good
Try Hotspot Shield now *
Bedienung & Features
8.0 / 10
Server Network
8.0 / 10
Support
8.0 / 10
Performance
8.0 / 10
Security & Privacy
5.4 / 10
VPN Provider

Hotspot Shield VPN Review: Free, but Safe?

Author
Martin Gschwentner
Translation
D Bare
Last update
17. Mar 2023
Ad disclaimer: For links on this page, EXPERTE.com may earn a commission from the provider. This supports our work and has no influence on our editorial rating.

Whether Panama, the British Virgin Islands, or Malaysia, plenty of VPNs are located in tropical destinations. Apart from their sunny climates, these also offer protection against US or European law. In many cases, these 'headquarters' consist of little more than a PO box. Who thought that a mailbox could offer so much security?

Hotspot Shield's PO box is in Silicon Valley, California's tech hub, and the heart of global surveillance capitalism. Our test reveals whether or not Hotspot's 'shield' can guard you against the threats emerging from the data-crazed Internet landscape.

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What Is Hotspot Shield?

Hotspot Shield* is a US-based VPN produced by Pango (previously, AnchorFree). The first desktop clients were launched for Windows and macOS in 2008, with iOS and Android apps, as well as a browser extension for Google Chrome, joining them later on. Since our last review, Hotspot Shield has even made a Linux app available. Today, the service is one of the most well-known and widely used VPNs on the market.

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

Review
7.5
good
Visit Website*
Bedienung & Features
8.0 / 10
Server Network
8.0 / 10
Support
8.0 / 10
Performance
8.0 / 10
Security & Privacy
5.4 / 10
  • User-friendly applications

  • Offers split tunneling

  • Data protection concerns

  • Has not submitted to independent security audits

  • Sub-par performance

1.

Installation and Features

After installing Hotspot Shield's desktop client for your operating system, all you'll have to do is log in with your premium account to start surfing anonymously. It took us less than a minute to download, install, and create a VPN tunnel using the client. Premium account holders can simultaneously create connections on up to five devices.

All connected devices can be managed in the account area.

Cloaked in black, Hotspot Shield's desktop client is simple, yet elegant. Like most VPNs, its focal point is a large power button, with other features and options clustered below it and to its left. By clicking on the power button, you can create a secure VPN connection based on your current selection, not the fastest server available. You're also shown your daily data usage, which for premium users, isn't all that important as they enjoy unlimited traffic.

Hotspot Shield's desktop client is user-friendly, however, it lacks both a quick connect feature and the ability to mark favorites.

To change servers, click on "Virtual Location" below the power button. There, all server locations are listed alphabetically (with US and UK locations pinned to the top). It's possible to connect to special streaming and gaming servers, but as noted above, you won't be able to mark favorites.

All available servers are listed alphabetically.

Once you've established a VPN connection, a small world map appears displaying the server's location, your IP, and information about its upload and download speeds. The integrated speed test, showing your upload and download speeds, is particularly nifty.

In some aspects, Hotspot Shield's desktop client's minimalism is refreshing; in other areas, it's frustrating. For example, the lack of a quick connect feature, for easily connecting to the fastest available server, is unfortunate. The server list would also benefit from more options, like the ability to mark favorites. As no server data is provided prior to connecting, choosing a server is a bit like roulette.

On the other hand, once connected, Hotspot Shield does offer curious users plenty of statistics.

Once a VPN tunnel has been created, Hotspot Shield provides plenty of information about server speed, latency, and usage.

In the Settings menu, you'll find all of the features expected of a VPN, including a kill switch (automatically severs your Internet connection if a VPN disruption occurs) and IP leak protection. You can also configure Hotspot Shield to automatically connect to a VPN server when on an unknown network, like a hotspot.

During our last assessment, we criticized the absence of split tunneling. We're happy that since then, this feature has been added, and can be accessed under the "Smart VPN" option in the Settings menu. There, you can select which apps and websites shouldn't use your VPN tunnel. In terms of protocols, you have a (limited) choice, but we'll discuss this in greater detail in the "Security and Privacy" section of this review.

