HotspotShield VPN Review
Hotspot Shield is a VPN service that offers both free and paid subscriptions. They offer OpenVPN security, 5 simultaneous connections, P2P and a 30-day money back guarantee
Hotspot Shield is a VPN service that is designed and focused towards the VPN beginner who may not know too much about the technical side of VPNs. It was first introduced by AnchorFree in 2008 and was initially free. The company later introduced a paid plan to the service.
They now offer both a free service and a paid service that vary in a number of ways. The service is very beginner-focused and offers a number of other great features, including 22 different countries to choose from, 5 connections from one account and a 30-day money back guarantee allowing you to try the VPN risk-free (even though you can do that with the free version).
In addition, they also have a number of dedicated servers that speed up their network and give it great speeds. They also have malware detection software in the VPN and have developed a lot of apps in many different languages which are very helpful to non-English speaking users. Although this VPN may seem innocent and great to begin with, there are actually a number of security and privacy flaws that make this VPN a little shady.
- Available on 20 countries (paid version)
- Has a tough AES-256 bit encryption
- Allows you to make 5 connections
- Fast connections
- Has apps in many different languages
- Offers clients for a range of software
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Allows for P2P
- Reveals customer data to third parties
- Uses your browser space for advertisements (on free version)
- Based in the US
- Tracks you during usage
- Uses your online purchases to make affiliate commissions
- No Bitcoin payment
- Logs policy is a little iffy
Prices and Packages
As previously mentioned, Hotspot has both a free and a paid version for their VPN. This review will focus on their paid/elite VPN plan but it should be noted that the features in the free plan are very similar to the paid plan – you just get a little more extra features with the paid version.
Their plans and prices are a little different to most VPNs because they not only have the classic three-tiers to choose from but they also feature a lifetime option. A lot of VPN services prefer to charge you on a regular basis so they continue to profit. However, it appears that Hotspot shield will happily take a larger cut and give you unlimited access in return.
As for their other more common plans, they start their pricing off at an over-average price of £5.99 ($7.84), which is ok but I would expect a little more than this service has to offer at that price. As with most services, the more committed you are the better the price. The £5.99 just mentioned is for the annual plan but there are also bi-annual and monthly plans also. The bi-monthly plan charges you £8.99 ($11.76) and the monthly plan charges you (a staggering) £12.99 ($16.99)! This is starting to come close to ExpressVPN and this is no way near as good.
I suppose the positive aspect about the VPN is that their plans do not change depending on the price you pay. Unless you go with the free version you will get all the elite feature no matter how committed you are.back to menu ↑
VPNs are supposed to offer you a range of payment options when you are buying their service. It is good practice to keep your users safe on your own platform as well as others. However, Hotspot Shield is very disappointing in this department. When I was in the purchase options, I only had direct debit/credit card or PayPal. There was no sign of any alternative payment or Bitcoin/cryptocurrency option to use.
Most VPN services at least give some other form of payment but it was very barebones with Hotspot. In addition, what is worrying is AnchorFree sells their elite/paid service through third parties which is bad for a number of reasons. Firstly, it will disclose customer information to the third-party and, secondly, it can mess with the 30-day refund Hotspot offers. To get the full 30-day refund, buy the VPN directly on Hotspot’s website.back to menu ↑
User-Friendliness and Setup
The whole setup process for Hotspot Shield’s VPN was relatively easy and took only a few minutes. Their free version is even easier and only requires one click! Their free version can be found on their native website and you are free to download the client and test it before you make a purchase.
Once I had paid for everything I was taken to a mini dashboard type page which gave me the option to download to Windows, Mac or from other places like the Google Play. I chose Windows and it began to download and send with through the setup wizard and installation process (all pretty standard). On a side note, the VPN also tells you how many devices you have left in the lift dashboard window when you log back into your account.
Once everything was finished, I had access to the client and had to input my login details to access the elite version. If you don’t sign in to your elite membership account the client will remain on the free version.
When starting up the client, I was not all that impressed with the options I had available to me. The Windows client was pretty bare and boring. It wasn’t fancy like NordVPN or as technical as ExpressVPN. It simply gives you a connect button, lets you choose your location and gives you your speeds. I suppose, however, this VPN does target the beginners so I can see how this setup would be helpful.
I had a look at the setting and was further disappointed at the options available to me. I could choose when the VPN turned on (insecure/secure networks, etc.) and could choose IP leak prevention which acted as a kill switch. They also let you change the language of the app to 11 different languages.
That was pretty much it for the settings. There were no options to select my protocols or any special features. It was all basic, which is perfect for a beginner I guess.
