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Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN service that was launched a decade ago. In this Hotspot Shield review, I’ll look at the main features of this VPN service, which has already gathered 650 million users worldwide.
I’ll try to find how good it is by answering a few key questions. What are its main security and privacy features? How about this VPN’s speed and compatibility with different devices? Continue reading to get the answers to these and other related questions.
Is Hotspot Shield safe?
When answering the question of whether Hotspot Shield is safe, the first place to look is in the VPN’s list of specifications. In short, Hotspot Shield may not be Edward Snowden’s choice for a VPN, but it certainly provides solid basics. Let’s look at those in more detail.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
Hotspot Shield uses AES-256 military-grade encryption. Today, this is considered the best choice on the market for a combination of security and speed.
One great thing about this virtual private network is that it uses a perfect forward secrecy feature. With it, your data is kept safe even if the key of your current encryption gets compromised.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t just encrypt data, it also prevents IP address leaks of various types, including via the browser’s Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) functionality.
Hotspot Shield VPN also uses its own patented VPN protocol, called the Catapult Hydra Protocol. This protocol is a proprietary modification or enhancement of TLS and OpenSSL. Catapult Hydra is secure and seems to have some performance benefits over other protocols.
That means that with Catapult Hydra protocol you get the best speeds without sacrificing your security.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t use the more common OpenVPN protocol, which is the industry standard. Hotspot Shield is also late in the game of introducing the WireGuard protocol, which is by far the fastest tunneling protocol in the industry.
Kill switch feature
One of the good things about Hotspot Shield is its powerful kill switch.
A kill switch turns your Internet connection off once your VPN connection fails. This prevents your IP address from leaking. Don’t worry – you won’t lose your Internet connection if you disconnect from Hotspot Shield VPN manually.
Unlike some providers on out there, Hotspot Shield doesn’t have the kill switch on by default. Hence, you’ll need to enable it yourself.
To do that, simply go to Settings -> Advanced and press on Kill Switch:
With a kill switch on, you can relax, knowing that you are well protected.
One thing to know is that the Mac client doesn’t have a kill switch. However, Mac users can choose the Mac OpenVPN app Tunnelblick, which has a kill switch and can be configured with Hotspot Shield.
Of course, this requires some manual configuration and thus may not be convenient for novice users.
Does Hotspot Shield have IP or DNS leaks?
A VPN can offer the best price or have the sleekiest interface, but if it leaks your IP address, it’s no good.
The best way to check for IP or DNS leaks is to run a few online tests. To do so, I connected to Belgium and was assigned the IP address 188.8.131.52.
Then I checked whether my IP address or DNS queries were leaking:
As you can see, this is my Hotspot Shield-given IP address, meaning there is no IP leak. Hence, using this provider, you can stay calm knowing that your true IP address is well hidden.
Where is Hotspot Shield based?
Hotspot Shield is based in the US. The country well-known for its privacy-unfriendly climate, as well as being a founding member of the Five Eyes global surveillance alliance.
Knowledge of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities may put off those who are hunting the highest privacy standards. Additionally, The United States has tough copyright laws like the DMCA, which may make torrenters think twice before giving this VPN a try.
It’s also important to mention that at the beginning of July 2020, Pango (the company behind Hotspot Shield) was acquired by a digital security company Aura. The company aims to expand its security offerings, and protect its users with data-driven products.
Does Hotspot Shield keep logs?
“We may collect 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”
Hotspot Shield is very clear that any IP data is erased immediately after VPN sessions, and it keeps zero logs of online activity. The provider admits it must collect some personal information when computers or mobile phones connect to the VPN, but this is limited to information such as the type of device and OS being used or the unique Mobile ID.
The situation is different with the Free version of Hotspot Shield – the VPN admits that personal data is shared routinely with advertisers, as is expected in such cases.
If staying private online is your top priority, you want to be able to purchase your Hotspot Shield’s subscription anonymously. Some time ago, buying this virtual private network anonymously was not an option.
Luckily, you can now purchase Hotspot Shield with Bitcoin:
- Pick a trustworthy Bitcoin Wallet.
- Purchase Bitcoin
- Head to the HSS Elite Pre-purchase page
- Choose the option to pay with Bitcoin.
