Hotspot Shield VPN Review 2023: Fast, but can it be trusted?
Analyzing various VPNs is a crucial part of choosing the best VPN, and it ultimately determines what you can do and the privacy and security you get. One of the top VPNs to consider is Hotspot Shield, and review explores everything you need to know about the VPN.
|🥇 Overall rank:||#19 out of #24|
|📖 No logs policy:||Unaudited|
|💵 Price:||from $2.99/month|
|🖥️ Servers:||1800+ servers in 80 countries|
|🍿 Streaming services:||Netflix, BBC iPlayer, YouTube|
Pros & Cons
- Free plan
- Free premium trial
- Super speeds
- Great apps
- Works with Netflix & BBC iPlayer
- Split tunneling
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Collects & sells user information
- Questionable security
Hotspot Shield is often mentioned among the best VPN services. The VPN bills itself as “the world’s fastest VPN,” thanks to its proprietary protocol that delivers excellent performance. However, the same protocol also causes security concerns, and that's beside the logging controversies associated with the VPN provider.
Hotspot Shield has come under fire several times, but it has been trying to improve its services, and it's now under new ownership. So, can you trust the VPN with your data, and is it really the fastest VPN?
This extensive Hotspot Shield review looks at the VPN in detail, highlighting the good and the bad. We analyze the VPN in terms of privacy & security, features, speeds, pricing, and more. We’ll also look at the VPN’s controversies and compare it with top-rated providers like ExpressVPN to help you make the right choice.
Servers and speed
Hotspot Shield provides 1800+ VPN servers in 80+ countries. The server network consisted of 3,200+ servers, but it was reduced to the current number presumably to save costs. The 80+ countries offered is decent enough to connect to any region, although it’s important to note that server locations vary depending on the device.
Hotspot Shield allows users to select a particular location in about five countries. These are the US, UK, Australia, France, Canada, and Italy. Servers in other countries are located within one city.
In the case of the UK and US, you can select the type of server in terms of browsing, streaming, and gaming.
Hotspot Shield prides itself in its speeds, and the VPN doesn't disappoint, to be fair.
To establish just how fast the VPN is, we conducted tests using several nearby and distant servers. Our base connection was 50 Mbps.
Nearby servers didn’t record a noticeable drop in download speeds, averaging between 48 Mbps and 50 Mbps. The upload speeds were the most affected, capping at about 7 Mbps.
When testing distant servers, we noticed that US servers were the fastest, averaging 47 Mbps. Servers in other regions averaged 43 Mbps.
Overall, Hotspot Shield is one of the top 3 fastest VPNs we have tested. The VPN therefore lives up to its claims when it comes to speed.
Hotspot Shield for streaming
Hotspot Shield provides several functionalities, and among them is streaming. The VPN gives access to Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and more.
While doing this Hotspot Shield VPN, we tested these services, and we were impressed to find Hotspot Shield easily bypasses VPN blocks. In the case of Netflix, we were able to access both Netflix US and Netflix UK.
The same UK streaming server was able to unblock BBC iPlayer without any issues.
Overall, Hotspot Shield is great for streaming. However, it does not make it to our list of the best VPNs for streaming. This is because other VPNs such as Surfshark VPN provide more Netflix catalogs and offer a SmartDNS service.
Hotspot Shield for torrenting
The VPN is one of the best torrenting options as it allows P2P/ torrent traffic on all its servers. It does not limit torrenting speeds, and it actually encourages that you use the service when torrenting.
Hotspot Shield also provides a kill switch, IP leak protection, and an inbuilt DNS encryption mechanism to enhance privacy when torrenting.
Pricing and plans
One of the main reasons behind Hotspot Shield’s popularity is its free VPN service. The VPN offers the free VPN not just as a teaser to upgrade to the premium version but also as a complete income-generating product.This however doesn’t mean that it is not limited. Here’s what you get with the free plan:
- 1 server location (USA)
- 500 MB daily
- Lower speeds
- 1 device
The Hotspot Shield free VPN also doesn’t unblock streaming services, and you can't use the VPN's 24/7 live chat support.
Hotspot Shield premium (also known as Hotspot Shield Elite) subscription provides access to all the VPN’s features discussed in this Hotspot Shield VPN review, and it also gives access to 1Password and Robo Shield/ Hiya. Here’s the Hotspot Shield price breakdown:
- 1 Month Plan: Costs $12.99 a month.
- Yearly Plan: Costs $7.99 a month, billed $95.88 every 12 months.
Apart from these, there’s also a family plan that costs $19 for a monthly subscription and $143.88 ($11.99 a month) for a yearly subscription. This plan allows the use of the VPN on 25 devices, 5 for each family member account.
Overall, Hotspot Shield pricing is on the higher end, and it's more expensive than both Surfshark VPN and NordVPN – two of the leading VPNs.
