If you can’t access content or feel unsafe about giving your browsing location away, using a VPN service is best. With a plethora of services on the market, choosing the best one is quite difficult.
Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN and comes with praise from Australian users. But so little has been written on it and that’s why we’ve gone out of our way to provide you with this Hotspot Shield Review. Learn everything the VPN service has to offer and decide if it’s a good purchase for you.
Hotspot Shield: Overview
Hotspot Shield is incredibly popular and is often referred to as one of the top VPNs on the market. Many users praise its swift connection and browsing speeds, which are thus far unbeatable out of the many VPNs we’ve reviewed.
This VPN is known as one of the fastest VPN services on the market. It’s efficient and easy to use, which makes it great for beginners who are interested in the world of internet security and non-intrusive web browsing. It was developed by AnchorFree in 2008 but is now managed by the tech company Aura.
It has consistently performed well despite many customers complaining about how expensive the product is. Simply put, this is a premium product that comes with a host of features that are hard to get elsewhere. And with this product, you get what you pay for.
With a money-back guarantee, employing Hotspot Shield is a risk-free purchase. It’s also one of the few VPN services that operate smoothly in China, despite serious government regulation.
Where Is Hotspot Shield Based?
Hotspot Shield is based in the United States. There’s an upside and a downside to this, and we’ll deliver the bad news first.
The United States constantly monitors threats within its borders and abroad, it comes as no surprise that privacy can sometimes be compromised to ensure public safety. This is something that doesn’t bode well for VPN users.
On the bright side, as an Australian user, you’re not a citizen of the United States so at least it’s not your own country breaching your privacy.
Now for the good news: the US is one of the best places to do business in the world.
Much of the time, businesses in the US are open, transparent and will disclose practices if there’s a major public concern. Because of this, you should trust the value you get from such a VPN service, that promises to respect your privacy in a country where user data is misused or sold.
Are You Safe From Third-Party Audits?
As stated above, the US has somewhat of a nasty habit of selling user data—just look at Facebook and all the hot water it’s in.
Unless you’re inexperienced at dealing with companies such as Hotspot Shield, it’s unlikely you’re going to believe everything a service provider says about protecting your data, unless they can prove it. In the past, customers had to trust that their service provider kept their promise on protecting data. This is no longer the case.
The reason why Hotspot is still a great and popular product is that the company doesn’t keep activity logs to store customer data. So, no matter how hard prying eyes pressure the company, there’s no way your data will be released to people who have no right to view it.
Recently, many companies have participated in independent or third-party audits where people check if data was protected or not. Companies like Hotspot Shield that are willing to go through third-party audits are trustworthy. Whichever VPN you use, ensure they’ve had third party audits done.
You should also make sure that the audits are done regularly and that the last reported one is at most two years ago. That’s to ensure the company is constantly keeping its promises to its clients.
A famous third party audit is PWC. Although it doesn’t conclusively evaluate whether or not a company is trustworthy, it’s a good start. In addition, look for audits that mention whether or not there are data leaks and if the company keeps logs on its users.
Third-Party Audits on Hotspot Shield
In 2018, the popular security auditor, AV-Test, found Hotspot Shield VPN to be one of the most private, and fastest, VPN services on the market. The published study had very impressive results for this VPN product and determined it to be four times faster than some other speedy VPNs on the market.
Hotspot Shield VPN went through 130,000 different performance tests and was compared to the very best VPN services available. Such tests included those for data leaks and logging client data.
The VPN service not only passed security tests, but exceeded most benchmarks. So much so, that the auditors had this to say about the product:
“Hotspot Shield Elite passed all security checks. No leaks were detected, all necessary security features are present as well as being one of only three products providing additional security features in the form of malicious website blocks. No slip-up in this category ensured the top spot for the product.”
This shows the company keeps its promises to its clients and makes the fact that they’re based in the United States irrelevant. Your data is protected and there aren’t any prying eyes storing and using it for malicious purposes.
What Are Hotspot Shield’s Features Like?
We’ve established the company’s trustworthy nature, which is always a plus in a VPN and any other service. Can the features live up to the hype, too?
This premium product comes with a number of features and we’ll give you a brief overview of them now.
