Hotspot Shield Review 2019

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  • Fast speeds
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  • Browser extensions
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Hotspot Shield Overview

Joel Timothy

11 October 2018

Hotspot Shield VPN is a product of AnchorFree, a California based company. This VPN company was founded in 2008, and since then it has gained an extensive international user base. Its client is used by over 500 million users around the world, making it one of the most popular VPNs.

Hotspot Shield, did however receive big criticism following a study done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). It found that the VPN injects advert cookies and collaborates with third parties to target ads to a user. Hotspot Shield used to do this while hiding behind confusing privacy policies. We were happy to see that these policies have since been updated, and Hotspot Shield now clearly states that they do not partake in those activities anymore.

Hotspot Shield VPN offers two plans: a free version and an Premium version. In this Hotspot Shield VPN review, we’ll focus more on Hotspot Shield VPN Premium and see how it stacks up against the fierce competition in the industry. We’ll also mention a few things about Hotspot Shield VPN Free, which has a considerable user base.

Pros

What we liked

  • Incredible speeds
  • Up to 5 simultaneous connections
  • 45-day money-back guarantee
  • Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox
  • Useful free version

Cons

What can be improved

  • Based in the US
  • No OpenVPN protocol
  • Limited configuration options

Security & Privacy

Security

For security, Hotspot Shield VPN encrypts all your traffic using TLS 1.2 with perfect forward secrecy (ECDHE), 128-bit AES data encryption, and HMAC message authentication. This is pretty strong security, although most top VPNs use the even more secure 256-bit AES encryption.

Hotspot Shield does not offer the industry standard and Open Source Technology Improvement Fund-audited OpenVPN encryption. In its stead, they provide a closed source encryption protocol called Catapult Hydra. They claim that it’s very secure, but because we can’t verify it, you’ll have to take Hotspot Shield’s word for it.

They also have IP leak protection and a Kill Switch to boost your security.

Privacy Policies

Hotspot Shield VPN privacy has been talked about a lot after the August 2017 study was published. They have faced some issues of concern regarding  the VPN’s ability to keep to keep you anonymous and private.

In a study published in August 2017, Washington DC-based Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) said that Hotspot Shield VPN “violates its ‘anonymous browsing’ promise by intercepting and redirecting web traffic to partner websites, including advertising companies.”

It also said that, “Further analysis of Hotspot Shield’s reverse-engineered source code revealed that the VPN uses more than five different third-party tracking libraries, contradicting statements that Hotspot Shield ensures anonymous and private web browsing.”

This is not the kind of information one would like to get before or even after subscribing to a VPN,so we headed to the VPN’s Privacy Section to see what they say. We were very pleased to find that Hotspot VPN has improved their privacy policy. They state that:

“Our product will never store, log, or share your true IP address, and we always delete your true IP address after your VPN session is closed. We never share your personal information with unaffiliated third parties other than service providers that we use for internal technology and business operations (such as website hosting, payment processing, data analysis, information technology, customer service, and email delivery).”

Not long ago, they had some worrying statements that implied that they stored user information, but never associated it with user activity. They also allowed advertising agencies to collect information from users to target them with ads. We are happy to see that they have improved on this.

Logging

Being based in the US is never good for any VPN. This is because of the strict data retention laws of the country. It’s frustrating that we didn’t find any claim by Hotspot Shield that they keep zero logs. Instead, they only tell you that they do not associate your real IP address with whatever you do online.

Pricing & Payment

As mentioned before, Anchor Free avails Hotspot Shield VPN in two versions;

  • Hotspot Shield Free
  • Hotspot Shield Premium

Hotspot Shield Free is ad-supported, and you won’t need to pay for it. It will however limit how you can use the VPN, as well as the duration you can use it for.

The Premium VPN is available on various plans. These plans only vary in the subscription duration, and therefore they all offer the same features and performance. In comparison with other VPNs, we can say that Hotspot Shield is priced above average.

1 month

$12.99

Per month

45-day money-back guarantee

most popular
3 years

Save
73%

$12.99

$3.49

Per month

Billed $125.64every 24 months

45-day money-back guarantee

1 year

$5.99

Per month

45-day money-back guarantee

*Although we make every effort to ensure all prices are accurate, we cannot guarantee thet they are always up to date

Here is a break down of their pricing plans:

The Monthly Plan: This is the most expensive plan and goes for $12.99, and it’s billed monthly.

The 6 Month Plan: This plan goes for $8.99 per month. It costs $53.94 billed after half a year.

The 1 Year Plan: This plans is $5.99 per month and is paid $71.88 yearly.

The 3 Year Plan: This plans is $3.49 per month and is paid $125.64 yearly. It has the most significant savings of all the plans.

