Hotspot Shield VPN review: This speedster costs more than its faster, more private competitors

The Android app uses Hydra and WireGuard, has a kill switch and split-tunneling, and there are really cool automation options — for example, you can configure the VPN to connect you to a server on startup or when you launch the app and disconnect you when your Android goes to sleep. There are also options to auto-connect on secured Wi-Fi, unsecured Wi-Fi, and mobile data.

Hotspot Shield 2023 Review: Is It Fast & Good for Streaming?

Hotspot Shield is very fast, good for streaming, easy to use, and secure. Hotspot Shield has a big server network (3,200+ servers in 80+ countries), allowing users all over the world to easily find nearby servers to get the fastest internet connection speeds — I had blazing-fast speeds on virtually every server I tested! Plus, in my tests, Hotspot Shield worked with all of the popular streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+.

Besides industry-standard VPN security features, Hotspot Shield also has:

I like Hotspot Shield, but it has a few issues — for example, IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection only work on Windows, it’s not reliable for bypassing internet firewalls in restrictive countries like China, and oddly, its quick-connect feature only connects you to US servers (leaving non-US users having to manually connect to a local server). Plus, its 1-year deal is on the pricey side.

Hotspot Shield has a free plan and 1-month, 1-year, and 3-year paid plans, and backs all of the premium plans with a lengthy 45-day money-back guarantee.

�� Overall Rank #15 out of 98 VPNs
�� Servers 3,200+
�� Number of Devices Up to 10
�� Starting Price €2.81 / month
�� Free Plan
�� Money-Back Guarantee 45 days

Hotspot Shield Full Review

Hotspot Shield Full Review

I spent a few weeks testing and researching Hotspot Shield to see how it ranks among the top VPNs on the market.

Hotspot Shield is known for its proprietary Hydra protocol, which provides super-fast speeds, strong security, and good streaming capabilities — I had no problems accessing content on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and my videos were always crisp and clear, loading almost instantly and without any interruptions.

Hotspot Shield also has other perks, like easy-to-use and intuitive apps, great torrenting support, some cool extra features like split-tunneling and a built-in speed test, and a good server network.

Hotspot Shield Coupon Code: 77% off in 2023
Discount applied automatically at checkout.
100 % SUCCESS

Hotspot Shield Features

Hotspot Shield has the following security features:

  • 256-bit AES encryption — Hotspot Shield uses military-grade encryption to protect your data.
  • No-logs policy — Hotspot Shield doesn’t log your IP address, websites you visit, and files you download. However, if you use the free plan, Hotspot Shield uses your IP to determine your geo-location.
  • Kill switch — Hotspot Shield disables internet traffic if your VPN connection drops.

Hotspot Shield has DNS leak protection on all platforms, but IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection are available only on Windows. Other top VPNs like ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access have built-in IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection on more apps, including even on browser extensions.

One of my favorite things about Hotspot Shield is its proprietary Hydra protocol, which is available on iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. Hydra includes:

  • Excellent security — Hydra is based on OpenVPN and uses high-level security to protect your data as it travels through the VPN tunnel.
  • Fast speeds — Hotspot Shield claims Hydra is more than twice as fast as OpenVPN.
  • Obfuscation — Hydra helps hide your VPN traffic from your internet service provider (ISP) and sometimes even bypasses internet firewalls in censor-heavy nations like China and Iran.
  • Perfect forward secrecy — This feature changes your encryption keys at regular intervals during your VPN session, meaning that even if a hacker compromises one encryption key, they can’t crack previous or future keys.

Hotspot Shield Features

In addition to Hydra, Hotspot Shield also uses other protocols — IKEv2/IPSec and WireGuard.

Hotspot Shield supports The Onion Router (Tor) on all servers. A Tor over VPN connection is safer than regular Tor connections because a VPN protects you from possible IP leaks during your Tor session (IP leaks are rare on the Tor network, but they can happen). If your IP address is accidentally leaked, only the VPN’s IP address will be exposed, and not your actual IP address. Hotspot Shield has good Tor support, but I prefer the convenience that Proton VPN provides — it lets you browse Tor sites in regular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Keep in mind Tor over VPN connections are slower because your data is encrypted multiple times. On average, I had a 97% slowdown while using Tor with Hotspot Shield (the slowdown is on par with other VPNs).

