Planet Hippo's website caught our eye immediately with an ad for its ‘One Account’, priced at - you guessed it - only £1 excluding VAT ($1.20) a month on the annual plan.
You won't be surprised to hear that there are lots, and lots of catches. There's no free domain, no SSL certificate, just 1GB of storage, 1 database, 1 email address and hosting for a single domain, while support is ticket-only.
There's no monthly billing, either, although, amazingly, the package is even cheaper if you sign up for two or three years: £0.92 ($1.10) or £0.83 ($1), respectively.
The £3.50 ($4.20) per month Pro account gives you more room to grow, with 100GB of web space, 25 email accounts and 5 databases. You get one free domain, can host up to two sites, and there's full 24/7 support.
After that, the £6 ($7.20) Ultimate plan is Pro with the limits dropped and daily/ weekly backups thrown in, and the £8 ($9.60) Unlimited + SSL plan adds a free Comodo SSL certificate, a dedicated IP and premium support.
These are the standard prices, not some introductory deal, so you're not going to see them quadruple when you get your renewal bill.
Still, you can get more powerful hosting for a similar price, at least in the first year or two.
Namecheap's starter account is an initial £1.12 ($1.34) a month on the annual plan, for instance, £2.20 ($2.64) on renewal, but it supports 20GB storage, 50 databases and 30 email accounts and includes free SSL in year one.
Alternatively, GreenGeeks Lite plan gives you unlimited storage and bandwidth for $2.95 a month over three years. (As with Planet Hippo, that's not a discounted price for the first term - it really is that cheap.)
Sign up with Planet Hippo and you get 24-hour support. A UK phone number is available during business hours (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) and there's live chat, in theory (the website warned it was 'offline' during most of the review), but you can email whenever necessary.
Shared hosting packages you make are protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee, but this doesn't apply to domain registrations and VPS plans. Some hosts will refund for VPS purchases, so keep that in mind when you order.
- Also check out our complete list of the best web hosting services
Planet Hippo has a small and relatively basic VPS range with just a handful of unmanaged plans.
The £12 ($14.40) a month VPS Base plan includes just 1 CPU Core, 1GB RAM and 50GB storage, and paying £28 ($33.60) for the top-of-the-range VPS Pro gets you 4 Cores, 6GB RAM and 150GB storage.
On the plus side, there's unlimited bandwidth, these prices are for monthly billing, no long-term contracts required.
Windows hosting is available, too, at extra cost (the equivalent plans are priced from £19/ $22.80 to £40 /$48.)
These prices aren't bad, but if you're looking for a bargain, there are better deals around.
If you're happy with a Linux package, IONOS VPS M offers 2 Cores, 2GB and 80GB storage, for only $10 billed monthly.
Hostwinds VPS plans are also cheaper than Planet Hippo. They don't support unlimited bandwidth, but you get loads of options: ten plans, all highly configurable, in Windows and Linux, managed and unmanaged forms.
Creating a site
Planet Hippo's signup process is powered by the industry standard WHMCS platform, and if you've used a few other web hosts, you'll probably recognize the interface immediately.
But even if you're a total hosting newbie, it won't be a problem. Choose a plan, register a new domain or use one you own already, enter your contact details and pay whatever you owe.
(There's a small bonus in your payment options, as the site supports payment via UK direct debit as well as cards and PayPal.)
Planet Hippo doesn't waste any time in activating your account. We received an email immediately after paying, and a click on the 'verify your email' link took us directly to Planet Hippo's web dashboard.
This also follows the standard WHCMS layout. Panels list your hosting plans, domains, support tickets and invoices. Click your plan and you're presented with basic account details and shortcuts to common site setup tasks: managing domains, creating email accounts, working with databases and more.
One further click took us to a cPanel setup with everything you need to create and manage your website.
We used Softaculous to quickly install WordPress, for instance, then removed the package and uploaded our own test website with cPanel's own file manager.
There are no major surprises with any of this, no unexpected extras or anything else we've not seen in other cPanel hosting plans.
It's hard to be disappointed when you're paying just $1.20 a month for the account, though. In reality, Planet Hippo deserves credit for offering industry standard platforms like cPanel and Softaculous in all plans. Other ultra-budget hosts often cut costs by replacing them with cheaper but inferior alternatives.
A good support system is vital when you need to solve a tricky hosting problem. Is Planet Hippo’s website up to the task? In a word – no.
Tapping Support > Knowledgebase revealed some major issues. A guide to cPanel 11.32, dated 2012; a whole category for Outlook 2010 issues; a Shared Hosting category with information on products that no longer exist (the website builder, the Home Pro account).
The content isn't just dated. Many of these articles are only available in video form, sometimes only Flash SWF, hardly convenient for step-by-step guides. When we checked ‘Configuring a POP email account in Windows Live Mail’ it offered an MP4 link, too, but it was broken.
We might forgive the ancient rubbish if there was at least some useful up-to-date content, but the site falls down here, too. Searching for WordPress scored three mostly irrelevant hits, with the most helpful comment being to visit wordpress.org. And searching for 'PHP version' gave us a page on 'what version of PHP does Heart Internet run', and only mentioned PHP 4 and PHP5 (PHP 7.0 was released in December 2015.)
Other articles weren't accessible at all. We searched using the keyword MySQL, for instance, then clicked several matching articles, but they simply opened the root knowledgebase page: no article text.
We could go on - the last news item on the Announcements page was 30 months old, the 'PHP Info' link on the status page displayed the dummy site of a travel agent - but, well, you get the picture.
Fortunately, Planet Hippo does have other support options. It's possible to talk to agents on live chat fairly quickly, and although they weren't immediately helpful, once we pressed them we obtained helpful and accurate answers.
The other major option is a support ticket system. We prefer this to telephone support for anything complicated – it's easier to provide lots of technical information, review answers and see the history of any issue – but would it work here?
We raised a ticket asking if we could import an existing WordPress site into a fresh Planet Hippo installation. It's unfair to expect any host to give you in-depth support with third-party products, but this is a relatively simple question which most companies make some attempt to answer. And encouragingly, we had a helpful reply within 15 minutes.
The agent explained that migrating sites was possible, covered the first step (we'd need to back up the existing site), and asked for more information so they could help us with the next step. That's an ideal response to a newbie question, as they weren't overwhelming us with information or fobbing us off with ‘go away and look at this link’. Instead we got the basic answer we needed and a clear offer to walk us through the rest of the process.
Website uptime matters, even at Planet Hippo's ultra-budget end of the market. There's no point having a website if it's too slow, or always down.
To assess reliability, we use Uptime.com to monitor a simple test website over a period of a week.
Every five minutes, we had Uptime.com grab the main page of our site, then log its success or failure, and the server response time.
Planet Hippo had a single outage across the test week, giving it an uptime of 99.94%. Most hosts score the full 100%, but it was only one failure out of more than 2,000 checks, and that's not a major issue. (99.4% uptime really isn't bad - most shared hosting plans promise something like 99.9%, if they give you any figure at all.)
Average server response time was a decent 310ms. The best hosts achieve 150-200ms, but most of the competition scores somewhere between 200-350ms, so Planet Hippo competes reasonably well.
Response times were unusually consistent, too. There were a very small number of blips across the test week, with a worst time of 1002ms, but most were within 30ms of the average. That's a solid and reliable performance, and much better than we were expecting for the price we paid.
Planet Hippo has some very limited plans and is absolutely terrible in some areas (the web knowledgebase) but scores where it matters, offering reliable performance, great value and speedy, helpful support. Well worth a look, as long as you fully understand what you're getting (read the small print before you buy.)
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