Overall, Hotspot Shield's package of features has definitely improved since we last checked in.

You can configure certain apps or websites to not use your VPN tunnel with the "Smart VPN" feature.

Mobile App

Hotspot Shield's mobile version is nearly identical to its desktop client, with a few exceptions. "Auto" offers quick connect functionality, creating a tunnel optimized for surfing at speeds of up to 1 GB/s. As with the desktop app, you can manually connect to servers by selecting them from the list.

In addition to auto-start options, you can configure Hotspot Shield to automatically create a VPN connection, or use the kill switch and "Smart VPN". With "Smart VPN", you won't be able to specify which apps don't use your VPN tunnel, but rather, specify the apps for which an automatic VPN tunnel should be created. Once finished, these connections need to be manually closed. During testing, this feature didn't work particularly well.

Hotspot Shield's mobile app has all of the desktop client's most important features.

Simplicity is the name of Hotspot Shield's game. Plenty of VPNs clutter their clients and apps with unnecessary extras, complicating the experience for regular users. As such, Hotspot Shield's approach is commendable. We would have liked to see quick connect in the desktop client, be able to mark favorites, or review more information about servers before connecting to them. The same goes for multi-hop or dedicated P2P servers.

Visit Website*
Bedienung & Features
8.0 / 10
2.

Server Network

Hotspot Shield is backed up by a network of 1,800 servers across 80 countries. Geographically, these are concentrated in Europe, North America, South America, and the Asia-Pacific. As is the case with most VPN services, Africa and the Middle East get the short end of the stick.

For most countries, only a single server is offered, however, some do feature multiple cities.

Hotspot Shield's servers are spread across the globe.

In sum, Hotspot Shield's server network is decent, even though other providers surpass it in terms of pure server power.

Visit Website*
Server Network
8.0 / 10
3.

Performance

To evaluate the speed of all VPNs from our sample, we used a server in Europe with a 1 GB/s connection. At different times of the day, we connected to random Hotspot Shield servers in the US and Germany to gauge their performances. More information concerning our methodology can be found in our VPN speed test article.

The table below shows the average results from the last 365 days, arranged in order of download and upload speed (descending):

1.
NordVPN
195.6 Mbit/s
Download
42.9 Mbit/s
Upload
2.
Surfshark
191.7 Mbit/s
Download
42.8 Mbit/s
Upload
3.
Mullvad
200.8 Mbit/s
Download
18.1 Mbit/s
Upload
4.
ExpressVPN
175.0 Mbit/s
Download
42.0 Mbit/s
Upload
5.
HideMyAss!
167.7 Mbit/s
Download
16.1 Mbit/s
Upload
6.
TorGuard
166.5 Mbit/s
Download
16.3 Mbit/s
Upload
7.
hide.me
153.9 Mbit/s
Download
27.0 Mbit/s
Upload
8.
PrivateVPN
155.1 Mbit/s
Download
21.2 Mbit/s
Upload
9.
Proton VPN
154.8 Mbit/s
Download
18.8 Mbit/s
Upload
10.
IPVanish
156.4 Mbit/s
Download
15.0 Mbit/s
Upload
11.
PureVPN
113.1 Mbit/s
Download
41.4 Mbit/s
Upload
12.
TunnelBear
129.4 Mbit/s
Download
18.4 Mbit/s
Upload
13.
VPN Unlimited
109.6 Mbit/s
Download
37.6 Mbit/s
Upload
14.
ZenMate
126.3 Mbit/s
Download
18.8 Mbit/s
Upload
15.
CyberGhost
118.6 Mbit/s
Download
18.4 Mbit/s
Upload
16.
Private Internet Access
109.7 Mbit/s
Download
17.0 Mbit/s
Upload
17.
Windscribe
82.2 Mbit/s
Download
43.3 Mbit/s
Upload
18.
Hotspot Shield
79.9 Mbit/s
Download
38.8 Mbit/s
Upload
19.
VyprVPN
106.0 Mbit/s
Download
12.2 Mbit/s
Upload
20.
Perfect Privacy
99.3 Mbit/s
Download
12.7 Mbit/s
Upload

Hotspot Shield markets itself as the "fastest VPN for streaming, gaming, and more." Unfortunately, with an average download speed of 79.9 MB/s and an upload speed of 38.8 MB/s, the service took 18th place in our ranking. Registering the slowest download speed of all providers from our sample, Hotspot Shield's slogan didn't hold up when we put it to the test.

