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HMA VPN review: A simple, user-friendly VPN

Stuart Andrews
7 Dec 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
per month

Don’t be fooled by the deliberately asinine exterior – HMA VPN is fast, intuitive and extremely affordable in time for Black Friday

Unblocks Netflix and BBC iPlayer
Clear privacy policies
Easy to use
Good speeds
UK HQ not ideal for privacy enthusiasts
Uses virtual locations for long-distance links

Update: HMA VPN has now been updated to V5. Apart from its biggest redesign yet, one of the best features of this version is that it now maintains a strict zero-logs policy, bringing it on par with other top VPN services in the field. Going forward, the service will not log your IP address, any DNS queries, browsing history or transfer data. You can install the VPN on unlimited devices and use it on any five devices at the same time.

Original review continues: With its jokey name and donkey mascot, HMA VPN (formerly called HideMyAss!) has often risked looking like a less-than-serious VPN. In fact, it’s a well-established service, founded in the UK in 2005 by the then 16-year-old Jack Cator and building up to around 10 million users at its peak. In 2015 it was bought by AVG Technologies and, since 2016, has been part of the wider Avast group. This puts it in the same stable as Avast SecureLine and AVG Secure, both VPNs with an emphasis on internet security.

HMA takes a slightly different angle, focusing on privacy, a user-friendly interface and speed. And for the most part, this works, with the service’s Windows and smartphone apps doing an impressive job of making it as easy as humanly possible to do what it is you’re trying to do, without restricting you in terms of options and features. This makes HMA VPN a very likeable option.

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HMA VPN review: What you need to know

HMA VPN has been around for a long time by VPN standards, so it’s been able to build up a network covering over 1,000 servers across 290 plus different locations. Though now owned by Avast, based in the Czech Republic, it’s still operated by Privax Limited, which is based in the UK.

Where some VPNs offer different tiers of service, HMA VPN plays things straight with a single option and prices that change depending on how long you’re prepared to pay for in advance. Unusually, there’s also a free 7-day trial available and you’re covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

As with most VPNs, there are clients and apps available for Windows Mac OS, iOS, Android and Linux, while you can also configure some routers to support the VPN, either through the router’s firmware, an open firmware or the FlashRouters Privacy App. HMA VPN provides fairly detailed instructions on its website.

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HMA VPN review: Setup and basic use

Setup is easy. You can sign-up to the trial or paid-for service, download the client and install it, and an activation code later you’re up and running. From there on, it couldn’t be much easier, because the HMA VPN Windows app is one of the best we’ve seen, particularly if you’re not an expert user. The interface is clear, with well-labelled buttons and some clever use of animation – a donkey donning and removing a mask is a bit more distinctive than your average connection/disconnection indicator.

You get advice when you’re changing settings, and the app puts everything in simple English. In fact, it’s a surprise when it makes a slip-up. If I want to add an app to the Killswitch list, for example, it might make more sense to give me a list of installed apps and programs rather than point me to the System32 folder and hope I can find the .exe file from there.

There’s a lot to like here, though. The default Lightning Connect location takes you to the fastest nearby server, and if you want to go further afield, then going to the list will get you all the locations - arranged by country and region, along with shortcuts for favourites and the best options for streaming and P2P file-sharing.

What’s more, if you’re not sure which location to go for, the app has its own built-in speed test where you can select locations from a list – and add your own – then get a measure of the ping and download speed you can expect through each of them. This doesn’t seem important when you’re connecting to a VPN in the UK or Europe, but it can make all the difference when you’re trying to find the fastest option across the Atlantic.

HMA VPN review: Privacy and security

HMA VPN is based in the UK, which might raise a few red flags about privacy, especially if you’re concerned about who might access any logs and where that information might be shared. If your number one concern is avoiding any form of surveillance from the UK authorities or its Five Eyes partners, then our advice would still be to opt for a VPN based somewhere well outside the control of the aforementioned states, and preferably one with no data retention legislation and/or strong laws on personal data privacy.

For most users, where that’s not so all-important, HMA VPN has a few things in its favour. Its privacy policies are very clear about what information they do and do not keep. This tells you that they do log the timestamp of connections, the subnet of the originating IP address (with the last eight characters anonymised) and the IP address of the HMA server you’re using, including the amount of data transmitted through it.

