Hotspot Shield Review (2022) – Is It Truly as Fast as They Claim?
Since its launch in 2008, Hotspot Shield has managed to amass over 650 million users. It has since received high praise from the likes of Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and many other famous publications. Speedtest dubbed it “the fastest VPN” in 2019.
The secret behind Hotspot Shield lies in its incredible speed paired with solid security and stable performance. Its owner (Pango Inc.) is also famous for developing an amazing VPN protocol called “Catapult Hydra.”
Often called “the big brother of Bitdefender VPN,” Hotspot Shield has a lot of utility hiding under its hood. With that in mind, we had to test it from A to Z and see how it stacks up against the competition.
Take a look at the results of our hands-on testing in the full Hotspot Shield VPN review below.
Hotspot Shield Short Review
|3,200+ servers in 80+ countries||No dedicated IPs|
|AES-128 encryption||Subpar customer support|
|Split-tunneling (“Smart VPN”)||No crypto payment option|
|Automatic kill switch|
|Easy to install|
|Beginner-friendly user interface|
|Works with Netflix US|
|Torrenting is allowed|
|Great value for the price|
Hotspot Shield VPN is a powerful, beginner-friendly VPN. Its apps are intuitive and easy to use, without overly technical options and convoluted menus. Its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol ensures blazing speeds and quick connection times. The raw speed is complemented with AES-128 encryption for optimal protection.
Hotspot Shield offers 3,200+ servers in 80+ countries with dedicated streaming and gaming locations. It keeps no identifiable activity logs and hasn’t shared any user info with the authorities so far.
It might be somewhat feature-bare for power users, but beginners will feel right at home. Its premium option is packed with security and privacy tools, giving it one of the best price-to-value ratios out there.
- Torrenting allowed
- Works with Netflix
- Catapult Hydra
- Credit card
Speed – How Fast is Hotspot Shield VPN?
Speed and security are the two most important aspects of any VPN service. However, they sit in a constant state of inverse proportion: better security often comes at a cost of reduced speeds, and vice versa. What makes a VPN provider great is the ability to hit that delicate balance between safety and performance.
That’s why we test VPN speeds on all major locations for every review to find the fastest VPNs. Encryption will always slow you down to an extent but it shouldn’t render browsing or other activities unusable.
Here’s what we concluded after testing Hotspot Shield VPN:
- The VPN speed drop-off is considerably less, so the “VPN effect” is significantly less.
- We saw no major oscillations during day-to-day use.
Speed test results Hotspot Shield
We first present our benchmark speed (without the VPN) and compare it to other speed test results. We also monitor any daily fluctuations to spot potential server crowding and speed throttling.
We tested the Hotspot Shield VPN from our corporate office in the Netherlands. Your results might differ, depending on the quality of your connection and your current location. So, it’s best to view this table as an indicator of potential performance.
Having said that, this is still the best method of gauging the impact of Hotspot Shield’s encryption on your connection speed.
Without further ado, here are the results of our Hotspot Shield speed test:
|Server||Download (MBPS)||% Download||Upload (MBPS)||% Upload||Ping (MS)|
|The UK (Streaming)||117.39||95.7%||101.03||69.8%||35|
|The US (Streaming)||114.95||93.7%||46.01||31.8%||78|
|The US (Gaming)||37.98||31%||45.95||31.8%||117|
As you can see, the Hotspot Shield VPN dishes out some pretty impressive speeds. The results on the US Gaming server were underwhelming but this location was pretty crowded during our testing.
Our upload speeds took a serious hit in the US and Japan but our download speeds held up remarkably well.
Connecting to any server took us only a couple of seconds, no matter the distance. We didn’t experience any lag or sudden disconnects. Even on distant servers, the drop-off was marginal, so our experience wasn’t affected.
If you want to check the speed yourself, you can do it directly from the Hotspot Shield client. You might not want to do this too often, though, if you’re on the Hotspot Shield Free VPN. The speed test uses around 20 MB on average in a single cycle, and the Hotspot Shield Free VPN offers limited bandwidth.
After our testing, we can say that the Hotspot Shield VPN delivers plenty of raw speed paired with stability and good security. It’s not the fastest VPN out there, though. That title belongs to Surfshark.
Even so, it’s a fairly decent gaming VPN, and allows you to download content, and stream your favorite shows or movies completely lag-free.
Speeds during daily use
Testing Hotspot Shield was a real treat for our team. Everything worked as intended and we had plenty of speed for streaming full HD videos on YouTube, Netflix, and other platforms.
