During its 13 years on the VPN market, Hotspot Shield has seen fantastic growth. At the moment of writing this article, Hotspot boasts over 650 million downloads worldwide. Most likely, this puts the provider at the top. At least in this aspect. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that Hotspot is that good.
The secret? Well, for one thing, it’s available for free. However, since maintaining a global VPN network is pretty costly, a Premium service had to be launched as well.
On a more positive note, the Premium version of this VPN has quite good speeds. Apart from the usual basic VPN operations, you can also use Hotspot Shield for Netflix streaming – a big plus.
Even though AnchorFree Inc, the company behind this service, is based in the US, Hotspot doesn’t seem to log any personally identifiable data that could incriminate you. Still, you may not want to use this VPN for anything truly sensitive.
What is Hotspot Shield good for
Since the free version of Hotspot Shield VPN is rather limited, it’s worth talking about separately. It only comes only with the option of connecting to an automatic server, which is supposedly one of the US servers. Your daily data cap is also limited to 500 MB altogether. These limitations considerably decrease the versatility of this VPN. We believe that this free VPN is only good for browsing geo-blocked content if you’re in a censorship-heavy country or to spoof your IP.
The data limit doesn’t get you too far. You can basically forget about HD video streaming. It’s easy to drain that 500 MB within an hour if you’re not careful with your web traffic.
The Hotspot Shield Premium VPN, on the other hand, is way faster and comes with all available servers (3,200+) in 70+ countries. Therefore, you could use this version for the following activities:
- IP address spoofing
- Staying anonymous online
- Geo-unblocking and accessing censored web content
- Online gaming
- P2P file-sharing (torrenting) as long as you’re fine with the level of privacy
- Public WiFi protection
- Video streaming (Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Comedy Central, YouTube, and more).
How to download and install it
Fundamentally, there are three main ways to download your Hotspot client. First, go to the Products menu and click either the Download Free or the Get Premium button.
If you choose the free version, you’ll be redirected to an online store. For the Windows client, it’s the Microsoft Store. Then, you can easily download the app.
Selecting Hotspot Shield Premium means that you’ll have to choose a pricing plan and enter your payment details. It’s also possible to apply for a 7-day Premium free trial. However, you’ll still have to enter your payment information as well as your email address. In addition to this, you’ll have to create a Hotspot account as well. This is how you’ll be able to download your client after you log into your account.
Second, click the Get Hotspot Shield button on the home page – this will start downloading the app.
Third, scroll all the way down the page and click on the desired client link in the Products column. This will redirect you to the respective download page where you can download your app.
Remember that Hotspot comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee, which should give you plenty of time to make up your mind. But make sure you check the refund policy to be eligible for it.
Installing either version is as simple as ABC. In a matter of ten seconds, you should be ready to log in and use your Hotspot Shield VPN app.
How to use Hotspot Shield
We’ve tested apps for three of the major platforms (Windows, Android, and Chrome) to see how Hotspot Shield performs. In general, we can say that all the clients are intuitive and very simple to use – maybe too much so. There are some differences between the Free and Premium VPN versions. So, let’s see how to use Hotspot Shield, depending on which version you have.
Hotspot Shield Free VPN
While many VPN providers have the same application for free and paid services, Hotspot offers separate apps for each. Thus, you can actually download the Hotspot Shield Free VPN from the website. After installation, launch your VPN software.
This is the welcome screen you’ll see first:
Three choices are given on this screen. First, you can start using Hotspot Shield VPN for free if you click the hardly visible grey arrow in the top-left corner. Second, you can begin your 7-day premium trial by pressing the Start 7-day trial button. Or, third, if you already have a Premium account, you can sign in by clicking the designated link.
If you choose the Free VPN, remember the limitations you’ll have:
- 500 MB daily data cap
- A limited number of servers (only one automatic US server)
- Only one device
- No 24/7 live chat support
- Slow speeds
These limitations make Hotspot Shield Free VPN more or less useless for fans of online streaming, gaming, or torrenting. Of course, you can still use it for some basic geo-unblocking and browsing censored web content, like Facebook and Twitter.
We have found that, for example, speed could be as much as five times slower than that of the Premium VPN. Like in the case of the US server, our test showed around 25 Mbps download speed with the Free VPN and around 150 Mbps with the Premium subscription. Do the math.
