In this review, we will concentrate on the premium "elite" version of Hotspot Shield (the paid version). The free version is a limited version of the same service in which users may only connect to the US server. (We have included a small review of the free plan at the bottom of this review).
With a Hotspot Shield Elite subscription, you get:
- Servers in 25 countries
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Enhanced transport protocol technology
- Kill switch
- Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) and Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) leak protection
- WiFi protection (auto connect)
- Permission to use five simultaneous connections
- Browser extensions for Firefox (very dated) and Chrome (excellent and up-to-date)
- Malware detection (Chrome extension only)
- Ad blocker/tracker blocker/cookie blocker (Chrome extension only)
- Split tunneling (Chrome extension only)
- App for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, iOS, and Android
- Option to switch languages in the app
- No data limits or bandwidth limits on Elite subscription
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) permitted
With servers in 25 countries, Hotspot Shield Elite is undoubtedly a great VPN for unblocking content around the globe.
Speed and Performance
Make no mistake - Hotspot Shield is fast. Really fast!. The speed tests for this review were undertaken using Hotspot Shield Elite. The speed tests were performed from the UK, using a London server on beta.speedtest.net. Connection speeds were checked without the VPN connected first, to get base level results (for the UK and US). I tested the US server using a New York test server on beta.speedtest.net.
I tested both the Netherlands and UK from the UK test server in London. In each case, I amassed the results from five tests. Each colored block in the graphs represents the range of speeds encountered, from highest to lowest. Please check out our full speed test explanation for more details.
Hotspot Shield Elite performed at insanely fast speeds, which came extremely close to my connection speeds without a VPN. Hotspot Shield achieves these mind blowing speeds by using its own proprietary protocol called 'Catapult Hydra'. AnchorFree says the protocol optimizes the VPN data transport, giving it a large performance advantage in terms of how the payload is delivered inside the secured tunnels between the client and the server.
While the speed gains are undeniable, the closed nature of this protocol raises some privacy concerns as it can't be fully audited.
Either way, if you want a super fast VPN for streaming and are less concerned about privacy - this is probably the right product for you!
Does Hotspot Shield unblock Netflix?
If you are looking for a VPN for Netflix, Hotspot shield elite may be worth considering. I connected to the US VPN server and the service worked perfectly. I connected to the UK server, and I was able to unblock BBC iPlayer without any issues. This is excellent. It demonstrates that the elite version of the VPN works for unblocking content. Hotspot Shield is also able to unblock Youtube videos that are restricted in your region.
IP leaks, WebRTC leaks, and DNS leaks
I tested for IP leaks while connected to Hotspot Shield's UK server, using ipleak.net.
I detected no IP leaks, no DNS leaks, and no WebRTC leaks. Unfortunately, I was unable to test for IPv6 because my ISP doesn't provide it. However, due to the fact that it has specific IPv6 protection built into the client, I would assume that this feature works.
Ease of Use
Hotspot Shield supports all popular devices. They offer a VPN for Windows and a Mac VPN app. They also support mobile users with an iOS VPN app and a VPN for Android users.
Hotspot Shield have a browser extension which is available for Google Chrome on; Windows, Android, Mac OS X, macOS, and the iOS operating systems. There is also an add-on for the Firefox web browser.
You can only purchase Hotspot Shield Elite in a single plan. As such, no matter how long you decide to subscribe for, you get access to all of the VPN's features. The only difference comes in the form of the cost. The VPN is discounted significantly if you commit for a longer period.
In order to enjoy the discounted monthly price, you need to pay for your whole subscription period upfront. In addition, AnchorFree sets up an automatic re-billing agreement with your bank account. Unless you cancel, it will charge you again when the subscription period ends.
The firm has a 45-day money-back guarantee. In addition, you can trial Hotspot Shield Elite for seven days. This gives you plenty of time to cancel if you aren't happy with the service.
You need to provide your credit card details in order to utilize the Hotspot Shield Elite trial. Hotspot Shield will automatically move you onto the paid plan unless you cancel your subscription during the seven-day period. Bear in mind that if you don't cancel the trial, Hotspot Shield will put you on the monthly tariff when it transfers you to the paid service. This is the most expensive plan.
The best plan available for Hotspot Shield is a 2-year plan that reduces the monthly cost to the equivalent of $2.99 per month. An unlimited plan is also available on the website at a cost of $165. This is a good option for anybody looking for a streaming VPN.
However, allow me to remind you that the ability to unblock Netflix US (for example) is a fluid situation and it is possible that Hotspot Shield will one day stop having the ability to unblock the service. As such, an unlimited plan should only be purchased on the understanding that the service could change.
Supported Payment Platforms
|Hotspot Shield||ExpressVPN||CyberGhost VPN|
|Free trial||Yes - 7 days||No||No|
|Money-back guarantee length||45||30||45|
Hotspot Shield's customer support isn't one of the service's strong points. Nowadays, premium VPNs are very good at dealing with consumers in real time. The very best services provide 24/7 live chat to help customers use the service and deal with problems.
However, customer support seems to be under strain due to the massive number of users that the VPN has. Considering the cost of the elite service - which is very similar to other services that provide exceptional support - this is a disappointment.
Consumers experiencing problems would be wise to first attempt to solve them using the knowledge base in the Hotspot Shield Help Center. This resource could be useful, but it doesn't have that many guides and is pretty limited.
In order to submit a request for help, you'll need to click on the "Contact Support" button and open a support ticket. This ticket will be handled via the email address that you subscribed to Hotspot Shield with.
When you type in the form's Subject field, it supplies a list of knowledge base articles that it thinks might help. When I filled out the form, the suggestions were no good. Thus, I had to continue filling in the rather invasive questions (it wanted to know details such as my operating system).
Hotspot Shield Elite Trial
Click on the "Get Hotspot Shield" button to access the download page. The download of the installer will begin automatically.
When you first launch it, you'll be given the option to sign up for a seven-day free trial of the paid version. Enter your credit card details in order to access the trial of Hotspot Shield Elite.
If you decide to go down this road, please remember to cancel before the week is up if you decide the service isn't for you - or you'll be charged for your first month. Note that using the seven-day trial takes away your entitlement to the 45-day money-back guarantee.
Use a valid email address, as you need to verify the address to activate the service.
Privacy and security
CSIRO Study Results
We gave Hotspot Shield an opportunity to answer to CSIRO's claims, this is what the firm told us:
"We never redirect our users’ traffic to any third-party resources instead of the websites they intended to visit. The free version of our Hotspot Shield solution openly and clearly states that it is funded by ads, however, we collect no personally identifiable user data and intercept no traffic with neither the free nor the premium version of our solutions. We never share any personally identifiable information with any of the advertisers. Our users’ online privacy has always been our absolute priority."
Hotspot Shield uses the same encryption standards on all versions of the VPN. This is how Hotspot shield describes that encryption:
"Turning Hotspot Shield on encrypts all of the traffic between your device and our servers using TLS 1.2 with perfect forward secrecy (ECDHE), 128-bit AES data encryption."
This level of security seems Okay and would usually be considered secure. Sadly, however, because Hotspot Shield implements a proprietary protocol called "Catapult Hydra," we do not have the exact details about how encryption is being implemented. For this reason, I simply can't say that it is definitively secure.
What we do know, is that Hotspot Shield claims that Catapult Hydra has been audited and that it is being used by some major players in the tech sector. Unfortunately, ProPrivacy.com have not seen that audit (or even any proof that it exists). For this reason, we cannot verify that this is actually the case.
As is always the case with VPN security - it is impossible to vouch for technology that is not Open Source - unless there is a publicly available third-party audit that has been carried out by a reputable firm.
“Your true IP address is stored only for the duration of your VPN session and is cleared after your session is closed. We do not associate your true IP address with your online activities and we do not store or log your true IP address after the end of your session.”
In addition, the policy now clearly states that:
This is good news indeed, it means that users of all versions of Hotspot Shield no longer need to worry that IP addresses are being stored alongside connection logs.
Hotspot shield states that:
“When you launch Hotspot Shield, we also collect device-specific information, such as the hardware model, operating system version, browser type, language, wireless network, and mobile network information. This information does not identify you, and we use it to provide and improve the Services, troubleshoot, and perform analytics on our services.”
Despite Hotspot Shield’s claim that this data “does not identify you,” we tend to disagree. We feel that wireless network, approximate location, and mobile network id can be used to identify you. For this reason, we believe Hotspot Shield still has invasive data practices. No IPs is a good move (and certainly makes Hotspot Shield better on the desktop version), but the mobile app does tell AnchorFree (and its third party affiliates) a lot of high-risk data.
"If you use Hotspot Shield Elite, the premium subscription-based version of our product, we will not serve any ads and thus no information will be collected by our third party ad partners on the Elite product."
On the free plan...
The free version of Hotspot Shield does serve users with adverts. However, the policy clearly states that:
“The ads you may see on the free, advertising-supported version of Hotspot Shield are generic – never based on your personal information.”
This helps to clarify that Hotspot Shield is not directly collecting information about people’s VPN use in order to allow AnchorFree (the company that owns Hotspot Shield) – or any of its third-party affiliates – to perform personalized advert targeting.
“We never share your personal information with unaffiliated third parties other than service providers that we use for internal technology and business operations (such as website hosting, payment processing, data analysis, information technology, customer service, and email delivery).”
This still seems like a rather long list of firms with which data can be shared (especially considering what Hotspot Shield is still collecting from users even on the premium version).
Hotspot Shield Free Review
However, considering users get a data allowance of 750 Mb per day, it's still useful for people who are desperate to get around local regional restrictions and censorship. In fact, Hotspot Shield was the main VPN used during the Arab Spring. It was also used heavily in Turkey during website blackouts in and around the time of the military coup.
On the plus side, this VPN is fast and unblocks plenty of content. If you are looking for a good streaming VPN and you aren't that bothered about it having unverified encryption: Hotspot Shield is very good for unblocking streaming content in HD.
As a streaming VPN there are few VPNs that are so quick - so take it for a test run!
As for the free Chrome browser and the free Hotspot Shield (750Mb per day) service? They work well and have been used by literally millions of people in times of desperate need. For this alone, Hotspot Shield deserves a big pat on the back.
Hotspot Shield reviews
Hotspot Shield is a leading VPN provider, trusted by millions of people around the world to provide secure and private access to information. Here you can find a selection of trusted Hotspot Shield reviews from the people who use the product as well as the leading tech journalists who review it.
“Hotspot Shield achieved unprecedented results in testing by Ookla staff, actually increasing speed over long-distance connections. All other VPNs Ookla tested decreased download speed by at least 42.5%, while Hotspot Shield increased download speed by over 26.2%. When asked how Hotspot Shield managed to achieve these speeds, a Pango representative cited the technological advantages of Catapult Hydra — Hotspot Shield’s proprietary VPN protocol.”
“It’s rare that we’re surprised by a product. Over-the-top hype in a superheated market is usually just that, hype. But Hotspot Shield actually lived up to the hype. Our independent performance tests confirmed the company’s claims. For those of you surfing across the planet, it actually may defy physics and increase your connection speed. I did repeated tests and over and over again, the connection across the globe was faster inside the VPN than making a straight, VPN-less connection.”
“Fantastic VPN service for browsing online privately. Performance was a major highlight in our tests, with Hotspot Shield’s proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol helping to deliver some of the best download speeds we’ve seen, even from the most distant locations.”
“With its second to none showing in the performance test, Hotspot Shield makes it hard for a user to see past this VPN solution, also taking the top of the security and usability placing as well as providing for all essential needs of the VPN user. Hotspot Shield provides a comprehensive VPN product which came first in the overall testing.”
“AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield VPN, software that encrypts users’ online activity, was downloaded 100 million times in 2018 (up from 70 million in 2017). Last year, AnchorFree added malware and phishing protections, making it valuable for activists and average web surfers alike.”
“By far the fastest VPN I’ve tested. Behind the scenes, Hotspot Shield can intercept malware you may encounter online, as well as protect against known phishing sites and spam. A top choice for encrypting your Wi-Fi connection.”
There's a lot to like about Hotspot Shield, especially its ease of use and raw speed, but logging concerns and a lack of features and configurability might be issue for some.
- Incredibly fast
- Includes 1Password and other bonuses
- Unblocks Netflix, iPlayer, Disney+
- Very user-friendly
- Only works with Hotspot Shield apps on desktops, mobiles
- Poor support website
- Relatively limited apps
- Couldn't unblock Amazon Prime Video
Hotspot Shield Premium is the commercial edition of the hugely popular ad-sponsored VPN service.
Paying to upgrade gets rid of the ads and gives you unlimited data transfer and full access to all of Hotspot Shield's locations and features.
That means you're able to choose from 80+ countries, a massive improvement on the 27 available just eighteen months ago.
- Want to try Hotspot Shield Premium? Check out the website here
All servers are P2P-friendly, and built-in blocking of malicious and phishing sites helps keep you safe online.
There's app support for Windows and Mac, plus Android and iOS. Hotspot Shield's reliance on its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol means you can't set up the service manually, but the company has recently added support for routers and Android TV. (This should work with any routers which support DD-WRT or FreshTomato firmware – see the Router area of the Support site for the details.)
Hotspot Shield Premium supports up to five simultaneous connections, probably enough for most users, and standard for the industry. If you need more, setting it up on your router could be a solution (your devices all use the same single connection). But some providers allow more devices as standard: NordVPN allows six, IPVanish supports 10, StrongVPN can handle 12, and Windscribe has no limits at all.
Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest changes and additions since this review was last updated.
- Hotspot Shield VPN is now available for Linux. (May 2020)
Signing up for Hotspot Shield can get you up to three additional products, including 1Password (Image credit: Hotspot Shield)
The biggest change since our last review is that Hotspot Shield is now owned by Pango, and signing up gets you access to three additional products, depending on your location: the 1Password password manager, a robocall and spam blocker (Robo Shield in the US), and an identity theft protection service (Identity Guard, US-only).
We don't have the space to cover any of these, but they're major products, and a very interesting addition to the service. If you're interested in any of them, follow the link above to find out more.
Hotspot Shield accepts a wide variety of payment methods (Image credit: AnchorFree)
Plans and pricing
This review isn't about Hotspot Shield's free product (which tops our best free VPN list) and a quick glance at the specs should tell you why: it has a 2Mbps speed limit, one location only (US), along with a 500MB daily data limit. It's useful as a way to check out the apps, but that's about it.
Hotspot Shield Premium, plus its call blocker, password manager and identity theft protection service is priced at $12.99, billed monthly. That's at the top end of the usual VPN range, but still a very good deal if you'll use even just one of the bundled extras.
The annual plan is an effective $7.99 a month, also expensive when compared to a pure VPN product, but not bad at all when you consider everything you're getting.
A three-year plan is pitched at a very low $2.99 a month, but you only get the extra products for the first year. At that price, we're not going to complain, but if you only need the VPN, there are a handful of better deals around (Surfshark's two-year plan is just $1.99 a month).
Whatever you choose, you're protected by a very generous 45-day money-back guarantee. That's matched by one or two providers – CyberGhost also offers 45 days – but most stop at 30, and Private Internet Access only gives you a week.
Hotspot Shield will notify you if your connection is interrupted or disconnects (Image credit: AnchorFree)
Understanding a VPN's security usually starts by looking at its protocol support, encryption and authentication details. This can be hugely complicated, but just seeing that a service supports a secure protocol like OpenVPN can give you reassuring feedback about its safety.
Hotspot Shield is more difficult to assess, because it doesn't support OpenVPN, or IKEv2, or L2TP/IPsec, or any of the other standard VPN protocols. Instead the company uses its own proprietary Catapult Hydra technology.
This isn't as worrying as it might sound. Catapult Hydra's focus is on improving performance, and the encryption side of the protocol uses much the same standards as everyone else.
For example, the Hotspot Shield website reports that Catapult Hydra is based on TLS (Transport Layer Security) 1.2, with AES-128 encryption, 2048-bit RSA certificates for server authentication and keys exchanged via Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDHE) for perfect forward secrecy (keys last for only one session, with new ones generated next time). Which, for non-encryption geeks, is more than good enough to keep you safe.
One problem with proprietary technologies like Catapult Hydra is there's no easy way to see what else is going on. OpenVPN is open source and any developer can look at the code, figure out how it works, perhaps find problems or suggest improvements – something which isn't possible here.
That doesn't mean you must take Hotspot Shield's claims entirely on trust, though. The company points out that Catapult Hydra is used by 'the majority of large cybersecurity companies that offer VPN services from within their apps, such as McAfee, Bitdefender, Cheetah Mobile and many others.' In addition, 'carriers such as Telefonica and KDDI also use Catapult Hydra to provide VPN services and Wi-Fi security to their customers.'
