Hotspot Shield Review
- Up to 5 simultaneous connections
- Clean, modern interface
- Apple-like "one button" approach prevents users from accidentally leaving themselves vulnerable
- Includes DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leak protection
- Over 2,000 servers available
- Generous 30-day money-back guarantee
- 300,000+ IP addresses
- Lifetime subscription plan is a great value
- Generally works with streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer
- Limited functionality free package available
- Substandard support quality
- No advanced features
- Records IP and possibly connection times
- Based out of the US
- Locations in only 20 countries
Hotspot Shield is the perfect tool for protecting yourself from malicious individuals. It's great for on the go where WiFi might be spotty or insecure and equally great at home. The software is a breeze to install and operate. There aren't many advanced options though, and it may be vulnerable to agencies such as the NSA and FBI. It's recommended uses are gaming, streaming, traveling, and file sharing on a limited basis. If you're concerned at all about setting up your VPN incorrectly then Hotspot Shield is a top tier choice.
It's worth noting that Hotspot Shield does offer a free version. A lot of the features in this review will not apply to that as it is a very basic VPN. However, it may be worth testing to see if its interface and compatibility is right for you. Choose the paid Elite version to maximize privacy, speed, and country options.
Privacy and Security
Hotspot Shield is restricted to the OpenVPN protocol. While the other protocols have their uses, OpenVPN is considered the most the secure due to its open source vetting. This is generally a plus for novice users so there's no accidental usage of a less secure protocol. IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection are included with the paid package. We've seen no reports of DNS leaking while connected either.
Logging is limited to collecting IP addresses and the unique device ID. No activity logs are recorded or maintained. That's not terrible until one takes into account that Hotspot Shield is based out of the USA. The ability for the NSA or the judicial system to access such information is just too easy.
Hotspot Shield's servers are lightning fast. Connections were near instant and downloads reached speeds as fast as 65Mbps! Upload speeds paled in comparison with some tests clocking in around 5Mbps. That's not as bad as it sounds, but it's not exactly a plus either. The ping times were never higher than 5ms. Consistency is just as import as max speed, and we're happy to report that Hotspot Shield performs well at all times of day.
Hotspot Shield's country support is pretty limited. Users will find access to only 20 countries, but the good news is that there are an average of 100 servers per country. Some VPN providers barely have more than that many servers worldwide. Accessible locations are comprised of the most sought after countries. There are several options in the US,UK, and Australia as well as a good presence in China. Like the rest of Hotspot Shield's Elite package, this is sufficient for the average VPN user. For users with specific needs, check the countries served on the right side of the review.
Ease and Usability
This is by far the best service when it comes to setup and go. All of the protective settings like leak protections are turned on by default, and customization is non-existent. There's no "messing up" your VPN here. Whether on a mobile device or on a computer, Hotspot Shield seamlessly integrates with your device to shore up security and improve speeds.
As mentioned before in the review, OpenVPN is the only protocol choice. It's good for privacy but bad for tailoring a VPN client so Hotspot Shield loses some usability points. The service is clearly aimed at more novice users though so it's not a huge negative.
Hotspot Shield opened up P2P torrenting last year, and the service is more than fast enough for it. Be careful with sharing files though. We do not condone using a VPN for illicit activity and neither does Hotspot Shield. While they haven't shown any actions against using servers for torrenting, their history suggests they might. This won't affect you (except for the issues pointed out in Privacy) but may affect the speed of downloads.
Hotspot Shield is one of the few VPN services we've reviewed that limits support to email. There's no live chat and responses typically read as canned. Expect roughly 12-24 hours to receive a response. All in all, support is not their strong suit. The service is really hard to mess up though so we doubt the average subscriber will even need support. Advanced users are the only ones who would really suffer, and they should look for a different VPN anyway.
The monthly price is too high considering the lack of any specialized features or advanced privacy options. This is a simple, no frills VPN that charges like a premium price. There's no doubt that the speed is great and accessibility to services like Netflix earn Hotspot Shield high marks. It's just hard to recommend paying $12.99 when you can get more for less.
The real value of Hotspot Shield is in their lifetime package. The limited time $139.99 offer is a bargain. The company has been around for over 10 years so there's little risk of them going out of business. Locking in a high quality VPN service now makes sense as demands for privacy and security will only rise in the future.
Hotspot Shield has put themselves in a unique position that should appeal to a large quantity of people. It's not going to protect you from the likes of the NSA, but is that really necessary? For most people, it's not. VPN customers most commonly seek out protection from more directly malicious individuals like hackers or identity thieves. In that aspect, Hotspot Shield delivers. It's also very user friendly as one click pretty much activates everything. There are no options to mess up and the speeds are always fast. The lifetime package is also great option that not many VPN services offer.