When I started reviewing virtual private network (VPN) services, one name came up again and again, often with a wink and a nod: Hide My Ass, the VPN service that strives to do exactly what it says on the can.
It has the makings of one of the best VPN services with its numerous servers and range of features, but Hide My Ass is a bit on the expensive side, and it’s not particularly generous with device licenses.
What Is a VPN?When you point your browser to a particular website, you’re actually sending a request through the Internet’s mysterious tubes to the server where the website is stored.
It responds with the information you requested, which is displayed on your screen.
All along this trip, someone can intercept your requests, or simply watch what you’re browsing and (potentially) what you’re saying online. Most of the time you’ll be encountering advertisers trying to monitor your behavior for targeted ads, but attackers might also be sitting on the network out to steal your personal information, your passwords, and who knows what else.
A VPN is designed to guard against all that. When you connect to a VPN, you’re creating an encrypted tunnel between yourself and the VPN’s server. Your request is relayed from the server to whatever site or service you’re trying to reach, and the information travels back along the encrypted tunnel. Your IP address is hidden, since anyone watching traffic on websites will see the IP address of the VPN server. Your information is also protected, because the encrypted tunnel makes it very difficult for an advertiser, an attacker, or even a three-letter agency to snoop your traffic.
The most obvious place to use a VPN is when you’re away from your home network—a hotel when you’re traveling, for example, or perhaps when you’re using the local coffee shop’s public Wi-Fi. Unsecured networks like these are a favorite of attackers looking to swipe your personal information.
VPNs are also a key tool for journalists and political dissidents operating in countries with oppressive Internet policies.
But VPNs can be fun, too.
I know that sounds like a stretch, but it’s true.
A VPN can spoof your current location, giving you access to geographically restricted content like BBC streaming.
Some VPNs don’t appreciate these activities, and some content providers like Netflix are cracking down on proxy users, too.
Pricing and FeaturesIf you’re looking to try out Hide My Ass before you buy it, you’re out of luck.
The service does not offer a free version or a free trial.
If you’re in need of a great free VPN, you can always try Spotflux Free VPN or Hotspot Shield Elite, both of which offer completely free versions of their software.
Hide My Ass does, however, have a 30-day money-back guarantee and offers loyalty rewards for convincing others to sign up.
That said, it costs $11.52 a month, making it a pricey pill to swallow.
TorGuard VPN and HideIPVPN come in at $9.99 per month, and even those prices are on the higher end of the spectrum.
If you’re the commitment type, you can get a Hide My Ass subscription for $99.96 every six months or $78.60 a year.
To pay for that, you can use credit cards, PayPal, wire transfer, e-check, Union Pay, Diner’s Club, or Cash at 7-11. You can also use gift cards from stores like Starbucks or GameStop. What you can’t use is cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which are accepted by many VPN services like Private Interent Access, NordVPN, and others.
Unfortunately, the service’s steep price is also a bit stingy on the number of devices it lets you protect. Hide My Ass only lets you connect two devices to the service, and only when those devices are connected to different servers.
That’s fine if you just have a computer and phone, but plenty of folks have several devices and probably share them with family members, too. Most other services, like Editors’ Choice winner Private Internet Access VPN, offer at least five licenses without restriction.
If you want to protect all of your devices within Hide My Ass’s restrictions, you can use the company’s handy guide for installing VPN software on your router.
Though it sounds slightly insane, installing VPN on a router means that every single device on your network—from your laptop to your smart fridge—gets the benefit of VPN. Other companies, like TorGuard VPN, offer routers and even streaming boxes like the Apple TV with VPN pre-installed.
The Bitdefender Box is similar in that it’s designed to protect all the devices on your network and does include some really interesting VPN features, although its role is primarily protecting against malicious software and websites.
In addition to the basic VPN tools, Hide My Ass lets you change your IP address with the click of a mouse, which is a feature I haven’t seen in any other service. Hide My Ass can also be configured to change your IP address at pre-set intervals, though you will be briefly disconnected in order to do so.
Still, if you’re very concerned about hiding your IP address, it’s a handy feature.
There’s also a Kill Switch feature, which Hide My Ass calls an IP bind.
It’s basically a list of applications that will be cut off from the Internet if the Hide My Ass disconnects for any reason.
It’s an insurance policy against any of your information leaking out accidentally. HideIPVPN and Private Internet Access are just a few of the other VPN services that also feature Kill Switches.
The most notable aspect of Hide My Ass is the sheer number of servers it offers. With over 100,000 available IP addresses spread across 900 servers in 300 locations covering virtually every country on the globe, you’ll have no trouble finding a server that meets your needs.
This is really remarkable, since several of the best VPN services leave out huge swaths of the globe, especially South America, Central America, and all of Africa. Hide My Ass has these regions—and the rest—covered.
