Hotspot Shield is a well-established VPN for those with basic privacy needs on a budget. It offers incredibly fast upload and download speeds on both local and international connections, and streaming fans will be pleased to hear it’s currently working with both Netflix and BBC iPlayer. Sleek, user-friendly custom apps are available for popular platforms but incompatible with anything outside of these, including routers.
Hotspot Shield offers strong encryption and some solid privacy features such as a VPN killswitch, however the free version of the app has recently been subject to a great deal of controversy following claims it wasn’t protecting customer data in the way it had promised (more details in the privacy section below). The server network is on the small side but covers most popular locations, and customer support is decent enough with intermittent access to a livechat feature.
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 over 30% to $8.99 on the 6-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 Pricing & Deals
The prices below include the coupon savings.
Hotspot Shield offers both a free trial and a money-back guarantee. The trial gives you full access to the VPN for up to 7 days, which is great, but unfortunately you do have to provide your payment information before you sign up. This means that unless you cancel your subscription before the end of the trial period, you’ll be automatically ‘upgraded’ to a paid subscription at the most expensive monthly price of $12.99.
The 45-day money-back guarantee is the most generous we’ve seen from any provider, and it 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, making the entire process relatively risk-free.
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, however these do come with a huge caveat in that you can’t choose your VPN protocol, but are rather limited to the proprietary protocol baked into the app. If this doesn’t bother you, then 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. Low latency and snappy connection times mean it’s an excellent choice for gamers, streamers and torrenters alike.
Hotspot Shield performs exceptionally well on local connections, peaking at over 100Mbps in the UK, Germany and France – more than quick enough for high-bandwidth multi-tasking. Connecting out to the US from Europe you can expect ridiculously fast speeds of 99Mbps, which is even faster than most of our top-tier providers, including ExpressVPN. Performance doesn’t drop over longer distances either, with connections out to Australia and Japan still reaching speeds of almost 60Mbps, which is insanely quick considering, for this particular provider, we test from London using our manual methodology (consult our speed testing methodology for more detailed information).
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.
Connection time is very impressive at around 3 seconds, outperforming its rivals comfortably with its snappiness. We found performance to be very reliable once connected, just be sure to switch on the VPN killswitch to protect yourself in the case of any unexpected dropouts.
Upload speeds were just as impressive as downloads, again coming in at just under 100Mbps in the Netherlands, Germany and France, making Hotspot Shield ideal for torrenters and P2P users. You can expect speedy uploads even over longer distances, such as 40Mbps from London to New York, however they struggle to reach 3Mbps in Australia.
If you’re happy using whatever proprietary protocol is baked into Hotspot Shield’s software as opposed to the industry-standard OpenVPN protocol, these are some of the best speeds we’ve seen in our tests so far. Performance is reliable no matter what country you choose to connect to, and peak speeds of around 100Mbps on almost every server mean there are no limitations to what you can do online.
To read about our speed testing methodologies, please read How we test for VPN speed performance.
Hotspot Shield offers a very slim choice of server locations with just 25 countries on offer in total. It has the main locations most light VPN users would need, but if you need to connect to less popular destinations we’d advise looking into other providers. Check out the server list before buying as there are some gaps in coverage, such as Italy, that might affect your decision.
We know that Hotspot Shield has over 2,000 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, which could be particularly frustrating for users in countries such as the US that wish to pinpoint a specific state. HSS will need to introduce these in the near future if it wishes to compete with its rivals, with some providers such as HideMyAss! offering over 60 city-specific servers in the US alone.
Coverage is best in North America, major European countries and Australia, with limited choice across the rest of the world. Asian coverage is very thin but the inclusion of a server in mainland China (most likely a virtual server) makes Hotspot Shield an appealing budget choice for users wishing to access China-only content, such as video site Youku. The only server in South America is located in Brazil, and Africa is sadly lacking any choice at all.
You can find the complete list of Hotspot Shield server locations by country on their website below.
Platforms & Devices
Hotspot Shield offers custom apps for the four main platforms – Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It isn’t possible to manually configure the VPN to work with any other devices, including routers, and Hotspot Shield actually provides a list of all the unsupported devices on their website here.
There are basic set-up guides for supported devices on Hotspot Shield’s website, however these aren’t very detailed at all 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. This probably won’t be an issue for most, but if you want to protect all of your family’s devices as well as your own, the limit of five simultaneous connections might present a few problems.
Hotspot Shield offers proxy extensions for both Chrome and Firefox browsers, both of which can be downloaded and installed in just a few seconds if you already have the main app open. These work in much the same way as the desktop apps in that you simply choose a country and you’ll appear to be connecting from that location, allowing you to access content that would otherwise be unavailable to you.
These extensions also come with useful extras such as ad and tracker blocking, along with built-in malware protection, preventing third parties from sending you personalized ads based on your browsing history. The only downside is that these are proxies rather than full VPN extensions, meaning your true IP address is hidden but web traffic will leave your computer unencrypted (so if you’re connected to public WiFi, someone can still see what you’re doing). If you’re a heavy browser user seeking a more lightweight alternative for Chrome or Firefox, these could be ideal, but for most people they’re not a complete alternative to the desktop app.
Console & 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. This includes (but isn’t limited to) Apple/Android TV, Roku, Chromecast, Kodi, Amazon Fire Stick and all games consoles. These are all listed as ‘unsupported’ platforms on Hotspot Shield’s website, meaning they are not compatible with the software in any way, so we’d advise looking elsewhere and not wasting your time.
There are no manual workarounds for this, as HSS also doesn’t support custom router configurations or direct VPN connectivity (without using the app), so if you want to use the VPN 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.
