Pricing & Plans
Hotspot Shield offers an unlimited, free version of the service to all users. While this is a nice gesture, free users are subject to advertisements as well as some additional restrictions on content (not being able to access Netflix, iPlayer, etc.). If you do end up enjoying Hotspot Shield, you can purchase the Elite plan to get rid of those advertisements and content restrictions.
I was disappointed during my Hotspot Shield review to see the absence of a month-to-month plan, as customers only have the option to sign up for 6, 12, or 24 months. That said, the longer term plans are pretty impressive when it comes to value, with the one year plan starting at only $2.49 a month.
Hotspot Shield also has business plans available, with up to 60 devices supported for just $55 a month. At less than $1 per device, this might be an attractive solution for small- and medium-sized businesses.
As I’ve mentioned already in this Hotspot Shield review, the free version of Hotspot Shield is completely free and unlimited (except for ads). You will also be hit with a paywall when trying to access blocked websites such as Netflix, Hulu, or BBC iPlayer.
Elite plan customers have a 30-day money back guarantee available to test out Hotspot Shield’s premium service.
Payment options for Hotspot Shield include the usual credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) and Paypal.
- Free, unlimited trial
- Up to 5 simultaneous connections
- Simple interface
- Affordable lifetime subscription
- Questionable logging policy
- Based in the US
- Lots of advertisements on free service
- Disappointing customer service
Hotspot Shield is a service by Anchorfree, a California-based company that is responsible for a handful of privacy-based services. Unfortunately, as Anchorfree headquarters are in the US, this does create some concern regarding the level of privacy offered by HSS.
AnchorFree is a venture funded company that has quite an impressive list of investors, from mega bankers Goldman Sachs to Reed Hundt (former chairman of the FCC). While this shouldn’t be worrying, a privately-held company does tend to be a safer bet when it comes to online privacy.
Hotspot Shield has servers in 20 countries, with the US, Hong Kong, and Germany being just a few examples. You will need an Elite account to change server location, as the default connection is the US server.
Free users are allowed up to one simultaneous connection, with this number jumping up to five for Elite customers.
Security & Privacy
It was great to see that Hotspot Shield uses the OpenVPN protocol, although I would’ve liked to see a few more options for protocols such as PPTP or L2TP.
Once again, I’ll mention that AnchorFree is US company, meaning the provider is subject to US federal jurisdiction. Hotspot Shield is a service to avoid if you are looking for complete privacy on the web.
Legislation such as the Stored Communications Act coupled with shady alphabet agencies such as the NSA or FBI makes it easy to see why the US isn’t ideal for online privacy. Read more about these US data retention laws here.
Putting my concerns regarding privacy aside, Hotspot Shield does make a decent effort at protecting your data, with AES-256 encryption coupled with standard OpenVPN parameters (SHA1 authentication, RSA-2048 handshake). I was disappointed to see the Perfect Forward Secrecy is not supported by Hotspot Shield.
I discovered during my Hotspot Shield review that the provider is pretty secretive when it comes to logging, with an in-depth look at the Terms of Service required. While HSS doesn’t keep any activity logs, some connection logs are for quality assurance purposes. Hotspot Shield seems to be pretty evasive when it comes to data logging practices, so this is worth keeping in mind.
In a recent blog post, Hotspot Shield declared that P2P activity is allowed (albeit for Elite users only), although there is also a strict warning against any copyright infringement.
I found the Hotspot Shield website easy to navigate and well-designed, with a theme similar to most VPN providers. I liked that you can view the website in over 10 different languages.
The Hotspot Shield website also has links to other AnchorFree products (I’ll mention these in further detail later on).
There is also an HSS blog kept regularly updated with industry news, tips, and guides.
Customer support was one of the big issues we noticed in the previous Hotspot Shield review, and it seems that nothing has changed in this department. Hotspot Shield only offers ticket-based support (via the Zendesk platform) in addition to a fairly limited knowledge base and FAQ.
Perhaps one of the better ways of reaching Hotspot Shield is through social media, with a fairly active Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus profile available to contact.
To get a better idea of Hotspot Shield’s support, I gave the ticket system a test to see how fast and what kind of response I could get. I submitted the ticket with a few questions regarding encryption at 6 AM EST.
As you can see in the screenshot above, it took over 24 hours for HSS to reply to a simple question. While this waiting time might be acceptable for the free version of this service, potential HSS Elite customers should consider this a major red flag.
Signing up is easy: You simply choose if you want a free or paid plan. Paid users just choose the plan length, the desired method of payment, and a few basic contact details.
Once signed up, you download the dedicated client for your operating system (should be less than 20 MB). After a quick install, you are ready to get connected. Keep in mind that HSS is set to start when you boot Windows automatically, so this might be a feature you want to disable.
Signing up for Hotspot Shield’s free trial? You won’t need to enter any personal information, just download, install, and connect!
The Hotspot Shield Windows VPN client
The HSS Windows VPN client is clearly meant for beginners, especially when you consider the absence of some features. There is no kill switch, as well as no option to choose protocols or track bandwidth.
You can choose servers from within the client (only available for Elite users), with the default location being the US.
All in all, I would like to see more options and features added to the Windows client before fully endorsing it.
Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC and IPv6 Tests)
Hotspot Shield as a free service is going to be limited when it comes to performance. Nevertheless, I still wanted to see how HSS’s free service could perform with a couple of quick speed tests.
Graphs show highest, lowest and average speeds for each server and location. See our full speed test explanation for more detail.
As you can see in the graphs above, my download test results were fairly impressive and consistent. On the other hand, HSS upload speeds were terrible all around, no matter which region I checked.
I was happy to see the absence of DNS leaks during my Hotspot Shield review. DNS leaks might vary depending on your device and connection, so I recommend testing DNS leaks for yourself using IPleak.net.
Hotspot Shield is available for most operating systems, except Linux. In addition to the usual Windows and Mac clients, HSS offers native apps for Android and iOS.
The use of the OpenVPN protocol helps when it comes to supporting other devices (such as Blackberry or Google Chromebook).
Android, iOS, Linux, etc
As I mentioned above, HSS is compatible with nearly every operating system and most mobile devices. To get a better idea of how HSS performs on a mobile device, I gave their iOS App a quick whirl.
I was able to easily find and download the free Hotspot Shield iOS App from the iTunes store. After installing, I was able to connect to the free VPN service and everything checked out (save for some questionable speeds).
Other/ Free Services
Hotspot Shield also provides free Chrome and Firefox extensions, which can be an additional way for users to try out the service before purchasing for the long term.
AnchorFree also offers a few other privacy tools to help better protect yourself online. These include Kaboom (a social media manager), Privacy Wizard (for smartphones), and Picaboo (for private photo sharing).
Hotspot Shield Review Conclusion
- Free service
- OpenVPN standard protocol
- Free Chrome Extension
- Super affordable long term plans
I wasn’t so sure about
- No support for Linux
- Non-existent support
- US based
Hotspot Shield checks out as a pretty decent free service, but the paid service is probably one you want to avoid. Questionable customer service, bad upload speeds, and being subject to US data laws are all valid reasons to skip over Hotspot Shield.
That being said, the HSS free service can be useful for some everyday Internet browsing, or casual traveling. I hope this Hotspot Shield review has given you some guidance regarding this VPN. Check out the free service or make use of the 30-day money back guarantee using the link below!