It’s super stealthy and ingeniously constructed, but is this Hong Kong VPN fast enough?
We’ve seen a bunch of Hong Kong–based virtual private networks (VPNs) hit the market in the past few years — X-VPN and UFO VPN, to name just two. I can only speculate on why there’s been so much VPN activity in Hong Kong, but judging from the stealthiness I discovered while testing Hong Kong–based Hidester VPN, I bet the reason is tied to Hong Kong’s proximity to China’s increasingly impenetrable Great Firewall.1They can really use clever, censorship-evading VPNs in Hong Kong.
When I unpackage a Hong Kong VPN, I never know what I’m going to get in terms of logging policies or apps. Customer support is sometimes a wild card too.
Hidester VPN, however, was a lot of fun right out of the gate. Yearly plans were reasonably priced ($3.99 per month for a year) and its apps were innovative with some outstanding privacy features that reminded me a lot of my experience testing F-Secure Freedome VPN.
I sat down with Hidester VPN for a few weeks, getting to know how everything worked under the hood and what it was like to use its apps and features day to day. We’ll get into all the goodies, including performance, privacy, pricing, and features, but first a quick introduction to Hidester’s main features.
FYI: The Great Firewall is an invisible barrier the Chinese government has constructed through heavy regulation and a ton of technology that makes it hard for outsiders to search sites inside China and for Chinese netizens to explore the internet outside China.
Hidester VPN’s standout power is evading geoblocks, which means it isn’t set up like a typical VPN that routes your website requests in and out of one or two secure servers. Hidester VPN uses a chain of servers, whether it’s using its own proprietary protocol (CamoVPN) or just good, old OpenVPN. We call this “multihopping,” and it’s designed to sneak past firewalls and outsmart censorship dragnets.
Hidester isn’t the only top VPN provider of 2023 to offer multihopping. NordVPN, our top-ranked VPN, offers the same service. Read my NordVPN review for an in-depth analysis of that feature. Hidester, however, uniquely uses multihopping all the time. We’ll see how that affects performance below, but this may be the VPN for you if you want to really cover your digital tracks.
Despite its focus on stealth, Hidester is user-friendly with a bunch of very useful tools built right into its apps, including a versatile server menu with plenty of connection data.
At under 50 bucks per year, Hidester is cheap enough to enter the fray against other quality $5-and-under VPNs with serious privacy chops, such as VyprVPN and ProtonVPN. For more on VyprVPN’s pricing, read my VyprVPN buyer’s guide.
Hidester’s device limits are average — five compared to the 10 you get with a similarly priced ProtonVPN subscription — and server locations are on the low side at 43.
That’s Hidester VPN in a nutshell: cheapish with well-put-together apps and highly obfuscated servers. Now let’s take a closer look at setup, plans, and pricing.
Pro Tip: When you’re looking for a VPN, don’t be wowed by high server numbers. More servers means less traffic, but server security counts too. That’s why a VPN provider like ExpressVPN, with 500 state-of-the-art, privately owned and operated DNS servers, consistently ranks so high on our VPN top-10 list.
Registering with Hidester and downloading my apps was easy once I got past the weirdest detour I think I’ve ever taken reporting on VPNs. Hidester VPN, for some reason, wanted me to purchase a hide.me VPN subscription.
A possible buy-out in the works? Clever sabotage by the security gurus at hide.me? No idea. When I clicked on “Get VPN 5 Months Free” on Hidester’s website (see above), I ended up on hide.me’s website, which was a lot slicker, so I was tempted. But as a noble Jedi once said: That wasn’t the Hidester VPN I was looking for.
A little further down the page, I found the VPN I was looking for, registered, and selected the monthly plan (more on this in a sec). I downloaded the Mac desktop app — straight from Hidester, not the App Store — gave it systems permissions, and I was up and running.
I purchased my one-month plan with a credit card, but you can pay with crypto if you have a CoinPayments account.
As with most VPNs, Hidester’s yearly subscription — $47.88, or a hair under 50 percent off the monthly fee — is the best offer. That’s what I would have chosen if I wasn’t wearing my reviewer’s hat. Hidester offered five simultaneously connected devices, which is a little light for my taste, but there was no option to pay a little more and get, say, 10 devices.
If you’re looking to protect more than five devices at the same time, try an IPVanish plan. They’re a little more expensive, but there are no device limits, which is pretty rare.
