Hotspot Shield Review 2023 — Is It Really Free, Fast, & Safe

Contents

The city-level servers are in the US, Italy, Spain, Australia, Canada, France, and the UK. These help you pinpoint your location more precisely, and you get the most options in the US.

Hotspot Shield review 2023

Hotspot Shield, or HSS for short, has been making lots of changes over the past few years. After wrestling issues surrounding its logging policy, it’s been working hard to build back its reputation. Among other changes, the VPN is now part of a new company Aura, which merged with former parent company Pango. So what does all of this mean for users? Is Hotspot Shield worth considering? Does it compare to top-rated providers such as NordVPN or Surfshark?

(Editors’ Note: Hotspot Shield is owned by Pango, Comparitech’s parent company.)

In this 2023 Hotspot Shield review, I tried out the latest versions of the Hotspot Shield mobile and desktop apps to answer questions like:

  • Is HSS fast?
  • Can Hotspot Shield help me access Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming sites?
  • Has HSS’s logging policy improved?
  • Will Hotspot Shield work in China?
  • Is HSS worth the price?

You’ll find out the answers to these and more in this review.

I’ve been using Hotspot Shield to stream, browse, download, and keep my internet activities safe from snoopers such as my internet service provider.

There’s a short summary of my findings below but you can read the full review to find out more about this provider and whether it might be a good fit for you.

You can also read more on the criteria I used to test Hotspot Shield and our broader VPN testing methodology here.

Note that although Hotspot Shield offers a limited free version, I’ll be focusing on the Premium (paid) service in this review.

Hotspot Shield summary

Hotspot Shield is a secure VPN ideal for streaming. It has a ton of location options, is great at unblocking, and pegs very fast speeds. Plus it works in China. This provider has solid security and privacy features, but there’s room for improvement. Live-chat support could be better and the price could be a turnoff for some users.

Hotspot Shield key data

* Average speed over multiple global locations based across multiple speed tests per day.

Hotspot Shield pros and cons

Here are some of the key advantages and drawbacks I discovered while using this service. You’ll find more detail about each below.

  • Solid speeds
  • Expansive server network
  • Works with Netflix and other sites
  • Connect 5 devices simultaneously
  • 45-day money-back guarantee
  • Works in China
  • May be a little basic for experienced users
  • Doesn’t accept Bitcoin
  • Collects more user data than many competitors
  • Only has streaming servers in two countries

Speed: How fast is Hotspot Shield?

Hotspot Shield’s tagline is “The Fastest Most Secure VPN Service.” I’ll get to the security part later, but first, let’s see about this speed claim.

HSS - Speed Test

I ran speed tests at various times of day on servers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Across all times and locations tested, Hotspot Shield’s average download speed was 197 Mbps. This is faster than the average speed I observed last time I tested, and it now places Hotspot Shield towards the front of the pack in terms of speed.

Comparitech VPN Speeds

Here are the results broken down by region:

As you can see, speeds are fairly consistent no matter which server you connect to. They were also pretty consistent across different times of day. With those speeds, I was able to stream 4K video, video conference in HD, and browse the web without noticing the slightest speed hit. Switching between servers is very fast, typically taking just a couple of seconds. I saw no noticeable slowdowns while browsing and didn’t experience any connection drops.

For a given location, you should be automatically connected to the fastest server. If you’re connecting to a US server, you can choose a city. Choosing a geographically close server should generally give you a faster connection.

Note that the above tests only serve as a general guide as to what you might see when using the service. The random nature of the internet and the many factors that can affect speed mean that you may see very different results.

Apps: Which devices will Hotspot Shield work with?

Hotspot Shield lets you connect up to five devices under one paid plan (unless signing up to the Premium Family plan – more on that below). Apps are available for the following:

  • Windows
  • macOS
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Linux – Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, and Fedora (command line only)
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • AndroidTV

There are also Chrome and Firefox extensions, but note that these only encrypt your browser traffic, leaving other apps on your device exposed.

HSS apps.

Overall, the apps are lightweight, modern, and user-friendly. Each one provides access to all of Hotspot Shield’s 1,800+ servers spread across more than 80 countries. Hotspot Shield recently reduced its number of servers (from around 3,200) but it continues to cover roughly the same number of countries as it did before.

In the desktop app, servers are ordered alphabetically by country. For the countries with multiple locations, for example, the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada, you can choose a city. There’s no option to add servers to a favorites list but recent selections will show up in a “Quick access” list.

New to the home screen are shortcuts to US and UK streaming servers and US gaming servers.

Hotspot Shield desktop app.

You can customize the app behavior with options including automatically starting the client and auto-connecting to the last server. I’ll discuss these in more detail later, but other options include a split tunneling feature, protocol switching, a kill switch, and automatic wifi protection, which will be covered in the Security section.

HSS mobile app interface.

The mobile app is similar in design to the desktop client, but has just one changable option (switching protocols). This is a positive in the sense that the app just works with no configuration required. But advanced users may miss the ability to tailor the VPN.

Routers

Hotspot Shield also supports various routers. You can purchase a preconfigured VPN router:

HSS - Preconfigured Routers

Or you can configure the VPN manually on select routers.

HSS - Router Configuration

Under “Others”, you’ll find instructions on configuring routers running the DD-WRT or Tomato firmware.

