Hotspot Shield VPN
A powerful VPN service for users who seek simplicity and unbeatable raw speed.
- Impressive raw speed
- All plans include three bonus products
- Unblocks Netflix, iPlayer, Disney+
- Quick and easy setup
- Clients for all major desktop and mobile OS
- Works only with Hotspot Shield’s own apps
- Relatively limited configuration options in the apps
- Cannot unblock Amazon Prime Video
- Relatively costly packages compared to single VPN services
Hotspot Shield is a VPN service known by many. It has a free and a premium version but this review is all about the premium service and all the features that come with it.
Upgrading to Hotspot Shield Premium removes the nagging ads that come with the free edition and gives you an unrestricted transfer of data (the free plan has a limit of 500MB only), as well as complete access to all of the locations and functions of Hotspot Shield’s VPN (the free version is restricted to US only).
With the Premium plan, you can choose from servers in more than 80 countries, all of which are P2P-friendly. Besides, the integrated blocking of malicious and phishing websites helps you to maintain security online. There are Windows and Mac apps, plus Android and iOS VPN clients, so, practically, you can install the service on any device that you have.
The Hotspot Shield’s Catapult Hydra protocol takes care of your protection. However, it won’t let you manually set up the service. This is not an issue, though, because the seller’s websites has recently introduced support for that. (For more details, please see the Support page).
Another advantage of Hotspot Shield Premium is that it offers up to five simultaneous connections. This is the standard for the industry and is more than enough for most users. However, since we are making a review, we should mention that there are some providers that allow more connections by default. For instance, NordVPN allows up to six, IPVanish supports ten, StrongVPN can handle 12, and there are no limits for Windscribe.
The hot news from the recent updates on the Hotspot Shield’s websites is that now they are owned by Pango. This means that, once you sign up for the Premium VPN plan, you will automatically get access to three additional products, based on your location – the infamous 1Password password manager, the Identity Guard (an identity theft protection service available in the US only) and Robo Shield (a US only spam and robocall blocker). These three products are very interesting additions to the Hotspot Shield Premium VPN service and make the upgrade even sweeter. But let’s take a look of how much that would cost you.
Hotspot Shield Premium price breakdown
The price of Hotspot Shield Premium and its 1Password, Identity Guard and Robo Shield additions is $12.99 per month. This price seems a bit on the higher side for a VPN service only, but if you count the additionally bundled products, the package actually becomes very reasonable considering all the extras that come with it.
The annual plan at $7.99 per month is even a better deal, which again may look expensive in comparison to a VPN service only, but is not bad at all if you look at all that you get. The ultimate deal, however, is the three-year subscription that will cost you only $2.99 per month, with the extra products included for the first year. Of course, if you are looking for a VPN service only and don’t want any additional products with it, there might be better deals available to you.
With Hotspot Shield Premium, tough, you’ll have the chance to try any of the plans for up to 45 days – a very generous money-back guarantee that isn’t seen in most of the VPN service providers who usually give you up to a week or maximum a month to cancel the plan purchase.
Setting up the VPN clients
Hotspot Shield does not accept common protocols like OpenVPN anymore and is based on its patented Catapult Hydra technology. Thus, you can use the VPN service only with Hotspot Shield’s own clients and apps. The developers say that this technology is worth it, increasing the speed rates up to 2.4 times over long distance connections.
Once you are signed up for any of the Hotspot Shield’s Premium plans, you’ll be rerouted to a console with download links for the VPN clients for Windows, Mac, Android , and iOS, as well as the Chrome extension. Setting up the relevant apps and clients is easy. You simply have to follow the steps from the installation managers. The Chrome extension and the mobile apps are also available in the relevant app stores. After you install them, you simply have to sign in with your preferred username and password and you should be able to use the VPN service.
- The VPN client for Windows
The Windows client of Hotspot Shield has recently been redesigned, but core principles have not changed and you’ll quickly be at home if you have ever used another VPN. The main panel shows the current default location and a large on/off button. A click on that button allows you to connect within two to three seconds even to the most distant server. For comparison, in most VPNs, a local link requires at least five seconds to connect while some need more than ten to fifteen seconds for the same.
The moment you get connected, a map appears that shows your new virtual location. There are also other panels that show some status information such as your server’s IP address, load and latency for your server, the amount of data you’ve used, your current transfer speed, and your local network name.
The number of countries and cities you may choose from is shown when you click on the current location. There is a “Recently used” list to speed up re-connection to already used locations.
