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Hotspot Shield review

An incredibly fast VPN with a couple of drawbacks

Hotspot Shield review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

Hotspot Shield is an easy-to-use VPN service that boasts a decent global server network, unbelievably fast connections, and is well-suited to secure browsing and streaming geo-blocked media. However, it’s hampered by logging concerns and has limited configuration for power-users.

For

  • The fastest VPN we've tested
  • Works with Disney+, Prime Video, iPlayer, and Netflix
  • Easy to use
  • Comes with three extra apps for US users

Against

  • Logging concerns
  • No manual connections

Hotspot Shield is widely regarded to be one of the best VPN services in 2020. Its fast connections are nothing short of class-leading, it operates servers in more than 80 countries, and upon sign-up you'll get access to three additional apps: 1Password, Robo Shield, and Identity Guard. This makes Hotspot Shield more of a holistic security solution, and it may prove cost-effective for users who are also interested in those platforms.

On the other hand, Hotspot Shield isn’t perfect, and we’ve identified a couple of concerns that users should be aware of. So, in this Hotspot Shield review, we’ll cover both the good and the bad to give you an impartial look at how it stacks up to the competition.

Hotspot Shield 1-minute review

In terms of short-term pricing, Hotspot Shield isn't the most affordable, charging a hefty $12.99 a month on a rolling plan. The one-year plan will; save you a little cash at $7.99 a month, but the three-year plan is best value at just $2.99 a month. While not the absolute rock-bottom, that's good value for a premium VPN.

Hotspot Shield only mainly uses the Catapult Hydra protocol (IKEv2 is also available), so there's no OpenVPN here. Privacy purists might mourn that loss, but although not open source, Catapult Hydra is used by McAfee, Telefonica, Bitdefender and plenty of other reputable companies, so we're fairly confident of its security.

However, Hotspot Shield does log a little more user info than other VPNs, and while we're reassured than none of that can be traced back to the user, we'd appreciate an independent audit or, perhaps more so, a tightening up of the logging practices in general.

Connection speed is Hotspot Shield's trump card, and on short hops it can deliver over 400Mbps – faster than any other VPN we've tested. Even on congested, distant servers we saw perfectly usable speeds of around 60Mbps.

Alongside that, Hotspot Shield is excellent for streaming, unblocking Netflix, YouTube, iPlayer, Disney+ and just about every other service we tried. And, what's more, it's configured for P2P, so it's a great choice for torrenting too.

Hotspot Shield's desktop apps are simple and easy to use, and while they don't offer the same configuration as some rivals, they're a great choice for those who just want to get protected simply. The mobile apps aren't quite as great, and the iOS offering in particular lacks some useful features, but again, if all you need is speed, they're simple to use, stable, and effective.

Customer support is industry standard, with live chat, email, and a knowledge base. We weren't hugely impressed by the written guides, but unless you need an in-depth walkthrough of something technical, it's not a big problem. 

Overall, Hotspot Shield is a fast, powerful VPN that's great for newbies and veterans alike, and while it lacks the configuration of some rivals, that won't matter to most.

Hotspot Shield review - homepage

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

Latest updates

We haven't seen a huge amount of Hotspot Shield updates since our last review of the service, but as and when any changes are made, be sure that we'll add them here.

Hotspot Shield on paper

Number of servers: 1,800+
Number of countries: 80+
Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, TV, routers
Simultaneous connections: Five
Split tunneling: Yes
Kill switch: Yes
Supported protocols: Catapult Hydra, IKEv2
Country of registration: USA
Support: 24/7 live chat, email, knowledgebase

Hotspot Shield review - pricing

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

Hotspot Shield price: how much is it, and is there an Hotspot Shield free trial?

Hotspot Shield offers a surprisingly robust VPN for no charge. However, free users are limited to 500MB per day and connection speeds of 2Mbps, and they won’t be able to use Hotspot Shield to get around streaming content blockers.

Furthermore, you need a premium subscription to access one-on-one customer support or use Hotspot Shield on routers, smart TVs, or Linux. That said, these are relatively lenient restrictions relative to other free options, which is why Hotspot Shield is by far the best free VPN available today.

