Hotspot Shield review

Hotspot Shield is rated 32 out of 78 VPNs on TheBestVPN.com

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With over 650 million users, HotSpot Shield VPN (released by AnchorFree) is divided into two products: a free VPN service which is more like a proxy with bandwidth cap and a premium paid VPN named “HotSpot Shield Elite”.

In this review, we’ll compare HotSpot Shield Elite network encryption, security features and speed against other VPN services.

They’ve been in business since 2005 and have grown their user base at a high rate.

However, as is the case with many popular VPN companies, having the most customers doesn’t necessarily mean you have the best product.

So the question remains, “Is Hotspot Shield’s massive user base a result of a stellar VPN or stellar marketing?

And over the course of this review, that’s the question I hope to answer.

Hotspot Shield VPN Overview

OVERALL RANK:#32 out of 78 VPNs
USABILITY: Easy to use
LOG FILES:Some Logging
LOCATIONS: 24 countries, 500 servers
SUPPORT:No live chat, support ticket with slow response
TORRENTING:Torrenting Allowed
NETFLIX:Yes 1/4
ENCRYPTION/PROTOCOL:256-bit AES
COST:$3.49/mo & limited free plan – 45 days money back
OFFICIAL WEBSITE:www.hotspotshield.com

Hotspot Shield VPN Pros :-

1. Fastest Speed (Except in the U.S.)

On the right servers, Hotspot Shield is fast.

In fact, when I tested Hotspot Shield on an EU server in Estonia, they performed faster than any other VPN that I’ve ever tested.

I connected to several other servers and ran a few tests using the third party website, speedtest.net to ensure the accuracy of this review.

Here are the performance benchmarks I recorded while using Hotspot Shield’s VPN client on a 100 Mbps internet connection.US Server (New York)

New York

  • Ping: 183ms.
  • Download: 28.66 Mbps.
  • Upload: 13.74 Mbps.

Amsterdam (EU)

  • Ping: 54ms.
  • Download: 92.28 Mbps.
  • Upload: 45.09 Mbps.

Hong Kong

  • Ping: 141ms.
  • Download: 80.00 Mbps.
  • Upload: 19.60 Mbps.

London (UK)

  • Ping: 53ms.
  • Download: 95.55 Mbps.
  • Upload: 46.45 Mbps.

If you have read any of the other VPN reviews I’ve done on this site, then you know that these results are impressive, really impressive.

Hotspot Shield regularly performed about 10 Mbps faster than any of their competitors on all European and Asian servers.

Oddly enough, their United States servers inexplicably ran at speeds that were almost twice as slow as their competitors even though the company is based in San Francisco!

If you plan on using servers primarily located in the European Union or Asia, then Hotspot Shield is the fastest VPN that’s currently available.

However, if you specifically need access to a U.S. based server, then you should probably opt for something like ExpressVPN, PIA or NordVPN.

2. Incredible User Experience 

Hotspot Shield might be the most beautifully designed VPN that I have ever used.

After a 2-minute installation process, you are taken to an interface that looks like something out of a new James Bond movie where you can adjust your settings and VPN location with just a few clicks.

While they don’t offer much in terms of advanced settings or customization (which I’ll talk about in the ‘cons’ section), what they do have is an incredibly simple, intuitive, and easy-to-use VPN software.

3. Torrenting is Fully Supporte

One of the great things about Hotspot Shield is that, unlike some of their competitors, they completely and wholeheartedly support anonymous torrenting.

Their network uses a super secure AES-256 Encryption to ensure that all of the data being transmitted to and from your device is completely secure… From everyone (except AnchorFree).

Governments, ISP’s, nosey neighbors, so long as Hotspot Shield upholds their logging policy, none of them can access any of your browsing history or network activity.

Since AnchorFree openly endorses and even gives instructions on anonymous torrenting, it’s safe to say that Hotspot Shield Elite is an excellent choice for the more avid torrenters for safe P2P experience.

4. Netflix Compatible (1/4)

Streaming Netflix with Hotspot Shield is slightly more complicated than it is with ExpressVPN or StrongVPN. However, if you follow the directions on their site, you can still find a server that will work.

Canada’s streaming service worked perfectly for us. But we struck out on the other three we tested.

That’s actually not a bad result these days, as Netflix has become excellent at detecting (and shutting down) most VPN users trying to access geo-restricted content.

HotSpot Shield server unblocking Netflix:

  • Canada

HotSpot Shield servers blocked by Netflix:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Netherlands

Using of Hotspot Shield Cons :-

1. CDT Privacy Accusations & the FTC Investigation

Hotspot Shield has always been a rather suspicious company.

Considering that they are a U.S.-based VPN provider that was launched using $52 million of Series C funding from investment giant Goldman Sachs, and whose parent company is partnered with several advertising and marketing companies… I wouldn’t exactly describe the company as “Above Reproach”.

However, after a recent filing from the CDT and a proceeding FTC investigation, I’ve begun to realize that the term “Ethically Ambiguous” is probably a more suitable description.

Here’s a snippet from the press release issued from Center for Democracy & Technology regarding the formal complaint they filed against Hotspot Shield.

Considering the 650 million+ users who rely on Hotspot Shield for their online security, the CDT’s 14 page filing has some serious implications.

Although David Gorodyansky has called these claims “Unfounded” and stated that he “Does not agree” with the filing, the facts do not seem to be in his favor.

Until the FTC concludes its formal investigation, I can neither confirm nor deny these accusations, however, I will say that I would be astonished if Hotspot Shield leaves this battle without a few scars.

