Last update: 07.13.2018
Stream on, stream on, stream until your privacy fears come true, yeah!
Hotspot Shield is a well-known virtual private network (VPN) service that was launched a decade ago, in 2008 by AnchorFree. Due to the popularity of its free VPN service, this provider has grown in the past years to boast 600 million users worldwide, out of which only a few percents are premium VPN subscribers.
Yet, we are not necessarily convinced that this is the best choice if you want super tight online security and privacy, to say the least.
Nevertheless, if you are a traveler or your main interest is streaming geo-restricted videos and music, you may have found your brand. This VPN offers great download speeds, which makes it ideal for streaming and you may well use it for Netflix or for torrenting. Though the latter may require more security and less logging.
Although this VPN service only provides servers from 25 countries, it has 2,500+ servers with 300,000 IP addresses to offer, which is quite impressive. At the same time, you don’t have the choice of city servers when using the app.
This VPN provider covers the major platforms (Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and browser extensions) and they are also one of the simplest and easiest to use in the VPN market. But, this also means that more advanced users may miss the option of fine-tuning their app for best protection and security.
If you are ready for more, let us present to you our Hotspot Shield review and our findings to help you with your decision before you make an investment and regret it.
Security & Privacy: Is Hotspot Shield safe to use?
If you mainly need a VPN for streaming media from behind the comfort of a spoofed IP address, Hotspot Shield could just be the right service for you. However, if you are more into online security and privacy, you may want to think twice before you go for the premium version.
Our review indicates that this VPN service is like a shield with hot spots meaning that it’s like trying to protect yourself in a hail of bullets with a pseudo-bulletproof shield. One hit on a hot spot and your shield could be shattered.
If we rake over the not-so-distant past, we will find some worrisome details about this VPN service and how loosely they used to handle user privacy and security. For example, last year (2017) there was a case when the Center for Democracy & Technology filed a report “accusing the company of logging connections and using third-party tracking to serve targeted advertising.”
As a response, David Gorodyansky, the CEO of AnchorFree, said that these allegations were unfounded, and Hotspot Shield considers it their utmost interest and mission not to log personally identifiable data or any data that could be directly linked to a person. Still, it seems that this VPN provider does log connection data, so-called aggregate data, including which websites you visit and apps you use for online communications but doesn’t store users’ true IP addresses.
Earlier this year, a security researcher, Paulos Yibelo, claimed to have found a major security bug, which helped to leak generic information like the user’s country. This researcher managed to find the physical locations of users based on the data he retrieved. He also said that he was occasionally able to retrieve true IP addresses, which was claimed impossible by AnchorFree, whose programmers also investigated the said security bug and patched it up, too.
And, here is the latest privacy-related scandal, in which this provider and its users may be indirectly affected.
Gmail privacy issue may affect Hotspot Shield VPN
If you’ve ever had any doubts that Google is one of the “biggest brothers” keeping an eye or two on the online community and more, you may want to hear about the latest Gmail privacy issue. As the WSJ reported, Gmail seems to provide access to private email messages for third-party app developers. This could get real nasty when it comes to trusting an email service provider with all your sensitive information. Well, it’s another question who would ever trust a Google product.
But we are not here to judge users; we are here to inform you about anything that we consider relating to your privacy with regard to VPNs. If you want to learn how this Gmail privacy issue may affect Hotspot Shield or any other VPN services, read our more detailed post.
Maximum privacy? Nuh…
“When you visit our websites, we may collect device-specific information, such as the unique mobile ID, hardware model, operating system version, browser type, language, internet, service providers and mobile network information.”
Does that make you feel safe? Even if they promise not to share anything with any third party or governments, “advertisers may be able to collect certain information independently from you or your device…” including your MAC address (Media Access Control), a unique 12-character hardware identifier, which could lead to discovering your physical location. Oops!
So, are you or are you not fully protected? Hard to tell. In any case, the MAC address of a device can be changed relatively easily as often as you want. Still, bad news about these third parties, right?
Another concern for the privacy-conscious user is that Hotspot Shield is based in the US, which is the main global surveillance master, the “all-seeing eye” of the Five Eyes alliance. This simply means that the company can be forced by law to provide user data for related government agencies or to monitor internet traffic. In addition to this liability, the majority of the servers are located in the Five/Nine/Fourteen Eyes countries, which doesn’t sound too good when it comes to perfect privacy.
Though 20% of its US and European VPN servers are virtual servers (only offered to free users), all of these are located where they are labeled to be, not like as we mentioned in our PureVPN review that “you think you’re connecting to Aruba, but instead, your VPN server is indeed in Los Angeles, California.”
Our Hotspot Shield review may have been a bit too negative on security and privacy so far, but let’s balance that out with some positive vibes if possible.
There are not too many settings to modify when you use any of the Hotspot clients, but you can set this service to automatically connect to a VPN server when your device is trying to connect to an unsafe or safe (public) WiFi hotspot, such as in a café or a library.
