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Hotspot Shield review 2020

Aimee O'Driscoll VPN AND CYBERSECURITY EXPERT

Hotspot Shield reviewHotspot Shield, or HSS for short, has been making lots of changes over the past year or so. After wrestling issues surrounding its logging policy, it’s been working hard to build back its reputation. Among other changes, the VPN is now part of a new company Pango, which offers a suite of services under one subscription.
So what does all of this mean for users? Is Hotspot Shield worth considering? Does it compare to top-rated providers such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN?

In this 2020 Hotspot Shield review, I tried out the latest versions of the Hotspot Shield mobile and desktop apps to answer questions like:

  • Is HSS fast?
  • Can Hotspot Shield help me access Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming sites?
  • Has HSS’s logging policy improved?
  • Will Hotspot Shield work in China?
  • Is the HSS service worth the price tag?

You’ll find out the answers to these and more in this review.

I’ve been using Hotspot Shield to stream, browse, and download, and keep my internet activities safe from snoopers such as my internet service provider.

There’s a short summary of my findings below but you can read the full review to find out more about this provider and whether it might be a good fit for you.

Note that although Hotspot Shield offers a limited free version, I’ll be focusing on the Premium (paid) service in this review.

Hotspot Shield summary

Hotspot Shield is a secure VPN ideal for streaming. It has a ton of location options, is great at unblocking, and pegs very fast speeds. Plus it works in China. This provider has solid security and privacy features, but these could be improved upon. It’s on the pricey side for long-term use, so may not be a good option for users on a budget.

Hotspot Shield key data

OVERALL RANK:  #7 of 42 VPNS
Speed
Score: 9/10
Average Speed *: 63 Mbps
Video Streaming Support: 4K UHD
Streaming
Score: 9/10
Netflix: Yes
Other Streaming Services: Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, ITV Hub
Security
Score: 8/10
Encryption Type: 256-bit AES w/ Perfect Forward Secrecy
Kill Switch: Yes, Windows only
Log Policy: no logs
Protocols: Catapult Hydra
Value for Money
Score: 8/10
Lowest Monthly Cost: $2.99
Money Back Guarantee: 45 days
Websitehttps://www.hotspotshield.com

How does Hotspot Shield compare to other popular VPNs?

Comparing Hotspot Shield against other high-caliber VPNs can help a lot with selecting the right provider. Here’s a side-by-side look at HSS, ExpressVPN, and NordVPN. For more information about the latter two, you can check out our full ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison.

Hotspot Shield pros and cons

Here are some of the key advantages and drawbacks I discovered while using this service. You’ll find more detail about each below.

Pros:

  • Excellent speeds
  • Expansive server network
  • Unblocks Netflix and other sites
  • Connect 5 devices simultaneously
  • 45-day money-back guarantee
  • Works in China

Cons:

  • Kill switch is Windows-only
  • No IPv6 or WebRTC leak protection
  • Only accepts credit cards
  • High price tag

Speed: How fast is Hotspot Shield?

Hotspot Shield’s tagline is “The Fastest Most Secure VPN Service.” I’ll get to the security part later, but first, let’s see about this speed claim.

Hotspot Shield speed test.

I ran speed tests at various times of day on servers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Across all times and locations tested, Hotspot Shield’s average download speed was 63 Mbps. That’s above average compared to competitors.

vpn speed test results 2020

Here are the results broken down by region:

  • North America: 67 Mbps
  • Europe: 63 Mbps
  • Asia: 60 Mbps

With those speeds, I was able to stream 4K video and video conference in HD. Switching between servers is very fast, typically taking just a couple of seconds. I saw no noticeable slowdowns while browsing and didn’t experience any connection drops.

For a given location, you should be automatically connected to the fastest server. If you’re connecting to a US server, you can choose a city. Choosing a geographically close server should generally give you a faster connection.

Note that the above tests only serve as a general guide as to what you might see when using the service. The random nature of the internet and the many factors that can affect speed mean that you may see very different results.

Apps: Which devices will Hotspot Shield work with?

Hotspot Shield lets you connect up to five devices under one paid plan. Apps are available for the following:

  • Windows 7 and higher
  • MacOS 10.12 and later
  • iOS 11 and newer
  • Android 5.0 and up
  • Linux Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, and Fedora
  • Amazon Fire TV

You can configure the VPN manually on select routers. This enables you to protect devices that aren’t compatible with native apps and ensures all your devices are secured. There’s also a Chrome extension, but note that this only encrypts your browser traffic, leaving other apps on your device exposed.