Hotspot Shield also offers other features, including split-tunneling and a built-in speed test.

Split-Tunneling (Smart VPN)

Hotspot Shield Features

Hotspot Shield has good split-tunneling that lets you exclude apps and/or websites outside the VPN tunnel. When I tested Hotspot Shield’s split-tunneling feature, I connected to a VPN server in my home country (Romania) to download a file, and I routed my bank’s website through my local network (many banks block VPNs).

The split-tunneling feature is available on Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS. This is impressive considering not a lot of VPNs offer this feature on iOS or macOS, though ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access both have split-tunneling for Macs.

On Android, Hotspot Shield lets you route specific apps through the VPN tunnel and exclude apps and sites from the VPN connection. I tested this feature on Android by routing all my browser traffic through the VPN, and it always worked as intended.

For Windows, Hotspot Shield lets you exclude apps and websites and choose which sites you want to use the VPN connection.

On iOS and macOS devices, Hotspot Shield only lets you split-tunnel websites. This means you can choose which sites go outside the VPN tunnel and which sites are routed through the VPN tunnel.

Overall, Hotspot Shield has good split-tunneling on all OS — it’s intuitive and works as expected.

Built-in Speed Test

Hotspot Shield Features

Hotspot Shield has a useful and accurate built-in speed test that you can use to quickly determine your VPN speeds and your ISP’s speeds. You can use the speed test before connecting to a VPN server to get a baseline of your speeds, and you can also run the speed test while connected to a VPN server to see how much Hotspot Shield decreased your speed.

In my tests, Hotspot Shield’s speed test results were accurate — they were always about the same as the results of speed tests I conducted using third-party speed test site Ookla.

I like this feature since it’s more convenient to run speed tests inside the app than on third-party sites — but I wish Hotspot Shield ranked its fastest servers to help you find the fastest server for your location. Also, Hotspot Shield’s speed test is only available on Windows, and I’d like to see it added to other apps.

Overall, I like Hotspot Shield’s built-in speed test. It’s very accurate, easy to use, and convenient.

Hotspot Shield Privacy & Security

Hotspot Shield doesn’t log your online traffic or the files that you download. However, if you use the free plan, Hotspot Shield uses your IP address to determine your geo-location and shares it with advertisers who target you with annoying location-specific ads.

Hotspot Shield Privacy & Security

Hotspot Shield is headquartered in the US, which is part of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances (a group of countries that share intelligence data). But Hotspot Shield doesn’t log your data, so even if US authorities ask Hotspot Shield to hand over user data, it won’t have anything to share. That being said, Hotspot Shield hasn’t conducted an independent audit to verify its no-logs policy, and I hope it takes this action in the near future. Private Internet Access is also based in the US and hasn’t conducted an independent audit, but its no-logs policy has been proven true multiple times in court documents.

Overall, Hotspot Shield has a transparent no-logs policy. It uses your IP to determine your geo-location, but only on the free plan (it doesn’t log premium users’ IP addresses).

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

I ran speed tests in all 80+ countries where Hotspot Shield has a server and experienced a 70% speed decrease on average. This isn’t ideal, but I live in a country (Romania) that has very fast internet speeds. While I experienced significant speed loss in my test results, I maintained fast speeds for browsing, streaming, torrenting, and for making Voice over IP (VoIP) calls.

My co-worker in the US also ran speed tests for Hotspot Shield to see how his speeds compared, and his speed decreased by about 10% on local servers. However, my colleague’s speeds in the US were faster on distant servers than his speeds without a VPN connection, which is really impressive.

I first ran a speed test without being connected to Hotspot Shield to get a baseline for my speeds:

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

Next, I manually connected to a VPN server in Romania. Hotspot Shield has a quick-connect feature called Auto, but, unlike other VPNs that include this tool, Auto only connects you to the fastest server in the US. This is really inconvenient for non-US users, but at least my speeds were still fast in the US. On the Romanian server, my speeds decreased by 69%, but my online browsing remained unchanged. Websites and HD and 4K videos loaded instantly, and I was able to skip through Netflix TV shows and movies in HD without experiencing any buffering.

