Hotspot Shield Review: 2021 VPN

With over 1,800 servers in over 80 countries, you can expect fast speeds from Hotspot Shield.

Aliza Vigderman, Senior Editor Gabe Turner, Chief Editor
Editors Rating:
8.9 /10

What We Like

What We Don't Like

  • Only five simultaneous connections per subscription: Five just doesn't cut it for some people.
  • Strict data retention laws: The United States is not the best place to base a VPN service in, given its membership in Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes.
  • Slow customer support for non-paying users: If you're using the free version or simply shopping around Hotspot Shield's website, there's no live chat or phone support option. Queries go through email tickets only.

Bottom Line

Total security doesn't have to sacrifice speed. Hotspot Shield is a perfect example, with super-fast speeds during our upload and download speed tests.

We know how hard it can be to choose the right VPN, mainly because VPNs are so similar in what they do. It’s not until you look under the hood that the differences become obvious.

That’s exactly what we’ve set out to do with Hotspot Shield in this review. We’ll cover everything you need to know about the service: its features, performance, pricing, customer support, and apps. We’ll also see how it compares to the competition, so without much further ado, let’s get started.

Hotspot Shield Logo on App
Hotspot Shield Logo on App

Features

Number of server locations 1
Supported devices Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome
Simultaneous VPN connections 1
Data limit 500 MB per day
Speed limit 2 Mbps
Editor's Rating
Overall Rating
8.9
  • More than 1,800 servers in 80 countries and counting
  • Won’t log any online activities
  • Torrenting and Netflix access

About Hotspot Shield

Selecting a Server in the Hotspot Shield App
Selecting a Server in the Hotspot Shield App

Hotspot Shield is a VPN company based out of Redwood City, California. It started in 2008 and now has over 1,800 servers in 80 different countries. It has servers in most global regions such as North America, South America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa.

Now, the number of servers, as well as their locations, are important when it comes to choosing VPNs. More servers mean less congestion, which often translates to better speeds. And not to spoil anything, but Hotspot Shield’s servers were blazing fast when we tested them.

One slight drawback of Hotspot Shield is its location. As a company in the U.S., Hotspot Shield is subject to U.S. laws, including laws that oblige the company to share customer data with the government whenever necessary.

You see, the U.S. is a founding member of the Five Eyes alliance and a part of the bigger Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes alliances of countries. Member countries of these alliances have laws that give governments the power to obtain consumer information from companies for purposes such as criminal investigation.

Now, Hotspot Shield knows that the company’s location could raise doubts, so in recent years, it released transparency reports. The last report it released showed that in 2018, the company received 56 requests for customer information, but that it didn’t release any data. In addition, the same report showed that Hotspot Shield didn’t release any customer data in 2017 and 2016, despite receiving 92 and 79 requests, respectively.

That makes us feel a little bit better, although we wish the company had continued releasing these yearly reports. Unfortunately, the 2018 report was the last it ever published.

Hotspot Shield Features

Hotspot Shield Privacy Policy
Hotspot Shield Privacy Policy Screenshot from Website1

Moving on with our review, let’s talk about Hotspot Shield’s features. When we test VPNs, there are certain features we look for in relation to how secure VPNs are and how convenient they are to use. Here’s what we found out about Hotspot Shield.

Will Hotspot Shield Log My Data?

Using a VPN doesn’t automatically make you more secure. Instead of your internet data going to your ISP, it goes to the VPN company. If your VPN service is keeping logs of that data, then it could come back to bite you.

Like most VPNs, Hotspot Shield says it has a “no logging” policy. On the Hotspot Shield website, it says that it “doesn’t log any data that could be tied to you, shielding your identity and info from hackers and cyber predators.”