HSS apps.

Overall, the apps are lightweight, modern, and user-friendly. Each device will have access to all of Hotspot Shield’s 3,200+ servers spread across more than 80 countries.

In the desktop app, servers are ordered alphabetically by country. For the countries with multiple locations, for example, the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada, you can choose a city. There’s no option to add servers to a favorites list but recent selections will show up in a “Quick access” list.

You can customize the app behavior with options including automatically starting the client and auto-connecting to the last server. I’ll discuss these in more detail later, but other options include a split tunneling feature, a kill switch, and automatic wifi protection.

HSS mobile app interface.

The mobile app is similar in design to the desktop client, but there are no customization or settings options. This is a positive in the sense that the app just works with no configuration required. But advanced users may miss the option to tailor the VPN.

Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi

Does Hotspot Shield work with Netflix?

Yes!

Hotspot Shield easily unblocks Netflix US, Netflix UK, and a handful of other libraries. I tested it with several US servers, including those located in Chicago, Portland, and Miami, and they all worked with no issues.

Other VPN providers require you to ask customer support which server to use. While this isn’t much of a hassle, it’s nice not to have to go through that extra step.

HSS Netflix page.

In addition to US Netflix, Hotspot Shield reliably unblocks the UK catalog. It also worked with other country versions I tested, including Netflix Canada, Australia, Sweden, and Spain.

Looking to stream from other sites? Hotspot Shield unblocked the following during testing:

  • Hulu
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Disney+
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • All 4

With great speeds, you should be able to stream HD video as much as you like.

Are you a Kodi user? Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield does not support Kodi configuration.

Does Hotspot Shield allow torrenting?

Yes.

Hotspot Shield does allow torrenting and the practice is backed by unlimited bandwidth and data and the use of shared IP addresses. The company promotes the use of its service for torrenting using uTorrent and BitTorrent.

Hotspot Shield torrenting page.

Hotspot Shield has recently improved it’s privacy policy and claims to be a zero-logs provider (more on that in the next section). The service has a couple of other features beneficial to torrenters, including a kill switch (but only in the Windows client) and DNS leak protection.

Security, privacy, and logging

Hotspot Shield has come under fire in the past for its questionable logging practices, so I was keen to see how well the current iteration of the service protects user privacy.

Hotspot Shield was originally the flagship product of AnchorFree, a Switzerland-based company. However, in 2019, it became part of a new company, Pango, which is based in Canada.

Canada is a member of the Five Eyes alliance, which may be discouraging to users particularly wary of international intelligence collection. That said, this is only an issue if the VPN keeps logs.

Adding to concern, Hotspot Shield doesn’t exactly have a rosy past when it comes to privacy. For example, a 2016 report brought to light some of the company’s questionable activities.

In addition, a privacy advocacy group, the Centre for Democracy and Technology, filed a related complaint against Hotspot Shield with the Federal Trade Commission back in August, 2017.

However, Hotspot Shield has been cleaning up its privacy policy, slowly but steadily. When I last reviewed the service, the company still logged user IP addresses for the duration of the session, but then deleted them. Now, the company claims that there is no logging of IP addresses at all, making it a true no-logs provider, a big plus for privacy in general.

Here are some highlights of Hotspot Shield’s security suite:

  • Strong encryption: HSS uses 256-bit AES GCM encryption with 2048-bit RSA keys and ECDHE for perfect forward secrecy (to ensure past sessions can’t be viewed if an encryption key is compromised).
  • Kill switch (Windows only): This will stop your internet connection in the event the VPN connection is lost. This is disabled by default so you’ll need to go to Settings > Advanced to switch it on.
  • Auto-protect: This is a neat feature that will connect you to the VPN automatically whenever you connect to public wifi.
  • Prevent IP leak: HSS comes with built-in DNS leak protection enabled by default, but it can be toggled off in the settings screen.

Hotspot Shield settings screen.

Unfortunately, the service doesn’t guarantee WebRTC leak protection but I tested for these leaks and observed none. IPv6 protection isn’t built in either and I did observe leaks here so you should disable this (and perhaps WebRTC, too) to be on the safe side.

Leak test results.

A new addition to HSS’s feature roster is Smart VPN. This is a split tunneling option that enables you to bypass the VPN for certain apps and websites.

Hotspot Shield Smart VPN feature.

Hotspot Shield doesn’t give you any protocol options, which may be disappointing to more advanced users. Instead, it always uses its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol.