This data is stored for only thirty days and no complete originating IP address is logged, nor any activities or DNS queries while connected. In short, while the UK authorities could request information and HMA VPN would have to give it to them, there’s a limit to how much useful or incriminating information could actually be passed over.

When it comes to security features, HMA VPN doesn’t go as far as some other services. There are no extra obfuscation measures or double-hop options, just a setting to shuffle IP addresses every 30 mimutes to 12 hours just to make it harder for any snoopers to track your location. There’s also a choice of two killswitches - one working globally, one operating on an app-by-app basis, and both terminating all connections in the event of a VPN failure.

In any case, security seems tight. DoILeak picked out a mismatch between browser timezone and request locations, plus an unusual number of hops – both indicating VPN use. What it couldn’t find, however, was anything that pointed to your real IP address or location, which is the sign of a strong VPN service.

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HMA VPN review: Performance

HMA’s approach might be light-hearted, but its performance is no joke. With a UK-to-UK VPN we saw download speeds degrade by an average 4.27% and upload speeds by 3.62% over a non-VPN fibre connection, but that’s not the kind of impact you’re going to notice unless you’re streaming 4K games or multiple 4K video streams.

While connections to the Netherlands were hit harder, at 9.26% and 5.7%, connections through Germany were barely affected, with a drop of less than 2% on the UK download speed.

Longer-distance connections were sometimes astonishingly fast. You can’t expect high speeds through a UK to Singapore VPN, but drops of 46% (download) and 21% (upload) aren’t bad at all. With the all-important US connection, we saw drops of less than 5% in both directions, which is highly commendable.

However, there is a caveat here. HMA VPN uses virtual servers based in Europe for a number of its long-haul VPN links, and when connecting through what was supposed to be a New York server, DoILeak picked it up as residing in the Czech Republic. Another connection, through a Connecticut server, registered as a German VPN.

Weirdly, this doesn’t seem to stop HMA VPN from fooling US Netflix through the New York and Liberty Island servers, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re uncomfortable with virtual VPN locations. In case you’re wondering, it also had no problems connecting through to the BBC iPlayer through a UK VPN.

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HMA VPN review: Browser extension

Whether or not you pay for HMA VPN, you can download and use its Chrome extension. It’s a fairly basic proxy plug-in that hides your IP address and location, and it won’t fool Netflix or other streaming services, partly because there’s no choice of location. On the plus side, the impact on connection speed is virtually non-existent, and the only minor irritation is some pushing to upgrade to the proper HMA VPN.

HMA VPN review: Mobile apps

HMA’s Android app does an impressive job of mirroring the Windows version, with the same look and feel, the same Killswitch features and even split tunnelling, so that you can select which apps use the VPN and which apps don’t. The iOS version is a little more basic, with no real options bar auto-connect and a locations list, but it still has the same friendly UI.

Performance on both counts is consistent with the Windows app, though connecting through a Chicago VPN server on the Android version saw speeds drop a little more, by 11% downstream and 5.4% upstream. The Apple versions saw speeds reduce by 4.3% and 6.8%.

HMA VPN review: Price

HMA VPN used to be expensive, but it’s now a very affordable option provided you’re prepared to pay upfront. The service has a pay-monthly plan, but it’s surprisingly hard to find from the homepage and costs £7.99 per month.

Instead, HMA VPN pushes you towards the options to pay £47.88 for a year upfront or £107.64 for three. This works out at £3.99 and £2.99 a month. We’ve seen cheaper but these aren’t bad prices, particularly given the quality of the service.

HMA VPN review: Customer support

There’s good and bad news on the customer support front. On the negative, there’s no telephone or 24/7 chat support, just a thorough knowledge base of useful articles and a support request form which will either point you at the right article or put a request through to a suitable representative.

On the positive, the articles in the knowledgebase seem coherent, well-written and full of credible technical information, while the response to support requests is quick. We received answers to questions within an hour and got helpful, practical advice.

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HMA VPN review: Verdict

HMA VPN isn’t going to be the best fit for some VPN users. Being based in the UK will be an issue for those focused on privacy and anonymity, while some more technical users have a deep-rooted mistrust of virtual locations.

If you’re more interested in streaming and security, however, then HMA VPN has a lot going for it. Speeds are good, security is strong and it’s one of the easiest VPNs to use – almost to the point of being fun. It’s not a crucial factor when you’re choosing a VPN, but wouldn’t it be nice if more apps and services put the odd smile on your face?

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