Hotspot Shield Review 2024: A Secure, User-Friendly VPN

Our Hotspot Shield review explores the pros and cons of its security measures, speed, compatibility, and user-friendliness.
3.4
Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Hotspot Shield's website

Hotspot Shield
  • Extremely fast with easy controls
  • Helpful customer service
  • Logs some data and headquartered in the U.S.
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Hotspot Shield is a virtual private network (VPN) service under the umbrella of parent company Aura, a digital security company.

The service covers a wide range of devices including Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, Linux, and a number of smart TVs and routers. It boasts the fastest VPN speeds of any of its competitors and backs it up with data from Ookla Speedtest.

Hotspot Shield VPN is a great option with a few chinks in its armor. The product itself is top-notch based on the speed, variety of servers, additional features, and overall performance. Like most pieces of software, the performance can be buggy when used on operating systems other than Windows, but the customer service team is knowledgeable and ready to help.

Overall, Hotspot Shield is a solid paid and free VPN option.

In this article
Hotspot Shield overview
Who is Hotspot Shield best for?
Hotspot Shield features
Hotspot Shield free version features
Hotspot Shield test results
Hotspot Shield compatibility
Hotspot Shield customer support
Hotspot Shield prices and subscriptions
Hotspot Shield FAQs
Bottom line: Is Hotspot Shield a good VPN?

Hotspot Shield overview

Price $7.99–$12.99/mo
Free version Yes
Max # of connected devices 1, 5, or 25
# of servers 3,200+
VPN protocol Catapult Hydra, OpenVPN, and IPSec
No-logs policy Some logs
Headquarters Redwood, CA
Netflix access No
Learn more Get Hotspot Shield
Prices as of 06/19/2023.

Who is Hotspot Shield best for?

  • Hotspot Shield is best for individuals and families looking for a solid VPN option without a ton of technical know-how.

In addition to blazing-fast speeds, Hotspot Shield has several great features and a user interface that makes operations easy. It allows for multiple connected devices both on an individual and family level, with up to 25 devices covered with a family plan. Preloaded routers with Hotspot Shield are even available for purchase through the website.

Military-grade encryption, 24/7 support, and a 45-day money-back guarantee all make this a solid VPN service. The user interface is clean, simple, and easy to use without lengthy tutorials. Additionally, parents can feel good about installing Hotspot Shield on their children’s devices as it helps block location tracking when using social media apps and public Wi-Fi.

Hotspot Shield VPN pros and cons

Pros
  • Extremely fast
  • Easy controls
  • 3,200+ server options
  • Additional features like a kill switch
  • Helpful customer service
Cons
  • Leaks IP on server changes
  • Logs data
  • Had to be uninstalled to fix errors
  • Potentially expensive

Hotspot Shield features

First and foremost, it has to be mentioned that the download and installation aspect of Hotspot Shield is a breeze. We tested on a macOS Ventura 13 Macbook Pro with an M2 chip. Usually, most software comes with complicated processes for Mac download and installation, but this was user-friendly and required minimal effort.

The Hotspot Shield dashboard and interface are clean and easy to use.

Speed was the first test, and Hotspot Shield lived up to its claims. Internet speeds can vary, even in your own home depending on your equipment. Our tests were on a new Spectrum modem with a TP-Link mesh Wi-Fi router. And while there was some slowdown, it wasn’t noticeable for performance.

The next impressive feature was the ability to not only choose a region or country but also specific cities. If you’ve ever been on vacation in California and are unable to stream a Cleveland Browns game because it’s the wrong region, this could be your saving grace.

Choosing your location is easy as well. The menu allows you to choose a country and then prompts you if you want to customize and choose a city or just go with the default for that country.

The number of devices a VPN supports is also important. The average household has more than 10 internet-connected devices. Hotspot Shield allows you up to 25 devices for the family plan. Even an individual plan with 5 devices can cover your laptop, phone, tablet, smart TV, and any extra device you may need.

But some of Hotspot Shield’s features didn’t exactly work as promised. A huge draw of VPNs, especially for TV-savvy customers, is the ability to watch content from other regions on platforms like DIsney+ and Netflix. Netflix is in a constant battle with VPNs to block this ability.

During our testing, Netflix was the winner in this battle. A pop-up showed up when we connected letting us know that Netflix detected the VPN and specifically told us to shut it off. A little aggressive of them, but we decided to push boundaries. Even though Netflix registered we were pinging out of Canada, it still only released U.S. content.