That sounds good, but it’s a little vague. So to clear our minds, we checked what exactly does Hotspot Shield record. You can learn more in our Hotspot Shield privacy report, but to summarize, Hotspot Shield records:

  • Duration of VPN sessions
  • Amount of bandwidth each session consumed
  • Domains that users access, but on an anonymized format so that Hotspot Shield doesn’t know who accessed what domains
  • Device hashes that the service uses to distinguish between different users, particularly for services that don’t require users to register accounts
  • Account information
  • Billing and payment information
  • Identity verification information
  • Communication information (via email, phone or chat).

Hotspot Shield also mentions that it provides location information gathered from its free Android app to its advertising partners, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of using Hotspot Shield Free on your Android device.

Overall, this is more information than we would like for Hotspot Shield to collect and a little more than the average VPN. For example, when we tested and reviewed ExpressVPN, one of our top VPN choices, it didn’t log this kind of metadata.

Does Hotspot Shield Have A Kill Switch?

Hotspot Shield Windows Kill Switch
The Kill Switch feature in Hotspot Shield’s Windows App. Screenshot from the app.

A kill switch is a software tool that will shut down your internet automatically if you lose connection to a VPN server. This is a crucial feature if you are serious about maintaining your privacy. Without it, your ISP would see your IP address which it could tie to your VPN activity if you lose your VPN connection even momentarily.

When we first tested Hotspot Shield, it only had a kill switch feature on its Windows client. However, recently, it added the feature to its Android, iOS, and Mac apps, as well.

Does Hotspot Shield Offer Split Tunneling?

Split Tunneling
Split Tunneling

Split tunneling lets you route some traffic through your ISP and some through the VPN. Think of it as using VPN on some apps on your computer or smartphone, and using the regular internet on others. For instance, you can simultaneously use your VPN to watch Netflix shows abroad and browse local news articles without a VPN.

The free version of Hotspot Shield doesn’t include split tunneling, which is unfortunate because split tunneling could lower your VPN bandwidth usage. When you turn on the free VPN, all your device’s traffic goes through the VPN server, including traffic from bandwidth-heavy apps. For premium accounts, though, split tunneling is available under the name Smart VPN.

Can I Use Netflix with Hotspot Shield?

Hotspot Shield optimized its premium plans for use with Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, and other streaming platforms as well as torrenting. Premium account users can obtain connection speeds of up to one Gbps (depending on your network’s speed, of course), which is perfect for high-definition streaming.

However, if you go with the free version, don’t expect to be able to access Netflix. Free accounts have a 500 MB per day usage limit and two Mbps connection speed limit. Even if your internet plan is 100 Mbps, Hotspot Shield will throttle down your speed to just two Mbps when you connect to its free VPN. That’s not nearly enough to stream even standard definition videos on Netflix, which requires at least three Mbps.2

Hotspot Shield Encryption

VPN Encryption
VPN Encryption

The standard encryption for your data when using Hotspot Shield is 128-bit AES encryption, but it also supports 256-bit AES. This encryption method is pretty much unbreakable. They say it would take 14 billion years to decrypt AES-128 with the world’s current supercomputers using brute-force attacks.

Let’s just say your ISP probably won’t find how many gigabytes of Jackie Chan films you’ve been torrenting. Although, let us just remind you that downloading copyrighted content is illegal, even if you’re using a VPN.

Hotspot Shield Protocols

Internet protocols determine how data packets are dispatched across a network. You can think of protocols as the different routes cars can take to get between their origins and their destinations.

You could take a government highway to get to your safe house in the woods, but then security cameras might have recorded you. Or you could take back roads the whole way, but it might take you days. This is the kind of trade-off you often face between security and performance.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol. It works by making secure tunnels for your web traffic so that no one besides you and your VPN server can see what you’re doing online.

Currently, it’s the gold standard among VPN protocols because it balances speed and security. And because it’s open-source, independent developers and VPN companies keep on improving this protocol. In fact, OpenVPN works quite well with other VPN protocols, such as PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2/IPSec, and SSTP.

