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Hotspot Shield VPN review: A decent service with basic features

Verified by Nick Jones

Our researchers review Hotspot Shield VPN, its functionality, features, pricing, and more

Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN (virtual private network) service that offers users enhanced privacy, security and unrestricted access to the internet. Developed by AnchorFree and now owned by online privacy giant Aura, Hotspot Shield VPN is a decent VPN that offers commonly used services such as AES-256 encryption and has a reasonable server count of more than 1,800 servers. However, our researchers found the provider collects a great deal of data, and even though it claims this information is anonymous, it might still cause concern for privacy-conscious customers. 

A VPN protects user data by encrypting it while it is being transferred to another device on the internet. It helps secure their files and data from cybercriminals and hackers. The internet has become an essential part of our lives but privacy remains a concern and this is where a VPN comes in to make our daily lives easier and safer while browsing online.

60-second review

Rating: ★★★

Hotspot Shield is regarded as a reasonable VPN due to its user-friendly and straightforward interface, combined with adequate security measures, which makes it a compelling option for those seeking simplicity without compromising on basic protection. Nevertheless, the absence of a clear and audited no-logs policy and a small server network makes it less than ideal for those concerned about privacy.

Hotspot Shield VPN uses the industry standard AES-256 encryption, which is currently regarded as the most secure encryption algorithm. Most of the reputable VPN services have adopted this encryption method to provide the best possible security to its users.

In terms of security, Hotspot Shield’s infrastructure is robust and reliable. It protects against hackers and other malicious attacks, especially when connected to public wifi networks. Users can browse confidently, knowing their data is encrypted and shielded from potential threats.

Hotspot Shield’s ability to bypass geo-restrictions is commendable. Users can access region-locked content by connecting to servers in different locations, such as streaming services, social media platforms and websites.

The service also provides user-friendly applications for a wide range of devices and operating systems, making it accessible and easy for all types of users. The setup process is straightforward and the intuitive interface allows a quick and seamless connection to the VPN servers.

One consideration is that the free version of Hotspot Shield comes with limitations, such as a data cap and advertisements, as is the case with most free VPNs. However, upgrading to a premium subscription unlocks unlimited bandwidth, ad-free browsing, and additional features.

Overall, Hotspot Shield may not be considered the most optimal choice among VPN services in the market. One of the main concerns is its no-logs policy, which lacks independent auditing and is also confusing because the provider does collect a significant amount of data, though it claims this is anonymous. Additionally, being based in the US, which is a member of the Five, Nine and 14 Eyes intelligence-sharing alliances, may not be ideal for a VPN service.

How we research and rate VPNs

hours performance testing
customer reviews read
hours of research
competitors compared
VPN experts consulted

Our researchers are dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date information so you can make an informed decision when it comes to buying a VPN. We will only recommend a provider after hours of testing, extensive head-to-head feature comparisons, and after taking into account verified customer reviews and the opinions of industry experts.

Our Hotspot Shield review score was determined by the following categories:

  • Privacy and performance (30 per cent)
  • Features and functionality (30 per cent)
  • Reputation and credibility (25 per cent)
  • Plans and pricing/value (10 per cent)
  • Customer experience (5 per cent)

We research and test a total of 25 elements within these categories, including:

  • Number and location of servers
  • Streaming service accessibility
  • Security features such as AES-256
  • Performance (upload and download speeds, latency)
  • Value for money, guarantees and customer service
  • Independent server-site security audits

All of our VPN articles are verified by our in-house team of fact-checkers, so you can be assured our content is as accurate and up to date as possible. To find out more, read our article on how we review VPNs.

Hotspot Shield VPN overview

  • Lowest price: £7.99 per month for a one-year subscription
  • Free version: Yes
  • Maximum number of connected devices: 10 (25 on a family plan)
  • Number of servers: 1,800+  
  • Encryption: AES-256
  • VPN protocols: Catapult Hydra, IPsec (ikev2), WireGuard
  • No-log policy: No
  • Audited: No
  • Headquarters: United States

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Strong encryption and security measures Expensive and confusing prices
Wide network of servers in multiple countries Collects a lot of usage data
Ability to bypass geo-restrictions and access region-locked content Potential variation in server performance and speeds depending on location and network congestion
User-friendly interface and easy setup process No independent audit of privacy policy
Option for a free version with limited features

How does Hotspot Shield VPN compare?