The other disappointment was the kill switch feature. It’s supposed to be a fail-safe that shuts your internet down if the VPN disconnects. This way your IP address can’t be leaked by a disabled VPN. When we hit the kill switch, it killed everything and wouldn't let us disable the feature.

We ended up contacting customer support’s web chat via a mobile phone. Their only solution was to uninstall the entire program. What a headache!

Server count and countries

  • 3,200+ servers in 80+ countries

Hotspot Shield advertises its 3,200+ servers in 80+ countries front and center in its sales specs. As far as server and country count go, this is on the higher side of average. Having a vast number of server options has benefits, particularly the ability to connect to a variety of servers to maintain fast internet speeds. Any VPN worth paying for has at least 1,000 servers to route traffic through.

On the other hand, having a mass amount of server options is only helpful if the VPN service is of good quality. There’s a difference between IP address types, with certain types being recognizable as VPN IP addresses and others looking like organic machine IP addresses.

The fact that Hotspot Shield has servers in over 80 countries is a positive. Not only does the service provide the ability to automatically route you through the fastest possible server, but it also allows for movement between regions to access local content.

No-logs policy and headquarters

  • Hotspot Shield logs policy: Some logs
  • Hotspot Shield headquarters: Redwood, CA

So this is where Hotspot Shield hits a major problem. First, the company is headquartered in Redwood, California, and its parent company Aura is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Being a United States company headquartered in the U.S. means Hotspot Shield is under the jurisdiction of the United States, a founding member of the Five Eyes alliance, and a member of the Nine and Fourteen Eyes alliances.

What this means is that, at any time, the U.S. government can require Hotspot Shield to turn over all logged data on any user. That’s why a no-logs policy is important. If the company doesn’t log any user data, then there’s nothing to turn over.

Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield does log some data. Here’s the breakdown from their website of what they log:

“Our VPN products log:

  • The duration of VPN sessions and the bandwidth consumed. We do this to monitor, support and optimize our VPN services, as well as enforce free app usage limits.
  • The domains that have been accessed by our users, but on an anonymized basis such that we do not know which user accessed which domain, nor the full URL that would indicate which web pages were visited. We also aggregate this domain information on an approximately monthly basis. We do this to monitor, support and optimize our VPN services.
  • Device hashes, which are used to identify devices and associate them with other data we collect (such as for measuring bandwidth use, providing support, understanding how you interact with our VPN, and other analytics and marketing purposes). Device hashes are not linked to VPN browsing activity. We use device hashes because we do not require users to register an account to use some of our products and need a way to distinguish between different users and carry out the activities above.” [1]

The first bullet point explains that duration and bandwidth are logged for all tiers of the product. While the free product is the only one with bandwidth limits, Hotspot Shield logs data on all tiers.

In the second bullet, Hotspot Shield explains it’s collecting the domains accessed by all users. Their claim is that they use the data to optimize VPN services. They also claim they only log this domain information on a partial and anonymous basis. This would be a lot easier to digest if not for the last bit of information.

The third bullet point notes Hotspot Shield logs device hashes. This is where the privacy guarantee gets a bit dicey. Even though the device hashes aren’t linked to browsing activity, they do log some activity like domains accessed by users.

The explanation behind the reason for these logs is that Hotspot Shield uses the information for performance, marketing, and to regulate users of the free program. An easy fix for the free users is to make them register a username and password and use that to regulate.

Hotspot Shield's privacy statement notes that it doesn't keep logs of online activities, but does collect a small amount of data.

Kill switch

As mentioned above, Hotspot Shield does have a kill switch built into the product that’s available on all devices.

A kill switch disconnects your internet connection if, for some reason, you lose connection to the VPN. This protects your IP address from becoming discoverable. The entire point of a VPN is to mask your IP address, so this is a pretty important feature.

Like internet service itself, VPNs have the potential to randomly drop throughout the day. It happens mostly during high-traffic times and you may not even notice if you’re immediately reconnected to another server. But this drop has the potential to expose your IP address briefly. A kill switch prevents this data leak.

Unfortunately, we ran into issues when applying this feature in real time. Finding the kill switch on Mac required going into the program’s file menu at the top of our screen, which was confusing since all the other options were available in the console, but it was an option. The problem came when it was activated.