Hydra

Hotspot Shield bucks the trend of VPNs using popular VPN protocols like SSTP or OpenVPN. Instead, it uses its own proprietary protocol, Hydra, by default. Hotspot Shield says that it used to use popular VPN protocols like IPsec and OpenVPN, but found performance and latency challenges. It claims that Hydra:

  • Has a faster connection to VPN servers
  • Uses less bandwidth when transporting data through encrypted tunnels
  • Offers connection speeds 2.4 times faster for long-distance connections, compared to OpenVPN

In reality, it’s not completely different from every other VPN protocol out there. For privacy, we would trust an open-source VPN protocol like OpenVPN more than Hydra, because security professionals have tested it more thoroughly.

IPSec

IPSec, which stands for Internet Protocol Security, is actually a group of protocols that Hotspot Shield uses to set up encrypted connections. The main routing protocol is Internet Protocol (IP), which designates where data packets are going using IP addresses. However, on top of IP, IPSec uses several other encryption and authentication protocols to encrypt data packets as well as authenticate the devices involved in the VPN connection, namely, your devices and Hotspot Shield’s servers. Some of the common protocols used in IPSec are the Authentication Header (AH) protocol, Encapsulating Security Protocol (ESP), and Internet Key Exchange (IKE).

Hotspot Shield Free Version

Connecting to Hotspot Shield
Connecting to Hotspot Shield

Whenever you hear the words “free VPN”, a little alarm should go off in your head. VPN companies have to make money somehow, in order to pay for their servers and infrastructure. And the saying “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” holds true for most free VPNs. This often means they are giving your data to advertising partners or other third parties; not ideal if you care about privacy.

Surprisingly, Hotspot Shield’s free version only has ads in the Android version and only in select countries. But it’s not all gravy, as the free version has a daily bandwidth limit of 500 MB per day and a connection speed limit of two Mbps.

We wouldn’t recommend the free version of Hotspot Shield if you are serious about privacy or want to watch Netflix. On the other hand, if you only need a VPN occasionally, then we would absolutely recommend the free version of Hotspot Shield. The two Mbps speed is decent enough for casual browsing, and the 500 MB daily usage limit lasts a while, as long as you don’t download or stream content.

FYI: The 500 MB daily data limit doesn’t carry over to the next day. You get 500 MB per day and that’s it.

Features Hotspot Shield free version Hotspot Shield Premium Hotspot Shield Premium Family
Number of server locations 1 115+ (including virtual locations) 115+ (including virtual locations)
Supported devices Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome
Simultaneous VPN connections 1 5 25 (5 devices per member)
Data limit 500 MB per day None None
Speed limit 2 Mbps 1 Gbps 1 Gbps
Encryption Up to 256-bit AES Up to 256-bit AES Up to 256-bit AES
Kill switch No Yes Yes
Split tunneling No Yes Yes
Multi-hop No No No
Netflix access No Yes Yes
Optimized for online gaming No Yes Yes
Antivirus No Windows and Mac No
Spam-call blocker No Android and iOS No
Password manager No Yes No

Testing Hotspot Shield

There’s only one way to find out if Hotspot Shield’s proprietary Hydra results in faster speeds: real-world speed tests of Hotspot Shield Premium. (We didn’t test the speed of the free version because, well, it caps out at two Mbps regardless of our internet speed.) Additionally, we tested whether Hotspot Shield was impervious to DNS and WebRTC leaks.

Speed Test

Limited Speed on the free Hotspot Shield App
Limited Speed on the free Hotspot Shield App

Like most people, internet speed matters to us. After all, what’s the use of a secure connection if all we can do online is stare at a blank screen while we wait for our favorite shows to buffer?

Keep in mind that there are many factors that your internet speed will depend on when using a VPN – time of day, location, internet service provider, software, hardware, VPN server location, and so on. We tested Hotspot Shield Premium on a Macbook Pro running Mac OS X Catalina and a Lenovo Thinkpad running Windows 10, which we connected to our 70 Mbps internet.

