Hotspot Shield VPN Review

Hotspot Shield is an entry-level VPN service that markets itself towards casual and beginner VPN users. An unlimited, free version of the VPN is available for everyone, making it an excellent way to experiment and play around with a VPN service. Unfortunately, I did find a lot of worrying details hiding behind Hotspot Shield's heavily marketed exterior. Keep reading my Hotspot Shield review to find out more!
Visit Hotspot Shield
Review of: Hotspot Shield
VPN by:

Reviewed by:
On October 14, 2016
Last modified:November 30, 2016


Read our Hotspot Shield VPN review for the lowdown on this simple-to-use VPN, including its free and Elite versions.

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.

hotspot shield pricing

I was disappointed during my Hotspot Shield VPN 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.

hotspot shield business plans

As I’ve mentioned already in this Hotspot Shield VPN review, the free version of Hotspot Shield VPN 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.

hotspot shield paywall

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.


  • ProsPROS
  • Free, unlimited trial
  • Up to 5 simultaneous connections
  • Simple interface
  • Affordable lifetime subscription
  • ConsCONS
  • 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 investors

Hotspot Shield VPN 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.

Visit Hotspot Shield »

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 VPN 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 reviews 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.

hotspot shield logging

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.

The Website

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.

hotspot shield VPN review

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 VPN reviews, 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.

hotspot shield support

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.

hotspot shield vpn

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.

The Process

Signing Up

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.

hotspot shield signup

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.

hotspot shield install

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.

hotspot shield windows client

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.
hotspot shield download test
hotspot shield upload test
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 VPN review. DNS leaks might vary depending on your device and connection, so I recommend testing DNS leaks for yourself using

Other Platforms

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).

hotspot shield ios

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.

hotspot shield chrome extension

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 VPN Review Conclusion

I liked

  • Free service (limited)
  • OpenVPN standard protocol
  • Free Chrome Extension
  • Super affordable long term plans

I wasn’t so sure about

  • No support for Linux

I hated

  • 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 VPN.

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!

Visit Hotspot Shield »

Update: Hotspot’s free service is now limited:

Bandwidth/Data Cap on Android is 256MB per day and resets every 24hrs.
Bandwidth/Data Cap on Desktop is set to 750MB per day and reset every 24hrs.

Thomas Ujj Born in Canada, raised in the U.S, yet somehow living in Hungary. I have a passion for anything technology related, gaming, freedom and privacy, food and Italian football team AS Roma.

Related Coverage


15 responses to “Hotspot Shield VPN Review

  1. Used to be good, now I have to keep turning it off and on again and again cause it gets tooooo slow. Sometimes it goes from 54mbps to 14mbps!
    I’m not going to renew my plan when it expires

  2. We are a bunch of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with useful info to work on. You’ve performed a formidable task and our entire group shall be thankful to you.

  3. I’m going to Tibet (China) next month for a couple of weeks; I have read that they block some websites – I would really like to be able to use Facebook whilst there to post pictures and keep in touch with friends and family worldwide. Would it be overkill to install HS for this purpose?
    I am not very savvy tech-wise, please be gentle with me in use of technical terms and concepts!!

    1. Hi Brian,

      Please see my article on 5 Best VPNs for China. Installing a VPN is certainly not overkill, but I think you find the services listed in that article will be much more successful at defeating the Great Firewall than Hotspot Shield. You will also find in that article a discussion on the realities of internet censorship in China.

  4. No longer free to use, it now has limited usage size, eventhough high speed internet became cheaper these days, but they needed more servers to separate each user IP dependent lines?

    “Only Free users are imposed a bandwidth-usage limit. If you are a paid Elite subscriber, you have unlimited bandwidth.”
    “Please purchase an Elite subscription for unlimited bandwidth.”

    After analyzing our costs, we discovered that 10% of Hotspot Shield’s Free users were using 50% of our total bandwidth.

    To keep our Free services running, we implemented the following bandwidth limitation on Android and desktop platforms:

    Bandwidth/Data Cap on Android is 256MB per day and resets every 24hrs.
    Bandwidth/Data Cap on Desktop is set to 750MB per day and reset every 24hrs.

    When the bandwidth limit is reached, Free users are prompted to pay or wait for a specified amount of hours until the cap is reset.

    1. Hi Wowordorld,

      You are correct that Hotpot free is now longer unlimited. I have added an update to this effect, and thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    1. Hi Ben,

      Use of HMAC SHA1 for OpenVPN authentication is not a weakness, as HMAC SHA1 is much less vulnerable to collision attacks than standard SHA1 hashes (for example, you would need to break HMAC in order to reach the underlying hash in order to start collisions attempts on it). Mathematical proof of this is available in this paper.

    I’ve been using HSS Elite for more than 3 years and it always worked very well. My only purpose using it is p2p and I get extremely high speeds. Yes, it lacks some futures, but as said in a comment above, the price is awesome.

  5. My primary use/need for a VPN service is for torrenting on my Mac.

    Support aside, what is it about HotSpot Shield Elite (no ads) that is so inherently bad and is there something that makes it particularly poor for torrents? The Elite edition costs 1/3 the price of ExpressVPN (which I am testing right now) for a 1 yr subscription. On speed tests Hotshot Shield Elite is 2x and up to 3x faster on my network. I can connect to different countries. I’m testing my security with all the various “WhatsMyIP” type tools and my IP is hidden the same as other VPN services, including ExpressVPN. I have HSE on my Android phone & it works fine. I don’t download torrents on my phone though.

    I’m one of those people who don’t need to contact support. I download the tool(s), configure them, and they work. If I have a problem I research it extensively.

    Yes, Hotspot is based in the US (as are some other highly rated VPN services). Yes, they have to “comply with US Law” since they are based in the US, as do other US-based VPN services. They maintain some ‘connection’ logs, same as some of the higher rated VPN services.

    I’d like to understand from a purely VPN standpoint (security), what makes Hotspot Shield so bad? I’m not talking about the free version, which is ad-driven. I’m talking about the Elite version.

    [As an aside, I tried setting up OpenVPN on my Asus router since OpenVPN is directly supported, but I could not get my IP address to change upon a connection. After 4 hours of troubleshooting I gave up.]

    1. Hi SomewhatNerdy,

      When it comes to privacy and security, everyone must asses their own threat model. If torrenting is your primary concern, then HotSpot Shield Elite is cheap, fast, and will protect you while torrenting. As a torrenter the lack of a kill should be a concern, however. The fact that Hotspot is owned by a corporate conglomerate, is based in the US, and keeps extensive connection (metadata) logs makes the service less suitable for the NSA-phobic privacy-heads out there…

    I had the Elite product on my Android phone last year. It was *extremely* unreliable, unable to keep connected. Every time I contacted support, they just threw the latest .n.n.n release at me and said, “try this”. So, yeah, completely concur on the poor support.

    When I travel, this is the only VPN that doesn’t get blocked. Only one. Netflix, BBC Player, Hulu, Amazon. I’ve tried them all. This just works.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Want to add a star rating to your comment? Click here
Customer Service