Hotspot Shield VPN review
Hotspot Shield VPN offers high quality services and has an impressive number of benefits for regular users. It’s useful for unblocking Netflix or multiple other streaming platforms and supports torrenting. Users can enjoy VPN’s free version and install it on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices or even get a dedicated browser extension.
Additionally, this VPN employs a proprietary protocol – Catapult Hydra – to reach the best performance results. In 2019, the company even won the Ookla’s Speedtest badge indicating that Hotspot Shield VPN can truly deliver speed for its users.
Apart from the great quality of basic VPN services, it’s worth mentioning that users also get other useful benefits. The premium subscription plan includes the 1Password manager, Aura antivirus, and a scam call-blocker for maximum PC security.
Are you interested to find out more? Continue reading, as this comprehensive Hotspot Shield VPN review will look over speed tests, pricing plans, security, and everything else this VPN has to offer.
|🥇 Overall rank:||#20 out of #28|
|📖 No logs policy:||Keeps logs|
|💵 Price:||from $7.99/month|
|🖥️ Servers:||1800+ servers in 80 countries|
|🍿 Streaming services:||Netflix, BBC iPlayer, YouTube|
|🔥 Coupons:||Hotspot Shield coupon 40% OFF|
Hotspot Shield pros & cons
- Very good speeds
- Free version
- Top-notch security features
- Unblocks most streaming services including Netflix
- 24/7 live chat customer support
- Good global coverage
- Limited protocol selection
- Lacks transparency
- Doesn't work in China
Speed performance: Is Hotspot Shield fast?
Hotspot Shield VPN’s speeds are honestly impressive. Maybe we should thank the Catapult Hydra protocol, but there is no doubt why this VPN won Ookla's speed badge – the download speed amplitude ranges from 1% to 28% drop with an average 15% drop-off.
Even though the upload speed is slightly slower, the numbers are still impressive. They range from 0% up to 95% with an average of approximately 80% reduction.
- Baseline: 300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload
|Location||Download speed||Upload speed|
Additionally, Hotspot Shield gives an option to select and use the IKEv2 tunneling protocol. According to our tests, its download speed scores an average of 262.2 Mbps, while the uploads – 45.4 Mbps.
Furthermore, the download speed drops ranged from 2% to 32%, putting the average at 20%, while upload speeds performed slightly worse. They ranged from 3% to 98%, with an average of 86% drop.
Another thing worth mentioning – even though the IKEv2 protocol is known for its efficiency, we encountered some minor connectivity issues when connecting to the server located in the United States, Florida. Thus, users should keep that in mind when choosing between protocols.
Apart from that, Hotspot Shield VPN provides high speed even without the WireGuard protocol. For the best performance results, we suggest opting for the Catapult Hydra, instead of the IKEv2.
Streaming: does Hotspot Shield work with Netflix?
Hotspot Shield is a great VPN to help you access geo-blocked content on major streaming platforms. It has over 1800 servers across more than 80 different countries. So, you can pick any of the streaming servers to watch movies or TV shows you want, despite their location-based restrictions.
For example, we had no issues with unblocking the US Netflix library. During the test, the newest movies and TV series loaded instantly with no image quality loss. The overall experience watching Netflix was so smooth that it would be pretty hard for anyone to tell whether one’s using a VPN at all.
Hotspot Shield VPN also easily unblocked YouTube, so you can access trending videos from all around the world. Just keep in mind that after entering your password, Google will ask to confirm your identity – the service sometimes tends to get a bit sensitive to unfamiliar IPs.
However, we stumbled upon some issues when accessing other streaming platforms. It did unblock BBC iPlayer, but there was some buffering at the beginning. Otherwise, the streaming quality was good, and we didn't experience any stutters.
But like many others before it, Hotspot Shield couldn’t access DAZN. Although it's a niche streaming service, it has harsh anti-VPN measures that only few providers can bypass.
Is Hotspot Shield good for torrenting?
Hotspot Shield VPN can be used for torrenting as it doesn’t blacklist P2P connections. Even though there are no dedicated servers strictly for torrenting, its 1800+ servers give a relatively large number of options to find a fast and secure connection for P2P downloads.
We’ve tested the download speed and it got up to 2.3MB/s (18mbps). Note that there are multiple factors that influence how fast you can download various files, like the number and location of seeds. Thus, while the speed test score is not as impressive as one might expect, we may have just been unlucky.