The “Settings” dialog for Hotspot Shield’s Windows app is simple and covers all the essentials that you need including switches that run the client when Windows starts, as well as a kill switch that prevents access to the Internet if the VPN drops.
A great feature that isn’t seen often in other VPN clients is the ability to automatically connect to Hotspot Shield when you access dangerous Wi-Fi hotspots, safe hotspots or all networks.
The “Smart VPN” feature allows for selecting domains that won’t be routed through the VPN. This is a useful functionality when you want, for example, to access websites that usually do not work when you are logged from another location.
You can’t browse key FAQs on the client interface, but the Hotspot Shield’s Support page is on a one click away and includes access FAQ and Live Chat pages.
- The VPN client Android app
The Hotspot Shield’s Android app has a close to the Windows app look, but certain extras are missing. For example, it functions just as well when it comes to selecting a location and getting connected, but the app doesn’t show a map, IP addresses and all the other status details that you can see on the Windows app.
The “Settings” dialog has quick options to start the service when the device boots or to automatically load the Hotspot Shield for a particular network. There is no kill switch but you can turn off the VPN with a battery saving option when your device is not in use. An Auto-Connect VPN feature helps you to start Hotspot Shield automatically once you launch a specific app.
Compared to the Windows application, the Android client lets you to search basic help from within the interface rather than having to open a different window to access the relevant support pages. Another very nice feature that the Android VPN app users can enjoy is its ability to automatically choose the best server.
- The VPN client iOS app
The iOS version of Hotspot Shield is somewhat close to the Android app in terms of interface. It has a connect button, a world map, a list of locations to choose from and a few simple setting options. However, there are some functions that are missing. For instance, the auto start or auto-connect options are not included and there is no kill switch. The iOS client also does not have an option to connect to the best server for your location. The only option you get is to set the “Insecure connections” that will warn you if you connect to an insecure network. The most recent improvement in the app’s functionality is the ability to activate Hotspot Shield’s bundled products (1Password, Identity Guard and Robo Shield) from within the main interface. Nonetheless, the iOS app is user-friendly and does its job, which is more than enough.
- The VPN Browser extensions
Most VPN providers typically provide very basic client extensions for browser. They barely offer anything more than a Location List and a Connect button. Hotspot Shield, however, comes with a Chrome extension that is full of features and, in a way, more powerful than the desktop and mobile apps.
The opening screen doesn’t give an idea of how powerful the extension actually is since it looks much like the other clients: a dark empty panel with a Connect button in the middle and nothing more. Once you click on it, you are connected nearly instantly and can unblock different websites.
When you press the “Configuration” button in the top-right, however, you can open up a menu with a lot of settings. For example, from there, you can choose whether to set a default server to connect to, or connect to the nearest server automatically. You have a range of protection options as well. There is an ad cookie blocker, track blocker and a malware and WebRTC blocker. These added tools are not as powerful as the leaders on the market but, still, they are working well and are nice extras that compliment the Chrome extension.
The “Settings” page of Chrome’s Hotspot Shield hides two more very handy options – Auto Protect and Bypass lists. If you add websites to the Auto Protect list, Hotspot Shield will turn itself on automatically when you try to access them. If you add websites to the Bypass list, Hotspot Shield will redirect them through your normal connection, not via the VPN tunnel.
Although the website barely speaks about it, Hotspot Shield has also an extension for Firefox. It looks and operates much the same way as the Chrome extension with only a slight difference – it doesn’t have a Sword Mode for feeding web trackers with fake browsing data. In general, however, the Firefox extension is as simple and as efficient to use and is a great addition to the entire Hotspot Shield line-up.
Performance and user experience
Hotspot Shield has some bold statements regarding its Catapult Hydra protocol performance. A quick check on the speeds with benchmarking sites like SpeedTest and TestMy shows some interesting results. Connecting to a closeby location in the UK gives speeds of about 70Mbps. Connecting to a very fast 600Mbps connection to US-based servers from a US location shows some pretty amazing speeds reaching up to 540Mbps on two different testing sites at two different times of the day. That is more than twice the speed that is seen in many of the competitor VPN services and is quite impressive.
Long distance connections usually don’t perform that well, but Hotspot Shield doesn’t disappoint with that either. Faraway connections like Vietnam, for instance, regularly keep a speed of more than 60 Mbps. These results are very impressive and prove that Hotspot Shield Premium’s claims about its Catapult Hydra protocol stand the tests and actually place this VPN service among the fastest VPNs on the market.
