Logging policy needs work
Logging & Jurisdiction
Hotspot Shield has some concerning incidents in it's past but has improved since changing ownership. It's logging policy could still be improved, though.
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 can 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.
Monitoring and Sharing Data
If you’re using Hotspot Shield Elite, the company monitors “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 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, Hotspot Shield VPN monitors your IP address and website requests, even if in aggregate form. Combined with a worrisome past concerning user privacy, we can’t recommend the service for users seeking high-level anonymity online. If you want a VPN that doesn’t log web activity, read our PIA VPN review.
Where is Hotspot Shield Based?
Aura is based in the US, which has very intrusive privacy laws. It’s also 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.
Hotspot Shield’s Transparency Reports
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.
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.
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’s speeds are impressively fast and reliable. The VPN was consistent in providing excellent connection speeds across the board. 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.
We have measured Hotspot Shield’s performance when connected to servers in countries around the globe.
If you’re looking to stream video content from another country, Hotspot Shield’s connection speeds will do the job easily.
The company claims this impressive performance is thanks to its proprietary connection protocol, Hydra VPN. 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 speed losses of around 5-10% when connected to the US (the only location available to 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:
- Download Speed: 95.97Mbps
- Upload Speed: 98.36Mbps
- Ping: 4ms
Local Speed Test results with Hotspot Shield:
Download speed loss when Hotspot Shield is running: 10%
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.
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.
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?
Security & Features
Hotspot Shield is a secure VPN that uses AES-256 encryption and includes a VPN kill switch. We've never seen the VPN leak IP or DNS infomation.
Hotspot Shield is a safe VPN using 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 as secure. They leaked both DNS requests and WebRTC information, which means your ISP would be able to view your browsing activity.
Hotspot Shield’s Kill Switch
The Windows app comes with a VPN kill switch that shields your IP address if your internet connection suddenly drops.
The kill switch 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.
It 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.
DNS Leak Proof But No WebRTC Protections
Windows users will find DNS leak protection enabled by default. IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection aren’t built-in though, so privacy-conscious users should disable these settings in their browser.
Lack of Extra Features
If you expect advanced features like split tunneling, double-hop, or an ad-blocker, then Hotspot Shield isn’t for you.
That said, there is a ‘domain bypass’ feature that allows you to route certain websites outside 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.
Past Security Flaws
It’s also worth noting that security researchers found a major security flaw in Hotspot Shield’s code in February 2018.
The flaw allowed hackers to see users’ true location via their WiFi network name. This was later addressed and fixed. 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.
Hotspot Shield’s security offering isn’t as strong as the very best VPNs on the market. It provides robust encryption and security in general, but VPN kill switch issues and browser extension leaks are problematic. That said, the VPN is more than safe enough for casual use, streaming, and protecting your data over public WiFi.
Please note: If you have Hotspot Shield on Windows you must update to the latest version of the software, as older versions have a security vulnerability.
Hydra VPN: Hotspot Shield’s Unique Connection Protocol
Hotspot Shield doesn’t use standard VPN protocols like OpenVPN. Instead, it offers IKEv2 and its own proprietary protocol called Hydra VPN (previously known as Catapult Hydra).
There’s not a lot of information about Hydra VPN available online.
We do know that Hydra VPN is optimized to deliver 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, Hydra VPN 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, Hydra’s VPN encryption is more than secure enough to keep you safe.
We spoke to a Hotspot Shield representative to understand exactly how Hydra VPN works. We were told:
“[Hydra VPN] 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, Hydra VPN 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. Hydra VPN 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 VPN protocol. OpenVPN is fast, secure, and open-source, so anyone can inspect the code for bugs or improvements.
In the case of Hydra VPN, Hotspot Shield claims 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. If you trust these companies you can extend that trust to Hotspot Shield, if you don’t trust them then it’s probably better to go with an alternative.
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.
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:
- Google Ads
- Google CrashLytics
- Google Firebase Analytics
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.
Hotspot Shield streams Netflix and more
Hotspot Shield's premium service unlocks US Netflix and BBC iPlayer. It doesn't have dedicated streaming servers, though, so you might have to connect to a few before it works consistently.
We tested Hotspot Shield’s apps to check how the service works with popular streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+ and YouTube.
The VPN service consistently works with US Netflix. Unlike other services, like CyberGhost, there are no dedicated US Netflix streaming servers, but connecting to the 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 access the following five Netflix libraries:
As with the US library, we just selected the country location and were able to watch geo-specific content immediately.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for Hotspot Shield Free, which prevents you from accessing Netflix with a paywall prompting you to upgrade to the premium subscription.
Hotspot Shield Works with Disney+ and BBC iPlayer
Moreover, Hotspot Shield Elite is one of the best VPNs for unblocking Disney+.
And after several months of not working with BBC iPlayer, the VPN now beats the BBC’s VPN blocks. You can now watch all your favorite British TV shows hassle-free through the UK server.
We also tested Hotspot Shield Elite with Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and HBO Max, and we were able to unblock all of them.
How Does Hotspot Shield Compare to Other VPNs for Streaming?
Hotspot Shield is a very strong streaming VPN, but how does it compare to alternatives?