As a result, though the code isn't publicly available, that doesn't mean its functionality hasn't been reviewed. These corporate customers need to understand Catapult Hydra to properly implement it themselves, and Hotspot Shield says the protocol has been 'evaluated by 3rd party security experts from more than 60% of the world’s largest security companies that use our SDK to provide VPN services to their users.'
Privacy isn't just about the low-level technicalities. Client implementation is also important, especially when it comes to blocking DNS and WebRTC leaks which might give away your real identity. Fortunately, testing Hotspot Shield's clients and browser attachments at IPLeak and DNSLeakTest didn't reveal any issues, with the service protecting us from snoopers at all times.
Your IP address could also leak if the VPN connection suddenly drops, at least in theory. Some of Hotspot Shield's apps include a kill switch to prevent this by shutting down your internet until the VPN is back up, but does this really work?
Some quick Windows tests got off to a good start. Even with the kill switch turned off, the client didn't leak our real IP address when we changed locations, and our IP address was exposed for typically no more than a couple of seconds if the connection dropped. When we turned the kill switch on, our IP address wasn't visible at all.
Digging deeper, we found the client opened multiple local TCP connections to manage the tunnel. If we forced these to close, we wondered, would that break the client? Nope: it didn't crash, leak our IP or even raise an alert, but just reopened the connections and continued as before. That ability to cope with unexpected events is a sign of smart engineering, and suggests the client will cope with oddball issues that we've seen break other apps.
Hotspot Shield makes apparently definitive no-logging claims on its website. A support page, for instance, states that: 'Hotspot Shield doesn't store or share any identifiers of our Users, including IP addresses. As we do not keep any activity logs of our users, whether they are free or Premium, we can ensure you 100% percent of privacy and anonymity while using our application. '
The VPN Privacy Notice gets a little more specific, stating that: 'When you initiate a VPN connection, we collect your IP address, immediately encrypt it, and delete it at the end of your VPN session... The IP address is not associated with your VPN browsing activity. This means that we are not able to share your VPN browsing activity with anyone – whether it’s an ad network or government agency – because we simply don’t store that information.'
While that sounds encouraging, it's not quite the full story.
We suspect that's a little more logging than you might expect.
Hotspot Shield says none of this information can be used to link your account to any VPN browsing activity, which is good to hear. But, unlike some competitors, the company hasn't put itself through any form of public security or privacy audit, so there's no confirmation of these privacy promises. We're left to take Hotspot Shield's words on trust.
We used Ookla's Speedtest to measure the performance of Hotspot Shield, among other sites (Image credit: Ookla)
Hotspot Shield makes big claims about the performance of its Catapult Hydra protocol, but does it live up to the hype? We checked the service out with SpeedTest, TestMy and other websites to find out.
Connecting to our nearest UK location returned speeds of around 69 to 71Mbps on our 75Mbps fiber broadband test line. The key detail here is the overhead: we experienced average speeds dropping by less than 1Mbps compared to non-VPN connections, a fraction of what we see from the competition (the average is around 2-6Mbps). Even if you have a relatively slow internet connection, Hotspot Shield should allow you to keep much more of that performance for yourself.
Next, we used the same benchmarking websites to check US servers from a US location, using a very fast 600Mbs connection. And the results were absolutely amazing, with median speeds ranging from 474-547Mbps across four separate runs, using two different websites and run at two separate times of day.
But forget our methodology, if we even just used the slowest single result from any of our tests – 447Mbps – that's still more than twice the top speed we've seen from many competitors, and enough to take the performance crown from Speedify (still hugely impressive at 275-400Mbps).
Long-distance checks aren't as useful as there are more factors which can influence performance, but as we've seen in previous reviews, Hotspot Shield also performed very well in these. UK connections to Europe and US servers delivered very similar results as our local UK servers, and even the farthest connections, like Vietnam, regularly managed more than 60Mbps.
These are stellar results in terms of top speeds and consistency, especially for the most distant locations. Wherever you're aiming to connect, Hotspot Shield is one of the fastest VPNs around.
Hotspot Shield was able to unblock US and UK Netflix without difficulty, so we didn’t witness any nasty error messages (Image credit: Netflix)
Connecting to a VPN can help you bypass all kinds of website restrictions, from streaming sites which block content in specific countries, to nations such as China which block a host of popular sites.
Measuring a VPN's unblocking abilities is difficult as there are so many factors involved, but we try to get a feel for its effectiveness by checking how the service works with YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.
Hotspot Shield gave us speedy access to geoblocked YouTube clips without any hassle at all. That's good news, although also no great surprise, as YouTube is relatively easy to unblock.
BBC iPlayer does a much better job of detecting VPNs, but Hotspot Shield bypassed all that and allowed us to stream whatever content we needed.
Netflix is normally one of the most difficult streaming sites to access with a VPN, but again, no-one told Hotspot Shield, and it allowed us to view US and UK Netflix without difficulty.
US Amazon Prime Video spoiled the company's perfect record, detecting our VPN and keeping us out. But Hotspot Shield restored its reputation by unblocking Disney+ from its US server, a task which defeats most other providers.
Hotspot Shield allowed us to download torrents without any bandwidth limits or restrictions (Image credit: uTorrent)
Hotspot Shield doesn't exactly highlight its P2P policy. There's no mention of this on the front page of the website, or on most of its feature lists, or the opening page of its FAQs.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll discover some good news. The service fully supports P2P on all servers, so once you've connected with any of the clients (Windows, Mac, Android or iOS), you're ready to start downloading.
The support site has a few simple guides for beginners, with advice on why you might want to use a VPN for torrenting, and pointers on How To Download Torrents Anonymously.
Whatever method you're using, Hotspot Shield doesn't have any bandwidth limits or restrictions, so you should be able to use the service as much as you like.
Hotspot Shield offers clients for most major platforms and browsers (Image credit: AnchorFree)
Sign up for Hotspot Shield and you're redirected to a web console, where you'll find download links for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS clients, along with the Chrome extension.
If you're hoping to find instructions for setting up connections manually on routers or other platforms, you're going to be disappointed. Hotspot Shield used to support standard protocols such as OpenVPN, but you're now only able to use its proprietary Catapult Hydra technology. The company claims this is worthwhile, quoting speed increases of up to 2.4x over long distance connections, but as nothing else supports Catapult Hydra, you can only use the service with Hotspot Shield's own apps and clients.
These apps and clients are, at least, easy to install and use. The Windows client set itself up much like any other application, while the mobile apps and Chrome extension are available in the relevant app stores. Log in with the username and password you chose during signup and you're ready to explore the service.
The Windows client has been redesigned since we last saw it (Image credit: Hotspot Shield)
Hotspot Shield's Windows client has had a redesign since our last review, but the core principles haven't changed, and if you've ever used another VPN you'll quickly feel at home.
A dark opening panel displays the current default location and a large On/Off button, for instance. Tapping the button got us connected at a very high speed, typically just two to three seconds to even the most distant servers. Most VPNs take at least five seconds to make a local connection, some require more like 10 to 15.
Once you are connected, a map appears showing your new virtual location, while other panels display a host of status information: your server IP address, load and latency, the amount of data used today, your current transfer speeds and the name of your local network (handy as a reminder when you're connecting to wireless hotspots, say). It all looks great and is very well presented.
Clicking the current location displays a list of other countries and cities you can choose from. There's no Favorites system, but Hotspot Shield has added a 'Recently used' list to speed up reconnecting, a welcome extra touch.
There aren’t many options in the Settings panel, but you do get a kill switch and some other useful bits and pieces (Image credit: Hotspot Shield)
Hotspot Shield's settings dialog is equally simple, with very few options. It still covers the bare essentials, though, with switches to run the client when Windows starts, prevent IP leaks, and enable a kill switch to block internet access if the VPN drops.
There's one welcome bonus feature in the client's ability to automatically connect to Hotspot Shield when you access unsafe Wi-Fi hotspots, safe hotspots or all networks. That option isn't available nearly as often as we'd like, and it's good to see it here.
The 'Smart VPN' feature enables choosing domains that won't be routed through the VPN, handy for websites which don't work as usual when you appear to be in another location. If we connect from the UK to a US server, for instance, we wouldn't be able to view BBC iPlayer. Add it to the 'Web domain bypass' list and iPlayer should work as usual, whatever our VPN location.
There's no longer an option to browse key support FAQs from the client interface, unfortunately. A Support page includes links to open the FAQ and Live Chat pages on the Hotspot Shield website, though, so help isn't far away.
Hotspot Shield’s Android app covers mobiles, tablets, and now runs on Android TV, too (Image credit: Hotspot Shield)
The Hotspot Shield Android app has a similar interface to its Windows cousin, but is missing some of the extras. Choosing a location and getting connected works in much the same way, for instance, but the app doesn't bother with the map, IP address, server load figures, speed data and all the other status information you'll see on a PC: there's mostly just a Stop button.
The Settings dialog covers the basics, with options to start when your device boots, or to automatically turn on Hotspot Shield for particular network types (secured, unsecured, mobile). There's no integrated kill switch setting, unfortunately, but you do get a battery-saving extra in the ability to turn off the VPN when your device is sleeping.
An unusual but welcome Auto-Connect VPN feature enables automatically connecting Hotspot Shield whenever you launch specified apps.
Unlike the Windows client, the Android app still lets you browse through key help documents from within its interface, rather than having to open a separate browser and finding the relevant articles there.
There's not a lot of power or configurability here, then, but the Android VPN app is certainly easy to use, and its ability to automatically choose the best server is a welcome advantage over the Windows client.
Hotspot Shield's iOS app is very similar to its Android offering (Image credit: AnchorFree)
Hotspot Shield's iOS app is a close interface match for the company's Android offering, with little more than a connect button, a world map and list of locations, and a very few settings.
What you don't get is much in the way of functionality. There are no auto-start or auto-connect options, and no kill switch. The only option you get is an 'Insecure connections' setting which warns you if you're connecting to an insecure network, perhaps prompting you to connect manually (and even that is turned off by default).
Overall, the iOS app looks good and is straightforward to operate, but it's hard to see why it doesn't have an option to connect to the best server for your location.
We browsed the app's Version History page, looking for significant improvements we might have missed, but without success.
There's vague talk of 'improved connection quality' and general optimizations, but the only real addition in recent months is the ability to activate Hotspot Shield's bundled products (1Password, identity theft protection, call blocking) from within the interface.
Still, it's simple, very fast and unblocks almost everything, and that's going to be more than enough for most users.
There is a browser extension available which allows you to connect to the VPN from within your favorite web browser (Image credit: AnchorFree)
Many VPNs offer browser extensions, but they're usually very basic, stripped-back tools with little more functionality than a Location list and a Connect button. That's not the case with Hotspot Shield, though – its Chrome extension is stuffed with features, and more powerful in some ways than the desktop and mobile apps.
The opening interface gives no indication of this, as it looks much like the other clients: a mostly empty dark panel with a Connect button in the middle, and barely anything else. Point, click, and you're connected.
It's a near instant connection, too, because the browser extension is a simple proxy system which protects your browser traffic only. That won't work in every situation, but if you're mostly interested in unblocking websites, it could serve you very well.
The extension gets more interesting when you tap the Configuration button at the top-right. For example, you're finally able to set a default server which you'd like Hotspot Shield to access when you first connect, or have it automatically connect to the nearest server. There's also a problem, in you only get access to a relatively few servers: Canada, France, Germany, India, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, UK and US (which the extension doesn't list in alphabetical order, bizarrely). However, the extra control is still a welcome plus.
There are a bunch of privacy extras, starting with ad, cookie, tracker, malware and WebRTC blockers, along with a handy option to ignore any resources you're accessing which are hosted within your local network.
Perhaps the best additions are the Auto Protect and Bypass lists, at least once you've found them (they're in Chrome's Hotspot Shield Settings page rather than the extension console). Add websites to the former and Hotspot Shield will automatically turn itself on whenever you try to access them, which is convenient for instance if you need the VPN to use them in full. Add websites to the Bypass list and Hotspot Shield will direct them through your regular connection, rather than the VPN tunnel, handy for sites which don't work with a VPN, or which need to see your real location (a streaming platform which is only available in your country).
This isn't quite as powerful as it looks, initially. The ad blocker isn't as capable as the market leaders, for instance, and doesn't have any settings or options to customize how it functions. Still, overall it works very well, and the Chrome extension is better than most of the proxy competition.
Although it's barely advertised on the website, Hotspot Shield also has a Firefox extension. This works in almost exactly the same way as the Chrome extension, and looks the same, with just one minor omission (it doesn't include an optional Sword Mode for feeding web trackers fake browsing information). Otherwise it's just as capable and easy to use as the Chrome version, and is a welcome addition to the Hotspot Shield line-up.
Hotspot Shield offers live chat to solve any issues you can't figure out after searching its knowledgebase (Image credit: AnchorFree)
If Hotspot Shield isn't working for you, the various apps give you instant access to advice on common issues by embedding documents from the website. As usual, if your issue is more complex, you can head off to the support website for more in-depth guidance.
A web-based Support Center organizes its articles by platform, as well as categories like Payments and Subscriptions, Manage Account and Common Issues. There is some useful information on the website that you won't always get elsewhere (release notes for all the latest apps, for instance), and the company has updated many articles since our last review, but they still can't compare with the depth of web guidance you'll get from providers like ExpressVPN.
If you can't find an answer in the knowledgebase, you're able to get in touch with the support team via live chat or email.
We tried live chat – the chat window quickly appeared, reported that we were first in the queue, and we were talking to a friendly and knowledgeable agent in under a minute.
There's room for improvement on the support site, then, but many users should quickly find the core details they need, and the quality support team are on hand to help you with anything else.
Hotspot Shield has issues – basic apps, no OpenVPN, a little logging – but if raw speed is your top priority, its incredible turbocharged performance could justify signing up all on its own. Give it a try.
otspot Shield, or HSS for short, has been making lots of changes over the past year or so. After wrestling issues surrounding its logging policy, it’s been working hard to build back its reputation. Among other changes, the VPN is now part of a new company Pango, which offers a suite of services under one subscription.
So what does all of this mean for users? Is Hotspot Shield worth considering? Does it compare to top-rated providers such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN?
In this 2020 Hotspot Shield review, I tried out the latest versions of the Hotspot Shield mobile and desktop apps to answer questions like:
- Is HSS fast?
- Can Hotspot Shield help me access Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming sites?
- Has HSS’s logging policy improved?
- Will Hotspot Shield work in China?
- Is the HSS service worth the price tag?
You’ll find out the answers to these and more in this review.
I’ve been using Hotspot Shield to stream, browse, and download, and keep my internet activities safe from snoopers such as my internet service provider.
There’s a short summary of my findings below but you can read the full review to find out more about this provider and whether it might be a good fit for you.
Note that although Hotspot Shield offers a limited free version, I’ll be focusing on the Premium (paid) service in this review.
Hotspot Shield summary
Hotspot Shield is a secure VPN ideal for streaming. It has a ton of location options, is great at unblocking, and pegs very fast speeds. Plus it works in China. This provider has solid security and privacy features, but these could be improved upon. It’s on the pricey side for long-term use, so may not be a good option for users on a budget.
Hotspot Shield key data
|OVERALL RANK: #7 of 42 VPNS|
|Average Speed *:||63 Mbps|
|Video Streaming Support:||4K UHD|
|Other Streaming Services:||Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, ITV Hub|
|Encryption Type:||256-bit AES w/ Perfect Forward Secrecy|
|Kill Switch:||Yes, Windows only|
|Log Policy:||no logs|
|Value for Money||
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$2.99|
|Money Back Guarantee:||45 days|
How does Hotspot Shield compare to other popular VPNs?
Comparing Hotspot Shield against other high-caliber VPNs can help a lot with selecting the right provider. Here’s a side-by-side look at HSS, ExpressVPN, and NordVPN. For more information about the latter two, you can check out our full ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison.
Hotspot Shield pros and cons
Here are some of the key advantages and drawbacks I discovered while using this service. You’ll find more detail about each below.
- Excellent speeds
- Expansive server network
- Unblocks Netflix and other sites
- Connect 5 devices simultaneously
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Works in China
- Kill switch is Windows-only
- No IPv6 or WebRTC leak protection
- Only accepts credit cards
- High price tag
Speed: How fast is Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield’s tagline is “The Fastest Most Secure VPN Service.” I’ll get to the security part later, but first, let’s see about this speed claim.
I ran speed tests at various times of day on servers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Across all times and locations tested, Hotspot Shield’s average download speed was 63 Mbps. That’s above average compared to competitors.