And you’re done! By getting your Hotspot Shield VPN with Bitcoin, you can keep the fact you’re using a VPN under wraps.
Hotspot Shield’s data privacy problems
In 2017 Hotspot Shield faced some serious data privacy issues. The Center for Democracy & Technology filed a report accusing the company of “logging connections and using third-party tracking to serve targeted advertising.”
The company denied the allegations claiming they are unfounded.
Still, it seems that this VPN provider does log connection data (so-called aggregate data), including which websites you visit and the apps you use for online communications.
Recently, security researcher Paulos Yibelo claimed to have found a significant security bug that could leak generic information like the user’s country. He was able to find out 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 AnchorFree claimed was impossible since their programmers also investigated the security bug and patched it.
Hotspot Shield Server List
Hotspot Shield VPN has 3200+ servers in 80+ countries.
What I like about this provider is that Hotspot Shield owns all of its servers – it’s not common among VPN providers.
Moreover, Hotspot Shield also offers both physical and virtual servers worldwide.
Another exciting thing about Hotspot Shield VPN is that it offers different virtual servers based on the platform you use. You can check all the locations on the provider’s website. Virtual servers are available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux users.
Hotspot Shield speed overview
|Hotspot Shield VPN|
|Average speed||124 Mbps (54% drop-off)|
|Germany server||222 Mbps (22% drop-off)|
|US server||174 Mbps (39% drop-off)|
|Australia server||214 Mbps (25 % drop-off)|
|Germany server||85 Mbps (67% drop-off)|
|US server||174 Mbps (39% drop-off)|
|Australia server||15 Mbps (94% drop-off)|
|Germany server||52 ms|
|US server||143 ms|
|Australia server||295 ms|
As I have mentioned, Hotspot Shield uses its propriety Catapult Hydra protocol, which is supposed to double the download speeds for large files (compared to OpenVPN). This is done by creating multiple channels for data to increase speed and reliability.
To see if it’s true, I completed a couple of tests.
I started by checking my baseline speeds – 284 Mbps Download and 260 Mbps Upload.
The speed test results demonstrate that this virtual private network truly is among the fastest VPNs on the market today. With it, you’ll be able to stream your favorite content, play video games, torrent, or simply browse enjoying great speeds.
Does Hotspot Shield support my device?
Apps and support for different devices was always one of the weak sides of Hotspot Shield. However, the situation has recently improved, and now this VPN has apps for the following platforms:
- Android TV
It also supports Amazon Fire TV and a bunch of routers (Asus-WRT, Merlin, GL.iNet, DD-WRT, FreshTomato). Finally, you can download a Chrome browser extension as well.
Generally speaking, there are some 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.
Hotspot Shield VPN for desktop apps
You may think that VPN clients for different platforms should be more or less the same. However, the truth is, VPN providers usually equip their Windows version the best as it’s the second most popular operating system after Android. Therefore, Mac versions are often not as well-equipped and packed with features and settings.
The interface is similar. However, the macOS client looks more like the mobile versions. You’ll find the main differences between the two desktop apps in the Settings menu.
Hotspot Shield for Mac is one of the clients that allows less customization than the Windows version. Take a look at the Hotspot Shield VPN app for Windows to see for yourself:
This undoubtedly is more than what the Hotspot Shield Mac app has to offer:
- Unsafe wifi notifications
- Enable auto-start
Basically, the macOS VPN app only notifies you whenever your device is trying to connect to unsafe wifi. And, the auto-start feature alone doesn’t bring much to the table either.
The Windows app has three vital settings that make it way more secure and anonymous:
- Prevent IP leak (can be argued this isn’t necessary for Mac)
- Kill Switch
- Automatically turn on Hotspot Shield
Although Mac computers are generally believed to be more secure than Windows, without a kill switch, and proper unsafe wifi protection, you might leak sensitive information. It’s enough for your VPN connection to drop for a second or two, and your Mac may automatically connect you to the internet with your real ISP-given IP.
The Hotspot Shield Windows app’s interface is excellent for any VPN newbie who wants to access blocked content quickly. But, it could be less impressive for an advanced user who would prefer more freedom to tinker with the settings.