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

Next, I connected to a server in the US using both the Auto feature and by manually connecting to one, but I didn’t notice any major differences in speed loss — I still experienced about a 72% slowdown and had good speeds. Websites, 4K videos, and HD videos still loaded instantly, but there was minor buffering while skipping through 4K and HD videos. I downloaded large torrents very fast (49 GB files in 20-30 minutes), played online video games without lag, and my Voice over IP (VoIP) calls were stable.

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

Finally, I ran a speed test on a server in Japan. The slowdown was the same as on the US server (72%), and the speeds for my online activities were also about the same as in the US. Websites continued to load instantly, but 4K videos took 3–5 seconds to load and there was minor buffering while skipping through them. However, HD videos loaded instantly and didn’t buffer at all. I still downloaded large torrents fast, and I didn’t experience any freezing during my VoIP calls.

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

But my country (Romania) has very fast internet speeds. It’s not fair to compare my results with what people from other countries see, so I also asked my colleague in the US to run speed tests.

First, my colleague ran a test connected to his local network to get a baseline of his speeds.

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

Then, he used Hotspot Shield’s Auto quick-connect feature to connect to the fastest server, which was in New York City. His speed decreased by 8%, and the difference in speeds for all of his online activity was barely noticeable.

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

When he connected to a server in Italy, his speeds were shockingly faster than they were without a VPN connection. His websites loaded practically right away, streaming content started in 1-2 seconds and he didn’t have any buffering, and he was able to download files at about the same speeds as he did while connected to a US server.

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

Finally, he connected to a server in Australia. While his ping was very high, his download speed was even faster than his speeds in Italy — he still maintained really good speeds for browsing and streaming (websites took 1-2 seconds to load and TV shows and movies also started almost instantly). His international VoIP call was crisp and clear, and he didn’t suffer any interruptions.

Hotspot Shield Speed & Performance

Overall, Hotspot Shield has some of the fastest speeds on the market. My colleague and I had fast speeds for streaming (both of us only experienced minor buffering), browsing, gaming, and torrenting.

Hotspot Shield Servers & IP Addresses

Hotspot Shield has 3,200+ servers in 80+ countries. Hotspot Shield’s server network is not as big as CyberGhost VPN (9,400+ servers in 90+ countries), but Hotspot Shield has a larger network than Proton VPN (2,900+ servers in 60+ countries) and TunnelBear (45+ countries). And Hotspot Shield’s servers are evenly spread across the globe in Europe, the Americas, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa.

I like how Hotspot Shield allows you to choose between a server in 25+ US cities — it helps you bypass sports blackouts. When a US sporting event is streamed in one city but not another one, you can connect to a specific location. Also, you can pick a US server that’s closest to you to get faster speeds.

I like that Hotspot Shield shows you the server load percentage (how many active users are connected to a server) and latency, which shows how long it takes data to travel from your device to the server — but you can only see this information after you connect to a server. These convenient tools would be more useful if they were displayed in the list of servers before you connected to a server. Proton VPN shows you the server load beforehand, and Private Internet Access and Surfshark show you the ping next to the servers before you connect to one of them.

Hotspot Shield also has dedicated streaming and gaming servers in the US and UK, and there are dedicated social media servers in the US for Android. The IP addresses are refreshed more often on the dedicated streaming servers to avoid getting blocked by streaming sites, and my colleagues in the US and UK were always able to access Netflix or BBC iPlayer while connected to these servers. The gaming servers are optimized to offer fast speeds, but I didn’t notice any difference in the speed on the dedicated servers than Hotspot Shield’s regular servers while gaming — they were all fast. The social media servers on Android are configured to provide fast connection speeds, but like with the dedicated gaming servers, I didn’t notice any difference.

Hotspot Shield supports torrenting on all of its servers, which allows you to find a nearby server for fast downloading speeds.

Overall, Hotspot Shield has a pretty big server network with locations in many countries. There are dedicated streaming, gaming, and social media servers, but they provide similar speeds as the normal servers. Also, Hotspot Shield allows torrenting on all servers.