Here are the results broken down by region:
- North America: 67 Mbps
- Europe: 63 Mbps
- Asia: 60 Mbps
With those speeds, I was able to stream 4K video and video conference in HD. Switching between servers is very fast, typically taking just a couple of seconds. I saw no noticeable slowdowns while browsing and didn’t experience any connection drops.
For a given location, you should be automatically connected to the fastest server. If you’re connecting to a US server, you can choose a city. Choosing a geographically close server should generally give you a faster connection.
Note that the above tests only serve as a general guide as to what you might see when using the service. The random nature of the internet and the many factors that can affect speed mean that you may see very different results.
Apps: Which devices will Hotspot Shield work with?
Hotspot Shield lets you connect up to five devices under one paid plan. Apps are available for the following:
- Windows 7 and higher
- MacOS 10.12 and later
- iOS 11 and newer
- Android 5.0 and up
- Linux Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, and Fedora
- Amazon Fire TV
You can configure the VPN manually on select routers. This enables you to protect devices that aren’t compatible with native apps and ensures all your devices are secured. There’s also a Chrome extension, but note that this only encrypts your browser traffic, leaving other apps on your device exposed.
Overall, the apps are lightweight, modern, and user-friendly. Each device will have access to all of Hotspot Shield’s 3,200+ servers spread across more than 80 countries.
In the desktop app, servers are ordered alphabetically by country. For the countries with multiple locations, for example, the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada, you can choose a city. There’s no option to add servers to a favorites list but recent selections will show up in a “Quick access” list.
You can customize the app behavior with options including automatically starting the client and auto-connecting to the last server. I’ll discuss these in more detail later, but other options include a split tunneling feature, a kill switch, and automatic wifi protection.
The mobile app is similar in design to the desktop client, but there are no customization or settings options. This is a positive in the sense that the app just works with no configuration required. But advanced users may miss the option to tailor the VPN.
Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi
Does Hotspot Shield work with Netflix?
Hotspot Shield easily unblocks Netflix US, Netflix UK, and a handful of other libraries. I tested it with several US servers, including those located in Chicago, Portland, and Miami, and they all worked with no issues.
Other VPN providers require you to ask customer support which server to use. While this isn’t much of a hassle, it’s nice not to have to go through that extra step.
In addition to US Netflix, Hotspot Shield reliably unblocks the UK catalog. It also worked with other country versions I tested, including Netflix Canada, Australia, Sweden, and Spain.
Looking to stream from other sites? Hotspot Shield unblocked the following during testing:
- BBC iPlayer
- Amazon Prime Video
- All 4
With great speeds, you should be able to stream HD video as much as you like.
Are you a Kodi user? Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield does not support Kodi configuration.
Does Hotspot Shield allow torrenting?
Hotspot Shield does allow torrenting and the practice is backed by unlimited bandwidth and data and the use of shared IP addresses. The company promotes the use of its service for torrenting using uTorrent and BitTorrent.
Security, privacy, and logging
Hotspot Shield has come under fire in the past for its questionable logging practices, so I was keen to see how well the current iteration of the service protects user privacy.
Hotspot Shield was originally the flagship product of AnchorFree, a Switzerland-based company. However, in 2019, it became part of a new company, Pango, which is based in Canada.
Canada is a member of the Five Eyes alliance, which may be discouraging to users particularly wary of international intelligence collection. That said, this is only an issue if the VPN keeps logs.
Adding to concern, Hotspot Shield doesn’t exactly have a rosy past when it comes to privacy. For example, a 2016 report brought to light some of the company’s questionable activities.
In addition, a privacy advocacy group, the Centre for Democracy and Technology, filed a related complaint against Hotspot Shield with the Federal Trade Commission back in August, 2017.
Here are some highlights of Hotspot Shield’s security suite:
- Strong encryption: HSS uses 256-bit AES GCM encryption with 2048-bit RSA keys and ECDHE for perfect forward secrecy (to ensure past sessions can’t be viewed if an encryption key is compromised).
- Kill switch (Windows only): This will stop your internet connection in the event the VPN connection is lost. This is disabled by default so you’ll need to go to Settings > Advanced to switch it on.
- Auto-protect: This is a neat feature that will connect you to the VPN automatically whenever you connect to public wifi.
- Prevent IP leak: HSS comes with built-in DNS leak protection enabled by default, but it can be toggled off in the settings screen.
Unfortunately, the service doesn’t guarantee WebRTC leak protection but I tested for these leaks and observed none. IPv6 protection isn’t built in either and I did observe leaks here so you should disable this (and perhaps WebRTC, too) to be on the safe side.
A new addition to HSS’s feature roster is Smart VPN. This is a split tunneling option that enables you to bypass the VPN for certain apps and websites.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t give you any protocol options, which may be disappointing to more advanced users. Instead, it always uses its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol.
I usually recommend the OpenVPN protocol as the gold standard in the industry. One of its benefits is that it’s open source so it can be reviewed by security experts. The lack of peer review opportunities is also one of the reasons I’m sometimes skeptical of VPN providers’ proprietary protocols.
However, this case is a little different as Hotspot Shields’s protocol is used by some top cybersecurity firms, including McAfee and Bitdefender. These companies evaluate the protocol before using it, and I’d say we can trust their judgement.
Does Hotspot Shield work in China?
Very few VPNs work reliably in China, so I was eager to find out if Hotspot Shield is one of them.
When I last reviewed HSS, users were having lots of issues with the service in China. However, Hotspot Shield has made improvements and is now a solid option for a China VPN.
Note that Hotspot Shield’s website is blocked in China, along with the sites of most other VPN providers. As such, you’ll need to download the software and any installation and troubleshooting guides before you enter the country.
Is Hotspot Shield’s customer service any good?
Hotspot Shield offers lots of tutorials and FAQs in the support section of its website. As part of the move to Pango, much of the website has been improved and you should find that the information available is fairly up to date.
If you’re still running into issues, you have two options. You can use the 24/7 live chat feature (outsourced to Zendesk) to get a quick response, or send an email in-house using a form in the support section of the website.
In my experience, the live chat customer support representatives were knowledgeable, friendly, and prompt.
Hotspot Shield pricing
No matter how great a service is, I always ask the question: Does it offer value for money?
Since moving to Pango, Hotspot Shield’s subscription structure has changed. It now comes as part of a bundle of four services that also includes:
- 1Password: A password manager
- Robo Shield: A spam call blocker (this is replaced by Hiya for users outside the US and Canada)
- Identity Guard: Identity theft protection
The bundle costs $12.99 per month on a monthly basis or $7.99 per month when you pay annually. The monthly rate is comparable to many top-rated VPN providers for the same term and represents a bargain when you consider the additional three services.
However, the annual rate is a bit pricey compared to other providers that offer steeper discounts for longer terms. It’s still a good deal if you’re interested in the additional services, but if you’re solely looking for a VPN, this might be stretching the budget a little.
Pango only lets you pay by credit card. There is no cryptocurrency option, which will be disappointing for some privacy-conscious users.
Plans come with a generous 45-day money-back guarantee.
Hotspot Shield coupon codes
Hotspot Shield Coupon
Special Deal - save 77% on the 3 year plan
Discount applied automatically
Should I buy Hotspot Shield?
After putting Hotspot Shield through some serious testing, would I recommend this service? In short, yes.
Hotspot Shield’s offering has definitely improved over the past year or so. Considering its speed and unblocking potential, this could be an ideal VPN for those looking to stream on a regular basis. It’s also a good option for users in China. If you’re mainly looking to torrent, I’d be hesitant to choose this service over others with better leak protection (and a kill switch for Mac users). The bundle price structure may be a turnoff for some users.
Although Hotspot Shield has impressed me, it still has a couple of downsides including a Windows-only kill switch, some leaks, and a lack of payment options. Thankfully, if those are deal-breakers for you, you have some great alternatives to consider.
ExpressVPN isn’t the cheapest VPN on the market, but it outperforms its rivals in almost every other area. It comes with a suite of security features, including a kill switch in the desktop apps and protection against DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leaks. It accepts plenty of payment methods, including bitcoin.
If price is a problem, then NordVPN is a great budget provider. It works in China, and has a massive server network, blazing fast speeds, top-notch security, and the ability to unblock plenty of popular streaming sites.
Hotspot Shield free version
As mentioned, Hotspot Shield does have a free offering. However, this is very limited and probably not worth your time. You get access to a single server location, slow connection speeds, a limit of 500 MB daily (enough to stream about half an hour of Netflix), no live chat support, and lots of ads.
If you’re thinking about using this service, we’d advise going for a budget paid provider like NordVPN instead.
Here’s a breakdown of how Hotspot Shield compares to two of the most popular services, ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
Hotspot Shield is a fast and user-friendly VPN that easily hides your IP address and unblocks US Netflix. It has a large server network and custom VPN apps for most popular devices. While Hotspot Shield allows torrenting and P2P file-sharing, its logging policy is not ideal for complete privacy.
Hotspot Shield’s VPN service is divided into two products: a free VPN and a paid version called Hotspot Shield Elite. With over 650 million customers, it’s one of the most popular VPN providers in the world – but can it really be trusted?
In this Hotspot Shield review we put both versions of the VPN through our advanced testing process to find out how they perform for speed, security, streaming, and more.
The free version of Hotspot Shield is an ad-sponsored VPN with a data limit of 500MB per day. Upgrading to the paid version will remove these ads and give you unlimited bandwidth, access to servers in 82 countries, and a range of bundled security features.
We found that Hotspot Shield is a very fast VPN thanks to its proprietary encryption protocol called Catapult Hydra. The apps are user-friendly, work to unblock Netflix, and offer unrestricted support for P2P and torrenting.
However, the company has an invasive logging policy and a controversial past when it comes to user privacy. There is no option to use the OpenVPN protocol and there is no VPN kill switch for MacOS, Android, or iOS, which is a major security oversight for such a popular VPN.
Nevertheless, Hotspot Shield is still one of the best VPNs around. It’s perfect for unblocking streaming services, or protecting your data on open public WiFi networks. However, it’s not a service we’d recommend for the highest levels of privacy.
Here’s an overview of Hotspot Shield’s pros and cons along with the key data we recorded during our review:
Hotspot Shield Pros & Cons
- Impressive download speeds
- Desktop & mobile apps are free of IP/DNS/WebRTC leaks
- Paid version works with Netflix & torrenting
- Fairly big VPN server network: 82 countries
- User-friendly VPN apps for popular devices
- Unreliable for use in China
- Not enough transparency on Catapult Hydra protocol
- Past controversies around the free VPN app
- Based in privacy-unfriendly US
- Free app shares information with advertisers
Hotspot Shield Key Summary
|None||500MB per day|
|Some User Logs||Some User Logs|
|US (Five-Eyes Member)||US (Five-Eyes Member)|
|24/7 Live Chat||Online Resources Only|
|$2.99/mo over 36 Months||-|
Does Hotspot Shield protect your privacy?
Logging Policy & Jurisdiction
Hotspot Shield has been criticized in the past for its questionable logging policy.
According to its terms and conditions, Hotspot Shield Elite collects the following data:
- Your IP address – encrypted, only for the duration of your session, and not linked with your activity while using the VPN.
- Your approximate geographical location – derived from your IP address and used to connect you to the nearest VPN server.
- Connection timestamps – used to monitor, support, and optimize VPN services, and stored for three years.
- Bandwidth used per user, per session – used to monitor, support, and optimize VPN services, and stored for three years.
- Device-specific information, such as device identifiers, browser types, device types and settings, operating system versions, mobile, wireless, and other network information (such as internet service provider name, carrier name and signal strength), and application version numbers.
- Non-personal logs of websites (domain names, not specific URLs) visited via Hotspot Shield’s VPN servers – these are aggregated on a monthly basis.
If you use Hotspot Shield Free, the service may also share even more data with third-party advertisers:
- IMEI Number (your unique mobile ID)
- MAC address
- Unique advertising ID
- City-level location
If you’re looking for reassurance, Hotspot Shield states that:
…Even if a government agency physically seizes one of our VPN servers and succeeds in breaking disk encryption on those servers, they would not find any logs or information that would reveal what any individual user was browsing, viewing, or doing online via a VPN connection.”
While it’s encouraging that Hotspot Shield isn’t able to link any behavior to your specific account, this level of data collection is still far too invasive for any user concerned about privacy or anonymity.
If you’re using Hotspot Shield Elite, the company will be monitoring “the nature of the requests that you make to our servers (such as what is being requested, information about the device and app used to make the request, timestamps, and referring URLs)” along with a whole host of other information.
If you use the free version you’ll also be sharing potentially personally identifying information with advertisers. As always, it’s best to stay away from ad-supported services when trying to stay private online.
Connection timestamps could potentially be used – alongside other data points – to prove that you have visited a certain website. This is unlikely to happen, but we would rather Hotspot Shield didn’t log this information for three years.
At the very least, it’s clear that your IP address and website requests are being monitored at some point – even if in aggregate form. Combined with a worrisome past when it comes to user privacy, we cannot recommend Hotspot Shield for any user looking for high-level anonymity online.
However, if you’re simply looking to access streaming services or encrypt your web traffic so you can use public WiFi safely, this VPN will do that.
If you’re interested in a provider that keeps absolutely no logs whatsoever, then we recommend you take a look at our Private Internet Access review.
Where is Hotspot Shield Based?
Hotspot Shield is owned by Pango, formerly branded as AnchorFree.
Pango is based in the US, which has very intrusive privacy laws and is one of the founding members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. These countries work together to collect, share, and analyze mass surveillance data – this alone is a red flag.
Invasive jurisdictions like the US can compel supposedly privacy-focused companies like Pango to retain and share user information.
In January 2019, Hotspot Shield released its annual Transparency Report. The report shows the number of data requests Hotspot Shield received from authorities around the world since 2016 (227) – crucially, it also showed that Hotspot Shield didn’t hand over any data.
However, Hotspot Shield hasn’t released another transparency report to account for the time that has passed since then, so there’s no way of knowing whether it has given up user data to any third parties.
Pango’s Controversial History
Pango provides an all-in-one subscription service to a number of online security and privacy products, including Hotspot Shield Elite, 1Password, Robo Shield, and Identity Guard. It costs $12.99 a month, or $95.88 a year.
Users can also purchase separate subscriptions to the individual products if they want.
The Pango group also owns a few different VPN apps including Betternet, Hexatech, and TouchVPN, which are not part of the main Pango subscription service.
The company was also exposed for redirecting user traffic through affiliate networks in order to profit from purchases made while using the VPN service. Furthermore, analysis of Hotspot Shield VPN’s source code revealed it “actively use[s] more than five different third-party tracking libraries.”
In 2017, Hotspot Shield was also accused of “unfair and deceptive trade practices” by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). The CDT asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate “undisclosed and unclear data sharing and traffic redirection.”
Hotspot Shield didn’t consider the logging of IP addresses collection of personal information, which is misleading and untrue.
The CDT’s report mainly targeted the free version of the app, but it was still a sizable breach of trust.
Even so, we recommend sticking with Hotspot Shield’s paid version to stay on the safe side.
It’s hard to fully trust a company that has put profit before user privacy in the past, but with new management and an updated logging policy Hotspot Shield will be private enough for the majority of users.
How fast is Hotspot Shield?
Speed & Reliability
Hotspot Shield claims to be the “World’s fastest VPN” thanks to its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol.
Catapult Hydra is supposedly designed to fix the latency issues associated with other encryption protocols. Hotspot Shield claims this will significantly improve connection speeds when compared to other VPN providers.
We put this to the test by measuring the VPN’s performance when connected to servers across various different countries in Hotspot Shield’s network.
We found that Hotspot Shield is certainly one of the fastest VPNs you can buy, with top speeds on both local and international servers.
Whether you are looking to stream shows from other countries or torrent large files Hotspot Shield will do the job easily.
We experienced impressive download speeds on all the Hotspot Shield VPN servers we tested, and measured an average speed loss of just 5% on the four closest servers. Curiously the fastest VPN server wasn’t always the one nearest to our actual location (the UK).
Unlike most VPNs, Hotspot Shield doesn’t automatically connect you to the nearest or fastest VPN server upon startup – it always picks a US server. So for the best speeds take a look at the server locations list and pick a server closer to your physical location. Some trial and error is required because Hotspot Shield doesn’t provide server load or ping time stats in the server list – the information is only available after you connect.
Even the free version of Hotspot Shield surpassed our expectations with a speed loss of around 5-10% to the US, which is the only location available for free users. If you live in or closer to the US you can expect even better speeds, while if you’re further from the US than the UK is then you can expect a slight drop-off. The biggest difficulty we had was being able to finish the speed tests without the 500MB data cap running out, and this will definitely negatively affect your ability to stream and browse.
