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Hotspot Shield Review

 88% 
(5 User reviews)
Hotspot Shield screenshot
Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio

Ask Simon about Hotspot Shield

Our Verdict

Hotspot Shield offers fast speeds, a large server network, and a super-simple interface. It’s great for HD streaming and secure torrenting, but there is very little information available regarding its proprietary encryption protocol. We recommend Hotspot Shield for streaming and public WiFi, but not for strict 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.

Hotspot Shield Free 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.

In this Hotspot Shield review, we put both versions of the VPN through our strict testing process to find out how it performs for speed, security, streaming, and more.

We found that Hotspot Shield is a very fast VPN thanks to its proprietary encryption protocol called Catapult Hydra. The apps are user-friendly, they unblock US Netflix, and allow P2P and torrenting traffic on all servers.

However, the company has 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 flaw for such a popular VPN.

Overall, Hotspot Shield is still one of the best VPN services around. It’s great for unblocking streaming services and protecting your data on public WiFi networks. However, it’s not a service we can recommend for the highest levels of privacy or anonymity.

If you’re looking for the most secure VPN services available, read our recommendations for 2020.

Hotspot Shield Pros & Cons

  1. Impressive download speeds
  2. Apps are free of IP, DNS & WebRTC leaks
  3. Paid app unlocks US Netflix & allows torrenting
  4. Good-sized VPN server network: 82 countries
  5. User-friendly VPN apps for popular devices
  1. Rarely works in China
  2. No Firefox add-on
  3. Free app shares information with advertisers
  4. Past controversies around the free VPN app
  5. Based in privacy-unfriendly US

Hotspot Shield Key Summary

Data CapSpeedLogging PolicyData LeaksJurisdictionServersIP AddressesCountriesUS NetflixTorrentingWorks in ChinaSupportCheapest PriceOfficial Website
PremiumFree
None500MB per day
87Mbps44Mbps
Some User LogsSome User Logs
NoNo
US (Five-Eyes Member)US (Five-Eyes Member)
3,200+3,200+
3,200+3,200+
8282
YesNo
UnlimitedNo
UnreliableNo
24/7 Live ChatOnline Resources Only
$2.99/mo over 36 Months-
Hotspotshield.com

Does Hotspot Shield protect your privacy?

Logging Policy & Jurisdiction

Hotspot Shield has been criticized in the past for its questionable logging policy. While the VPN doesn’t keep any logs of your browsing history or online activity, it does collect plenty of other information and its privacy policy is often vague or misleading.

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, the company 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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield logging policy

If you use the free version you’ll also be sharing 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.

SUMMARY

At the very least, it’s clear that Hotspot Shield monitors your IP address and website requests 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. If you’re interested in a VPN that keeps absolutely no logs whatsoever, we recommend you take a look at Private Internet Access.

Where is Hotspot Shield Based?

Until recently Hotspot Shield was owned by Pango, formerly branded as AnchorFree. But as of July 2020 it has been aquired by Aura, a security company which owns Identity Guard and FigLeaf.

Aura 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 Aura 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, the company 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.

Aura / Pango’s Controversial History

Pango provided 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.

The Pango group also owned a few different VPN apps including Betternet, Hexatech, and TouchVPN, which are not part of the main Pango subscription service. These services have since been brought within Aura.

A 2016 CSIRO report brought some of the company’s questionable activities to light. Hotspot Shield’s Android VPN app was highlighted for “injecting JavaScript codes for advertising and tracking purposes.”

Essentially, Hotspot Shield was using tracking codes to collect information about users in order to sell it to third-party advertisers.

The company was also exposed for redirecting user traffic through affiliate networks in order to profit from purchases made while using the VPN service.

In 2017, Hotspot Shield was also accused of “unfair and deceptive trade practices” by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).

The investigation relied on evidence that included Hotspot Shield’s own marketing materials, which overstated the privacy and security of its VPN service.

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.

Hotspot Shield’s website materials and privacy policy have since been revamped to clearly show users what the VPN does and doesn’t collect, along with how the free app is used in conjunction with advertising. There has also been a change in leadership since then.

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

We measured Hotspot Shield’s performance when connected to servers in various different countries across the globe.

We found that it is one of the fastest VPNs you can buy, with impressive download speeds on all of the servers we tested. We measured an average speed loss of just 5% on the four closest servers, and incredibly fast speeds when connected to international servers too.

Whether you are looking to stream shows from other countries or torrent large files, Hotspot Shield’s connection speeds will do the job easily.

The company claims that this impressive performance is thanks to its proprietary connection protocol called Catapult Hydra. This technology is supposedly designed to fix the latency issues associated with other encryption protocols like OpenVPN.

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. For the best speeds, we recommend picking a server closer to your physical location.

Even the free version of Hotspot Shield surpassed our expectations with a speed loss of around 5-10% when connected 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, and vice versa.

