Hotspot Shield VPN is a public Virtual Private Network operated by a company known as AnchorFree, Inc. The service was initially released back in 2005. As one of the oldest providers on the market, it has created a massive user base, it works on multiple operating systems, and it is available in as many as 13 languages.
In its 14 years of service, Hotspot Shield was downloaded 650 million times. According to statistics from its own website, it has around 1.07 million downloads from Google Play Store, 53.5k downloads from Apple’s App Store, and 13.9k downloads from Microsoft Store. The rest are likely to direct downloads from the service’s website.
Hotspot Shield Features
- 3,200 servers in 70+ countries
- Unlimited bandwidth
- 5 simultaneous connections
- 256-bit AES encryption
- Catapult Hydra technology
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- 24/7 live support
- Anonymous browsing
- Support for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome
- Free trial
- Good pricing options
- No-logging policy
- Killswitch protection
Hotspot Shield is a VPN service located in the Silicon Valley, and while it was praised for years for its quality, it is still located in the heart of the 5/9/14 Eyes surveillance alliance, in the US. This is not ideal from the privacy point of view, but the service claims to keep no logs in regards to its users’ browsing history, so that, at least, is good news.
The service features strong encryption as well as a kill switch, so there is no danger of anyone eavesdropping or spying on the users’ online activities. As for security protocols, Hotspot Shield uses its own technology, called Catapult Hydra.
As mentioned, Hotspot Shield VPN is compatible with multiple operating systems and devices, including:
- Chrome browser
Its app is very easy to install and use. When it comes to the Windows client, it will set itself up with only a few clicks, much like any other app. As for Chrome extension and mobile apps, they can be found in relevant app stores.
As for its torrenting policy, Hotspot Shield did not specify whether it supports torrenting or not. However, after digging a bit deeper, we have discovered that the service supports P2P traffic on all of its servers, which is great news for torrent users.
Another great thing about Hotspot Shield is its customer support. The first thing that should be mention is that the service’s apps give users instant access to the advice on all common issues that VPN users tend to face.
However, if your problem ends up being more complex, you can go to its support website for in-depth guides. It also features a web-based Support Center, a 24/7 live chat (only available to premium users), or the ability to submit a ticket. However, trying to submit one from Windows will just take you to its chat page.
We tested the responsiveness of the Chat support and it was fast, and our issues were resolved in just a few minutes.
All in all, the available support is of good quality, so it is unlikely that you will ever face an issue that guides or support cannot resolve.
Security and Speed
When it comes to security, we have already talked about the fact that Hotspot Shield does not use standard security protocols. It used to employ OpenVPN, like most other services. After that, it switched to its own technology called Catapult Hydra. It claims that its protocol increases the speed of long-distance connections by 2.4 times. However, nothing else supports this particular protocol, so you can only use the services that Hotspot Shield’s own apps and clients provide.
When it comes to speed, Hotspot Shield can be incredibly fast in most locations. We have already mentioned that all of its servers support P2P traffic, but it is also a great choice for streaming.
Also, Catapult Hydra increases the speed of the service beyond what many of the others can offer. During our tests, we started with a download speed of 70 Mbps. After connecting to the servers on the other side of the world, the speed dropped to around 57 Mbps, which is still pretty great.
Servers that were close by saw a significantly milder drop, ranging from 65 Mbps to 62 Mbps. One of the most impressive servers was in Hong Kong, with a speed of 68 Mbps.
Right off the bat, when you first launch Hotspot Shield you have the big Connect button that automatically connects you to a server. The first time you use Hotspot Shield it connects you to a server in USA (in our case this is very far away). Next time it connects you to the last used server.
Compared to the base test (without VPN running) the USA server (Washington, East Coast) performed pretty well. Only a 23% drop in download speed is quite impressive compared to other VPN providers.
USA West Coast (San Francisco) also performed above par in terms of download speeds – around 53% drop. This is around the average result with some competition ranging in the 80% and some peaking at 30% on the better days.
Servers more close by also showed good results. Finland IMpressed with just a 0.1% drop in download speeds (25% drop in upload) and Denmark was almost equally impressive with 11% and 21% for download and upload speed decrease. Definitely above average.
South Korea also performed surprisingly well with just 34% drop in downloads. Upload speeds where expectedly much lower with 97% less speed.
Torrent test did pretty well and the speed dropped from 3-4 Mbps on average to 1-1.2 Mbps when connected to Finnish server.
Netflix and Torrenting
As mentioned previously, Hotspot Shield is not clear in regards to torrenting. It doesn’t even mention it, or P2P file sharing on its front page, nor in its official documents. But, a deeper inspection and tests show that it does support it, and on all of its servers, it seems.
It is possible that some users may experience difficulties on some servers from time to time, but the majority should work just fine.
As for Netflix, Hotspot Shield supports the popular streaming service as well. Users can securely access Netflix from any location around the globe. This is pretty impressive for such an old service, as Netflix goes to rather great lengths to ensure that something like that does not happen.
Not only that, but Hotspot Shield VPN even managed to unblock BBC iPlayer — a service that is often much more difficult to unblock than Netflix itself.
And, thanks to its excellent speeds — it is unlikely that you will have any trouble when it comes to streaming. If your internet speed is anywhere in the range of our own, you will likely experience no buffering.
Finally, we get to prices. If you are not ready to subscribe to a service by the end of this review — you can always try out its 7-day free trial, which is somewhat limited when compared to a full premium version, but it should certainly give you a taste of the service’s quality.
After that, Hotspot Shield offers three different plans:
- 1-month plan for $12.99 per month
- 1-year plan for $5.99 per month
- 3-year plan fo $2.99 per month
It should be noted that the 1-year and 3-year plans will be billed once per year at full price, rather than monthly. For a 3-year plan, however, that still only includes $107.64 once in three years. The 77% discount is an excellent opportunity to get a great quality VPN and not have to think about the license for the entire three years.
You can pay for any of the plans via credit cards or PayPal. Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield still does not accept cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and there is no indication that it plans to start anytime soon. This might be seen as a downside by some users, but it is a small issue when compared to all the benefits that the service provides.
One thing to note is that Hotspot Shield will require you to enter your payment details right away, even though it won’t bill you for the first 7 days. This is a shorter period than what money-back guarantees offered by other services can offer. For example, most providers, like ExpressVPN, would offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. CyberGhost is one of the few that goes way beyond even that, offering 45-days money-back guarantee.
Alternatively, Private Internet Access gives only a 7-day guarantee and no free trial like Hotspot Shield. In conclusion, there are better offers out there, but also worse.
Hotspot Shield is among the oldest and most respected VPN services in the industry. It offers great privacy and security features, excellent customer service, low long-term prices, it works with Netflix, and it supports torrenting.
It has a few downsides, such as the fact that it is US-based, and thus under the jurisdiction of the 5 Eyes alliance, but it keeps no logs so that it has nothing to give if requested. It has great speeds, and its own security protocol, which can be seen as good or bad. You get better security and greater speeds, but you are also limited to the service’s own dedicated apps, with no possibility of manual configuration to include protection for routers or other devices and platforms.
In the end, it is a good service in our opinion, but maybe not for everyone. Particularly not for those who are worried about the 5/9/14 Eyes alliance, or for those who only need a VPN for a few months. With Hotspot Shield, your options are a monthly subscription, a year-long plan, and a 3-year plan, with the monthly subscription definitely being overpriced.
Ease of Use