Hotspot Shield is a virtual private network service provider with an impressive client base and a large server network. The service was developed by AnchorFree in 2008 and was initially compatible just with Windows and macOS devices. During the following years, the company also released versions for mobile devices, respectively iOS and Android.
Hotspot Shield is currently owned by Pango (formerly known as AnchorFree) and it is based in San Francisco. Pango also has offices in Russia and Ukraine.
Hotspot Shield VPN is praised by names such as ABC, CNN, Bloomberg, FOX, PCWorld and others. Pango also has bold statements on its website, naming Hotspot Shield ‘the world’s fastest VPN’. The company boasts on more than 650 million downloads and counting.
Another quality that makes this VPN service so popular is its free version, which can be used for an unlimited period of time. The free version has apps for all the common devices but it does limit you in the number of features included, the number of servers you can access and in bandwidth. Premium users enjoy unlimited bandwidth and a lot more benefits.
Hotspot Shield works on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Chrome. This VPN provider allows 5 simultaneous devices per account, which is pretty much the average. You can only connect 5 devices if you are a Premium user though.
The network of servers owned by Hotspot Shield includes more than 3,200 servers in over 70 countries worldwide. Some of the servers will only work on specific platforms, but even so, the number is really high.
Hotspot Shield has servers in all the major areas in the world: the United States, Canada, Europe, China, Africa, South America, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia and more.
In order to have access to all the servers offered by Hotspot Shield, you have to have a Premium account, meaning you have to pay for the VPN. The free account limits you to the servers in the United States.
How secure is Hotspot Shield VPN?
Security should be the first priority for any VPN provider, because the number one reason for using a virtual private network is to become untraceable on the internet and stay anonymous while surfing the web. In order for that to be possible, you need to be protected by top-notch encryption tools and Hotspot Shield makes no exception when it comes to protecting its users.
There is no discrimination in terms of security for users who opt for the free VPN and for Premium users. Both categories benefit from military-grade encryption. Hotspot Shield currently blocks 57 million phishing and malware websites and there is also an automatic kill-switch feature included, but unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, it was just available for the Windows client.
There is a bit of a drawback in terms of tunneling protocols when it comes to Hotspot Shield. While all major VPN providers support protocols such as OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec and so on (the VPN doesn’t have TOR compatibility either), this provider only works with its Catapult Hydra VPN technology, which was developed by them. The Catapult Hydra technology is even used by McAfee, Bitdefender, Telefonica and other big names.
Now, granted, Hotspot Shield does try to reassure its customers that its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol is very advanced and it ‘optimizes multiple server connections that are stronger and faster over long distances’. But the fact that you don’t have any additional options may be a deal breaker for some users.
Privacy and logging
As with all the VPN providers based in the United States, it is perfectly normal to keep a certain dose of skepticism, when it comes to their privacy claims. US is renowned for its intrusive laws and the fact that it is a member of the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance.
Although Hotspot Shield VPN is based in the Silicon Valley, it claims on its website that it has a strict, no-usage logs policy, but it does collect information on its users and some terms used on their website are a bit ambiguous. Hotspot Shield collects ‘network information’, data on your bandwidth usage, browser and device types, your approximate location, real IP address (even though they state they delete it once your session ends) and more. Some information is indeed necessary for aspects such as payment and making sure free users don’t exceed their bandwidth limit and so on, but overall, we think Hotspot Shield collects a bit more data than other VPN providers.
How fast is Hotspot Shield?
One of the first things you see when landing on Hotspot Shield’s page is their claim that they’re the ‘world’s fastest VPN’. Their proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol is advertised as making this VPN service extremely fast and, luckily for them, tests have confirmed it. The company even goes further to state that Hotspot actually increases the speed of your device, when connected to the internet through their VPN.
While we can’t really confirm the latter statement, speed tests have indeed revealed spectacular results for Hotspot Shield. In our tests, this VPN only decreased our speed by 1Mbps. That is an impressive result, considering that the average drop in speed is of approximately 3 to 5 Mbps.
Moreover, when using Hotspot Shield to connect to their servers in the EU and Asia, this is the fastest VPN we’ve tested so far. Speeds are great for the rest of the regions of the world as well.
Can you bypass censorship and unlock restricted content with Hotspot Shield?
Netflix is one of the most popular streaming services in the world nowadays and a lot of people turn to VPNs specifically for unlocking Netflix content which is not available in their area. The problem is that over the years, Netflix has become wittier and wittier in detecting VPN users.
Hotspot Shield however can still unlock Netflix in most areas, although not all of them. We were able to unblock Netflix in Canada, US and the UK and this VPN also worked for Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer and Hulu.
Does Hotspot Shield allow torrenting?
Hotspot Shield has a torrenting-friendly policy and supports P2P file sharing on all its servers. The company doesn’t even hide it and offers guides and help materials on its website for torrent users.
How much does Hotspot Shield VPN cost?
As we’ve already mentioned it, you don’t necessarily have to pay for Hotspot Shield. You can start by downloading the free version, which has support for the same platforms as the paid version. You will benefit from the same security and privacy features with the free version as well, but you will only be limited to using the US servers. You will also have ads and a bandwidth limit.
However, you can always upgrade to the Premium account and choose between one of Hotspot Shield’s available payment plans.
There are two available plans to choose from: a 1-month plan, which is priced at $12.99, billed monthly and a 1-year plan, which is $7.99 per month, billed at $95.88 yearly.
Both plans include Hotspot Shield’s 45-day money back guarantee, which is above the industry standard.
You can pay with credit/debit cards and PayPal.
Both plans also include 24/7 support by live chat or email.