Turning on the kill switch immediately disabled the VPN, which disabled the internet. There was no way to turn the internet back on once Hotspot Shield disabled it. Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield also disabled the ability to turn off the kill switch. The entire debacle crippled our machine leaving it unable to connect to the internet, Hotspot Shield VPN, or help pages.

Split tunneling

Split tunneling is where you route some of your internet traffic openly and other parts through a VPN. Hotspot Shield allows for split tunneling and makes it very easy to toggle off and on through the main console.

You may need to use split tunneling to protect some of your internet traffic while also allowing yourself to use sites, networks, or services that require your actual IP to operate. Many banks want to know where you’re accessing their site from, so splitting your usage would allow you to access your mobile banking while keeping the rest of your browsing activity secure. While this isn’t the safest method of using the internet, it’s sometimes necessary.

Encryption

Hotspot Shield uses AES-256 encryption. This is the same level of encryption used by the U.S. government (hence the military-grade encryption promise on Hotspot Shield’s website). This type of encryption was developed specifically for the U.S. government to transmit the most sensitive information.

How easy is AES-256 encryption to break? Using current computing technology, it would take billions of years to crack. Researchers are constantly trying to hack into AES-256 encrypted data, and when they find even the slightest vulnerability they make sure to take immediate action to secure the threat.[2]

VPN protocol

Hotspot Shield offers several different types of VPN protocols. It has an automatic option that chooses the best overall protocol for you at that moment. Hotspot Shield also has its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol and a very secure IPsec protocol.

While the Hydra protocol may allow you more access to streaming, the VPN chooses the most secure connection if you leave it set to Automatic. IPsec is a secure protocol but is more recognized by VPN blockers and may not be the best for streaming.

Hotspot Shield free version features

Considering the paid versions of Hotspot Shield are on the pricier end of VPNs, it’s nice to see the company offering a free version of their product. It comes, as many free items do, with a few caveats. As long as you aren’t looking for heavy usage, you may be able to get away with using the free version.

The free version allows you to use one device. Since Hotspot Shield doesn’t require a username or password, you could potentially install it on multiple devices.

This is where Hotspot Shield’s logging policies come into play. If it’s on the lookout to really enforce one device per person, seeing the activity through your internet service provider (ISP) could help the company determine if you’ve installed it on multiple devices.

The connection speed of the free product is greatly reduced to 2 megabits per second (Mbps) and the data is limited to 500 megabytes (MB). For reference, the average movie is 1-2 gigabytes (GB), and 500 MB equals 0.5 GB. Using the free version to download an average, non-HD film could take you several days with the data allowance.

Virtual locations are limited to one (the U.S.) and tech support is limited to the support center only. This means you can’t use the free version of the VPN to bounce through multiple countries. You also can’t access the 24/7 live chat customer support.

All of these limitations go away with paid versions of Hotspot Shield. There are no data limits on either paid version, you’re able to install on multiple devices, connection speed is up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), and 24/7 support is accessible by logging into your account on the website. If you’re looking to save money on a VPN, however, Hotspot Shield’s free option isn’t the worst choice.

Hotspot Shield test results

We tested Hotspot Shield on several different factors that may be important to anyone shopping for a VPN. Speed, streaming access, and reliability are all common features important to consider when purchasing a VPN.

We test these features so you’re informed of real-world operations. Also, we hope to help you avoid the hassle of a refund if you find a deal breaker in the product. (Disclaimer: we didn’t request a refund so we’re unsure if the process is easy. We do know that asking for a refund on any product can be taxing.)

Speed tests

  • Hotspot Shield speed test results: Pretty fast. Hotspot Shield mostly lives up to Hotspot Shield’s claim of being the “world’s fastest VPN.”

We tested on a macOS Ventura 13 Macbook Pro with an M2 chip. Security software is notoriously glitchy on Mac products because of Apple’s proprietary security features. Hotspot Shield, however, performed pretty much as promised.

There was imperceptible lag on web-based activity. While browsing the internet, streaming on Netflix, and using Zoom, there was no difference from when the product was shut off. The only time there was any perceptible latency was during an upload of a few photos to Google Drive. Those took a little longer than expected, but the time required still wasn’t outrageous.

Internet speeds vary depending on the moment. The faster the speed, the smoother the experience. Here’s a look at the download, upload, and latency differences with Hotspot Shield connected and disconnected.

With no VPN connected, our download speed is 447 Mbps and upload speed was 41 Mbps. Our latency was 13 ms.

