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
Hotspot shield works on Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS.
|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|
|ENCRYPTION/PROTOCOL:||256-bit AES |
|COST:||$3.49/mo & limited free plan – 45 days money back|
1. Fastest Speed (Except in the U.S.) Pros of Using Hotspot Shield
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.
- Ping: 183ms
- Download: 28.66 Mbps
- Upload: 13.74 Mbps
- Ping: 54ms
- Download: 92.28 Mbps
- Upload: 45.09 Mbps
Asia Server (Hong Kong)
- Ping: 141ms
- Download: 80.00 Mbps
- Upload: 19.60 Mbps
- 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 Supported
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:
HotSpot Shield servers blocked by Netflix:
- United States
- United Kingdom
Cons of Using Hotspot Shield
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.
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.
- Creating a stellar list of servers that perform at lightning fast speeds
- Designing a beautiful user interface
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.
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.
18 user reviews for Hotspot Shield
James 10/10November 25, 2019
There are a variety of areas with other VPNs that are better than Hotspot Shield, but the one area Hotspot Shield is by far the best in is SPEED! By far the fastest VPN I've ever tried.
Jay 10/10May 29, 2019
Best VPN on the Market.
I have been using Hotspot Shield for almost 2 years and I couldn't be happier. I get access to all my favorite BBC content as well as US Netflix without issues. I commonly use WhatsApp to communicate with my family overseas and I'm so impressed with the quality. Anytime, I have any issues, their support team gets back to me the same day to resolve my issues. I would recommend this to anybody looking for an outstanding and easy to use VPN service. Thanks Hotspot Shield.
Marie 1/10May 24, 2019
I had a lovely credit card bill from hotspot shield for a service I do not need or ask for.. after over 2 months of back and forth generic emails from them telling me they have no record of any transaction and passing the buck to other people. I have not been happy with this company at all.. I have no with for their service and would advise others to stay clear of them...
Davis Prather 9/10May 24, 2019
It's a good app. I'm just looking for an explanation as to why the free version works even after the 500 MB data limit has been reached. Like, am I missing something important, or something? Because I was led to believe that it wouldn't work after the first 500 MB. But, I try it anyway, and it works like a charm. So, what's up with that?
Jeff 1/10April 12, 2019
Hotspot Shield customer support
Had HSS installed 4 months ago, seemed to work fine. A few weeks ago it stopped working. Support kept sending recorded messages to follow their instructions. Nothing fixed the problem. After 2 weeks and more than 50 emails back and forth still no result. Last email says they have a long list of inquiries and I am on the list. I have a 2 year Premium subscription, no problem taking the money, but I am still unable to use it. SOMETHING WENT WRONG. WE ARE TRYING TO FIX THE PROBLEM. IT MIGHT TAKE A FEW SECONDS. What a joke.
Denny 1/10April 04, 2019
HotSpot Shield Free - Avoid
Speed was great, no issue.
However upon disconnecting after using my free quota I had several issues with this service. It hijacked my networking on my browsers and pages would not load. I tried stopping the services via task manager (end process tree) but the "hydra*.exe" service simply restarted itself. I had to uninstall to regain control.
Shame as I would have probably upgraded but given the companies unethical approach to customers privacy and a blatant (almost ransomware type) attempt to force you to upgrade I simply would not deal with a company like that. I searched for reviews and their support appears to lacking and they have unethical approach to refunds where they discontinue a particular service (country) that a customer has specifically paid for.
I gave them 10 for the speed and ease of use (when working correctly)
Jimmy 1/10December 30, 2018
I bought a lifetime subscription to Hotspot Shield and a few months in the only country I am using the service for stopped working. Their customer support is incredibly slow and when I finally got an answer it.only confirmed it's not working anymore. As this rendered the service useless to me I asked for a refund, which I was shocked to hear I was refused. The service for the specific country is still not working and hundred of dollars down the drain for me... Please be careful with buying this service, in particular if you intend to use it for smaller countries. Do NOT buy any longer subscriptions as they may stop working and they will apparently not refund anything, even if they are not providing what you paid for.
Jon Waite 1/10October 8, 2018
Startup errors - poor support
It's a good service when it works, but every day I when try to run it I get the "Oops, something went wrong message" and I have to restart the Hotspot Shield back ground process. This happens on multiple different Windows 10 PCs. They knew about this error when I contacted support and at first they told me that it would be fixed soon in a future release. However, when I pushed them hard on a date they said that a fix wasn't actually in any schedule. I have read reports of this error from multiple users stretching back years, and so I conclude that they have no intention of fixing it.
Sam 9/10August 29, 2018
Elite customer here. One important thing about Hotspot Shield is that it's fast, like super fast. I feel it even enhances my connection because when I stream videos, the stream is faster and more stable than the direct speed.