The Free app is rather limited in every sense. For instance, it has no Settings button (3-bar icon), and there’s no way to change locations either. Interestingly, there are many locations on the pop-up list.
But when you try to select some location other than the automatically assigned one, this is what you’ll see:
So, clearly, all these unusable locations are there for a reason: to promote the Premium VPN.
After launching the free version of Hotspot Shield, all you can do is switch on your online protection by clicking the Power/Connect button.
If you want to disconnect from the automatically-assigned server, just click the Stop button. That’s all there is to do with this version.
We don’t think that this Hotspot Shield Free VPN is the best you can get for free. And, that was an understatement. So, why not check out our best free VPN picks for more information?
Hotspot Shield Premium VPN
The Premium version is more of a competitor in the growing VPN industry. It has over 3,200 servers in more than 70 locations. However, you can only choose by country – there’s no way to select the server or server location. This, again, is a very simple VPN app, which may not entice power users.
After you log into your Premium account, you will see a big Power button. No map, no information, no choice to select a location – nada. This is a bit poor, to be frank.
Click the Power button and get connected to the last-used or default optimal server. We find it a bit annoying that there seems to be no way to select a server location before connecting.
Once you’re connected to a server, though, you can open the locations list and choose one of the 25 available countries. Well, “available” is a term used liberally in this case. We have found a bug that makes it impossible to connect to China, New Zealand, or South Korea. Instead, Hotspot Shield redirects us to Japan or Pakistan (without notification, of course).
There’s not much on this app’s home screen, as you can see. Some very basic data, such as downloaded and uploaded MBs, as well as your current virtual IP address. The global map is not interactive, like we’ve seen in the case of other VPNs.
Surprisingly, you can use Hotspot Shield to access Netflix US, Netflix UK, and Netflix JP. This is great news for TV show fans. We experienced pretty good speeds with the Premium VPN. It’s possible to stream HD and even 4K (depending on the parameters of your connection/device).
This VPN is also not bad for online gaming, general geo-unblocking, public wifi protection, and more. You can also try it out for 7 days for free.
Hotspot Shield VPN platform differences
Generally speaking, there are usually some minor differences between VPN clients. The main functions, such as selecting locations and connecting to a server, are often more or less the same across the board. However, settings and features can be totally different. So, let’s see what Hotspot Shield has to offer on the settings front for each major platform.
These are the worst-equipped apps regarding security tweaking. In all fairness, these apps also offer some extra features like:
- Malware Scanning: scan your phone and apps for malware infections
- Battery Life: increase your battery life by auto-closing unused apps
- Junk files: remove unwanted junk files for smoother running
- Data consumption: check your bandwidth consumption over time
However, opening up the Settings menu may lead to disappointment:
Basically, apart from a few general behaviors (e.g., Start on boot) and securing WiFi connections, there’s not much to tweak here. Still, you can use the Premium subscription for all your general geo-unblocking and IP-spoofing needs. However, speeds can be much slower than for the desktop and browser apps. This mostly depends on your mobile device and its capabilities, of course.
The browser apps are also straightforward.
The following metrics are displayed on the home screen: Bandwidth in MBs, Speed in Mbps, number of Blocked threats (Ads, Malware, Cookies, and Trackers), and the selected server location.
At the bottom of this screen, it’s also possible to add Auto protection for websites you want to protect even if the app is off. Or, Bypass websites (not to be protected even when Hotspot Shield is on).
If you check the Settings menu by clicking the 3-bar icon in the top-left corner and selecting the Settings option, you’ll probably be frustrated.
Stop right there.
The Hotspot Shield browser apps offer an extra level of security and privacy via the Configuration menu. So, click on the Toggle icon in the top-right corner of the app window to display the Configuration screen.
Now, this looks more like it, right? Of course, still no chance to change VPN protocols and other standard security features. We never said Hotspot was perfect.
If you expect a big turnaround here, well, we’re sorry, but no. When you open the Menu (3-bar icon) and choose the Settings option, this is all you’ll find:
If you have significant privacy needs, this probably won’t cut it. However, casual users will be happy about the lack of clutter. In both cases, the good news is the kill switch and IP leak protection.
While the Hotspot Shield Free VPN is not the best choice for needy VPN users, the Premium subscription might be attractive for some. Still, Hotspot is somewhere near the top 10 of VPN providers and probably number 1 in terms of popularity. But before you invest your money, you may want to read our full Hotspot Shield VPN review.