As you can tell, the app is pretty self-explanatory, which is great if you’re starting to use a VPN.
Once you click the button to connect, you’ll be sent to this window:
Here you can choose a country you wish to be connected to and see your IP address, download, and upload speeds.
If you wish to explore your Account, click the menu item in the top left corner:
As you can see, you can get your Hotspot Shield mobile app from there. We’ll get to it in a moment.
In the Settings menu, you can see the IP leak prevention option that is on by default, but you can decide to turn it off. You can also turn the Kill Switch on or off here if you want to.
Finally, you can set your preferences for the following features:
- Unsafe wifi Hotspots (on by default)
- Safe wifi Hotspots.
The Windows app has three vital settings that make it way more secure and anonymous:
- Prevent IP leak (can be argued this isn’t necessary for Mac)
- Kill Switch
- Automatically turn on Hotspot Shield
Hotspot Shield VPN for mobile apps
There are several ways to get Hotspot Shield’s mobile app. Look for a link on their website, visit the Apple Store, or get it on Google Play.
If you already have a Hotspot Shield desktop app, you can also get a mobile app by clicking on the link in your Hotspot Shield Account settings tab.
Here you can choose whether you want to receive a link to your mobile device or download the app yourself on either the App Store or Google Play.
The mobile version has a very similar interface to the desktop app. Again, it’s very clean and easy to follow.
Once you create your Account or log into the one you already have, you’ll get to the Connect window:
After connecting, you can explore your Account, and Upgrade to Premium (assuming you’re using the free version):
Mobile apps are not the best regarding security tweaking. However, they 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.
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.
Hotspot Shield Chrome extension
You can use Hotspot Shield with Chrome.
Using the Chrome extension is great for:
⦁ Ad-free browsing
⦁ Security: encryption of all your data while browsing
⦁ Privacy: your IP address is faked
⦁ Safe and secure public wifi connection
⦁ Bypassing censorship
Adding the VPN’s extension is no different than any other browser extension.
You have two options. Either visit the Chrome Web Store directly and search for the Hotspot Shield VPN Proxy. Or go to the official website, select the Products menu, and click the Chrome button to redirect to the download page. Then, press the Get Hotspot Shield button. This will redirect you to the very same Chrome Web Store page.
If you click the Add to Chrome button, you’ll see the usual popup with the permissions you’re about to grant.
We advise you to read it carefully, and only click Add extension if you’re totally fine with what the extension can read and change.
It’s also important to mention that apart from the premium subscription, you have two other choices. First, you may want to test the premium 7-day free trial version. Second, you can use this VPN for free. Of course, there will be limitations, such as only a few foreign servers to use (see below).
It’s clear from the Configuration menu that only the Germany, Netherlands, Canada, and Russia servers are available with the free account, and you’re able to connect to 9 countries with the Premium one.
Of course, if you choose the free version, you’ll frequently see popups and browser redirections to buy the premium VPN.
Once you add a Chrome extension, you’ll get a confirmation that it works:
With the extension, you’ll be able to use the following features:
⦁ Sword: feed web trackers fake web activity to keep your real web activity private
⦁ Tracker blocker: enable or disable analytic trackers
⦁ Ad blocker: enable or disable ad blocking
⦁ Malware blocker: enable or disable ad malware blocker
⦁ Cookie blocker: enable or disable web cookies
⦁ Bypass local network: to bypass local resources, such as internal network, localhost, etc.
⦁ WebRTC blocker: to prevent IP leaks
Streaming with Hotspot Shield
When it comes to streaming, it matters whether you opt for a free or paid plan. With the former one, the stakes of accessing streaming platforms are low. With the latter one, however, you can enjoy streaming to your liking.
Does Hotspot Shield work with Netflix?
In this section, I’ll discuss the usage of Netflix and other streaming services with Hotspot Shield.
You can’t unblock Netflix using the free version of Hotspot Shield – here’s what you’ll see if you try to access the platform:
Here’s the good news, though: you can use the Premium version of Hotspot Shield for Netflix.
I managed to stream Netflix US, UK, and AU without any issues. But, I couldn’t bypass the detection measures with servers in Canada and Japan. If you fail to access Netflix, you can find information on the website to help you out.
