Hotspot Shield, or HSS for short, has been making lots of changes over the past few years. 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 Aura, which merged with former parent company Pango. So what does all of this mean for users? Is Hotspot Shield worth considering? Does it compare to top-rated providers such as NordVPN or Surfshark?
(Editors’ Note: Hotspot Shield is owned by Pango, Comparitech’s parent company.)
In this 2021 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 there’s room for improvement. Live-chat support could be slightly better and the price could be a turnoff for some users.
Hotspot Shield key data
|OVERALL RANK: #6 of 53 VPNS|
|Average Speed*:||48 Mbps|
|Video Streaming Support:||4K UHD|
|Other Streaming Services:||Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, 4 All|
|Encryption Type:||256-bit AES w/ Perfect Forward Secrecy|
|Kill Switch:||Yes, Windows and Android|
|Log Policy:||no logs|
|Value for Money||
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$2.99|
|Money Back Guarantee:||45 days|
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.
- Solid speeds
- Expansive server network
- Unblocks Netflix and other sites
- Connect 5 devices simultaneously
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Works in China
- Kill switch isn’t in all apps
- Doesn’t accept bitcoin
- Support could be improved
- Collects more user data than many competitors
- Supports unauditable homegrown VPN protocol
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.
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 48 Mbps. This is a bit lower than the average speed I observed last time I tested, but it puts Hotspot Shield around the middle of the pack compared to competitors.
Here are the results broken down by region:
- North America: 48 Mbps
- Europe: 49 Mbps
- Asia: 48 Mbps
As you can see, speeds are fairly consistent no matter which server you connect to. They were also pretty consistent across different times of day. 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 (unless signing up to the Premium Family plan – more on that below). Apps are available for the following:
- Windows 7 and higher
- MacOS 10.12 and later
- iOS 12.0 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.
Overall, the apps are lightweight, modern, and user-friendly. Each one provides access to all of Hotspot Shield’s 1,800+ servers spread across more than 80 countries. Hotspot Shield recently reduced its number of servers (from around 3,200) but it continues to cover roughly the same number of countries as it did before.
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.
New to the home screen are shortcuts to US and UK streaming servers and US gaming servers.
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, protocol switching, a kill switch, and automatic wifi protection.
The mobile app is similar in design to the desktop client, but has just one settings option (switching protocols). This is a positive in the sense that the app just works with no configuration required. But advanced users may miss the ability to tailor the VPN.
Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi
Does Hotspot Shield work with Netflix?
Hotspot Shield easily unblocks Netflix US, Netflix UK, and a handful of other libraries. I tested it with several US servers 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.
In addition to US Netflix, Hotspot Shield reliably unblocks the UK catalog. It also worked with a few other country versions I tested, including Netflix Canada, Australia, and India. I wasn’t able to unblock Netflix Japan, Brazil, or Spain.
Looking to stream from other sites? Hotspot Shield unblocked the following during testing:
With great speeds, you should be able to stream HD video as much as you like.
Are you a Kodi user? Hotspot Shield now supports Kodi configuration.
Does Hotspot Shield allow torrenting?
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 VPN does not support multihop servers at this time.
Multihop VPN servers route your connection through two cascaded VPN servers. This adds a second layer of encryption to your traffic. The extra server or hop makes you significantly more difficult to track and identify. Hopefully this will come to Hotspot Shield in the future.
Does Hotspot Shield provide a warrant canary?
A warrant canary is a document that is frequently published by a service provider stating that it has not received a secret warrant or a gag order from law enforcement.
If the provider ever does receive a warrant or a gag order, it can take down the warrant canary, to indirectly signal to their user base that the service has been compromised, without violating the gag order.
HSS does not provide a warrant canary at this time.
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 was later acquired by Aura, a US-based company.
The US 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.
So HSS logs:
- Session durations
- Domains accessed by users (claimed to be anonymized data)
- Device hashes
The logging of the domains accessed by its users is the most concerning to me.
