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Hotspot Shield Review

Simon Migliano
By Simon MiglianoUpdated
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Hotspot Shield screenshot

Hotspot Shield: Ranked #18 out of 99 VPNs that we tested

Looking for secure, private internet access? Then Hotspot Shield VPN is a top choice – or so its website would have you believe.

But can Hotspot Shield really be trusted? Or is it just another VPN that overpromises and under-delivers?

That was our number one question, but we were also left wondering:

  • Is Hotspot Shield safe?
  • Is Hotspot Shield good for torrenting?
  • Is Hotspot Shield safe for iPhone?
  • What protocol does Hotspot Shield use?
  • And, most importantly, is Hotspot Shield any good?

If you’re anything like us, then you’re in luck – you can find the answer to all these questions (and more) right here in our unbiased Hotspot Shield VPN review.

You might also be wondering if Hotspot Shield is free or not. There is a free version, but this page is strictly dedicated to the premium version.

You can see our review of Hotspot Shield Free here.

  1. Superb download speeds: 89Mbps (same-country connections)
  2. Real-time malware protection & no IP/DNS/WebRTC leaks
  3. Currently working with Netflix, iPlayer, & torrenting
  4. Average VPN server network: 75 countries
  5. User-friendly VPN apps for popular devices
  1. Based in privacy-unfriendly US & lacks VPN protocol transparency
  2. Past controversies around the free VPN app
  3. Limited platform compatibility - can't be installed on routers
  4. Unreliable for China

Works with

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Sky, Now TV, HBO, SlingTV, Torrenting

Available on

  1. Windows
  2. Mac
  3. Ios
  4. Android

Price from

$2.99/mo

It may have had some privacy issues in the past, but there’s no denying that Hotspot Shield is popular for a reason: it’s a very, very fast VPN. You can read more about that in the section below.

Speed & Reliability

One of the fastest VPNs we've tested

Hotspot Shield is one of the fastest VPN providers we’ve seen. We experienced lightning-fast downloads on all the VPN servers we tested.

You’ll be able to do pretty much anything you want to do online through Hotspot Shield without waiting around – it’s particularly good for HD streaming.

Hotspot Shield doesn’t use OpenVPN – we usually use this protocol for speed tests – and instead uses a proprietary VPN protocol, for which very limited technical information is available.

While Hotspot Shield is a super fast VPN, it’s harder to say whether it’s as safe and secure as the other top-tier VPN services.

Speed results from our physical location in London (100Mbps fibre optic connection) to a London test server.

Before using Hotspot Shield:

  1. DownloadMbps

    95.88

  2. UploadMbps

    92.34

  3. Pingms

    7

When connected to Hotspot Shield:

  1. DownloadMbps

    88.89

  2. UploadMbps

    59.05

  3. Pingms

    9

Download speed without Hotspot Shield: 96Mbps

Download speed with Hotspot Shield: 89Mbps

Download speed loss when Hotspot Shield is running: 7%

Hotspot Shield’s uploads are also good enough for torrenting, but ping times are a little high, so there are better options for smooth gaming.

Server Locations

Good VPN server network covering 75 countries

Globe with a blue flag75Countries
Image of a city landscape101Cities
Image of a pink marker3,200+IP Addresses

Hotspot Shield’s very high speeds can be experienced when connecting to nearby VPN servers, and you shouldn’t find yourself too far from one as there are now 101 locations worldwide.

Hotspot Shield states that the number of server locations may differ from one supported device to the next as different servers are used for each app.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield City Servers

Hotspot Shield has over 3,200 individual VPN servers in its network, which is a very good number. These are a mixture of virtual and physical servers but Hotspot Shield isn’t willing to reveal which are which due to “security reasons,” which isn’t as transparent as we’d like.

Hotspot Shield’s VPN server network covers 101 cities located in 75 countries around the world. It’s not the biggest selection of VPN locations we’ve seen but Hotspot Shield’s VPN servers are all very well spread out, so there are few 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 have the choice between 26 city-level VPN servers in the US, which should improve performance for North Americans, and is great news for those seeking specific US locations from abroad.

Streaming & Torrenting

Works effortlessly with streaming and torrenting services

Hotspot Shield is a truly reliable VPN option for streaming fans – it works with both US Netflix and BBC iPlayer, even despite the streaming services’ crackdowns on VPNs.

Hotspot Shield doesn’t provide dedicated VPN streaming servers like other top VPN services, and while most of the VPN servers we’ve tested work well for streaming, it sometimes requires some trial and error.

