Hotspot Shield VPN review

Hotspot Shield Premium is the paid version of the hugely popular ad-sponsored VPN service. Paying for the upgrade to Premium eliminates the ads and gives you unlimited data transfer and full access to all locations and features of Hotspot Shield. That means you can choose from an extensive network of over 80 countries and 122 cities. All servers are P2P friendly, and the built-in blocking of malicious and phishing sites helps you stay safe online. This is our Hotspot Shield VPN review.

Hotspot Shield VPN review: Features

  • Logging: Using a VPN does not automatically make you safer. Instead of your Internet data information going to your ISP, it goes to the VPN company. If your VPN service keeps logs of that data, it may come back to bite you. Like many other VPNs, Hotspot Shield says they have a “no logging” policy. On the Hotspot Shield website, Pango says so.
  • Kill switch: A kill switch is a software tool that automatically shuts down your internet when you lose connection to a VPN server. This is an important feature if you are serious about maintaining your privacy because otherwise, your real IP address will become visible and linked to your VPN activity. Well, the answer for Hotspot Shield varies on the device you are using. Hotspot Shield offers a kill switch for Windows devices and iOS, macOS, and Android devices.
  • Split Tunneling: Split tunneling allows you to direct some traffic through your local network and some through VPN. This can reduce your bandwidth if you want to watch American Netflix while surfing the web securely encrypted via VPN. Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield does not offer split tunneling. If you are looking for a VPN that provides split tunneling, I will look elsewhere.

  • Streaming support: With Hotspot Shield Premium, you will be able to view Netflix and torrent files. However, the free version of Hotspot Shield does not work well with Netflix. You will probably see a paywall when trying to access video streaming sites like Netflix. And anyway, with a limit of 500 MB per day, you would run out of data before getting through an episode of Stranger Things.
  • Encryption: The standard encoding for your data when using Hotspot Shield is 128-bit AES encoding, but they also support 256-bit AES. This encryption method is virtually unbreakable when implemented correctly. They say it would take 14 billion years to decipher AES-128 with today’s supercomputers of the world. Let’s say your ISP probably won’t find how many gigabytes of Jackie Chan movies you spilled.

Hotspot Shield VPN review: Protocols

Internet protocols show how data packets are sent over a network. You can think of protocols like the different routes that cars can take to get between their origin and destination. You could take a government highway to get to your safe house in the woods, but then the security cameras might have recorded you. Or you could take the whole way back, but it could take days. This is the kind of trade-off you often have to make between security and performance.

OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol used to create secure tunnels for your web traffic. OpenVPN is considered the gold standard among VPN protocols because it provides the right balance between speed and security. It provides up to 256-bit encryption using the Open SSL library and many other security features configured as desired. Other protocols include PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP, and many more.

Hotspot Shield curves the trend of VPNs using popular VPN protocols such as SSTP or OpenVPN. Instead, they use their proprietary protocol called Catapult Hydra. Hotspot Shield says they used popular VPN protocols such as standard IPsec and OpenVPN but found performance and latency challenges. They claim that Catapult offers Hydra:

  • Faster connection to a VPN server
  • Less data in the tunnel
  • The connection speeds are 2.4x higher for long-distance connections compared to OpenVPN.

In reality, it’s not entirely different from any other VPN protocol out there. Hydra is based on the Open SSL library, similar to OpenVPN. For privacy, I would trust an open-source VPN protocol like OpenVPN more than Catapult Hydra because security professionals have more thoroughly tested it. It’s hard to find loopholes in code when you can’t even see it.

Hotspot Shield VPN review: Performance

Hotspot Shield makes big claims about its Catapult Hydra protocol’s performance, but does it meet the hype? We checked the service with SpeedTest, TestMy, and other websites to find out.

The connection to our nearest UK location from a European data center indicated above-average speeds of 200-210Mbps on a 600Mbps connection. This is slightly slower than we usually see from Hotspot Shield, but it still outperforms most of the competition (ExpressVPN reached 160-170Mbps in the most recent tests).

Next, we used the same benchmarking websites to monitor the American servers from an American location, again with a fast 600Mbps connection. Speeds were significantly higher at 330-410Mbps, and although that’s also lower than the 447-574Mbps we saw last time, it’s 50-100% higher than many competitors.

Long-range checks aren’t as useful if more factors can affect performance, but as we’ve seen in previous reviews, Hotspot Shield also performed very well in this. UK connections to European and US servers delivered very similar results to our local UK servers, and even the furthest connections, such as Vietnam, regularly managed over 60Mbps.

These are stellar results in terms of top speeds and consistency, especially for the most remote locations. Wherever you want to connect, Hotspot Shield is one of the fastest VPNs available.

Hotspot Shield VPN review: Plans and pricing

Hotspot Shield has client software for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. You can’t connect without the software, leaving users of Linux and Windows Phone out in the cold.

Hotspot Shield VPN review

As mentioned above, you get up to 500MB per registered user per day, which is about 15GB per month – most of the nine free services we looked at. The catch is that once you reach 500MB in a given day, you have to wait until the next day for more. With other free services, you can burn through the allotment at once for an entire month if you want.

The Hotspot Shield paid service costs $12.99 per month ($5.99 per month if you pay for a year at a time) for unlimited VPN protection, no ads, and your choice of 62 countries to connect.

Customer support

If Hotspot Shield doesn’t work for you, the various apps give you instant access to advice on common issues by embedding documents from the website. As usual, if your problem is more complex, you can go to the support website for more in-depth guidance.

A web-based Support Center organizes its articles by platform and categories such as Payments and Subscriptions, Management Account, and Common Issues. There is some useful information on the website that you won’t always find elsewhere (e.g., release notes), but the organization lacks. The articles can’t be compared to the depth of web-based guidance you get from providers like ExpressVPN.

If you can’t find an answer in the knowledgebase, you can contact the support team via live chat or e-mail. We tried live chat – the chat window appeared quickly, reported that we were first in the queue, and talked to a friendly and knowledgeable agent in less than a minute.

So there is room for improvement on the support site, but many users should quickly find the core data they need, and the quality support team is ready to help you with anything else.

Final words

During our Hotspot Shield VPN review, I liked the speed of Hotspot Shield and that they have a free option (which is only supported on Android). It’s fast, works smoothly, and allows me to go on Netflix and torrent movies. I wouldn’t say I liked their privacy policy and the lack of a kill switch on Mac, iOS, and Android. But since everyone has their priorities, I’ll break it down further.

8.5 Total Score
Our Verdict

There is a lot to enjoy about Hotspot Shield, especially the ease of use and the raw speed, but the problems with logging, the inability to set up the service manually, and the inconsistencies between the apps on the different platforms can be a problem for some.

PROS
  • Seriously speedy
  • Includes 1Password and other bonus apps
  • Unblocks Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Disney+
  • Very user-friendly
CONS
  • Only works with Hotspot Shield apps on desktops, mobiles
  • Poor support website
  • App features vary across platforms
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