Hotspot Shield VPN Review – 2019 Update

Hotspot Shield VPN is owned by AnchorFree GmbH – a California based company. The VPN was established back in 2008, and to date, it has gained a massive user-base around the internationally. Its client apps are used by over 600 million premium users and counting – making Hotspot Shield stand out as a popular global VPN.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review - 2019 Update

Hotspot Shield VPN Review – 2019 Update

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However, a study carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). The CSIRO body discovered that Hotspot Shield was using advert cookies and worked with third parties to target Ads to its users. Some cybersecurity experts even deemed Hotspot Shield unsafe to use.

Nonetheless, we were delighted to see that such policies have long been modified, and Hotspot Shield now openly says that they no longer partake those actions.

Hotspot Shield offers four premium plans and a free version as well. While the California based VPN might not have secure payment options, they give a 45-day money back guarantee on all plans you purchase. They also provide exciting perks that are impossible to ignore – utilities such as dedicated servers, unlimited internet access, military-grade encryption, 24/7 customer support, impressive client apps, and they allow for up to 20 simultaneous connections.

Quick Stats

Money back guarantee 45 days
Allowed concurrent connections 20 devices
Supported streaming services Netflix, BBC iPlayer
No logs policy Yes
P2P allowed Yes
SmartDNS Not available
Encryption Military-grade
Authentication SHA-256
VPN Protocols Lacks OpenVPN
Special features Kill switch, IP leak protection, Auto-protection
Customer support 24/7 service
Server locations 60+ countries
Number of servers 2500+ servers
Supported devices Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome
VPN legal jurisdiction California, US

In this Hotspot Shield VPN review, we intend to focus on its premium services and learn how it stacks up against the hot competition in the industry. We’ll also highlight some facts about the Hotspot Shield VPN free version, which has also amassed a considerable number of users. Stick with us!

Pricing and payment options

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Like we mentioned before, AnchorFree GmbH offers Hotspot Shield VPN in two versions including:

  • Hotspot Shield Free
  • Hotspot Shield Elite

The Hotspot Shield Free version means that you won’t need to pay for it, but it has a catch – it’s Ad-supported. Therefore, it will affect your experience and efficiency.

The Hotspot Shield Elite version is available in four different plans. Although the four plans offer the same features and performance, they vary in the duration of the subscription. Unfortunately, when compared to other top VPNs, Hotspot Shield offers what is called pricey subscription plans. And while they might have made changes to its previous plans, they didn’t update the price rates of the packages.

Here’s a detailed review of the pricing plans:

  • The Monthly plan is the most expensive of all, and it goes for $12.99, billed every month.
  • Then there’s the 6-Month plan which sells at $8.99 per month. It costs a total of $53.94 billed every six months.
  • Next to it, is the annual plan that retails at $5.99 per month, and costs $71.88 billed every 12 months. This is the VPN’s most favorable plan, and it has the best savings compared to the above plans.
  • Finally, there’s the 3-year plan which costs $3.49 a month, implying up to $125.64 is billed every three years. Therefore, if you need a long-term VPN plan, we suggest you go for it.

Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield no longer offers the ‘Unlimited plan’, which used to be the best plan, since you only needed to pay for it once in a lifetime.

Despite the pricey plans, Hotspot Shield gives you a 7-day free trial – but you’ll need to fill in your credit card information to be accepted. They also give you a 45-day money back guarantee so that you can have enough time to try out their service. If it turns out that you’re not impressed with their service, then you can cancel your subscription within the first 45 days.

Payment Methods

Payment Options

Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield only accepts two payment options including all major credit cards and PayPal. Of note is that the VPN is yet to include any Cryptocurrency payments, which is usually the most preferred option for anonymity. Undoubtedly, this means that they can always discover your true identity.

Servers

Hotspot Shield boasts an improved network of 2500+ servers distributed across 60+ countries globally. While the VPN doesn’t show clear information about their servers and locations, we got help from their superb 24/7 live chat service.

Features

Kill Switch

Hotspot Shield VPN offers a kill switch feature on its desktop and mobile clients. The feature improves your online privacy by disabling your device internet access whenever Hotspot Shield VPN connection drops – most happen during server switching.

Smart DNS?

Hotspot Shield doesn’t have a Smart DNS feature, but that they make up for it with their excellent speeds. Usually, a Smart DNS is used to unblock sites without an encryption technique, which always reduces speeds significantly. However, Hotspot Shield has a proxy that can unblock nearly all major streaming services without interfering with speeds.

.onion website?

Notably, Hotspot Shield doesn’t work well in highly censored countries – since it lacks any special features that can overcome heavy restrictions. Moreover, the VPN lacks a .onion website that you can use to register with/download its setup, to begin with.