Configuring a VPN connection on your router enables you to protect devices that aren’t compatible with native apps. It also allows you to bypass the limit VPN providers place on the number of simultaneous connections. No matter how many devices you connect to the router (and hence tunnel through the VPN), it will only count as one VPN connection.

Split Tunneling

Split tunneling (sometimes called selective routing), allows you to choose where you route your traffic. You can route through the VPN or through your default ISP connection, typically on an app-by-app basis. That means you could choose to send your Netflix traffic through your ISP connection and send the rest out the VPN. Or, you could choose only to send your P2P traffic through the VPN and send the rest through your ISP. It’s a very popular feature among VPN providers today.

HSS - App - Split Tunneling

Hotspot Shield supports split tunneling via a feature it calls Smart VPN. It enables you to exclude certain apps and websites from the VPN tunnel. You simply need to enable the feature and add the apps or websites you want to go through your regular ISP connection. This feature is only available on Windows and Android.

You can have a look at our recommended VPNs for split tunneling if it’s an important feature to you.

Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi

Hotspot Shield works well with Netflix US, Netflix UK, and a handful of other libraries. I tested it with several US servers and they all worked with no issues. There are even streaming-optimized servers that are specifically designed to provide secure access to popular platforms, and these are probably your best bet for using any services that are available in the US or the UK. We’d like to see streaming servers in additional locations, but this is an excellent start.

Other VPN providers require you to ask customer support which server to use. While this isn’t much of a hassle, it’s nice not to have to go through that extra step.

HSS - Streaming Marketing

In addition to US Netflix, Hotspot Shield works reliably with the UK catalog. It also worked with a few other country versions I tested, including Netflix Canada, Australia, and India. However, I couldn’t browse Netflix Japan, Brazil, or Spain.

Looking to stream from other sites? Hotspot Shield unblocked the following during testing:

With great speeds, you should be able to stream HD video as much as you like.

Are you a Kodi user? Hotspot Shield now supports Kodi configuration.

Here are our recommended VPNs for streaming if you’d like for more information on the topic.

Does Hotspot Shield allow torrenting?

Hotspot Shield does allow torrenting and the practice is backed by unlimited bandwidth and data and the use of shared IP addresses. The company used to promote the use of its service for torrenting using uTorrent and BitTorrent. But it has removed references to torrenting from its website – presumably to avoid irking copyright holders.

Hotspot Shield torrenting page.

Still, Hotspot Shield works very well for torrenting – no lagging or freezing.

Hotspot Shield has also recently improved its privacy policy and claims to be a zero-logs provider (more on that in the next section). The service has a couple of other features beneficial to torrenters, including a kill switch (now available in all versions of the app) and DNS leak protection.

Multihop servers?

Hotspot Shield VPN does not support multihop servers at this time.

Multihop VPN servers route your connection through two cascaded VPN servers. This adds a second layer of encryption to your traffic. The extra server or hop makes you significantly more difficult to track and identify. Hopefully this will come to Hotspot Shield in the future.

Does Hotspot Shield provide a warrant canary?

A warrant canary is a document that is frequently published by a service provider stating that it has not received a secret warrant or a gag order from law enforcement.

If the provider ever does receive a warrant or a gag order, it can take down the warrant canary, to indirectly signal to their user base that the service has been compromised, without violating the gag order.

HSS does not provide a warrant canary at this time. It does, however, publish periodic transparency reports that mention how many warrants, subpeonas, and legal requests were received, as well as the company’s response to each.

Security, privacy, and logging

Hotspot Shield has come under fire in the past for its questionable logging practices, so I was keen to see how well the current iteration of the service protects user privacy.

Hotspot Shield was originally the flagship product of AnchorFree, a Switzerland-based company. However, in 2019, it became part of a new company, Pango, which was later acquired by Aura, a US-based company.

The US is a member of the Five Eyes alliance, which may be discouraging to users particularly wary of international intelligence collection. That said, this is only an issue if the VPN keeps logs.

Adding to concern, Hotspot Shield doesn’t exactly have a rosy past when it comes to privacy. For example, a 2016 report brought to light some of the company’s questionable activities.

In addition, a privacy advocacy group, the Centre for Democracy and Technology, filed a related complaint against Hotspot Shield with the Federal Trade Commission back in August 2017.

However, Hotspot Shield has been cleaning up its privacy policy, slowly but steadily. In a past review of the service, I found the company still logged user IP addresses for the duration of the session, but then deleted them. Now, the company claims that there is no logging of IP addresses at all, making it a true no-logs provider, a big plus for privacy in general.

Still, digging through its privacy policy, we find the following:

HSS - Privacy Policy 1

  • Session durations
  • Domains accessed by users (claimed to be anonymized data)
  • Device hashes

The logging of the domains accessed by its users is the most concerning to me.

Then, we find the following, somewhat contradictory, statement:

HSS - Privacy Policy 2

While HSS says it doesn’t collect your IP address in regards to your browsing activities, it nonetheless collects it to:

  • Protect against fraud
  • Obtain your location and information on your ISP/carrier
  • Determine nearby servers
  • For advertising purposes

That’s still quite a bit of user data. It’s also more than what other, well-established and trusted providers collect. Let’s hope HSS’ privacy policy cleanup continues and that they tone down the collection a bit more.