Now that there are various US city-level servers to choose from you may have to try out a few before you can unlock US Netflix (Dallas worked for us).

There are no city-level servers in the UK, so just select the country server and it’ll work with BBC iPlayer – we haven’t had any issues for several months.

Thanks to Hotspot Shield’s super fast download speeds, streaming video content in HD is easy and buffer-free.

Torrenting

Torrenting through Hotspot Shield works very well. Torrenting and P2P traffic is fully permitted and unrestricted on any of Hotspot Shield’s servers.

Fast upload speeds, a VPN kill switch, and effective DNS leak protection will be attractive to keen torrenters.

However, Hotspot Shield’s lack of transparency over its proprietary VPN protocol means that we can’t guarantee its the safest option for P2P. Its logging policy isn’t the most privacy-friendly either.

Kodi users will want to look at our top recommendations because Hotspot Shield can’t be installed on any devices other than Windows, MacOS, Android (smartphone), and iOS.

Bypassing Censorship

Not recommended for China or other high-censorship countries

Hotspot Shield isn’t a great option for those in highly censored countries – it even says as much on its website.

The honesty is appreciated, but it doesn’t change the fact that it probably won’t be able to help you if you’re in China, Pakistan, UAE, or seemingly any other nation with government-implemented web blocks.

Some users are still able to connect within China but it’s safer to choose a VPN that comes with obfuscation tools (stealth protocol) for bypassing censorship like Astrill.

Platforms & Devices

Coverage limited to most popular platforms, no router support

Apps

Windows LogoWindows
Mac LogoMac
iOS LogoiOS
Android LogoAndroid

Hotspot Shield’s VPN will work on your smartphone and desktop or laptop computer. It has apps for:

That’s where device coverage ends, though. Hotspot Shield doesn’t support manual configuration. That means you can’t use it on less popular operating systems, like Linux.

You can use Hotspot Shield on up to five devices at any one time.

 

Games Consoles & Streaming Devices

Due to Hotspot Shield’s limited platform support, you can’t install it on any streaming or gaming consoles like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, Xbox, or PlayStation.

If you need a VPN to protect all of those devices we recommend ExpressVPN, which provides easy solutions for almost all platforms you can think of.

Browser Extensions

Chrome LogoChrome
Firefox LogoFirefox

Hotspot Shield does provide browser extensions, though, which is a big plus for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox users. These extensions can spoof your location, block ads and trackers, as well as protect you from malware.

That said, Hotspot Shield’s browser add-ons are just proxies and not full VPNs, so be sure to use the extensions alongside the main VPN app for total protection.

Hotspot Shield doesn’t have browser extensions for Safari or Opera at the moment.

Encryption & Security

Strong encryption but a lack of transparency about the proprietary VPN protocol

Protocol

Proprietary

Encryption

AES-256

Security

IPV6 Leak Blocking

VPN Kill Switch

Advanced features

Ad Blocker

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

Hotspot Shield uses Catapult HydraVPN as its one and only VPN protocol – it’s unique to Hotspot Shield, and there are not many details about how it works. It appears to be a secure proprietary security protocol, but we don’t know how secure it is exactly.

The VPN apps give no option to change protocols to more familiar ones like OpenVPN or IKEv2.

There was also a major security flaw discovered in February 2018 that allowed hackers to see your true location via your WiFi network name, but it was addressed and fixed. Read Hotspot Shield’s clarification of what happened.

Hotspot Shield gets the rest right, though, with AES-256 encryption, a VPN kill switch, and protection against IPv6 and DNS leaks. Here are the results from our leak test (we test from London, so you can see that it is effectively hiding our IP address):

Hotspot Shield Leak Test Results

Hotspot Shield leak test results using browserleaks.com

As an added plus, Hotspot Shield provides real-time malware protection which performed well in recent tests by AV-TEST.

Logging Policy

Logs IP addresses while connected, and based in Five Eyes jurisdiction

Hotspot Shield logs more than we’d like:

  • Your IP address – encrypted, only for the duration of your session, and not linked with your activity while using the VPN
  • Device-specific information, such as the unique mobile ID, hardware model, operating system version, language, and network information – upon opening the app but before connecting to the VPN, to improve the service and perform analytics
  • Aggregated (non-personal) logs of websites visited via Hotspot Shield’s VPN servers

However, we feel confident that Hotspot Shield doesn’t store anything that could be used to link your identity to your activity.

If you’re interested in a provider that keeps absolutely no logs whatsoever, for any reason, then we recommend you take a look at our NordVPN review.

