Hotspot Shield VPN Review: Not What We Expected From This Popular Free VPN
AnchorFree Inc is a US company founded in 2005 by David Gorodyansky. The organization owns also Betternet VPN and grows rapidly. Read full Hotspot Shield review
Price Currency: $
Operating System: Windows
Application Category: Utility
Hotspot Shield VPN has been built around its own patented Aura Hydra protocol and has been proven to increase download speeds, especially over long distances.
Our review takes an in-depth look at the ins and outs of this well-known VPN, including its security strength, streaming capabilities, additional features, and price tag, to help you find out if Hotspot Shield is the right VPN for you.
Hotspot Shield was originally founded in 2008 by AnchorFree, which is now known as Pango. Pango also owns Betternet and UltraVPN, and is based in the US (which is a Five-Eyes Alliance country).
Pros & Cons
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Offers a free trial
- Servers in 80+ countries
- Patented Hydra protocol
- Limited to 5 simultaneous devices
- Based in a Five-Eyes Alliance country
- No dedicated IP, smart DNS, or multihop features
|Servers and Locations
|24/7 live customer support via live chat and email
|‘No Logs’ but may include ad data
|Hydra, IPSec (IKEv2), WireGuard
|Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, smart TVs, routers
|Many popular routers, including Asus, GL-inet, Linksys, Netgear, TP-Link, and any that can install DD-WRT or FreshTomato firmware
|Up to 5 devices and 1 router
|Torrenting (P2P File Sharing)
|Torrenting / P2P File Sharing Allowed
|Country of Registration
|from free (limited), with paid plans starting at $2.99
Streaming Movies and TV Shows With Hotspot Shield VPN
We tested how Hotspot Shield VPN works with some of the top streaming services.
Netflix is well-known for geo-restricting its content, but when using Hotspot Shield we were able to unblock Netflix and access US content from a WiFi connection in Europe.
Alongside Netflix, Hotspot Shield works with other streaming services, such as:
Desktop and Mobile Apps
Hotspot Shield VPN supports a variety of platforms, with apps for popular operating systems and devices.
If you like to do everything from within your internet browser, it’s worth trying the Chrome browser extension that Hotspot Shield VPN has on offer.
It’s easy to install from the Chrome web store, and it will fully encrypt your browser to keep your data safe from your ISP or other third parties.
It should be noted that the extension doesn’t include the full features of the VPN, an ad blocker, antivirus, or specific malware-blocking tools.
Hotspot Shield VPN Proxy by Pango also has a browser extension on the Firefox Browser Add-On store, though this hasn’t been updated since 2020.
Using Streaming Devices With Hotspot Shield
Not only does Hotspot Shield VPN work with some of the top streaming platforms, but it’s also compatible with many home TV devices.
Amazon Fire TV Stick or Other Smart TVs
Hotspot Shield VPN is compatible with any smart TV that features the Google Play Store – just download the app and you can start using the VPN on your TV.
It also has a downloadable app for Amazon Fire TV and Sticks.
If you don’t have a compatible smart TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick, you can also purchase the Android TV Box which will allow you to download the Hotspot Shield app and connect it to any TV you like.
Installing the VPN on your router is probably the best option, as then you can easily have Hotspot Shield VPN protect any device in your home without the need for additional apps.
Hotspot Shield VPN Features
As with any VPN service, it’s important to find out what features are included before committing to a lengthy subscription.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the key features on offer with Hotspot Shield VPN.
Another huge factor for many people when it comes to choosing a VPN provider is finding out which encryption protocols are used.
Hotspot Shield VPN has its own proprietary Hydra protocol. As an in-house, not open-source version of the Wireguard protocol (which is used by other providers), Hotspot Shield claims Hydra solves issues of speed, security, compatibility, and ease of use.
The service also offers users IPSec (IKEv2) and WireGuard (only on macOS and iOS apps), but not OpenVPN.
Hotspot Shield VPN uses military-grade AES-256 encryption to protect users’ private data.
- “Record the amount of bandwidth used in a VPN session
- Identify the locations of the VPN servers utilized
- Collect similar diagnostic information as referenced above.