Local Speed Test Results
Before using Hotspot Shield:
When connected to Hotspot Shield:
Nearby Server Speeds
We tested Hotspot Shield’s performance under two circumstances: local and international. A local test means we measured the difference in connection speed before and after connecting the VPN to a nearby server (London).
This is the best way to get the fastest speeds, but you wouldn’t gain any of the geographic benefits of a VPN.
The difference in performance before and after connecting to the VPN is called the speed loss, which is measured as a percentage. This figure helps give you an idea of how a VPN might affect your speeds at home, regardless of how fast your connection speed is to begin with.
We began our testing with a download speed of 95.97Mbps. After connecting to Hotspot Shield’s UK server this number dropped to 86.64Mbps – a percentage speed loss of 10%. On other European servers the speed loss dropped by just 1%. This is incredibly impressive when compared to most VPN services – even the best VPNs experience a speed loss of around 5-10%.
Connections to nearby servers were stable and reliable over time – we were able to connect consistently and did not experience any dropped connections during our testing.
International Server Speeds
To test international results, we repeated the same process while connected to Hotspot Shield servers in locations all around the world. This simulates the experience of accessing websites and streaming content outside of our home country.
We tested four additional VPN server locations: Germany, United States, Singapore, and Australia. Once more, Hotspot Shield didn’t disappoint – it was almost as fast connecting out to the US as it was to some European servers. Speed loss is minimal, meaning that you can stream foreign content with ease. This makes Hotspot Shield one of the best VPNs for performance.
One thing to note – Hotspot Shield’s uploads aren’t quite as speedy as downloads, but they are still more than good enough for torrenting if you connect to a nearby server. Ping times are also a little high and the software isn’t manually configurable, so Hotspot Shield isn’t ideal for gaming. Whether you’re into FPS, MOBAs, MMOs, or anything else, you can find the very best VPNs for gaming here.
Here are the average download and upload speeds you can expect when connecting from the UK to a Hotspot Shield VPN server in:
- Germany: 93Mbps (download) & 95Mbps (upload)
- USA: 79Mbps (download) & 43Mbps (upload)
- Singapore: 68Mbps (download) & 18Mbps (upload)
- Australia: 59Mbps (download) & 14Mbps (upload)
When connected to a US server, our average download speed was 80Mbps. This is a percentage speed loss of just 17% – an impressive speed, especially for the distance from our physical location.
We tested four servers located across the US, and here are the results:
- Dallas: 88Mbps (download) & 31Mbps (upload)
- LA: 84Mbps (download) & 27Mbps (upload)
- New York: 62Mbps (download) & 66Mbps (upload)
- Seattle: 92Mbps (download) & 27Mbps (upload)
Oddly, New York was the slowest, despite being closer to our physical location. Nevertheless, it still performed very well, as did all the other US servers.
Across the world in Singapore we got download speeds of nearly 70Mbps. This speed is incredible given the physical distances involved. Likewise, in Australia speeds reached 59Mbps, a speed drop of just 39%, which is one of the best speeds into Australia we’ve ever recorded. Most other VPNs struggle to maintain even 50% of the original speed on this type of long-distance connection.
Switching between servers is also very fast, and typically takes only a few seconds. However, beware that the kill switch doesn’t protect traffic when you change servers, so it’s best to close down all your browser tabs and apps before you do change servers to ensure the highest levels of privacy.
Hotspot Shield’s speeds are impressive in terms of both raw speed and reliability. Though short-term tests are not always reliable, Hotspot Shield was remarkably consistent in providing excellent connection speeds across the board. Not many VPNs on the market are able to deliver such reliably fast connections on demand.
No matter which server you choose, you’ll be able to do pretty much anything you want to do with Hotspot Shield without waiting around – it’s particularly good for HD streaming. Just make sure to test a couple of different nearby VPN servers to find the best speeds.
If you’re interested in knowing more about how we test VPN speeds, see our guide How We Review VPNs.
Is Hotspot Shield secure?
Encryption & Security
DNS Leak Blocking
IPV6 Leak Blocking
VPN Kill Switch
Please see our VPN Glossary if these terms confuse you and would like to learn more.
Hotspot Shield’s apps are safe in terms of encryption strength and security. The premium and free applications use secure AES-128 encryption and leak protection to protect your internet traffic while it travels through the network.
Importantly, Hotspot Shield doesn’t use standard VPN protocols like OpenVPN, IKEv2, or L2TP. Instead, it employs its own unique protocol called Catapult Hydra. This comes with a range of pros and cons that we discuss later in this review.
We detected no IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks when using Hotspot Shield’s desktop and mobile applications. The browser extensions weren’t as secure, though, leaking both DNS addresses and WebRTC requests. This means that websites may be able to see your true IP address, and your ISP the websites you are visiting. You can find our full leak testing results here.
The Windows app comes with a VPN kill switch that protects your data if your internet connection suddenly drops. This is disabled by default, and isn’t currently available for MacOS, Android, or iOS, which is a major oversight for a VPN with such a large user-base.
Another gripe we have is that the kill switch doesn’t kick in when you change servers, which temporarily exposes your true IP address. It may only expose your personal information for a couple of seconds, but it’s still a privacy concern.
Windows users will find DNS leak protection enabled by default. IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection aren’t built-in though, so privacy-conscious users may want to disable these capabilities in their browser. You can find detailed instructions for disabling WebRTC in our guide to VPN leaks.
Hotspot Shield also offers various settings to specify when it should automatically connect to a VPN server. The app will connect by default when it detects an unsafe WiFi hotspot such as a free public network, or you can set it to automatically connect even when using known or “safe” WiFi networks. This is a welcome addition for a top-tier VPN provider.
However, if you’re looking for lots of advanced features like split-tunneling, double-hop, manual configuration, or an ad-blocker, then Hotspot Shield isn’t for you. NordVPN is a good alternative with plenty of extras.
That said, there is a ‘domain bypass’ feature that allows you to route certain websites outside of the VPN tunnel.
Hotspot Shield does not offer compatibility with Tor or any other third party proxies, which can be useful in countries with a heavily-censored internet.
In the past, Hotspot Shield Elite also came with real-time malware protection, which was designed to intercept malicious websites and protect against known phishing websites. An independent test by AV-TEST found it to block more than 50% of phishing pages and just about 10% of the malware pages presented, which is more than similar features offered by other popular VPN providers.
However, a member of the Hotspot Shield team told us that this feature has since been removed, without any official announcement. While this is disappointing, what’s worse is that Hotspot Shield hasn’t informed users of the change yet still promotes the feature on its website. We were told that the website is still undergoing changes due to the rebrand from AnchorFree to Pango, and this should be removed soon.
It’s also worth noting that security researchers found a major security flaw in Hotspot Shield’s code in February 2018. This allowed hackers to see users’ true location via their WiFi network name, but was later addressed and fixed. You can read Hotspot Shield’s clarification of the incident here.
Hotspot Shield does provide strong encryption and robust security features in general, but issues with the VPN kill switch and a lack of advanced configuration options are worth keeping in mind for advanced users.
What Is Catapult Hydra?
Hotspot Shield doesn’t give you a selection of encryption protocols to choose from, which may be disappointing for more advanced users. Instead, it always uses its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol.
With more than 650 million users, it’s surprising that Hotspot Shield doesn’t offer at least a few other popular VPN tunneling protocols for situations in which their own protocol simply isn’t the best option.
There’s not a lot of information about Catapult Hydra available online. This is one of Hotspot Shield’s biggest downfalls when compared to other VPN services that offer tried and tested protocols like OpenVPN as standard.
We do know that Hydra is optimized to give lightning fast speeds. This is due to its focus on the data transport aspect of VPN performance, which supposedly makes long-distance connection speeds 2.4x faster than connections using OpenVPN.
We spoke to a representative at Hotspot Shield to get a better idea of exactly how Catapult Hydra works. We were told:
“[Catapult Hydra] relies on OpenSSL library (same as used by OpenVPN). It’s an enhancement of a transport protocol: it works inside the already established VPN tunnels to increase the speed of reliable data transfer.
In particular, it is an improvement of TCP protocol: when packets are randomly lost during the long distance connections, Catapult Hydra doesn’t confuse this loss with last-mile congestion and doesn’t decrease the throughput like old-style TCP.
These improvements are applied packets that are already encrypted within a secure tunnel. Catapult Hydra can increase throughput of any type of VPN tunnel, including OpenVPN and IPSEC.”
According to Hotspot Shield’s website, Catapult Hydra is based on TLS 1.2. It uses 128-bit AES encryption, 2048-bit RSA certificates for server authentication, and incorporates perfect forward secrecy. For casual users, this means that Hotspot Shield’s encryption is more than secure enough to keep you safe.
One issue with proprietary technology like this is there’s no simple way to see exactly what is going on behind the scenes.
We typically recommend OpenVPN as the most reliable and trustworthy protocol in the VPN industry. That’s because OpenVPN is fast, secure, and open-source – so anyone can inspect the code for possible bugs or improvements.
In other words, most closed-source protocols cannot be peer-reviewed by independent security experts. This is one reason to be skeptical about VPN provider’s proprietary technologies.
However, in the case of Catapult Hydra, Hotspot Shield claims that the code is evaluated by experts from some of the world’s largest security companies, including BitDefender and McAfee. These companies use Hotspot Shield’s Software Development Kit (SDK) to offer VPN services within their apps.
This means that although the code isn’t publicly available, its functionality and security has been evaluated. These big security companies need to understand and trust Catapult Hydra in order to use it, and it’s likely we can trust their opinion.
IP, DNS, or WebRTC Leaks
Security is about more than just the protocol in use. It has to be used properly, particularly when it comes to data leaks that might reveal your identity.
We tested Hotspot Shield’s desktop client, mobile applications and browser extensions for data leaks.
Thankfully, we didn’t experience any IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks during our tests of the premium (and free) desktop and mobile applications. Our real IP address and location in the UK remained hidden, which means the VPN was protecting our identity.
Hotspot Shield leak test results using browserleaks.com
Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield doesn’t support IPv6 traffic yet, so if your ISP supplies you with an IPv6 address your personal data may leak. In order to prevent this you should disable IPv6 on whatever device you’re using. This isn’t ideal, but there are a handful of VPNs that support IPv6, including Perfect Privacy.
While the desktop and mobile apps didn’t leak any of our private information, the same couldn’t be said for Hotspot Shield’s browser extensions. Both the Chrome extension and the Firefox add-on suffered from vulnerabilities.
We found the Chrome extension to leak DNS requests and the Firefox add-on to leak WebRTC requests – even with the WebRTC leak blocking feature enabled.
Leak test when connected to Hotspot Shield’s Chrome browser extension.
Leak test when connected to Hotspot Shield’s Firefox browser extension.
This means that your ISP can still see the websites you visit when you’re connected to the Chrome extension, and your true IP address and location is exposed when you use the Firefox extension.
Many other VPNs have had WebRTC issues with Firefox recently due to the version 73.0 update, however there’s an easy fix you can take to protect yourself. You can disable WebRTC at browser level by following these instructions:
- Enter about:config in the address bar and hit enter.
- Click I accept the risk!.
- Enter media.peerconnection.enabled on the search bar and hit enter.
- Right-click on the line listed and select Toggle. The Value should read false.
The chrome DNS leak is harder to resolve, so we don’t recommend downloading it.
Trackers, Malware, and Permissions
It’s not enough to know how a VPN encrypts your data – it’s also important to know if it installs any unexpected extras on your device, including malware and trackers.
We used the εxodus tool to find out how many trackers and permissions Hotspot Shield’s Android app uses, and were pretty shocked by the results.
The app’s code contains seven trackers, which is more than the average for a top VPN. These trackers include:
- Google Ads
- Google CrashLytics
- Google Firebase Analytics
Most of these trackers let Hotspot Shield know how the users are interacting and engaging with the app. This helps produce marketing analytics profiles and also identifies how users respond to issues like crashes.
While this may aid app performance and usability it’s by no means ideal for privacy. After all, VPNs are able to function well without trackers – for example Astrill’s code contains zero.
The tool also found 13 permissions, which grant the app access to view network and WiFi connections, retrieve running apps, and prevent the phone from sleeping, amongst others. None of these are particularly concerning permissions, and most are common to many other VPN services.
Our independent investigation into Android app permissions concluded that Hotspot Shield “takes appropriate steps to mitigate the risks associated with the [identified] permissions and functions . . . especially as their claims are backed up by security and transparency audits.”
We also put the Hotspot Shield .exe download file through two different virus and malware scanners to be sure it’s safe to use.
Fortunately, we found that Hotspot Shield doesn’t contain any viruses.
Overall, Hotspot Shield’s security offering isn’t quite on the same level as the very best VPNs on the market. The advanced features are limited to the Windows app, and the browser extension leaks personal data to third parties including your ISP. The abundance of third-party trackers used in the Android app and lack of transparency regarding Catapult Hydra is also concerning.
That said, Hotspot Shield will be secure enough for most, with top encryption ciphers, leak protection for the main apps, and a VPN kill switch for Windows.
Does Hotspot Shield work with Netflix?
Streaming & Torrenting
We tested Hotspot Shield’s apps to check how the service works with popular streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and YouTube.
We found that Hotspot Shield Elite consistently works with US Netflix.
There are no dedicated VPN streaming servers like some other top VPN services have, but connecting to the general US server works the vast majority of the time.
If it doesn’t work for you, there are almost 20 US city locations you can try, and we’ve always found at least one that unlocks the streaming service. It can involve some trial and error, though.
We were also able to unlock the following Netflix libraries:
As with the US we just selected the country location and were able to watch geo-specific content immediately.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Hotspot Shield Free, which prevents you from accessing Netflix with a paywall that prompts you to sign up for a premium subscription.
Nevertheless, Hotspot Shield Elite is one of the best VPNs for unblocking Disney+, Disney’s newly launched streaming service.
Thanks to Hotspot Shield’s super fast download speeds, streaming video content in HD is easy and buffer-free.
After several months of not working with BBC iPlayer, the Hotspot Shield team has beaten the blocks and now you can watch all your favorite British TV shows hassle-free through the UK server.
In the past, Hotspot Shield used to only work with BBC iPlayer through the Chrome browser extension, which doesn’t provide the same levels of security as the main VPN app.
Despite a lack of labeled streaming servers, Hotspot Shield has consistently worked to unblock the most popular streaming services for several months. While it’s not the most private VPN around, Hotspot Shield is a reliable and fast VPN if you just want to stream your favorite shows.
Torrenting Is Fully Supported
Torrenting and P2P traffic is fully permitted and unrestricted on all Hotspot Shield’s premium servers, though it’s not supported by the free version of the VPN.
Hotspot Shield openly endorses P2P activity unlike some of its competitors – TunnelBear keeps its torrenting policy a near-secret on the website despite permitting it on every server. There are even instructions for anonymous torrenting on Hotspot Shield’s website.
Fast upload speeds, a VPN kill switch (for Windows users only), and effective DNS leak protection all make Hotspot Shield Elite a good VPN for torrenting. The VPN effectively masks your IP address, which means your P2P activity will be hidden from your ISP.
You can also torrent on any supported device or platform, but unfortunately you can’t use Hotspot Shield with Kodi.
That doesn’t mean that you should rush to use Hotspot Shield for torrenting, though.
Hotspot Shield’s lack of transparency over its proprietary VPN protocol means that we can’t guarantee it’s the safest option for P2P. The company’s logging policy isn’t the most privacy-friendly either.
While it’s likely that Hotspot Shield Elite is a safe choice for users looking for safe P2P activity, we’d be reluctant to recommend it for torrenting over other VPN providers with stronger privacy policies.
Have a look at the best VPNs for torrenting here, if that’s what you need.
Hotspot Shield offers 3,200+ servers in 82 countries
Hotspot Shield’s VPN server network consists of 3,200 servers covering 82 countries around the world. While this is a great number of servers, it’s not the biggest selection of VPN locations we’ve seen.
That said, Hotspot Shield’s servers are all well spread out, so there aren’t many gaps in the coverage. You can get an IP address associated with popular countries like the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia, as well as some less common destinations like Ecuador, Egypt, and Thailand.
Hotspot Shield users can choose from VPN servers in 19 different US cities, which is great news for North Americans as well as customers looking to browse or stream from specific US locations.
Until a few months ago Hotspot Shield didn’t have any other city-level choice, but we got in touch with the team and requested that it add city servers in Australia and Canada, as these are popular options. We were very pleased that Hotspot Shield took our feedback on board and now you can find city-level choice in the following countries:
- Australia (5)
- Canada (3)
- Italy (2)
If you need even more city-level choice HideMyAss! has the most server locations we’ve ever seen from a VPN.
