Who is Hotspot Shield?
If they wanted to, VPN providers could technically snoop on your online activities. So, better think twice about getting in bed with those who hide behind a veil of anonymity! Here are more good-to-know tidbits about Hotspot Shield:
|Owned and Operated by||AnchorFree|
|Base of Operations||United States|
|Operates in a Privacy-friendly Country?||No|
|Logging Policy||Some logs|
|Encryption Used||256-bit AES Encryption|
|Servers Located in||25 countries|
Plans and Pricing
Starting at €15.99/month (or around $18.59/month), Hotspot Shield Elite has one of the most expensive price tags around. That’s a lot of money to shell out for a VPN service! Longer subscription terms shave off a few Euros, but you’ll still be looking at monthly costs of at least €6.99/month (or around $8.11/month). Even ExpressVPN’s pricey subscriptions are looking more reasonable at this point.
The good news is that Hotspot Shield also offers an unlimited plan for a one-time payment of €139.99. For the equivalent cost of nearly two years of subscription, you can enjoy Hotspot Shield’s service for a lifetime, which is a pretty good deal. Of course, that depends on what you’re hoping to get out of a VPN service.
Check out all the different paid plans below:
|1 Month||6 Months||1 Year||Unlimited|
|€15.99/mo.||€10.99/mo.||€6.99/mo.||€139.99 one time|
Payments accepted include popular credit cards, like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, JCB, Diners Club International and Union Pay. You can also pay using PayPal and bank transfer.
If you’re unsure whether Hotspot Shield is the right VPN for you, you’ll be glad to know that you can try out their service at no cost, for 7 whole days. Even better, they have a rather generous 45-day money-back guarantee so you have more than enough time to decide whether you want to continue the subscription or not.
Alternatively, you can opt for the free version of Hotspot Shield. But take note that it has several limitations. Check out how the Elite and Free plans compare below:
|Hotspot Shield Free||Hotspot Shield Elite|
|Bandwidth Allocation||500MB per day||Unlimited|
|Access to Geo-Restricted Sites||Limited access||Unlimited access|
|Connect up to 5 Devices Simultaneously||No||Yes|
|Support||Priority email, 24/7 chat (coming soon)|
|Security||AES 256-bit encryption||AES 256-bit encryption|
Servers and Locations
Hotspot Shield currently has over 2,500 servers located in 25 countries around the world. Countries include:
|United States||Hong Kong||Denmark||Russia||Iran|
|China||Czech Republic||Netherland||Ukraine||New Zealand|
It must be noted that the availability of certain server locations may vary per platform. Also, Hotspot Shield uses virtual locations. That is, servers are set up too look like they are in a specific country but are actually housed in a completely different location, usually nearby. Virtual servers are commonly used to ensure faster and more reliable connections, but performance isn’t that far off compared to physical servers.
How is the Performance of Their VPN Servers?
On numerous tests, Hotspot Shield consistently delivered fast download and upload speeds. In fact, it may be one of the fastest VPNs around. This is partly thanks to the company’s proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol, which was created specifically to address latency issues that were prevalent in the previous protocols they used (IPSec and OpenVPN).
Take this with a grain of salt though, because results typically vary per user. Depending on your location, your base download/upload speeds, and other factors, some servers may perform better than others. For example, the Europe or Asian servers may perform better than US servers, but that may not be the case for those living near the US. This is normal, as far as VPN services go.
On top of speedy connections, Hotspot Shield Elite subscribers can also enjoy unlimited bandwidth. This means that you can download and stream to your heart’s content. And yes, the VPN lets you download via P2P without restrictions, as well as access blocked content on Netflix without issues.
The same, however, cannot be said of Hotspot Shield’s free version. It will simply block Netflix access (or BBC iPlayer, Hulu and more, for that matter) and urge you to upgrade to the Elite version. It’s to be expected, of course. Not only is access to geo-restricted content limited on the free version, the bandwidth is also capped at 500MB/day.
How Secure is Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield utilizes strong 256-bit AES encryption to help secure connections, along with a kill switch that automatically stops inbound and outbound traffic should a VPN server unexpectedly fail. The icing on the cake is that both the app and browser extensions offer ad and malware blocking features, too.
When it comes to privacy, Hotspot Shield doesn’t store nor share your true IP address—the data is erased once you disconnect from the VPN. On the other hand, the company does collect data on the websites you visit and the apps that you use, so it’s a mixed bag as far as privacy is concerned.
Hotspot Shield claims that the data is used for analytics and troubleshooting though, which is not that uncommon in the VPN industry. More importantly, the data they collect is in aggregate form and not presented in a way that directly identifies you as the user. The information they collect also includes:
- Hardware model
- OS & version number
- Browser used
- Wireless network information
- Mobile network information
Some people might not have an issue with this, but the fact remains that Hotspot Shield still collects various data from you. It’s at least eyebrow-raising, if not altogether worrying. But it doesn’t stop there.
Users should be careful of the ads that appear on the free version of Hotspot Shield, too. While the company claims that they don’t share your personal information to third-party advertisers, they do confirm that some ads may be able to collect certain information. These include:
- Device advertising ID
- MAC address
- Wireless carrier
- Some data from browsing history
If you’re a stickler for privacy, then Hotspot Shield may not be the best choice. Although, the company’s first transparency report published in November 2019 should put some people’s minds at ease. The report basically states that “to date, AnchorFree has never provided the identity or other personal information regarding our users to the government.”
What Devices are Supported?
Hotspot Shield’s platform compatibility is decent at best. They have easy-to-use apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, as well as browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. But if you want to install it on a smart TV, Apple TV, or even just on a Linux machine, then you’re out of luck. Power users will be disappointed to know that customer router configurations are also not possible. Check out which platforms are unsupported below:
|Apple TV||Smart TVs|
|Android TV boxes||Roku|
|Kodi||Fire TV Stick|
|Windows Phone||Rooted/jailbroken devices|
How Many Devices Can I Connect to Hotspot Shield?
Users subscribed to Hotspot Shield Elite can connect up to 5 devices simultaneously. If you want to connect more devices, your only option is to pay for another subscription. If you’re on the free version, you can only connect 1 device.
While Hotspot Shield’s support materials are comprehensive enough, their Live Chat support isn’t nearly as impressive. Based on experience, the agent that handled this writer’s inquiry didn’t seem knowledgeable about the product at all.
When asked about what type of VPN protocol Hotspot Shield uses, it took the agent a while to reply, as if he were scouring their website for information. He did manage to answer my question though. But, when pressed further if they use any other protocol besides Catapult Hydra, the agent simply provided a link to one of their pages. Too bad the page didn’t contain any information that answered my question!
To be fair, this may have been an isolated case, and it might not even be representative of all their support agents. Still, it wasn’t a particularly good experience. You can send in a support query via their ticketing system though—you might get a better response there (fingers crossed!).
What's the Verdict on Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield Review 2019 – Conclusion