Hotspot Shield first came to my attention in 2010 when people freely shared information and bypassed government censorship with the VPN during the Arab Spring. Considering a decade has passed, I wanted to try Hotspot Shield myself to see if it’s still any good. I ran several tests on Hotspot Shield’s features and researched potential issues.
I was particularly interested in Hotspot Shield’s streaming ability, speed, security, privacy, and how its free version compares to a paid subscription. Following my tests, I was impressed by its speed and ease-of-use, but its past privacy scandal was concerning.
Hotspot Shield generously lets you try it for free for 45 days with its money-back guarantee. This means you don’t have to simply believe my tests results — you can perform tests of your own before deciding to commit. However, if after reading this review you decide you want something that offers more value for money, try CyberGhost!
Although Hotspot Shield only claims to support Netflix and Hulu on its website, the premium version was able to unblock multiple popular streaming services during testing. I could access Netflix (US, UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, and more), Hulu, Disney+ (the US and Canada), HBO Max, HBO NOW, BBC iPlayer, and UKTV.
Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield’s free version couldn’t unblock any of these streaming services or help me avoid the dreaded Netflix streaming error.
Hotspot Shield is great at unblocking multiple Netflix catalogs. Loading was fast on each server I tested, even in the US and Australia (which are farthest away from me). I was able to access Netflix with the following libraries:
After just 15 seconds of loading, I streamed Dark in full HD on a US server. Besides that minor delay, I streamed effortlessly (to my surprise).
Unfortunately, the UK catalog didn’t load properly and showed me a generic Netflix homepage that wasn’t localized for a particular region. As I’m a huge fan of British humor, I was disappointed that I couldn’t watch any UK exclusives.
Hotspot Shield’s US servers reliably unblocked Hulu. When I tried watching Palm Springs, it took up to 2 minutes to fully increase to HD. Even though this is longer than I’ve experienced with other VPNs, it remained stable for the remainder of the movie.
After testing 12 different servers, I was able to access Disney+ in the US and Canada on all but 2 servers. The streams loaded in under 10 seconds and the quality increased to full HD in 20 seconds — even when connected to country servers far from me.
For the servers that didn’t work, the Disney+ login page loaded indefinitely. After 4 minutes of waiting, I simply gave up. However, with multiple servers to choose from in Disney+ countries, you should be able to connect after switching servers a couple of times.
When I tested HBO Max and HBO NOW with Hotspot Shield, I had high-quality streams and stable connectivity. After I used the auto-connect feature and tested the manual servers (Atlanta, Chicago, and New York), I was able to unblock the HBO services without a problem. I watched Westworld on HBO Max and I May Destroy You on HBO NOW in under 10 seconds of loading for both streams. The quality was almost immediately crisp full HD — much faster than other services I’ve tested.
The BBC has consistently made unblocking its iPlayer more difficult, and many VPNs are unable to access it. Thankfully, I had no problem unblocking the platform and watched several high-definition episodes of What We Do in the Shadows with Hotspot Shield. It took only 4 seconds for each episode to buffer.
Amazon Prime Video is the only major streaming platform I tested that Hotspot Shield couldn’t access at all. While I could log in and load the home page, I kept getting an error message whenever I hovered over a thumbnail:
It’s possible that Hotspot Shield doesn’t currently see Prime Video as a priority service (it appears as “Coming Soon” on their streaming page), and therefore hasn’t updated its blocked IP addresses for some time.
If you need access to Amazon Prime Video, ExpressVPN can easily unblock it and many other streaming platforms from anywhere. I’ve tested ExpressVPN with multiple major streaming services and was impressed with the consistent speed and video quality.
Hotspot Shield’s speeds were consistently high when connected to nearby servers, but inconsistent overall. I had a minimum speed of 99Mbps with the UK server and over 130Mbps while connected to Germany — but servers in the US and Australia failed to reach 35Mbps. However, servers in Australia were the only ones that were so slow (at just 14Mbps) that my online activity was limited. Streaming in 4K requires at least 25Mbps, so if streaming is your main reason for getting a VPN, you may want to go for a service with consistently fast speeds (like ExpressVPN).
If you want to check if it’s fast enough for your needs, you can test Hotspot Shield for free for 45 days with its money-back guarantee.