Oh and they say they no longer use OpenVPn but their own propriety protocal named Catapult Hydra which increases speed, security, and compresses data. Cons: No linux client, no content blocking in Android client.
Bob 8/10August 20, 2018
Feel Comfort with Hotspot Shield
I'm the common user internet, spend time for surfing, streaming and sometimes gaming e.g. dota 2. Hotspot help you to access any in my experience. No issue with that. Low ping, super speed and honestly comfort with hotspot shield. I give 80 for rating, because we know no one is perfect or just maybe I don't know about the cons. Yeah, this VPN is fine for normal user like me.
Richard 5/10June 11, 2018
Didn’t work in China
I’ve used Hotspot Shield for many years, successful in UAE. However holiday in China, April 2018, connection to Hotspot wasn’t possible as it kept hanging. Tried a couple of others on free trial NordVPN & ExpressVPN and both works well in China, connected to YouTube, Netflix & NowTV UK accounts successfully with reasonable speed, not full HD. Goodbye Hotspot Shield.
Elizabeth Murphy 1/10December 25, 2017
Be very wary of HotSpot shield
I have had so many problems getting rid of Hotspot shield. First, when it came time to renew and I did not want to renew it, it hijacked my screen forcing me to put in my payment info. The only way I could stop it was through task manager and shutting down the application.
Then after I canceled about 7 months later I see a charge of 35 dollars for hotspot shield which I don’t even have installed.
How they got my new visa number I do not know. I’ve never had this happen to me with any other subscriptions. Avoid hotspot shield.
Anthony 4/10November 20, 2017
free vpn full of ads
Like any other freeware HotSpot shield VPN comes with ads, the ads can be quite annoying sometimes, but the VPN itself works quite well.
I use HotSpot Shield VPN on my android (5.1.1) to be able to have access to files/software that is not available in my country. I wouldn’t mind having it open and running 24/7 if there weren’t so many ads every so often. So I still use it only when I need to.
I’d recommend with ad warning.
Stephen Brown 4/10November 15, 2017
Not as good as others until you buy the elite version
When I first started using its free version, it was really bad. I couldn’t access almost any website, it was too slow and it always had the same error. I decided to upgrade to the elite version to see if the performance of it improved and it worked just great.
It is a good VPN provider but only after you upgrade it to the elite version.
Mirkual Sen 7/10October 21, 2017
free version is bad, paid is OK 🙂
As a Hotspot Shield user, I have to tell you that I liked the old Hotspot a lot more. I had an elite subscription and 90% of the time the connection was super fast and I knew that my connection and informations are secure. Plus all of the locations were unlocked. Now, after the update I am using the free version and I can say that you have only 1 location and that’s Optimal Location. It’s a lot slower than before, but the interface looks cleaner.
So should you use it, or shouldn’t you?
From my experience, I can tell you that if you are going to spend more time using VPN, then buy the elite subscription because the connection is super fast and you have a wide variety of locations.
If you spend very little time using VPN then go with the free plan.
In conclusion, you should use Hotspot Shield VPN and buy the elite subscription if you spend a lot of time using VPN, and if you don’t then either go with the free plan or use another free VPN!
Selina 9/10October 19, 2017
Hotspot Shield hits the spot
I have had a mostly positive experience using Hotspot Shield, which I use on Chrome.
When accessing certain sites, all I need to do is click the shield extension icon on my toolbar, then click the button to be connected to the VPN. It’s fast, free and super-easy. There’s a couple of things I’m not too crazy about, though. Sometimes I can’t access certain other sites once I’m connected. I occasionally have trouble accessing Google – though not every time – and some sites repeatedly log me out if I’m connected. Usually, I just have to disconnect and reconnect to get back on track, so it’s a little bit annoying.
That said, I would still absolutely recommend Hotspot Shield, as its positives outweigh those little negatives.
Dillon P 6/10October 17, 2017
Decent service, a bit slow however
I needed a VPN when I wanted to test my website to see what it would look like in different parts of the world. I was given a 6 month promo code for premium, so I signed up for it. I downloaded it to my mac and it was actually quite easy to setup. However, after setup, the program wouldn’t open, so I restarted my mac and it did. I connected to the nearest server, which was London, just to test, and it worked a treat when I went to look at my IP. I tried different servers and they all worked. The only thing was they were slow, as if a lot of people were using them, which is fair enough for a big company, but with the amount of money they have coming in, they could invest in either faster or more servers.
Apart from that, the program was easy enough to use, and my experience so far has been satisfactory, I still use it now and then.
DEVESH 9/10June 14, 2017
Looking for a shield from your ISP, use Hotspot Shield..
Have been using Hotspot Shield for a year now. I can say I’m completely satisfied with the unlimited version. It does not compromise the speed of my network as well as protects my privacy.
The desktop application is user-friendly, a single push of button establishes the VPN connection. The time taken to connect to Hotspot Shield server is also very short.