Does Hotspot Shield have a money-back guarantee?
Hotspot Shield has a generous money-back guarantee of 45 days. This means that you will still have ample time to decide whether the VPN is the best fit for you even after you commit.
Apps and devices
Hotspot Shield is one of the most compatible VPNs. The VPN provides support for Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, Chrome, TV, Linux, and Router.
The TV apps are Android TV apps that can be installed on Fire TV Stick, Android TV box, or smart TV from the Google Play Store or Amazon store. To use Hotspot Shield on your router, you can configure the VPN using provided guides or get a pre-set one from flashrouters.com through the Hotspot Shield website.
We tested several apps during this Hotspot Shield review, and here’s an overview of the popular ones.
Getting started with Hotspot Shield
The Hotspot Shield website is easy to navigate, and it provides everything you may need to know about the VPN. It’s also one of the few VPNs that encourage you to try out their premium service for free, and so you won’t have much trouble getting the free trial.
Once you click “Get Hotspot Shield,” the client for your device will start downloading, and you’ll be redirected to the free trial page. Clicking “Start Free Trial” will then take you to a subscription page where you’ll be required to provide an email address and a payment method.
From there, you can activate your email and create a password. Use the credentials to sign in on your apps.
The Windows app can be downloaded from the website’s product page. The Hotspot Shield download file is about 20 Mb, and so it should only take a few seconds to download and about a minute to install.
The VPN app prompts users to upgrade since most Hotspot Shield users are on the free tier. Just cancel the popup. Once the app opens, there's an option to log in on the hamburger menu on the top left side. Here's how the app looks like.
The connect button automatically connects you to the fastest server in the US. You can choose your preferred server by clicking the server button.
To customize your connection, open settings from the menu button. You will find a General tab that allows you to determine how the VPN behaves. The SmartVPN tab provides split tunneling, which allows you to determine the apps and websites you’d like to exempt from encryption.
You can then enable the kill switch under the advanced tab. The IP leak blocking option is turned on by default.
Besides the functionality, there’s also a speed test option that allows you to test the speed of the nearest servers. You can then connect to your desired server.
Overall, the Hotspot Shield app has improved greatly over the last few years. It’s now better, and we found it easy to use. We also didn’t experience any performance issues. However, we’d have liked the option to choose a protocol (with OpenVPN as an option) to remain.
Mobile Apps (Android & iOS)
The Hotspot Shield mobile apps are simple and can be used comfortably by novice users. However, the two are very stripped down, with the iOS app being much worse. The app offers pretty much nothing apart from selecting a server and connecting the VPN. Under the settings button, you can only re-install the VPN configuration and restore a previous purchase.
The Android app allows you to connect to determine when the VPN connects and disconnects. The main feature is Smart VPN, which on the app works differently to split tunneling. The feature allows adding an app that, when opened, Hotspot Shield VPN connects automatically. There's also an extra category of specialized servers known as Social networks & chat.
Overall, the mobile apps are quite limited but easy to use.
Hotspot Shield scores big in its browser extension, although the extension can only be installed on Google Chrome and Edge.
The Hotspot Shield chrome extension provides both free and premium functionalities, with the limit for the free version being the number of servers and speed. The premium version allows users to connect to 9 different countries.
The strength of the extension is in the feature section. You can turn on functionalities such as Sword, tracker blocker, ad blocker, malware blocker, cookie blocker, WebRTC blocker, and the ability to bypass the local network.
Security and privacy
Hotspot Shield is a secure VPN, although the service provider has come under fire numerous times.
Privacy has been a controversial topic for several years when talking about Hotspot Shield VPN. First, the VPN is based in the US, which puts it under the 5/9/14 eyes alliance.
This is not a good choice of jurisdiction for a VPN as US service providers are often subject to subpoenas from the NSA. A VPN like NordVPN operates from the US but is registered in Panama, making it out of reach for the US government.
The following year, a privacy advocacy group filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that the VPN was intercepting user traffic to redirect it to partner websites.
These are shady practices that have raised concern about whether the VPN can be trusted. But since that time, AnchorFree Inc. has become Pango, and Pango has been acquired by Aura. This puts Hotspot Shield under the same umbrella as UltraVPN, Aura VPN, Betternet, Hexatech, VPN360, TouchVPN, and VPN in Touch.
This means that Hotspot Shield is a logging VPN, and it can’t be trusted when it comes to privacy. If you’d like maximum privacy, we suggest that you go for a VPN that collects zero logs and is based offshore. NordVPN is our best suggestion here as it has been audited by PwC (twice) to verify their zero-logs claim.
DNS & IP Leaks
In terms of leaks, we tested several Hotspot Shield servers, and we were pleased to see that there were neither DNS nor IP leaks.