Is Hotspot Shield safe & secure?
Hotspot Shield is a safe VPN service from a technical standpoint. No DNS leaks, strong encryption, and proprietary tunneling protocols guarantee your security.
However, when we look at their business location and owners, there's a lot of questions that are left unanswered. All of this makes it difficult to evaluate whether your online activity will remain anonymous.
Hotspot Shield will not only hide your IP address but will also encrypt the connection between your device and the VPN server. For that, it uses the AES-128-CBC cipher, widely regarded as uncrackable. Many governmental and financial institutions adopted it for classified documents. There are just too many variables even for modern computers to figure out, so decrypting it would take an indefinite amount of time.
With that said, most VPNs opt for the more secure AES-256 cipher. Since Hotspot Shield has speed as a top priority, the faster AES-128 is understandable.
Hotspot Shield uses the secure SHA-256 hash function for authentication. This is the standard in the VPN industry, albeit some take it up a notch with SHA-512.
Overall, this is a strong encryption suite, but it doesn't go as far as some others.
Your connection will be encrypted regardless of which tunneling protocol you pick. However, different tunneling protocols have different strengths and use cases. Though, with Hotspot Shield, you'll be limited to two protocols selectable in advanced settings.
Catapult Hydra – the proprietary tunneling protocol developed by Hotspot Shield is based on OpenSSL, which is used by HTTPS websites, as well as the ubiquitous OpenVPN protocol. This is probably their secret ingredient why their speeds are so fast, although not much is known about it.
IKEv2 – although a slightly older protocol, it's still widely used when you have to maintain a stable connection. This makes it perfect for mobile devices because it allows switching between Wi-Fi and mobile data seamlessly.
Knowing how many antivirus services with VPN features rely on Catapult Hydra adds a bit of credibility. It's in the best interest of companies like McAfee or Bitdefender to associate only with the services that meet their strict requirements. Though, a transparent public audit or going open-source would help a lot more.
Hotspot Shield has a kill switch security feature to stop all your traffic if you suddenly disconnect from a VPN server due to poor internet connection. It isn't toggled on by default, so you'll have to remember to turn it on.
During my tests, the kill switch worked well when I killed the VPN connection process. The app showed that the kill switch is engaged and would start to reconnect.
When the app's background process was killed, the app would detect that there is an issue. Then it initiated a restart, resolving your connection. So, at no point was my IP exposed during the test.
Hotspot Shield's location is one of the worst places on the planet for a service that hinges on privacy. The United States is a founding member of the Five Eyes alliance. This, along with the country's powerful intelligence agencies make it suboptimal for VPNs that cater to the most privacy-minded users due to their excessive logging.
The VPN does promise no logs to your activity, but there are exceptions when using the free version. Since the free app has ads, they reserve the right to show your approximate city-level location. It also includes your device's advertising ID, IMEI, MAC address, and even wireless carrier. In short, if you value your privacy, you shouldn't touch their free client.
Sadly, their paid version isn't without concerns, either. They state that they take measures to delete your IP address right after your session ends. However, if they are required by law to keep this information for a longer period, they will comply. So, the principle of how this VPN operates is that purging an IP address seems to be a privilege, which can be revoked if the need arises.
The fact that the service isn't accepting anonymous payments makes it only worse. So, if you're thinking that paying with cryptocurrencies could act as a necessary veil of shadow, this isn't the case.
Last year, Hotspot Shield switched owners and was acquired by a cybersecurity company called Aura. This business entity was formed after the identity risk management service iSubscribed Inc. merged with credit management and identity theft solutions company Intersections Inc.
The company releases annual transparency reports, which is the right direction for a cybersecurity company go. That said, it's worth mentioning that an extensive third-party security or privacy audit wouldn't hurt.
Hotspot Shield features
Apart from the great speed and strong security, Hotspot Shield offers some extra features for its users. Even though additional benefits significantly improve VPN’s overall user experience, you should keep in mind that some of them are only available with premium subscription plans.
Many VPN providers have quite similar features, but they call them differently. SmartVPN is just your good-old split tunneling. So, you can exclude some apps or webpages from the VPN tunnel, making them connect directly.