Download Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 75.27 mbps
With VPN 52.24 mbps
Windows
Without VPN 77.71 mbps
With VPN 63.36 mbps

As you can see, Hotspot Shield Premium decreased our download speed by around 30 percent on Mac and 18 percent on Windows. While Hotspot Shield performed slightly better on Windows in this category, we’re impressed with the performance on both systems. The speed loss on Mac and Windows was barely noticeable.

Upload Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 28.18 mbps
With VPN 27.68 mbps
Windows
Without VPN 28.98 mbps
With VPN 21.38 mbps

Next, we tested the difference in upload speeds with and without the Hotspot Shield Premium. In this case, the Windows connection performed a little worse with a decrease of 26 percent compared to only 0.2 percent on Mac.

Ping Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 10 ms
With VPN 64 ms
Windows
Without VPN 12 ms
With VPN 66 ms

Finally, we looked at the ping, or latency, in milliseconds. In this category, Hotspot Shield was quite slow.

We saw a ping increase of 540 percent for Windows and 430 percent for Mac. That’s bad news, especially if you’re playing online games competitively, but not so much if you’re browsing or streaming. Overall, besides ping, these are among the fastest speeds we’ve seen from VPNs.

DNS Leak Test

DNS Leak Test
DNS Leak Test

DNS leak tests are important to make sure your device is sending all DNS traffic through the VPN tunnel. If it’s not, then you have a DNS leak. This type of leak can also happen if you configured your VPN manually, if an attacker got control of your router, or if you chose to do a manual DNS setup.

Hotspot Shield DNS Leak Test
Hotspot Shield DNS Leak Test Screenshot

We used a DNS leak test tool to see if Hotspot Shield had any DNS leaks. And the result? Well, the IP address that the leak test tool detected was from the Bahamas, and we were nowhere near there when we performed the tests. That means that Hotspot Shield successfully shielded our IP address from DNS leaks.

WebRTC Leak Test

Do you want to use a VPN with Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Opera? Then you need to know about WebRTC leaks.

WebRTC, otherwise known as Web Real-Time Communication, is a collection of standardized technologies that allow web browsers to communicate with each other directly rather than going through intermediate servers. WebRTC allows for faster speeds for video chat, live streaming, and file transfers. Who doesn’t want that?

Well, there are some security issues that arise from the fact that WebRTC needs your public IP address. Let us explain the difference between public and private IP addresses.

Private IP addresses are what local networks use to identify each other. When you connect a laptop to a router, for example, the router assigns a private IP address to it. Now, private IP addresses aren’t unique, thus, are not traceable; two different networks can assign the same private IP address to two different devices.

Public IP addresses, on the other hand, come from your ISP. They’re globally unique and no two devices can share the same public IP address. Public IP addresses allow users to access the internet directly.

Now, when you’re using a VPN, it should hide your public IP address and block leakage such as WebRTC leaks. A simple WebRTC leak test would tell you if there are leaks; if the IP address on the test tool matches your public IP address, then your VPN is not doing its job. Fortunately, when we tested Hotspot Shield, it didn’t reveal our public IP address.

Hotspot Shield WebRTC Leak Test
Hotspot Shield WebRTC Leak Test Screenshot.

Hotspot Shield Subscription

So now that you know what Hotspot Shield Premium has to offer, the real question is… what’s it gonna cost you?

Options

Hotspot Shield Premium Price Plans

Pricing details Basic Premium Premium Family
Monthly plan cost $0 $12.99 $19.99
Yearly plan cost $0 $95.88 $143.88
Number of users per subscription 1 1 5
Number of devices per user 1 5 5
Total number of devices 1 5 25
Maximum connection speed 2 Mbps 1 Gbps 1 Gbps
Server locations 1 (U.S.A.) 115+ 115+
Streaming access No Yes Yes
Data limit per day 500 MB Unlimited Unlimited

Hotspot Shield offers three different subscription options: Basic, Premium, and Premium Family. Premium and Premium Family share the same VPN features.

