Developed by a US internet privacy and security company AnchorFree, Hotspot Shield is one of the rare VPN providers that can be used for free, with certain limitations and downsides, of course. Specifically, the free version comes with ads and fewer available servers than the paid version. The paid, premium version, on the other hand, is ad-free and provides full access to around 2,500 P2P-friendly servers in 59 countries. This number currently applies only to the iOS client, with other apps supporting fewer server locations.
The Virtual Locations feature offers a higher number of available locations, increasing the number of countries to choose from to 70. You need to have the premium account in order to access them and their availability may vary depending on the platform you’re using.
Besides supporting P2P traffic/torrenting on all of its servers, this provider also enables accessing various geo-restricted services like Netflix and Hulu.
Hotspot Shield apps can be activated on up to 5 devices at the same time. While most other VPN providers allow setting up their clients on select routers, removing the limitation on the number of simultaneous connections, this is not the case with Hotspot Shield.
Plans and pricing
In addition to the free, ad-sponsored version, Hotspot Shield has four paid subscription plans. The most expensive one, as with most providers, is the 1-month subscription at $12.99. It is followed by the 6-month plan at $8.99 per month and the 1-year option that costs $5.99 per month. The most cost-efficient is the 3-year plan that has a price tag of only $3.49 per month.
All the plans include a generous 45-day money-back guarantee, as well as a 7-day free trial, to fully test out everything this provider has to offer.
In terms of payment options, Hotspot Shield accepts only PayPal and credit cards.
Privacy and logging
Other VPN providers usually employ a familiar host of protocols to protect your privacy, such as OpenVPN, IKEv2, PPTP, and others. However, Hotspot Shield is a bit different. It utilizes its own Catapult Hydra technology which is apparently used by many cybersecurity giants.
The Catapult Hydra protocol uses Transport Layer Security 1.2 (TLS) and AES-128 encryption. Privacy is also secured by the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (EDCHE) which generates new keys in each session, as well as with 2048-bit RSA certificate for authenticating servers.
As all other respectable VPN companies, Hotspot Shield also has a no-logs policy that states the provider does not collect any kind of data that can be used to reveal your identity, like online activities, IP address, etc. The company and its service providers may collect some information before you connect to the VPN, and it may use your IP address for analytics and improvement, as well as advertising purposes. However, it promises it cannot monitor or log your online activities while using the service.
Having said that, a bug was discovered in 2018 that leaks bits of user data like the country of their location, their Wi-Fi network name, as well as some other information. The person who found the bug, a security researcher Paulos Yibelo, also said he could actually unearth the actual IP address of the user. The existence of the bug (although not the IP address leakage part) was also confirmed in ZDNet’s independent testing. Hotspot Shield acknowledged there was a vulnerability and said they have fixed it.
The provider is registered in the United States, which means it is subject to the US laws, so this is also something to consider when opting for it.
Hotspot Shield’s performance is almost flawless. The speeds are very high and don’t change dramatically regardless of the server’s location and which services you’re accessing. This is especially important if you’re trying to access streaming services like Netflix or are transferring large files via torrenting clients.
Installing the clients on all supported platforms is pretty straightforward and easy. That said, there aren’t many of them. Hotspot Shield can only be installed on Windows, Android, Mac, iOS, and Windows Phone.
Chrome and Firefox browsers can be secured with Hotspot Shield extensions, although the website doesn’t have much information about the Firefox extension. It can nevertheless be installed from the Mozilla Add-Ons store. All the Hotspot Shield’s clients are also very simplistic and easy to get around.
In addition to a large collection of helpful articles on the website, all of them can be accessed through apps themselves. The documents are divided into categories by platform as well as other topics, including Payments & Subscriptions, Manage Account & Devices, Common Issues, and Release Notes.
If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, then you can choose to contact the customer support by filing a ticket. Chat support is only available to Premium users and even then, reaching them is easier said than done. Although the company claims it offers real-time English chat support 24/7 to its Premium users, the chat button isn’t always visible which, according to the company, means that all its agents are busy at the moment. A better system would let users join a queue instead of simply hiding the button.
With over 550 million users across the world, Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN provider that offers basics. It has limited platform support and cannot be installed on routers, which is a big disadvantage in comparison to its competitors.
However, it does support a decent number of simultaneous connections and unlocks some geo-restricted services. All its servers are P2P-friendly and the overall performance is surprisingly fast and reliable. If speed is your primary concern, then Hotspot Shield is a good choice.
Our score: 3.5/5