Here are some highlights of Hotspot Shield’s security suite:

  • Strong encryption: HSS uses 256-bit AES GCM encryption with 2048-bit RSA keys and ECDHE for Perfect Forward Secrecy (to ensure past sessions can’t be viewed if an encryption key is compromised). HSS supports IKEv2 (deemed very secure) and its own proprietary VPN protocol, called Catapult Hydra. While this isn’t open-source, it has been evaluated by independent security experts, which should provide some peace of mind. Newer versions of the app also include WireGuard support, which is open-source.
  • Kill switch (all versions): This will stop your internet connection in the event the VPN connection is lost. This is disabled by default so you’ll need to go to Settings >Advanced to switch it on.
  • Auto-protect: This is a neat feature that will connect you to the VPN automatically whenever you connect to public wifi.
  • Prevent IP leak: HSS comes with built-in DNS leak protection enabled by default, but it can be toggled off in the settings screen.

Hotspot Shield advanced settings screen.

The service doesn’t guarantee WebRTC or IPv6 leak protection but I tested for these leaks and observed none.

IP Test – Without VPN

HSS - IP Test - No VPN

IP Test – With VPN

HSS - IP Test - With VPN

DNS Test – Without VPN

HSS - DNS Test - No VPN

DNS Test – With VPN

HSS - DNS Test - With VPN

Hotspot Shield recently added the option to switch protocols between its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol and IKEv2. The latter is mainly used for improved speed on mobile devices. There’s also WireGuard support, which is great considering this seems to be the preferred protocol for most major services now, given it’s significantly faster than the old standard, OpenVPN.

Hotspot Shield Protocols

I usually recommend WireGuard or OpenVPN, but IKEv2 is nonetheless very secure, so I’d stick to using IKEv2 over Hotspot Shield’s proprietary protocol. As mentioned above, the lack of peer review opportunities is also one of the reasons I’m somewhat skeptical of VPN providers’ proprietary protocols.

Does Hotspot Shield work in China?

Very few VPNs work reliably in China, so I was eager to find out if Hotspot Shield is one of them.

When I last reviewed HSS, it made a pretty big splash about its VPN working in China. However, a bit like torrenting, it has removed most references to working in China from its website.

Digging through its Support section however, we find the following:

HSS - China

This sounds a little concering but our research indicates that, at the time of writing, HSS still works as expected on the mainland.

Also, note that Hotspot Shield’s website is blocked in China, along with the sites of most other VPN providers. As such, you’ll need to download the software and any installation and troubleshooting guides before you enter the country.

Is Hotspot Shield’s customer service any good?

Hotspot Shield offers lots of tutorials and FAQs in the support section of its website. If you’re still running into issues, you have two options. You can use the 24/7 live chat feature or send an email in-house using a form in the support section of the website. Note that these options are available for premium customers only.

HSS - Support Chat

I first tried the live chat option thinking it would be the quickest way to get an answer to my question. You will first have to get past the chat bot, though. This does a decent job of answering simple questions but you can always just type “human” to escalate to a living, breathing member of staff.

The email support system fared well though. I got a satisfactory response to my queries in just a few hours, which is great.

Hotspot Shield pricing

No matter how great a service is, I always ask the question: Does it offer value for money?

Hotspot Shield offers three paid subscriptions plans that renew either every monthly, every yearly, or every three years.

HSS - Pricing

The monthly and annual rates are somewhat higher than many top-rated VPN providers for the same term. But the three-year plan is offered at a good price.

As far as payment methods go, Hotspot Shield only lets you pay by credit card or PayPal. There is no cryptocurrency option, which will be disappointing for some privacy-conscious users.

HSS - Money Back

Hotspot Shield coupon codes

Hotspot Shield Coupon
SAVE 77% on the 3 year plan
Discount applied automatically

Should I buy Hotspot Shield?

After putting Hotspot Shield through some serious testing, would I recommend this service? In short, for most people, yes. The most privacy-conscious users might want to look for a non-US based VPN but for most users Hotspot Shield is a very strong contender.

Hotspot Shield’s offering has definitely improved over the past few years. Considering its speed and unblocking potential, this could be an ideal VPN for those looking to stream on a regular basis. It’s also a good option for users in China.

Alternatives

Although Hotspot Shield has impressed me, it still has a couple of downsides including a lack of anonymous payment options and a relatively limited settings menu. Thankfully, if those are deal-breakers for you, you have some great alternatives to consider.

NordVPN comes with a decent price tag but has all the features you need from a top-rated provider. It pegs some of the fastest speeds we’ve seen and comes with a suite of security features, including a kill switch and protection against leaks. It accepts plenty of payment methods, including bitcoin, and offers excellent support.

Surfshark is another stellar provider that’s easy on the wallet. It’s known for its unblocking abilities and solid speeds. A huge bonus of this provider is it doesn’t limit the number of devices you can connect at a given time.

Hotspot Shield free version

As mentioned, Hotspot Shield does have a free offering. However, this is very limited and probably not worth your time. You get access to a single server location, won’t be able to stream, and will have to put up with quite a lot of ads. On the plus side, free users get the same speeds as paid ones and the company has recently removed its strict 500 MB daily bandwidth limit, putting it inline with ProtonVPN.