The diagram below shows Hotspot Shield's average speeds over the past months.

MonatDownloadUpload
4/23April 2023
Download: 98.3 Mbit/s
  98.3
Mbit/s
April 2023
Upload: 41.2 Mbit/s
 
5/23May 2023
Download: 95.9 Mbit/s
  95.9
Mbit/s
May 2023
Upload: 39.5 Mbit/s
 
6/23June 2023
Download: 99.7 Mbit/s
  99.7
Mbit/s
June 2023
Upload: 39.7 Mbit/s
 
7/23July 2023
Download: 88.9 Mbit/s
  88.9
Mbit/s
July 2023
Upload: 40.2 Mbit/s
 
8/23August 2023
Download: 86.0 Mbit/s
  86.0
Mbit/s
August 2023
Upload: 40.2 Mbit/s
 
9/23September 2023
Download: 86.7 Mbit/s
  86.7
Mbit/s
September 2023
Upload: 36.8 Mbit/s
 
10/23October 2023
Download: 82.7 Mbit/s
  82.7
Mbit/s
October 2023
Upload: 37.0 Mbit/s
 
11/23November 2023
Download: 97.4 Mbit/s
  97.4
Mbit/s
November 2023
Upload: 37.6 Mbit/s
 
12/23December 2023
Download: 90.5 Mbit/s
  90.5
Mbit/s
December 2023
Upload: 40.7 Mbit/s
 
1/24January 2024
Download: 85.3 Mbit/s
  85.3
Mbit/s
January 2024
Upload: 38.1 Mbit/s
 
2/24February 2024
Download: 89.3 Mbit/s
  89.3
Mbit/s
February 2024
Upload: 35.8 Mbit/s
 
3/24March 2024
Download: 93.3 Mbit/s
  93.3
Mbit/s
March 2024
Upload: 39.7 Mbit/s
 
4/24April 2024
Download: 91.6 Mbit/s
  91.6
Mbit/s
April 2024
Upload: 41.2 Mbit/s
 

All the same, speed isn't everything, and Hotspot Shield's everyday performance was pleasantly surprising. We didn't have any connection issues or need to complete annoying captchas during Google searches.

In terms of streaming, the service also excelled, allowing us to view foreign content on Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer without issue.

Similarly, Hotspot Shield looks to be an excellent companion for your next trip to China, if you'd like to bypass the "Great Firewall". Just be sure to download the client before your trip, as you won't be able to once in-country without a VPN connection.

Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield's numbers were disappointing; thankfully, its performance wasn't. With that in mind, we have no reservations about awarding it a "good" score.

Visit Website*
Performance
8.0 / 10
4.

Security and Privacy

Because Hotspot Shield primarily relies upon a proprietary protocol (Catapult Hydra), users are even more dependent upon its security and privacy guarantees than usual. Since our last assessment, support for IKEv2 has been integrated, somewhat rectifying this.

Still, so far as data privacy is concerned, you'd have to be born yesterday to blindly trust a Silicon Valley-based tech company. In its support area, Hotspot Shield discussed its approach to encryption:

"Our steadfast security, inspired by the software defined perimeter (SDP) model pioneered by the US Department of Defense, supports both 128-bit AES and 256-bit AES encryption, and we use 128-bit AES encryption as a standard."

On paper, encryption seems to be airtight, with Catapult Hydra also used by other VPNs, such as Bitdefender (which claimed the title of best antivirus software in our ranking). However, since this protocol isn't open-source, more questions are raised about its exact functionality and mode of encryption, than is the case with OpenVPN or WireGuard.