Many VPN users on the hunt for their next provider feel better testing a VPN before forking over any money, even a monthly subscription. I’m firmly in this camp, so I was happy to see Hidester offered the same seven-day money-back guarantee I found when reporting on TorGuard VPN.
Hidester’s prices were at the low end. They were a bit cheaper than other quality middle-of-the-road VPNs like VyprVPN (based in Switzerland), but a bit more than Netherlands-based Surfshark. Surfshark plans are among the cheapest on the market, with a pretty insane 24-month deal that comes out to $2.49 per month!
VPN prices fluctuate though. Case in point: you can steal a basic NordVPN package for $3.49 per month right now. If you’d told me that last year, I wouldn’t have believed you, because NordVPN normally hovers in the $9 to $11 per month range.
FYI: Google just launched its own VPN for Google One users, which is a bit like the NSA marketing a private chat service. No matter how convenient it may seem to slap another layer of Google over your Google, just remember what they used to say in Rome: caveat emptor (buyer beware).
If you don’t peek around under the hood of Hidester’s desktop app, it’s really easy to use with a big orange button (when connected) and a server list. That’s all you need if you’re a beginner.
But delving just a little, I found a few pretty clever surprises. When I hovered over server speeds on the server menu, for example, four different streams of connection data appeared for all 43 of Hidester’s locations, including latency and ping times.
Maybe that was a little more data than I needed, especially since Hidester found the best connection for me. If I was experimenting with far-flung locations, however, I would have had a good idea of how busy Hidester’s servers were, letting me steer clear of the crammed ones.
Clicking on the advanced tab on the bottom of the app brought up my protocols. Hidester offers two: OpenVPN and CamoVPN, a stealth protocol the company developed itself. Hidester says CamoVPN should have “minimum impact on processing power as well as data latency.” That wasn’t my experience. My Hidester VPN connections were on the sluggish side. I’ll explain why I think that was the case below.
Pro Tip: If you’re not happy with your connection speeds, you may need to experiment with how you use your VPN. Peak times and long server distances can compromise VPN horsepower. Protocols — the instructions we give our VPNs — can also behave differently on different devices, slowing them down or giving them more juice. Always tweak before you throw in the towel.
Hidester had one more option for connecting to the internet called CamoWeb, a stand-alone web proxy. Without getting bogged down in the details, proxy servers stand like gates between our devices and the open web, much like VPNs. Except proxy servers usually hide only our IP address; they don’t encrypt our internet traffic, so they’re not ideal solutions.
Hidester claims CamoWeb is a faster, encrypted alternative to its VPN, but only for browsing the web. In my own tests, CamoWeb’s speed varied. At times my connection died; at others it got a jolt of speed, as we’ll see in the performance section below.
Besides the kill switch under the security tab, which I quickly toggled on, the rest of Hidester’s settings require an advanced VPN degree. Hidester’s extra features are very well designed and packaged in a way that even non-experts can use with a little prep work. Here are my two favorites.
Hidester has seven different domain name system (DNS) server choices hiding under its VPN tab. I mention this because you may find that using, say, OpenDNS servers rather than Hidester’s defaults may gain you a bit more speed. DNS servers process all our requests to visit or interact with websites, so they’re important not just for speed, but also for security. Check out my analysis of ExpressVPN for a deep dive into server security.
Did You Know: OpenDNS — not to be confused with OpenVPN — is a DNS server giant operating in 160 countries. Every day it processes hundreds of billions of DNS requests from over 65 million users.
The other neat advanced feature Hidester offers is the option to set up a proxy for local area networks (LANs). It sounds like a mouthful, but it could come in handy. Say you want to give everyone using your home network without access to a VPN a little more privacy. The network proxy would be a good second choice. Proxies don’t encrypt, but they do hide your IP addresses. With an HTTPS proxy, they’re pretty secure.
As of this writing, Hidester has no mobile apps for Android or iOS devices. There are hacks for importing its mobile software through OpenVPN GUI, but that won’t work for most users. I’m one of them. For now, Hidester is effectively a desktop-only VPN.
The main things I look for when giving VPNs a safety grade are straightforward privacy policies and secure connections.
Where Hidester gets a little weird is with its DNS servers. Generally, the tighter a DNS server ship you run, the fewer servers you operate. Hidester operates out of 43 server locations, which isn’t many. When I looked under the hood, however, most if not all of those servers belonged to third parties — meaning they were sitting in someone else’s data centers, whether Google’s, Cisco’s, or Choopa’s.