Without the VPN disconnected, we saw download speeds of 447 Mbps, upload speeds of 41 Mbps, and a latency of 13 milliseconds (ms).

With the VPN turned on and connected to a Los Angeles VPN server, our download speed was 263 Mbps, our upload speed was 28 Mbps, and our latency was 283 ms

Hotspot Shield VPN speed test results

Test type No VPN US to US US to EU US to AU
Download speed 485 Mbps 372 Mbps 299 Mbps 369 Mbps
Upload speed 41 Mbps 40 Mbps 36.8 Mbps 32.2 Mbps
Latency (ping) 11 ms 33 ms 278 ms 286 ms
Download speed % difference n/a -23% -38% 24%
Upload speed % difference n/a -2.44% -10.24% -21.46%
Latency % difference n/a 200% 2,427% 2,500%
Test results as of 01/10/2023.

Hotspot Shield Netflix tests

  • Hotspot Shield Netflix test results: Hotspot Shield failed to unblock Netflix.

As previously mentioned, Netflix is always looking for VPN activity. VPNs are always looking for ways to circumvent VPN identifiers. For this particular test, Hotspot Shield was not able to access regional content outside of the U.S.

Since Netflix and other streaming services take an active approach to VPN and region, there may be times when a VPN doesn’t work. Fortunately, credible VPN companies like Hotspot Shield are always actively working to circumvent these VPN detectors so you can watch Netflix with Hotspot Shield or other VPNs.

Because regional content is a hot feature for VPNs, and this access is always in flux, Hotspot Shield may, in the future, be able to trick the Netflix bots. For right now, however, Netflix is the clear winner.

Hotspot Shield Netflix test results

US to US US to UK US to Canada US to AU
Did it work with Netflix?
Test results as of 01/10/2023.

DNS leak tests

  • Hotspot Shield DNS leak test results: Passed — sort of.

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a directory for the entire internet. Think of it like a phone book. If you’re using a VPN, your goal is to dial out using your IP address while making sure the caller ID is blocked.

While connected to a single server, Hotspot Shield passed with flying colors. Then we found a leak. When changing to a new country, Hotspot Shield turned itself off and then back on for the new country’s server. During this second of downtime, our IP address was revealed.

A screenshot of our IPLeak.net test results show that Hotspot Shield successfully masked our DNS info while we were connected to a UK server.

Hotspot Shield passed the DNS leak test while connected to a U.K. server.

We detected an IP address leak when we switched to a different Hotspot Shield server.

But our IP address was revealed while switching Hotspot Shield servers.

WebRTC leak tests

  • Hotspot Shield WebRTC leak test results: Partial pass

WebRTC refers to the real-time communication capabilities on your browser. What this means is that you can make voice and video calls, share your screen, and transmit files without having to go through a middleman server. The peer-to-peer connections allow your internet-connected device to talk to another internet-connected device.

If there’s a WebRTC leak, it means the VPN has stopped cloaking your IP address and the internet-connected device you’re talking to can see your real information.

Again, Hotspot Shield performed great until it came time to switch servers to another country.

When we swapped Hotspot Shield VPN servers from Australia to Canada, our IP address leaked for a split second.

As you can see, when we switched from Australia to Canada, our IP address leaked for just a second. That’s enough time for anyone to gain access to your IP address.

Hotspot Shield compatibility

Hotspot Shield has an impressive array of compatible devices. This means that no matter if you use a Windows computer and an Apple iPhone with a Samsung Smart TV, you’ll be able to cover a variety of devices with your subscription.

The Hotspot Shield app works on the following devices:

  • Windows
  • Android
  • iOS
  • macOS
  • Chrome
  • Smart TVs
  • Linux
  • Routers (Including routers preloaded with Hotspot Shield)

Hotspot Shield customer support

There are several options for customer support if you’re a Hotspot Shield customer. The support center has an array of FAQs as well as a breakdown of problems based on your device or operating system.

If you’re using one of the paid versions of Hotspot Shield, you also have the option to email or live chat with a real representative.

During our kill switch debacle, we used the live chat support feature found on the Hotspot Shield website. At first, we were greeted by a bot that was very knowledgeable. When it wasn’t able to recognize our problem, it quickly routed us to a customer service representative. That rep was able to give us the information needed to remedy our problem.

Our Hotspot Shield customer service rep explained to us how the VPN collects and uses IP address data.