I usually recommend the OpenVPN protocol as the gold standard in the industry. One of its benefits is that it’s open source so it can be reviewed by security experts. The lack of peer review opportunities is also one of the reasons I’m sometimes skeptical of VPN providers’ proprietary protocols.

However, this case is a little different as Hotspot Shields’s protocol is used by some top cybersecurity firms, including McAfee and Bitdefender. These companies evaluate the protocol before using it, and I’d say we can trust their judgement.

Does Hotspot Shield work in China?

Very few VPNs work reliably in China, so I was eager to find out if Hotspot Shield is one of them.

When I last reviewed HSS, users were having lots of issues with the service in China. However, Hotspot Shield has made improvements and is now a solid option for a China VPN.

Hotspot Shield China VPN banner.

Note that Hotspot Shield’s website is blocked in China, along with the sites of most other VPN providers. As such, you’ll need to download the software and any installation and troubleshooting guides before you enter the country.

Is Hotspot Shield’s customer service any good?

Hotspot Shield offers lots of tutorials and FAQs in the support section of its website. As part of the move to Pango, much of the website has been improved and you should find that the information available is fairly up to date.

If you’re still running into issues, you have two options. You can use the 24/7 live chat feature (outsourced to Zendesk) to get a quick response, or send an email in-house using a form in the support section of the website.

In my experience, the live chat customer support representatives were knowledgeable, friendly, and prompt.

Hotspot Shield pricing

No matter how great a service is, I always ask the question: Does it offer value for money?

hotspot shield pricing

Since moving to Pango, Hotspot Shield’s subscription structure has changed. It now comes as part of a bundle of four services that also includes:

  • 1Password: A password manager
  • Robo Shield: A spam call blocker (this is replaced by Hiya for users outside the US and Canada)
  • Identity Guard: Identity theft protection

The bundle costs $12.99 per month on a monthly basis or $7.99 per month when you pay annually. The monthly rate is comparable to many top-rated VPN providers for the same term and represents a bargain when you consider the additional three services.

However, the annual rate is a bit pricey compared to other providers that offer steeper discounts for longer terms. It’s still a good deal if you’re interested in the additional services, but if you’re solely looking for a VPN, this might be stretching the budget a little.

Pango only lets you pay by credit card. There is no cryptocurrency option, which will be disappointing for some privacy-conscious users.

Plans come with a generous 45-day money-back guarantee.

Hotspot Shield coupon codes

Hotspot Shield Coupon
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Should I buy Hotspot Shield?

After putting Hotspot Shield through some serious testing, would I recommend this service? In short, yes.

Hotspot Shield’s offering has definitely improved over the past year or so. Considering its speed and unblocking potential, this could be an ideal VPN for those looking to stream on a regular basis. It’s also a good option for users in China. If you’re mainly looking to torrent, I’d be hesitant to choose this service over others with better leak protection (and a kill switch for Mac users). The bundle price structure may be a turnoff for some users.

Alternatives

Although Hotspot Shield has impressed me, it still has a couple of downsides including a Windows-only kill switch, some leaks, and a lack of payment options. Thankfully, if those are deal-breakers for you, you have some great alternatives to consider.

ExpressVPN isn’t the cheapest VPN on the market, but it outperforms its rivals in almost every other area. It comes with a suite of security features, including a kill switch in the desktop apps and protection against DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leaks. It accepts plenty of payment methods, including bitcoin.

If price is a problem, then NordVPN is a great budget provider. It works in China, and has a massive server network, blazing fast speeds, top-notch security, and the ability to unblock plenty of popular streaming sites.

Hotspot Shield free version

As mentioned, Hotspot Shield does have a free offering. However, this is very limited and probably not worth your time. You get access to a single server location, slow connection speeds, a limit of 500 MB daily (enough to stream about half an hour of Netflix), no live chat support, and lots of ads.

If you’re thinking about using this service, we’d advise going for a budget paid provider like NordVPN instead.

Here’s a breakdown of how Hotspot Shield compares to two of the most popular services, ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

Hotspot ShieldExpressVPNNordVPN
Average speed *63 Mbps58 Mbps115 Mbps
Encryption Type128-bit AES256-bit AES256-bit AES
Kill Switchwindows onlydesktop onlyexcluding Android
Allows Torrenting
Records Identifying Logs
Unblocks Netflix US
Unblocks Amazon Prime
Unblocks Hulu
Unblocks BBC iPlayer
Lowest monthly cost$2.99$6.67 per month$3.71 per month
Money-back guarantee45 days30 days30 days
Overall Rating4.54.54.5