If you’re thinking about using this service, we’d advise going for a low-cost paid provider like NordVPN instead.

How does Hotspot Shield compare to other popular VPNs?

Comparing Hotspot Shield against other high-caliber VPNs can help a lot with selecting the right provider. Here’s a side-by-side look at HSS, NordVPN, and Surfshark. For more information about the latter two, you can check out our full NordVPN vs Surfshark comparison.

Hotspot Shield Review 2023 — Is It Really Free, Fast, & Safe?

Hotspot Shield is a VPN that’s undergone many changes recently. After dealing with several controversies, it overhauled its logging policy and is under new management. So, has it gotten better?

I tested everything it offers to see if HSS is safe. I fully explored its logging policy and found out if its security features can prevent data leaks. I also tested its speeds, customer support, streaming and gaming capabilities, and more.

My tests showed that Hotspot Shield is a top-quality VPN in nearly every category. It has great security features, reliable customer support, and a more precise no-logging policy. Only a few small issues keep it from ranking at the very top. The free version isn’t a bad way to try it, but you can explore all of its features with its 45-day money-back guarantee . I tested its refund policy to make sure it’s trustworthy, and it was easy to get a full refund.

Short on Time? Here Are My Key Findings

Pros

  • Great unblocking performance. Hotspot Shield unblocked almost all the platforms I tested. See what I could watch with it.
  • Great security features. From the proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol to perfect forward secrecy, I was impressed with HSS’ security offering. Check out all the unique security features it includes.
  • Supports multiple devices. HSS has user-friendly apps for all major operating systems. Click here to see if it’s compatible with your device.
  • Solid choice for torrenting. I was able to maintain short download times. See how well the free servers performed in my tests.
  • Reliable support. Hotspot Shield’s support team is available 24/7. Find out the channel I use to get instant answers to my inquiries.

Cons

  • Unproven privacy policy. Its no-logs policy has been dramatically improved but still hasn’t been audited. Find out what anonymized information it records here.

Hotspot Shield Features — 2023 Update

9.2

&#x1F4B8 Price 2.99 USD/month
&#x1F4C6 Money Back Guarantee 45 Days
&#x1F4DD Does VPN keep logs? No
&#x1F5A5 Number of servers 1800+
&#x1F4BB Number of devices per license 5
&#x1F6E1 Kill switch Yes
&#x1F5FA Based in country United States
&#x1F6E0 Support 24/7 Live Chat Support
&#x1F4E5 Supports torrenting Yes

Streaming — Reliable for Unblocking Streaming Services

8.9

Hotspot Shield Premium successfully unblocked nearly every platform I tested. The streaming quality was great for the most part too, with only a few exceptions. But, this is only true of the paid app.

The free version only worked with Peacock and Max, but the experience wasn’t great as the videos loaded slowly, and I experienced constant buffering. While it could get into Disney+, ITVX, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video, it didn’t let me play any videos. When I tested it with Netflix, I got an error message. However, it does offer unlimited data, which I can’t say for many other free options.

The premium version offers streaming-optimized servers in the UK and the US. These servers are regularly tested to ensure they work. However, they didn’t perform better at unblocking than the regular servers in my tests.

Unblocked: Netflix

Hotspot Shield gave me reliable access to full Netflix libraries from the US, the UK, Germany, Japan and Canada. Unfortunately, I had trouble accessing the Brazilian library. With only one server located there, it was difficult to determine whether the issue was with that particular server.

A screenshot showing Hotspot Shield can unblock Netflix

Both of its streaming servers had no problems unblocking full Netflix libraries

That was the only server that blocked me, but I did have a few other minor issues. The location in France could only unblock Netflix Originals. This is a version of the site that only has the content Netflix owns, so you miss out on region-specific movies and shows.

Hotspot’s South Africa server also unblocked the full US library. This is probably because it’s a virtual location, a topic I’ll explore more in the server network section. However, I was largely impressed by the VPN’s performance with Netflix. There aren’t many VPNs that let you access such a wide variety of full libraries because Netflix has been cracking down on detecting them.

Unblocked: Disney+

I could easily access Disney+ with Hotspot Shield.

Screenshot of Disney+ player streaming The Simpsons while connected to a US Hotspot Shield server

I was able to watch Disney+ with both the streaming and non-optimized servers

It did take about 10 seconds for the video to load, and it paused to load briefly whenever I skipped around. Otherwise, it played in great HD quality without buffering.

Unblocked: Max

It was just as easy to watch Somebody Somewhere on Max. The platform loaded in under 5 seconds.

A screenshot confirming that Hotspot Shield can unblock Max (HBO Max)

Max didn’t realize I was using a VPN the entire time

After it loaded up, I didn’t have any issues while streaming. I was happy that I could instantly load videos and stream in the highest quality. There were also no instances of buffering on the former HBO Max.

Unblocked: ITVX

I was impressed with how well it worked with ITVX. The website loaded immediately, and I could live-stream and watch movies on the platform in crystal clear quality.

A screenshot showing Hotspot Shield can successfully unblock ITV

I was able to watch the entire show without any quality dips or buffering

I appreciate that the UK streaming server gives you access to more streaming services outside of the US. However, I do hope it adds streaming-optimized locations from more regions in the future. Some of its competitors have similar servers in 10+ countries spread around the world.