- Ask you to rate your connection and provide some more detailed survey information if you are not satisfied with the service. This information is not tied to a specific user.
- We may also assign your device a ‘hash’, which is a random ID generated when you first launch one of our VPN apps. Device hashes are not linked to VPN browsing activity or user identity, but may be used to measure individual user activity.”
Hotspot Shield VPN has proven itself an effective option for those with a wide array of devices and platforms.
Currently, the company offers desktop support for Windows, macOS, and Linux, as well as iOS and Android apps.
The provider also offers support for most routers, with instructions on how to install the VPN on your existing router, and also allows customers to buy a router pre-installed with Hotspot Shield.
By setting up a Hotspot Shield VPN on your router at home, you secure every device that connects to it without the need to install the VPN individually on each piece of hardware around the house.
Split tunneling (which Hotspot Shield calls SmartVPN) allows you to decide which apps on your device use the VPN and which ones do not.
For instance, if you want to use Hotspot Shield VPN to watch Netflix without geo-restrictions, but also want to access your bank’s online app through an unencrypted internet connection (as you may need to prove your real location), you can by using the split tunneling setting.
This offers flexibility and allows you to use the VPN on your terms.
You might want to use your VPN connection to secure more than one device at any given time – for example, if you’re watching a streaming service on your laptop while also browsing the internet on your phone.
Hotspot Shield VPN Premium users can have up to five devices connected and secured simultaneously. Users on the free plan are limited to just one device at a time.
P2P File Sharing (Torrenting)
Hotspot Shield VPN supports P2P file sharing and torrenting.
This means you can protect your privacy online while torrenting or using P2P services without experiencing restrictions or bandwidth throttling.
Advanced Features (Dedicated IP, Smart DNS, Multihop)
Hotspot Shield VPN is limited in the availability of more advanced features, such as the provision of dedicated IP addresses, multihop servers, or Smart DNS.
These features are far from essential, but if they’re important to your needs, then Hotspot Shield VPN may not be the best VPN for you.
Plans and Pricing
Hotspot Shield is one of the few services that offers a free VPN plan. The free version is limited (for instance, users are limited to one connection, one server location, and cannot use it for streaming or gaming), but it doesn’t cap user data and still provides the same military-grade encryption.
If you decide to upgrade to Hotspot Shield VPNs’ full features and capabilities, there are several subscription options you can choose from:
(Up to five devices)
- Monthly – $12.99/month
- Yearly – $7.99/month, billed immediately at $95.99
(Up to 25 devices – five for each family member profile)
- Monthly – $19.99/month
- Yearly – $11.99/month, billed immediately at $143.88
Free Trial or Money Back Guarantee
Hotspot Shield VPN offers a seven-day free trial of its premium service and a 45-day money-back guarantee on all paid subscriptions (not just the year plan).
Users can pay with credit cards or PayPal.
Unfortunately, the company doesn’t accept payments with cryptocurrencies, so may not be suitable for those needing to purchase a VPN anonymously.
Hotspot Shield’s Privacy and Security Features
Hotspot Shield VPN includes a range of advanced privacy and security features to ensure your browsing activity remains confidential.
Here we’ll take a look at some in more detail.
The apps include a built-in kill switch functionality. This means if your VPN connection drops, for any reason, Hotspot Shield VPN will immediately disconnect your device from the internet to prevent any of your data from leaking out over an unsecured connection.
For those concerned about their true IP address being accidentally leaked online, Hotspot Shield VPN includes a safeguard.
The company aims to prevent DNS leaks by passing all traffic through its own DNS servers (rather than the servers belonging to your internet service provider [ISP]) to prevent your online activities from being visible to your ISP or anyone else.
Hotspot Shield VPN also includes a help section in its official online support pages on how to prevent webRTC leaks during your VPN session.
How well a VPN performs can have a significant impact on your internet experience.
Here we look at the real-world speeds of Hotspot Shield VPN, as well as its server network and locations.
How Fast Is It?
When it comes to choosing a VPN, many will want to download at fast speeds, so will ultimately choose the fastest VPN that will have minimal effect on their online experience and bandwidth.