Despite its impressive geographic coverage, Hide My Ass has little in the way of specialty servers.
Editors’ Choice winner NordVPN, on the other hand, has a specific server type for high-speed video streaming, another that routes your VPN connection through the Tor network without having to use the Tor Browser, and yet another that provides double encryption.
TorGuard hangs its hat on servers specifically designed for using Bittorrent anonymously.
Hands OnI started using Hide My Ass on a Google Nexus 5X and really appreciate the bright, colorful design. Unfortunately, a lot of that hasn’t made its way to the desktop version just yet.
Though I had no trouble installing it on my Dell Latitude E7250 laptop running Windows 8.1, I immediately felt that people who hadn’t spent the last month installing and using different VPN clients would be confused.
The Windows app uses a single window to control every aspect of your VPN, which I really like.
Tabs down the side of the app give you quick access to selecting your preferred VPN server, changing your IP address, running a speed test to find the speediest server, changing your proxy settings, or altering the billing of your account.
This isn’t exactly ugly, but it has all the charm and usability of a settings menu.
An attempt at innovative user experience design can be found in the Country Selection tab, which offers a map view to select a server, but it’s a bit too clunky to really be useful.
Fans of the system tray can use the tiny icon to connect to VPN or change their IP address with a click.
All of this isn’t to say that using Hide My Ass is difficult.
In fact, I like how the most important features are laid out with the tabs offering more information and more advanced options.
But it’s a far cry from the slick design of Spotflux or Hotspot Shield Elite.
The developers assure me that change is coming to Hide My Ass, mostly in the form of a revamped interface that will be closer to the design of the mobile app.
Speed TestNo matter the VPN service you use, your connection will be slower when the VPN is switched on.
But not all VPNs have the same effect on your Internet experience.
To test this, I compare the average results from speedof.me and speedtest.net, the latter of which is owned by our parent company Ziff Davis.
Because networks are notoriously fickle things, I take the baseline measurements immediately after testing VPN speeds.
Please note that in all my reviews, I use a VPN server located in Australia.
Speedtest.net lets me select a test server; when testing VPN or establishing a baseline, I always choose one in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Speedof.me does not offer this feature.
Instead, it chooses the closest server to my IP address, which was Sydney for VPN testing and New York for baseline testing.
On Speedtest.net, I measured a 255.5 percent increase in latency.
Though that seems high, it’s pretty par for the course for this test.
F-Secure Freedome increased latency over 300 percent, whereas Hotspot Elite Shield only increased latency by 127 percent.
The Speedof.me results showed that Hide My Ass increases latency by 536.7 percent, which places it on the worse end of results for this test.
I also found that Hide My Ass reduced download speeds by 26.2 percent, and decreased upload speeds by 40 percent. PureVPN, on the other hand, actually increased speeds by 167 percent, whereas Steganos Online Shield reduced upload speeds by 94.7 percent.
This puts Hide My Ass on the quicker end of the spectrum.
Things were a little worse on Speedof.me, which, remember, is using the geographically closer servers for its measurements. On this test, Hide My Ass reduced download speeds by 22.3 percent.
This might sound fine, but it’s actually the second-worst score I’ve recorded on this test; a title which is currently held by Steganos, which has download speeds 96 percent lower than baseline. Hide My Ass also reduced upload speeds by 42.9 percent, which is, again, not a great score for this test.
Of course, these numbers don’t really do justice to the hands-on experience. Latency time, for example, is measured in milliseconds.
VPNs slow things down, but most are entirely tolerable, and I found the same with Hide My Ass.
If anything, it felt zippier than other services I’ve tested.
It did have some trouble with streaming video, however. Netflix refused to load when I was connected to an Australian server, and though videos on YouTube loaded quickly they did not default to HD resolution. When I switched the YouTube video to 4K, the waiting wheel simply spun and spun.
If you’re looking to do some heavy video streaming, you’re going to hit some speed bumps.
To offset some of the inherent VPN slowdown, Hide My Ass Includes a speed testing tool to find a zippy server.
Though the list of servers is organized in order of distance from you, any of the service’s servers can be tested.
These tests are very similar to the ones I use when reviewing VPNs, but take significantly longer.
It’s a handy tool, but NordVPN includes latency data right in its design without having to run specific tests.
Stay HiddenHide My Ass deserves a lot of credit for not merely resting on its tongue-in-cheek name, and providing a truly worldwide VPN service.
It also packs smart features into a relatively simple interface, keeping the complicated tools suppressed and surfacing the most important settings.
That said, I’m looking forward to future updates that will improve the interface even more.
The service also needs to include more than just two licenses with its already expensive monthly fee.
If you’re looking for simple and powerful VPN, Hide My Ass can serve you well.
But I’m still sticking with my recommendation of NordVPN and Private Internet Access, both of which are Editors’ Choice winners.