VPNs in general slow your internet speeds. They need to reroute your connection through various servers, encrypt your data and sometimes make it look like you’re on the other side of the world.
It’s reasonable to see your internet slowing a little with a VPN, but sometimes VPNs slow your speeds to unacceptable levels.
Several users have tested their speeds and reported excellent results. We’ll take one tester’s results as an example. We’ll be rounding the speeds to the nearest 10 for ease of reading.
Speed Test Results
Connecting to a server in their own country, the user experienced a decline of 12 Mbps download, and less than 1 Mbps upload speed. The user was mightily impressed by this test.
Moving across the world, shockingly, the speeds went up with a decline of only 8 Mbps download speed. However, the upload speed took a hit here and went down by 3 Mbps.
Even further away, the speed went up further with a decrease of 5 Mbps from the original. The upload speed went down by 2 Mbps from the original.
Finally, delving into their furthest away connection yet, the download speed only dropped 3 Mbps from the original, although the upload speed dropped considerably at a decrease of 4 Mbps.
These speeds are almost comically fantastic—the speeds got better the further away the connection was to the user’s location.
It’s impossible to state that this will be the case for every Hotspot Shield Australia user, but as most customers praise the speeds, it’s safe enough to say they’re consistently excellent.
Data caps on your VPN should match the data of your internet usage. Most Australians use unlimited data plans and you should look to do the same for VPN services.
VPNs are generally good about this too, providing unlimited data per month. Some free VPNs cap their data until you pay, and sometimes paid services have tiers with data caps before putting the unlimited plan as the priciest.
With a Hotspot Shield subscription, you get unlimited bandwidth. This helps with being able to enjoy streaming services, but, more importantly, it gives you the freedom to use the product without having to worry about how much data you’re using.
Security and Encryption Modes
We’ve established you’re safe from third-party audits, as the company doesn’t keep your logs. But are you safe from hackers too?
Users and testers found no DNS leaks and their IP address remained hidden—but there’s a catch. They only experienced these excellent results when using the desktop application version of Hotspot Shield.
Hotspot Shield also has a browser extension, and unfortunately, tests there weren’t so great. The VPN has several DNS leaks, regardless of what website you visit. This is no good—first of all, it puts your security at risk. Second of all, it tells the websites you’re using a VPN.
Letting a website know you’re using a VPN is fine in some cases, but what if you’re trying to watch Netflix? One minute you’re enjoying a show on US Netflix, and suddenly the page refreshes and tells you to turn off your VPN. It’s back to Australian Netflix for you.
Bigger Security Issue #1
This doesn’t seem to be an issue these days, but back in 2017, Hotspot Shield’s free version had some strange occurrences. The company was under fire from the Center for Democracy and Technology filing a complaint stating that Hotspot Shield Free VPN had “undisclosed and unclear data sharing and traffic redirection.”
For the non-tech-minded: the VPN was sharing information with third-party advertisers, and lying to customers about it.
It’s unclear whether the company still does this, and whether the paid version of Hotspot Shield has the issue.
Bigger Security Issue #2
In 2018, one researcher discovered that Hotspot Shield was leaking users’ locations and WiFi networks to websites.
Again, it’s unclear whether this has been fixed but based on the tests above it’s an issue that probably doesn’t occur with the desktop app.
So, while the VPN’s security features are great overall, there are some issues sprinkled through its history that may make you look elsewhere for security.
With that said, let’s continue examining Hotspot Shield’s features and see if there’s anything that can make up for the dark past.
Sometimes VPNs fail, your connection drops, and your data is exposed to the masses. This is no good—while at home it can be somewhat okay, but if you’re in public? There are hackers everywhere, just waiting for someone’s VPN connection to drop.
Hotspot Shield offers a kill switch option. You can press a button, and boom—suddenly, if your VPN connection dies, your internet connection does too.
This is an entirely optional feature, too, so if you’re using an internet-reliant program it’s probably best to leave this switched off. You don’t want to lose your progress in Google Docs, or get kicked out of that guild in your MMO as a gamer.
You can connect to a different server relatively quickly, so if you’re exposed it should only be for a minute or less. Still, keep in mind, sometimes that’s all hackers need to get into your information.
