With over 600 million users, Hotspot Shield is one of the most popular VPNs on the global stage. The VPN was released in 2008 by AnchorFree – a California-based company – as a free Virtual Private Network (VPN), and quickly attracted people as a result of its simplicity and attractive design. Since then, Hotspot Shield has been split into two products: a free VPN service and a premium paid VPN service known as Hotspot Shield Elite.
In this VPN review, we’ll compare Hotspot Shield with some of the best VPN services in the marketplace, considering its features and overall reliability.On its homepage, Hotspot Shield says it offers “secure, private internet access”. But how true is this claim? This was our number one question, but while testing this VPN service, we were also wondering:
As always, you can trust that our VPN review will be extensive, and leave no stone unturned. But first, let us consider some of Hotspot Shield’s pros and cons.
Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Sky, Now TV, HBO, SlingTV, Torrenting
When connected to the right servers, Hotspot Shield is one of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested. The download speeds on the servers we tested were impressive, so it is worth trying out a couple of VPN servers to find out the ones with the best speeds.
Our speed test results from our physical London location using a London test server.
We observed a speed loss of 1% when connected to Hotspot Shield.
Hotspot Shield is still reliable and consistent even if you are connected to more distant VPN server locations – we experienced only a 23% speed loss when connecting to the US from the UK.
When connected to nearby servers, Hotspot Shield’s upload speeds are good enough for torrenting, but due to its fairly high ping times, you may want to consider other options for your gaming needs.
Hotspot Shield does not use the OpenVPN protocol, which is our recommended security protocol due to its impenetrable nature. While the VPN is very fast, we cannot guarantee it is as safe and secure as some of the best VPN services out there, especially as there is limited information available concerning its proprietary VPN protocol.
|DOWNLOAD AVERAGE||UPLOAD AVERAGE|
|UK||86 Mbps||76 Mbps|
|US||70 Mbps||32 Mbps|
|Australia||17 Mbps||8 Mbps|
|Singapore||50 Mbps||3 Mbps|
According to our tests from our location in the UK, here are the average speeds you can expect when in these locations:
Hotspot Shield has one of the most reliable VPN speeds when connected to nearby VPN servers, and this shouldn’t be difficult as you’d likely be close to one with the VPN’s current coverage in 101 locations. There are over 3,200 unique VPN servers in Hotspot Shield’s network, which is an impressive number. Hotspot Shield’s server network is a mix of physical and virtual servers, but due to “security reasons”, they are unwilling to reveal which are, and this doesn’t do their transparency level much good.
While Hotspot Shield’s coverage of 101 cities in 75 countries is not the biggest in the world, they are well spread out. You can get IP addresses of common destinations like the UK, Canada, US, Australia, as well as less popular countries like Thailand, Egypt and Ecuador. Users in the US also have access to 26 city-level VPN servers, which is good news for those looking for US-specific locations from outside the US.
Hotspot Shield even says its connection is “intermittent” in highly censored countries. This honesty is a big plus for the VPN provider, but the truth still remains that Hotspot Shield will not allow you gain access to censored internet sites if you are in China, UAE, Pakistan, or other countries where governments block VPN services.
Some user reports show that connection within China is still possible, but it is safer to choose a VPN equipped with obfuscation technology for bypassing strict internet censorship.
Encryption and Security: Strong VPN Features but a Lack of VPN Protocol Transparency
Some of Hotspot Shield’s features include:
Hotspot Shield uses a unique VPN protocol known as Catapult HydraVPN, but the VPN service does not provide many details about how it works. From our tests, however, we believe it is a secure protocol, but we are not sure just how secure it is. Hotspot Shield’s VPN apps do not give users the option to change protocols to more familiar ones like IKEv2 or OpenVPN.
A big flaw in the VPN’s security system was also discovered in February 2018. This error gave hackers access to user locations through their Wi-Fi network name, though it was eventually identified and addressed. Asides this error, Hotspot Shield gets other aspects of its security right, with a VPN kill switch, AES-256 and AES-128 encryption, as well as protection against IP and DNS leaks. What’s more, they also provide malware protection in real-time.
Hotspot Shield is a great choice for streaming fans, as it works well with Netflix and BBC iPlayer, despite the crackdown on VPNs by streaming services. The VPN service does not provide dedicated VPN servers for streaming like other top tier VPN services, and while our tests reveal that most of its VPN servers are compatible with streaming services, you may have to do some trial and error.
Netflix works really well with any of the US city-level VPN servers on the Hotspot Shield network.But if you want to stream with BBC iPlayer, you can select the UK country server, since there are no city-level servers in the UK. Thanks to the extremely fast download speeds on the Hotspot Shield network, streaming in HD is buffer-free and super easy.
Hotspot Shield supports torrenting really well, as P2P traffic is unrestricted on any of its VPN servers. The VPN provider has features like VPN kill switch, fast upload speeds and strong DNS leak protection. However, we cannot guarantee that Hotspot Shield is the most reliable option for P2P as a result of the lack of transparency clouding its VPN protocol.
However, we believe that Hotspot Shield does not store any information that could be used to trace your identity, and link it to your online activity. But if you’d prefer a VPN service that stores absolutely no logs, you may want to consider NordVPN.
As noted earlier, Hotspot Shield is a US-based VPN provider owned by AnchorFree GmbH. As a part of the Five Eyes Data-sharing alliance, the United States has meddlesome privacy laws.
Hotspot Shield released its annual Transparency Report in January 2019. According to the report, the VPN provider has been receiving a number of data requests from governmental authorities around the world since 2016. But the report states that Hotspot Shield has never yielded to these demands.
Setting up Hotspot Shield’s apps is so easy that there’s literally no room for error, even for newbies. Expert users may find the VPN wanting, though, as the advanced options in Hotspot Shield are so few.
It is also very easy to set up Hotspot Shield’s browser extensions for Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. All you need do is visit your Mozilla or Chrome Web Add-Ons store, download the browser extension, log in, then connect.
Hotspot Shield provides valuable online resources as well as round-the-clock live chat to ensure user problems are addressed as promptly as possible. The responses are usually very helpful, and you don’t even need a registered account to speak with a live agent.
The email support, on the other hand, is much more limited, as some queries are only available to premium subscribers. The FAQs also provide very basic information when compared to other top VPN services.
Hotspot Shield is relatively cheap, especially if you subscribe to the longer plan.While the annual plan costs around $5.99 per month, the three-year plan is priced at just $2.99 per month. But if you prefer to subscribe to Hotspot Shield on a monthly basis, it would cost $12.99.
Hotspot Shield also has a free version, but it comes with loads of restrictions.Dur to the privacy controversies surrounding the free version, we wouldn’t recommend it for VPN users.
You can make payments for Hotspot Shield subscription using any of PayPal, Mint, major credit and debit cards, Alipay, and Neosurf.
Hotspot Shield subscribers can request refund within 45 days from the date they paid for a plan. This is a generous refund policy, but you’ll be asked to submit a form for review. So, only Hotspot Shield decides whether you are to receive a refund or not. They also allow users a seven-day free trial, within which you can test the full-option premium plan, and determine whether you are happy with the service. However, your payment details will be required before you can enjoy the seven-day free trial version.