Hidester is far from the only VPN to rent out servers, so that isn’t a black mark in its book. But the way I look at it, my VPN is my internet gatekeeper. The way Hidester uses its borrowed servers — hopping from one to another like links in a chain — sapped my connections.
If you want a snapshot of what that chain looks like, here it is. Keep in mind that normally you should see only one or two servers when you run a DNS server leak test. My Hidester connection looked more like a frequent flier statement. Safe to say, this amount of server hopping would drive the most sophisticated geo-blocking tools bonkers.
FYI: Hidester is serious about privacy despite its odd server setup. If you check out its website, you’ll find a free password generator and DNS leak test, as well as a free browser-based web proxy that conceals IPs and search histories.
When it comes to speed, most of us have more or less the same needs. Here are mine: I want to access services I pay for, such as Netflix, from wherever I want; to download (sometimes heavy-ish) files quickly; run the occasional torrent; and not get stuck when I’m streaming video or in the middle of a work or family Zoom.
My Hidester connections, however, were slowing me down. That was true no matter how much I fiddled with the protocols or when I went online. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I repeated my tests with a faster (87 Mbps download) internet connection. A 90 Mbps line makes for a pretty good speed test because, barring heavy uploading, that’s enough to let me stream video and browse securely without a hiccup — as long as my VPN holds up its end of the bargain.
Up top you can see my base speed. I was connecting over Wi-Fi in the middle of the day. Here’s what my connection looked like using Hidester’s multihopping CamoVPN.
With CamoVPN, I had enough juice to do some serious emailing, but not a lot more. Was it the protocol? I switched to OpenVPN.
This time I had enough horsepower to twiddle my thumbs waiting for Gmail to refresh. Tweaking the DNS servers didn’t do anything, so I tried CamoWeb, Hidester’s encrypted proxy, on a whim.
Bingo. Except for the fact that CamoWeb squashed my upload speed, it was even faster than my connection without a VPN. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to use a proxy if I was paying for a VPN — even an encrypted one.
As for bypassing Netflix’s geo-restrictions, that was oddly a no-go with Hidester. I wasn’t able to manage any P2P file transfers either. I suspect that was a question of speed — I just didn’t have enough — not Hidester’s inability to handle P2P. It’s actually one of the service’s selling points.
Did You Know: How much speed do you need to open an email? About 1 Mbps. To stream a 4K movie? Roughly 30 to 50 Mbps. Any connection over 100 Mbps, in other words, should be perfectly safe for everyday use with most VPNs.
I had a fun time testing Hidester. The thought the service had put into its desktop app — and the advanced features it was outfitted with — surprised me. I think, feature-wise, it’s a VPN some advanced users may get a kick out of.
I’m also a sucker for privacy tools à la Firefox, and Hidester had a bunch of them, establishing its privacy bona fides. The extent of Hidester’s stealthiness was a marvel to behold.
Do I need that much stealth to cover my tracks from my internet service provider and Google? Probably not, especially if all that server hopping slows my connection to a drip. No mobile apps was another issue. Do you like surfing on public Wi-Fi without a VPN? Neither do I.
You may feel differently, and you’ve got nothing to lose by test-driving Hidester for a week since it offers a seven-day money-back guarantee.
If slow speeds and no mobile apps are a no-go for you, I’d suggest trying NordVPN or Surfshark. You can swipe up both for under $4 a month. For more on Surfshark, here’s my hands-on Surfshark review. If you’re on the fence about which VPN is a better pick, this comparison of NordVPN vs. Surfshark may help you choose.
Hidester has 43 server locations, but most are third-party data centers.
No, Hidester plans are $9.99 per month, or $3.99 per month if you pay by the year. Hidester, however, does have a free browser-based proxy that will hide your IP.
As of this writing, no, it doesn’t.
Yes, but the fact that Hidester hops around to so many different servers slows down speeds.
Over a series of tests, Hidester performed unusually slowly, except for its CamoWeb proxy, which was wicked fast.
You can connect up to five devices simultaneously.
LA Times. (2022, June 23). As China shuts out the world, internet access from abroad gets harder too.
Hidester. (2023). Legal Terms.
Max Sheridan brings over two decades of writing experience to our team. He has spent 1,000-plus hours researching VPNs, identity theft protection, and various topics in cyber technology. Previously, Max was an investigative journalist, and he is also a published novelist. He earned a B.A. in Classics from the University of Virginia and an M.A. in Classics from the University of Illinois. He currently lives in Nicosia, Cyprus.