This service also boasts cloud-based malware protection, which clearly offers you a safer virtual experience while, for example, browsing geo-blocked web content.
We do miss the OpenVPN protocol support, which is the most secure and a fast channel for encrypted internet traffic, but Hotspot uses its own patented VPN protocol called Catapult Hydra Protocol instead. This is not a new protocol per se; more like a modification or enhancement of TLS and OpenSSL.
Still no balance? Does this make Hotspot Shield safe enough? To be frank, we can only recommend this VPN service if you don’t really care about your maximum online anonymity. But let’s see what else is revealed in our review.
Speed: One of the fastest VPNs in 2018?
Although not all reviewers would agree, we do believe that Hotspot Shield has a pretty fast service. Consider the 600 million users globally and what kind of constant pressure they put the 2,500+ servers under. Yet, the connection times are astonishing. Compared to the competitors’ 8 to 12 seconds on the average, Hotspot Shield can connect to its servers in about 2 seconds. Now, that you can call fast.
As we have just mentioned above, this VPN uses its own Catapult Hydra Protocol, which is supposed to double the download speeds of large files. It is done by creating multiple channels for data in order to increase speed and reliability.
While this provider may not win the fastest VPN title in 2018 (which could well be TorGuard VPN), according to our review, this is certainly one of the fastest services out there.
How to download and install it
You can simply download any of the major platform clients, including Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Chrome, and Firefox. You will find at least two Download VPN buttons on the homepage of the official Hotspot Shield website, links at the bottom of the pages (under the Products section), or in the Products menu.
We found it a bit strange that the Firefox extension download link cannot be found on the website; you need to visit the Firefox Add-ons web page to be able to download this client. Feels a bit like it’s the black sheep in the family.
You may either download and install this app directly or start by choosing an Elite plan for the premium version. If you leave out the latter, you will always have an option to upgrade within your client.
The installation of the clients is pretty straightforward. Once you’re done, the app starts automatically. On the welcome screen, you are prompted to click the Start 7-day trial button or you can choose to click the Sign in link if you have a premium account already.
You may wonder what’s happened to your Hotspot Shield free version. Please find more details on this in the next section.
If you go for the 7-day trial, you will have to enter your credit card details and your email address as well to sign up for your account. However, you need to be careful because if you forget to cancel your subscription in due time, your default monthly Hotspot plan will auto-renew every month at a rate of $12.99. Interestingly, this rate is €15.99, instead of €11.00 (if converted directly) when you visit the website from Europe. Geo-restriction at play?
How to use Hotspot Shield for free
Since it may not be that obvious for beginner VPN users how to use this app for free, we thought it’d be a good idea to dedicate a separate section to it in our Hotspot Shield review.
First of all, there are a number of options for you to download the desired client on the official website. Even though there are separate buttons or links for the Elite and the Free versions, somehow you will end up installing the very same application. This can be somewhat confusing. Why? Because, as we have mentioned above, you will be offered to either click the Start 7-day trial button or you can choose to click the Sign in link, but there is no apparent link or button for a free VPN version. Or, is there?
Well, after contacting the live chat support, finally, we managed to put the pieces together about how to use Hotspot Shield for free.
After you install your client, the welcome screen actually has a hardly visible small gray arrow in the top left corner of the app window. If you click this arrow, you will skip this screen and finally start your free VPN experience.
However, before you think this might be the deal of the century, let us explain what the price is for your free VPN. First, there is an ugly daily bandwidth limit of 500MB. Do you want to use the free Hotspot Shield for torrenting? You can forget about that for sure unless you are fine with downloading only one episode of your favorite TV show every day and maybe checking out some geo-blocked websites. If that is all you want, and you don’t mind the occasional third-party ads in your browser, you may be satisfied with this service.
Second, there is a limited number of servers for you to connect to and they may well be virtual ones, too. Third, you can only use the free VPN app with one device. And, finally, you don’t have the 24/7 live chat support.
If you still think that these conditions are all fine with you, feel free to download this VPN app.
Beside Avast VPN and Betternet, Hotspot Shield is another very easy-to-use VPN software. In fact, it may well be the simplest ever. After you launch your client, you will see a dark blue screen with a big Power button. Click this button to connect to a default server. One click, and your IP address is spoofed, you can start accessing geo-restricted content.
Once you have connected to a server, the screen changes to a dashboard view. On the top third of the screen, you will see a big Stop button with a timer, which displays the time you have been spending using the current server choice. Below, you can also see the download and upload traffic in numbers, your virtual IP address, a global map indicating where you are browsing from, and a drop-down menu with the list of country locations to choose from.
If you click the 3-Bar icon in the top left corner, you can access the main menu. Here you will find the following menus:
- Upgrade to Premium
- Like Us on Facebook
We would like to share some more details about the Settings menu since the rest of the options are quite clear. By default, Hotspot Shield starts automatically with Windows; you can change this setting here. The IP leak prevention option is also on by default, but you can decide to turn it off. You can also turn the Kill Switch on or off here if you will, which is to make sure that all your online applications are cut off the internet and no automatic connection is created via your ISP (Internet Service Provider) as soon as the VPN server connection drops. This is a very important feature with regard to your online privacy.