Here’s how Hotspot Shield compares for the best VPNs for streaming:
Torrenting Is Fully Supported
Torrenting and P2P traffic is fully permitted and unrestricted on all Hotspot Shield’s premium servers and while it isn't officially supported, we've been able to torrent on the free VPN, too. However, slow P2P speeds and untrustworthy logging practices hold it back.
Hotspot Shield openly endorses P2P activity unlike some of its competitors. For example, TunnelBear VPN keeps its torrenting policy a near-secret on the website despite permitting it on every server.
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 masks your IP address, hiding your P2P activity 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 we can’t guarantee it as 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 can’t recommend it for torrenting over other VPN services with stronger privacy policies.
Read our dedicated guide to torrenting with Hotspot Shield to learn more.
Alternatively, consult our updated torrenting VPN recommendations.
Hotspot Shield offers 1,800 servers in 80 countries
Hotspot Shield’s VPN server network consists of 1,800 covering 80 countries. While this is a great number of servers, it’s not the biggest selection of VPN locations we’ve seen.
Even if Hotspot Shield doesn’t have the most servers we’ve seen, they’re are well spread out. 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 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 recently there wasn’t any other city-level server choice, but we got in touch with the Hotspot Shield and requested that it add city servers in Australia and Canada, as these are popular options. The VPN company took our feedback on board and now you can find city-level choices in the below countries:
- Australia (5)
- Canada (3)
- Italy (2)
If you need even more city-level choice HMA VPN has the most server locations we’ve seen so far.
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.
Hydra VPN Protocol Works in China
Hotspot Shield does sometimes work in censored regions like China. However in recent months it has been consistently unable to beat China's firewall.
Hotspot Shield isn’t the most reliable VPN for use in China and other high censorship countries. In our recent tests from out Shanghai server, the VPN hasn’t worked once.
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.
The kill switch is only available on Windows, too, so if you use another platform it might be safer to use one of our top recommended VPNs for China instead.
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.
Remember that Hotspot Shield’s website is blocked and its apps de-listed from web stores in China. Make sure you download the appropriate software before you travel.
VPN Apps for Desktop, Mobile and Android TV
Hotspot shields lets you install the app on up to five devices and is compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
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. This should be enough for most users, though VPN services like Windscribe have no limit at all.
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.
Hotspot Shield has also added router support, so you can now use the VPN with your Apple TV, 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:
You can install Hotspot Shield on most routers provided they can be flashed with DD-WRT or FreshTomato.
Linux Custom App
Linux support has also recently been added, which is rare. Some top-rated services, like ExpressVPN, still don’t offer a custom graphical user interface for this platform.
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
Hotspot Shield provides a long list of unsupported devices, including:
- Apple TV
- Windows phones
- Kindle devices
- Blackberry phones
- Rooted or jailbroken devices
- 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 has browser proxy 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.
These two features are 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. What’s more, the Firefox add-on leaks WebRTC requests even with the feature enabled.
In our tests, the Chrome extension suffered from DNS leaks. As such, we don’t recommend using Hotspot Shield’s extensions.
Another reason not to use them is that they only offer access to nine server locations, significantly fewer than what the full VPN software offers.
The desktop and Android apps are far more secure, even if they don’t include the ad and cookie blockers.
Hotspot Shield’s Apps are Simple and User-friendly
Ease of Use
While they don’t offer much in terms of advanced settings or customization, Hotspot Shield’s apps are simple, intuitive, and easy to use.
How to Install & Set Up Hotspot Shield
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.
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
For paying users, Hotspot Shield offers 24/7 live chat support but free users will have to stick to online tutorials and FAQs.
|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?
Price & Value
Hotspot Shield is relatively cheap, especially if you select a longer VPN plan. But it is far from the best value VPN we've reviewed.
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 services out there that still offer a premium service.
US$12.99/moBilled $12.99 every month
US$7.99/moBilled $95.88 every 12 months
US$2.99/moBilled $107.64 every 3 years
All plans have 45-day money-back guarantee
Payment & Refund Options
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. But over a month it can add up to quite a but of data.
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.
Torrenting works on the free app, but the data limit prevents you from downloading any large files.
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.
Hotspot Shield is fast, but comes with some big drawbacks
The Bottom Line
There’s a lot to like about both versions of Hotspot Shield. The VPN offers impressive speeds, a sizable international server network, and an extremely simple interface.
Even better, the VPN service is great for HD streaming and fast torrenting.
However, past controversies surrounding the company’s practices raise some concerns about its ability to put user privacy, security, and anonymity first.
There is also a lack of transparency regarding the intricacies of the Hydra VPN protocol, and a lack of support for OpenVPN and manual configuration.
However, given its speeds and unblocking capabilities, Hotspot Shield could be a good choice for those looking to stream Netflix on a regular basis.
The VPN is also a strong choice if you’re simply looking to secure your connection to public WiFi networks.
Additional research by Liam Mullally
Alternatives to Hotspot Shield
You won't find a safer, more trustworthy VPN than IPVanish. It's 100% no-logs and independently audited to prove as much, and its speed and reliability are a welcome bonus. Read IPVanish review