Split Tunneling

Split tunneling is a feature that allows you to choose applications you wish to encrypt. This means that you can activate your VPN to protect only the selected apps – an extremely useful feature, especially when you want to perform varied activities on your connected devices like accessing online banking and streaming restricted content. However, Hotspot Shield VPN for desktop and mobile lacks this feature.

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Privacy and security

Privacy

Speculations about the privacy levels of Hotspot Shield VPN have been doing rounds on the internet for a while now. Since their primary base of operations is within the US, the VPN has been faced with gruesome concerns about their ability to keep users’ identity private and secure. This is as a result of the annoying data retention policies implemented by the US government. However, we were pleased to learn that they observe a strict no-logs policy – a factor that will help boost their trust among users. But is that enough to convince private users?

A study published in 2017 reported that the Washington DC Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) alleges “Hotspot Shield engages in logging practices around user connection data, beyond troubleshooting technical issues” by using a user’s location and IP addresses to “improve the service, or optimize advertisements displayed through the service.”

The study files, “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.”

Such information is always can always affect the image of a VPN in the industry. Moreover, you can always count on users who value their online privacy to read the privacy policy of a VPN before subscribing to their service. Therefore, we also read the Hotspot Shield VPN privacy policy. We were delighted to find that the VPN has made massive improvements to their privacy policy. The new policy states:

“We do not attribute any specific website visits or app usage to any specific user. We do not keep logs of your online activities and never associate any domains or applications that you use with you, your device, or email.”

Previously, Hotspot Shield VPN had some disturbing statements that meant that they stored user data, but made claims that they never attributed it with user online activity. They worked with third-party agencies by sharing information collected from users to help target Ads to them. Nonetheless, we’re pleased to see that none of those activities is happening anymore.

Security

Hotspot Shield has since improved its security standards, and now they encrypt your online traffic using TLS 1.2 along with a Perfect Forward Secrecy (ECDHE), 256-bit AES encryption, as well as the HMAC message authentication technique. It’s evident that this is a military-grade type of encryption that most top VPNs also use.

Noteworthy, Hotspot Shield VPN doesn’t provide the industry standard Open Source Technology Improvement Fund-audited OpenVPN encryption. Instead, they offer a closed source encryption protocol they call ‘Catapult Hydra.’ The VPN makes bold claims that this type of protocol is highly secure – but since we can’t verify that for sure – you’ll have to take their word for it.

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Performance

Speedtest

Hotspot Shield has some of the fastest VPN servers in the industry. We discovered that the VPN seems to have minimal effects on speeds, and maintains almost the same speeds you get without a VPN.

Hotspot Shield VPN speeds are so impressive that we had to question their encryption techniques since they use a copyrighted protocol. Usually, OpenVPN tends to lower connection speeds to significant levels.

In our first experiment, we run a speed test of our internet without a VPN connection. The result below formed our benchmark:

Speed Test

In our second test, we connected to a Hotspot Shield server in the same country, and here are the results we gathered:

You can observe how the download speeds in the second test varied slightly from our benchmark test, while the ping and upload speeds took a small hit. Undoubtedly, these are terrific results, and they help make the VPN an excellent choice if you’re after fast speeds, high security, and the ability to stream content in HD.

Finally, we connected to a distant server, and as you can see below, the results didn’t disappoint either. The ping went down, and the upload speeds went extremely high.

Speed Test 3

We also tested the California based VPN using an iPhone device. Below are the two results we gathered after we connected to two separate server locations including Australia, and the United States respectively:

Speed Test 4

According to us, Hotspot Shield offers a great balance of superb speeds in all its servers, regardless of your physical location.

Setup and User interface

Getting started with Hotspot Shield couldn’t get easier. The simplicity and ease of use are portrayed in their minimalistic website. The site’s homepage has simple, clear-cut information that’s you’ll find useful while getting acquainted with Hotspot Shield VPN.

How to Get Started

The new update on the website is by far better to the previous, and it’s safe to say, this is by far their best update. Once you navigate to their official website, you’re met with a “Get Hotspot Shield” button right in the middle of the page. By clicking it, you’ll download the client app automatically, depending on the device you used to access it.

Registering with Hotspot Shield is pretty easy and straightforward as it gets. All you have to do is click on the “Sign In” link at the top of the page. The whole sign up process takes less than 5 minutes to finish.

Create Account

Once you’re done signing up, you can proceed to the pricing page to purchase your preferred plan. You’ll be required to enter your payment information – whether it’s your credit card or your PayPal logins – to proceed. Moreover, if you need to try out the 7-day elite free plan, you’ll be required to download a VPN client app before you proceed. The client app will give a straightforward link that you’ll use to sign up for an elite free trial – something that’s not easy to come by on the website.