When comparing Hotspot Shield VPN with its main competitors in the VPN market, there are several factors to consider. It is important to get a proper idea about what benefits and drawbacks a VPN has to offer. Hotspot Shield is slightly expensive, as its cheapest plan is £7.99 per month, whereas Surfshark costs just £1.76 per month and CyberGhost costs £1.92 per month. Furthermore, Hotspot Shield’s security policies are questionable, as there is no clear mention of a no-log policy, nor an audit, whereas both Surfshark and CyberGhost are audited by independent security firms. On the contrary, Hotspot Shield has a free version, which does have certain limitations, including a restricted number of servers and data usage limits, however this is still a plus point, as no free version is offered by Surfshark or CyberGhost.

Hotspot Shield VPN ExpressVPN NordVPN Surfshark CyberGhost
Monthly price £12.99/m From £10.19/m From £10.39/m £9.90/m £ 10.89/m
Cheapest price £7.99/m £5.25/m From £2.79/m £1.76/m £1.92/m
Free version (Y/N) Yes No No No No
No. of servers 1,800+ 3,000+ 5,400+ 3,200+ 9,700+
Max. devices supported 5 5 6 Unlimited 7
BBC iPlayer
Audit (Y/N) No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Best alternative to
NordVPN is one of the most trusted VPN providers in the world, offering top-notch encryption, incredible speeds, and extra features to make all your online activities more secure.
Excellent Trustpilot rating
24/7 customer support
AES-256 encryption

How much does Hotspot Shield VPN cost?

There are currently three packages that are offered for Hotspot Shield VPN:

  • Hotspot Shield Free: a limited free version, which includes restrictions, such as limited devices and server locations
  • Hotspot Shield Premium: a paid subscription that offers additional features and benefits, such as a kill switch 
  • Hotspot Shield Premium Family: an expanded version of the Premium Plan that gives users five member accounts, which can connect up to 25 devices in total.

Rather confusingly, the main pricing page on the Hotspot Shield website shows the cheapest Premium monthly price as £6.99, but when you click through to the checkout page, it changes to £7.99 per month, while the monthly price is listed as £10.99 and changes to £12.99 at checkout, with no mention as to whether this is related to local taxes – something to be aware of if you’re concerned about budget. Similarly, the Family option changes the price to US$11.99.

Subscription term Premium Premium Family
Monthly £12.99 / month £16.99 / month
12 months £7.99 / month (£95.99 up front) £10.49 / month (£125.88 up front)
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Hotspot Shield features

Hotspot Shield features include AES-256 encryption, more than 1,800 servers, a kill switch, split tunnelling, and common security protocols, such as WireGuard, IPSec, and OpenVPN. It does have a custom protocol known as Catapult Hydra.

Server count and countries

Hotspot Shield offers 1,800 servers located in more than 80 countries. While this isn’t the largest server network of the VPNs we’ve reviewed, it’s an impressive geographic spread, including servers in South America, the Middle East and Africa. Users can access content that is otherwise region-restricted by connecting to that particular region’s server.

No-log policy and headquarters

Hotspot Shield’s privacy policy states your bandwidth usage, connection timestamps, VPN server location, and originating location are all logged but anonymous. Hotspot Shield claims the recorded browsing data is in an aggregated form, which means it cannot be linked to your specific account. Additionally, no audits have been conducted of the privacy policy. It would be good to see the provider aim to collect less data, or at least invite an independent audit to confirm the information can’t be used to identify users.

Hotspot Shield is based in the United States and, therefore, the company falls under its jurisdiction. This means that if ordered, it has to share any user data it holds with the US government. It is concerning to note that several countries worldwide have established alliances such as the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes, which involve spying on their citizens’ online activities. These nations collaborate with their security partners and justify their actions by claiming to be working towards a common good. The United States is part of the original Five Eyes alliance, which has turned into the 14 Eyes alliance through the years.

In short, Hotspot Shield VPN might not be a reliable option if you’re concerned about privacy, as there are too many issues regarding its policy.

Kill switch

Hackers are getting smarter, so even a slight glance at a user’s IP address can be dangerous. Like most of the latest VPNs, Hotspot Shield has a built-in kill switch feature that instantly cuts the device off from the internet if the VPN connection is interrupted.