However, Premium only gets you one VPN account which can support up to five devices. Premium Family, on the other hand, gets you five VPN accounts that you can share with family members.

Each account protects up to five devices, as well. In addition to VPN features, Premium subscriptions include an antivirus for desktops, spam-call blockers for smartphones, and password managers. These features aren’t part of Premium Family subscriptions, though.

You can choose to pay for Hotspot Shield every month or every year. Like with most VPN services, the monthly price gets lower as your commitment increases. If for some reason, you don’t like Hotspot Shield Premium, you can get a refund using the company’s 45-day money-back guarantee.

Connecting Five Devices Simultaneously with Hotspot Shield
Connecting Five Devices Simultaneously with Hotspot Shield

Manual Configurations

Using Hotspot Shield on my Mac
Using Hotspot Shield on my Mac

Hotspot Shield has native apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux devices as well as a browser extension for Chrome. On smart TVs, Hotspot Shield is available for Fire TVs and Android TVs. However, for routers, you need to configure Hotspot Shield manually.

Hotspot Shield Customer Support

Hopefully, you won’t need to use Hotspot Shield’s customer support, but just in case, here are the details on how you can troubleshoot problems.

Features

Hotspot Shield Customer Support
Hotspot Shield ticket submission form screenshot from website.

Hotspot Shield has 24/7 support via live chat, but there’s a catch. You can only access the live chat support if you’re a Premium or Premium Family account holder. If you are, then good! All you need to do is sign in with your account on your browser.

If you’re using the free version, however, or if you have questions before buying services from Hotspot Shield, your only options are Hotspot Shield’s email ticket support and knowledge base. Waiting to hear back after submitting a ticket can take days, but fortunately, Hotspot Shield’s knowledge base covers a wide range of topics, so hopefully, you can get your answers from there.

The Hotspot Shield App

The Hotspot Shield App
The Hotspot Shield App

The Hotspot Shield App has applications for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. The Android app has a 4.1 rating on the Google Play Store. The iPhone app has a 4.5 rating on the iOS App Store.

These are excellent ratings, which shows that users enjoy using the Hotspot Shield app. Of course, we tested it ourselves on an iPad that we use for browsing and research, and we liked the app’s no-nonsense approach. On the homepage was a single power button that connected us to the nearest server automatically. There were no other buttons and no settings to tinker with when connecting.

Of course, if we wanted to change our locations or use a different server, we could pull up the server list from the bottom of the screen and select which server location we wanted to connect to. The best part is that there were options to connect to servers that Hotspot Shield optimized for gaming and streaming, perfect for when we wanted to catch an episode or two of “The Office” during our breaks.

Hotspot Shield Vs. NordVPN

nordvpn-review
NordVPN App

NordVPN is a leading VPN with a lot of similarities to Hotspot Shield. They both have high numbers of servers, but NordVPN wins with over 5,200 servers compared to Hotspot Shield’s 1,800 servers. NordVPN also beats Hotspot Shield in that NordVPN is headquartered in Panama, a country not subject to international surveillance alliances or data retention laws. Hotspot Shield’s home base is the United States, which is part of the Five Eye international surveillance alliance and has comparatively strict data retention laws.

Hotspot Shield Premium NordVPN
Log Data No No
Kill Switch Only on Windows Yes
Split Tunneling No No
Netflix Yes Yes
Torrenting Yes Yes
IP Addresses Dynamic Static, shared w/other NordVPN users

Neither VPN logs data that could tie your web traffic back to you, but Hotspot Shield Premium does log more information. It logs the duration of your VPN sessions, the bandwidth consumed, and the domains that you accessed (but on an anonymized basis). This is all information that NordVPN says it doesn’t store.

Both have kill switches and split tunneling, which are essential security features. You should be able to stream from Netflix and torrent files with both VPNs. NordVPN gives you the same shared IP address each time (unless you want to pay extra for a dedicated IP address), while Hotspot Shield will give you a dynamic IP address that changes every time you connect. We prefer how Hotspot Shield rotates its IP addresses regularly, as it makes it harder for hackers to track you.

