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Link up to five devices to an account
Learn about censorship and privacy in your country
Pay for the service anonymously with gift cards
Netflix and P2P support on all servers
Must buy a three-year subscription to get a reasonable price
Extremely limited features
Uses proprietary encryption protocols; not open source
Some user logging concerns
Hotspot Shield ranks high on encryption protocols and speed, but its questionable data-gathering practices may not be comfortable for some people.
Hotspot Shield was developed by AnchorFree, which is located in Silicon Valley, California. AnchorFree started its business in 2005 as a free sponsored Wi-Fi hotspot provider. They’ve grown this initial idea into apps that protect privacy and provide secure access to the internet. Their flagship product, Hotspot Shield, is used by over 650 million people worldwide. Hotspot Shield is just one of the virtual private network (VPN) created by AnchorFree.
Hotspot Shield supports Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Chrome. It uses it propriety Catapult Hydra protocol, so there’s no way for advanced users to set it up manually on other platforms, routers, or smart devices using open-source software.
We tested Hotspot Shield to see how it performed and how easy it was to use. We also researched its cost, features, and encryption protocols to determine if it’s worth the investment. Read on to see what we thought of the service.
Downloading and installing Hotspot Shield follows standard installation methods from Windows installer, Google Play, and the App Store. It only takes minutes to get up and running.
Hotspot Shield is ready to shield your privacy as soon as you turn it on. There are only a few settings that can be customized. Hotspot Shield can be set up to automatically launch on startup, prevent IP leaks, disconnect the VPN when there’s no internet connection, and automatically turn on when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots. On Android, there’s also an option to turn off the VPN when the device is in sleep mode.
The Hotspot Shield app is best described as minimalist. The Windows app has a connect button, a server list, data transfer size, and the virtual address. The Android app has all these plus settings to automatically choose the optimal server, close apps, and delete junk files. The Android app can also be set up to start Hotspot Shield automatically when selected apps are launched.
The Hotspot Shield app is easy to understand and use, even if you've never used a VPN before. Just click the On and Off switch to hide your browsing activity. It’s also easy to choose a different browsing location. Hotspot Shield only lists countries, so it isn't possible to choose a server based on city location.
If you want to learn how to use the Hotspot Shield VPN, you’ll find help inside the apps. Select a help topic to display instructions or to open a web page with more information.
Hotspot Shield uses the proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol that connects a device to multiple servers simultaneously
One thing that seemed different about Hotspot Shield is that it’s only possible to change countries, and not choose specific servers or even cities. The app doesn’t list server locations within a country. The reason for this is that Hotspot Shield uses the proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol that connects a device to multiple servers simultaneously. AnchorFree claims that this makes Hotspot Shield connections stronger and faster over long distances.
We measured download and upload speeds with six different online bandwidth testing tools. The maximum download speed we were able to achieve was 321.68 Mbps on our 1 Gbps connection, which makes Hotspot Shield one of the fastest VPNs we've tested.
During regular use, like browsing the web, sending e-mail messages, and other online tasks, we didn't notice any slowdown or lag compared to other VPNs that we've tested.
We did run into one problem while testing Hotspot Shield on Windows. Something went wrong with the VPN, and it took more than a few seconds to resolve. After waiting a few minutes, restarting the computer resolved the issue.
We also encountered connection issues on our Android tablet. During our testing, we were unable to connect to the VPN. We clicked connected, but the button just spun in circles. After reading through the in-app help files and performing some troubleshooting, we determined that the problem was because another VPN app was installed on the tablet. Removing the other VPN app resolved the problem, and we were able to connect.
Hotspot Shield doesn't have dedicated streaming servers, but we had good luck getting various streaming services to work on the normal servers. We were able to connect to Netflix in Japan, the US, and the UK, Hulu in the US, and even BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Even though Hotspot Shield uses high-level encryption, there have been concerns of undisclosed and unclear data sharing and traffic redirection in the free version. In 2017, the Center for Democracy and Technology filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commissions about these undisclosed practices and asked that these practices be considered unfair and deceptive.
In 2018, there was another report by the National Vulnerability Database of leaks in user data that identified the names and locations of its users.
There have been concerns of undisclosed and unclear data sharing and traffic redirection
AnchorFree used to use the industry standard OpenVPN protocol, but they have switched Hotspot Shield over to their own proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol. They claim that this protocol is faster than OpenVPN, and just as secure, but it's impossible to verify that due to the proprietary nature of the technology.
We hesitate to recommend a VPN that's this opaque, because you can't rely on third party experts to look at how the system works and provide assurances that there isn't anything fishy going on. While it's true that Hotspot Shield is quite fast, anyone who is truly concerned about security will want to look for a service that provides OpenVPN as an option.
Hotspot Shield allows torrenting on their service, although they don't have servers that are set up for it specifically. We didn't run into any peer-to-peer issues during our testing, and the VPN also includes a kill switch to safeguard your identity in the event that your connection is interrupted with a torrent running.
Hotspot Shield doesn't include any kind of ad blocker. Some VPN services include this feature as an extra layer of protection, and it's especially useful when the VPN is able to cut off ad trackers and malware at the DNS level before requests are made. If you're interested in that type of feature, you'll have to keep looking.
Hotspot Shield has a support center where you can find answers to common questions, troubleshooting information about common problems, and view guides on each app, but locating actual customer support is somewhat difficult.
If you follow some of the troubleshooting guides to the end, you'll eventually find a link to submit a support request. This is Hotspot Shield's ticket-based support system, which should really be a whole lot easier to find than it is.
Hotspot Shield offers a free plan and premium plans. The premium plans offer significantly more benefits than the free plan. The premium plans cover up to five devices, have access to all virtual locations, have unlimited data bandwidth and access to all sites, are add-free, and come with a dedicated customer support team. The free plan has access to U.S. locations only, supports a single device, is limited to 500 MB bandwidth per day, is add-supported, and displays a Premium Payment Wall when accessing streaming content such as Netflix.
The price for Hotspot Shield is comparable to other VPN service providers when you subscribe to a one-year or three-year plan. Paying for Hotspot Shield monthly can be expensive. The monthly price is $12.99 per month. A one year plan is $72 or $6 per month. The three-year plan is $108 or $3 per month.
Hotspot offers a 45-day money-back guarantee. Hotspot also offers a free seven-day trial but requires a credit card or PayPal account to process the trial. The seven-day trial automatically renews at the one month price of $12.99 and is billed monthly after the trial. To get a better price, you’ll need to update your subscription to either the one-year or three-year plan.
There are other VPN services available with Hotspot Shield. However, these services come with an added price.
Hotspot Shield is a strong contender when comparing the size of its server base to other VPN providers. Hotspot Shield has 3,200 server locations in 70 countries compared to NordVPN’s 5,770 servers in 60 countries. With this large number of servers, Hotspot Shield can provide fast and stable service that compares to other VPN services.
Hotspot Shield differs from NordVPN and other competing VPN services in the encryption side of its security protocol. Nord and most other popular VPN services use OpenVPN and IKEv2, with some including or L2TP/IPSec and others; Hotspot Shield uses its proprietary Catapult Hydra technology. Catapult Hydra is based on TLS 1.2 with AES-128 encryption, which is as secure as the competition.
The problem with using proprietary software is that it’s not easy to see what is going on. With OpenVPN, it’s possible for experts to look at the system and see that it's really secure, which just isn't possible with Catapult Hydra.
Speedy but not without drawbacks.
Hotspot Shield is a strong performer among VPN service providers, but our experience with connection problems and the high prices make this VPN less than desirable. However, if speed is your major criteria, Hotspot shield is one of the fastest VPNs we've tested.