In the Settings menu you can also turn on the VPN for certain networks:
- Unsafe WiFi Hotspots (on by default)
- Safe WiFi Hotspots
The last setting you can change is the language. You can choose from 10 languages, including English, Portuguese, French, Russian, and Japanese.
Basically, that’s all; this is how easy it is to use Hotspot Shield. This interface is a paradise for a VPN newbie wanting to quickly connect to a VPN server to browse blocked content but could be hell for an advanced user who would prefer more freedom to set up privacy preferences.
Hotspot Shield for Netflix
Well, definitely not the free version unless you are a very patient person who can survive with 500MB streaming per day, which could be like crumbs on a plate for a decent movie or TV show fan.
Theoretically and technically you can use Hotspot Shield for Netflix for the time being. However, you should know that this is not a lifetime guarantee. So, you may want to rethink your plan to invest in a lifetime plan if your main goal is to use a VPN for Netflix.
As a matter of fact, Netflix does everything in its power to detect users who access their servers with cloaked IP addresses using a VPN service. While most VPN providers are trying hard to keep the “one step ahead” advantage, many fail in this race for tricking Netflix and get blacklisted for good.
You may want to try (or read about) one of the other competitors like NordVPN, CyberGhost, TunnelBear, and VyprVPN if you want to find the best VPN for Netflix.
Hotspot Shield for Torrenting
Just like in the case of Netflix, the free Hotspot Shield may not be the best choice for torrenting and other P2P file-sharing activities due to the daily 500MB bandwidth limit. However, you may be totally fine with the Elite or premium version, which provides you with more server choices and unlimited bandwidth, not to mention greater speeds.
It’s also important to mention that this service also gives you protection against malware (including the free VPN option), suspicious third-party ads, and phishing. But, if you are concerned about the connection logs AnchorFree may or may not keep, you should try a more trustworthy service.
Live chat support
While a few months back reviews and users were still complaining about the quality of the customer support and the lack of live chat support, we are glad to announce that things have improved significantly.
When writing this Hotspot Shield review, we actually had to use the Hotspot live chat support to figure out about several issues, such as how to use the free VPN or how to use this VPN for torrenting. We found the support friendly and helpful as well as quite fast. Of course, a few of the replies were templates, but, on the whole, we were satisfied with the answers.
You can also try to use the Support menu from the main menu to open the FAQ section or send a direct question to the support team.
Apps and extensions
This VPN supports the main platforms, Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS, and there are free proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox. There may be minor differences between these clients, such as which servers you can connect to, but basically, they are more or less the same.
Hotspot Shield has no support for routers, game consoles, and the Amazon Fire TV Stick, which could be a big minus for some.
If you don’t need ultra-level privacy, you may find this app very easy to use whichever client you go for. The premium version allows you to use 5 devices with one subscription, which is good news for those using multiple devices.
Pricing: Elite label with mediocre prices
There are several reasons why users choose a certain VPN service provider and consider it as the best VPN. Price is surely one of these even if it’s probably not the most important one. Although there is nothing cheaper than a free VPN, the Hotspot Shield Elite subscription pricing is more in the middle range:
- 1-month plan: $12.99 per month
- 6-month plan: $8.99 per month
- 1-year plan: $5.99 per month
- Unlimited: $119.99
The supported payment methods include the main credit and debit cards (e.g., Visa and MasterCard), PayPal as well as other alternatives, such as WebMoney and Alipay. Unfortunately, there is no Bitcoin option, which may discourage some potential customers.
There is a 7-day trial for free, but you have to provide your credit card details and AnchorFree automatically puts you into the most expensive monthly plan unless you cancel in time.
Hotspot Shield offers one of the longest refund periods, which is a 45-day money-back guarantee. All things considered, this VPN may be a bit pricey for what it has to offer when compared to competitors.
Bottom line of Hotspot Shield review: Some like it hot
It is certainly a great plus that Hotspot Shield has a free version even if a limited one. The majority of the 600 million customers use the free VPN option. If they are fine with it, you may also become a satisfied customer unless you need airtight online security and anonymity.
We certainly wouldn’t recommend this VPN for political activists, hackers, and other users for whom privacy is the most important factor.
Hotspot Shield has been around a decade already and has over 2,500 servers in 25 countries offering 300,000 IP addresses. Although it’s not the fastest VPN in 2018, it does have great streaming speeds depending on your location and which server you are connecting to.
Hopefully, this Hotspot Shield review helps you see more clearly. If you are still uncertain, we advise you to read more of our VPN reviews and comparisons.
What is your VPN experience?
Have you ever tried to use Hotspot Shield or any other VPN apps before? What are your impressions?
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