS, WebRTC or other data leaks.
Hola’s Chromium-based Windows app opened with a simple location picker, allowing us to connect to the US, or browse all 41 countries. This is just a basic menu with a list of countries, and has no city-level locations, no server load or ping times, and no Favorites system to save your most-used servers.
The app doesn’t use desktop notifications to tell you when you’ve connected or disconnected. The system tray icon updates to show the flag of your current connection, though, and if you open the app window, you’re also able to view your new IP address.
Connection times proved a little slower than average at 10-15 seconds, even with our closest UK servers. The fastest VPNs might connect from within a couple of seconds via IKEv2 or WireGuard.
Once you’re connected, Hola Premium works like any other VPN. That is, it doesn’t just protect your browser, like the free product; all your internet traffic gets directed through Hola’s encrypted tunnel.
The app only has three main settings, but they’re all valuable. An Auto Connect feature automatically connects you to a specific location when Hola starts, plus an App Kill Switch reduces the chance of identity leaks by killing specified apps if the VPN connection drops. Finally, a Security panel gives experts fine-tuned control over Hola’s encryption methods (you can choose AES-128/192/256 encryption, SHA-1/256-384 integrity checking, and much more).
The iOS app looks much like the Windows build, but it’s even more basic. You get a location list, an On/Off button, and, uh, that’s about it.
Until you use an app this stripped-back, you don’t quite realize how much you get with some of the competition. There’s no city-level locations, for instance. No server load or ping times to help you choose. You can’t mark locations as Favorites. There’s no system-wide kill switch, you can’t change or tweak your protocol, and there’s no auto-connect option to protect you on untrusted networks.
Hola’s target consumer audience probably won’t care very much about any of this. Indeed, they’ll probably be happy that there’s almost nothing to learn. But if you’ve used other VPNs, the chances are you’ll find Hola a little underpowered.
Hola is very simple, but if it doesn’t work for you, the company’s Support site has various articles which might help you solve any problems.
These are sensibly organized by categories (General Information, Troubleshooting, Billing and Payments etc) and platforms (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, more), and do a reasonable job of covering what you need to know. If you’re troubleshooting the Windows app, for instance, there are articles on what to do if Hola doesn’t connect, or you can’t access the site you need, or if the connection is slow, and so on.
There’s not much content in any of these articles – the slow speeds article lists five simple suggestions in just 79 words. They’re the kind of suggestions we’d expect to see in a single FAQ page, rather than a full-strength support site document.
Still, there are some useful ideas here, and you might get the help you need to fix your problems.
If you’re still in trouble, you can send a message to the support team explaining an issue. We tried this at 4pm on Friday, and at 10:12am the next morning a helpful reply arrived with some well-chosen advice.
Hola’s support isn’t great, and we’d like far more detailed help articles, and live chat for emergencies. But it’s also far from the worst we’ve seen, and if you do run into difficulties, there’s a fair amount of help available to solve your issues.
Netflix and streaming
Hola VPN Premium sells itself largely on the ability to unblock streaming platforms, but there’s no real sign of that in the regular apps. There are no specialist servers to unblock Netflix or other platforms, for instance. And as the app doesn’t have city-level locations, you can’t simply switch to another location if the first one doesn’t work.
Don’t be fooled, though. It may not look like much, but Hola VPN Premium excelled during testing, getting us access to US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and more in three separate tests per platform.
Although the service worked for streaming sites, we found we were regularly blocked or were shown Captchas by Google and other sites. We checked three Hola UK and three US IP addresses with the service IPQualityScore, and it gave all of them a maximum 100 ‘fraud’ rating with recent bot activity recorded. This isn’t Hola’s fault – it’s hackers abusing the service – but if Hola’s IP addresses have a bad reputation, that inevitably causes problems for other users.
We measured Hola performance with several benchmarking services – SpeedTest’s website and command line app, SpeedOfme, nPerf – from a US residential location and UK data center, both with a 1Gbps connection. Each test is run multiple times across a couple of sessions, giving us more than 100 data points, which we then analyze to see what’s going on.
The results were below average, with Hola’s median speeds reaching 200-260Mbps at best.
That’s roughly equivalent to the OpenVPN speeds we’ll see from some providers. CyberGhost’s OpenVPN connections reached 170-210Mbps in recent testing, for instance, and Windscribe managed 230-250Mbps.
The problem is that some providers do much better (ProtonVPN’s OpenVPN speeds reached 400-460Mbps in its last review), and WireGuard and similar protocols are faster again (CyberGhost, IPVanish, Hide.me, Mozilla and NordVPN all reached 750Mbps and higher in their last tests).
As a part of our VPN speed tests, we also measure DNS query times. Every time you visit a website, this might try to access content from 5, 10, 20 or more domains, and each could generate a DNS query to find the domain’s IP address. A slow DNS server means websites load more slowly and everything feels less snappy, less responsive.
Hola didn’t feel responsive to us, and testing highlighted DNS query times as a possible cause. We found they were approaching 0.2 seconds for UK to US connections, the worst we’ve seen in recent reviews, and twice as long as the best providers. An extra tenth of a second may not sound like much, but some websites generate a lot of DNS queries, and this leaves the service feeling noticeably slower than average.
Hola VPN Premium review: Final verdict
Hola VPN Premium has worthwhile improvements on the free service, including the ability to unblock Netflix and other sites, protect your entire system, and be set up manually on multiple devices. But speeds are below average, it has more privacy issues than ever, and many top VPNs give you much more for a far lower price.