The VPN provides an IPv6 leak protection feature on their app, which is enabled by default. There's no similar feature for DNS leak protection, but Hotspot Shield states that they encrypt their DNS requests to avoid any leaks.
Unlike most VPNs, Hotspot Shield uses 128-bit AES encryption to secure user data. The VPN then uses TLS 1.2 for handshake, RSA certificates with 2048-bit key for authentication, and Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman algorithm (ECDHE) for Ephemeral Key Exchange.
This kind of security is lower than the industry standard. The top VPNs use 256-bit encryption with HMAC SHA2 for handshake, and 4096-bit key certificates.
Nonetheless, Hotspot Shield stands its ground and argues that the security offered is bank-level and can’t be compromised. This is true for the most part, and so you don’t have to worry unless you transmit very sensitive data.
In terms of protocols, the VPN provides a proprietary protocol known as Catapult Hydra. This protocol is optimized for speed, with its advantage being “how the payload is delivered inside the secured tunnels between the client and the server.”
Until recently, users could choose whether to use Hydra or IKEV2. However, that option has been done away with, and Hydra is now inbuilt. Security-conscious users would appreciate having OpenVPN as an option. ExpressVPN provides its Lightway protocol (also optimized for speed) alongside OpenVPN, IKEV2, L2TP/ IPSec, and PPTP.
Hotspot Shield provides quite a number of features, and once you subscribe premium, you’ll also get access to two other products.
Specialized Servers: Hotspot shield does well to provide specialized servers. The three types of servers provided are browsing (fastest servers, up to 1 Gbps), streaming (can unblock several streaming services), and gaming.
Kill Switch: The Windows and Mac apps have a kill switch that discontinues all internet connections whenever the VPN connection drops. This feature is useful as it prevents exposure when switching servers or when the VPN disconnects for whatever reason.
Split Tunneling: Split tunneling is a nice feature that allows users to choose the applications and websites whose traffic shouldn’t be encrypted. This means that you can enjoy total protection while exempting encryption and IP changes from sensitive websites such as PayPal. This comes in handy if you often connect to servers outside your home country.
IP & DNS Leak Protection: Hotspot Shield has an IP leak protection feature that is enabled by default on their apps. The VPN also has an inbuilt DNS encryption mechanism that prevents DNS leaks.
Spam Call Protection: With the VPN being under Aura, a Hotspot Shield subscription now comes with an extra product that prevents spam calls, hence protecting users against phishing. The product is known as Robo Shield for users in the US and Canada. It comes as Hiya for users in other regions.
Password Manager: Hotspot Shield also comes bundled with 1Password, which is one of the most popular password managers today. This enhances security as users can generate secure passwords without having to remember them. You’ll also be able to sync passwords across all your devices and receive alerts for compromised websites and vulnerable passwords. Normally, 1Password costs $2.99 a month, billed $35.88 annually.
Extra features: Apart from the features on the VPN and the additional products, Hotspot Shield also has a feature-full VPN browser extension. This extension provides Sword (a feature that feeds trackers with fake activity), tracker blocker, ad blocker, malware blocker, cookie blocker, WebRTC blocker, and the ability to bypass the local network. The WebRTC blocker prevents exposure of IP addresses through the Interactive Connectivity Establishment (ICE) protocol.
Hotspot Shield provides agent support through live chat and a ticketing/ email system. These options are only available after logging in.
The live chat support connects you to a bot, but you can ask to be connected to an agent. In our case, we were able to chat with a representation within 15 seconds.
Apart from these two, there are also FAQs and technical guides for all three products. Overall, we found Hotspot Shield support to be sufficient.
Hotspot Shield has several positives, and it is a good option for the average internet user. The VPN is super-fast, supports P2P, and can be used to unblock streaming services. Throwing in 1Password also increases the value, even though the VPN is highly-priced.
That said, Hotspot Shield isn't ideal for users seeking privacy and security. The premium version of the VPN operates the same way as the questionable free version in terms of privacy, and the fact that the VPN keeps logs is a turn-off for privacy enthusiasts. If you are looking for a VPN you can trust with your privacy and security, we suggest that you look at ExpressVPN. Apart from that, Hotspot Shield comes out as a decent VPN service.
Is Hotspot Shield safe?
Hotspot Shield is safe, although it uses relatively lower security standards.
Is Hotspot Shield Free VPN Proxy safe?
The Chrome version of Hotspot Shield is safe as it encrypts user data and changes your IP address. However, it only secures your browser.
Is Hotspot Shield free?
Hotspot Shield has both free and paid versions (Hotspot Shield Elite)
Is there a Hotspot Shield Elite crack?
There’s no cracked version of Hotspot Shield Elite. You can try the premium version free for 7 days.