More red flags: According to Aura's privacy policy, all of its affiliates (including Pango, and by extension, Hotspot Shield) collect information, despite the latter's "No-Logs" promise. Hotspot Shield notes that none of these logs contain information about you, your account, or your surfing activity. All the same, they're more invasive than necessary. Further dampening the mood is that the service uses some trackers for analytical purposes.

The provider could quiet most of our concerns fairly easily by submitting to an independent security audit, as some of its competitors (NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and TunnelBear) have done. Hotspot Shield does release transparency reports (the most recent in 2018), however, we'd prefer third-party assessments.

As a silver lining of sorts, the provider did pass our VPN leak tests for IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC without issue.

Hotspot Shield breezed through our leak tests.

When it comes to security and privacy, our feelings about Hotspot Shield are mixed. A world of good could be done by submitting to regular audits. Even then, the provider would still be based in the US, have to adhere to its parent company's data policies, and explain why it utilizes a non-transparent VPN protocol.

Visit Website*
Security & Privacy
5.4 / 10
5.

Customer Support

Through Hotspot Shield's apps, you can directly access FAQs or get in touch with support, either by contact form, or live chat. Help articles are loaded with screenshots and step-by-step instructions. To make finding what you need easier, the support center can be text-searched.

It's possible to get in touch with Hotspot Shield's support staff directly through its apps.

The response times were impressive: We received an answer to our support ticket within two hours, and immediately started typing with a staffer in the live chat.

We truly couldn't ask for more in terms of support.

Visit Website*
Support
8.0 / 10
6.

Pricing

Hotspot Shield's monthly subscription fee makes it one of the pricier options from our sample. As usual, a yearly package costs far less per month than a monthly one. Even at this rate, Hotspot Shield is almost twice as expensive per month as our price-performance winner, NordVPN.

The provider does offer a free version, allowing anyone to surf at up to 2 MB/s and enjoy 500 MB of traffic per month. Streaming is "limited", making it less reliable than in the paid subscription, and you'll only be able to connect one device.

A current price list can be found below:

FreePremium 3 yearsPremium Yearly
Monthly Price $0.00 $2.99 $7.99
Contract Period (Months) 0 36 12
Limits
Data Volume unlimited unlimited unlimited
Number of Devices 1 5 5
Features
Number of Servers 800 800 800
Number of Countries 1 70 70
No Server Logs
P2P Allowed
Tor Access
Kill Switch
Protocols
OpenVPN
WireGuard
IKEv2
IPSec
Proprietary
OpenVPN
WireGuard
IKEv2
IPSec
Proprietary
OpenVPN
WireGuard
IKEv2
IPSec
Proprietary

Hotspot Shield doesn't offer a trial version of its VPN, but all paid subscriptions include a 45-day, money-back guarantee.

Conclusion

Review
7.5
good
Visit Website*
Bedienung & Features
8.0 / 10
Server Network
8.0 / 10
Support
8.0 / 10
Performance
8.0 / 10
Security & Privacy
5.4 / 10

Even though the Silicon Valley-based VPN did poorly in our speed test, we do see a few signs of promise. Its apps are solid and include important features like split tunneling. We were also able to stream foreign content without a hitch using the service's decent server network.

Unfortunately, In terms of privacy and security, there were too many red flags. Its opaque, proprietary protocol is dubious, as are its parent companies' logging policies. An independent security audit would help, but for data privacy enthusiasts, there are simply way too many holes in Hotspot's 'shield' compared to other providers. At the same time, those who value performance or usability more than privacy will be very satisfied with the service.

Hotspot Shield VPN
Hotspot Shield VPN
(1,820,026 )
800+ servers
70+ countries
with free plan
below-average performance
potential privacy issues
7.5
good
Data Volume
unlimited
Devices
1 - 25
Protocols
5
Contract Period
0 - 36 months
Hotspot Shield Free
$0.00
monthly price
Visit Website*

Customer Ratings

To find out what customers have to say about the service, we've gathered verified reviews from a variety of online platforms.