VPN services are preferred way to bypass all sorts of website restrictions. Connecting to a VPN allows you to access streaming sites which have their content blocked in certain countries, as well as access popular sites that are blocked in some locations. Trying to evaluate the VPN’s unblocking abilities, however, can be difficult since there are a number of factors that affect it.
Still, Hotspot Shield gives quick access to geoblocked YouTube videos, BBC iPlayer content, Disneky+ and Netflix without any hassle – an achievement that defeats most of the VPN competitors on the market. The US Amazon Prime Video, however, detects the VPN and doesn’t allow access.
Still, you can access torrents without any restrictions in the bandwidth. This is not mentioned on the website’s front page or in the Hotspot Shield’s list of features. Still, if you search a little deeper, you will find out that the service supports P2P in full on all servers, meaning that you are able to start downloading as soon as you have connected with any of the clients – Windows, Mac, Android or iOS. There are also some quick guides for newcomers on the Support page with information about how to download torrents anonymously and why you would want to use a VPN for torrenting.
Protection and privacy
To understand a VPN’s protection, one usually has to look at its protocol, encryption and authentication information. Hotspot Shield, in particular, is tougher to evaluate since it does not support popular open source secure protocols like OpenVPN or IKEv2, or L2TP/IPsec. Instead, it is using its own Catapult Hydra protocol, which, is not openly accessible. According to the website, however, this protocol is based on TLS (Transport Layer Security) 1.2. It also has a AES-128 encryption and 2048-bit RSA certificates for server authentication. Keys are exchanged via Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDHE) for optimal protection.
Catapult Hydra is aimed at improving performance and promises fast speed. What speaks good about it is that the protocol is incorporated by many big names such as McAfee, Cheetah Mobile, Bitdefender and other companies that offer VPN services from within their apps. Hotspot Shield even points out in their website that operators like Telefonica and KDDI also use Catapult Hydra to offer VPN services and Wi-Fi protection to their users. This speaks high about the protocol’s reliability which has certainly been evaluated by such big corporate customers and third-party security experts before they have decided to implement it in such a large scale.
When it comes to protection and privacy, the VPN client implementation is also very important. Hotspot Shield’s clients and browser extensions perform in that as well, and offer reliable protection from snoopers according to tests at IPLeak and DNSLeakTest.
The kill switch that most of the Hotspot Shield’s apps offer prevents IP address leakage in case that the VPN connection suddenly drops. The client also opens many local TCP connections for tunnel management. Force-closing these connections does not crashes the client which is an evidence that it can cope with unusual problems and is smartly developed.
On its official website, Hotspot Shield claims that it keeps no logs of its users. The Support page has a paragraph that states that Hotspot Shield does not store or exchange any User IDs, including IP addresses. The provider also claims that he doesn’t keep logs of user interaction, be it on the free or the premium service, and he guarantees a 100% privacy and anonymity of those who are using the VPN.
This sounds very convincing but, at the same time, in another paragraph, it is explained that the company gathers details on the browser type, the device type and settings, the OS version, network information, t=tour approximate location, as well as how much bandwidth you use, when and for how long you use the VPN service, and some other non-identifiable details.
This seems like a bit more data collection then what you might initially expect. Moreover, to the date of this publication, the company has not passed any independent external or public security audit that can prove its data-protection guarantees. Thus, we are left with no option but to confide with the Hotspot Shield’s claims.
In case that you have issues with operating Hotspot Shield, its you can seek advice on popular problems thorough the incorporated website links with resources that are available in most of its VPN client applications. If you have a more serious problem, you can go to the Support page of the website for more comprehensive advice.
For quick troubleshooting, Hotspot Shield has a web-based Support Center that lets you search your answers by categories (Manage Accounts, Common Issues, Payments, Subscriptions). The main webpage also has some helpful materials that you won’t find elsewhere, such as release notes and updates.
In case you still have troubles to find an answer to your question in the knowledge base, you can contact the Support Team through Live Chat or email. The Live Chat would normally let you speak with a member of the Support Team within minutes.
Hotspot Shield Premium is a VPN service that amazes with its speed and performance. The provider offers VPN clients for all major operating systems both on mobile and desktop and promises ultimate protection during web browsing. There are several subscription packages to choose from and they all come with three extra products as a bonus. The no-logging policy of the company isn’t verified by independent audits, thus, we are left to take its claims on user privacy with a little grand of salt. Still, Hotspot Shield’s Premium VPN service beats a lot of its competitors with raw speed, ease of use, site unblocking and no bandwidth restrictions. You can test it out for up to 45 days – a generous period of time to get a personal impression on all of its powerful features.