Hotspot Shield Streaming & Torrenting

Hotspot Shield is really good for streaming — it works with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer, as well as with less-popular sites like VRV, Crunchyroll, and Sony Crackle. I still prefer ExpressVPN though, as it works with 100+ streaming services.

Hotspot Shield Streaming & Torrenting

Hotspot Shield is great for torrenting. It allows P2P traffic on every server and works with all major torrenting clients (Vuze, qBittorrent, uTorrent, Deluge, and more). Unlike Private Internet Access, Hotspot Shield doesn’t support port forwarding (when you connect to more peers for faster speeds), but it allows seeding (when you upload a torrent after you finish downloading it). Before downloading any torrents, I ran leak tests on 10+ server locations — I never saw any leaks.

Overall, Hotspot Shield is excellent for streaming and torrenting. It works with popular sites like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime. Also, it supports P2P traffic on every server and works with all major torrenting clients.

Hotspot Shield Bypassing Censorship

Hotspot Shield doesn’t consistently bypass VPN blocks in restrictive countries. It says that it only works sometimes in censor-heavy nations like China and Indonesia. If you live in a restrictive country and need a VPN that consistently bypasses internet firewalls, I recommend using ExpressVPN.

Hotspot Shield Bypassing Censorship

Hotspot Shield Plans & Pricing

Hotspot Shield has a decent free plan and 3 premium subscription plans that include different features.

The Basic plan is Hotspot Shield’s free plan — you get unlimited data, access to 3 server locations (the US, the UK, and Singapore) and 1 connection. Also, it’s ad-supported, so you have to watch ads in the app to use it, and it caps connection speeds at 2Mbps (but it only reduced my speed by 45%, which is pretty good for a free plan).

In addition, Hotspot Shield shares Basic users’ geo-location with advertisers, doesn’t support streaming and doesn’t have 24/7 live chat. It’s only available on Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS, and it has an extension for Chrome.

Proton VPN has one of the best free VPN plans out there — it also has unlimited bandwidth and provides access to servers in 3 countries (the US, Netherlands, and Japan), but it offers faster speeds, is ad-free, and doesn’t store or share any user information.

Hotspot Shield’s Premium plan has expensive 1-month and 1-year plans, but the 3-year subscription plan costs a very reasonable €2.81 / month. Each plan allows up to 10 connections, comes with access to servers in 80+ countries, the fastest speeds, full streaming support, 24/7 live chat, and also supports Linux, routers, and smart TVs.

Hotspot Shield accepts 6 types of credit cards and PayPal but cryptocurrency payments aren’t available. If you want a low-cost VPN that accepts crypto, I recommend Private Internet Access.

Hotspot Shield backs all plans with a very generous 45-day money-back guarantee (most VPNs only offer 30-day refunds). CyberGhost VPN also has a 45-day money-back guarantee but only for its long-term plans.

Overall, Hotspot Shield has a decent free plan and flexible paid plans.

Hotspot Shield Ease of Use: Mobile & Desktop Apps

Hotspot Shield has easy-to-use apps for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Linux, smart TVs, and Chrome. I installed the iOS and Android apps on my smartphones in 1 minute, and the macOS and Windows apps on my MacBook Pro and Windows 10 PC in 1–2 minutes.

Android

Hotspot Shield Ease of Use: Mobile & Desktop Apps

Hotspot Shield’s Android app is easy to use and has good features. It takes just 1–2 seconds to automatically connect to a server with the Auto quick-connect feature. And I like how easy it is to manually pick a server — Hotspot Shield lets you search for a location and it has a Quick access group for US and UK streaming, gaming, and social media servers. It’s really easy to access and enable/disable settings, and I also like that most settings have quick descriptions.

The Android app uses Hydra and WireGuard, has a kill switch and split-tunneling, and there are really cool automation options — for example, you can configure the VPN to connect you to a server on startup or when you launch the app and disconnect you when your Android goes to sleep. There are also options to auto-connect on secured Wi-Fi, unsecured Wi-Fi, and mobile data.

Overall, I really like Hotspot Shield’s Android app — it has an intuitive design, it’s easy to use, and it has great features (kill switch, automation options, and split-tunneling).

iOS

Hotspot Shield Ease of Use: Mobile & Desktop Apps

Hotspot Shield’s iOS app is easy to use and feature-rich. It’s simple to connect to a server, it lets you split-tunnel sites (most iOS apps don’t have this), and you get both Hydra and WireGuard protocols.