In 2017, Hotspot Shield was accused of ‘unfair and deceptive trade practices’ – these alleged practices only involved the free version of the app, but it was still a sizeable breach of trust. Those practices have since been halted, but to stay on the safe side stick with Hotspot Shield’s paid version.

Jurisdiction

Hotspot Shield, first released in 2008, is owned by AnchorFree GmbH. AnchorFree GmbH is based in the US, which has intrusive privacy laws and is part of the Five Eyes data-sharing membership.

AnchorFree GmbH owns a few different VPN apps including Betternet, Hexatech, and TouchVPN.

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, and crucially that Hotspot Shield never handed over any data.

Ease of Use

Very simple apps with fast setup

How to Install & Set Up Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield’s VPN apps are so simple and easy to use that there’s practically no room for error, even for complete beginners.

Expert users may well be left wanting, though, since there are so few advanced VPN settings or options to play around with.

Browser Extensions

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield Chrome Extension

Hotspot Shield’s browser extensions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are really easy to set up. Just go to the Chrome Web or Mozilla Add-Ons store, download the extension, log in and connect.

Customer Support

24/7 live chat support available

24/7 Live chat support
Online Resources

Hotspot Shield’s around-the-clock live chat support is by far the best way to get your queries addressed and problems solved. Responses are well-informed and you don’t even need to have an account to talk to a customer support agent.

Hotspot Shield’s email support form is a lot more limited, with some queries restricted to premium subscribers. The knowledge base and FAQs, while nice to have, are also very basic when compared to other top-tier VPN providers.

Pricing & Deals

Great value for money on the two-year plan

Hotspot Shield Coupon

Hotspot Shield

Get 76% off Hotspot Shield's 3-year plan

  • Tested

Hotspot Shield Pricing Plan

Hotspot Shield is fairly cheap, especially if you opt for a longer VPN plan.

While a 12-month plan is priced at a moderate $5.99 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.

There is a free version of Hotspot Shield, but it comes with too many restrictions and we wouldn’t recommend it due past user privacy controversies.

You can pay for Hotspot Shield using the following methods:

  • Major credit and debit cards
  • PayPal
  • Neosurf
  • Alipay
  • Mint

You can’t pay using more privacy-friendly methods such as Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.

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 a seven-day free trial, too, which allows you to test out the full-featured premium software without restrictions. You do have to submit your payment details, though.

Top10VPN

You’ve read our expert review - read on for reviews from real users.

User Reviews

 88% 
4.4 out of 5 stars

Based on 26 reviews

  1. 5 star
     0% 
    (16)
  2. 4 star
     0% 
    (7)
  3. 3 star
     0% 
    (2)
  4. 2 star
     0% 
    (0)
  5. 1 star
     0% 
    (1)

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Write a review

Best Positive Review
 100% 

I Agree with you

I have used Hotspot Shield for many years and when tested against many of the big names it was always faster. I find it reliable and never need to use customer support anymore. It did not work well in China when I last tried to use it there.

Best Critical Review
 60% 

Works great, but with quirks.

Verified Purchase

The VPN functionality works as it should, but there are a few quirks that appear now and then, and some that have been around since I signed up. On Android 8.1.0, and prior versions: i) Despite the the fact that I have it set not to auto start on reboot, it does so. ii) The app continually restarts no matter that I quit it. I have to terminate it in Android settings. iii) When I do start it, even though I set it to auto turn-on with unsecured and secured wi-fi, and even mobile networks, it does not do so - I have to start the connection manually. I reported these three problems when I signed up, and just gave up waiting for them to be fixed. On Windows 10: i) Occasional cases where response times are awful, but I've never reported these; ii) A current problem from the latest version update, which I've reported as a bug, where the App auto starts and auto turns on even though all settings are contrary to that requirement. But, overall good enough and I stick with it.

Showing 1-3 of 26 Reviews
  1.  20% 

    Terrible service

    I used this whilst I was in China. It automatically runs when you boot up the computer. I was sent to Ghana or Nigeria, I can't remember where and booted up my laptop. One of these countries is on their 'don't use in this country' list so they continued to take my money but stopped my access as punishment. I explained to them what had happened after I discovered why I had not Internet access through the VPN but they couldn't give a damn. It was a good piece of software, but terrible inhuman service when you need to deal with actual humans.

  2.  100% 

    Great for torrenting.

    It was great for protection, I didn't have to worry when I was downloading torrents, it was great! I would definately recommend hotspot shield to friends if they needed it.

  3.  100% 

    It works!

    I needed to be able to work on sights that my company would block. Hotspot Shield delivered what I needed at a reasonable cost.

See all 26 Hotspot Shield user reviews