Hotspot Shield states that the number of server locations may differ from one supported device to the next, but when we checked all the apps showed exactly the same server location list.
Hotspot Shield uses a mixture of virtual and physical (bare metal) servers but isn’t willing to reveal which are which due to “security reasons,” which isn’t as transparent as we’d like.
The IP addresses that Hotspot Shield assigns are dynamic and shared among multiple users at one time, meaning that you can easily hide in the crowd – ideal for privacy.
Hotspot Shield Free VPN users have no choice but to connect to the US VPN server. While this probably won’t be an issue for those living in North America, it’s far from ideal for those based in Europe, Asia, or Africa.
This VPN server limitation isn’t made clear within the app, where you can see the full ‘premium’ server list regardless of which version you’re using. If you try and click on a location other than the United States you’re simply prompted to upgrade to one of the paid plans.
Unlike the premium version of the VPN service, free users of Hotspot Shield can’t drill down to city-level in the US.
Catapult Hydra protocol works in China
Hotspot Shield hasn’t always been a reliable VPN for use in China and other high censorship countries, but a representative recently informed us that it had been working on a solution and that Hotspot Shield now works well to bypass the Great Firewall.
This is thanks to Hotspot Shield’s “proprietary unblocking technology.” There is no special configuration required on the user’s side, which makes accessing blocked websites in China super easy.
Greatfire.org’s Circumvention Central tool shows that Hotspot Shield’s stability in the country is pretty high. There is also anecdotal evidence that users are succeeding in using the VPN in China.
Hotspot Shield’s website, however, still claims that “connection is intermittent in countries where Internet Service Providers and Governments block VPN services.” If one device doesn’t work, it recommends trying another device on a different platform. This is because different platforms – Android vs. Windows, for example – use different servers to establish a connection.
With servers all over the world and lightning fast speeds, Hotspot Shield is an attractive option for those in other high-censorship countries like Iran and Russia, too.
However, beware that there’s only a kill switch for Windows, so if you use another platform it might be safer to use one of our top recommended VPNs for China instead.
It’s worth remembering that Hotspot Shield’s own website is inaccessible in China, along with similar VPN websites. If you plan on using a VPN, make sure to download the appropriate software before you travel.
Custom VPN apps available for desktop, mobile & Android TV
Platforms & Devices
Hotspot Shield is compatible with most major platforms and devices, including Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. You can also use the VPN on up to five devices at any one time on the paid plan.
It will work on your smartphone and desktop computer, and has downloadable apps for:
- Microsoft Windows
- Apple MacOS
- Google Android
- Amazon Fire TV Stick
- Android TV
There are also browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. That’s where device coverage ends, though.
For a long time Hotspot Shield didn’t have router compatibility, which meant you couldn’t use it with games consoles or other unsupported media devices. This was a big gap in an otherwise comprehensive service.
Thankfull, Hotspot Shield has recently added router support. This means you can now use Hotspot Shield with your Playstation, XBox or Nintendo Switch. It also means you can connect far more devices in your home with one subscription.
It’s possible to install Hotspot Shield on most routers provided they can be flashed with DD-WRT or FreshTomato. If you have issues with installation we recommend contacting Hotspot Shield support.
Linux support has just recently been added; someting we really like to see. Even some top tier providers like ExpressVPN still don’t offer a custom GUI for this platform.
A simultaneous connection limit of five devices should be enough for most users, though alternative providers like Windscribe have no limit at all.
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
Amazon Fire TV
Hotspot Shield provides a long list of unsupported devices, including:
- Apple TV
- Windows phones
- Kindle devices
- Blackberry phones
- Rooted or jailbroken devices
- Linux OS
- Game Consoles
- Custom router configurations
- Direct VPN connectivity (without using the application)
However, it has recently brought out a custom VPN app for Amazon Fire TV Stick and Android TV. These apps are only available for Premium subscribers.
Hotspot Shield provides browser extensions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox users. These extensions can spoof your location, block ads, cookies, and trackers, as well as protect you from malware.
They also include Auto Protect and Bypass lists, which tell Hotspot Shield to automatically turn itself on or off whenever you try to access certain websites. This is useful for sites that don’t work with a VPN, or services that need to see your true location. However, these features are quite hard to find – you need to click on ‘Browser settings’ in the extension’s main settings menu, which will open up a browsing tab.
There’s also a WebRTC blocker feature to prevent unwanted IP address leaks, however it’s disabled as default on both extensions, and we found the Firefox add-on to leak WebRTC requests even with the feature enabled.
This combined with the DNS leaks on the Chrome extension means we don’t recommend downloading the extensions. The desktop and Android apps are far more secure, even if they don’t include the extra ad and cookie blockers. After all, Hotspot Shield’s browser add-ons are just proxies and not full VPNs, which means they won’t protect any traffic outside of your web browser.
Another reason not to use the extensions is that they only get access to nine locations, which is significantly fewer than available with the full VPN software.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t have browser extensions for other popular browsers like Safari or Opera.
Hotspot Shield’s apps are simple and user-friendly
Ease of Use
How to Install & Set Up Hotspot Shield
To set up Hotspot Shield, all you have to do is go to the downloads section of the website and choose the device you want to use the VPN on.
The installation wizard will guide you through the process from start to finish.
It only took around 30 seconds for us but you can keep an eye on the installation progress here.
Here's the main screen of the Hotspot Shield Windows app. There's a big central connect button.
From here you can choose a server from the locations list. Click on the country flag to see which city locations you can connect to.
Within the settings menu you can enable the VPN kill switch and IP leak protection.
When you connect to a server you can see lots of information about your connection on the screen, including the amount of data transferred, your new IP address, and the server load. To disconnect click the stop icon at the bottom of the app.
While they don’t offer much in terms of advanced settings or customization, Hotspot Shield’s apps are incredibly simple, intuitive, and easy to use.
To set up Hotspot Shield on your device just download the relevant VPN software either directly from the website or through an official app store.
Click through the installation prompts – they are very easy to follow – and log into the app with your email and account password. It’s that simple.
Overall, Hotspot Shield has created an excellent user experience with its native apps. The main issue is a lack of advanced settings, especially in non-Windows versions of the app. MacOS users, for example, will find their only options are turning on push notifications and enabling automatic connection.
Windows & MacOS Client
The Windows app displays a central connect button, your selected VPN server location, and the amount of data transferred during the VPN session. When you connect, you’ll also see your new IP address and the server load percentage.
The app’s main interface is straightforward, minimalist, and simple to navigate. You can quickly connect to a server with a single click, or manually select a server location by clicking on the sphere in the top-right corner.
To access the settings menu just click the cog symbol. The most important features can be found under the ‘Advanced’ tab – you’ll want to make sure that the VPN kill switch (Windows only) and Prevent IP Leak features are toggled on in order to prevent personal data leaks.
If you want a more tailored VPN experience, you can play around in the General settings menu, where you can choose to start the VPN on launch and auto-connect.
There’s also a domain bypass feature, which allows you to route certain websites outside of the VPN tunnel. This works a bit like split tunneling. It’s useful for accessing local content on secure sites while you use the VPN to browse foreign content on other websites.
To see the full list of available server locations just click on the arrow next to the VPN’s current virtual location. From there you can even choose specific cities in some countries.
The MacOS app is much simpler, with none of the advanced features that make the Windows app so comprehensive.
It’s still very easy to use, with a central connect button, but it lacks a VPN kill switch and the domain bypass feature, which is disappointing.
Android & iOS
Hotspot Shield’s Android application has a similarly clean and simple interface to the desktop apps. Once you start the application and press connect, your virtual location will be displayed below.
The settings menu also follows a similar pattern to the Windows client, with settings to automatically connect when your device turns on or when you connect to certain network types.
There’s no kill switch setting, but you do get the option to turn the VPN off when your device is sleeping, which can help save battery.
Likewise, the iOS application is just as simple as the other clients. It displays a large connect button, a list of locations, and very few advanced settings.
The iOS app looks great and is simple to use, but it doesn’t have any settings whatsoever. It’s fairly typical for iOS VPN apps to be stripped back, but Hotspot Shield’s is particularly bare.
24/7 live chat support available
|24/7 Live chat support||Yes|
Hotspot Shield’s around-the-clock live chat support is by far the best way to get your queries addressed and problems solved.
However, you have to subscribe to a Hotspot Shield Elite account before you can benefit from live chat.
That makes asking simple questions before you purchase a subscription a little harder than you’d expect. There is email support, but it’s quite limited, and even then some queries are restricted to premium subscribers.
You should be able to find answers to basic questions in the knowledge base and FAQs section, which is fairly comprehensive and simple to navigate. Once you’re a paying customer, you can access live chat support directly from the Hotspot Shield app, or via your account on the Hotspot Shield website.
The applications also display popular questions within the interface so you don’t have to navigate to the Hotspot Shield website. You can get advice here quickly, and if that doesn’t help, a contact button will open your browser at the Live Chat page for personalized assistance.
Thankfully, responses are well-informed and timely.
How much does Hotspot Shield cost?
Pricing & Free VPN
Hotspot Shield Coupon
Hotspot Shield Pricing Plan
Hotspot Shield is quite cheap, especially if you opt for a longer VPN plan.
You can choose from four different-length subscription plans with Hotspot Shield Premium. Each plan comes with the same features. As usual, you’ll get the best value for money with a longer subscription plan.
While a 12-month plan is priced at a moderate $7.99 per month, Hotspot Shield’s three-year plan costs just $2.99 per month – a very competitive price.
If you want to pay on a month-to-month basis, Hotspot Shield costs $12.99.
Oddly, Hotspot Shield’s prices don’t accommodate different currencies – you’ll pay exactly the same price whether you use Euros or Dollars.
While these prices are reasonable for what Hotspot Shield has to offer, there are certainly cheaper VPN providers out there that still offer a premium service.
Billed $12.99 every month
Billed $95.88 every 12 monthsSave 39%
Billed $107.64 every 3 yearsSave 76%
All plans have 45-day money-back guarantee
You can pay for Hotspot Shield Elite using the following methods:
- Major credit and debit cards
It doesn’t accept any privacy-friendly methods such as Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, though, and there’s no option to pay using international methods like AliPay either.
Hotspot Shield provides a 45-day money-back guarantee, which is generous, but it does involve submitting a form for review.
Whether you receive a refund or not is up to Hotspot Shield, so canceling before your plan ends is not exactly risk-free.
There’s also a seven-day free trial, which allows you to test out the full-featured premium software without restrictions.
This is a great alternative to the subpar free VPN service, but it does require you to submit your payment details. Just remember to cancel before the seven days are up if you don’t want to continue onto a premium subscription.
Hotspot Shield Free
You can use the free version of Hotspot Shield on Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS devices, but it comes with lots of restrictions.
Hotspot Shield’s free VPN is limited to 500MB of VPN data per day – that’s barely enough for a 30-minute show on Netflix. There’s also a lack of server location choice – you can only connect to a server in the US.
If you try to access Netflix’s website (or any other popular streaming platform), you’ll be met with a payment wall for its premium product. The custom apps for Android TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick aren’t available for free users, either, and torrenting isn’t possible.
If you use the Android app, you’ll also experience annoying pop-up ads as you’re browsing. This helps contribute to the overheads of the free app but can feel very intrusive, especially considering Hotspot Shield shares certain information like your city-level location with third-party advertisers.
Finally, if you require any assistance or run into any issues, Hotspot Shield’s live chat agents won’t be able to help you, as they attend to paying customers only. Even some email queries will go unresolved if you’re a free user.
Generally, we recommend ‘freemium’ VPNs above stand-alone free services because they support the free service through their premium product. This is the case with Windscribe, ProtonVPN, and TunnelBear.
However, Hotspot Shield hasn’t always adhered to this business model.
As we discussed earlier in this review, Hotspot Shield Free has been involved in a handful of privacy scandals, including injecting affiliate links into user traffic for profit and overstating the security and anonymity provided by the service.
While Hotspot Shield is now under new management and the logging policy has been rewritten, some of its previous privacy concerns still remain.
Though the free service is still fast, these restrictions mean you simply can’t take advantage of all the benefits a VPN has to offer.
If you’re looking to try a free VPN, it’s worth looking at these far superior (and safer) free VPNs instead.
Do We Recommend Hotspot Shield?
The Bottom Line
There’s a lot to like about Hotspot Shield Elite: it offers incredibly fast speeds, a sizable international server network, and a super simple interface. Even better, it’s great for HD streaming and fast torrenting.
However, the company behind the service clearly has a controversial history that raises concerns about its ability to put user privacy, security, and anonymity first.
There is a lack of transparency regarding the intricacies of the Catapult Hydra protocol, and a lack of support for OpenVPN and manual configuration.
Considering its speeds and unblocking capabilities, Hotspot Shield could be an ideal VPN for those looking to stream Netflix on a regular basis. If you’re simply looking to secure your connection to public WiFi networks, it’s also a strong choice.
HotSpot Shield in brief:
- P2P allowed: Yes
- Business location: United States
- Number of servers: 2,000+
- Number of country locations: 25
- Cost: $71.88 per year
Update: This review was updated on February 2, 2018 to add mention of AnchorFree’s transparency report.
Before people got serious about VPN encryption post-Snowden, a top choice for encrypting your Wi-Fi connection was AnchorFree’s HotSpot Shield. It was free, easy to set up, and only required that you look at some ads injected into your browsing.
That service is still around, but today we’re looking at HotSpot Shield Premium. AnchorFree’s paid service that removes the ads and offers faster speeds.
What struck me the minute I turned on HotSpot Shield was how simple and attractive the design is. It eschews most design ideas we’ve seen for other VPNs so far. There are no interactive maps, mobile-style single-panel interfaces, or elaborate settings.
When HotSpot Shield first opens it offers a large power button in the center of the window and nothing else. Hit the power button, and HotSpot Shield connects to the United States by default, or your most recent connection choice.
The interface then changes to a timer at the top to show you how long you’ve been connected. That timer takes up the entire upper half of the window. It’s a lot of excess space, but it works.
The lower half is for the more detailed information, including data that’s gone up and down from your PC, your current VPN IP address, and a small, cleanly designed map showing which country you’re connecting from. It’s all very simple, clear to understand, and uncluttered.
To switch locations click the drop down menu in the lower right square, and select from one of HotSpot Shield’s 25 country locations.
HotSpot Shield’s menu
To reach HotSpot Shield’s settings, click the “hamburger” menu icon in the upper-left corner, and select Settings from the menu. There’s not a lot to see here. By default, HotSpot Shield is set to run when Windows starts, and it’s also set to prevent IP address leaks—an important thing for VPN apps.
HotSpot Shield’s s.ettings
Under that are various options to tell HotSpot Shield when it should automatically connect to the VPN server. By default, HotSpot Shield will connect when it detects an unsafe Wi-Fi hotspot such as a password-free open Wi-Fi network. You can also choose to connect when on supposed safe Wi-Fi networks, and an “Other” setting, which probably covers any other possible internet connection. Below that is a language setting if you’d rather the app was in French or Korean, and that’s it for the app’s settings.
AnchorFree says that behind the scenes HotSpot Shield can intercept malware you may encounter online, as well as protect against known phishing sites and spam. It also has “patented ways” to make your VPN connection look like normal browsing, so it blends in with other online traffic. This VPN also works with Netflix, though in my experience it was a little inconsistent.
HotSpot Shield is available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS, and there are proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
HotSpot Shield in action.
HotSpot Shield is fast. I tested it several times to make sure I wasn’t experiencing a fluke. The company says the service is fast because of its proprietary Hydra Protocol, which is based on TLS and OpenSSL. AnchorFree says this protocol doubles download speeds of large files and increases ping times.
As of January 2018, HotSpot Shield is by far the fastest VPN I’ve tested. It scored nearly 64 percent of the base speed for download speeds, which is faster than the previous speed champ Mullvad by nearly 12 percentage points.
All of the connections were fast including the typically slower connections such as Australia and Japan.
That speed got me wondering how HotSpot Shield was scoring so high, and it may have to do with what’s going on behind the scenes.
The first time I connected to HotSpot Shield’s U.S. servers, for example, I got an American IP but Google thought I was in the UK—thus it redirected my browser to Google.co.uk—and Netflix thought I was in Germany. HotSpot Shield did give me a few DNS servers in Germany that day, which likely contributed to Netflix’s confusion.