If you’re looking for a more powerful VPN, Hotspot Shield’s paid subscription costs $12.99 per month when billed monthly. That’s more expensive than many other VPNs, but it’s a decent deal if you’re planning to use at least one or two of the other applications.

The price drops to just $7.99 per month when billed annually, but the real savings come in the form of the three-year plan, which charges just $2.99 a month. While that’s not quite as low as the cheap VPN services we’ve tested, it’s pretty good value in the grand scheme. You can also start Hotspot Shield Premium with a seven-day free trial, and there’s a very generous 45-day money-back guarantee in case you aren’t satisfied with the service.

Hotspot Shield also offers a Premium Family plan, which supports separate accounts for up to five family members. Unlike Spotify and some other services, Hotspot Shield doesn’t require family members to live at the same address, so you could split the family subscription with any group of five people. Premium Family subscriptions cost $19.99 per month and don’t come with any of the extra applications.

How private is Hotspot Shield?

In contrast to most other VPNs, Hotspot Shield uses its own protocol, which is called Catapult Hydra. While Hotspot Shield now offers support for IKEv2 too, you won’t be able to use OpenVPN.

Even though Catapult Hydra’s changes are supposedly on the performance side, some users may prefer the inherent security of an open-source platform that’s available to review. On the other hand, the Catapult Hydra protocol is used by Bitdefender, McAfee, Telefonica, and several other brands, which goes a long way to demonstrate its reputation in the cybersecurity community.

Besides the protocols themselves, Hotspot Shield offers additional security through its other features. The automatic kill switch performed consistently throughout our testing, ensuring that our IP address wouldn’t be accessible in the event of a VPN error. Even closing the client’s local TCP connections wasn’t enough to get around the kill switch or cause any other issues.

Hotspot Shield review - app in use

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield can’t quite provide the same peace of mind when it comes to logging. Its privacy policy explains that Hotspot Shield doesn’t log “IP addresses, device identifiers, or any other form of identifier in combination with your VPN browsing activity.” In other words, those data points may be logged, just not in conjunction with your individual usage.

Later on, the policy clarifies the specific types of information that may be recorded and stored. These include your unique device hash, your IP address, your approximate location, the length of your sessions, how much bandwidth you used, and which domains you accessed. Hotspot Shield claims that this data is anonymized, so it shouldn’t be traceable back to you, but that claim hasn’t been tested in an independent audit.

How fast is Hotspot Shield?

The Catapult Hydra protocol is designed to improve performance, and Hotspot Shield provided incredible speeds throughout our testing. We got a little over 200Mbps in the UK on a connection of 600Mbps, significantly higher than the 160-170Mbps we saw from our overall top-rated VPN ExpressVPN.

Hotspot Shield was even more impressive on a 600Mbps connection in the United States. It reached over 400Mbps in our most recent round of testing, far higher than what most of the competition can offer. We also saw speeds higher than 550Mbps in previous tests, so it’s clear that Catapult Hydra can deliver unrivalled connections.

That performance obviously suffered on long-distance connections, but Hotspot Shield still did better than the competition on servers in distant locations. For example, we got speeds of over 60Mbps on a connection from the UK to Vietnam. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that we identified Hotspot Shield as the best fast VPN in 2020.

Hotspot Shield review - streaming

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

How good is Hotspot Shield for streaming?

Streaming services have started to crack down on VPN connections over the last few years, and it’s getting harder to find ones that can consistently circumvent region controls. That said, Hotspot Shield did as well as any streaming VPN that we’ve tested with respect to unblocking region-locked content.

Unsurprisingly, Hotspot Shield didn’t have any trouble giving us access to overseas YouTube content, but most VPNs we’ve looked at have passed that test. However, it stood out from other VPNs when we used it to connect to sites with more robust anti-VPN measures, such as BBC iPlayer, Prime Video, Disney+, and Netflix.

If you’re looking for a Netflix VPN or you want to get around region controls on any other platform, it’s hard to find a more reliable option than Hotspot Shield. Few VPNs can consistently unblock every one of those services, but Hotspot Shield didn’t miss a beat during our testing.