Although the review of the client was short there isn’t much going for it. It is very basic and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you see with other more premium VPNs. However, with the price that they charge for this VPN I am surprised that they don’t give more advanced users the options to mess with their encryptions and protocols. The VPN is targeted towards beginners but charges crazy amounts of cash and doesn’t provide the more adept users with certain tools.back to menu ↑
Servers and Speeds
As mentioned above, Hotspot has 20 different countries to choose from in their paid version and allows for you to unblock difficult sites like Netflix and BBC IPlayer. However, on their free service, they only allow you to access US servers and give you a paid wall when you try and access such sites, which is a little annoying. All you have to do is type your login details and you’ll get access. They also allow for P2P on their servers but there is a word of caution with this because they share your usage activity with third-parties. This could land you a copyright strike so you should go elsewhere with your torrenting needs.
The actual size of their network is disappointing in my opinion when you compare it to other paid services like ExpressVPN or NordVPN. Even newer services like GooseVPN and AreaVPN have more servers! If you’re looking for true global coverage try another service.
I plugged in the VPN and tried out the speeds. Everything was tested on a bandwidth of 50MBPS/12MBPS. Overall, the speeds were actually very good and I was impressed by the speed of their dedicated servers.
I ran the VPN on a UK and got very good speeds. The connection barely dropped for the download speed, giving me 45MBPS, and the upload speed stayed pretty much the same as 11.85MBPS.
I then tried the VPN in central Europe (Netherlands) and got a fairly average download speed of 20MBPS but the upload speed was fantastic again hitting an 11.67MBPS.
As a final test I connected to the US to test the speeds. This was probably the most important test because their free client only allows you to connect to the US. I ran the VPN and got quite opposite results to the other tests. The download speeds were good, hitting around 38MBPS but the upload speed dropped to 6.76MBPS.
Overall, the tested shows that this a promising VPN when it comes to downloading and streaming content. In other tests, not DNS, IPv6 or WebRTC leaks were found, which is a positive.back to menu ↑
As well as the Windows client discussed above, Hotspot Shield also offers clients and apps for a range of other systems also. These include Mac, IOS, Android, Chrome, and Firefox. The Chrome extension is very good as well and is great when it comes to protecting your browser. It will give you an optimal server to connect you and when you connect it lets you change this. UK and US servers are blocked to free users.back to menu ↑
The customer service department in Hotspot is a little poor. There is not live chat option which is something I would have hoped for with the expense of this service. They do have a ticket-based system which allows you to ask a specific question to the support team but they were very slow with me and took just under 48 hours to reply to a simple message. They also offer a knowledge base that I found useful myself and does answer quite a lot of questions users’ have.
The elite service should maybe incorporate a special support service for their paying customers.back to menu ↑
Privacy and Security
The security of Hotspot is very impressive and they run a pretty tight ship. They use OpenVPN on all their servers and set this up on a set of procedures known as OpenSSL When OpenSSL is combined with OpenVPN it becomes a very good way to encrypt and protect the connection because it will use similar methods to that of HTTPS. HTTPS is the encryption used on commercial websites to protect your credit card details, so it is pretty secure and robust. The actual encryption itself is AES-256 bit which is the industry standard and uses RSA-2048 for handshaking, which is also a great level of security (but 4096-bit would be preferable).
As for privacy, the company claims to keep no logs or users’ personal information and IP address which is great. However, they also own another company that deals with advertisements and a study has found they have used the information from users’ browsers and sold them to third-parties. The same study also found that you are tracked around the internet by Hotspot through 5 different libraries and you are on a permanent affiliate link when you visit certain sites. Privacy is not this VPNs strong point which is completely ridiculous.back to menu ↑
Free Trial and Refund Policy
Obviously, there is a free version of this VPN so you can happily try the service out with spending a penny. The difference with the free version, however, is you get advertisements, limited data and only one location (the states). Their Chrome extension does allow more locations but doesn’t secure the whole connection. They do also offer a refund policy up to 30 days but only if you buy directly from the website, not through a third-party.back to menu ↑
Hotspot Shield is a decent VPN with amazing speeds and a 30-day money back guarantee on their paid version. They also offer a free version that is very limited to locations, data and littered with ads. However, the VPN is very shady and tracks you around the internet so it can sell your data and usage to third-parties adverting agencies. They also do not accept Bitcoin and take commissions from sites without your permission. They are also based in the US and are at mercy to the NSA, so privacy-wise, this VPN is terrible. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this service and advise you to go elsewhere.
Hotspot Shield is a beginner-friendly VPN service that offers a free service as well as a paid service. Their paid service is decent and includes 20 countries and a great encryption. They also allow P2P but are not the best when it comes to users privacy.