We put Hotspot Shield VPN to the test, using servers in both the UK and the USA. The connection speeds below show how those Mbps stacked up:
|Ping Idle (ms)
|Ping DL (ms)
|Ping UL (ms)
The number of servers and where they’re located are key considerations when choosing a VPN provider.
If you’re trying to stream the latest TV shows from other countries, such as Australia, Japan, France, the US, Canada, Europe, or the UK, you’ll need servers within the country you’re trying to access.
If you’re based in or traveling to somewhere with internet restrictions, like China or Russia, and want to bypass online censorship or access content from home, you’ll want a VPN server close by to mitigate congestion or long-distance speed reductions.
Hotspot Shield VPN currently has over 1,800 servers in more than 80 countries, including over 35 popular cities. These are located on more than five continents around the world, so whether you need a low-latency US server or a virtual location overseas, you’re unlikely to ever be far from a Hotspot Shield server.
When selecting a VPN provider, the type and availability of customer support is an important consideration.
Hotspot Shield VPN has multiple customer support options, including 24/7 live chat support, email, and an online help center on the Hotspot Shield website.
With a wide range of features designed to enhance the safety and security of its users online, Hotspot Shield VPN is a reliable choice for those wanting to protect their data.
The provider covers all the essentials, with a wide range of encryption protocols, servers, and streaming service compatibility. Its premium family plan makes it worth considering by families, allowing up to five members the option to connect up to five devices at once.
While it might be missing some of the extra features available with other premium VPN providers, Hotspot Shield VPN is one of the few services to offer a free plan and a 45-day money-back guarantee.
How does Hotspot Shield stack up against NordVPN?
Hotspot Shield VPN and NordVPN are both well-known and reputable premium VPN providers. They both offer a wide range of servers in many countries around the world, providing users with a variety of encryption protocols and compatibility with most devices and platforms.
NordVPN offers a few more additional features, such as an ad blocker and threat protection, a dedicated IP option, double VPN, and smart DNS, though Hotspot Shield has servers in over 80 locations, whereas NordVPN covers 60.
Ultimately, the right VPN comes down to your individual needs and requirements.
How does Hotspot Shield compare with ExpressVPN or CyberGhost?
Both CyberGhost and Express VPN are well-established in the VPN industry and both providers have a proven reputation of providing secure and private service.
Hotspot Shield VPN and ExpressVPN each offer their own in-house protocols, though ExpressVPN also offers further additional features that CyberGhost and Hotspot Shield don’t, such as TrustedServer Technology, Threat Manager, and a built-in speed test.
Each provider has its own strengths and weaknesses, so the choice comes down to a user’s individual requirements – see our full VPN reviews for comprehensive details on each service.
Is Hotspot Shield a good VPN?
Hotspot Shield VPN incorporates military-grade AES-256 encryption, has a large server network that spans the globe, and provides fast speeds for streaming and gaming. It’s also built its own protocol based on WireGuard, designed to balance speed and security, and is available on popular platforms and devices.
These capabilities make Hotspot Shield a suitable VPN for most users’ needs, though the best VPN for an individual will depend on their specific requirements and purposes for using a VPN.
Is Hotspot Shield VPN really free?
Hotspot Shield VPN provides a free, basic version of its premium service, which provides the same level of encryption as its paid plans and no bandwidth caps.
This free plan is limited to one device at a time though, and users can only access one server location, instead of the 80+ available to paid users.
Hotspot Shield does offer a seven-day free trial of its premium plan, which provides full access to all features, and a 45-day money-back guarantee for all paid subscriptions.
Can you be tracked with Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield VPN protects its users’ online privacy and prevents tracking in several ways: it masks a device’s IP address, encrypts a user’s internet traffic, and stops browser tracking. This provides anonymity while online.
Does Hotspot Shield VPN protect you from malware?
Hotspot Shield VPN offers malware protection with its premium plan, which safeguards connected devices from four types of cyber threats: malware sites, illegal or phishing sites, infected sites, and spam sites and content farms. It does this by comparing sites users are about to visit with a database of known or suspected dangerous sites.
It also encrypts users’ internet sessions from end to end to ensure privacy and security.