VPNs, or virtual private networks, are becoming more and more popular tools for consumers to browse the internet in privacy and security. These services obscure your internet traffic, and address. Therefore, governments, your internet service providers, and even the websites you access cannot determine your real location or identity. Hotspot Shield is one of the most popular VPNs in use today. In addition to a VPN service, they include malware, spyware, and phishing protection for premium account users – making their VPN service a true “shield” for users, as the name implies. Will this shield work as advertised and protect you with anonymous and secure browsing? Read on for our review!
What is Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield is a freemium VPN, which has been downloaded by over 600 million users worldwide. The free accounts are heavily restricted, with a premium account offering full-speed, unrestricted access from one of 28 virtual outbound location countries. It is run by AnchorFree, a company headquartered in the US with additional offices in Switzerland, and was founded in 2005. With a network of over 2,500 servers in those 28 countries, an easy-to-use minimalistic interface, and very little impact on connection speed on premium accounts, it’s no surprise that Hotspot Shield VPN has grown into one of the most popular VPN choices today.
Hotspot Shield Features
Hotspot Shield is a robust VPN with a number of standard features that make it quite appealing. Below, we evaluate Hotspot Shield VPN in 6 distinct categories related to overall quality and value.
As mentioned above, Hotspot Shield VPN has over 2,500 servers, located in 28 countries around the world. They offer free, restricted accounts and premium accounts. The speed is excellent compared to many other VPNs. There are also other critical features, including a kill switch protocol, which prevents accidental exposure of your IP if you suddenly lose your connection. At present, they support Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, with extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers. Only the OpenVPN protocol is supported.
Privacy & Encryption – Is Hotspot Shield Safe?
Like most of the top VPNs, Hotspot Shield uses AES-256, a 256-bit encryption protocol that, for all intents and purposes, is impossible to brute force crack. So in terms of external forces like governments, websites, ISPs, etc., your data, browsing habits, etc. are all protected. In terms of privacy, though, there have been charges leveled by outside groups that the company stores user browsing data, device data, and similar, and sells it – even in an anonymized form – to advertisers or third parties. On the flipside, they also provide malware, phishing, and spyware blocking for premium accounts, which is a positive.
The interface is fairly minimalist and straightforward. It allows for quick and easy changes of virtual location and has a few (though limited) advanced/customization options. The online timer, virtual map, and other elements of the interface are nice touches. Basically, it’s fairly easy to find and do the things you need the VPN to be able to do, without a lot of extra frills or fluff. It works well without hogging resources or getting in the way.
One of the things that Hotspot Shield has going for it is it’s quite fast. Performance varies based on a number of factors, of course, but most Hotspot Shield reviews that benchmark speeds note that it is on the faster end of the 70+ consumer VPNs on the market today. As always, performance may be worse on the free version than the premium version. The premium version supports video streaming and torrenting, though there have been some technical issues with Netflix, particularly in the past, and may continue to pop up from time to time in the future.
Ease of Use
This VPN is very easy to use. After a quick installation, the minimalist interface appears, you press the main power icon on the interface, and you are instantly connected to either your last chosen server location or a US server location by default. From there, you can change your virtual location, end your session, adjust options – whatever you need to do! It’s really designed so that amateurs can use it with ease and fulfills that remit admirably.
This is one of the areas where Hotspot Shield VPN lags behind competitors. Only an online knowledge base and email-based support are available at the time of publishing this article. However, the company promises that 24/7 English language live chat support for premium users is coming soon.
Hotspot Shield Prices and Packages
The Hotspot Shield VPN is available in both free and premium flavors, with the free being significantly restricted in terms of features. The premium version used to be known as Hotspot Shield Elite, though that name has been dropped – just worth mentioning since you may find it referred to as such in other Hotspot Shield reviews.
The Hotspot Shield free version allows for a single device to be covered. It is ad-supported and offers only low-priority email support. Likewise, the speed is usually slower than a premium account. Further, you are limited to US outbound virtual locations only, rather than any of the other 25+ countries possible with a premium account. Lastly, the free version blocks access to video streaming and adult content (due to bandwidth restrictions of 500 MB per day).
All the premium plans for Hotspot Shield VPN come with the same features – only the plan length and cost are different. All come with a 45-day money-back guarantee.
This is the most expensive plan, a pay-as-you-go option, working out to $155.88 per year. Unless you can only afford to shoulder the monthly payment, the other options save you progressive more money.
Six Month Plan
The six-month plan offers a 31% discount off the monthly price option, while still keeping the total bill to just over $50 every 6 months.
The once-annual plan bills out at $71.88, which works out to $5.99 a month, savings over the monthly plan of 53%, and over the six-month plan of 33%.
Three Year Plan
The three-year plan gives you the most bang for your buck in the regular plan offerings. Despite an up-front cost of $125.64, the monthly cost drops to a measly $3.49 (around 11 cents per day). This works out to a monthly discount of 73% off the monthly plan, 61% off the six-month plan, and 41% off the annual plan.
Hotspot Shield VPN is one of the most-downloaded VPNs around. As a quick, decent-speed, free VPN, it’s a great choice for basic, low-bandwidth VPN use. The premium versions are quite expensive compared to many others but offer very high speeds, a simple-to-use interface, and generally good performance. However, many question the privacy and logging practices of the company, so if true anonymity is very important to you, this might not be the best VPN choice for you.
Pros and Cons
- High-speed VPN with large server and country base
- Integrated malware, spyware, and phishing protection
- Easy-to-use interface with wide compatibility
- Industry-standard AES-256 encryption
- No phone-based customer support available, and 24/7 chat is only coming soon
- Internal data collection practices under scrutiny and investigation
- Free accounts are extremely limited
- No cryptocurrency payment options