Other Kill Switch Uses
Kill switches don’t always disconnect you, and they’re not only useful for when your VPN connection drops entirely. Sometimes VPNs just get a little faulty, and they leak some of your data by mistake.
These switches are a fail-safe mechanism if data leaks occur. It’s in your best interest to have a VPN service with this feature to stop your data from being compromised.
When the system detects that information is no longer secure it takes cautionary steps to stop the leaking of data. In some cases, this may result in logging you off from a network, but it may not always get to that point. Even though this scenario may sound inconvenient, you at least have the certainty of protected data.
This is one of the most loved features on the Hotspot Shield. It’s efficient and effective, which ensures that there’s zero chance of data leaks in case your VPN connection suddenly goes offline.
In the AV-Test audit mentioned earlier, the results showed that data leaks don’t take place and this is mainly because of how this mechanism functions when a VPN is accidentally disconnected.
If you want a VPN with unlimited bandwidth for peer-to-peer sharing to provide efficient file sharing across your network, this is a VPN to choose. It has both unlimited bandwidth and peer-to-peer functionality.
The peer-to-peer element is special for a VPN based in the United States, because the country’s privacy laws make it very hard for services to offer such features. With such a feature you can torrent and efficiently share data and information without anyone tracking your web activity.
Ad and Malware Blocking
We all hate ads and malware. Especially irrelevant ads that come when using a VPN— since your location is changed, it’s common for VPN users to get ads relevant to where they’re “virtually” based. Because of this, get paid software that ensures you don’t have to go through this trouble.
Of course, you’ll still get ads on websites like Spotify, which require a subscription to turn them off. At least you’ll get a break from your annoying local ads and get to hear something cool about a foreign product, right?
As for malware blocking, that functions regardless of the website or application you’re using.
The harmful effects of malware can’t be emphasized enough. We regularly expose ourselves to malicious software every time we download things from or visit unsecured websites. To protect both your online and harddisk data, Hotspot Shield has strong malware defenses.
You should also invest in a strong anti-virus software to ensure you’re fully protected. However, Hotspot Shield does what it can, despite malware protection not being its primary function.
Is There a Hotspot Shield Browser Extension?
Browser extensions for Google Chrome and Firefox are available with the Hotspot Shield. Despite their best intentions, these aren’t easy to use and many customers report that their user interfaces are confusing to navigate.
Extensions are great for people who are new to the world of VPN services. Most popular types are for Chrome and Firefox browsers but you usually also find extensions for Brave and Opera—you’ll rarely find one for Internet Explorer, or as it’s known now, Microsoft Edge though.
VPN browser extensions allow you to easily turn on and off your VPN when browsing. The alternative is navigating through a different program to activate your VPN.
Make sure you get a VPN that’s compatible with the browser you use the most—it’s not just Explorer/Edge that gets ignored here. Luckily, Hotspot Shield is compatible with everything.
Issues With Hotspot Shield Browser Extension
You must understand that sometimes, a browser extension doesn’t equal the performance of a full VPN service. We can assume that Hotspot VPN falls into the third category we’re going to explore here. However, based on the DNS leaks mentioned earlier, it may be closer to the first.
There are three types of VPN for your browser, so be sure you know which yours is, or can at least theorize about it.
Proxies hide your IP address but all other information is available for prying eyes. This may include web activity or GPS tracking.
Proxies With Encryption
This offers more protection than the previous, but only data sent via the browser is encrypted. So, none of your internet-based desktop applications will have this protection, and your real IP address will be visible too, unless you’re using a desktop VPN alongside the browser extension.
Full VPN Suite
Suites are the premium versions that protect all data on your device that can be accessed through an internet connection. In addition to masking IP addresses, you usually get a bunch of convenient features that make the product a joy to use.
Even if Hotspot Sheild’s browser extension is a full VPN suite, users report it’s not the easiest to use, as mentioned above.
How Many Server Networks Does Hotspot Shield Have?
A VPN with an extensive server network is always good. This gives you more options on how you can mask your IP address. Most VPN services have a server network that ranges from a few hundred to a couple of thousand servers. Hotspot Shield has over 3,200 servers.