Also Unblocked: Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, All 4, BBC iPlayer, and YouTube

Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, All 4, YouTube, and BBC iPlayer loaded quickly, but when skipping through content on Peacock, I encountered brief moments of buffering.

Not only can Hotspot Shield unblock a large variety of platforms, but I was also pleased with how little troubleshooting was involved. There are a few VPNs that can unblock more worldwide content, but my experience with Hotspot Shield was hassle-free. I never had to switch servers or protocols to access any of these servers, which I often have to do with other VPNs.

Blocked By: Hulu

Surprisingly, while I could access the other US platforms I tested, Hulu managed to detect my VPN usage. In fact, I couldn’t even navigate beyond the login page.

A screenshot showing Hotspot Shield failed to unblock Hulu

Hulu is geo-restricted to the US, so I didn’t have another way to test it

Still, I was impressed that it was the only platform I could find that detected the VPN. Overall, Hotspot Shield is a compelling option for those looking for a VPN that can access local and international services.

Speed — Fast on Close Servers; Solid on Distant Locations

9.0

Hotspot Shield Premium provides great speeds on nearby servers and many distant ones too. I was very pleased with the performance of its paid servers. You’ll get the best speeds with Hotspot Shield’s proprietary Hydra protocol . I was surprised that it was even faster than WireGuard, which is usually the quickest option.

On the other hand, the free servers were consistently slow. I expected them to be faster since the free version doesn’t put any caps on speed. Overcrowding is a common problem with free VPNs, and that was an issue here. For instance, the Singapore server was more than half full, with a load of 61% during my tests. The free locations were always at least twice as slow as paid servers in our tests, and sometimes much more.

These are the 3 main things we examine in our tests:

  • Download speeds. This lets you know how quickly you can receive information. You’ll want it fast for things like browsing, torrenting, and streaming. It’s measured in Mbps (megabits per second).
  • Upload speeds. It determines how quickly you send data. If it’s fast, you can send emails and upload videos rapidly. It’s also measured in Mbps.
  • Ping. This is how fast your data travels in either direction. It tells you how much latency you’ll have, so it’s most important for gaming. It’s measured in milliseconds (ms).

To ensure a fair and accurate comparison, we performed all speed tests from a single location using the same internet connection. Our UK-based speed expert conducted a minimum of 10 tests on each server before creating averages. All its servers were speed-tested using the Catapult Hydra protocol.

A screenshot showing Hotspot Shield

My speeds lowered by 3% on average with nearby servers, and 30% with distant ones

There are only a few VPNs I’ve tested that are faster than Hotspot Shield. On average, most VPNs will drop your speeds by around 10-20% on nearby servers, and HSS was several times faster. A lot of VPNs will also lower your speeds by 65% or more when you get past 6,000 km away, but our average long-distance speed with Hotspot was much better than that too.

The only small issue is you might get slower speeds than you expected due to its virtual servers. For example, the server in India dropped our speeds by 56%, which isn’t terrible. But, that server is physically located in Singapore, which is about 3,000 km farther away from our tester than India is.

Local Speed

In close proximity, my speed drops were minimal. For example, Ukraine and Germany lowered my connection by just 1%.

A Screenshot of Ookla speed tests done while connected to Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield’s Montreal server dropped my speed by only 3%

Every server we tested in Europe gave us excellent speeds. I was also impressed that the server in Montreal lowered our rates by so little because it’s 5,000+ km away. The main difference was that ping rates started to raise quite a bit when the servers got that far away, which is typical.

Long-Distance Speed

Hotspot Shield can be fast on distant servers, but they tend to fluctuate more. Since Hotspot Shield is one of the most popular VPNs, our tester records results for it every week. Some weeks the India via Singapore server I mentioned above would only lower our speeds by around 30%. However, the average on the week when we created our chart was down to 56%, which was still fast enough that we hardly noticed it.

Screenshot of Ookla speed tests done while connected to Hotspot Shield

Even though it’s 8,000+ km away, the Brazilian server only lowered our speed by 26%

I also like how much is displayed about your speeds within the app. It gives you an estimate of the latency, and there’s also an in-app speed test you can use to get an idea of what your upload and download rates are. The only small issue is I wish you could see what the load and ping rates are before you connect.

There are a few VPNs that can give you faster speeds at very long distances (around 9,000+ km). But, Hotspot Shield is still one of the fastest overall, and the drops won’t affect your online experience unless you have an unusually low base speed.

Gaming — Optimized Servers Are Great for Lag-free Play

9.2

HSS is ideal for online gaming. In my tests, it allowed me to play Dota 2 without problems. It let me enjoy the thrill of coordinating with teammates, executing well-timed maneuvers, and outsmarting opponents to secure victory without any lag.

A screenshot showing Hotspot Shield is good for online gaming

A ping rate below 100 ms is recommended for a smooth gaming experience

The South African server was the nearest to me, and it consistently gave me a ping rate below 70 ms. I also tried its gaming servers, but the experience wasn’t that impressive because of the high ping rate they returned, over 200 ms. These servers are meant to enhance gaming performance. However, I recommend sticking with the closest server to you if you live far away from the United States.