Given this odd combination I tried running some ping and traceroute tests, but most of them timed out. The day Netflix thought I was in Germany, I did manage to get one successful traceroute from a supposed connection in California to Vienna, Austria. The elapsed time was 13.612 milliseconds, which is impossible and strongly suggests that the server I was using was serving an American IP from central Europe. I asked AnchorFree about this and the company said it does use virtual server locations, where the physical machine may be in one location but looks like it’s in another.
As always, take these speed tests with a grain of salt—as you should with any VPN speed test—because your experience may vary.
Privacy, anonymity, and trust
AnchorFree’s U.S. headquarters are located at 1800 Seaport Blvd., Redwood City, CA 94063. Its CEO is David Gorodyanksy and the CTO is Eugene Malobrodsky—they are also the company’s co-founders.
When you first sign up for the service, it asks for an email address and a password, which is pretty standard for mainstream VPN services. For payments, it only takes standard options of credit cards and PayPal. There is no ability for anonymous or semi-anonymous payment forms like Bitcoin or cash.
But it does “collect anonymous aggregate data about which websites you visit and which apps you use.” AnchorFree says it does this for analytics and troubleshooting, and this information is never connected to any of your identifying information such as an email address, home IP address, username, and so on. But that doesn’t negate the fact that your browsing data is still collected by AnchorFree. That might not bother some users, but those who are very privacy conscious should look elsewhere.
That said the company published its first transparency report in November 2017. The report states that AnchorFree does not and “cannot provide information to governments about what websites our users visit when using our services....To date, AnchorFree has never provided the identity or other personal information regarding our users to the government.”
The company also gathers device information like your hardware model, OS version, browser type, language, wireless network, and mobile network information. Again this information is never associated with you and is used for analytics and troubleshooting.
If you use the free, ad-supported version you may also leak personally identifying information to HotSpot Shield advertisers. That has nothing to do with HotSpot Shield Premium, but it’s a good reminder of why you don’t want to use an ad-supported service when trying to get online unnoticed.
Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
- Very fast
- Ideal interface for beginners
- Browsing activity is recorded though not tied to you
- Power users can't do any serious customization
Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.
Virtual private networks, or VPNs, like AnchorFree's Hotspot Shield, are critically important tools. They protect our online activity from the prying eyes of attackers on insecure networks, and from ISPs that sell our data. While AnchorFree's VPN service is easy to use and includes a slew of features, it is also expensive and turned in lackluster results in our speed tests. We prefer Editors' Choice winners NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TunnelBear.
What Is a VPN?
When you connect with a VPN, it encrypts all internet activity from your PC and routes the packets through AnchorFree's servers. Anyone on your network watching your traffic or trying to serve you bogus websites won't be able to break into that tunnel. That's great, especially if you find yourself using that sketchy, unsecured Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop.
That's not the only reason you need a VPN, either. Because your internet traffic appears to be coming from AnchorFree's servers, your computer, in turn, appears to have the IP address of that server. That means websites, advertisers, and snoopers have a harder time tracking your movements across the web and discerning your actual location.
While using a VPN is always a wise choice for securing important activities such as online banking transactions, VPNs are essential for accessing the internet while traveling or any time you use a public Wi-Fi network. On a larger scale, people living in countries with restrictive control over internet access can circumvent that control with a VPN. This technology has long been a key tool of activists and journalists.
For some people, VPNs are also a means to access region-locked content. By connecting from the US to a VPN server in the UK, for example, you could watch BBC shows for free instead of paying for BBC America. Note that Netflix is fighting back against this kind of cheating, as are other services.
It's important to know what a VPN can and can't do, however. First and foremost, a VPN provides only limited online anonymity. To really disguise yourself online, you should route your traffic through the labyrinthine Tor network. Also, if you connect to websites or services that don't encrypt traffic via HTTPS, your network traffic may be subject to interception.
There's a good chance that you have never laid hands on a VPN before. If that's the case, don't worry! We've got a whole feature on how to set up and use a VPN.
Pricing and Features
Hotspot Shield has three pricing tiers ranging from a monthly rate of $12.99 to an annual rate of $71.88. Alternatively, you can drop $119.99 on a lifetime subscription, a deal comparable to the Forever subscription from KeepSolid VPN Unlimited .
While I appreciate the range of options, Hotspot Shield's monthly price tag is quite a bit more than the industry average of $10.42. It's more than the already-pricey Editors' Choice winner NordVPN ($3.49 Per Month at NordVPN) , which costs $11.95 per month, and significantly more than co-winner Private Internet Access, which costs just $6.95 per month.
If none of those plans fits your wallet, you might consider using a free VPN, such as the one provided by AnchorFree. Note that the free version of HotSpot Shield only allows access to servers in the US. The free version also has bandwidth limits that depend on the device you use. All free accounts are capped at 500MB per day. AnchorFree also uses Android resources to deliver occasional interstitial ads. TunnelBear also has a limited free version, but it won't serve you ads if you opt to go that way. ProtonVPN, too, has an impressive free VPN, though its speed is throttled.
VPNs are a mature technology, and there's more than one way to create an encrypted tunnel for your traffic. For the most part, you won't have to worry about picking a particular VPN protocol, but I appreciate services that give consumers that option.
The typical VPN service supports multiple VPN protocols and either uses the one it thinks best for a particular situation or allows the user to choose. These usually include new, secure standards like IKEv2 or my preferred option, the open-source OpenVPN. Instead, AnchorFree created its own protocol called Catapult Hydra and uses it exclusively.
To be clear, in creating Catapult Hydra AnchorFree didn't create a new encryption protocol. A new encryption protocol would require an enormous amount of scrutiny since an undiscovered flaw could be used to break it. An AnchorFree representative recently explained that Catapult Hydra uses the Open SSL library to encrypt the data and that the new protocol is simply "an enhancement of the transport protocol." AnchorFree has previously told me that Hydra creates multiple channels for data to travel, with the goal of increasing speed and reliability.
While plenty of other VPN services create their own protocols, AnchorFree Hotspot Shield is the only one I'm aware of that relies exclusively on its own proprietary protocol. I'm always a little leery of security companies that decide to roll their own services when secure, open-source options like OpenVPN exist. I haven't tested the efficacy of AnchorFree's protocol—I'll leave that to the expert researchers.
Servers and Server Locations
When I review VPNs, I look at the number of servers and where those servers are located. The number of servers indicates the service's robustness. The more servers there are, the more bandwidth each person connected to a given server will receive. The number of server locations is also important, but I am more interested in geographic diversity. A lot of different server locations gives you more opportunities to spoof your location, and it also means you're more likely to find a nearby server when traveling.
Hotspot Shield members get just 25 server locations worldwide to choose from, with some 2,500 servers in total. That's a lot of servers, but I'd prefer to see them more widely distributed. Hotspot Shield has servers in Asia, Central America, Europe, North America, and South America. It also maintains servers in areas with restrictive internet access policies, including China, Iran, Russia, and Turkey. Hotspot Shield customers disappointed by its dearth of servers in Africa should consider CyberGhost, which has a few in the region.
By comparison, Hide My Ass VPN offers 286 server locations in 220 countries. NordVPN and Private Internet Access ($8.45/Month at Private Internet Access) boast 3,400 and 3,275 available servers, respectively. This puts Hotspot Shield among the most robust VPN services, but its geographic diversity leaves something to be desired.
Some VPN companies employ what are called virtual servers. These are software-defined servers—a single piece of server hardware running multiple virtual servers onboard. These virtual servers can also be configured to appear in a different location than their host hardware server. Consumers deeply concerned about their privacy may take issue with virtual servers, since your data might be traveling to different countries than you expect.
An AnchorFree representative explained that 20 percent of the servers in the US and Western Europe are virtual servers. But if you're a paying customer, you won't be using any virtual servers. Additionally, all of the VPN servers are physically located exactly where they appear to be. That's not true for services like Hide My Ass and PureVPN.
Your Privacy With AnchorFree Hotspot Shield
As VPNs become an increasingly popular tool to help secure your privacy online, more attention is being given to what VPN companies are doing to protect your privacy. After all, these companies could monitor your activity as much as ISPs already do.
"Our VPN product will never store or log your IP address beyond the duration of your VPN session, and we always delete your IP address after you disconnect from the VPN.
We do not keep logs of your online activities and never associate any domains, or applications that you access while the Hotspot Shield VPN is connected with you, your device, or your email."
AnchorFree previously injected an ad linking back to a page on its own domain onto webpages visited by users. Considering that attackers inject code into websites to trick users into visiting malicious portals, I don't think legitimate software should ever engage in this practice. Thankfully, AnchorFree confirms that it no longer injects ads into websites—nor do any of the other VPN services in my best-of list.
"Hotspot Shield does not share your browsing history or any other information you choose to provide, with advertisers. [...] advertisers are prevented from seeing your IP address, however if you are using the free version of Hotspot Shield we may share this approximate (city-level) location. If you are using the premium Hotspot Shield Elite version this approximate city-level location will not be collected and will not be shared."
"[...] we and our service providers collect device-specific information, such as the unique mobile ID, hardware model, operating system version, language, and network information. We may also use, but never log or store, your IP address to derive your approximate (city-level) location. We use this information to provide and improve the services, troubleshoot, and perform analytics on our services. Our service providers may collect IP addresses for marketing attribution purposes."
An AnchorFree representative explained these service providers correlate a download to particular website or other "channel." This is part of the company's analytics model, but also its affiliate marketing strategy. The representative explained, "We ensure that these analytics services don't use the data for any other purpose besides attribution of the download to the channel of where this download came from. The information is needed only to know that a device downloaded our application from a specific website."
To its credit, AnchorFree completed a transparency report late in 2017 that outlined the requests it had received for information from law enforcement and governments. In it, the company said it provided no identifiable information, and extensively discussed how AnchorFree Hotspot Shield does not store users' real IP addresses. That's great, as is the effort put forth by the company to make a transparency report in the first place. TunnelBear underwent a code audit to publicly verify its efforts toward customer security. CyberGhost has taken similar efforts.
I ask every VPN company to outline how it generates revenue, as it's important to understand whether or not companies are data-mining or otherwise "selling" their customers. My AnchorFree contact said that the company only draws revenue from subscriptions, ads served to free users of the Android app, and company licensing. That is, other companies using AnchorFree's technology and services to deliver VPN to customers. Bitdefender, for example, licensed AnchorFree and now offers VPN protection as part of Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and its security suites. It does say something that so many other companies have signed off on AnchorFree's services, especially those like Bitdefender that stake their reputation on customer security.
Some readers may balk at the advertising based model for the free version of Hotspot Shield, but the company argues that these activities are necessary to deliver a quality product, particularly for free users. Moreover, it contends that what information it collects cannot be tied back to specific individuals. It's also worth noting that AnchorFree's 1GB per day limit is the most generous free VPN services available I have yet reviewed.
I always advise readers to look at a company's policy and decide for themselves if they are comfortable with it. Security companies trade on trust, and if you do not feel that you can personally trust the company, you need to find one you do trust.
Hands On With Hotspot Shield
I had no trouble setting up Hotspot Shield on my Lenovo ThinkPad T460s running Windows 10. Previous versions of the software were pushier than I like to see, affecting the appearance of the browser and such, and I'm happy to see that behavior removed in the current incarnation. Hotspot Shield also no longer installs any toolbars, which is also a step in the right direction.
The Hotspot Shield client looks much more at home on Windows 10 than other VPN apps. It's a simple, dark blue window with cyan highlights and a modern aesthetic. This matters, I think, because how a service looks is probably going to inform how we feel about it. Private Internet Access, for example, barely has a presence on computers and isn't easy on the eyes at all, which makes it less inviting and accessible to the average consumer.
The main page shows upload and download speeds, as well as your apparent IP address. A map in the lower right shows a stylized view of the world and doubles as a VPN server selector. When it's not connected, the app shows a large Power button, encouraging you to start a connection. I like this much more than PureVPN, which has users jump through hoops before connecting.
One notable setting is that Hotspot Shield can be configured to connect automatically on unsafe Wi-Fi networks. That's a great option. While you should use a VPN as often as possible for maximum security, this feature means you don't need to remember to switch on the VPN.
Hotspot Shield and Netflix
Using a VPN often prevents you from accessing Netflix, even if you're connected to a VPN server within the US. The streaming company has been very aggressive about cracking down on people spoofing their location in order to access Netflix content that isn't available in a particular geographic market.
Unfortunately, I was unable to stream the new episodes of Aggretsuko on Netflix while connected to an AnchorFree Hostspot Shield VPN server. That's disappointing. NordVPN, TunnelBear, CyberGhost, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, and TorGuard VPN are a few VPNs that work with Netflix. Note, however, that any VPN service could work fine today and be blocked tomorrow.
In addition to securing your traffic, Hotspot Shield can also warn users whenever they land on known phishing websites or sites that host malware (as determined by a database of more than 3.5 million malicious sites). This kind of malware protection is unusual among VPN services, but I did not evaluate Hotspot's malware defenses for this review.
While I am always happy to see VPN companies adding additional security features, I am skeptical of their ability to replace a standalone antivirus solution. While there are definite benefits to screening files and websites at the network level, VPN services are likely focused on making good VPN products and less so on advanced malware detection. That's why, despite these sweetener features, I recommend that consumers run standalone antivirus software on their computers.
Speed and Performance
VPNs work by adding extra distance to the path your web traffic must traverse, and that distance usually has a negative effect on your browsing experience. To get a feel for the impact of using a VPN, I perform a series of tests using the Ookla SpeedTest website. (Note that Ookla is owned by PCMag's publisher, Ziff Davis.)
In my first round of tests, I connect to a local Ookla test server and compare the average test results with and without connecting to a VPN service in the US. This is intended to simulate the situation most users will experience. I then calculate a percent change between the two figures.
To push the service harder, and get a sense for how it performs when connecting to far-flung servers, I choose an Ookla test server in Anchorage, Alaska, and a VPN server in Australia. This is probably more strain than the average person would put on a service, but I find it to be an illuminating test.
In the domestic latency test, AnchorFree Hotspot Shield performed particularly poorly. I found it increased latency by 3,145.5 percent, easily the worst among all the VPNs I have tested. This score is surprisingly bad, and I look forward to testing it again in the future. TorGuard VPN had the best score in this test, actually reducing latency by 6.7 percent. Hotspot Shield's performance was slightly better in the international latency test, where it increased ping time by 400.6 percent. TunnelBear had the best score in this test, increasing latency by 270.3 percent.
Redemption did not come for AnchorFree in the all-important domestic download test, as it again achieved the worst score I've yet recorded. I found that it slowed speeds by 73.5 percent, a far cry from TorGuard VPN, which reduced download speeds by only 3.7 percent. Ironically, Hotspot Shield had the best score in the international download test by a significant margin. In those tests, it only lowered download speeds by 39.9 percent. By way of comparison, the next-best score in that test was GoldenFrog VyprVPN, which reduced download speeds by 55.7 percent.
Sadly, the success of Hotspot Shield was short-lived. It took the second-worst score in the domestic tests, reducing upload speeds by 58.6 percent. IPVanish had the best score in these tests, reducing upload speeds by only 2.9 percent. International upload speeds are tightly clustered together, and AnchorFree was shown to slow upload speeds by 98.4 percent. Private Internet Access has the best score in this test, lowering speeds by 97.3 percent.
In general, I don't believe that speed is the most important factor when choosing a VPN. Value, privacy, and trustworthiness are far more valuable than a quick download. It's also worth noting that my tests can't be viewed as the final word on speed. Network conditions can change on a dime, after all. My tests are more like a snapshot. Despite this, the consistently poor performance of AnchorFree Hotspot Shield is worth considering, especially given its high price.
As far as the fastest VPN goes, that title currently belongs to TorGuard VPN. It eked out a slight latency advantage against the competition and topped the domestic download test—which I consider to be the most important. In the areas where it did not excel, it never disappointed, either.
AnchorFree Hotspot Shield for Android
We haven't had the chance to review the AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Android VPN app. I'll update this review once we get the app and put it through its paces. That said, from what I've seen, it appears to follow the design established with the Windows application, which we appreciate.
AnchorFree Hotspot Shield for iPhone
The last time we reviewed the AnchorFree Hotspot Shield iPhone app, it looked very different. We look forward to updating our review to reflect the recently revamped app. We appreciated its simple, almost elegant design, but struggled to get started. We were also blown away by some of the speed test scores recorded during out testing. That said, we were disappointed by the supported VPN protocols.
While the free version of Hotspot Shield has data restrictions of various volumes for different platforms, that's not the case for iPhone users. Customers with free accounts on iPhone enjoy unlimited data, but are still limited to VPN servers in the US. A paid account is required to access all of the company's servers.