Bearing in mind that the free trial lasts for 7 days only, your account will be charged an automatic monthly plan unless you update your plan choice on time. That is why Hotspot Shield dictates that you fill in your credit card information when choosing their 7-day free trial. It’s also important to note that, if you begin with a free trial, you’ll not be legible for their 45-day money back guarantee.

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Hotspot Shield client apps

Desktop Client

When you meet the new version of Hotspot Shield desktop client for the first time, it’ll give you a desirable and straightforward impression. Once you login to the app, it’ll automatically connect to the best and fastest server available – depending on your actual location.

Desktop Client

You are also free to select the country you wish to connect to – by clicking on the drop-down menu next to the name of the current server location.

Desktop Client 2

Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield doesn’t offer many features as expected; an area where we expected them to excel. You will only get basic features such as a kill switch, and an IP leak protector as well. We’d love to see Hotspot Shield make improvements in terms of features and utilities they offer in the coming days.

We didn’t get any issues noteworthy with the VPN’s features and utilities. The app worked seamlessly as expected throughout every stage of our test including, at startup, login, connecting and server switching. It takes less than 5 seconds to connect to any server across the world – the vice versa is the same.

Hotspot Shield Browser Extension

Browser Extension

The Hotspot Shield VPN browser extension looks precisely like that of the desktop and mobile versions. However, it has additional features that are specially customized for browsing, but still lacks a kill switch as well as an IP leak protection.

Browser Extension 2

The VPN’s browser extension harbors some blocking features that are in their ‘Beta’ stages – but they exhibit great performance. Some of these features include sword, tracker blocker, Adblocker, cookie blocker, and malware blocker as well.

The server list can be found directly below these promising features, and you can access them by scrolling down. However, we discovered that not all server locations are listed – only a selected few that are regarded as crucial.

Mobile Client app

In this mobile client app review, we tested using an iPhone device. The app is readily available on the App Store or Android’s Google Play Store.

Browser Extension 3

The mobile client also gives you a 7-day free trial if you haven’t purchased one already. The iOS app doesn’t include information about a money back guarantee. Nevertheless, when we interacted with the Android app, we discovered that they allow for 30-days money back guarantee, and not the official 45 days. You also have the option to use the app for free, but you’ll have to endure the endless Ads that will display and can only connect to the US server.

The mobile app offers only one feature, which is “App Auto Protection.” The feature gives you permission to add apps on your phone that will benefit auto-protection. That means, when the app added to the Auto Protection list is started, Hotspot Shield will automatically secure it by connecting to the best VPN server.

However, their Android version some exciting features that we wish they could include on the iOS version. The Android app includes features like:

  • Battery Life Extension – which closes all idle apps from time to time.
  • Malware scanner – it scans all apps for malware and removes them.
  • Deep cleaning – removes junk files from your phone
  • Data consumption – we noticed that the feature is still in its development stages.

Compatibility

Netflix

We were relieved to learn that Hotspot Shield VPN works well with the vast library of Netflix US, and Netflix as a whole.

BBC iPlayer

Hotspot Shield is also an excellent choice for BBC iPlayer. Nonetheless, the California based VPN doesn’t work effectively on highly censored countries such as China and Russia. However, they make up for it by giving you unlimited bandwidth, which is excellent for torrent lovers.

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Customer support

Hotspot Shield’s customer support has seen tremendous improvements over time – to what it has become now – an impressive 24/7 service. They have a well-documented knowledge base on their support section that has useful information on areas such as payments, common issues, user account management, and the general Hotspot Shield help.

Hotspot Shield VPN Support

The VPN has also recently included a 24/7 live chat service that is run by human agents and not bots. What used to be timed live support is not a 365-day round service.

Live Chat
Their ticketing system is also great, and they have an average response time of four minutes; a factor we thought is excellent considering their previous delays.

Bottom line

Pros

  • Breakneck Speeds
  • Up to 20 simultaneous connections
  • 7-day free trial
  • 45-day money back guarantee
  • Great browser extensions

Cons

  • Pricey plans
  • Based in the United States
  • Lacks OpenVPN protocol
  • Limited connection features

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Conclusion

Overly, despite Hotspot Shield’s base of operation – which is the US – they come out as a reliable and fast VPN. The VPN offers a great balance of speeds, efficiency, and anonymity. We’re certain that Hotspot Shield is an excellent service for streaming videos in HD and works exceptionally well with torrents.

However, Hotspot Shield offers pricey plans, and their location is still an area that we feel could call mistrust with various netizens. No matter, if you’re out looking for a VPN that can unlock all major streaming outlets, and can download torrents under high speeds, then Hotspot Shield is your solution. Otherwise, you might want to check out these premium Hotspot Shield alternatives instead.

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