Split tunnelling

Any high-level VPN must have split tunnelling, since it effectively directs traffic through different tunnels for VPN and open network connections. With this approach, possible blockages are efficiently eliminated while bandwidth is increased and performance is boosted. Hotspot Shield has integrated split tunnelling (called Smart VPN) into its services.

Encryption and privacy

Hotspot Shield utilises Advanced Encryption Standard with 256 bits (AES-256) and its exclusive VPN protocol dubbed Catapult Hydra. Hotspot Shield also supports IKEv2, which is regarded as being exceptionally secure. Even though Catapult Hydra isn’t open-source, the company claims independent security experts have reviewed it, though the results of these audits have not been published. Newer iterations of the application also support the open-source WireGuard technology.

Hotspot Shield VPN performance test results

The main impact of any VPN is its effect on the internet speed and bandwidth, so we have conducted a speed test to determine Hotspot Shield VPN’s impact. Some of the basic terminology is explained below: 

  • Download Speed: the speed at which online data is moved from your device to another 
  • Upload Speed: your device’s rate of data transmission to the internet
  • Latency (ping): the amount of time it takes for a set of data to be transported from your device to an internet server and back

To determine the VPN’s impact, our researcher first conducted a speed test on their broadband connection without Hotspot Shield turned on. We used the Ookla speed test for this section of the review.

Hotspot Shield no VPN
Speed test result without Hotspot Shield turned on. This is our base line. The numbers along the bottom of the image are the ping (latency) in milliseconds and the amount of data downloaded (green) and uploaded (purple) during the test, measured in megabytes.
No VPN UK to UK UK to US UK to AUS
Download Speed 18.39 Mbps 15.44 Mbps 15.47 Mbps 11.31 Mbps
Upload Speed 1.01Mbps 0.96Mbps 1.03Mbps 0.80Mbps
Latency (Ping) 11ms 23ms 200ms 306ms
Percentage of base download speed 83.10% 84.10% 61.50%
Percentage of base upload speed 95% 95% 79.20%

On the UK VPN server, the download speed dropped by nearly 17 per cent, which is quite significant considering it’s located in the same country as our researcher.

Hotspot Shield UK to UK
Our speed on the Hotspot Shield UK server dropped more than we were expecting (Ookla)

On the US server, speeds dropped by around 16 per cent. While this in itself is not bad, a big increase in latency meant video playback was impacted.

Hotspot Shield UK to US
High latency on Hotspot Shield’s US server impacted video playback (Ookla)

The Australian server provided the worst results in our testing, which is to be expected considering the physical distance data has to travel. With latency of 306ms, we experienced some lag in video and audio playback.

Hotspot Shield UK to Aus
The Australian server performed the worst in our Hotspot Shield testing (Ookla)

When compared to NordVPN, Hotspot Shield demonstrated slower download speeds across all servers in our speed test. However, its upload speeds were similar, except for a slightly faster performance on the US server.

WebRTC leak test

There is one more important test that is conducted to evaluate the protection level of a VPN and that is called the WebRTC leak test. This test ensures that the user’s IP address is hidden while the VPN is being used so that the user’s IP address is not exposed to the public in any situation. After testing, we came to the conclusion that Hotspot Shield cloaks the user’s IP address as it was not exposed, therefore passing the test.

Breaches and audits

Hotspot Shield has maintained a spotless record, as there have been no serious reports on any kind of breach. It has a custom protocol called Catapult Hydra, which it claims has been subject to third-party security audits, but our researchers couldn’t find any reports or other concrete evidence of these reviews.

Apps and compatibility

The Hotspot Shield VPN application is available on: 

  • Computers: Windows, MacOS, and Linux 
  • Mobile: Android and iOS 
  • Smart TV: Amazon Firestick and Android TV 
  • Routers: ASUS, GL.inet, Netgear, Linksys, TP-Link and more

Desktop app

Hotspot Shield desktop app
Hotspot Shield’s desktop app features a dashboard showing key information about your chosen server (Hotspot Shield)

Hotspot Shield has an interactive menu on its desktop app. All of the features are available on the desktop app. Users can download Hotspot Shield for PC by going to the official site and following the steps from there.

Mobile app

Hotspot Shield mobile app
Hotspot Shield’s mobile app is simple but effective (Hotspot Shield)

Like the desktop application, the Hotspot Shield mobile app has all the options users may require, such as choosing a server of their choice, protocol switching, kill switch, and split tunnelling.