Sadly, the only customization option for this feature is pausing – you can temporarily suspend the tunnel. It also isn't possible to use split tunneling in inverse mode, so you won't be able to use the VPN only with a select handful of apps. So, take note if you're planning to use a VPN with only some key apps or websites.
The feature is only reserved for Windows and Android users (the latter have a strange implementation of it). So, if you're using iOS or macOS, you won't find it on your app.
With Premium Hotspot Shield subscription, you also get three separate products: 1Password, Hiya, and Aura antivirus. So, it greatly expands the usage scenarios beyond VPN usage.
If you've been a CyberNews reader for a while, you might even read our review. It's one of the best password managers on the market, so getting it as an addition to your subscription is a good deal.
Not only does it encrypt your vault with a military-grade cipher, making your passwords safe - it also has a scanner to check if your data ends up on the dark web. To learn more about this password manager check our 1Password review.
Hotspot Shield has a spam-call blocker feature which automatically scans for scam calls and blocks suspicious numbers. It is available for iOS and Android users to prevent potentially dangerous calls from scammers and help you avoid those annoying telemarketers.
Scam-call blocker uses crowdsourced data to determine whether the caller appeared in any blacklists. If the number is marked as spam, you can see it on-screen while the phone is still ringing.
However, this feature requires an access to your contacts. So, privacy-oriented users should keep that in mind.
This antivirus includes additions like personal data monitoring, Wi-Fi security, and malware detection. So, you'll be able to remove accumulated junk files or malicious programs with the click of a button.
However, Aura is a recent addition to the antivirus market, so there are almost no reviews or reports on how it performs. As it stands now, I'd wait for independent malware labs to test them first before I'd install it on my device.
Does Hotspot Shield VPN work in China?
A while back, Hotspot Shield used to be a good option for China, but they haven't kept up with the times. Even though their Catapult Hydra tunneling protocol offers obfuscation and is pretty fast, this won't help you if you want to bypass the Great Firewall of China.
Another tunneling protocol that they have – IKEv2 isn't really the caliber that would be needed to bypass this block. The website itself is blocked, and most users on online forums confirm that Hotspot doesn't work. Especially since July, when the restrictions tightened to suppress human rights marches in Hong Kong.
If you're looking for an excellent VPN for this task, check out a list of the best VPNs for China.
Plans & pricing
Hotspot Shield breaks the mold when it comes to VPN pricing. Unlike most providers on the market, their pricing plans don't all offer the same features. Plus, they also have a free version, which is quite restrictive but does give you a peek at the service.
|Version||1-month plan||1-year plan|
|Premium||$12.99||$95.88 or $7.99/month|
|Premium Family||$19.99||$143.88 or $11.99/month|
The shortest subscription duration is 1 month. It's also the most expensive and will cost you $12.99 for Premium and $19.99 for the Family plan. Keep in mind that Premium and Family options have a 45-day money-back guarantee.
The second option is a 1 year plan. Similarly, the price will be $95.88 for Premium and $143.88 for Family subscription. If you're counting the prices rounded per each month, it does look cheaper: $7.99, and $11.99 per month, respectively.
Premium (or like it used to be known Elite Premium) plan is a package deal that includes a password manager, an antivirus, and a spam-call blocker. Not a bad deal. However, other subscription options don't offer quite a low number of features considering the price.
Another drawback is that the service accepts only credit cards and PayPal. There are no options to pay with cryptocurrencies, so it's another hit for your anonymity.
Hotspot Shield has a free version, so you can try the service without adding payment information. With it, you'll be able to connect to several US servers.
Although, this comes with strict restrictions. You'll be capped at 500MB per day, one connection, and your speed will be throttled down to 2 Mbps. So, you won't be able to take advantage of the amazing speeds with the Free version.
The final issue is that this version has ads and collects usage logs. This isn't impressive, considering that other VPNs have free versions that are more respectful of your privacy.
Hotspot servers and locations
According to their page, Hotspot Shield now has around 1800 servers in more than 80 countries and 35+ cities. Although, not all of their servers are physical – some of them are situated in a virtual location.
This means they aren’t physically located in the indicated countries. Instead, they’re just configured to appear as such for anti-geo-blocking purposes.
Their fleet isn't the biggest, but it does cover quite a lot of countries. Here's how their network breaks down:
|Regions||Number of countries|
|Asia Pacific||28 countries|
|Middle East and Africa||7 countries|
If you're planning to connect to Europe, Asia Pacific, or the Americas you'll have lots of server locations to choose from.