Server Network — Good Coverage With Reliable Locations

9.0

Hotspot Shield has 1,800 servers in 80 countries and 35+ cities. Its coverage is expansive, stretching across the Americas, Europe, and Australia and extending to the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and even Africa. I like that it offers many countries you don’t often see in VPNs like Bhutan, Nepal, and even the UAE.

You get the most countries to connect to in the European continent (48). There are also a ton of locations in Asia (28). Africa gets the least, with only 3. However, there are many VPNs that completely neglect this continent, so it’s better than what most offer.

It ranks near the top when it comes to how many locations it has, but there are a fair amount of VPNs that offer more servers. This can help improve speeds by cutting down on overcrowding, which could explain why CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, and a few others are just a little faster.

The city-level servers are in the US, Italy, Spain, Australia, Canada, France, and the UK. These help you pinpoint your location more precisely, and you get the most options in the US.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield

ExpressVPN and PIA offer more, but there aren’t many other VPNs that match this

Hotspot Shield also owns all its servers, which makes it more privacy-friendly. I always love it when VPNs maintain exclusive control over their servers, as they eliminate any intermediaries that could pose potential threats to your privacy.

Connecting to servers is quick too; it only takes about 10 seconds on average. It also has an Auto option that sets you up with the fastest city-level server in the US. But, I was a little disappointed that this only applies to one country. Most VPNs have a similar feature, but they usually attempt to connect you to whichever location will be the fastest for you out of every location in their network.

Should you encounter connection problems with a server, there are 2 simple tricks that worked for me. First, switch to a different protocol or set it to Automatic so that it chooses the best one for you. If that doesn’t solve the problem, you can reach out to its 24/7 customer support for assistance.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer RAM-based and private DNS servers, which provide an extra layer of protection. I also wish it offered dedicated servers, which can come in handy if you’re running a website. Many of its competitors let you pay a little extra for static IPs, and a select few like hide.me, offer them for free.

Free Servers

You can connect to 1 locations with the free app on Windows and Mac. These are located in Los Angeles, New York, the UK, and Singapore. You also get to connect to the Auto option, which can give you a fifth location, if one of the cities listed above isn’t the fastest at the time.

However, you only get 1 location with mobile apps. So, while Hotspot Shield is still one of the best free VPNs, you can get more servers on your phone with other free options.

Virtual Locations

You can connect to a ton of locations with Hotspot Shield because all its servers are virtual . Virtual servers let you connect to an IP in one country, but they’re located somewhere else. This gives you a safer alternative to physical servers in countries where it might not be wise to house them, like China. The downside is how they can affect your speeds as you saw in our tests.

Optimized Servers

Hotspot Shield’s optimized servers are definitely a plus, but I hope it expands on them. Currently, the streaming servers can only connect you to the US or the UK. The gaming server is also restricted to the US, and you saw how that made it a bad option in my tests.

A screenshot showing hotspot Shield has special servers for gaming and streaming

Mobile apps also offer a specialized server for social networks and chat like Tiktok

Some VPNs offer more with their optimized servers. For example, CyberGhost has servers set up for specific streaming platforms, and they let you connect in many more countries. It also offers optimized servers for torrenting. However, Hotspot Shield’s solid performance in every category means this isn’t a big issue.

Security — Keeps You Safe Online With Advanced Features

9.2

Hotspot Shield offers all the necessary features you’d expect in a top VPN. It’s highly secure as it never revealed my true location, which I found out after running tests on 15+ servers.

A screenshot showing Hotspot Shield passed my leak tests

I’m physically located in Kenya, but the tests could only detect HSS’s IP in Cambodia

Even though there are some rumors the app contains viruses or malware, that wasn’t the case in my tests. There were zero security flags on VirusTotal, a website that lets you see if companies like Avira, McAfee, or BitDefender have been blocking the setup file you upload.

You also get to use all of its security features with a free account, besides one missing protocol. Speaking of that, I do wish it offered OpenVPN. It’s also missing a multi-hop feature. This lets you route your traffic through 2 servers, but it’s really not necessary with the powerful encryption Hotspot Shield offers.

It also stopped bundling its call blocker (Robo Shield) with premium accounts. This feature attempts to block spam calls to your phone. It was a unique feature, but it didn’t necessarily increase your security, so I don’t really mind. It’s still available to purchase separately, but only in the US.

Encryption

HSS uses military-grade encryption (AES 256-bit) to make your data unreadable to third parties. This encryption is used by institutions like banks to secure classified information. It’s nearly impossible to break since it creates an encryption key so long it would take a supercomputer 100s of years or more to crack it.

It also uses Perfect Forward Secrecy to routinely change your encryption keys. This way, even if an old key is compromised (as unlikely as that is), your data remains protected with a new one. These are standard features for top VPNs, so I’m glad Hotspot Shield utilizes them.

Security Protocols

The VPN supports secure protocols, including its proprietary Catapult Hydra option that’s streamlined for faster connections . Hotspot Shield’s Hydra protocol helps conceal your VPN usage from internet service providers and DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) systems too. This is helpful if you’re in a country with restricted networks.

