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Hotspot Shield review

Hotspot Shield is one equipped for all devices

Hotspot Shield review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

With excellent connection speeds, a simple interface and useful Netflix unblocking power, Hotspot Shield is certainly on the up. However, there are still a couple of issues holding it back like tricky manual installation, a lack of configuration and some minor session logging concerns.

For

  • Good free version
  • Works with Disney+, Prime Video, and iPlayer
  • Easy to use
  • Comes with three extra apps for US users

Against

  • Logging concerns
  • Tricky manual setup

Tom's Guide Verdict

With excellent connection speeds, a simple interface and useful Netflix unblocking power, Hotspot Shield is certainly on the up. However, there are still a couple of issues holding it back like tricky manual installation, a lack of configuration and some minor session logging concerns.

Pros

  • + Good free version
  • + Works with Disney+, Prime Video, and iPlayer
  • + Easy to use
  • + Comes with three extra apps for US users

Cons

  • - Logging concerns
  • - Tricky manual setup

Widely regarded as one of the best VPN services on the market, in the last year Hotspot Shield had been going from strength to strength. While its performance has somewhat plateaued between competition taking the lead and Netflix clamping down on VPN use, it still remains a great option for many. 

Boasting its in-house Catapult Hydra protocol and a variety of great features including its nifty kill switch and full P2P support, it's also got a variety of apps, so you can equip all your devices. Keep on reading our comprehensive Hotspot Shield review to find out where this VPN shines and where it lacks and make the decision on whether it’s the right service for you.

Hotspot Shield 1-minute review

In terms of short-term pricing, Hotspot Shield isn't the most affordable, charging a hefty $9.99 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. That’s seriously competitive with the very cheapest premium options out there.

Hotspot Shield mainly uses the Catapult Hydra protocol (IKEv2 is also available), so there's no OpenVPN for the desktop apps. 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. Thankfully, though, there’s OpenVPN support available for routers, and the support website has useful instructions of how to get this up and running.

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

Once upon a time Hotspot Shield's connection speed was its biggest selling point. However, with the introduction of WireGuard across its competitors, Hotspot Shield has remained much the same while others have taken off. Still, its delivery of 400-410Mbps is both reliable and sufficient for most online activities.

Another blow to the VPN is its loss of access to Netflix. While the status of this is constantly changing, we were unable to unblock Netflix in our most recent round of tests. For anyone looking to bypass geo-restrictions on content on YouTube, BBC iPlayer, or Disney+, though, you're in luck. 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. What is interesting, however, is the fact

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

Big news in terms of pricing: Hotspot Shield’s longest plan has just dropped from $2.99 to $2.49 a month – that might not seem like a lot, but it’s now on a par with services like Surfshark, which has historically been known as one of the best bargains on the market.

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 of data transferred per day and connection speeds of 2Mbps. What’s more, Hotspot Shield itself blocks free users from accessing streaming sites like Netflix, so you’ll be out of luck if you want to try unblocking content.

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 one of the best free VPN services available today.

If you’re looking for a more powerful VPN, Hotspot Shield’s paid subscription costs $9.99 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 bundled applications, which include a password manager, antivirus, and a spam call blocker.

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 $2.49 a month. That’s on a par with some of the best cheap VPN services we’ve tested, and it’s great 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.

What’s more, though, is the fact that you’ll get to keep that $2.49 a month price upon renewal, too. Some providers such as Surfshark and NordVPN crank up the price when your initial term ends, so this is really positive stuff in terms of value from Hotspot Shield.

Hotspot Shield also offers a Premium Family plan, which supports separate accounts for up to five family members. Plus, 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 on anything except routers.

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 reputable 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. One more bonus is that Hotspot Shield didn’t leak our IP address when switching locations in-app – a remarkably common problem.

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?

Since the introduction of Catapult Hydra, Hotspot Shield had maintained the top spot as one of the top fast VPN providers. While it offers consistent and reliable speeds, however, other VPN services have been busy improving their WireGuard infrastructure.

Our process uses a number of different speed testing websites and services, and we also test a different times of the day to ensure a good spread and to confirm the consistency of a VPN’s connections.

During our UK tests, we saw speeds hit 280-300Mbps, dropping from its previous 360-380Mbps results. When running the tests on IKEv2, we saw a similar performance of 280-290Mbps.

In the US, the picture was slightly sweeter with figures of 320-340Mbps on OpenVPN. Of course, Catapult Hydra one again delivered the standout results of 400-410Mbps. 

Earlier this year that would've been an impressive, market-leading performance. However, now this result proves to be fairly average in comparison to competition where we're seeing results well over 500Mbps (ExpressVPN 570-580Mbps) and the likes of IPVanish, NordVPN, and ProtonVPN pushing well over the 700Mbps mark.

That being said, these speeds are still nothing to be sniffed at and will offer you the kind of performance needed for most tasks - we just wouldn't recommend for any heavy online gaming or 4K streams.

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. Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield has fallen victim to Netflix's crackdown on IP addresses tied to VPN services. Still, that doesn't mean it's not a great streaming VPN as long as you're not too fussed about Netflix.

It's fair to say streaming unblocking does fluctuate, so Hotspot Shield could be back in the game soon, but in our most recent round of testing Hotspot failed to unblock any Netflix libraries. This is disappointing though, unfortunately, not unsurprising either. While some VPN are able to access at least the US Netflix library, only ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN have managed to fully get around Netflix's geo-restrictions.

Thankfully, that's the only hurdle in Hotspot Shield's way and we were able to access overseas YouTube content, as well as the more tricky sites with more robust anti-VPN measures like BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+.

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, Bitcoin isn’t supported as a payment method.

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 remains to be a reliable VPN that is great for streaming (as long as you're not after a Netflix VPN), and safely downloading torrents. Combine it with a affordable longer subscription, for many it'll be a great choice.

Unfortunately it has dropped in our rankings it terms of its speed results due to improvements to its competition, 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.

Mo is eCommerce Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees privacy and security content, and his product guides help his readers find the best software and products for their needs. When he's not testing VPNs, you'll find him working on his classic car or plugged into a guitar amp.