Interface and ease of use
Hotspot Shield VPN is compatible with both desktop and mobile devices. You can easily install it on Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems as well as iOS and Android smartphones. It even has an excellent browser extension for Chrome.
While VPN’s interface is user-friendly on all devices, some of its features work only on certain operating systems.
Both Windows and macOS apps have the same sleek design. The colors and the positioning of the UI elements make the client look modern and easy on the eyes. I didn't notice that animations would stutter. Their UX team did a great job.
The server connections get resolved in the blink of an eye whether you're on Windows or macOS. It also shows you latency, your connection speed peaks, server load, your "new" IP address, and a graph of how much data you have sent and received.
It's worth noting that feature-wise, there are some differences between the two apps. macOS seems to be missing split tunneling. And even if you opt for the Premium plan, you won't be able to download the Aura antivirus from the Hotspot Shield app (something you can do if you're a Windows user). I've looked for other ways to download it, but with no luck.
There is support for Linux, but only Red hat and Debian-based systems. So, compatibility isn't spectacular, much like the app isn't spectacular. You can log in and check the available servers, but there are no adjustable options within the app. Sadly, there's also no kill switch or auto-connect.
Hotspot Shield mobile apps
Android and iOS apps look like a copy-paste version of their desktop client with adjustments for smaller-screen devices. So, not only does it look great, it's relatively easy to pick up even for novice users.
Even on iOS, you're getting the identity scan, password manager, and spam-call blocker. Although, you'd have to install them separately. As a whole, their premium option addition translates well to iOS, which usually is neglected in terms of features.
The same applies to Android, which is given the usual additions like split tunneling. Yet, the Android version of this feature connects you to a VPN server when you open a specific app, which isn't split tunneling as it works for your whole connection. There were also other options like "Disconnect on sleep" and "Show personalized ads," which are disabled by default. While a convenient feature, it's very different from its desktop equivalent.
If you're a frequent user of Proxy add-ons, you'll feel right at home with Hotspot Shield's Chrome and Firefox browser extensions. Although it uses an unspecified tunneling protocol, the add-on as a whole gives you a lot of control over what you want to block.
The most impressive feature was the ability to select specific websites that will always be protected by the proxy, even if the proxy connection is not turned on. It also allows you to add websites that you don't want to go through the proxy. Though I was disappointed by the server selection - you can only choose from 9 different countries.
Like any other VPN service on the market, Hotspot Shield has a customer support website, where you can find various guides and answers to most FAQs. So, this should be your first step when trying to resolve an issue. Incidentally, it's also the only customer support option for free users. While I'm not a fan of paywalls, many services with free versions restrict the customer service.
So, to access their live chat, you'll need a paid account. Suppose your query proves to be too difficult for a customer support agent to solve on the spot. In that case, it will be converted to a ticket, and you'll get a reply via mail.
I didn't experience any issues with the apps, so I contacted them to ask additional questions about their service. The queue times were short, and the customer support agent did their best to help me out, although, as it turned out, he wasn't too proficient in Linux.
Is Hotspot Shield any good and worth getting?
Hotspot Shield isn't a bad VPN service. Their speeds rival even competitors with the super-fast WireGuard or Lightway protocols. This is great, because Hotspot is also great for streaming Netflix and torrenting - both speed-intensive activities.
You also get additional products with their Premium subscription, and all users will have access to a large global network of servers.
However, while Hotspot Shield is undeniably good for entertainment and most simple tasks, it does have things to improve on. For example, this isn't the best choice for the most privacy-conscious users because of the US jurisdiction of the business, as well as a lack of anonymous payment options and transparency when it comes to security and privacy.
So, if you're a political activist or whistleblower, this might not be the best option on the market for you. The fact that they use virtual locations doesn't help.
How much does Hotspot Shield cost monthly?
The shortest and cheapest monthly plan of Hotspot Shield will cost you $12.99. It will be a lot less expensive if you get an annual plan.
Is Hotspot Shield completely free?
Yes. Hotspot Shield does have a free version. However, its capabilities are restricted, and you will be paying with your privacy (the app will show you ads and gather data on you).
Can I trust Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield has had some perceived privacy issues in the past, but these have been solved. It remains to be seen what changes the new owners of the brand will make in the future.