Hotspot Shield Review
By JeanLuc Gusmao – Last Updated: 08 Oct'17
Hotspot Shield is a simple VPN app that offers reasonable speeds, a clean interface and unlimited bandwidth for paying users. While attractive on the surface, the service has several red flags that potential subscribers should be aware about before buying, especially given its unattractive pricing.
These misses, including the lack of a killswitch and poor support, will all be detailed in our Hotspot Shield review, below. If you decide you’d like to go ahead and give Hotspot Shield a try, you can sign up for a 7-day free trial at Hotspot Shield. If you decide the service isn’t for you, don’t forget to check out our other best VPN providers.
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Easy to use
- No logging
- No killswitch
- Confusing website
- Shares info with 3rd parties
The desktop client for Hotspot Shield has a minimal interface with a VPN switch, a data monitoring window and a list for switching servers. On the left side, there’s a shortcut to the Hotspot Shield support page, along with an extended menu with a tab to view account info, change settings, “like” the Hotspot Shield Facebook page or quit the application.
The UI is very simple, which we like, but the additional menu feels unnecessary and could’ve been avoided by keeping all the tabs on the sidebar. This would have pulled the interface together a bit more and would make it so fewer clicks would get you to places faster.
The account tab provides account info, which includes your email, account type, the date your membership ends (if using an elite membership) and an option to sign out. We felt this was a missed opportunity, as this tab could’ve included links to manage passwords, payment info, contact info, two-factor authentication methods and a variety of other account features.
The settings tab is also a bit lackluster, offering very few options. Users can set Hotspot Shield to launch on startup, toggle a “prevent IP leak” feature and change the language settings. There’s also a toggle to activate the VPN whenever the computer is connected to an unsafe WiFi connection.
Hotspot Shield also features a data monitor, which shows how much data is being sent and received. This is a nifty feature and provides security in knowing exactly when your Internet connection is being used.
Hotspot Shield is missing a working killswitch, which is a feature that will disable all Internet communications if the VPN connection is lost. The fact that Hotspot Shield doesn’t have this important security feature will lead a lot of users to pass on its service in favor of more secure options, like ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access (make sure to read our ExpressVPN review and PIA review if you’d like to know more).
Switching servers in Hotspot Shield is easy: simply click on the current server location and choose from one of 20 virtual locations. You can switch between servers on the fly, with only a brief pause while connecting to each server. This comes in handy when using multiple servers to unblock geoblocked content.
In our tests, Netflix UK and BBC’s iPlayer worked well, but Netflix U.S. identified the VPN and was blocked. Users looking to get past the Netflix VPN ban should check out our list of this year’s best VPNs for Netflix.
Hotspot Shield’s monthly option is more expensive than most VPNs, but its semi-annual and annual options fall more in line with what we’ve come to expect from other providers.
|Plan||Free Plan||Elite Monthly||Elite 6 Months||Ellte Yearly||Elite Lifetime|
$ 12 99monthly
$ 53 946 months
$ 71 88yearly
$ 119 99999999 months
|Bandwidth||1 GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB|
Free users of Hotspot Shield can only access a single server (in the U.S.), have limited bandwidth (250MB per day on Android and 750MB per day on desktop), banner ads and a paywall blocking all video streaming.
Users looking to block those ads will be unpleasantly surprised, as Hotspot Shield’s terms allow it to refuse access to users who attempt to use adblockers.
Once free users pass 500MB, access to all video streaming websites is blocked for 24 hours by a “share with friends” wall, which can be lifted by sharing Hotspot Shield with 10 friends. After surpassing the 750MB limit, free users will be disconnected after five minutes and their bandwidth cap will reset after 24 hours.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t explicitly state that speeds are slower for free users, but it does provide an example of the speed of both versions where the elite version is faster by around 7Mbps. This may not seem like a huge downgrade, but it can have a noticeable impact when streaming music or video content.
The terms also detail that you must be 21 to use their service and cannot utilize it for commercial uses, ruling out Hotspot Shield for businesses and younger customers. Other users might also be forced to turn to different providers, as Hotspot Shield’s terms allow it to block access to paid and free users for any or no reason.
Blocked paid users may be entitled to a prorated refund of what they paid for the service, but Hotspot Shield’s terms state that it can deny any requested refunds for any or no reason, meaning that paid users could lose money and service. Luckily, interested customers can sign up for Hotspot Shield’s seven-day trial of its elite version without paying a dime.
Hotspot Shield also has limited payment methods, accepting only PayPal, credit and debit cards as valid forms of payment. Users looking to get started on using Bitcoin will be disappointed by the lack of it as an accepted form of payment.
Users who purchase one of the elite packages have 30 days to request a refund, but Hotspot Shield can deny these requests as well.
Setting up an account with Hotspot Shield is simple, requiring only an email address and password. Upon creating an account and verifying your email, you’re able to immediately sign in to any of the Hotspot Shield clients. The whole process is very quick, it takes only a few minutes to get connected and protected.
On the Hotspot Shield website you can find your dashboard, which shows which devices you have connected to your account, along with their OS and device info. From this page, you can also remove devices from your account with a single click. Hotspot Shield handles device management well and users will have no issue swapping out devices on their account.
