Some web hosting companies make it easy to find the product you need, but UK2's site isn't quite as well organised. There are highlighted plans, menus, tables, a product finder and more, but we found it hard to locate in-depth information and compare multiple products side-by-side.
Prices are higher than the big US hosts, too. The baseline Essential Hosting plan – £1 ($1.25) a month excluding VAT initially, £6 ($7.50) on renewal – looks promising at first, with a free domain name, unlimited bandwidth, web space and email addresses, and support for 10 websites. It's good to see the excellent Softaculous one-click App installer, too. But the account is seriously hobbled with a one database maximum, even if there's no size limit.
The Business plan – £4.50 ($5.60) per month initially, £9 ($11.20) on renewal – extends the package with unlimited websites, FTP accounts and even databases (an unusual plus; 1&1 caps even its Pro account to 1,000 databases). You also get SSH access, a dedicated IP and a free SSL certificate.
Business Cloud – £8 ($10) per month on the special intro deal, £16 ($20) afterwards – essentially gets you improved performance on faster servers with fewer users. A service SLA credits your account if your site isn't up 99.99% of the time.
Managed WordPress hosting starts at £5 ($6.25) a month, and includes 50 optimised themes, automatic malware removal and an unusual extra: CloudFlare integration.
E-commerce accounts start at £7 ($8.75) per month if you buy two years upfront. It's a very basic store – just ten accounts – but the price is low.
The Business Website Builder account – at £10 ($12.50) a month – gives you 100 responsive templates to set up your site, an editor to customise them, and support for sites of up to 100 pages. That's good on features, but a high price if you don't need that many pages.
Dedicated servers give you more power and control from £77 ($96) a month. There's a chunky 2TB of storage space but bandwidth is limited to 10TB. If that's enough, Namecheap offers a basic dedicated server for around £50 ($62) a month, and higher spec plans give you 100TB of bandwidth from around £80 ($100) a month.
There are other plans, too; more than we've space to cover here. Choice is good, mostly, but you don't get the same degree of low-level plan detail as with other hosts (storage space per email inbox, how many auto-responders, etc) and it's more difficult to know what will work for you.
UK2 protects you with a ‘30-day risk-free refund policy’. This covers you for everything but setup fees, domain registration and ‘overages’ (penalties for overshooting a bandwidth or other limit), and can be carried out entirely online – there’s no need to phone and ask nicely.
UK2's messy website doesn't just complicate your browsing. It gets in the way during the purchase process, too.
When we checked the front page the company displayed only these features of the Business Hosting package, for instance: price, ‘Unlimited Websites’, ‘Dedicated IP’, ‘1 Free domain name’, ‘Free SSL certificate’. There's no link to display the plan in detail, no compare option to see this plan against others, and a lot of information isn't displayed until you hit Buy.
If you do click that Buy button you'll finally learn what the headline monthly price means in real life. This isn't always bad news. Business Hosting's ‘£4.50 ($5.60) a month’ gets you a two-year plan by default, but unusually, you can pay for just one year at the same monthly rate. You're only really punished if you opt for monthly billing, when the price leaps to a painful £15 ($18.75).
We chose a plan and UK2 offered us a couple of add-ons immediately. Website SEO Guru claimed to ‘improve your website’s visibility in Google’ for £4.50 ($5.60) a month, while SiteLock got us regular malware scanning and security checks for a very reasonable £1.25 ($1.60) a month.
The next signup step prompts you to choose your free domain. You can alternatively use a domain you own already, and there's no catch with that, no need to transfer it to UK2 – leave it with the existing registrar, update the name servers (and maybe DNS records) and it should be fine.
If you're having any trouble deciding what to do, UK2 offers a free 0800 number you can call for advice. That's something we've not often seen elsewhere, although hosts typically have very responsive live chat systems, so it may not make too much difference.
Creating a UK2 account involves entering all the usual personal details: name, address, phone number. It's all entirely standard.
Payment options include direct debit, debit/credit card and PayPal, which is more choice than most. There's a welcome ‘don't store this payment method’ checkbox, too, which means you can be sure the company won't be able to renew the package without you entering these details again.
