Widely regarded as one of the best VPN services on the market, in the last year Hotspot Shield has been going from strength to strength. With updates to its service meaning connections are faster than ever, and with streaming support being a huge selling point, it’s certainly making waves in this hard-to-crack industry.
However, in our testing there are a couple of areas in which we still think Hotspot Shield needs to improve. So, 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 $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. 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'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. 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.
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 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 $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 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 $2.99 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 $2.99 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.
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. 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.
On our 600Mbps US line, when using Catapult Hydra, Hotspot Shield delivered excellent speeds of 360-380Mbps. Compared to our last tests which delivered speeds topping out at 410Mbps, it look like Hotspot Shield consistently delivers stellar performance.
However, when using IKEv2, our speeds dropped to a measly 35-40Mbps. Results that poor did leave us thinking that there may have been a technical hitch somewhere on either Hotspot Shield’s or our end – but in practice the vast majority of users will be using Catapult Hydra anyway.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to test the service in the UK this time round (our problem, not the provider’s), but last time we saw speeds a little over 200Mbps in the UK on a 600Mbps connection. We did briefly test IKEv2 speeds on a 70Mbps domestic line in the UK, though, and got received speeds of around 60Mbps –indicating our poor US results weren’t necessarily what everyone can expect.
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 one of the best fast VPN services in 2021.
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 performed admirably as a streaming VPN.
When it comes to unblocking Netflix, Hotspot Shield is reliable for accessing US and UK libraries. In our ongoing testing, Canadian, Japanese and Australian libraries have proved more of a challenge, but apart from ExpressVPN, Surfshark and NordVPN, Hotspot Shield is better than the rest.
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, Hotspot Shield is certainly worth considering.
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.
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 speedy 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.