2. Questionable Privacy and Logging Policies

AnchorFree is openly associated with a number of third-party advertising companies who make Hotspot Shield free possible.

While this is a pretty common practice for a free VPN service, when you start digging into the privacy policy, things get troublesome.

Here’s an excerpt from their privacy policy to illustrate my point.

Even if you ignore, the fact that the term “personal information” is intentionally ambiguous throughout their policy and apparently does not include your personal IP address, this is a fairly worrisome statement.

A CSIRO study concluded that Hotspot Shield uses tracking codes to gather information about their user’s and then sells this information to advertisers.

They also found that Hotspot Shield would regularly redirect user traffic through one of their affiliate networks in order to profit from purchases that their customers made while using the VPN.

Even though their logging policy offers some reassurance by stating that:

“…all browsing information or other similar information relating to your online activities transmitted by you to our servers when using Hotspot Shield is cleared after your VPN “session” is closed.”

I’m hard-pressed to say that I trust Hotspot Shield with my personal data.

3. Ticketed Customer Support 

It is abundantly clear to me that all of Hotspot Shield’s resources have been funneled into only three things.

  1. Creating a stellar list of servers that perform at lightning fast speeds
  2. Designing a beautiful user interface
  3. Finding ways to legally (or otherwise) exploit an ambiguous privacy policy to profit as much as humanly possible.

As you’ll notice, great customer service isn’t on that list.

While Hotspot Shield offers an admittedly exhaustive list of troubleshooting resources and guides, their customer support team is all but nonexistent.

If you are having an issue, the only way to get in contact with their support team is through the dreaded support ticket.

And once your ticket has been submitted?

You should probably go and pour yourself another cup of coffee and sit back with a good book because you will be waiting for a long, long, long time.

I tried submitting a technical support query for this review three days before I started writing this post.

Much to my chagrin… I still haven’t received a reply! 

After skimming through some other reviews, I found that this experience was pretty ubiquitous.

In fact, I read several customer complaints claiming that it took Hotspot Shield more than one week to respond to a simple troubleshooting error.

Considering the hefty price tag associated with their Elite VPN service, this is a very considerable offense.

4. Catapult Hydra and No TOR Compatibility 

With a user base that is as large and diverse as the one boasted by Hotspot Shield, you would imagine that they would create a product that is equally diverse and adaptable to any need or circumstance.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Not only does Hotspot Shield not offer compatibility with The Orion Router or any other third party proxies (an incredibly useful feature in draconian countries like China and North Korea)- Hotspot Shield also works relatively well in China, they landed in our top 7 VPNs for China.  They limit all users to their proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol. While they used to support the OpenVPN protocol, this changed after the introduction of their Catapult Hydra protocol.

Considering that they have more than 650 million users, you would think Hotspot Shield would offer at least a few other VPN tunneling protocols for those rare (but inevitable) instances in which their own protocol simply won’t cut it.

Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.

5. DNS Leak Through Chrome Extension

To make things worse, their Chrome extension leaks your DNS.

We did extensive tests on multiple VPNs and Hotspot Shield was one of many VPN providers who leaks your DNS through their extension.

It’s nothing major, and probably gets fixed soon, but for now they’re leaking… Here’s some information on how to fix that leak, however.

Hotspot Shield Pricing, Plans & Facts

As far as paid VPN providers go, Hotspot Shield’s pricing used to be on the more expensive side of the spectrum.

In fact, at $5.99 a month for their 12-month package, they are couple of dollars more expensive than our own favorite VPN, NordVPN. And only $1 dollar cheaper than ExpressVPN.

The only difference between each plan is the length of time for which you can use Hotspot Shield’s VPN services. Here’s how their different pricing plans break down.

  • Monthly: $12.99 
  • 6 Months: $53.94 ($8.99/mo)
  • 12 Months: $71.88 ($5.99/mo)
  • 3 Years: $125.6 ($3.49/mo)

Furthermore, if you’re located in EU, you’ll face heftier prices (6.99 euros/mo for the 1 year plan, for example). I wonder why they do that…

Although their plans are a little pricey, they are all backed by a generous 45-day money back guarantee, which is the best guarantee that I’ve ever seen in the VPN industry.

From what I have read around the web, this refund is pretty painless to collect meaning that if you do try out Hotspot Sheld’s premium VPN services and decide that they aren’t for you, you can quickly receive your money and continue your search for the perfect VPN provider.

As far as the payment goes, you can use all major credit cards, PayPal and even wire transfer. However, they don’t provide any anonymous payment methods, such as Bitcoin.

  • Ease of the VPN software: Easy to use VPN app
  • Hidden fees & clauses: None found.
  • Upsells: No upsells.
  • Instant access after payment: Took ~5min to get access to download files (after buying the software)

Do We Recommend Hotspot Shield?

The answer to this question is complicated.

As a service, Hotspot Shield is superb.

They offer lighting fast speeds, an incredible user experience, and plenty of great features to keep any VPN enthusiast happy.

However…

The company behind the service has been involved in so many shady dealings and ethically grey activities that it’s hard for me to give my seal of approval, especially considering the current CDT allegations.

They also don’t work with the combination of TOR. I think there are better VPNs at similar or even cheaper prices, such as NordVPN or ExpressVPN.

Until now, Hotspot can be used to hide your IP address but isn’t the best option for complete privacy. Read all my VPN reviews here.

Add your own Hotspot shield review

Have you ever used Hotspot Shield before? If so, what was your experience like? I’m always interested to hear what other enthusiasts have to say about the VPNs that I review! Let me know below.

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