One noteworthy thing not included in the iPhone version when we last reviewed it was AnchorFree's Hydra VPN protocol. Our last review found that the app relied on the older IPSec protocol. It's not surprising that AnchorFree doesn't include OpenVPN in its iPhone VPN app, as Apple requires iOS developers to jump through additional hoops when including that protocol in iPhone VPN apps. Still, it would be better to see a newer protocol, such as IKEv2, instead of IPSec. Of the iPhone VPNs we've evaluated, only VPN Unlimited uses OpenVPN.
AnchorFree Hotspot Shield for Mac
We haven't had the chance to review the AnchorFree Hotspot Shield macOS VPN app. I'll update this review when we get the chance to evaluate the app.
From what we've seen, the app seems very much in line with Apple's established look and feel. It also retains the visual language of the other Hotspot Shield apps. You'll probably feel right at home using it.
Hotspot Shield for Chrome and Firefox Browsers
In addition to its desktop apps, AnchorFree also offers VPN browser plug-ins for Chrome and Firefox. Several VPN companies offer browser plug-ins, but AnchorFree is especially notable because you need neither an account nor a subscription when you connect via these plug-ins. They are completely free.
Free VPN usually means a catch of some kind, and the story is a bit complicated for AnchorFree. If you use the Firefox plug-in, there's no limit on your data and you can use any server you wish, as often as you like. It's totally unlimited. The catch is if you use the Chrome plug-in, you can't connect to US or UK VPN servers, as you can with the Firefox plug-in, but your data is still unlimited. The Chrome plug-in also has links at the bottom of its windows to popular services, which feels a bit like advertising.
I installed the Chrome Extension (there are two, and I tried both) on my Chromebook and found that they both crashed when I attempted to use them. Furthermore, the Extensions manager flagged both as potentially corrupted. This is apparently a known issue with Chromebooks. When I tested the plug-in on Windows in the past, I had no such issues.
Note that while VPN browser plug-ins are convenient, and in this case free, they don't offer as much protection as manually configuring your computer or using the company's desktop. When you use the browser plug-in to connect via VPN, only your browser traffic is secured. Any other data flowing from your computer to the internet won't have that benefit. It's a simple, lightweight solution, but one that's not ideal from a security perspective.
A Shield for Your Hotspot?
AnchorFree Hotspot Shield offers a good collection of features, but it was slow in our testing, charges an above average price, and offers a relatively small number of server locations. We continue to recommend our Editors' Choice winners NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TunnelBear. These services offer more for less, which is a difficult proposition to beat.
AnchorFree Hotspot Shield VPN
Free version available.
Large server network.
P2P and Bittorrent allowed.
Free browser plug-ins.
Comparably few server locations.
No specialized servers.
Plug-in conflict with Chromebooks.
The Bottom Line
AnchorFree Hotspot Shield is robust VPN service with a slick interface, but it's held back by poor speed-test performance and a high price tag.
We understand it can be hard to choose which VPN is the best for you. On the surface, many VPNs look similar. It’s not until you look under the hood that the differences become obvious. That’s why I’m excited to be looking at Hotspot Shield today. There are only so many VPNs out there with servers numbering in the thousands, and Hotspot Shield is one of them with over 3,200 servers in over 70 countries.
Today, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about Hotspot Shield— the VPN’s features, performance, the free version, subscription information, customer support, and the Hotspot Shield app. Next, I’ll compare it to NordVPN, one of our recommended VPNs. Finally, I’ll see how Hotspot Shield compares to the rest and whether it has what you are looking for. That’s enough chatting; let’s get started!
Hotspot Shield Pros and Cons
Hotspot Shield Logo on App
Let me give you a quick overview of the places where Hotspot Shield shines and where it’s lacking.
What We Like
- Speed: Hotspot Shield performed lightning fast during download and upload speed tests.
- Can access Netflix: This could change, but for now, Hotspot Shield works with Netflix and other video streaming websites
- Free option: Hotspot Shield offers a free version that is convenient but capped at 500 MB per day.
What We Don’t Like
- Only five simultaneous connections per subscription: Five just doesn’t cut it for some people.
- Strict data retention laws: The United States is not the best place to base a VPN service given it’s membership in Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes.
- Slow customer support: You can only contact support by submitting a ticket, with no phone or live chat support available.
Okay, let’s take a deeper look.
About Hotspot Shield
Selecting a Server in the Hotspot Shield App
Hotspot Shield is a VPN service from a company called Pango, formerly Anchorfree, that was started in 2008 and now has over 3,200 servers in more than 70 countries. That’s an impressive number of servers; only a handful of VPNs have more. The number of servers is important for a VPN service because your distance to the server you’re connected to directly factors into your internet speed.
Hotspot Shield is based out of Redwood City, California. I know what you’re thinking. “Uh oh, doesn’t the United States have strict data retention laws?” Yes, yes they do. The United States is a part of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes international surveillance alliances, which means Hotspot Shield could be forced to provide your data if requested. But Hotspot Shield knows this might be a source of uncertainty and that’s why they have committed to releasing yearly transparency reports. Their most recent 2019 Transparency Report showed they received 56 requests for user data, and zero user data released. That makes me feel better.
Hotspot Shield Features
Hotspot Shield Premium Features
Will Hotspot Shield Log My Data?
Using a VPN doesn’t automatically make you more secure. Instead of your internet data going to your ISP, it goes to the VPN company. If your VPN service is keeping logs of that data, then it could come back to bite you. Like most VPNs, Hotspot Shield says they have a “no logging” policy. On the Hotspot Shield website, Pango says it
“does not record your VPN browsing activities in any way that can be associated back to you.”
That sounds good, but what do they record?
Hotspot Shield says they record:
- Duration of VPN sessions
- Bandwidth consumed
- Domains that have been accessed by users (but on an anonymized basis)
- Location information
- Device hashes (used identify devices with the other data they collect)
- Account information
- Billing and payment information
- Identity verification information
- Communication information (via email, phone or chat).
On the Android free version of Hotspot Shield, they also provide location information to their ad partners.
Overall, this is more information than I would like for Hotspot Shield to collect and a little more than the average VPN. For example, ExpressVPN, one of our top VPN choices, doesn’t log this kind of metadata.
Does Hotspot Shield Have A Kill Switch?
The Kill Switch feature in Hotspot Shield’s Windows App. Screenshot from the app.
A kill switch is a software tool that will automatically shut down your internet if you lose connection to a VPN server. This is a crucial feature if you are serious about maintaining your privacy because otherwise your real IP address becomes visible and could be tied to your VPN activity. Well, the answer for Hotspot Shield depends on the device you are using. Hotspot Shield only offers a kill switch for Windows devices.
Does Hotspot Shield Offer Split Tunneling?
Split tunneling lets you route some traffic through your local network and some through the VPN. This can lower your bandwidth, if, for example, you’d like to watch American Netflix while you surf the web securely encrypted via VPN. Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield doesn’t offer split tunneling. If you’re looking for a VPN that offers split tunneling, I would look elsewhere.
Can I Use Netflix with Hotspot Shield?
With Hotspot Shield Premium, you will be able to watch Netflix and torrent files. The free version of Hotspot Shield, on the other hand, doesn’t work well with Netflix. You will probably see a paywall when trying to access video streaming sites like Netflix. And anyways, with a limit of 500 MB per day, you would run out of data before you got through one episode of Stranger Things.
Hotspot Shield Encryption
The standard encryption for your data when using Hotspot Shield is 128-bit AES encryption, but they also support 256-bit AES. This encryption method is pretty much unbreakable when implemented correctly. They say it would take 14 billion years to decrypt AES-128 using the world’s current supercomputers. Let’s just say your ISP probably won’t find how many gigabytes of Jackie Chan films you’ve been torrenting.
Hotspot Shield Protocols
Internet protocols determine how data packets are dispatched across a network. You can think of protocols as the different routes cars can take to get between their origin and their destination. You could take a government highway to get to your safe house in the woods, but then security cameras might have recorded you. Or you could take back roads the whole way, but it might take you days. This is the kind of trade-off you often face, between security and performance.
OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol used to make secure tunnels for your web traffic. OpenVPN is considered the gold standard among VPN protocols because it offers a good balance of speed and security. It offers up to 256-bit encryption using the Open SSL library and many other security features that can be configured as desired. Other protocols include PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP, and many more.
Hotspot Shield bucks the trend of VPNs using popular VPN protocols like SSTP or OpenVPN. Instead, they use their own proprietary protocol called Catapult Hydra. Hotspot Shield says that they used to use popular VPN protocols like standard IPsec and OpenVPN, but found performance and latency challenges. They claim that Catapult Hydra offers:
- Faster connection to a VPN server
- Less data transferred inside the tunnel
- Connection speeds are 2.4x faster for long-distance connections compared to OpenVPN.
In reality, it’s not completely different than every other VPN protocol out there. Hydra is based on the Open SSL library, similar to OpenVPN. For privacy, I would trust an open-source VPN protocol like OpenVPN more than Catapult Hydra, because it has been tested more thoroughly by security professionals. It’s hard to find back doors in code when you can’t even see it.
Hotspot Shield Free Version
Connecting to Hotspot Shield
Whenever you hear the words “free VPN”, a little alarm should go off in your head. VPN companies have to make money somehow in order to pay for their servers and infrastructure. And the saying “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” holds true for most free VPNs. This often means giving your data to advertising partners or other third parties; not ideal if you care about privacy.
Surprisingly, Hotspot Shield’s free version is only ad-supported on its Android app. But it’s not all gravy baby, as the free version has a daily bandwidth limit of 500 MB per day. I wouldn’t recommend the free version of Hotspot Shield if you are serious about privacy or want to watch Netflix. On the other hand, if you only need a VPN occasionally and don’t use Android, then I would absolutely recommend the free version of Hotspot Shield. It’s fast and 500 MB of data per day lasts a while as long as you’re not downloading or streaming content.
Testing Hotspot Shield
There’s only one way to find out if Hotspot Shield’s proprietary Catapult Hydra results in faster speeds: real-world speed tests of Hotspot Shield Premium. (Note: I’m not speed testing the free version because speed doesn’t matter when you have a 500 MB data limit and get hit with Hotspot Shield’s paywall when you try to access bandwidth-heavy content like Netflix). I’m also going to be doing some leak tests to test Hotspot Shield’s reliability.
Limited Speed on the free Hotspot Shield App
Like most people, internet speed matters to me. It doesn’t matter how secure I am if my internet is crawling along at the speed of a snail. I’m looking for both speed and performance.
Keep in mind there are many factors that your internet speed will depend on when using a VPN – time of day, location, internet service provider, software, hardware, VPN server location, and on and on. I tested Hotspot Shield Premium in Poland on a Macbook Pro running Mac OS X Catalina and a Lenovo Thinkpad running Windows 10. My advertised internet speed is 70 Mbps.
Hotspot Shield Download Speed Tests
As you can see, Hotspot Shield Premium decreased my download speed by around 30% on my Mac and 18% on my Windows. While Hotspot Shield performed slightly better on Windows in this category, I’m impressed with the performance on both. I wouldn’t notice the reduced speed even unless I was torrenting some gigantic files.
Hotspot Shield Upload Speed Tests
Next, I tested the difference in upload speeds with and without the Hotspot Shield Premium. In this case, the Windows connection performed a little worse with a decrease of 26% compared to only 0.2% on my Mac.
Hotspot Shield Ping Speed Tests
Finally, I looked at the ping, or latency, in milliseconds. In this category, Hotspot Shield was quite slow. I saw a ping increase of 540% for Windows and 430% for Mac. Overall, besides ping, these are among the fastest speeds I’ve seen for VPNs.
DNS Leak Test
DNS leak tests are important to do to make sure your device is sending all DNS traffic through the VPN tunnel. This type of leak can also happen if your VPN was configured manually, if an attacker got control of your router, or if you chose to do a manual DNS setup.
Hotspot Shield DNS Leak Test Screenshot
Unfortunately, I’m not testing Hotspot Shield while sitting on a beach in the Bahamas, so that means Hotspot Shield passed the DNS leak test. So far so good!
WebRTC Leak Test
Do you want to use a VPN with Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Opera? Then you need to know about WebRTC leaks.
WebRTC, otherwise known as Web Real-Time Communication Test, is a collection of standardized technologies that allow web browsers to communicate directly with each other rather than going through an intermediate server. WebRTC allows for faster speeds for video chat, live streaming, and file transfers. Who doesn’t want that?
Well, there are some security issues arise from the fact that WebRTC needs your private IP address. Let me explain the difference between public and private IP addresses. Public IP addresses are issued by your ISP, or Internet Service Provider. They’re globally unique and can only be assigned to one device, typically a router. Public IP addresses allow users to directly access the Internet.
Private IP addresses, on the other hand, are issued by a router to each device in your network. They’re used mostly for computers, smartphones, and tablets. I performed a WebRTC leak test and you can see the results below.
Hotspot Shield WebRTC Leak Test Screenshot.
Because the IP address shown above isn’t my real IP address, I know that Hotspot Shield passes WebRTC leak tests.
Hotspot Shield Subscription
So now that you know what Hotspot Shield Premium has to offer, the real question is… what’s it gonna cost you?
Hotspot Shield Premium Price Plans
You can choose to pay for Hotspot Shield every month, year, or every two years. Like with most VPN services, the monthly price gets lower as your commitment increases. If for some reason, you don’t like Hotspot Shield Premium, you can get a refund using their 45-day money-back guarantee.
Connecting Five Devices Simultaneously with Hotspot Shield
Included in your subscription is an unlimited number of server switches. You can also connect up to five devices simultaneously. You are able to delete devices from your subscription to change which five devices you want to use Hotspot Shield with at any time. If you compare five devices to other VPNs, it’s on the lower end. Some VPNs, like Private Internet Access and Windscribe, offer an unlimited number of devices to connect.
Using Hotspot Shield on my Mac
As far as I know, there aren’t any instructions for how to set up a manual configuration of Hotspot Shield on unsupported operating systems. Hotspot Shield has applications for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. If you’re looking for a VPN to use on Linux or Amazon Fire TV, look elsewhere.
A Hotspot Shield extension is able for Chrome.
Hotspot Shield Customer Support
Hopefully, you won’t need to use their customer support, but just in case, here are the details on how you can troubleshoot problems.
Hotspot Shield ticket submission form screenshot from website.
Hotspot Shield says they offer 24/7 support, but I would say that’s misleading. They use a ticket submission system for customer support, which means you can’t reach them by phone or live chat. I’m not surprised they don’t offer phone support, because that is rare among VPN services. But I am disappointed they don’t have live chat support. Waiting to hear back after submitting a ticket can take days; live chatting takes minutes. Let’s see how their customers feel though.
Customer Support Ratings
On Trustpilot, you’ll see that they have an overall customer rating of 2.5 from 225 reviews. This sounds bad, but they did have a good number of perfect five star reviews (80%). Most of the customers who gave Hotspot Shield a one-star review reported either difficulty receiving a refund or a long wait time from customer support.
The Hotspot Shield App
The Hotspot Shield App
Hotspot Shield App has applications for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. The Android app has a 4.2 rating on the Google Play Store. The iPhone app has a 4.5 rating on the iOS App Store. The Chrome browser extension has a 4+ rating on the Google Chrome Web Store. I would consider ratings above four to be excellent for a VPN.
Hotspot Shield Vs. NordVPN
NordVPN is a leading VPN with a lot of similarities to Hotspot Shield. They both have high numbers of servers, but NordVPN does win with over 5,200 servers compared to Hotspot Shield’s 3,200+ servers. NordVPN also beats Hotspot Shield in that NordVPN is based out of Panama, a country not subject to an international surveillance alliance or data retention laws. Hotspot Shield is based out of the United States, which is part of the Five Eye international surveillance alliance and comparatively strict data retention laws.
Hotspot Shield vs. NordVPN Feature Comparison
Neither VPN logs data that could tie your web traffic back to you, but Hotspot Shield Premium does log more information. They log the duration of your VPN sessions, the bandwidth consumed, and the domains that you accessed (but on an anonymized basis). This is all information that NordVPN says they don’t store.
Both have kill switches, an essential security feature, but Hotspot Shield only offers it on Windows. Neither offers split tunneling. You should be able to stream from Netflix and torrent files with both VPNs. NordVPN gives you the same shared IP address each time (unless you want to pay extra for a dedicated IP address), while Hotspot Shield will give you a dynamic IP address that changes every time you connect. I prefer how Hotspot Shield regularly rotates its IP addresses, as it makes it harder for a hacker to track you.