It lacks some of the auto-connect features that the Android app offers. But that said, it still has an Always-on VPN option that automatically reconnects you when you lose connection to the VPN server.

Overall, Hotspot Shield’s iOS app is pretty good — it comes with a great split-tunneling feature, is intuitive, and uses Hydra and WireGuard.

Windows/Mac (Desktop)

Hotspot Shield Ease of Use: Mobile & Desktop Apps

Hotspot Shield’s desktop apps have an intuitive design so they’re easy to use. There are more settings tabs and the connection screen also displays the server location on a map. Like the mobile apps, it’s very simple to manually pick a server location.

Both desktop apps are feature-rich, but the Windows app is slightly better. You get a kill switch, split-tunneling, and access to Hydra and WireGuard on both, but the Windows app has the Prevent IP leak option, which protects you from IPv6 and WebRTC leaks. It also has a pretty accurate built-in speed test, and it lets you exclude apps from the VPN tunnel (on macOS, you can only exclude sites).

Overall, Hotspot Shield’s desktop apps are easy to use, but the Windows app is more secure and has more features than the macOS app.

Hotspot Shield’s Apps: Is Hotspot Shield Easy to Use?

Hotspot Shield has user-friendly apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. The mobile apps look different than the desktop apps, but it’s still simple to switch between them.

The Windows app is my favorite — it’s the most feature-rich app with a kill switch, split-tunneling, built-in speed test, and IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection. The Android and iOS apps are both easy to use and come with pretty great features like a kill switch and split-tunneling.

Hotspot Shield Customer Support

Hotspot Shield provides very good customer support via an in-depth and well-organized support section with useful frequently asked questions (FAQs), setup tutorials, and troubleshooting guides. There’s also 24/7 live chat (only available for the paid plans) and email support.

I really like the support library — it has a search function and splits the FAQs and support guides into device-specific sections. There’s also a dedicated section for payments and subscriptions, account management, and troubleshooting issues. Hotspot Shield’s support articles have good information and helpful screenshots, but they don’t have video guides like ExpressVPN and IPVanish.

Hotspot Shield Customer Support

Connecting to a live chat representative typically took under 10 seconds. The agents were resourceful, well-informed, and usually addressed all my questions. Live chat is primarily in English, but the reps can use a translation tool to help in any other language.

Hotspot Shield Customer Support

I also tested Hotspot Shield’s email support. The reps usually replied in 4–5 hours, which is pretty good, and they thoroughly answered all my questions.

Overall, Hotspot Shield has very good customer support — the support library is in-depth and reader-friendly, and the live chat reps and email support are responsive and knowledgeable.

Is Hotspot Shield Fast and Good for Streaming in 2023?

Hotspot Shield is great for streaming, very fast, easy to use, and secure. It has 3,200+ servers in 80+ countries and intuitive apps for iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Linux, and smart TVs.

In my tests, Hotspot Shield provided me with lightning-fast fast speeds for streaming, torrenting, browsing, and gaming on local and distant servers.

Hotspot Shield has industry-standard VPN security features like 256-bit AES encryption, a no-logs policy, secure protocols, and a kill switch. It also has extra features like split-tunneling, obfuscation, perfect forward secrecy, and Tor support.

Hotspot Shield is a great VPN, but it’s missing some important features on some apps. IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection is only available on Windows, the VPN doesn’t always work in restrictive countries like China, and while there’s a quick-connect feature, it only connects you to US servers. And it’s one of the more expensive VPNs on the market in 2023.

Hotspot Shield has a decent free plan and 3 premium plans. All plans are covered by a 45-day money-back guarantee.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Hotspot Shield free?

Yes, Hotspot Shield has a free plan, but frankly there are better free VPNs out there. The free plan offers unlimited data, allows access to 3 server locations (the US, the UK, and Singapore), and lets you connect 1 device, which is pretty good for a free plan. But it also caps your connection speed at 2Mbps, and there’s no streaming support or 24/7 live chat. The worst part of Hotspot Shield’s free plan is that it shares your geo-location with advertisers, meaning you’ll see more location-specific ads.