We experienced zero errors and couldn’t notice any major speed fluctuations.
Safety – How Secure is Hotspot Shield VPN?
A good VPN should protect your online traffic from any prying eyes and keep you anonymous at all times. Fortunately, the Hotspot Shield VPN is one of the trailblazers when it comes to internet safety. It offers a solid security package paired with a reasonable logging policy. Below, we’ll talk about the protocols, data collection, and personal info required to create an account.
Here’s the main takeaway:
- Hotspot Shield uses its proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol.
- It employs a military-grade AES-128 encryption cipher.
- It comes with an automatic kill switch for Windows.
More and more providers are using established technologies to build proprietary VPN protocols, like NordVPN did with NordLynx. Hotspot Shield VPN did the same thing. They were looking for a way to reduce latency as much as possible and created their proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol (based on OpenVPN) in the process. The main idea behind it was to mitigate the speed loss caused by strong encryption.
The advantages of this approach include:
- Faster connection times to VPN servers
- Lower data transfer for optimal performance on slower connections
- 2.4x faster long-distance connections than OpenVPN
Catapult Hydra holds over 30 patents at the moment. It was also adopted by Bitdefender VPN, Betternet, Cheetah Mobile, McAfee, and many others. It uses TLS (Transport Layer Security) to establish a safe client-server connection and encrypt the payload.
Note that TLS is an encryption protocol that can use different encryption methods (or ciphers). Hotspot Shield uses AES-128 by default, but TLS also supports AES-256. There are opinions that AES-128 is no longer optimal nowadays, which is simply not true.
The AES cipher has never been cracked. If some futuristic attack manages to break AES-128, it will likely crack AES-256 encryption too. So, the difference in security is negligible, in spite of the different key sizes.
Hydra’s encryption strings have ECDHE prefixes, which means that they support ephemeral (as opposed to static) session keys. The last “E” stands for “Ephemeral”. Simply put, this tells us that Hotspot Shield supports perfect forward secrecy.
We can explain this security feature by looking at encryption as a lock/key combination. These locks and keys can either change every time you connect to your VPN or stay the same.
Naturally, the first option is much more secure and that’s exactly what forward secrecy does for you.
Hotspot Shield will generate a new encryption key every time you connect. So, even if a hacker manages to steal your key, it will be rendered useless the moment you disconnect.
Windows and Mac users also have access to IKEv2/IPSec. It’s fast and secure but easily blocked. You won’t get far with it in censorship-heavy countries like China, for example.
Contrary to what some Hotspot Shield reviews might claim, the encryption used for their Android and iOS apps is unknown. As confirmed by their support team, the developers haven’t disclosed this information yet.
As you can see, Hotspot Shield mobile apps have a very modest settings menu without any protocols to choose from. We know for a fact that they encrypt your traffic, we just don’t know which cipher they’re using to do it.
Hotspot Shield also offers browser extensions for Chrome and Mozilla. These offer a lot of functionality, including the so-called “Sword Mode.” This option feeds web trackers fake browsing data, keeping your real info out of their reach.
Having said that, both extensions have received their last updates in 2020 so we don’t believe they can tackle modern malware threats. On the other hand, they’re excellent for blocking trackers, ads, and cookies.
Lastly, Hotspot Shield uses OpenVPN on compatible routers. This setup requires a bit of tinkering since you’ll have to change the settings in your router. We don’t recommend it unless you’re absolutely sure what you’re doing.
If you mess up the setup process, connecting to the internet might become significantly difficult.
Logging and privacy
Hotspot Shield VPN advertises itself as a “log-free VPN,” which means it collects zero data that could trace your online traffic back to you. In other words, they don’t record your IP address, online activity, your real location, or questionable device identifiers.
On the other hand, Hotspot Shield does collect the following data:
- The duration of your VPN sessions and the bandwidth consumed.
- The domains accessed by users (anonymized so that they can’t know which user accessed which domain).
- Device hashes to identify devices and associate them with other collected data.
Right off the bat, we don’t like any form of activity logging. Monitoring the sites visited by users is not something we approve of in any context (anonymized or not!).
VPNs should offer complete privacy without any possibility of linking your traffic back to you as an individual.
The Hotspot Shield VPN is owned by Pango Inc. (ex AnchorFree), which was acquired by Aura in July 2020. Aura is a US-based company, so this is the relevant legislation for this VPN.
When you connect to Hotspot Shield, your IP address is recorded, encrypted, and deleted at the end of the session. We don’t like this but it’s one of the main ways of preventing fraud during financial transactions.