Router compatibility

Router installation is a feature Hotspot Shield supports, allowing users to connect their VPN with their internet router. This ensures total protection at all times, as the VPN shields all devices connected to your private network.

Customer support

Hotspot Shield has a well-built customer support system, which includes: 

  • An article library: contains various articles written on frequently asked questions 
  • 24/7 live chat: a chatbot that answers some basic questions. It is not built for in-depth questioning, but resolves all basic issues
  • Email: anything that cannot be answered by the chatbot will be resolved via email by the customer support team

What do customers say?

The Hotspot Shield application has good ratings on all platforms, indicating that customers are satisfied with the service.

“This VPN works even in the countries that block the other ones. It is fast and stable, and I would definitely recommend it. Also, support is responsive and helpful; they helped to resolve my issues with a double subscription.”

  • Jenny, via Trustpilot

“I’ve been using this VPN since 2017 and I am very satisfied with this product’s featured services. After a handful of occasions of forgetting to pay my subscription, or simply not working it into my budget for the month and suffering the paranoia of unshielded online activity, I decided to pony up the annual fee. There was a bit of a learning curve, as I presume is common with all VPNs, but once I figured out how, when and where to use it… let’s just say that I’ve provided some very luxurious services for myself and the group that I was travelling with, making undesirable circumstances better than they were. All in all, the app works about 95 per cent of the time for me unless I’m having cellular connection issues. I like the fact that I can have up to five devices covered on my premium account. Switching seamlessly from my cell, PC, tablet, or laptop is never an issue. If you’re looking for a fully customisable, versatile VPN that’s reliable and secure… Hotspot Shield is the way to go in my personal opinion.”

  • ANTDAN19, via Apple App Store

Independent Advisor’s verdict

Hotspot Shield is a decent VPN that offers many of the features you can expect while having certain security concerns, such as a lack of clear and audited no-log policy. The pricing is relatively expensive compared with other VPN services, as others offer more services at a much lower cost. However, its free version offers a way to test the VPN before purchasing a premium plan. Overall, it is a viable option for users who want a simple solution for their online security concerns.

Overall score: ★★★

Score breakdown

Reputation ★★★
Privacy ★★
Performance and features ★★★★
Plans and pricing value ★★1/2
Customer experience ★★★1/2
Round up of today’s best VPN deals
NordVPN 2 year £2.49 /Month
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Surfshark 24 month £1.79 /Month
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ExpressVPN 12 month £6.77 /Month
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CyberGhost 2 year £1.78 /Month
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Proton 2 year £4.27 /Month
£4.27 /Month
PIA 2 year £1.57 /Month
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Atlas 2 year £1.34 /Month
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PrivadoVPN 2 year £1.99 /Month
£1.99 /Month
Windscribe 12 month £4.53 /Month
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IPVanish 2 year £3.58 /Month
£3.58 /Month

The data in this review is reported from a neutral stance and should be used for informational purposes only. We review VPN services from the perspective of:

  • The quality of the product based on the security it affords the user
  • User experience of the application(s)
  • Level and quality of customer service

Independent Advisor does not endorse the streaming of content from regions other than where the subscription is held, nor does it endorse the downloading or consumption of illegally pirated content.

Nick Jones

Editor in Chief

Nick Jones is a highly experienced consumer journalist and editor, who has been writing and producing content for print and online media for over 25 years.

He has worked at some of the UK’s leading publishers including Future Publishing, Highbury Entertainment, and Imagine Publishing, with publications as diverse as Homebuilding & Renovating, TechRadar, and Creative Bloq, writing and editing content for audiences whose interests include history, computing, gaming, films, and science. He’s also produced a number of podcasts in the technology, science, gaming, and true crime genres.

Nick has also enjoyed a highly successful career in content marketing, working in a variety of topics such as health, technology, and finance, with market-leading global companies including Cisco, Pfizer, Santander, and Virgin Media.

Now the Editor-in-Chief of the Independent Advisor, Nick is involved in all aspects of the site’s content, where his expertise in finance, technology, and home products informs every article that’s published on-site. He takes a hands-on approach with our VPN content, penning a number of the articles himself, and verifying that everything we publish in this topic is accurate.

Whatever the area of interest he’s worked in, Nick has always been a consumer champion, helping people find the best deals and give them the information they need to make an informed buying decision.