Upgrading to the provider’s paid plans provides more perks, including access to servers in 80+ countries, 10 connections, fast speeds, and streaming support. All purchases are covered by a 45-day money-back guarantee.

Is Hotspot Shield good for torrenting?

Yes, Hotspot Shield is great for torrenting. It allows P2P traffic on all of its 3,200+ servers, works with the most popular torrent clients, and it has very fast download speeds (I downloaded 49 GB files in 20–30 minutes). It also has a kill switch and didn’t leak my data in my tests. That said, there are much better torrenting VPNs out there.

Does Hotspot Shield keep logs?

Hotspot Shield has a strict no-logs policy that doesn’t log the websites you visit, files you download, and your IP address. However, if you subscribe to the free plan, Hotspot Shield uses your IP address to determine your geo-location, which it shares with advertisers to target you with location-specific ads. Also, Hotspot Shield’s no-logs policy hasn’t been independently audited. If you want a VPN with an audited no-logs policy, I recommend ExpressVPN.

Does Hotspot Shield work with Netflix?

Yes, Hotspot Shield works with Netflix, but only on the paid plans. Hotspot Shield also has really fast speeds, which allow for uninterrupted streaming. While HotSpot Shield is a good streaming VPN, my favorite VPN for accessing Netflix is ExpressVPN — it has excellent security, blazing-fast speeds, and can access all streaming sites 100% of the time.

Hotspot Shield VPN review: This speedster costs more than its faster, more private competitors

Hotspot is extremely fast, but it’s easy to find a better VPN at a better price elsewhere.

Rae Hodge Former senior editor

Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET’s coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.

Feb. 10, 2022 11:25 a.m. PT
8 min read

Hotspot Shield VPN

Like

  • Among the fastest VPNs we’ve tested
  • Streaming media-friendly
  • Strong platform compatibility

Don’t like

  • Excessive user data collection
  • Lack of independent audits
  • More expensive than faster competitor

Paying for a US-based virtual private network because you want top-tier privacy protection is like popping into a roadside strip joint because you want a satisfying lunch buffet — a risky move that’s best made with your eyes open.

Nevermind the shady ownership structures and oblique third-party operation chains you’ve got to trust from far too many commercial VPNs . Between the US’ participation in international intelligence-sharing rings, its comparative lack of domestic data privacy protections, and its government’s vast authority to silently surveil you — there’s no way to know what’s going on behind the curtain. So why would anyone pay for a US VPN? Simple: Pure, naked speed.

Editors’ note, Feb. 9, 2022: The VPN industry has undergone significant change in the past few months, with all three of our top VPN choices announcing major changes in corporate ownership. In December, ExpressVPN announced that it had officially joined Kape Technologies, a company that already owns several other VPNs and has raised privacy concerns in the past. In February, NordVPN and Surfshark announced the two companies were merging, though they’ll continue to operate autonomously. We’re in the process of reevaluating all of our top picks in light of these changes. We will update our reviews and, if necessary, our rankings to account for this new competitive landscape.

Enter Hotspot Shield VPN. Its TLS-based Hydra Catapult protocol, US jurisdiction, 128-bit AES encryption support, and large percentage of virtual servers might strip away my trust in its privacy protections — but I’m not here for the buffet, and those questionable components are exactly what give this service its core prowess. As of May 2021, it’s the second-fastest VPN I’ve tested , effortlessly delivers on smooth-streaming media, and can dance between server connections without missing a beat, no matter how many interruptions you throw at it.

Be warned, however. As thrilling as its speeds are, spending time with Hotspot is going to leave your wallet a little lighter than you might prefer.

Speed

  • Average speed loss: 26%
  • Number of servers: 3,200
  • Number of server locations: 82
  • Number of IP addresses: Unknown

I ran speed tests using Hotspot Shield over two days with dynamic IP addresses on both Windows and Apple devices. Internet speeds in the US vary by state and provider so, with any speed test, results are going to rely on your local infrastructure. Hyperfast internet service will yield higher test speed results.

