Hotspot Shield is an extremely speedy VPN now owned by Pango, a SaaS business built around online security. What’s unique about Hotspot Shield is that this service has developed its own connection protocol, dubbed Catapult Hydra, which enables the service to deliver excellent data speeds across its global network of more than 3,200 servers. On top of that, there are no bandwidth limits on any servers, so it’s a very viable solution for streaming and P2P file sharing.
This review isn't about Hotspot Shield's free product (which tops our best free VPN list) and a quick glance at the specs should tell you why: it has a 2Mbps speed limit, one location only (US), along with a 500MB daily data limit. It's useful as a way to check out the apps, but that's about it.
This in-depth Hotspot Shield review covers the fully featured version, outlining areas it excels, where it needs work, and if it’s the right VPN for you to invest in.
Plans and Pricing
Hotspot Shield isn’t the cheapest VPN, nor is it the most expensive. A one-month subscription costs $12.99, but if you sign up for a full year, the price drops to $7.99 a month. For that, you get unlimited bandwidth when connected to Hotspot Shield’s servers and the ability to open up to five simultaneous connections.
If you choose to sign up to Hotspot Shield through Tom's Guide, you'll also be able to claim a three-year subscription for only $2.99 a month. That means overall you'll be paying roughly $10 more for an extra two years of VPN coverage. If you'd like to take advantage of this, head through to Hotspot Shield's website.
Whatever plan you choose, Hotspot Shield isn’t bad value, and access to the Catapult Hydra-enabled speeds is always going to come at a cost. But what makes Hotspot Shield a bit more of a deal is that you also get access to Pango’s other tools with your subscription. These include a password manager, a robocall blocker, and an identity theft prevention service.
While we won’t go into detail about these tools here, they definitely boost the value of your Hotspot Shield subscription – if those are services you’d be likely to seek out as well as a VPN, Hotspot Shield offers a well-rounded package for what subsequently looks like a pretty bargain price.
And, finally, we rate Hotspot Shield as one of the best VPNs with free trials, so you can get used to the interface before splashing the cash.
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Hotspot Shield offers a global network of around 3,200 servers across more than 80 countries, all of which support P2P file sharing. So, although Hotspot Shield doesn’t shout about it, the platform is a capable torrenting VPN.
Hotspot Shield's key attraction is its proprietary Catapult Hydra connection protocol, which is built on Transport Layer Security with 128-bit AES encryption and single-use server keys. In other words, it’s a lot like the more commonly used OpenVPN protocol, except faster.
How much faster? We tried out the VPN from within the US and connected to several different servers in Europe. The connection speeds on our 600Mbps US test line varied between 474-547Mbps, which is nothing short of spectacular.
For reference, most other VPNs can achieve at best around 250Mbps when connecting from a similar line, so if you’re after sheer speed, those figures will have caught your attention.
On our slower 75Mbps UK line we again saw excellent performance, with speeds of around 70Mbps being the average. This shows that even if you don’t have the quickest internet connection, Hotspot Shield allows you to make the most of what you’re working with.
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The only downside is that if you want to scrutinize Catapult Hydra further, you’re out of luck. Hotspot Shield doesn’t share its code, even with third-party developers and auditors, so you’re essentially left to trust the company’s software engineers to root out any bugs and security flaws.
However, while it’s not available to be examined by the public, the protocol is used by other companies such as McAfee and Telefonica. If you you’re willing to trust their judgement, then there’s not a huge amount to be worried about.
It’s also important to take a close look at Hotspot Shield’s data logging policy. Where many other VPN providers have a blanket no-logging policy, Hotspot Shield’s policy enables the company to collect a surprising amount of data about your session. Your IP address and browser history are deleted, but Hotspot Shield still logs your email address, username, and approximate location as well as information about the device you're using. If you’re concerned about online privacy, this is a red flag.
Interface and in use
Hotspot Shield offers a desktop app for Windows, Mac and, as of May 2020, Linux PCs. When you open the client, there’s simply a large power button you can click to open a connection.
This was simple and fast, although we didn’t love that you can’t choose your server location before opening a new connection. In addition, Hotspot Shield doesn’t enable you to keep a handy list of favorite servers for quick access.
However, Hotspot Shield more than makes up for this with the Smart VPN option built into the app. With this you can specify domains to access from outside your VPN connection. It’s essentially split tunneling, which is a great tool in case you only need to use the VPN for certain traffic and want to leave the rest untouched.
Hotspot Shield also covers mobile connections with apps for iOS and Android devices. These apps are almost identical in appearance and functionality to the desktop apps, so you don’t have to worry about an additional learning curve.
One additional thing to note is that you can now install Hotspot Shield on a router as well. However, you may want to think twice about doing so. The router installation switches Hotspot Shield to using OpenVPN instead of Catapult Hydra, so you’ll lose the blazing speeds which are arguably the service’s biggest selling point. Strangely, although Hotspot Shield will enable you to use OpenVPN for routers, this connection method isn’t offered in any of the desktop or mobile apps.
Hotspot Shield does a nice job of offering technical support, with live agents available around the clock by email or live chat. Although pretty much industry-standard by now, looking after customers is always a sign of a quality business.
In addition, the company’s website offers a comprehensive documentation center that’s organized by device. This layout is really useful, and makes it easy to find instructions for troubleshooting. Many of the guides also include screenshots for each step in the described process, so you're not just faced with a brick wall of text.
If you care about speed and nothing else in your VPN, Hotspot Shield is easily the best option for you. However, the company’s logging policies may be worrying for those who want maximum online privacy. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN each offer much stricter no-logging policies, as well as standard, well-trusted VPN connection protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2.
Although they can’t match its incredible speeds, both deliver excellent, reliable connections and manage server networks that are just as widespread as Hotspot Shield’s.
Hotspot Shield: Final verdict
Hotspot Shield is hands down the best VPN for speed. For a very reasonable price you'll get the fastest VPN available, plus tons of Pango's other excellent security. That added value goes a long way.
But, speed isn’t everything for many VPN users. Hotspot Shield’s no-logging policy has holes in it that enable the company to collect potentially identifying personal information. This relative lack of privacy is a drawback, and users should weigh up what they’re looking for in a VPN, and what they’re willing to sacrifice to access unmatched encrypted connection speeds.
Client software platforms:
Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, TV, routers
Supported protocols: Catapult Hydra, OpenVPN (routers only)
No. of servers: 3,200+
No. of countries: 80+
Country of registration: USA
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal
Real name necessary? Yes (through PayPal or card)
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited
Max. no. of simultaneously connected devices: Five
Customer support: 24/7 chat and email
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