Hotspot Shield Review
Updated · Apr 02, 2022
Best for: Casual VPN users.
The increasing demand for better privacy and data protection established the need for quality VPN services. This Hotspot Shield review was in the works for quite some time and I am finally ready to reveal my experience with one of the most popular VPN providers out there.
I purchased the service and worked with it extensively. I tested every use case I could think of so you can find out whether:
- Hotspot Shield is safe enough for your needs
- It is easy to operate
- The service is good for watching the Netflix shows you want
Let’s analyze these and other aspects of this VPN service in my extensive, unbiased Hotspot Shield review.
What is Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield was developed by AnchorFree Inc. and officially released in April 2008 for Windows and macOS. The company provided key VPN solutions during the Arab Spring, bypassing government censorship during the protests in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia.
The exponential growth of Hotspot Shield resulted in expanding its services and adding Android and iOS support in 2011. Currently, the company offers Premium plans and Business VPN services with enhanced capabilities.
The Hotspot Shield servers are over 1800, covering 80 locations scattered around the globe. This ensures that even high traffic demands are handled seamlessly, without compromising the optimal download speed.
What really stands out is the company’s dedication to privacy. Having suffered from past controversies, Hotspot Shield really put an effort to improve in that area and complement its VPN software with built-in antimalware, phishing, and spam protection.
In theory, it all sounds good, but what do the speed and security tests show about this premium VPN service?
Let’s take a look.
The company made great strides toward solid end-user privacy, but speed and overall security are also key components of any quality VPN.
Hotspot Shield Speed
Connecting to a faraway location will inevitably reduce your browsing and upload/download speed. So are the Hotspot Shield servers able to keep those speed drops to a minimum?
Test results revealed some discrepancies, but that is not unusual with such online speed tests as they do not account for the server load. The Hotspot Shield support confirmed my suspicions and pointed this out as the reason for my odd results.
Overall: Server overloads or not, this Hotspot Shield review exposed some unsatisfactory speed levels. Industry leaders are keeping their drops around the 20% mark, while this VPN consistently delivered 40-50% decreases.
Hotspot Shield Security
Back in 2017, there were controversies surrounding the Hotspot Shield name, when the Center for Democracy and Technology filed a complaint against the company, accusing them of “undisclosed and unclear data sharing and traffic redirection occurring in Hotspot Shield Free VPN". The complaint continued that "these should be considered unfair and deceptive trade practices under Section 5 of the FTC Act.” Bad became worse when later there was a data leak of user locations and Wi-Fi network names.
One thing is certain – the company didn’t try to sweep everything under the rug and hide these misfortunes. On the contrary, it claims to have learned valuable lessons from those mistakes and seems to have put extra effort into strengthening this particular part of its VPN services.
Recent user Hotspot Shield reviews around the web are also encouraging, but not too flattering. It seems that people have not forgotten the negative reputation but are still willing to give this VPN service a fair chance.
Overall: The company is on the right track when it comes to security, but I expect further improvements in that area in the near future.
Hotspot Shield Privacy
One thing that caught my eye was the phrase “beyond the duration of your VPN session”. Good, so you can naturally conclude that whatever information is generated during your session will be deleted after you log off. You would be right…to an extent. Reading further down the line reveals what information is actually collected.
It’s not entirely up to your personal preferences what you share.
While this last part is not that unusual when it comes to VPN services, it still might be a red flag for some, considering the rocky past of the company.
Overall: The standard online privacy needs seem to be covered. If you believe in second chances, you can give Hotspot Shield VPN a try.
Hotspot Shield Pros
With the growing number of free and premium VPN services, you really need a clear competitive advantage in order to stand out. Does Hotspot Shield have what it takes to be ranked among the most preferred VPN software? What are the benefits that might help the company tip the scales and impress potential customers?
1. Simple and Easy-to-use
The number-one benefit of the Hotspot Shield app is definitely its simplicity. The whole installation and launch took me no more than a few mouse clicks, and it was a straightforward experience from there. The interface is stylish and easy on the eye.
Switching between locations disrupts the connectivity fairly briefly, which is also convenient. Novice users will enjoy this VPN as you can operate it without any previous tech know-how.
2. Great Server Network
The bigger the network – the more options you have to beat any geoblocking tech. With over 2500 servers in 26 locations, Hotspot Shield gives off a professional vibe. The abundance of servers is a great sign that you can achieve optimal connectivity and speeds, regardless of your location.
3. Knowledgeable Support
Most of my live chat experiences have been mediocre to say the least. Robotic responses, useless templates, and long waiting time are sadly too typical for live chats, especially in the VPN field.
Imagine my surprise when I meet someone that not only talks like a real human but goes way out of his way to help.
I had a real issue to discuss, as I was getting very conflicting results from my speed tests – VPN speed higher than no-VPN speed and farther locations giving better results than closer ones.
The Hotspot Shield VPN support team was amazing. Alberto asked me to run some tests with him and then even consulted their engineers on shift. I got a very good and clear explanation about the speed discrepancies and he even ended with a little joke?
Such a refreshing exchange after so many pointless conversations with people who just shoot templates back at me. Alberto and the Hotspot Shield support definitely get two thumbs up for me.
4. 45-day Money Back Guarantee
This is surely one of the highlights of this Hotspot Shield VPN review. Quality VPN services rarely come with such a generous offer and 45 days are more than enough to test whatever you wish. You can ensure that all your data is properly protected and everything you need is accessible quickly enough. This is just another step in the company’s effort to regain trust among their users and it’s definitely working in its favor.
5. Multi-platform Coverage
This VPN integrates with all major operating systems like Windows and MacOS. Users can also enjoy the functional Hotspot Shield Android and iOS apps. An additional bonus is the convenient Chrome extension so you can enjoy full privacy directly from your browser.