Now that we’ve gone over how NordVPN and Hotspot Shield’s features compare, let’s talk about their performance during tests.

Of the two, Hotspot Shield was the fastest VPN. Hotspot Shield worked significantly faster on Mac and slightly faster on Windows than NordVPN. Neither system had any DNS or WebRTC leaks.

Overall, if speed is your priority, we would recommend Hotspot Shield. But if you value privacy, I would go with NordVPN.

Recap of Hotspot Shield

Overall, we liked Hotspot Shield’s speed and that it has a free option that is only ad-supported on Android. It is fast, it performs smoothly, and it allows us to go on Netflix and torrent movies.

However, we didn’t like its privacy policy, particularly how much data it collected. Also, it didn’t help that the company is based in the U.S., subject to international surveillance alliance laws. But since everyone has their own priorities, we’ll break it down further.

Hotspot Shield might be the VPN for you if you like:
  • Netflix access: Hotspot Shield works with Netflix and other video streaming services.
  • Speed: Hotspot Shield performed lightning fast on both Mac and Windows computers.
  • Highly-rated app: Both Android and iOS users rated the Hotspot Shield app at least four stars.
  • Free option: Hotspot Shield offers a free version with a daily 500 MB bandwidth cap.
On the other hand, you might want to avoid Hotspot Shield if you can’t stand:
  • Only five simultaneous connections per subscription: Although you can purchase another subscription or router for more connections.
  • Split tunneling: You’ll be able to access public and private servers at the same time.
  • Strict data retention laws: The United States is a part of Five Eyes and could request your data from Hotspot Shield.
  • Data logging policy: It’s undeniable that Hotspot Shield logs more than it needs to and more than its competitors like ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
  • Slow customer support: You can only contact support by submitting a ticket, with no phone or live chat support available.

FAQs

We took a little extra time to address your most frequently asked questions. You’ll find our answers below.

  • Is Hotspot Shield really free?

    Hotspot Shield’s free version is really free. However, you should know that it has a daily usage limit of 500 MB. In addition, the Android app version is ad-supported.

  • Can I trust Hotspot Shield?

    You can trust Hotspot Shield not to leak your personal information. It passed both our WebRTC and DNS leak tests. In addition, the company says it doesn’t log any browsing information.

    However, it does log information about the duration of your VPN sessions, though, as well as which VPN servers you accessed. In addition, the company is based in the U.S., which means it’s part of the Five Eyes surveillance group. That may give you some doubts about whether you can trust Hotspot Shield completely, as government agencies could force the company to share customer information, completely legally.

  • Should I remove Hotspot Shield?

    There is no inherent reason why you should remove Hotspot Shield from your device. Obviously, if you’ve come across a better VPN, you may want to delete Hotspot Shield before you install that new service.

  • How can I get Hotspot Shield for free?

    To get Hotspot Shield’s free Windows version:

    1. Visit the Hotspot Shield homepage.
    2. Click the blue Get Hotspot Shield button in the upper right-hand corner.
    3. Choose Try Now under the Basic plan.
    4. Download and install the software on your computer.

    To get Hotspot’s free Android app:

    1. Visit the Google Play store.
    2. Type Hotspot Shield free into the search bar.
    3. Click Install.

    To get Hotspot’s free iOS app:

    1. Visit the App Store.
    2. Select the search icon in the navigation bar at the top of the screen.
    3. Type Hotspot Shield free into the search bar.
    4. Choose Hotspot VPN and Wifi Proxy.
    5. Click Install.
Editors Rating:
8.9 /10
Citations
  1. Hotspot Shield. (2019). AnchorFree Transparency Report.
    hotspotshield.com/reports/AnchorFree_Transparency_Report-2018.pdf

  2. Netflix Help Center. (2021). Internet connection speed recommendations.
    help.netflix.com/en/node/306