Hotspot Shield Elite is a free Virtual Private Network. Developed and marketed by AnchorFree, this VPN is known for being simple to set up and has attracted a vast user base, with as many as 650 million users located all over the world.

But you don’t need to go with the crowd. Instead, use our in-depth look at what Hotspot Shield Elite’s free and paid versions have to offer. This way you can make an informed decision about whether to stick with the free VPN or upgrade to the Hotspot Shield full version.

What features does Hotspot Shield Elite have to offer?

Hotspot Shield Elite is AnchorFree’s flagship VPN and comes in two versions: free and Premium.

For those not in the know, VPNs work by creating encrypted “tunnels” between users’ computers and destinations on the web. Traffic is directed through the VPN’s own servers, which encrypts the users’ data and hides their actual IP address, giving them (hopefully) total anonymity.

    • In the case of Hotspot Shield Elite’s free version, users benefit from the following features:
    • Military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, which is not always the case with free VPNs.
    • Use of a single server located in the United States.
    • 500MB daily bandwidth cap.
    • One device connected to the VPN.

It’s important to know that the free version of Hotspot Shield features ads. Which means that whenever you use the VPN, you’ll see a banner at the top of your browser screen. It won’t impact speed, but it can be a nuisance for some users.

How does the free version differ from the Hotspot Shield full package?

All users start off with the free version of Hotspot Shield, but it’s easy to upgrade to the Premium version via the “Premium Payment Wall.” If you do so, you get a much more diverse set of features. For instance, premium users benefit from:

    • 24 server locations across the world.
    • Unlimited data usage and speeds.
    • No advertisements.
    • The ability to use Hotspot Shield on 5 different devices at once.
    • Support from AnchorFree’s VPN service team, who are available 24/7 via live chat and email.
    • The ability to unblock geo-restricted websites.

As you can probably tell, the two apps are almost completely different animals. Naturally, customers have to pay a monthly subscription for the Hotspot Shield full version. Rates can be fairly low, with the cheapest plans available from $2.99 per month (if you’re willing to commit to a three-year contract).

Lifetime subscriptions may also be available at certain times and have been on offer for a one-time payment of $39.99. These deals are one of the few cheaper ways to ensure long-term VPN coverage.

Are there any reasons to avoid the free version of Hotspot Shield?

While Hotspot Shield claims to be “Elite”, all VPNs make big claims about their speeds, security, and reliability. So how do the Hotspot Shield full and free versions fit into the bigger picture?

First, remember that there’s a big difference between the free and the paid versions. The free version of Hotspot Shield is known to track some user activity for marketing purposes.

In 2017, the Android version of the free VPN was found to be injecting malicious javascript into pages visited by users. This was intended to direct users towards the pages of AnchorFree’s partner companies and was not disclosed as a feature of the app.

Additionally, the VPN states that it collects “anonymous, aggregate data about which websites our users visit and which apps our users use.”

Given this admission and the allegations made against Hotspot Shield, it’s hard to see the free version as “Elite” in any way. Although, on a positive note, the 500MB daily bandwidth allotment is relatively generous compared to other free VPNs.

What about the Hotspot Shield full edition?

Most of the privacy worries about advertisers and logging don’t apply at all to the paid-for version of Hotspot Shield Elite. In fact, it’s hard not suspect that AnchorFree deliberately left the free version with enough flaws to encourage users to upgrade.

So should you take up their offer? Well, it’s worth a try. The VPN is fast, quick to set up and easy to use. It has good support for torrenting and other forms of P2P downloads, and it’s cheap as well.

Moreover, you can always try before you buy. It’s not obvious on the VPN’s website, but users can sample Hotspot Shield Premium for 7 days before deciding to finalize their subscription.

Just head here and click “Start your free trial.” But beware: if you don’t cancel within the 7 days, you’ll incur long-term subscription payments whether you like the VPN or not.

Where can you download Hotspot Shield Elite?

If you’d like to get a hold of the free version of Hotspot Shield, there are a few ways to do so.

For starters, smartphone users can download the Hotspot Shield Elite APK. Be aware that it won’t work with Android 3.x, although it should work fine with Android 2.x, oddly enough. In addition to the Hotspot Shield Elite APK version, iPhone users can get the VPN from the iTunes Store.

For everyone else, the best way to download the free version of Hotspot Shield is simply to visit their website. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen to find links to the many versions, including multiple browser extensions.

Conclusion: Should you use Hotspot Shield Elite?

Hotspot Shield Elite is fast and very simple to use, which may be why it’s so popular. But it’s not without its flaws. The free version is very much a stripped-down shell of the Premium edition, and users should be aware of documented security issues.

As for the Premium edition, it’s a solid VPN. The server selection isn’t huge, but it comes with strong encryption, unblocks Netflix, and is P2P friendly. Above all, it’s very affordable, so you should probably consider giving it a try.

Recommended reads:

Hotspot Shield Review

Is Hotspot Shield Safe?