Over 600 million people entrust Hotspot Shield with their online privacy. They use this VPN to engage in financial transactions, search the web, communicate with friends via email and social media, as well as a host of other sensitive and private communications.
Is Hotspot Shield VPN really one of the top tier VPNs available or not? We will answer this by taking a look at their server speeds, their privacy and logging policies, their security, their pricing, and their customer service.
AnchorFree is the company behind Hotspot Shield. This VPN service offers a subscription-free account as well as a paid service. One of the first things you’ll notice when using this program is that it has a simple and attractive design.
There are no interactive maps or elaborate settings. All you see is a large power button in the center of the window. When you touch the power button, the Hotspot Shield connects, either to the United States by default or to your most recent choice.
As soon as you connect, the power button disappears and a timer starts, showing you the length of time you’ve been connected. On the lower half of the screen, you will see the data transfer for your computer, the VPN IP address you currently have, and a simple yet clear map showing you what country you’re connecting to. This uncluttered and clear design is a reflection of how Hotspot Shield goes about it service.
Positives of Hotspot Shield:
- Lower price than other VPNs of the same quality
- Risk-free seven day trial
- Fast download speeds
Downsides of Hotspot Shield
- Few server locations
- Limited configuration options
- Detected by geo restricting streaming services like Netflix
- 45-day money back guarantee
- IPv6 and web real-time communication
- Connect five devices with one subscription
- Servers in 25 countries
- P2P connections permitted
- Available in multiple languages
- Unlimited data and bandwidth with Elite subscription
Where Are the Servers Located
Hotspot Shield has close to 3,000 servers spread across 27 different countries. This allows them to provide a reliable service that is fast and flexible. Users can connect to a variety of well-encrypted IP addresses. The number of servers and the number of countries where the servers are located allow Hotspot Shield to do a good job at encrypting information being transmitted.
Something that is frustrating when you look at Hotspot Shield is that they don’t tell you what city you are connecting to. On the positive side, those who sign up for Hotspot Shield Elite receive unlimited bandwidth and unlimited data.
As you can see, Hotspot Shield has a VPN in China. The irony of this is that the Hotspot Shield website is currently blocked in China. In order to visit the Hotspot Shield website if you are in China, you would need to use a different VPN or proxy service. That being said, once Hotspot Shield Elite is installed on your computer, you can then use the VPN in China without needing additional proxy services.
Hotspot Shield Elite VPN has a number of proprietary VPN protocols as well as algorithms for connection. These, when coupled with a high level of obfuscation, make it harder for countries like China to block the use of their VPN.
One might wonder why Hotspot Shield VPN would have a server in China. Obviously, China is not a good server to have if you want to unblock websites from China. However, it can be very useful for individuals who want to get a Chinese IP address when they are not in China.
What Is Their Logging Policy?
AnchorFree, the parent company of Hotspot Shield, is based in California. Anyone who has a cursory understanding of online privacy and security legislation knows that the United States is not a good location for a VPN company to be located. Current US law makes it possible for the government to serve warrants and invoke gag orders on VPN companies. The United States is a participant in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. Other countries that participate in this are Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada.
This means that the US government can order Hotspot Shield VPN to give them your personal data. They can even prevent Hotspot Shield from telling you that they did this. The only way that this can be avoided is if a company has a firm no logging policy. This way, if the government demands information, they simply do not have information to provide. Many VPNs promise to do this. However, the majority don’t follow through on that promise.
What makes having a VPN company based in the United States even scarier is the fact that the Intel the United States gathers can be shared internationally with the other countries in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
As you can see here, Hotspot Shield takes the position that no direct connection can be established between your IP address and the data you give them, such as your personal account information, your email, and your form of payment. We find this very difficult to believe.
They also say that even though they automatically collect information every time you launch Hotspot Shield, they delete it once your session comes to an end. In addition to storing your IP address, they collect information about the language you use, your operating system, the mobile or wireless network you’re using, the browser you are using, the apps you use, and the websites you visit. For anyone who is genuinely concerned about their online privacy and security, the aforementioned facts should raise red flags.
How Fast Is the Service?