6. Prevent IP Leak and Kill Switch
Two other notable security features I enjoyed are the Prevent IP Leak and kill switch options. The added protection is a welcome sight as IP leaks are one of the main issues you are looking to avoid while safe browsing.
The whole app interface is translated into 10 different languages and you can easily switch between English, Russian, German, Spanish, Turkish, French, Arabian, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese.
8. Extensive Knowledgebase
I have been on both sides of the client–customer support relationship and I know better than to bother the support team with any small query that might pop up in my mind in the middle of the night. So, I do appreciate extensive and well-written extra resources in the form of articles, FAQs, case studies, and active blogs. As a result, while preparing this 2021 Hotspot Shield VPN review I found myself spending an unreasonably long time browsing the helpful materials collected there. They are a useful guide for the initial encounters with the software and with the VPN technology as a whole.
Hotspot Shield Cons
Hotspot Shield VPN is far from perfect. While its features are not bad at all, the service definitely lacks certain functionality other premium private network providers sport.
1. No Netflix USA Access
There was conflicting information as to whether this VPN service can easily unblock Netflix US. The company claimed Netflix US can be accessed easily; it even has tutorials about it, yet my tests from several locations proved fruitless.
I initially tried the direct approach and logged from the US servers. All seemed well but something wasn’t right – I was seeing prices in EUR. A quick check showed me that Netflix was unblocked…but it was Netflix Italy!
OK, let’s try Mexico. It seemed that this time I hit the jackpot. Netflix was unblocked, it was the US one, I was able to browse around…but when I tried the streams, it was a no-go.
I tried several different streams and got the same error. I browsed Reddit for user impressions and many Hotspot Shield reviews agree that it’s not possible (or at least it’s not plainly obvious how) to access the US version of Netflix.
Final conclusion? Even if it is possible to somehow unblock US Netflix, it is not straightforward or explained well enough.
2. Limited Server Management
As you saw from the quoted interaction with the support agent, I had no idea that the French server I was testing was delivering low speed because of user overload. Hotspot Shield simply doesn’t display this kind of info, which can be frustrating.
Additionally, users can choose only countries to connect from and not specific locations. As a whole, the server management from a user standpoint is very limited, especially when compared to other premium options.
3. Too Simple
What might come as a benefit for newbies is surely to be frowned upon by more advanced users. The software is very limited in its settings and the things you can tweak. Your options fit on one small screen and you can explore them in less than a minute.
Again, simplicity might be seen as a benefit because you can download Hotspot Shield and start browsing securely in seconds, but if you are looking for more than your basic internet privacy, there are better options to choose from.
4. Only Works with Catapult Hydra Protocol
Many VPN services support a range of protocols, from OpenVPN to P2P or BitTorrent. Hotspot Shield is a notable exception from the industry standard. Instead, it runs a proprietary protocol called Catapult Hydra. While not bad in itself, the protocol poses certain glaring limitations. For instance, running Hotspot Shield on a router, console or Chromebook is a no-go and that’s beyond annoying, especially considering how many other VPN companies offer these options.
5. Questionable Security
While I appreciate the company’s strive to improve in the security aspect of their product, it seems they still have a long way to go to back these claims. IP and DNS leak tests were not too convincing and the limited built-in options will hardly impress the more savvy users.
Hotspot Shield Price
At the time of writing of this Hotspot Shield review, it offers three options:
- Basic - free.
- Premium - $7.99/month, billed annually. Includes VPN, раssword manager, antivirus, spam-call blocker.
- Family - $11.99/month, billed annually. Allows you to create up to 5 member accounts and connect 25 devices.
You can test the two premium plans for 45 days, risk-free.
Overall, for such limited software, the price seems a bit excessive. The company needs to put extra effort into proving the value of its product.
Do I Recommend Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield is an OK option.
It is reasonably cheaper than other top VPN solutions, but then again, the speed could be lacking.
It does the job it’s designed for without any significant hiccups and it’s easy on the eye.
If you are looking for something simple and effective and you don’t watch Netflix, you can give Hotspot Shield a try.
Is Hotspot Shield safe?
If a VPN is not providing full safety and protection of your details, then it’s failing to accomplish it’s main intended purpose. The Hotspot Shield app works well and provides good internet security. DNS and IP leak tests revealed nothing alarming and switching between locations didn’t seem to disconnect me. All is good, but if you are looking for advanced privacy and extended functionality – there are certainly better options out there.
Does Hotspot Shield keep logs?
Controversial stories leaked back in 2017 about allegations for unfair practices against the company which were later followed by claims for user data leaks. Those leaks included real user location and even WiFi details, if they are connected via a router. Hotspot Shield seems to have been actively working to resolve those issues. The company claims that no logs are being stored and all information is being deleted after the user session ends. At the time of posting this review, I have found no indications that my data is unprotected.
How much does Hotspot Shield cost?
Depends on the plan you choose. You can go with the Basic one, which is free. If you pay $7.99/month (billed annually), you can enjoy the few extras the Premium plan comes with. If you get the Family plan for $11.99/month (billed annually), you can add up to 5 member profiles and get Hotspot Shield on 25 devices.
Can Hotspot Shield be trusted?
I believe in second chances so I do think this is a trustworthy company. Past issues and controversies are important to have in mind, but should not serve as a deal breaker. If Hotspot Shield continues to evolve and improve, it can easily make it to the top VPN software lists. Their app works smoothly and the support I got was exceptional. So I will be monitoring this service and will make sure to update my Hotspot Shield review in due time.
Nick wants to create a board game where web servers are the good characters and the humans lose. He might simply need to wait a few more years to have a neverending LARP experience of such reality.
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