Local Speed Test Results

Before using Hotspot Shield:

  1. DownloadMbps

    95.97

  2. UploadMbps

    98.36

  3. Pingms

    4

When connected to Hotspot Shield:

  1. DownloadMbps

    86.64

  2. UploadMbps

    93.82

  3. Pingms

    15

Local speed tests measure the difference in connection speed before and after connecting to a VPN server near your physical location.

Connecting to a nearby server is the best way to get the fastest speeds, but you won’t gain any of the geo-spoofing benefits of a VPN.

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 just 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 speeds we repeated the same process while connected to servers in Germany, United States, Singapore, and Australia. This simulates the experience of accessing websites or streaming content outside of your home country.

We found that Hotspot Shield’s international speeds were almost as fast as its local performance. Speed loss is negligible, meaning that you can stream foreign content with ease.

We tested speeds when connected to four servers across the US and found 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.

Here are the full US speed results:

  • Dallas: 88Mbps (download) & 31Mbps (upload)
  • LA: 84Mbps (download) & 27Mbps (upload)
  • New York: 62Mbps (download) & 66Mbps (upload)
  • Seattle: 92Mbps (download) & 27Mbps (upload)

Across the world in Singapore we measured download speeds of nearly 70Mbps. In Australia speeds reached 59Mbps, a drop of just 39% – one of the best speeds in Australia we’ve ever recorded. This performance is incredible given the physical distances involved; most other VPNs struggle to maintain even 50% of the original speed on this type of long-distance connection.

Here are the full international speed test results:

  • Germany: 93Mbps (download) & 95Mbps (upload)
  • USA: 79Mbps (download) & 43Mbps (upload)
  • Singapore: 68Mbps (download) & 18Mbps (upload)
  • Australia: 59Mbps (download) & 14Mbps (upload)

Switching between servers is also very fast. 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 so to ensure the highest levels of privacy.

Hotspot Shield’s upload speeds aren’t quite as speedy as its 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.

SUMMARY

Hotspot Shield’s speeds are impressive when it comes to raw speed and reliability. The VPN 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 stream in HD or browse the internet with without waiting around – just make sure to test a couple of different nearby VPN servers to find the best speeds.

How Fast Is Hotspot Shield Compared to Other VPNs?

To give the best comparison of VPN services we run an automatic custom VPN speed test tool.

It tests the ping, download and upload speed of each VPN four times per day, with speeds capped at 100Mbps (a number similar to what you might get on your home internet connection).

It shows the VPN’s average speed loss compared to the connection with no VPN running. You can see how Hotspot Shield fared versus other popular VPNs over the past two months. The data below is taken from a New York to New York connection.

VPN Speed Performance Comparison Chart

Use our Speed Test Tool to compare Hotspot Shield’s speeds across different cities.

Thanks to its proprietary VPN protocol Hotpsot Shield is one of the fastest VPNs we’ve seen. Over the last few months it has maintained an average download speed drop of under 10% – beating even market leaders like ExpressVPN.

Is Hotspot Shield safe?

Encryption & Security

Protocols

IKEv2/IPSec

Proprietary

Encryption

AES-128

AES-256

Security

DNS Leak Blocking

IPV6 Leak Blocking

VPN Kill Switch

Advanced features

Ad Blocker

Split Tunneling

Please see our VPN Glossary if these terms confuse you and would like to learn more.

Hotspot Shield is a safe VPN that uses AES-128 encryption and leak protection to secure your internet traffic while it travels through the network.

We detected no IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks when using the desktop and mobile applications, but the browser extensions weren’t quite as secure. These extensions leaked both DNS requests and WebRTC information, which means your ISP will be able to view your browsing activity.

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.

The kill switch also doesn’t activate when you change servers, which temporarily exposes your true IP address. This flaw 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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield Free Settings Menu in App

If you’re looking for lots of advanced features like split tunneling, double-hop, manual configuration, or an ad-blocker, then Hotspot Shield also isn’t for you. That said, there is a ‘domain bypass’ feature that allows you to route certain websites outside of the VPN tunnel. If you’re looking for a VPN with lots of additional security options, NordVPN is a good alternative with plenty of extras.

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. This feature has since been removed, though it is still advertised on the website.

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.

The amount of third-party trackers in the Android app and the lack of transparency regarding its connection protocol are also points of concern.

SUMMARY

Hotspot Shield’s security offering isn’t as strong as the very best VPNs on the market. It does provide strong encryption and robust security in general, but issues with the VPN kill switch, browser extension leaks, and a lack of advanced configuration options are worth keeping in mind for advanced users. That said, it’s more than safe enough for casual use, streaming, or protecting your data over public WiFi.

Please note: If you have Hotspot Shield on Windows it is important that you update to the latest version of the software, as older versions have a security vulnerability.