Then, we find the following, somewhat contradictory, statement:
While HSS says it doesn’t collect your IP address in regards to your browsing activities, it nonetheless collects it to:
- Protect against fraud
- Obtain your location and information on your ISP/carrier
- Determine nearby servers
- For advertising purposes
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). HSS supports IKEv2 (deemed very secure) and its own proprietary VPN protocol, called Catapult Hydra. Catapult Hydra, being a proprietary protocol, cannot be audited by security researchers and so you just have to take HSS’ word on its security. Bear that in mind when coosing your protocol.
- Kill switch (Windows and Android): 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.
The service doesn’t guarantee WebRTC or IPv6 leak protection but I tested for these leaks and observed none. That said, I did observe IPv6 leaks last time I tested, so you may want to disable this (and perhaps WebRTC, too) to be on the safe side.
A relatively 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.
Another new addition is the option to switch protocols between its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol and IKEv2. The latter is mainly used for improved speed on mobile devices.
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. As mentioned above, 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 judgment.
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.
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. If you’re still running into issues, you have two options. You can use the 24/7 live chat feature or send an email in-house using a form in the support section of the website. Note that these options are available for premium customers only.
In my experience, the live chat customer support representatives were knowledgeable, friendly, and prompt. However, there is now a bot component to the live chat which can be a bit frustrating. When I asked a simple feature question, I couldn’t get past the bot which kept responding with the same installation guides that didn’t apply to my question. For another question regarding streaming, I was eventually connected to a live chat agent but had to answer several questions beforehand.
The email system fared well though. I got a satisfactory response to my queries in just over two hours which is great.
Hotspot Shield pricing
No matter how great a service is, I always ask the question: Does it offer value for money?
Since moving to Aura, Hotspot Shield’s subscription structure has changed slightly. The Premium plan still 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)
- Aura Antivirus: An antivirus program
The bundle costs $12.99 per month on a monthly basis and $7.99 per month when you pay annually. HSS also has a 3-year option that brings the monthly cost down to $2.99. The monthly and annual rates are comparable to many top-rated VPN providers for the same term, if slightly higher. Considering the fact that you get some additional software bundled for free, the prices aren’t bad. It just comes down to whether or not you have any use for the bundled programs.
It also now lists a Premium Family plan, which offers the same features as the Premium plan, but provides five user accounts with up to 25 simultaneous connections (5 x 5). The Family plan costs $12.99 on a monthly basis, and comes down to $11.99 per month if you buy the yearly subscription.
As far as payment methods go, Hotspot Shield only lets you pay by credit card or PayPal. 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
Should I buy Hotspot Shield?
After putting Hotspot Shield through some serious testing, would I recommend this service? In short, for most people, yes. The most privacy-conscious users might want to look for a non-US based VPN but for most users Hotspot Shield is a very strong contender.
Hotspot Shield’s offering has definitely improved over the past few years. 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.
Live-chat support could be better and the bundle price structure may be a turnoff for some users who don’t want to pay for the additional services.
Although Hotspot Shield has impressed me, it still has a couple of downsides including the kill switch not being available in MacOS or iOS, and no private payment option. Thankfully, if those are deal-breakers for you, you have some great alternatives to consider.
NordVPN comes with a decent price tag but has all the features you need from a top-rated provider. It pegs some of the fastest speeds we’ve seen and comes with a suite of security features, including a kill switch and protection against leaks. It accepts plenty of payment methods, including bitcoin, and offers excellent support.
Surfshark is another stellar provider that’s easy on the wallet. It’s known for its unblocking abilities and solid speeds. A huge bonus of this provider is it doesn’t limit the number of devices you can connect at a given time.
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 low-cost paid provider like NordVPN instead.
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, NordVPN, and Surfshark. For more information about the latter two, you can check out our full NordVPN vs Surfshark comparison.
|No value||Hotspot Shield||NordVPN||Surfshark|
|Average Speed||48 Mbps||369 Mbps||324 Mbps|
|Encryption type||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||256-bit AES|
|Kill Switch Windows only|
|Records identifying logs|
|Unblocks Netflix US|
|Unblocks Amazon Prime|
|Unblocks BBC iPlayer|
|Lowest monthly cost||2,99 $||$3.29||$2.49|
|Money back guarantee||45 days||30 days||30 days|
|24/7 live chat|