Hotspot Shield is a well-established VPN for those with basic privacy needs on a budget. It offers incredibly fast performance on both local and international connections, and currently works with both Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
Sleek, user-friendly custom apps are available for popular platforms, but it’s incompatible with anything outside of these – including routers.
It offers strong encryption and some solid privacy features, like a VPN kill switch, and while the server network is a little on the small side it still covers most popular locations.
Pricing & Deals
Hotspot Shield offers a few different pricing plans so you shouldn’t struggle to find one that suits you. As is the case with most other providers, the longer subscription you sign up for, the less you pay on a monthly basis.
The most expensive option is a single month, coming in at $12.99, but you can bring the cost down by 31% to $8.99 on the six-month plan. The biggest savings can be found on the two-year subscription, costing an impressive $2.99 per month and saving you more than 75%.
Hotspot Shield Coupon
Get 76% off Hotspot Shield's 2-year plan
Hotspot Shield Pricing & Deals
Hotspot Shield offers both a free trial and a money-back guarantee. The trial gives you full access to the VPN for up to seven days, which is great, but unfortunately you do have to provide your payment information before you sign up.
The 45-day money-back guarantee is the most generous we’ve seen from any provider, and is genuinely ‘no questions asked’ with no hidden restrictions or data cap. Simply request a refund from the support team within 45 days of signing up and the money will be returned to your account within 5-10 business days.
Hotspot Shield offers the usual popular ways to pay, such as all major credit and debit cards, PayPal, Neosurf and Alipay. We were a little disappointed to see no option to pay with any forms of cryptocurrency, but hopefully this feature will be introduced in the near future.
Speed & Reliability
Hotspot Shield produced some absolutely outstanding results across the board in our speed tests. It’s by far one of the fastest providers we’ve seen, meaning you’ll be able to stream HD content on multiple devices without breaking a sweat. Very speedy uploads and low latency on most local connections are great for torrenters and gamers too.
Hotspot Shield performs exceptionally well on local connections, peaking at over 90Mbps in the UK, Germany and France – more than quick enough for high-bandwidth multi-tasking.
Connecting out to the US East Coast from Europe you can expect very fast speeds of 73Mbps, which puts it up there with many of our top-tier providers. Performance doesn’t drop too much over longer distances either, with connections out to Australia still reaching speeds of over 60Mbps – especially impressive as we test from London.
We also logged latency as low as 3ms on the UK server, putting Hotspot Shield very much in the frame for gamers. As is to be expected, latency does balloon out on more distant servers, but connecting locally you shouldn’t have any issues.
Uploads are a little less consistent across the server network than downloads, but still very impressive on some connections, peaking at 100Mbps in France. This makes Hotspot Shield ideal for torrenters and P2P users.
To read about our speed testing methodologies, please read How We Review VPNs.
Hotspot Shield offers a very slim choice of server locations with just 25 countries on offer in total. It has the main locations most VPN users would need, but if you need to connect to less popular destinations we’d advise looking into other providers.
We know that Hotspot Shield has over 2,500 servers spread throughout these countries, however the support agent we spoke to was unwilling to disclose the specific number of individual IP addresses it maintains.
In a network this size, we can only presume it’s a fairly high number, and Dynamic IPs that constantly change provide an extra layer of privacy and prevent you from being tracked.
Unfortunately it’s not possible to drill down to city-level servers – a common feature of its best rivals. Some offer up to 20 different US city-level servers alone, such as CyberGhost.
You can find the complete list of Hotspot Shield server locations by country on its website below.
Platforms & Devices
Hotspot Shield offers custom apps for the four biggest platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It isn’t possible to manually configure the VPN to work with any other devices, including routers.
Hotspot Shield actually provides a list of all the unsupported devices on its website here.
There are basic set-up guides for supported devices, however these aren’t very detailed and probably won’t be that much help for first-time users.
We’d really like to see compatibility with a wider range of devices in the near future, particularly routers, as right now the only way to use the VPN is to install the app on each individual device you want to protect. As it stands, the limit of five simultaneous connections might present a few problems.
Hotspot Shield offers proxy extensions for both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, both of which can be downloaded and installed in just a few seconds. These allow you to appear to be connecting from a different physical location.
They also come with useful extras such as ad and tracker blocking, along with built-in malware protection. The only downside is that these are proxies rather than full VPN extensions, meaning that it will encrypt your browser traffic but not as securely as a true VPN connection.
We’d recommend you use them as a compliment to the main app, not a substitute.
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
Hotspot Shield is not a good choice if you want to use a VPN on any of your games consoles or streaming devices. They are all listed as ‘unsupported’ platforms on Hotspot Shield’s website, meaning they are not compatible with the software in any way.
There are no manual workarounds for this, as Hotspot Shield also doesn’t support custom router configurations or direct VPN connectivity, so if you want to use it on anything other than the four main platforms, you’re out of luck.
There are providers out there offering far more hassle-free solutions for streaming devices, including native apps for the Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Streaming & Torrenting
Hotspot Shield is a good choice for streaming fans, with access to both Netflix and BBC iPlayer possible through its US and UK servers. We’re not sure how long this will last for though, as a lack of servers dedicated to streaming means that this might change from one day to the next – in fact, up until recently HSS didn’t work with either of these popular sites.
HSS has done especially well to provide access to iPlayer considering the BBC’s recent crackdown on VPN providers, however a lack of city-level servers means that if your UK connection was to stop working you wouldn’t have any backup options.
It’s good news for torrenters too, as P2P activity is permitted on all of Hotspot Shield’s worldwide servers, massively reducing the risk of congestion at busy times. Combine this with a minimal logs policy and speedy uploads on local connections and you’ve got a great VPN for risk-free file sharing.