The WireGuard protocol is also built into its apps — many VPNs include it because it uses less code to boost speed. Even though Hydra was faster in my tests, I always like to see WireGuard on offer. Another plus is that it’s open-source. Hotspot hasn’t made Hydra’s code open to the public, but you can use WireGuard as an alternative if you feel safer with a protocol that’s publicly scrutinized.

There’s also IKEv2 (IPSec), a reliable protocol that is particularly useful for mobile devices since it can quickly reestablish connections.

Both WireGuard and Hydra drain less battery as they’re less resource intensive. So, you’ll have to decide between quicker connections or battery power when you’re using HSS on your phone. Some VPNs do offer more protocols, and I especially hope it considers adding OpenVPN in the future. But, this is still a solid selection of protocols. However, be aware that IKEv2 isn’t available with the free version.

Kill Switch

This feature automatically cuts off your traffic if you lose connection to the VPN, reducing the chances of your IP and online activity being exposed. It ensured my connection remained protected while switching between servers. You’ll need to enable it yourself, and it’s currently limited to the Windows app for the free version.

Split Tunneling

You can use this feature to choose which traffic is routed through the VPN. I like to use it to access local news while I stream with a foreign IP. I’m glad that Hotspot Shield no longer calls this SmartVPN in its Windows app. That could be confusing because I’ve seen VPNs use that title for their auto-connect feature, which HSS also offers.

Auto-Protect

This is what Hotspot Shield calls its WiFi-protection function. This activates the VPN automatically upon detecting a connection to a new network, like public WiFi hotspots. It’s a nice feature to have, especially if you connect your laptop or phone to coffee shop networks all the time like I do. There’s also an option to have the VPN connect on launch.

Malware Protection

Hotspot Shield keeps you a step ahead of potential online threats with malware detection for both desktop and mobile apps. It scans the websites you visit for threats and warns you about viruses, phishing, infected sites, dishonest adware, and other malicious programs. I like that you only have to connect to the VPN to enable this feature. HSS also offers its own antivirus software, available as a separate purchase.

The Onion Router (Tor) Compatibility

The VPN supports Tor usage across all servers. Using Tor over a VPN connection offers more protection than a regular Tor connection, as it shields against potential IP leaks that may occur during your Tor session. While such leaks are uncommon on the Tor network, should one occur, only the VPN’s IP address would be revealed, keeping your actual IP address hidden.

Privacy — Doesn’t Store Your Identifiable Information

8.4

Hotspot Shield has a solid no logging policy, but there are a few improvements it could make. After several incidents, the company made big changes to its policies. Its past issues include a 2016 CSIRO report highlighting questionable activities, a 2017 complaint filed by the Center for Democracy and Technology, and a 2018 bug that exposed users’ information like WiFi details.

After all these, its parent company merged with Aura, and its policies are much more clear. You will get a few extra privacy options when you use the premium version. While it doesn’t store any identifiable information long-term, the free app shares some user information with advertisers. I also wish it was headquartered in a more privacy-friendly country, but it wouldn’t have any vital information to share even if the authorities came asking for data.

Does Hotspot Shield Keep Logs? No

HSS claims it doesn’t log or share your browsing history with anyone. The VPN collects the duration of VPN sessions (timestamps), device hashes, and how much data you use. All of this is anonymized, meaning it’s not associated with any of your account details. While it records the server locations that its users connect to, this data is also anonymized, so they’re not linked to you.

It also calculates a rough estimate of your location while you’re connected to the VPN to find your nearest server locations. While this did worry me at first, I was happy to see that information about your location is deleted as soon as the VPN session is terminated.

When you use the free app, the advertisers Hotspot Shield works with might have access to the information it uses to maintain its services. This means that they can possibly see the server you’re on, what device you’re using, and the other information I detailed above. So, if you’re especially privacy conscious, I’d stick with the paid version.

While I’m comfortable with what HSS records, there are certainly some top VPNs that access less of your data. One other small issue is that it doesn’t support cryptocurrencies. I like to use this mode of payment with a temporary email address to limit the data I share with a VPN. So, I hope it lets you use crypto in the future.

Was Hotspot Shield Audited? No

HSS’s privacy policy is yet to be evaluated, but its Hydra protocol has been audited. I appreciate that this shows it’s open to the concept. However, many of its main competitors have had their full privacy policies audited to prove without a doubt their claims are true. Due to its past controversies, I hope it has its policies investigated by a reputable firm in the future.

Based in the US

The US is a member of the 5 Eyes Alliance. The alliance is a group of countries that have agreed to share their citizens’ data with each other. However, Hotspot Shield doesn’t store any of your identifiable information, so it would have nothing to share if it was asked. On the other hand, I wish it kept up with its transparency reports. These show you when data is requested of a VPN company, but it hasn’t published one for several years.

Does Hotspot Shield Work in China? Yes

The VPN confirmed you can access your home country’s online services from China.

A screenshot showing Hotspot Shield works in China

Hotspot Shield uses obfuscated servers to remain undetected

While many VPNs are banned in China, the government seldom targets individuals who use them. However, my team and I don’t condone any illegal activities. Before you decide to use a VPN, we recommend you read up on the laws of the country you’re in.

Torrenting — Supports P2P on Every Server With Great Performance

9.4

Hotspot Shield helped me maintain short download times during my tests. I was able to complete a 431 MB file in just 2 minutes and 40 seconds while connected to a US server (12000+ km away). Without a VPN connection, I can download the file in 1 minute and 55 seconds, so the VPN hardly increased my wait time. However, the free servers made it take over 5 times as long, most likely due to high load.