Though a bit pricey, Hotspot Shield VPN gives you a 7-day free trial and a 45-day money back guarantee so that you can first try out the service. In case you are not satisfied with what they offer, you have the freedom of cancelling your free trial or the subscription within the specified time.

Note: To start the 7-day free trial, you need to provide your credit card details.

Payment Methods

VPN Hotspot Shield accepts quite a number of payment methods. They include PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, JCB, Diners Club, and Union Pay.

Of note is that Hotspot Shield VPN doesn’t accept Bitcoin, which is usually the most suitable payment option for anonymity. This means that they can always identify who you are.

Credit cards
Payment Service
Others
and more!

Performance

Hotspot Shield Speedtest

When it comes to speed, we found that Hotspot Shield VPN is one of the fastest VPNs we have tested. The VPN appears only to have minimal impact on the speeds, retaining almost the same speed rates as without a VPN.

In fact, Hotspot Shield VPN speeds are so good that they made us curious  about the encryption standards that the VPN uses, considering that it’s a proprietary protocol. Normally, OpenVPN, which is the recommended protocol, usually gives speeds a noticeable drop.

Below are screenshots of our  speed tests. The first screenshot shows my connection without a VPN, which is intended to give us the baseline.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

We then connected to a VPN in the same country, and below is the result.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

As you can see, the speeds didn’t take any significant hit, making Hotspot Shield one of the fastest VPNs. This is fantastic news for anybody who wants to use a VPN to remain secure while at the same time being able to stream in HD.

We then connected to a distant server, and the VPN was still super fast.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

We also tested the VPN speeds using an Android device. Here, the download speeds and upload speeds did not change. Only the ping is affected.

This speed test was recently conducted on April 20, 2019.

Servers & Location

Hotspot Shield is definitely not a leading VPN provider when it comes to server choice, both number of servers and countries offered. Though a very established VPN, it only has servers in 25 countries. The Hotspot Shield VPN server list does not give us a list of the specific cities where the servers are located.

Features

Smart DNS?

Hotspot Shield VPN does not have Smart DNS, but this lack is overcome due to its super speeds. SmartDNS is mostly used to unblock websites without encryption, which significantly reduces speeds. Hotspot Shield VPN proxy can unblock almost all major streaming sites without affecting speeds.

Features
Smart DNS
Bypass Netflix
Onion Tow Web Address
Split Tunneling
Stealth Technology/Servers
Allow Torrenting
Automatic Kill Switch
ipv6
Open Ports

.onion website version

Hotspot Shield VPN is not really a good VPN for highly censored countries, not offering any special features to overcome their blocks. In addition, it doesn’t have a .onion website for downloading/signing up to the VPN in the first place.

Split Tunneling

Split tunneling allows a user to select the application that the user doesn’t want encrypted. This allows the user to activate the VPN only with selected apps, which is very useful. Hotspot Shield VPN for PC and for smartphone lacks the feature, but it’s available on a few other top VPNs.

Kill Switch

Hotspot Shield VPN has a Kill Switch feature in desktop and smartphone applications. A Kill Switch increases privacy by disabling all internet connections on the device whenever you lose VPN connection, such as  when switching servers.

Devices

Hotspot Shield VPN is compatible across several operating systems, and you can install it on various platforms:

  • Windows
  • Mac OS
  • Android
  • iOS
  • Windows Phone

Hotspot Shield VPN also supports browser integration, and you can install it on Chrome or Firefox. Hotspot VPN free download is available in various places on the internet. Hotspot VPN for Android can be downloaded from the Google Play Store, while Hotspot VPN iOS is available on the Apple App Store. Hotspot shield Chrome is available on the Chrome store, while the desktop versions can be downloaded  from the official website.

During this review, we established that Hotspot Shield VPN router configuration is not in any way possible, something that we used to test their customer support. You can see the details about this in the Customer Support section.

Hotspot Shield Setup & User Interface

Getting started with Hotspot Shield VPN is as easy as it gets. The first level of simplicity comes in their website.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

Though it doesn’t come out as the best VPN website we’ve seen, its fair to say that it’s easy to use. The “Download VPN” is a direct link for getting Hotspot Shield VPN for PCt, which makes downloading just one click.

Signing up is very straightforward depending on the method you are using for payment. You just need to enter your payment details, and then your email address for purposes of creating the account.

They will create one for you, and you will now only need to add a password.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

The sign-up process only takes 1 minute. You can then install the Hotspot Shield VPN client on your preferred device, and sign in using your new account details.

However, if you need to try out the 7-day elite free plan, you need to download the VPN client first. It is the client that will give you an easy option to sign up for free, and you won’t easily find it on the website.