The dashboard also houses all options for changing account details, such as your password, contact info and payment methods, as well as the ability to opt in for email or text updates. These would’ve been nice to have in the Hotspot Shield clients, as it would’ve provided a more unified user experience, but they’re handled well enough here.
The iOS client worked very well, with signing in and configuring the VPN settings taking only a minute. With well-rated mobile apps, users should have no issues setting their device up.
As mentioned earlier, Netflix UK and BBC’s iPlayer worked very well with Hotspot Shield, so users looking to unlock geoblocked content from the UK will be satisfied. If you find yourself itching for your BBC fix, we recommend you check out our list of this year’s best VPNs for iPlayer.
Hotspot Shield has clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone, as well as browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome, so customers can activate their VPN without even leaving their browser.
However, Hotspot Shield’s multi-platform support is flawed with inconsistent server access. For example, while you get 20 servers on the Windows, Mac, Android and iOS versions, the Chrome and Firefox extensions only have four and five servers, respectively. Also worth noting is that while a Windows Phone app is available, it currently isn’t functional on the most recent update, and the functionality of the Android app depends on which device you’re using.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t offer support for routers either, meaning that devices that don’t have clients available are completely unable to connect to its services. This means users on Linux, Windows Phone, or less conventional platforms are left unsupported and unprotected. If you’re a Linux user, we recommend taking a look at our best VPN for Linux article, instead.
Hotspot Shield offers 20 virtual locations with its elite service, but does not specify how many servers it has or where they’re located. According to what we know, they have at least 20 servers based in 20 countries and regions, spanning North America, Great Britain, Asia, Australia and Europe.
Unfortunately, there are no servers in Africa, South America or Greenland, and there’s only one server each in Russia, Australia and China.
As you can read in our TorGuard review and IPVanish review, there are services providing far more servers in far more countries and Hotspot Shield simply falls short. On top of that, servers in poorly covered areas will experience slow speeds and some are barred from seeing content that’s exclusive to their region, making Hotspot Shield completely unusable for a lot of customers.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t throttle speeds but also didn’t blow us away in our testing. Services like CactusVPN and ExpressVPN show less impact on download and upload speeds.
We also experienced connectivity issues during our testing, including lengthy server response times that required multiple clicks or refreshes to get pages to load. This really slows down the browsing experience, wasting the user’s time.
Security is easily the biggest concern when using Hotspot Shield, and there’s not a lot of info about what encryption types it uses. Almost every VPN provider details their methods of encryption, and the fact that we were unable to find which methods Hotspot Shield uses, even after searching their website for hours, is concerning to say the absolute least.
The only info Hotspot Shield gives is that it encrypts all browsing data through a “secure connection tunnel,” but this doesn’t mean much as the encryption methods being used could already be outdated or cracked. Hotspot Shield doesn’t provide any info for us or their users to know that its security measures are up to date.
We decided to contact support for more information.
About 20 hours later we received this response, detailing what encryption methods are used: AES-256 bit. This is a solid encryption choice, and it’s a wonder why they don’t openly advertise it.
Hotspot Shield also states that, if requested, it can provide any of your information to government authorities, including the personal information provided during sign up. Hotspot Shield does not detail how they handle these requests, so users are left blindly trusting that their information is well protected.
Also stated is that third-party advertisers may still track your browsing when using Hotspot Shield (which is what landed it on our list of the worst free VPN services), along with a sentence which requires its users acknowledge that Hotspot Shield doesn’t encrypt all web traffic to and from your device, or provide a proxy IP for all websites.
Hotspot Shield is owned by Anchorfree, a company based in California. With a VPN provider based in the U.S., customers will have to consider the threat of NSA surveillance, especially alongside Hotspot Shield’s mystery methods of responding to government requests.
Hotspot Shield has a support website that’s loaded with articles dedicated to answering a variety of questions. The support website is clearly laid out, but there were several articles on the website that we couldn’t find using the in-site search. This will leave a lot of users frustrated, opting for searching the Internet over the official support website.
When we sent a simple question to their support team, we got a response within 12 hours, but this is a rare occurrence according to other users. Unfortunately, since Hotspot Shield doesn’t offer a live chat or help line, the only way to contact support is through submitting a request.
Overall, the support options provided by Hotspot Shield are limited, and a quick Google search shows a lot of troubled users turning to online message boards and technical support pages over Hotspot Shield’s own support network.
Hotspot Shield is easy to use and quick to set up, but the high prices and worrisome shortcomings will outweigh those benefits for most users. Netflix UK and BBC’s iPlayer work very well, satisfying users seeking geoblocked content, but Netflix U.S. users are out of luck.
Speed is decent but suffers from poor connection issues and customer support leaves a lot to be desired, with lengthy response times and a confusing website.
Information on Hotspot Shield’s privacy and security is confusing and hard to find, with worrisome policies and terms and users looking for a VPN provider will likely find themselves concerned to sign up. Worse, the company logs IP address information and doesn’t guarantee anonymity while browsing, defeating its essential purpose.
What do you think of Hotspot Shield, and will you be trying it? Let us know in the comments below, thank you for reading.