The representative was friendly and helpful. The only criticism is that perhaps they could take less time with the niceties and just get to the support. It’s nice to feel validated, but when you’re frustrated (and if you’ve gotten to the stage of requiring live support, you’re likely frustrated) it’s more helpful to have a pleasant, efficient chat experience.

Hotspot Shield prices and subscriptions

Hotspot Shield VPN is not the most expensive VPN on the market but it’s not the least expensive either. It falls right in line with NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Private Internet Access. One of the upsides is the performance you get with the free version of Hotspot Shield.

The free plan is always free and is good on the fly, especially if you’ve found yourself in need of public Wi-Fi and don’t have time to shop for VPN options.

The Premium Plan costs $7.99/mo if you purchase an entire year at once but $12.99/mo if you pay month-to-month. The Premium Family Plan is advertised at $11.99/mo but, again, that’s only if you pay for an entire year upfront. A true monthly Premium Family Plan runs $19.99/mo.

Again, this is an average price, but for about the same cost you may be able to purchase a different product like NordVPN or ExpressVPN that can access regional streaming content on Netflix.

Hotspot Shield VPN cost

Plan Monthly cost
Best Value
Yearly cost
Hotspot Basic Free Free
Premium $12.99/mo $7.99/mo ($95.88/yr)
Premium Family $19.99/mo $11.99/mo ($143.88/yr)
Prices as of 06/19/2023.

Hotspot Shield comes with a free tier and a 45-day money-back guarantee on paid tiers.

Hotspot Shield plan comparison

Features Hotspot Basic Premium Premium Family
Simultaneous connections 1 5 25
Compatibility Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, Chrome, TV, Linux, router Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, Chrome, TV, Linux, router Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, Chrome, TV, Linux, router
Virtual locations 1 (US only) 115+ 115+
Data limit 500 MB daily Unlimited Unlimited
Streaming mode Limited
Gaming mode
Learn more View Plan View Plan View Plan

Hotspot Shield accepts debit and credit cards including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, JCB Payment, Diners Club, as well as PayPal.

Hotspot Shield FAQs


+

Is Hotspot Shield really free?

Yes. There’s no monthly cost for the free tier of Hotspot Shield. But remember the old internet adage: If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. The logs Hotspot Shield collects are for marketing purposes. It’s unclear how those logs are handled and shared.


+

Is Hotspot Shield good for privacy?

Yes, Mostly. Don’t change server locations in the middle of a session unless you want your IP address leaked.


+

What’s better than Hotspot Shield?

NordVPN is located outside of the 14 Eyes alliance, passed the Netflix test, is just as fast as Hotspot Shield, doesn’t log, and doesn't leak IP addresses.


+

Does Hotspot Shield work in China?

No. This is not one of the government-approved VPNs for China. VPNs are legal mostly everywhere, but there are places in the world where they aren’t.


+

Does Hotspot Shield come with an antivirus?

There’s no antivirus option with Hotspot Shield but the program does come with anti-phishing features.

Bottom line: Is Hotspot Shield a good VPN?

Yes, Hotspot Shield is a good VPN with a few minor drawbacks. The speeds are fast and the encryption is solid. It’s available on a multitude of devices and operating systems and has a great array of servers and countries to choose from. It even comes with a free version with some limitations.

Hotspot Shield’s problems of leaked IP addresses during server switches can be easily avoided by not switching servers and dropping your VPN connection during a browsing session. It’s unfortunate that this isn’t a warning given to customers, since it’s good information to know. And while our Netflix tests were disappointing, there’s always a chance Hotspot Shield will be able to skirt the VPN detectors on the streaming site in the future.

Overall, if your sole goal is to watch regional streaming content on Netflix, Hotspot Shield isn’t the best VPN. But if you’re looking for air-tight encryption along with ultra-fast speeds, Hotspot VPN could be the one for you.

3.4
Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Hotspot Shield's website
Hotspot Shield
  • Extremely fast with easy controls
  • Helpful customer service
  • Logs some data and headquartered in the U.S.
Author Details
Mary lives in Los Angeles and has been a cybersecurity writer for over five years. With a B.S. in Liberal Arts from Clarion University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, her career in online security began in sales and content creation for a private cybersecurity firm.

Citations

[1] VPN Products Privacy Notice

[2] Understanding AES 256 Encryption

[3] Which VPN Protocol Should I Use