Streaming & Torrenting
Hotspot Shield is currently a good choice for streaming fans, as access to both Netflix and BBC iPlayer is possible through their US and UK servers. We’re not sure how long this will last for though, as a lack of dedicated streaming servers means that this could change from one day to the next – in fact, up until recently HSS didn’t work with either of these popular sites. Netflix took a little while to load but once we were up and running the quality was pretty good, and excellent performance in this location means that you can take advantage of the HD option and play your favorite shows in the best possible quality.
BBC iPlayer loaded a lot more quickly but the quality was equally as good, if not better. HSS has done very well to provide access to this site considering the BBC’s recent crackdown on VPN providers, however a lack of city-level servers means that if this one was to stop working, you wouldn’t really have any backup options. Thankfully it looks like they’re pretty dedicated to providing hassle-free streaming solutions, so hopefully this will continue for a long time.
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 solid upload speeds on both local and international connections and you’ve got yourself a great VPN for risk-free filesharing.
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 privacy and security needs. Recent controversies include 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.
The lack of information or options regarding standard security protocols and features is also a concern. You can’t decide to connect using a specific VPN protocol, but rather you’re restricted to the one baked into the apps, 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, potentially even owned by your ISP.
On the more positive side of things, Hotspot Shield does offer top-rate encryption (AES-256) as well as a VPN killswitch and protection against IPv6 leaks. This means that even if your VPN connection was to drop for any reason, your true IP address would still be protected from wannabe snoopers or hackers.
- IPV6 Leak Blocking
- VPN Killswitch
- Ad Blocker
We wouldn’t recommend Hotspot Shield to users who are mainly going to be connecting out from high-censorship countries such as China, as it’s highly unlikely that the service will work in that country. 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 due to a lack of additional obfuscation tools, meaning it’s easy for governments to detect you’re connecting using a VPN. In order to bypass the Great Firewall, you need to choose a provider that offers some kind of Stealth protocol, which disguises VPN traffic as normal HTTPS browser traffic, therefore making it a great deal easier to beat the censors and access blocked content. One example of this is VyprVPN’s proprietary Chameleon protocol.
Countries that are known to currently block VPN traffic include China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, the UAE and many more. If you’re mainly going to be using a VPN to connect out from these locations, we strongly advise against using Hotspot Shield and suggest you opt for a provider that is well-known for bypassing these kinds of blocks.
Hotspot Shield’s logging policy isn’t quite zero-logs but it’s almost there, collecting only basic connection metadata in order to ‘perform analytics…[and] trouble shoot service issues’. When you connect to the VPN, they collect 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 them measure ‘whether our users…are able to successfully access certain websites or apps’. Thankfully no specific website visits or app usage are attributed to any specific users, and 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. In simpler terms, 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 or linked to you as an individual.
Ease of use
You can’t really get much simpler than the custom apps offered by Hotspot Shield. There is a big connect button and a drop-down menu of server locations next to it. Select a location and hit the button. That’s it. Connection time is incredibly quick, so no frustrating wait. You can see your new location and IP address, along with some speed info, but we’re a bit doubtful as to how accurate this is.
Unfortunately the desktop app is almost simple to a fault in that the options are very limited indeed, with no facility to change protocols or select servers optimized for specific tasks for example. Aside from a couple of toggle switches for IP leak protection and when the app should start automatically, there is very little configurability.
Experienced VPN users looking for loads of settings to fiddle with will need to look elsewhere, but Hotspot Shield is absolutely ideal for beginners who don’t want the hassle of messing about in order to get the best connection. If you just want a one-button VPN, it doesn’t get much easier than this.
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. These are easy enough to follow but there are step by step installation guides on the support section of the website if you get stuck.
Once the software install is complete, all that’s left to do is log in and you can begin using the VPN. The app automatically creates a desktop shortcut to make it easy to find every time you use your device, and you can even set up the app to automatically connect on startup.
Hotspot Shield could do a lot better on customer support. There is a livechat option but this is only available intermittently, with the option disappearing entirely when all of the support agents are busy (which was the vast majority of the time in our experience). The only other option is to submit a form on the site, but this has a really restrictive structure that makes it awkward to ask general questions. We’re told that support is available 24/7 but that isn’t much use if it’s impossible to get hold of somebody to talk to.
The knowledge base on the website is pretty basic and put to shame by competitors’ efforts. The lack of video is also a downside. Thankfully there is a search feature, saving you trawling through loads of articles to find the answer to your question, however we found most of the troubleshooting guides to be incredibly unhelpful – in most cases just telling us to try and restart the VPN, which isn’t much use. That said, Hotspot Shield is so incredibly simple to use, there’s a high change you may not need any support at all.
The Bottom Line
- Excellent server speeds of 100Mbps on local connections
- Currently working with Netflix and iPlayer
- Sleek, user-friendly apps for popular platforms
- Connect securely to 26 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
- Livechat only intermittently available
Hotspot Shield is a super-fast, reliable VPN that is working on regaining their 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 absolutely outstanding on both local and international connections, and access to Netflix or BBC iPlayer will be an added bonus for streaming fans.
Privacy-wise it offers the basic features, such as a VPN killswitch and DNS leak protection, along with strong encryption and a minimal logging policy. However it’s difficult to recommend HSS to anyone with stringent privacy needs following a series of security flaws that allowed hackers to identify users of the service through their WiFi network name. It also emerged that users’ web traffic was being redirected to partner websites, including advertising companies, proving that Hotspot had been lying about its logging policy.
On the bright side, the custom apps are incredibly sleek, modern and user-friendly, although they’re only available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, with no manual workarounds for other devices such as routers. Livechat is available intermittently but we’d advise submitting a support ticket as the response times are usually quicker, as the knowledge base on the site is really only limited to basic troubleshooting issues. All in all a good VPN for beginners but needs some work on the security front.