An independent study was done determining the security, speed, and performance of a number of VPNs, including Hotspot Shield Elite. The study focused on things like the latency of a number of VPN providers. Latency describes the amount of time it takes a data package to reach a server. Understandably, if a server is far away from the user, there is going to be a slight uptick in latency. Lower latency numbers mean a faster connection or at least a faster perceived connection.
In this graph, we can see the latency per week for multiple VPNs. Both SSL encrypted and non-SSL encrypted connections were tested. However, the test didn’t show a huge difference in latency, so the averages were combined and presented in the above graph as an overall result.
The goal was to test all of the products. As a result, the VPN servers were manually chosen to be the same for all of the servers. So when the test was performed in the United States, the West Coast was selected. When tests are done in the EU, the United Kingdom was selected.
To get a fair and accurate test, different variables were thrown into the mix. For example, they would have an EU user connect to another user in the EU via a VPN in the United States. This meant that the connection would have to travel across the Atlantic two times.
When you look at the above graph, you see that Hotspot Shield Elite came in second among all of the VPNs that were tested. This means that it is undoubtedly one of the fastest VPN services on the market.
This same independent testing board evaluated the streaming speed, torrent speed, downlink speed, and uplink speed of Hotspot Shield Elite. Time and time again, this service was in the top three of all of the VPNs they tested. Interestingly, ExpressVPN often ranked number one in these tests.
How Well Does It Work with Netflix?
We know that not everyone uses a VPN to watch their favorite US or Great Britain based TV shows. However, there are quite a number of individuals who do. These individuals are not necessarily concerned about privacy or protecting their personal information. All they care about is being able to turn on Netflix and see their favorite show. These individuals will be sorely disappointed if they purchase Hotspot Shield.
We tried multiple times to connect to Netflix from Central America using Hotspot Shield. Each time we were greeted with the dreaded Netflix proxy error screen.
This means that Netflix could tell that we were using a VPN and blocked us from using their service. We have heard reports from others who were able to occasionally connect to Netflix using this VPN. But you have to ask yourself, if your sole reason for purchasing a VPN is to use a streaming service, would you be happy if you could only connect from time to time?
What Is Their Pricing?
Hotspot Shield offers their clients multiple pricing options. You can pay for the service month by month and it will cost you $12.99. Or you could pay for three years upfront and the monthly cost goes down to $3.49 per month. This means that if you choose the month-to-month service, you’re going to be paying more than what you would pay for some of the best VPNs out there, like ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
One of the things we did appreciate about Hotspot Shield’s pricing plan is that the only thing that changes with the different subscriptions is the length of time you can use the service. All paying customers, regardless of how long they subscribe, have access to all of Hotspot Shield’s features. You can see a better idea of their pricing.
The pricing is clear-cut. You are not going to be hit with any hidden fees and will able to use the VPN just a few seconds after you pay for it. Since all of their customers get full access to all of their services, there is no attempt to upsell.
The seven-day trial means that you can try the service for free and cancel it if you don’t like it. If you do subscribe to the service and you are not satisfied with it in the first 45 days, you can get a full refund of your money. They don’t ask any questions, and they don’t harass you. They make getting a refund easy for their customers.
One reason why Hotspot Shield may be worth the money is the fact that they do have live chat support. We were able to communicate with them, ask a number of questions, and get rapid responses to our questions. They were honest and to the point.
Do We Recommend the Service?
Hotspot Shield is a nice entry in the current crop of VPNs. As you can see in our review, there are a number of good points about the service. However, there are a couple of things you want to keep in mind. First, there is a free version and a paid version. The free version is just enough for you to get a taste of what the service can do with its 500 MB data limitation.
The paid plan does offer unlimited bandwidth and unlimited data. And if you don’t like it, you can use the product for 45 days and then get your money back. The client is very easy to use and can have you up and running within seconds of downloading the program.
That being said, we have our doubts about the company behind Hotspot Shield. Their name is linked to a number of ethically questionable activities, including some CDT allegations.
Hotspot Shield will hide your IP. But it’s not the best option for a VPN. We have reviewed many VPN services and most offer privacy, security, and speed that is above and beyond what you will get from Hotspot Shield. ExpressVPN and NordVPN both have a stellar record when it comes to their logging policies. So, really—why settle for anything less?