Finally, you're asked to create an account password. This seemed to be using the strictest password strength meter ever – we entered something like CG`gV[fs_fF2j)v and it was still only flagged as ‘normal’ in terms of strength – but the site accepted it and our signup was complete.
Creating a website
UK2's public website may need some work, but its customer control panel is much better. Instead of drowning you in icons, lists and options, the console organises its main functions into five sensibly-named sections, most of which are minimised by default. The Shared Hosting area is top-left where you'll see it first, and expanding it displayed a link to open the site manager. Simple.
UK2 uses the industry-standard cPanel as its Linux hosting frontend. This is more complex to use than the custom systems provided by some hosts, but even beginners will find their way around quickly enough. The very first option is File Manager, for instance – you don't need a degree in web development to realise how that might be handy. Opening it reveals a familiar Explorer-type view of your hosting space, and if your site is simple you could be uploading it immediately.
If you've used web hosts before you'll be familiar with the cPanel basics, and scrolling down the screen reveals plenty of useful tools: phpMyAdmin, AWSTATS, Webalizer, SSH Access, Leech Protection, PHP Pear Packages, Ruby on Rails and more.
UK2 doesn't provide any form of WYSIWYG Website Builder with its standard account, but there is easy installation of WordPress, MediaWiki and other apps. The company makes this slightly more difficult than it needs to be by providing two installation systems, Installatron and Softaculous, which might confuse newcomers. But they're both very capable, and we had a sample WordPress install up and running within a couple of minutes.
So, UK2's cPanel gets a thumbs-up from us for its usability, but support integration isn't so impressive – we couldn't find any way to access the support database from the main console. This isn't a big deal as you can always open another browser tab and access it from the main site, but it's a little inconvenient.
When we reached the knowledgebase (browse it here) it turned out to be as cluttered as the main site. There's a tree of categories over on the left, so deeply nested it takes several clicks to get anywhere (Hosting > Website Hosting > cPanel Hosting, ad nauseam), an alphabetical index in the centre, a list of ‘Recently updated articles’ on the right, and assorted other links to explore.
You do get a search box, fortunately, so we tried entering a few test queries. Using ‘import WordPress’ didn't give us any way to import an existing blog, but listed some capable articles on setting up and using WordPress more generally.
Exploring further gave us the same impression of a site with some good articles, but just not quite enough. Searching for PHP found only eleven matches, for instance, most only incidental mentions, and not sorted in a very intelligent way (‘How to use PHPMyAdmin’ was second from bottom).
If the knowledgebase doesn't help, you can use live chat, or even better raise a support ticket. We like to see that option as some issues are just too complex to quickly resolve in a single chat or phone call. UK2 also enables setting the priority of your message, which is perhaps another plus if this helps genuinely urgent queries get a faster response.
We gave the system a try, asking whether an existing WordPress site could be imported into a UK2 installation. We marked the ticket as low priority but 27 minutes later an excellent reply arrived saying yes, summing up the basics (move the files and update the database), and offering to personally help us out further with the import.
That's a far better approach than simply fobbing us off with a link to a tutorial, especially when the question suggested we weren't experienced users, and also indicates that UK2 support are more interested in genuinely helping customers than getting tickets closed asap.
Phone support is also available via a standard 0207 number, and worked exceptionally well when we tried it out. There was no ‘press this, press that’ voice menu system. A recorded voice said ‘your position in the queue is... one’, which has never happened in previous testing. Our call was picked up about 15 seconds later, and a support agent answered our test questions simply and accurately. Maybe we were lucky, and there's no way to tell how UK2 will handle an oddball MySQL issue (for instance), but successful ticket and phone queries suggests UK2 support is better than most.
As usual, we completed our review by running Bitcatcha and other server speed tests, and these results were also very positive. Our UK servers registered high speeds from local UK and US connections, and although long-distance tests showed more inconsistent results, our site was still rated above average overall.
There are much cheaper hosts around, but UK2's excellent support could make it a good pick for beginners, and everyone will appreciate the feature-packed control panel and above-average performance.
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