That’s one reason I’m more interested in testing the amount of speed lost (which for most VPNs is typically half or more) across both high-speed and slower connection types, and in using tools such as speedtest.net to even out the playing field. Most VPNs cut your speed by half or more. In the case of Hotspot Shield, only about 26% of average internet speed was lost. That average includes both the superfast speeds recorded for nearby servers, and the sluggish speeds recorded for the more distant servers.

There’s no denying this VPN is fast. A 26% speed loss puts it in second place in our speed rankings , falling behind Surfshark — which lost just 16.9% of its speed the last time I tested it — and knocking ExpressVPN down to third place with a 51.8% speed loss at last measurement.

If my tests were solely based on connections to servers in the UK, we’d have a new speed champion: Speed loss on London connections was under 8%, with a satisfying 230 Mbps average download speed and a peak speed test of 349 Mbps. Gaming , torrenting, browsing, streaming — speed-dependent services won’t be slowed down for Hotspot Shield users in the UK.

As usual with European connection speeds, high scores in France were balanced by low scores in Germany for an average of 203 Mbps. US speeds peaked at 348 Mbps, but averaged just 183 Mbps overall. Although Singapore speeds reached a peak of 270 Mbps, their average was just 167 Mbps due to wild swings in speeds, where HotSpot’s overall slowest score of 30 Mbps was clocked. Singapore tested ahead of Australian, however, where speeds struggled at an average 142 Mbps. Overall non-VPN speeds averaged about 250 Mbps.

If all you’re looking for in a VPN is something lightning fast to help you easily stream your home country’s content on Netflix , Hulu or Amazon Prime Video while traveling abroad, Hotspot is going to give you exactly what you’re looking for.

Privacy

  • Jurisdiction: US
  • Encryption: AES-128 and AES-256
  • Leaks: IPv6 potentially visible on certain platforms
  • Pain points: Excessive logging, lack of audits, closed source protocol

If, however, you’re less concerned with quickly streaming media and more focused on finding a VPN with a strong reputation for privacy, you should choose a different VPN. Hotspot Shield has an undeniably dodgy past, its protocol is closed source, and its data collection and privacy policy are concerning.

Hotspot uses its closed-source, proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol. While the protocol is a core component of its incredible speeds, it’s still not made available for public audits like its open source alternative protocol, OpenVPN. Although Hotspot touts the use of its protocol by big names in security like McAfee , that appeal to authority isn’t much of an argument against greater transparency.

While a 2018 review from AV-Test gave Hotspot high marks, there’s no real way to tell what’s going on under the hood of its protocol, and giving the public more third-party audits is a necessary step to bring Hotspot up to speed with routinely audited VPNs like TunnelBear.

As recently as April 2021, review site vpnMentor discovered a DNS leak in Hotspot Shield’s plug-in for Google Chrome. Hotspot acknowledged the issue at the time in a statement.

“The vulnerabilities they reported were present only in the free Chrome plug-in,” the company said in a statement. “Neither mobile nor desktop users of the Hotspot Shield app were affected by these vulnerabilities. We appreciate and commend vpnMentor’s initiative to improve the security of consumer VPN applications.”

On its website, however, Hotspot maintains that certain DNS leaks are a matter of crossed-purposes between its product and testing sites.

“Hotspot Shield does not leak when making DNS requests. We encrypt the DNS request and that prevents DNS leaks. It’s true that some online websites that detect DNS leaks indicate that there may be a leak with our VPN. These websites come to this wrong conclusion because the DNS request is not going through the VPN tunnel and don’t check that the request is encrypted,” the site says.

While testing Hotspot with a default configuration Windows machine, my IPv6 was exposed while my IPv4 was not. On a Mac, this wasn’t a problem. Windows users should make sure they’ve disabled IPv6 on their machines (it’s enabled by default on Windows) before using HotSpot. While you’re at it, enable Hotspot’s kill switch in its settings menu before using it (it’s disabled by default). On Windows machines, you can find your IPv6 options under your Wi-Fi Properties menu, in the Networking tab.

The 2021 incident was preceded by another privacy scandal in 2018, when a researcher found Hotspot leaking information about users’ Wi-Fi networks. Hotspot’s response was offered once the vulnerability was fixed.