Note: If you signed up for the free trial period, you won’t be charged. After the 7 days are over, and you have not cancelled your membership, you will then be charged $12.99 for the monthly plan. This is the most expensive plan. Since you will have already tried the service, it’s important to note that you won’t be entitled to the 45-day money back guarantee.

Cancelling Membership

Hotspot Shield VPN makes it easy to cancel your membership, and you don’t need to contact Customer Support to have do so.

All you need to do is head over to the client section and click Details.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

 

You should now have the option to cancel your subscription.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

Desktop VPN Client

The general impression you get from the Hotspot shield VPN client is unobtrusive and straightforward. When you start the app, it automatically connects to the last server you connected to or to the  the best server depending on your location as determined by the system.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

 

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

You can choose a country to connect to from the drop-down menu.

Hotspot Shield VPN client doesn’t offer many features, something that is disappointing.

The only additional features offered  are IP Leak Protection and the Kill Switch. These are basic features, though they are the most useful. We would love to see Hotspot Shield increase the functionality of their VPN with additional features.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

We didn’t experience any problems with the functionality of the VPN. It worked seamlessly and didn’t crash once. Server switching is unlimited, and it takes approximately 5-15 seconds to get connected to a different server.

Hotspot Shield Browser Extension

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

The Hotspot Shield browser extension appears pretty much like the desktop version.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

It does have different features that are customized for browsing and unfortunately is missing the IP Leak Protection feature and the Kill Switch.

The Hotspot Shield browser extension has various blocking features that are still in Beta but show a lot of promise. They include:

  • Tracker Blocker
  • Ad Blocker
  • Cookie Blocker and
  • Malware Blocker

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

Below the features list are the available servers that you can  select by one click. We noticed that this is only a selection of various servers, and not all of them are available for Hotspot VPN Chrome.

Hotspot Shield Smartphone App

To get a taste of the Hotspot Shield smartphone experience, we downloaded the Hotspot VPN app onto an Android device. It is easily available from the Play Store or App Store on iOS.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

It will also give you a 7-day free trial period if you haven’t signed up already.

We noted that the app gives you a 30-day money back cancellation option, which is a bit confusing because the website says says it offers 45 days to get your money back. You can also use the app for free, but it will display ads, and you can only stay connected to one VPN server in the US.

The app  has various useful tools that include:

Malware Scanner: Scans all apps for viruses and if any cleans them

Battery Life Extension: Closes idle apps

Deep Cleaning: Removes junk files from your device

Data Consumption: This feature hasn’t been launched yet, but it will t show your data consumption in real time.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

The other useful feature that Hotspot Shield Android app offers is called App Auto Protection.

This feature allows you to add an app to the auto protection list. When an app in this list is launched, Hotspot Shield automatically secures you by connecting to a VPN server.

Compatibility

Netflix

We were glad to find that Hotspot Shield VPN is a good solution for Netflix’s largest library, Netflix US.

BBC iPlayer

Hotspot Shield is also a great choice for BBC iPlayer. The VPN, however, is not good for censored countries. However, it gives you unlimited bandwidth and allows torrenting, which is good news for torrent lovers.

Devices

  • iOS
  • Android
  • Windows
  • Mac

Browsers

  • Chrome

Others

  • Android Boxes

Customer support

While Hotspot Shield comes out as a good VPN option, if there’s something we didn’t like during this Hotspot Shield Elite VPN review, it’s their customer support. Apart from having a well-documented knowledge base, their support team is pretty much non-existent.

While many users claim that the VPN doesn’t have live chat support, AnchorFree states that they offer real-time English chat support from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM PST, Monday to Friday. This time frame is not necessarily helpful for many users, something that Hotspot Shield should really work on.

The alternative is the annoying ticket system, and you can only use it if you are an Elite member. For this Hotspot Shield review, we submitted a request and got a response after 5 hours and 20 mins. It was, however, a comprehensive and helpful reply.

Conclusion

Overall, despite its reputation Hotspot Shield VPN comes out as a reasonably strong VPN. We find Hotspot Shield to be an excellent choice to access various streaming services effectively and with fast speeds. However, the fact that the VPN is based in the US greatly reduces the trust we can place on it to secure our identity and protect us from court orders. If you are looking for total privacy, you may have to go for another option. If you just want to remain secure, use torrents safely, and protect yourself from online threats, then Hotspot Shield VPN may just fit the bill!

Written by: Joel Timothy

Joel is a tech writer and editor with a special interest in cyber security and internet freedom. He likes helping readers tackle tricky tech and internet issues, as well as maximize the boundless power of the internet.

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