Hola Browser for Android VPN Beta is FREE for Now

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I live outside of the US and love using VPN to mask my actual location, but not for safer browsing but for region coded content found on the Internet.

I have in the past written about VPNs for use in many situations, least of all for posting to Facebook while in China. But for us who live outside of where the content is region coded, then it becomes a censorship problem. Web censorship is real. Everywhere you go, there is some form of censorship where URLs are blocked for political or religious reasons. But for some of us, we just want to enjoy free content which has been region restricted. For example, YouPorn.com is blocked in many countries and if you happen to love watching free internet porn, you have come to the right place. Hola will satisfy all your desires….for free!

P2P VPN is here…at a Cost

All things free isn’t what it is believed to be, so here’s the stuff Hola won”t tell you. Hola VPN doesn’t make use of a secure connection but a mix of P2P/CDN. Think of it like TOR, the secure network used by Edward Snowden, every computer becomes an exit node, so if you are a user based in China, Hola lets you access Facebook via someone’s exit node in the USA where Facebook isn’t blocked.

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Browsing YouPorn from Singapore? You gotta have Hola!

Hola relies on YOUR data download and upload bandwidth when you use their VPN to serve other users. So if you happen to have a paltry bandwidth limit on your mobile and keep Hola running all day long, you will exhaust your data limit in a day or two. This can happen if more people choose to browse from the country where you reside. Inside the mobile app, you have a long list of country to choose from, and from it, pick a country you wish to browse from. Hola also operates a CDN, content distribution network, which caches popular content for user to download and stream.

Hola is a free Android app that you can download right now and I suspect that the app is still in Beta. But don’t let that deter you as it works pretty much like a web browser with VPN access. The VPN service is unlimited and is automatically switched on when you launch the app. Hola is still adding more content sources and sorting out the bugs within the app. Even their latest update was very buggy (Feb 18).

How Hola Aims to Change Your Browsing Habits

The P2P network protocol used by Hola is pretty vague at the moment. By opening your own Internet connection to others, you are letting dudes like the NSA come through your browser and into your computer or mobile device. Data leeching can happen since you can’t tell if they are real users or data mining bots. The only security control is to bypass this is to sign up for their premium plan where Hola is prevented from using your computer or mobile as an exit node. Hola could change the way you browse the Internet in China but Chinese URL blockers will eventually find a way around it once they determine the exact DNS Hola operates from. For now, it is a free for all for everyone.

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However if you are hoping to browse for content from the US, well you are in luck. Hola works perfectly. With it, you can pretend to surf from the US or for that matter Australia, Britain or Iran for that matter….the choice are up to you but if you are looking for content, just stick to the old time favs.

Hola integrates several streaming services with its own app, such as Pandora, Hulu and Netflix. For Netflix, you need a paid account to get access but you can fib your way to a free one month trial by signing up (with a credit card). I didn’t need to test Facebook or for that matter Google Plus since those are not banned from where I was. But it would be of interest to those who are heading to China.

There is a desktop plug in for PCs, created for Firefox and Chrome and the moment you install it, you will notice some slowdown when you browse using Hola. It could be using your connection as an exit node. To avoid people piggy backing on your bandwidth, you can sign up for Hola premium.

On Android, Hola app pretty much uses a default USA setting for streaming media so you have to change it to the UK if you happen to use it to access BBC content.

For now, Hola for me is the place to go to for all my TV shows on Hulu. My only regret is that I don’t have a Hulu Plus membership to get to all the episodes I want to watch.

Hola for iOS is NOT Free

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Please don’t ask me why but you only get a 7 day trial after which you have to pay as long as you are a Apple user. iOS has never had it this good as users are generally considered richer than their Android cousins thus Apple iPhone users have to pay to get access after seven days. This is the premium sign up. So you don’t get people hogging your bandwidth. It is the perfect solution for iPhone users who love using their phones all the time.

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Andromium aims to replace your Desktop Computer

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I remember the first Apple Macintosh which had only 512K of RAM. Hard disk was optional and if you needed one, it came in MB instead of GBs. Fast forward to your Android and iOS device. If you compared that which you now hold in your hand, you are actually in possession of a Mainframe computer in 80s definition.  Now Mainframes are just a class below the Super Computers in its day—developed to solve complex mathematical problems. Performances of Mainframes are measured in MIPS, and in its day, anything that performs approximately 15 MIPS is a mainframe.

So with that in mind, why not turn your hand held into a computer? This is what most tablet manufacturers want to do, and the Asus Fonepad is just one example. But the UX is somewhat different. The usability with a mouse and a large screen becomes clunky as both iOS and Android were developed for hand held use. Android OS allows you to create a navigation layer on top of the default OS and this was its main appeal in the first place.

This is where Apple’s iOS gets left behind. There is no way to turn your iOS device in a full fledge desktop even if you tried. But for Android, things get interesting with Andromium.

The idea was no doubt hatched from Chromium OS, the Google operating system for Chrome Browser. This cloud centric OS is slowly becoming a worthy stand alone device so much so that Microsoft is now battling with Google for control for the netbook/cloud computing hardware.

Andromium is a Kickstarter project, where a dock is used to enable your Android device to work as a desktop. This dock is super cool and allows you to connect up a mouse, HD TV and a keyboard to make your Android device truly usable at home as a Desktop computer.

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This disruptive technology will allow you to replace that notebook PC you carry along on your business trips as all you need are the cables for the hotel HDTV, wireless keyboard and mouse to get you going. Internet connection is secondary as apps for word processing, drawing, presentation and spreadsheets already work off line. You only need to connect up with wifi should you want to send or receive data.

According to the development blog at Andromium, they are sorting out some of the caveats of some of the popular handsets. One of the most pressing problem is the ability to have simultaneous USB-OTG and Display Out as some of these functions are often disabled when a port is used for either USB or Display Out.  The support list is growing and for now, LG, HTC, Samsung and even OPPO is to be supported via this unique dock.

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The dock includes three full-sized USB ports for all the accessories you would need on a desktop computer, including gaming devices. It connects to your screen using an HDMI cable and has an integrated power cord, so your phone is always charged.

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For those without the benefit of having a HDMI capable TV or monitor at your disposal, you can always use a PICO projector that cost in the ballpark of US$150.

UX/UI Development

Andromium is all about the software and how it creates a layer on top of Google’s Android to make it easier to use apps in desktop mode. This also means that once in desktop mode, the phone continues to work as a smart device, receiving all your calls and text—which makes it even more useful that your notebook computer. For additional storage, one of the USB ports could easily support an external HD, which will give your device more functionality than Chromium based netbooks.

iOS can never allow you to replace the UI, and adding a layer to iOS is sacrilege. Tim Cook would come round to your front door one day to blow you to bits with a shotgun if it came down to it.

How Mobile is Disrupting the Notebook Business

This is bound to happen and I think Google, Apple and Microsoft knows this. The Andromium dock will sell for less than 50 bucks once launched (when successfully backed) after their kickstarter campaign and if you did the maths, you’d know that your desktop or notebook computer may well be your next door stopper when it launches.

With mobile devices packing more RAM and quad core processors, any casual PC user would find its appeal difficult to resist. You have storage access to the cloud if you are online and with the right hardware accessories such as a HD, HDMI display, mouse and keyboard, there is no further need to duplicate purchases on a desktop environment.

Mobility is helping to define this new technology in spaces we never thought possible and I am all for it. You can support the Andromium project here.