In 2017 Hotspot was hit with an FTC complaint for allegedly over-the-top privacy violations in serving ads. Carnegie Mellon University researchers found the company not only had a baked-in backdoor used to secretly sell data to third-party advertising networks, but it also employed five different tracking libraries, and actually redirected user traffic to secret servers.

When the story broke, Hotspot’s then-parent company, AnchorFree, denied the researchers’ findings in an email to Ars Technica: “We never redirect our users’ traffic to any third-party resources instead of the websites they intended to visit. The free version of our Hotspot Shield solution openly and clearly states that it is funded by ads, however, we intercept no traffic with neither the free nor the premium version of our solutions.”

Watch this: Which VPN should you pick?

AnchorFree went on to offer annual transparency reports, although their value is still up to the reader.

Another privacy issue is that we don’t know which of Hotspot’s servers are virtual and which are bare metal (or physical), and we don’t know where each of these servers are located. While they can potentially create more speed for a service, virtual servers are generally considered less secure than bare metal. That’s why you’ve seen top-tier privacy players like ExpressVPN (save for two virtual servers), Surfshark and NordVPN move to 100% RAM-only servers in the recent past.

Of course, if you’re a VPN company that likes to collect user activity data, moving to RAM-only servers could make that a lot harder. And Hotspot collects a lot of data.
Although its website says Hotspot’s current parent company “does not record your VPN browsing activities in any way that can be associated back to you,” Hotspot currently collects way more user data than any VPN should. And while Hotspot claims that data is anonymized, it’s not that hard to de-anonymize most data .

Hotspot collects anonymized data on which domains you access and keeps this particular data for at least a month. It also collects device hashes which can be used to identify specific devices and match it with any other data those devices collect if the hash is compromised. Other kinds of device-specific information Hotspot gathers include what type of browser and device you’re using, what settings and operating systems , along with your ISP and network information.

It’s common for some VPNs to collect some version of your connection timestamp data. What’s not common, however, is for a VPN to retain your data for a seemingly undefined amount of time. Along with data on the duration of your VPN sessions, the amount of bandwidth you consume and your billing and payment information, Hotspot also collects your location information.

If you’re using the free version of its product, it shares that location information — along with even more finite data, including your MAC address and specific phone identifier — with advertising companies.

I don’t need a free lunch if I’m on the menu. Thanks, but no thanks.

I reached out to Hotspot with questions about all of these issues — the lack of third-party audits, the gathering of sensitive user data to share with advertisers, the length of time certain data is retained, and whether Hotspot has any plans to go 100% RAM-only with its server fleet. If they get back to me, I’ll update you.

Cost

  • Usability: Clean, easy interface
  • Platforms: Windows, Android, MacOS , iOS , Linux, Amazon Fire TV
  • Price: $8 per month or $95.88 billed annually. Month-to-month plan at $13
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Five

You’re not looking at a great bargain here for the overall product. Offering just 500 MB of data use, Hotspot’s free version is an eye roll of a bait-and-switch, with unacceptable data privacy practices to boot. ( We never recommend using a free VPN , unless it’s a free trial of a trusted service.)

The premium product goes for $8 a month, but really it’s $95.88, billed yearly. Or you can go month-to-month for $13. That’s limited to just five device connections, though. You get 25 device connections under the Family plan, which comes with five member accounts and costs $143.88, billed yearly. The month-to-month version is $20. Both come with a 45-day money-back guarantee.

Compare that to Surfshark, which beat Hotspot on both privacy and speed. Surfshark’s premium product costs just $57.76 for two years of service, compared to Hotspot’s one year, likewise has a 30-day guarantee, and covers not just five devices but an unlimited number. Its month-to-month option is roughly the same as Hotspot, at $13.

Although it’s a popular VPN, Hotspot just isn’t cutting it for me, and it would have to step up to the plate on industry fundamentals before I could recommend it to anyone — even as a speed-only product. For the high price it’s charging, customers have every right to expect Hotspot to have third-party audits, RAM-disk servers and transparency on its virtual server locations, zero user data transmission to advertisers, and logging policies in line with industry leaders.

Until then, I recommend passing on Hotspot and giving it a chance to refocus its priorities.