Encryption & Security
Hotspot Shield does some things right in terms of privacy, however it does suffer from a few issues that make it difficult to recommend for people with high-level security needs.
The lack of information or options regarding standard security protocols and features is a concern. You can’t decide to connect using a specific VPN protocol, but rather you’re restricted to the one baked into the app – HydraVPN.
The level of security offered by this protocol isn’t completely clear, so we can’t make a definitive call on how it measures up to OpenVPN. Hotspot Shield also unfortunately doesn’t operate its own DNS servers, meaning your web traffic could be routed through less secure servers.
On the positive side of things, Hotspot Shield offers top-rate encryption (AES-256) as well as a VPN kill switch and protection against IPv6 leaks. If you’re looking for higher levels of privacy, though, providers such as PrivateVPN offer a much wider range of security features and fully zero-logs policies.
There have been some recent privacy controversies, though. Most recently there was a software flaw that made it possible for hackers to view your true location through your WiFi network name, which was discovered in February 2018 (you can read about this incident here). HSS brushed this claim off as ‘unfounded’ but did claim it would remove any components capable of leaking ‘even generic information’, which is a step in the right direction.
In 2017, the company was also accused of ‘unfair and deceptive trade practices’ with regards to the free version of its VPN, when it emerged that it had allegedly been injecting affiliate links to users’ traffic so as to monetize it. You can read about this in more detail here.
Thankfully Hotspot Shield seems to have steered the ship in the right direction following these allegations, and we hope to see this continue in the future.
- IPV6 Leak Blocking
- VPN Kill Switch
- Ad Blocker
We would strongly advise against using Hotspot Shield to users who are mainly going to be connecting out from high-censorship countries such as China, as it’s unlikely that the service will work. There’s a list of ‘known blocked countries’ on the support section of the website, where HSS states that connection may be ‘intermittent’ due to ISP or government blocks.
This is largely due to a lack of additional obfuscation tools, meaning it’s easy for governments to detect you’re connecting from when using a VPN. In order to bypass the Great Firewall, you need to choose a provider that offers some kind of stealth protocol – one example of that is the proprietary Chameleon protocol found on VyprVPN.
Hotspot Shield’s logging policy isn’t quite zero-logs, but it’s almost there. It collects only basic connection metadata in order to “perform analytics… [and] trouble shoot service issues”.
When you connect to the VPN, it collects your originating IP address, however this is then immediately encrypted and stored only for the duration of your session.
Your IP address isn’t associated with any of your online activities and is deleted when you disconnect from the VPN, meaning it isn’t stored anywhere permanently.
Any websites you visit via Hotspot Shield’s servers are “aggregated and stored” to help it measure “whether our users… are able to successfully access certain websites or apps”. Thankfully no specific website visits or app usage is attributed to any specific user.
More importantly, HSS doesn’t log your online activities or associate any domains or apps that you use with you as an individual, your device or your email address. Nothing you do online can be traced back to you specifically.
Hotspot Shield operates under the jurisdiction of the USA, making it subject to very intrusive data laws and intelligence-sharing agreements with other countries such as the UK, Australia and Canada. Thankfully this isn’t too much of an issue, due to the fact that your IP address isn’t stored beyond the length of your VPN session and none of your online activity is monitored.
In November 2017, it released a Transparency Report, outlining the fact that it “cannot identify an individual user” and has “never provided the identity or other personal information regarding [its] users to the government”.
Ease of Use
You can’t really get much simpler than the custom apps offered by Hotspot Shield. Connection time is incredibly quick, so no frustrating wait. It shows you your new location and IP address, along with info about your data usage.
Unfortunately the desktop app is almost simple to a fault: the options are very limited, with no facility to change protocols or select servers optimized for specific tasks. Aside from a couple of toggle switches for basic settings there is very little configurability.
Experienced VPN users looking for loads of settings to play around with with will need to look elsewhere, but Hotspot Shield is absolutely ideal for beginners who don’t want any hassle to get the best connection.
Getting started with Hotspot Shield is really easy, even if you’ve never used a VPN before. All you have to do is log in to your account on the website, download the relevant software for your device and then follow the tips given to you by the installation wizard.
There are step by step installation guides on the support section of the website if you get stuck.
Hotspot Shield has recently improved its customer support, with live chat now available 24/7 for pre- and post-sale enquiries. This is ideal for asking any urgent questions that can’t be answered by the online resources. It’s also much easier than the alternative, which is submitting an awkward email form with some queries limited to premium subscribers.
The knowledge base, by comparison, is pretty basic and put to shame by competitors’ efforts. We found most of the troubleshooting guides to be incredibly unhelpful, but Hotspot Shield is so simple to use there’s a high chance you may not need any support at all.
The Bottom Line
- Excellent server speeds of 98Mbps on local connections
- Currently working with Netflix and iPlayer
- Sleek, user-friendly apps for popular platforms
- Connect securely to 27 countries
- Generous 45-day money-back guarantee
- Limited choice of countries
- Based in privacy-unfriendly US
- Past controversies around the free VPN app
- No configurable settings on desktop app
Hotspot Shield is a super-fast, reliable VPN that has worked hard to regain its users’ trust following recent controversies.
It’s very reasonably priced if you opt for one of the longer plans, and a generous 45-day money-back guarantee means that you have some time to think before you completely make up your mind. Performance is outstanding on both local and international connections, and access to Netflix or BBC iPlayer is an added bonus.
It offers basic privacy features like a kill switch and DNS leak protection, along with strong encryption and a minimal logging policy. However it’s difficult to recommend over its rivals in this department due to a string of controversies from its parent company.
The custom apps are incredibly sleek, modern and user-friendly, even if they’re only available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, with no manual workarounds for other devices such as routers.