The servers are located in over 80 countries around the world, giving you plenty of choice in where you set your virtual location. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to this.
Unlike many VPN servers, you can only select your country of choice rather than the city.
Let’s take Surfshark as an example. You type in “US” and immediately you’re hit with Boston, Los Angeles, and more. With Hotspot Shield, you never know what you’re getting.
This is highly inconvenient as the VPN can bounce you between servers as often as it likes. This makes it easier for websites to detect your VPN use—it makes no sense for you to be jumping from city to city in a matter of hours.
Furthermore, some states have news websites locked by location. If you want to read New York news while your VPN says you’re in Idaho, you’re out of luck.
Still, the vast number of countries is something to praise, as some VPNs only offer connections by continent. Surely you can sacrifice city-choice if you’re only interested in streaming, perhaps?
Streaming With Hotspot Shield: Is It Possible?
If you want to access shows that are only reserved for the US audience but live in Australia, a VPN service will bypass security features and ensure you get unfiltered access to your favorite show or game. When looking at products, look at the prominent streaming services the VPN claims to create access for their customers.
While Hotspot Shield doesn’t work with every steaming service, it works with several popular ones that most customers value using a VPN with:
- BBC iPlayer.
- Amazon Prime Video.
It lacks functionality with HBO and Hulu, but perhaps its Amazon Prime Video compatibility makes up for that. Most VPNs don’t work with Prime Video, and it’s even better than Netflix at detecting VPN use.
Although, you’ll have to obtain US or UK Amazon Prime if you want to watch anything on those libraries.
Torrenting With Hotspot Shield: Is It Possible?
Downloading copyrighted content is illegal in the US and Australia, so we’d like to advise against torrenting.
That said, no matter how many warnings you get somebody’s still going to do it, so it’s better to do it when you know you won’t get caught.
You can safely torrent to your heart’s content with Hotspot Shield. Your internet service provider won’t see, the VPN company won’t keep logs on it.
If you’re going to torrent, you’ll need to use the desktop version of Hotspot Shield. It’s also advisable to have your VPN running while downloading the torrenting software, just in case.
Hotspot Shield: Free Trial or Money Back?
There’s a free trial of Hotspot Shield available from the start, by means of an ongoing package. Keep in mind that the free version isn’t the best and had that claim filed against them back in 2017, concerning privacy.
Since the free version of the software exists, there’s no lengthy free trial of the premium version: just 7 days. However, if you choose to upgrade and subscribe to the software, there’s still a 45-day money-back guarantee if the software doesn’t work for you, or if you don’t like it.
Hotspot Shield Pricing
Hotspot Shield is one of the pricer VPNs on the market. It’s fallen under criticism for this, especially due to its security breaches and the fact that you can’t choose your server by city.
The speeds, however, are a real contender when choosing this software.
The pricing below is in US dollars, as it’s a US-based company.
At $7.99 per month paid upfront as $95.88, you get the basic premium plan. For this, you can use Hotspot Shield on five devices and have access to all of the features detailed above.
If you upgrade to the premium family plan at $11.99 per month, you can use Hotspot Shield on 25 devices. This is also billed yearly, at $143.88.
If you don’t have the money upfront, you can also go with a monthly plan. Keep in mind, you’re losing money here so it’s probably best to save up for the yearly subscription.
Here, the perks are the same as above but the basic premium plan is $12.99 a month. The family plan is $19.99 per month.
This pricing is drastically higher than other VPNs on the market which often cost less than $10 per month.
Hotspot Shield: A Summary
Hotspot Shield has fantastic speeds, but terrible prices and some questionable security breaches. With the negatives in mind, you may prefer another VPN service.
Best Hotspot Shield Alternatives
- Nord VPN: $59 annually or $4.92 a month; popular choice.
- Surfshark: Upfront payment of $59.76 for two years at $2.49/month; cheap but slow option.
- Express VPN: $99.95 for 15 months at $6.67/month; better security.
From our extensive review, you’ve seen the worst and best of the Hotspot Shield. With much to offer the customer: fast speeds, data protection and 45-day warranties are guaranteed.
With all this information you now possess, is the Hotspot Shield best for you, or would you prefer another VPN service?