Now that we’ve gone over how NordVPN and Hotspot Shield’s features compare, let’s talk about their performance during tests. Hotspot Shield worked significantly faster on my Mac and slightly faster on my Windows than NordVPN. Neither system had any DNS or WebRTC leaks. Overall, if speed is your priority, I would recommend Hotspot Shield. But if you value privacy, I would go with NordVPN.
Recap of Hotspot Shield
Hotspot Shield might be the VPN for you if you like:
- Can access Netflix: Hotspot Shield works with Netflix and other video streaming websites.
- Speed: Hotspot Shield performed lightning fast on both my Mac and Windows computers.
- Highly-rated app: Both Android and Chrome users rated the Hotspot Shield app at least four stars.
- Free option: Hotspot Shield offers a free version with a daily 500 MB bandwidth cap.
On the other hand, you might want to avoid Hotspot Shield if you can’t stand:
- Only five simultaneous connections per subscription: Although you can purchase another subscription or router for more connections.
- Split tunneling: You’ll be able to access public and private servers at the same time.
- Kill switch Only for Windows: Disappointing if you want to use the Mac, iOS, or Android Apps.
- Strict data retention laws: The United States is a part of Five Eyes and could request your data from Hotspot Shield.
- Data logging policy: It’s undeniable that Hotspot Shield logs more than they need to and more than their competitors like ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
- Slow customer support: You can only contact support by submitting a ticket, with no phone or live chat support available.
With over 650 million users, HotSpot Shield VPN (released by AnchorFree) is divided into two products: a free VPN service which is more like a proxy with bandwidth cap and a premium paid VPN named “HotSpot Shield Elite”.
In this review, we’ll compare HotSpot Shield Elite network encryption, security features and speed against other VPN services.
They’ve been in business since 2005 and have grown their user base at a high rate.
However, as is the case with many popular VPN companies, having the most customers doesn’t necessarily mean you have the best product.
So the question remains, “Is Hotspot Shield’s massive user base a result of a stellar VPN or stellar marketing?”
And over the course of this review, that’s the question I hope to answer.
Hotspot Shield VPN Overview
Hotspot shield works on Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS.
|OVERALL RANK:||#32 out of 78 VPNs|
|USABILITY:||Easy to use|
|LOG FILES:||Some Logging|
|LOCATIONS:||24 countries, 500 servers|
|SUPPORT:||No live chat, support ticket with slow response|
|COST:||$3.49/mo & limited free plan – 45 days money back|
1. Fastest Speed (Except in the U.S.) Pros of Using Hotspot Shield
On the right servers, Hotspot Shield is fast.
In fact, when I tested Hotspot Shield on an EU server in Estonia, they performed faster than any other VPN that I’ve ever tested.
I connected to several other servers and ran a few tests using the third party website, speedtest.net to ensure the accuracy of this review.
Here are the performance benchmarks I recorded while using Hotspot Shield’s VPN client on a 100 Mbps internet connection.
US Server (New York)
- Ping: 183ms
- Download: 28.66 Mbps
- Upload: 13.74 Mbps
EU Server (Amsterdam)
- Ping: 54ms
- Download: 92.28 Mbps
- Upload: 45.09 Mbps
Asia Server (Hong Kong)
- Ping: 141ms
- Download: 80.00 Mbps
- Upload: 19.60 Mbps
UK Server (London)
- Ping: 53ms
- Download: 95.55 Mbps
- Upload: 46.45 Mbps
If you have read any of the other VPN reviews I’ve done on this site, then you know that these results are impressive, really impressive.
Hotspot Shield regularly performed about 10 Mbps faster than any of their competitors on all European and Asian servers.
Oddly enough, their United States servers inexplicably ran at speeds that were almost twice as slow as their competitors even though the company is based in San Francisco!
If you plan on using servers primarily located in the European Union or Asia, then Hotspot Shield is the fastest VPN that’s currently available.
However, if you specifically need access to a U.S. based server, then you should probably opt for something like ExpressVPN, PIA or NordVPN.
2. Incredible User Experience
Hotspot Shield might be the most beautifully designed VPN that I have ever used.
After a 2-minute installation process, you are taken to an interface that looks like something out of a new James Bond movie where you can adjust your settings and VPN location with just a few clicks.
While they don’t offer much in terms of advanced settings or customization (which I’ll talk about in the ‘cons’ section), what they do have is an incredibly simple, intuitive, and easy-to-use VPN software.
3. Torrenting is Fully Supported
One of the great things about Hotspot Shield is that, unlike some of their competitors, they completely and wholeheartedly support anonymous torrenting.
Their network uses a super secure AES-256 Encryption to ensure that all of the data being transmitted to and from your device is completely secure… From everyone (except AnchorFree).
Governments, ISP’s, nosey neighbors, so long as Hotspot Shield upholds their logging policy, none of them can access any of your browsing history or network activity.
Since AnchorFree openly endorses and even gives instructions on anonymous torrenting, it’s safe to say that Hotspot Shield Elite is an excellent choice for the more avid torrenters for safe P2P experience.
4. Netflix Compatible (1/4)
Streaming Netflix with Hotspot Shield is slightly more complicated than it is with ExpressVPN or StrongVPN. However, if you follow the directions on their site, you can still find a server that will work.
Canada’s streaming service worked perfectly for us. But we struck out on the other three we tested.
That’s actually not a bad result these days, as Netflix has become excellent at detecting (and shutting down) most VPN users trying to access geo-restricted content.
HotSpot Shield server unblocking Netflix:
HotSpot Shield servers blocked by Netflix:
- United States
- United Kingdom
Cons of Using Hotspot Shield
1. CDT Privacy Accusations & the FTC Investigation
Hotspot Shield has always been a rather suspicious company.
Considering that they are a U.S.-based VPN provider that was launched using $52 million of Series C funding from investment giant Goldman Sachs, and whose parent company is partnered with several advertising and marketing companies… I wouldn’t exactly describe the company as “Above Reproach”.
However, after a recent filing from the CDT and a proceeding FTC investigation, I’ve begun to realize that the term “Ethically Ambiguous” is probably a more suitable description.
Here’s a snippet from the press release issued from Center for Democracy & Technology regarding the formal complaint they filed against Hotspot Shield.
Considering the 650 million+ users who rely on Hotspot Shield for their online security, the CDT’s 14 page filing has some serious implications.
Although David Gorodyansky has called these claims “Unfounded” and stated that he “Does not agree” with the filing, the facts do not seem to be in his favor.
Until the FTC concludes its formal investigation, I can neither confirm nor deny these accusations, however, I will say that I would be astonished if Hotspot Shield leaves this battle without a few scars.
2. Questionable Privacy and Logging Policies
AnchorFree is openly associated with a number of third-party advertising companies who make Hotspot Shield free possible.
Image taken from: https://www.hotspotshield.com/privacy-faq/
Even if you ignore, the fact that the term “personal information” is intentionally ambiguous throughout their policy and apparently does not include your personal IP address, this is a fairly worrisome statement.
A CSIRO study concluded that Hotspot Shield uses tracking codes to gather information about their user’s and then sells this information to advertisers.
They also found that Hotspot Shield would regularly redirect user traffic through one of their affiliate networks in order to profit from purchases that their customers made while using the VPN.
Even though their logging policy offers some reassurance by stating that:
“…all browsing information or other similar information relating to your online activities transmitted by you to our servers when using Hotspot Shield is cleared after your VPN “session” is closed.”
I’m hard-pressed to say that I trust Hotspot Shield with my personal data.
3. Ticketed Customer Support
It is abundantly clear to me that all of Hotspot Shield’s resources have been funneled into only three things.
- Creating a stellar list of servers that perform at lightning fast speeds
- Designing a beautiful user interface
As you’ll notice, great customer service isn’t on that list.
While Hotspot Shield offers an admittedly exhaustive list of troubleshooting resources and guides, their customer support team is all but nonexistent.
If you are having an issue, the only way to get in contact with their support team is through the dreaded support ticket.
And once your ticket has been submitted?
You should probably go and pour yourself another cup of coffee and sit back with a good book because you will be waiting for a long, long, long time.
I tried submitting a technical support query for this review three days before I started writing this post.
Much to my chagrin… I still haven’t received a reply!
After skimming through some other reviews, I found that this experience was pretty ubiquitous.
In fact, I read several customer complaints claiming that it took Hotspot Shield more than one week to respond to a simple troubleshooting error.
Considering the hefty price tag associated with their Elite VPN service, this is a very considerable offense.
4. Catapult Hydra and No TOR Compatibility
With a user base that is as large and diverse as the one boasted by Hotspot Shield, you would imagine that they would create a product that is equally diverse and adaptable to any need or circumstance.
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Not only does Hotspot Shield not offer compatibility with The Orion Router or any other third party proxies (an incredibly useful feature in draconian countries like China and North Korea)- Hotspot Shield also works relatively well in China, they landed in our top 7 VPNs for China. They limit all users to their proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol. While they used to support the OpenVPN protocol, this changed after the introduction of their Catapult Hydra protocol.
Considering that they have more than 650 million users, you would think Hotspot Shield would offer at least a few other VPN tunneling protocols for those rare (but inevitable) instances in which their own protocol simply won’t cut it.
Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.
5. DNS Leak Through Chrome Extension
To make things worse, their Chrome extension leaks your DNS.
We did extensive tests on multiple VPNs and Hotspot Shield was one of many VPN providers who leaks your DNS through their extension.
It’s nothing major, and probably gets fixed soon, but for now they’re leaking… Here’s some information on how to fix that leak, however.
Hotspot Shield Pricing, Plans & Facts
As far as paid VPN providers go, Hotspot Shield’s pricing used to be on the more expensive side of the spectrum.
In fact, at $5.99 a month for their 12-month package, they are couple of dollars more expensive than our own favorite VPN, NordVPN. And only $1 dollar cheaper than ExpressVPN.
The only difference between each plan is the length of time for which you can use Hotspot Shield’s VPN services. Here’s how their different pricing plans break down.
- Monthly: $12.99
- 6 Months: $53.94 ($8.99/mo)
- 12 Months: $71.88 ($5.99/mo)
- 3 Years: $125.6 ($3.49/mo)
Furthermore, if you’re located in EU, you’ll face heftier prices (6.99 euros/mo for the 1 year plan, for example). I wonder why they do that…
Although their plans are a little pricey, they are all backed by a generous 45-day money back guarantee, which is the best guarantee that I’ve ever seen in the VPN industry.
From what I have read around the web, this refund is pretty painless to collect meaning that if you do try out Hotspot Sheld’s premium VPN services and decide that they aren’t for you, you can quickly receive your money and continue your search for the perfect VPN provider.
As far as the payment goes, you can use all major credit cards, PayPal and even wire transfer. However, they don’t provide any anonymous payment methods, such as Bitcoin.
- Ease of the VPN software: Easy to use VPN app
- Hidden fees & clauses: None found.
- Upsells: No upsells.
- Instant access after payment: Took ~5min to get access to download files (after buying the software)
Do We Recommend Hotspot Shield?
The answer to this question is complicated.
As a service, Hotspot Shield is superb.
They offer lighting fast speeds, an incredible user experience, and plenty of great features to keep any VPN enthusiast happy.
The company behind the service has been involved in so many shady dealings and ethically grey activities that it’s hard for me to give my seal of approval, especially considering the current CDT allegations.
They also don’t work with the combination of TOR. I think there are better VPNs at similar or even cheaper prices, such as NordVPN or ExpressVPN.
Until now, Hotspot can be used to hide your IP address but isn’t the best option for complete privacy. Read all my VPN reviews here.
Hotspot Shield offers a generous 15GB of free data per month, but there are catches that may put you off.
- Generous data cap
- Easy to use
- Quick setup
- Annoying ads
- Possible privacy concerns
UPDATED with increase in number of virtual country locations. This review was originally published June 20, 2018.
Hotspot Shield offers 500MB of free data per day — even more than Windscribe provides when you add it up — and its network performance is better than those of most free VPNs. The trade-off is that the free version of Hotspot Shield shows you extra ads, as the service's support pages explain, and it lets you connect only to U.S-based servers.
Free vs. Freemium VPNs
We don’t recommend any totally free VPN services because too many of them borrow your bandwidth, sell your browsing history or inject ads. (Granted, the free version of Hotspot Shield does keep track of which sites its users visit, and at least the Android version shows you ads.) A service you don't pay has no incentive to keep your private data private.
Instead, we recommend the free service tiers of "freemium" VPN services, which serve mainly as teasers for the paid plans. Most of the free offerings have data caps or speed restrictions, but at least you know how the services make money.
Unfortunately, none of the free tiers is fast enough or generous enough to serve as a 24/7 home VPN connection. If that's what you want, you'll have to pay for it.
What You Get for Free
Hotspot Shield has client software for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. You can't connect without the software, which leaves Linux and Windows Phone users out in the cold.
As mentioned above, you get up to 500MB per registered user per day, which comes to about 15GB per month — the most of any of the nine free-ish services we looked at. The catch is that once you hit 500MB in a given day, you've got to wait until the next day for more. Other free services let you burn through a whole month's allotment at once if you want to.
The Hotspot Shield paid service costs $12.99 a month ($5.99 per month if you pay for a year at once) for unlimited VPN protection, no ads and your choice of 62 countries to which to connect.
There have been allegations that Hotspot Shield, on both its free and paid plans, collects user data and directs user traffic to its advertising partners. The parent company, AnchorFree, denies those claims but states that it does collect "anonymous, aggregate data about which websites our users visit and which apps our users use." (Many other VPN services promise to never do this.)
The website also says that users will "see extra ads when browsing with Hotspot Shield" and that users who "would prefer not to see ads ... can purchase a subscription" to the paid service.
In the past, Hotspot Shield's free version injected ads directly into web pages displayed in a desktop browser. The company's head told Tom's Guide that that practice has been ended, and that ads now appear only when opening and closing VPN connections in the Hotspot Shield Android app. That was indeed our experience.
Hotspot Shield uses a proprietary VPN standard called Hydra VPN, which may put off privacy experts who prefer better-known standards such as OpenVPN or L2TP/IPsec. AnchorFree is based in California and hence subject to search warrants and other forms of investigation by U.S. law-enforcement agencies, although the company's 2017 transparency report states that it has never given any user data to law enforcement.
It took us only 2 minutes and 15 seconds to get and install the 19MB Hotspot Shield Windows client. The first screen you'll see tempts you to start a free trial of the paid plan by clicking a big, bright-blue button, and there won't seem to be any other option.
But squint, and you'll see a dark-gray "back" arrow barely visible against the dark-blue background, in the upper left. Click that, and you'll be in the HotSpot Shield free interface. It's very similar to the paid interface: deep blue and small, but with "Upgrade to Hotspot Shield Premium" in a banner below.
Click the big button in the middle to connect. Once you do, a small world map appears, along with the IP address Hotspot Shield assigns you and your current session's data usage. The interface warns you when you're at 250MB, halfway through your daily allowance.
Don't be fooled by the drop-down menu of countries to connect to; you'll have to pay to use any but the United States, and you're automatically assigned a server. In the upper left is a hamburger (three horizontal lines) menu to things like Upgrade to Premium, Settings (turn on VPN at startup, stop IP leakage, Kill switch and others), Help and Quit.
Hotspot Shield did pretty well in our tests, which were conducted in a suburban New York home using regular cable-company internet service.
Broadband speeds, connection time and network delay (latency) were tested using Ookla's Speedtest.net service. A baseline without any VPN connection was established before each individual service was tested.
The free offerings of nine services were tested: Avira Phantom VPN, Hide.me, Hotspot Shield, the Opera browser VPN, ProtonVPN, Speedify, SurfEasy, TunnelBear and Windscribe.
We connected to Hotspot Shield's server in an average of 3.2 seconds, which is not too bad and was right behind Windscribe and Speedify. Network latency was 29.5 milliseconds — 58 percent more than before the VPN connected and behind only Avira Phantom VPN among regular VPN services.
(Speedify was the fastest of all because it uses software to merge two independent internet connections, e.g. cable broadband and cellular data. But it can't work its magic if only one connection is available. It's so different from other VPN services that we're ranking it separately.)
The average download speed when connected to Hotspot Shield was 111.8 Mbps — a decline of 35 percent from the baseline. Uploads averaged 29.3 Mbps — 13 percent slower than the baseline. Both of those scores are right behind those from Windscribe, our top placer.
If you're fine with Hotspot Shield's free service tier showing you extra ads, and the privacy allegations don't concern you, then go right ahead and use this VPN service. Better yet, use both Hotspot Shield's free offering and Windscribe's similarly generous counterpart, and you'll have 25GB per month of free VPN data to play with.
Client platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
Protocols: Hydra VPN
Restrictions: 500MB per day; U.S. servers only