Catapult Hydra: Hotspot Shield’s Unique Connection Protocol

Hotspot Shield doesn’t use standard VPN protocols like OpenVPN, or L2TP. Instead, it offers IKEv2 and its own proprietary protocol called Catapult Hydra.

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 Catapult 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.

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.

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.”

One issue with proprietary technology like this is there’s no simple way to see exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Most closed-source protocols cannot be peer-reviewed by independent security experts.

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 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 have faith in Catapult Hydra in order to use it, and it’s likely we can trust their opinion.

Though fast and secure, 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.

IP, DNS, & WebRTC Leaks

We tested Hotspot Shield’s desktop client, mobile applications and browser extensions for data leaks. Security is about more than just the protocol in use – it has to be used properly, particularly when it comes to leaks that might reveal your identity.

We didn’t record 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

Hotspot Shield leak test results using browserleaks.com

The VPN doesn’t support IPv6 traffic, 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, both the Chrome extension and the Firefox add-on suffered from vulnerabilities. The Chrome extension leaked DNS requests and the Firefox add-on leaked WebRTC requests – even with the WebRTC leak blocking feature enabled.

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. 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:

  • Adjust
  • Bugsnag
  • Google Ads
  • Google CrashLytics
  • Google Firebase Analytics
  • Kochava
  • MixPanel

Most of these trackers let Hotspot Shield know how 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 device permissions. These grant the app access to view your network and WiFi connections, retrieve running apps, and prevent your phone from sleeping, amongst others. None of these are particularly concerning permissions.

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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield Malwarebytes scan

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, Disney+ and YouTube.

We found that Hotspot Shield Elite consistently works with US Netflix. There are no dedicated US Netflix streaming servers, like some other top VPN services have, but connecting to the general US server works most of the time.

If the main US server doesn’t unblock US Netflix, there are almost 20 US city locations you can try, and we’ve always found at least one that works with Netflix. It can involve some trial and error, though.

We were also able to unlock the following five Netflix libraries:

  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • UK

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.

Moreover, 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, although this doesn’t provide the same level of protection as the main VPN app.

We also tested Hotspot Shield Elite with Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and HBO Max, and we were able to unblock all of them.

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.

Read our dedicated guide to torrenting with Hotspot Shield to learn more. Alternatively, check out our 2020 recommendations for the best VPNs for torrenting, if that’s what you need.

Hotspot Shield offers 3,200+ servers in 82 countries

Server Locations

Globe with a blue flag82Countries
Image of a city landscape108Cities
Image of a pink marker3,200+IP Addresses

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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield's server locations list

Hotspot Shield users can choose from VPN servers in 27 different US cities – including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas – 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

Censorship

Hotspot Shield isn’t a reliable VPN for use in China and other high censorship countries. A representative recently informed us that – thanks to Hotspot Shield’s “proprietary unblocking technology” – it had been working on a solution and that Hotspot Shield now works well to bypass the Great Firewall, but our own experience has been less positive.

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.

In our own tests from near Shanghai, though, Hotspot Shield has been consistently unable to connect for at least the last month.

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, though.

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

Apps

Windows LogoWindows
Mac LogoMac
iOS LogoiOS
Android LogoAndroid
Linux LogoLinux
Router LogoRouter

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
  • iOS
  • Google Android
  • Linux
  • 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.

There are installation guides available for the following routers:

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 LogoAmazon Fire TV
Chromecast LogoChromecast
Nintendo LogoNintendo
PlayStation LogoPlayStation
Roku LogoRoku
Xbox LogoXbox

Hotspot Shield provides a long list of unsupported devices, including:

  • Apple TV
  • Roku
  • Chromecast
  • 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.

Browser Extensions

Chrome LogoChrome
Firefox LogoFirefox

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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield browser extension settings

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

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

Important: If you are using the Windows Hotspot Shield client you need to update to the newest version of the app, as older versions have a security vulnerability.

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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield Windows app

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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield MacOS app

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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield Android app

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

Customer Support

24/7 Live chat supportYes
Online ResourcesYes

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.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield live chat support

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.

 

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield prices in US dollars

  1. Monthly

    US$12.99/mo

    Billed $12.99 every month
  2. 12 months

    US$7.99/mo

    Billed $95.88 every 12 months
    Save 39%
  3. 3 years

    US$2.99/mo

    Billed $107.64 every 3 years
    Save 76%

All plans have 45-day money-back guarantee

Payment & Refund Options

Credit CardYes
PayPalYes

You can pay for Hotspot Shield Elite using the following methods:

  • Major credit and debit cards
  • PayPal

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 both versions of Hotspot Shield: 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.

For these reasons, we would recommend Hotspot Shield only for certain users. The browser extensions leak personal data, and the privacy policy is not ideal for those that are primarily concerned with concealing their browsing activity or achieving high-level anonymity. For these purposes, there are better VPNs available.

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.

Alternatives to Hotspot Shield

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About the Author


  • Simon Migliano

    Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio


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