Furthermore, your IP is not associated with your VPN browsing activity.
However, your real IP is also used to obtain your approximate location and information about your ISP. So, what can the government actually get from Hotspot Shield and how would that affect you?
As it stands, the authorities can get your approximate location, your ISP, device hashes, and the duration of your VPN sessions. With some cross-referencing, we believe this could be enough to positively identify you.
So, it’s not exactly true that Aura has nothing to hand over to the authorities. They have plenty of info to share.
The CDT (The Center for Democracy & Technology) has outlined these concerns in its complaint against Hotspot Shield back in 2017.
VPNs are generally as stable as your internet connection. In other words, they might stutter for a second or two on occasion. That’s more than enough for your real IP to leak out, defeating the very purpose of using a VPN.
That’s where a kill switch comes in. This feature suspends all internet traffic until your VPN reconnects, essentially terminating your connection in a split second.
It activates in just a fraction of a second and prevents your private data from leaking out.
At the moment, Hotspot Shield features an automatic kill switch only on its Windows app. Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux users have no access to this essential fail-safe.
The role of a kill switch is to prevent you from accessing the internet unprotected. As such, it’s one of the most important safeguards against unwanted data exposure.
We hope the rest of Hotspot Shield apps will get this must-have feature as soon as possible.
What information does Hotspot Shield VPN need?
Every VPN needs some basic personal data to provide you with its service. Ideally, this is limited to your email and billing data. Some VPNs like Windscribe, don’t even require an email address.
On the other hand, some companies request a lot of personal info under the pretext of “providing better service.” Holding privacy above all else, though, we prefer handing over as little info as possible during account creation.
With that in mind, here’s what Hotspot Shield requires during sign-up:
Since Hotspot Shield doesn’t support crypto payments, you’ll also have to provide your full name if you opt for a paid subscription. We’d like to see this changed in the future since crypto allows anonymous online purchases.
Having said that, we have to commend Hotspot Shield’s minimalistic approach to account creation. All you have to do is provide your email and password and you’re good to go.
Usability – How User-Friendly is Hotspot Shield?
Hotspot Shield is a beginner-friendly VPN with the most stylish clients we’ve ever seen. Below, you can read all about its website, installation, apps, pricing, and customer support.
A few important points to keep in mind:
- Hotspot Shield’s website is easy to navigate.
- The setup process is quick and simple on all devices.
- Their apps are clean, futuristic, and beginner-friendly.
- The Premium plan offers amazing value for money.
- There’s a free limited version.
- No crypto payments.
- The customer support team can’t tackle technical questions.
Hotspot Shield website and installation process
Hotspot Shield’s website is well laid-out and easy to navigate. You can create an account and download its software client directly from the homepage. Just click on the corresponding buttons in the top-right corner of the screen.
After logging in to your personal dashboard, you can manage the installed apps, check your account info, and contact customer support. Here, you can also download the non-VPN apps included in your subscription package.
The installation of the Hotspot Shield VPN was quick and smooth on all our devices. You can download the setup file from the homepage, the pricing menu, and your personal dashboard.
To install Hotspot Shield on a Windows device, go through the following steps:
- Go to Hotspot Shield’s official website.
- Click “Account” in the top-right corner.
- Choose your credentials (email and password) and log in.
- Click “Get Hotspot Shield” next to the “Account” button.
- The app download will start automatically.
- Click on the setup file.
- Follow the instructions.
This will install the Hotspot Shield Free VPN. If 500 MB per day is not enough data for you, purchasing a premium subscription is always an option.
Note that 500 MB is not a lot and will drain rather quickly. If you’re a heavy internet user, it will certainly not meet your needs.
Hotspot Shield VPN’s appearance and ease-of-use
Hotspot Shield’s desktop client is simplicity itself. The home screen is clean and streamlined to perfection. All important options are hidden in the vertical menu on the left side.
This makes for a simple UI devoid of any complicated options and endless menus.
The main screen features a large on/off button, a shortcut to the server list, and the data you’ve consumed that day. Your subscription type is also indicated at the top of the app (free or premium).
Once you connect, the client will switch to a screen with five tiles, indicating your:
- Virtual location: The server you’re currently using.
- Server information: Your IP, server load, latency in ms, and connection time
- Daily data: Bandwidth used in the last 24h
- Peak speed: Your fastest download speed
- Network: The name and type of your network
The hamburger menu on the left side allows you to:
- Perform an in-app speedtest
- Check your account data
- Install other apps included in your package
- Contact customer support
- Access the settings menu
Hotspot Shield’s client doesn’t come with any overly complicated features. Beginners should have no problem finding their way around but power users might find it lacking.