Customer Ratings
4.3 / 5
1,820,026 Bewertungen
Visit Website*
We analyzed the reviews and ratings from various portals and found 1,820,026 ratings with an overall rating of 4.3 out of 5 .

Alternatives

If you're skeptical about Hotspot Shield, particularly considering its questionable privacy policy, several other providers such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Hide.me, TunnelBear, or ProtonVPN do much better in this area.

Should speed be important to you, along with NordVPN, take a look at the second and third fastest services from our sample, Mullvad VPN and Surfshark.

The best alternatives can be found here:

Best Overall 2024
NordVPN
NordVPN
(877,857 )
NordVPN is our number one VPN because it combines speed, ease-of-use, and functionality in a slick package that's also pretty affordable.
5,500+ servers, 60 countries
excellent performance
no logs
6 devices simultaneously
affordable 2-year package
9.4
excellent
Data Volume
unlimited
Devices
6
Protocols
5
Contract Period
1 - 24 months
NordVPN 2-year plan
$3.79
monthly price
Visit Website*
30 days money-back guarantee
ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN
(736,465 )
ExpressVPN can impress with a strong performance, a huge server network, and excellently designed applications, but this quality also comes at a higher price.
3,000+ servers
160 cities in 94 countries
reliable performance
good for streaming
secure browser extensions
9.4
excellent
Data Volume
unlimited
Devices
5
Protocols
7
Contract Period
1 - 12 months
ExpressVPN 12 Months
$6.67
monthly price
Visit Website*
30 days money-back guarantee
Proton VPN
Proton VPN
(144,686 )
With its open source philosophy and extra security features, Proton VPN targets security-conscious VPN users. But thanks to its user-friendly interface and suitability for streaming, it's worth a look for a wide audience.
open source & external audits
2,900+ servers in 67 countries
great performance
free plan without data limit
not suitable for China
9.1
excellent
Data Volume
unlimited
Devices
1 - 10
Protocols
3
Contract Period
0 - 24 months
Proton VPN Free
$0.00
monthly price
Visit Website*
Free forever
Surfshark VPN
Surfshark VPN
(207,223 )
Surfshark is one of the cheapest providers on the market, but it's a lot more than a great budget option: the relatively new VPN boasts strong protection, many features, and a great support with 24/7 live chat.
3,200+ servers in 100 countries
unlimited number of devices
many apps (Linux, FireTV, ...)
cheap 24-month plan
expensive monthly plan
8.8
good
Data Volume
unlimited
Devices
unlimited
Protocols
3
Contract Period
1 - 24 months
Surfshark 24 months
$1.99
monthly price
Visit Website*
Get 83% Discount
HideMyAss! VPN
HideMyAss! VPN
(86,656 )
HideMyAss' main claim to fame is its impressive server infrastructure, but the VPN also delivers solid speeds and handy features like its IP Randomizer. When it comes to streaming, however, it's not always the most reliable choice.
290 locations in 210 countries
IP Randomizer
strong performance
support with live chat
unreliable for streaming
8.6
good
Data Volume
unlimited
Devices
5
Protocols
1
Contract Period
12 - 36 months
HideMyAss! 36 months
$2.99
monthly price
Visit Website*
30 days money-back guarantee
Top VPN Provider 2024
Sponsored
from $3.79
per month
NordVPN
from $6.67
per month
ExpressVPN
from $0.00
per month
Proton VPN
from $1.99
per month
Surfshark
show all
Author (German Version): Martin Gschwentner
Martin Gschwentner majored in American Studies and Media Studies in Germany, the USA and France and works as a freelance editor in Paris. He is a doctoral student at the Institute for English and American Studies at the University of Paris Diderot, where he is researching the influence of money on US politics. On EXPERTE.com he writes about IT security, data protection and software for the self-employed and small businesses.
Translation: D Bare
* Ad disclaimer: For links marked with an asterisk, EXPERTE.com may earn a commission from the provider. The commission has no influence on our editorial rating.
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