With the closest server to me in South Africa, I could only download the file a few seconds faster. So, I was impressed that I could torrent quickly on servers both near and far. Its robust DNS/IP leak protection and kill switch provided a sense of security while downloading torrents, and I also love that you can use P2P on any server.

While the act of torrenting itself is generally not illegal in the majority of countries, acquiring copyrighted materials typically is. To ensure you’re in compliance with your country’s regulations, it’s important to be well-versed in its laws and to limit your downloads to files that are in the public domain.

Installation & Apps

9.2

Installation & Apps — Straightforward

Hotspot Shield maintains a simple interface across all devices. The conveniently located connect button and well-organized menus allow easy interaction with all its features.

A screenshot showing offers a nearly identical interface on both Mac and Windows

They also exhibit almost identical information, except the Mac app doesn’t display latency

Upon connection, the apps provide useful information like server load that you can leverage to select the best server for streaming, browsing, or gaming.

Setup & Installation

Installing and setting up Hotspot Shield is easy, even for beginners. It took me a few minutes to install it on each device I tested.

A screenshot showing Hotspot Shield

You can download the latest version for Android, iOS, and Mac from their respective stores

Router configurations are downloadable from the website. Downloads are also available on the Amazon and Microsoft app stores. By default, HSS launches on device startup and reconnects to the last used server. You can modify this behavior in the VPN’s settings. On a final note, you’ll have to install it through the terminal on Linux since it only offers a CLI.

Here’s our step-by-step guide for installing Hotspot Shield:

Quick Guide: How to Install Hotspot Shield in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Download the app. On desktop, you can go to HotspotShield’s website to get the installation file . If you’re using your phone, you’ll get it through the proper mobile store.
  2. Complete the installation. To use the premium app, you can purchase a subscription risk-free with its 45-day money-back guarantee, or you can enter your payment details to use its free trial. You can also get started with the free version by completing the mobile download or opening the .exe file on your desktop device.
  3. Connect to a server. Log in or opt to use the Basic version. Then just select a server and click connect.

Device Compatibility

Hotspot Shield has a native app for all the most popular operating systems. However, it doesn’t offer a smart DNS feature, which simplifies installation on devices that don’t inherently support VPNs, like gaming consoles and smart TVs. If your device doesn’t support the VPN, a workaround is to install HSS on your router. That way, you can protect all the devices in your network.

Desktop — Apps for Windows, Mac, and Linux

The desktop apps are simple and user-friendly. However, the Mac version offers fewer customization options, only allowing you to activate split tunneling and toggle between available protocols. The Windows app also lets you use some cool shortcuts although I never found it necessary since the app is so simple to use already.

The Linux version is available for Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS, and Debian distros. Unfortunately, there is no free app for Linux, so it only works with a premium account. It’s also missing any extra features you get with the other apps. All you can do is connect to its servers with the Hydra protocol. Hopefully, the Linux version gets improved in the future.

Android and iPhone (iOS)

The mobile apps closely mirror their desktop counterparts, but the features within them differ slightly. For instance, the Android app lacks the IKEv2 protocol.

Screenshot of the Hotspot Shield Android app featuring the main, settings, and server network screens

The main difference is the “Always-On” feature is on iOS but not on Android

The VPN doesn’t offer a direct APK download, but if you’re having trouble installing the app from Google Play, it provides the file upon request.

Browser Extensions for Chrome

HSS only offers browser extensions for Chrome. Most VPNs today offer browser extensions for all major browsers. However, even if it did include more browser compatibility, I recommend using the app. It’s much safer to use because the extension only protects your browser. The app encrypts everything on your device, even if you’re only using the free version.

Apps for Android TVs, Amazon Fire TV, Fire Stick, and Fire Tablets

Like many leading VPNs, HSS offers a native app for Android TVs, Fire TVs, and Fire Stick. Setting it up on my large screen took me less than 10 minutes, and installing it on my Fire HD 10 tablet was just as easy. These are full-featured apps, which I appreciate. It would just be nice if it also offered smartDNS, so you could change locations on any smart TV.

Router Compatibility

Hotspot Shield supports ASUS-WRT, FreshTomato, DD-WRT, Asus-Merlin, and GL-iNET, complete with detailed setup guides for each. It also sells pre-installed Asus, Linksys, and Netgear routers. I always like when VPNs do that because installing VPNs on routers can be a little tricky if you’ve never done it before. Just be aware that you can’t install the free app on a router, which is too bad because the unlimited data would have come in handy there.

Simultaneous Device Connections

A premium account gives you 5 connections. This is the standard amount most VPNs offer. There are a few that offer more like IPVanish, which gives you unlimited connections. However, this is enough for me to protect the devices I use regularly, so I’m satisfied with it. There’s also the option to connect many more devices with the premium family account.

HSS also works great with multiple devices connected. I tested this by connecting my 2 Windows laptops, Android TV, and Android smartphone at the same time. Having multiple open connections didn’t impact my streaming experience — I streamed on all devices in great quality without any buffering. Lastly, the free version is limited to only 1 device, which is pretty common.