You won’t have a lot of super-advanced options, which might be good or bad, depending on your personal preference.
Hotspot Shield’s client is the most stylish app we’ve ever seen. The black background with blue elements just looks elegant and modern. The mobile apps also allow you to choose between light and dark modes.
Pricing and payment methods
Hotspot Shield’s value for money is beyond impressive. It’s not exactly cheap, but it crams so many tools into its subscription packages. It also features a completely free VPN and pairs all premium options with a full 45-day money-back guarantee.
Hotspot Shield offers two premium subscription options:
- Premium (5 devices): $12.99$/month; $7.99/month if you buy a yearly subscription
- Premium Family (up to 25 devices): $19.99/month; $11.99/month with a yearly subscription
Hotspot Shield accepts credit cards and PayPal. As we already mentioned, crypto payments are not an option at the moment. Using cryptocurrencies allows you to bypass banks and other financial institutions.
If you’re extra careful, you can also buy your VPN completely anonymously.
You can use the Hotspot Shield’s free VPN version to test the software completely free of charge. Note that the free app comes with some severe limitations:
- You can only use it on one device.
- Only one server location is available.
- The speed is capped at 2 Mbps.
- There’s a 500 MB daily data limit.
- You’ll have no access to Gaming and Streaming modes.
- No live customer support (on-site knowledge base only)
- No kill switch
- No Smart VPN (split-tunneling)
As you can see, Hotspot Shield Free is a bare-bones version of their premium app. Having said that, it’s completely free, so we can’t judge it too harshly.
The Premium package offers the best value for the money. It features three Aura apps total, including Hotspot Shield VPN, Hiya spam call protection, and 1Password password manager.
The site also states that an antivirus program is included in the package, but we didn’t get the option to install it.
Having said that, if you only need a VPN, $12.99 per month is a bit steep. It only becomes a good value if you’re using all the included apps. If you’re just looking for a cheap (but good) VPN, we recommend going with CyberGhost, for example.
When talking about good customer service, we’re primarily interested in three things:
- The quality of the information on the official website
- The available modes of communication (email, live chat, tickets, phone…)
- The responsiveness and expertise of the support team
Hotspot Shield’s website offers a lot of useful information, including FAQs, setup guides, and much more. However, we’ve encountered a number of outdated articles that could provide users with false information.
Without a premium subscription, though, this is the only support you’ll have access to.
Premium users can send a direct message to the support team. You can expect a response within one business day, which is satisfactory in our book.
Hotspot Shield’s AI-powered chatbot, though, is beyond useless. It couldn’t answer even the most basic of questions, as shown below.
Premium users also have access to live chat support. During our research for this Hotspot Shield review, we talked with three different chat operators. We were always queued in less than a minute so thumbs up for response times.
However, none of them were even relatively knowledgeable about Hotspot Shield. They could answer some basic questions but were obviously not equipped to tackle more technical queries.
Since Pango is charging money for this service, we would definitely like to see it improved in the future.
As it stands, we are not overly satisfied with Hotspot Shield’s customer support. They need to work on their chatbot as well as the expertise of their support team.
Server Network Hotspot Shield
When it comes to VPN server networks, we always state that bigger is better. More server locations increase your odds of beating geo-restrictions (accessing Netflix US, for example).
Important facts to keep in mind here:
- Hotspot Shield offers 3,200+ servers in 80+ countries.
- Dedicated and static IPs are currently unavailable.
Number of servers and locations
Hotspot Shield offers 3,200+ VPN servers in 80+ countries. This is a solid server network that’s fairly decent, though not as good as NordVPN (5,000+ servers).
You can access the list of available locations from the client’s home screen. The app will also show the fake IP used to hide your real address. If you want to check some IP specifics, you can use our What Is My IP tool.
The real-time server load info (expressed in %) will help you avoid server crowding and pick the best option for optimal performance. However, this info is only shown after you’ve connected to any given server.
Having these percentages prior to connecting would be much more useful.
Hotspot Shield features servers in the following countries:
- Multiple locations: United States (25 locations), United Kingdom (4 locations), Australia (6 locations), and France (2 locations).
- One location: Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, UAE, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
You can freely switch between servers but the transition is not seamless. Hotspot Shield will first disconnect from your current location before switching to the next.
Since you’re left unprotected for this short instant, you should plan ahead to avoid potential data leaks.