How good is Hotspot Shield for torrenting?

While the Hotspot Shield website understandably doesn’t say much about torrenting, all Hotspot Shield servers support P2P connections. That applies to the Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows clients, making Hotspot Shield a solid torrenting VPN for most users.

If you’re new to torrenting, the Hotspot Shield knowledge base provides helpful information on the benefits of VPNs for torrenting and a few strategies that can help you stay safe while downloading torrents. There are no restrictions or bandwidth limits, so you can use Hotspot Shield for torrenting like you would use it for any other kind of internet activity.

On top of open access to torrents, Hotspot Shield’s Smart VPN feature makes it easy to split-tunnel your activity or send only certain types of traffic through the VPN. Unfortunately for those looking to stay anonymous end-to-end, though, while Hotspot Shield claims to support Bitcoin payments, the page where you “choose the option to purchase with Bitcoin” doesn’t offer such an option at all.

Hotspot Shield review - app interface

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

How good are Hotspot Shield’s desktop apps?

The Hotspot Shield Windows 10 VPN and Mac VPN clients have a clear, accessible interface, and they’re significantly easier to use than some of the other VPNs we’ve reviewed. After clicking “On,” we were typically able to connect to a server within two or three seconds, one of the shortest connection times that we’ve seen from a VPN.

Once you connect, you’ll be able to see your server’s location, along with your latency, load times, IP address, data usage, local network, and transfer speeds. The client’s presentation allows you to check your connection status without being overloaded by information.

Hotspot Shield’s Settings section has various options that will satisfy more knowledgeable users in a style that avoids overwhelming those with less technical experience. For example, you can configure Hotspot Shield to connect automatically on public networks or exclude certain types of traffic that you don’t want to go through the VPN.

Hotspot Shield also supports a series of keyboard shortcuts for easy access to specific tools. Control-Shift-C, for example, either connects to or disconnects from the VPN. Plus, you can access support resources in just a few clicks if you have any questions about the desktop client.

How good are Hotspot Shield’s mobile apps?

The Hotspot Shield Android app has a decent set of features, but its iOS counterpart is far more limited. While Android VPN users can enable a kill switch to protect their traffic, that option is missing from the iOS version. Unfortunately, some tools are missing from both versions—for example, neither the Android nor the iOS app supports the IKEv2 protocol.

Similarly, the Hotspot Shield iOS app doesn’t offer automatic connections or automatic startup when you turn on your device. There isn’t even an easy way to connect to the server that’s best suited for your location. Furthermore, the app hasn’t received many recent updates, so it’s hard to say whether it will gain any functionality in the near future. There are far more comprehensive options to consider if you’re looking for an iPhone VPN.

To be fair, though, both apps have everything you need to connect to the internet safely, and many users won’t notice the lack of advanced settings in the iOS version. But be sure to check out our guide to the best mobile VPN if you want a VPN that offers more support for smartphones and tablets.

What customer support does Hotspot Shield offer?

The online support center provides helpful answers to various questions about Hotspot Shield, and support articles are embedded in the apps and clients themselves. The articles aren’t quite as thorough or informative as other support resources that we’ve seen, however, and they aren’t as well organized as they could be. For example, the first article for getting started with the Windows client covers the process for referring other users to Hotspot Shield.

Fortunately, you can quickly get in touch with an agent via email or live chat. We were connected to a Hotspot Shield representative over live chat in less than a minute. They can help you with any issues that you weren’t able to resolve in the support center.

Hotspot Shield: Final verdict

Hotspot Shield is an incredibly fast VPN that’s perfect for streaming regionally blocked content or safely downloading torrents, and combined with an affordable longer subscription, for many it'll be a great choice.

The lack of support for OpenVPN is a notable issue, and Hotspot Shield’s logging policy won’t satisfy privacy purists, but these are arguably minor problems for the average user. While Hotspot Shield can’t dethrone ExpressVPN as our top overall recommendation, it’s still a great VPN to consider using in 2021.