If you want to find an alternative to Hotspot Shield, you may want to try one of the VPNs on our best VPN for Netflix list.
Of course, streaming is not exclusively a Netflix thing. Although 30% of VPN users target Netflix shows, there are other popular media centers too. For example, Hotspot Shield VPN does an excellent job of unblocking BBC iPlayer content.
What about other streaming platforms?
Hotspot Shield VPN is excellent for streaming content on other platforms, especially when you consider the upcoming updates on the supported streaming platforms list.
Currently, you can use this provider to binge-watch your favorite content on Netflix and Hulu. While both platforms offer endless TV series and films, I understand that most streamers would like to get more.
That’s precisely why Hotspot Shield users should rejoice: Google Video, Youtube, Amazon Prime Video, and Twitch will soon be supported. For you, that means more opportunity to access the geo-blocked content you love.
Moreover, this virtual private network has great speeds for Kodi. It’s also secure enough to use Kodi with its unofficial add-ons, this VPN provider meets all the criteria to do this.
Does Hotspot Shield allow torrenting?
Similar to the Netflix situation, the free Hotspot Shield may not be the best choice for torrenting and other P2P file-sharing activities due to the daily 500 MB bandwidth limit.
However, you may be totally fine with the Premium version, which provides you with more server choices and unlimited bandwidth, not to mention higher speeds. Catapult Hydra is excellent for those with slower or more unstable connections.
It’s also important to mention that this service also gives you protection against malware (both the free and paid plans), suspicious third-party ads, and phishing.
Hotspot Shield support options
Hotspot Shield has the following support options:
- Support ticket
- 24/7 live chat support
When writing this Hotspot Shield review, I had to use the Hotspot live chat support to figure out several issues. I found the support not only friendly and helpful but also quite fast. Of course, a few of the replies were templates, but, on the whole, I was satisfied with the answers.
One thing to mention – to access 24/7 live chat support, you’ll need to get the Hotspot Shield account. I found that to be quite frustrating as more often than not, you want to get the answers before committing to a particular product.
You can also try to use the Support menu to open the FAQ section or send a direct question to the support team.
Hotspot Shield price
As I write this review, Hotspot Shield VPN offers three plans:
- Basic (a free plan)
- Annual – $7.99/month
- Monthly – $12.99/month
Premium plans allow you to use 5 simultaneous connections.
There is a free version of Hotspot Shield, but it comes with these limitations:
- Daily bandwidth limit of 500 MB
- Includes ads
- A limited number of US servers, which may well be virtual ones
- One device
- No access to Netflix
The supported payment methods include credit cards, PayPal, and Bitcoin.
There is a 7-day free trial, 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 most extended refund periods, which is a 45-day money-back guarantee. This VPN may be a bit pricey for what it has to offer when compared to competitors, especially its shorter subscriptions.
How to use 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.
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 choice, either. So, why not check out our best free VPN picks for more information?
How to use Hotspot Shield Premium VPN?
The Premium version is more of a competitor in the growing VPN industry. It has over 3200 servers in more than 80 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).
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.
Should you get Hotspot Shield VPN?
One of the main advantages of Hotspot Shield is that it has a free version, even if it’s limited. The majority of the 650 million customers use the free VPN option. If they are OK with it, you may also become a satisfied customer.
Hotspot Shield has been around for a decade already, and although it’s not the fastest VPN in 2020, it does have high streaming speeds depending on your location and which server you are connecting to.
With that said, I wouldn’t recommend this VPN for political activists, hackers, and other users for whom privacy is an essential factor.
Hotspot Shield FAQ
Does Hotspot Shield work in China?
From the reviews online, it seems that Hotspot Shield VPN is a great product to use in China. With the VPN connection enabled, you’ll be sure to stay secure and private while browsing in China.
Is Hotspot Shield malware?
No, Hotspot Shield is meant to protect you while browsing. Hence, when downloading it, you’re getting the opposite of what malware would give you. With this product, you increase your security and privacy online.
How do I remove Hotspot Shield from Windows?
To remove Hotspot Shield from your device, follow these steps:
- Go to Start
- Select Control Panel
- Go to Programs
- Select the Uninstall /Change option
- Click Yes
- Click OK
- You’re done!