Hotspot Shield features dedicated streaming and gaming servers in the US and the UK. The mobile apps also come with a social network & chat server. This is an excellent option for WeChat users in China.
The client doesn’t allow you to create a list of your favorite servers for easier access. You also don’t have access to your connection history.
Dedicated IP address
With a dedicated IP, you have the same IP address every time you connect to your VPN. Nobody else can use it since it’s associated with your account.
Streaming Netflix with a dedicated IP is much safer since it’s less likely to be blacklisted. It also prevents CAPTCHA popups and facilitates online payments.
Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield doesn’t offer dedicated IPs. They only have shared dynamic addresses. This means you’ll share an ever-changing IP with hundreds (or even thousands) of other users. Shared static IPs are also not available.
This can be beneficial if you torrent frequently. Shared IPs allow you to “get lost in the crowd,” making it impossible to trace your P2P activity. Losing your digital footprint among hundreds of users will also increase your online privacy.
Hotspot Shield’s Options
Hotspot Shield is a true geo-unblocking powerhouse. We successfully unlocked several streaming platforms, including Netflix US. It also allows torrenting on all its servers and offers a modest number of advanced features.
HotspotShield’s extra options include:
- Unblocking regional versions of Netflix and other streaming platforms
- Anonymous torrenting
Hotspot Shield and streaming (Netflix)
Top Netflix VPNs basically have a single task: unlock the US version without any proxy errors. Bonus points for unblocking other regional versions. With that in mind, we tested a number of Hotspot Shield’s servers with Netflix, and here are the countries for which it worked:
- The US
- The UK
- The Netherlands
Only the Canadian version of Netflix refused service for us. The US and UK streaming servers worked like a charm. Apart from Netflix, we were also able to stream Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Crunchyroll, and Peacock. We were impressed with Hotspot Shield’s streaming potential and we hope they keep it up.
Hotspot Shield VPN and torrents
Hotspot Shield VPN allows torrenting on all of its servers. So, if you can’t imagine a day without firing up your uTorrent, this is the perfect tool for you. With its sheer speed, Hotspot Shield can certainly give our best VPNs for torrenting a run for their money.
Hotspot Shield VPN does offer split-tunneling, but it calls it “Smart VPN.” You can find it in the “Settings” menu and toggle it on or off.
This useful feature allows you to route some apps through the VPN’s secure tunnel and leave others out of it. In other words, you can allow trusted programs to access the internet without VPN protection. For example, you can only access Netflix through Hotspot Shield to get a US IP address and access everything else without a VPN.
Split-tunneling can boost your speed since you won’t be burdening your entire traffic with encryption. It also conserves bandwidth, which is especially important for free users working with a 500 MB daily limit.
Our Experience With Hotspot Shield VPN
The claims from the beginning of this Hotspot Shield review held up exceptionally well after our full testing circuit.
Hotspot Shield is an incredibly fast VPN with a great security package to boot. Its Catapult Hydra protocol is a work of art and it does exactly what it’s designed to do (counteract latency speed drops).
The connection remained stable at all times with more than 3,200 VPN servers to choose from.
The service also excels when it comes to geo-unblocking. We managed to access all popular streaming platforms without any proxy errors or lag. Torrenting is also available on all servers.
The list of advanced features is a bit modest, but everything included works perfectly. The kill switch was up to the task and split-tunneling is easy to set up. The desktop clients are easy to use and boast a very stylish design.
Beginners will have no trouble finding the essential options and using these apps to their full potential.
Hotspot Shield provides a free limited app, ideal for testing before purchase. There’s also a generous 45-day money-back guarantee. However, you can’t pay with crypto, which is a must in our opinion.
However, we still prefer it not getting logged in the first place.
The customer support is extremely responsive but the team is not well versed in VPN-related technicalities. Since live support is a paid feature, we found the support definitely lacking.
The bottom line is that Hotspot Shield is secure, fast, and stable. We definitely enjoyed testing it. Apart from some minor privacy concerns and shaky customer support, it can definitely compete with the best VPNs out there.
Do you have additional questions or concerns regarding Hotspot Shield? Simply click one of the FAQs below to expand the answer.
Yes! Hotspot Shield will mask your real IP address with a fake one in order to conceal your true identity. This means that your online traffic can never be traced back to you. Your ISP, hackers, and the government will not be able to link your online activities to you as an individual.
Yes! Hotspot Shield has no problems unlocking Netflix US and many other regional versions. It even has dedicated streaming and gaming servers. If Netflix is your only reason for purchasing a VPN, you might want to check out our list of the best VPNs for Netflix.
What Our Experts Have to Say