It was challenging to play multiplayer online games while connected to Hotspot Shield because I experienced constant delays. Having the lowest possible latency (server delay) is crucial when playing fast-paced games, and Hotspot Shield’s average of 100ms (the lower, the better) wasn’t fast enough.
My average latency in Call of Duty without a VPN was 58ms, which increased to an average of 85ms when connected to the closest Hotspot Shield server to me (a 97% increase). In Rocket League, my latency without a VPN was 34ms, which increased to 113ms when connected (a 232% increase). The game also warned me of “latency variation” while I was playing. There was noticeable lag, especially in Rocket League, where the increased latency made me regularly miss the ball in both games.
In slower-paced strategy games, you won’t notice a difference. However, if you play fast-paced games, Hotspot Shield may not be fast enough.
I recommend that you try ExpressVPN’s speeds for gaming. It has a fast server network and gave me extremely low latency connections during my tests — perfect for gaming with no slowdown or interruptions.
Speed determines how fast content uploads, so if you're torrenting or streaming, you want the speed to be somewhat identical to your regular internet speed. Since a VPN encrypts your data, it usually takes a bit longer to send your data back and forth, which can slow down your connection. However, if your ISP deliberately slows down your connection (also known as throttling) a VPN might increase your internet speed. Testing a VPN is somewhat pointless because new servers pop up and affect speed. Your speed can also differ according to your location, so your speed test might not match ours. Having said that, we tested the speed in numerous locations to provide you with the average.
Hotspot Shield provides over 3,200 servers in more than 80 countries — an impressive number that ensures you’ll have a server nearby.
I was particularly impressed that all servers were fully connected in under 5 seconds (including Germany, UK, US, South Africa, and Japan). Even servers in New Zealand (over 17,500km away from me) worked — an impressive accomplishment!
Unfortunately, there’s no one-click connect option. Instead, you need to open the “All Locations” list, select a country, and choose “Automatic Connect“ or a specific city. I recommend choosing a server closer to your location for the highest speeds and lowest server delay.
Hotspot Shield has solid basic security but lacks more advanced features that other premium VPNs offer. It has a kill switch available on Windows, macOS, and Android, but not the iOS version. The iOS app barely has any security options compared to the Android version — strange when most VPNs are trying to have the same features across devices.
As for your real IP address, it’s hidden and won’t be linked to your device when Hotspot Shield is connected (which is useful for torrenting and private browsing). I ran several leak tests, and I was happy to see that the provider passed all of them.
Your online traffic is kept hidden by AES-256 encryption in conjunction with Hotspot Shield’s Catapult Hydra protocol. You can also choose IKEv2, although other popular protocols such as OpenVPN are missing. For more information on how encryption and VPN protocols work, take a look at the beginner’s guide to VPNs.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t have an ad blocker, invisibility on LAN (which hides your device from others on the same network), or dedicated obfuscated servers that can work in restrictive countries. If you’re looking for a fully-featured and independently audited premium VPN, ExpressVPN is my #1 pick. You can try ExpressVPN risk-free for 30 days and compare it to Hotspot Shield before making your choice.
I contacted Hotspot Shield regarding these concerns and received the following reply:
Hotspot Shield isn’t a good choice for users who prioritize VPN privacy. You’re unable to pay with an anonymous method like cryptocurrency, so your account is linked to your card or PayPal account. While the service claims your information is never linked, it’s difficult to actually know what it does with your data.
Since Hotspot Shield’s Catapult Hydra is proprietary technology, its code isn’t open to public review (unlike other open-source protocols like OpenVPN). This means that it’s impossible to know how it manages user data and keeps your online traffic private.
Hotspot Shield’s free version is also ad-supported, which could allow advertisers to track and figure out your identity. While it claims it’s anonymous through a unique identifier on your device, I question the honesty of a VPN that’s partially funded by companies building profiles on its userbase.
Hotspot Shield actively encourages torrenting — the integrated kill switch and IP leak protection ensure that your real IP address is safe and never revealed while you torrent.
I tested this by downloading a file while connected to the closest server to me and my average download speed was 15MB per second (125Mbps). This is a super-fast speed, which allowed me to download a 4GB file in just 4 minutes.
Hotspot Shield might work in China. Although customer support confirmed it works in China, I can’t guarantee that it works reliably (or at all) since I’m not able to test it in the country.
The Chinese government operates intense surveillance over the internet, including limiting ISPs and “chokepoints” where internet cables enter the country. This means it can monitor internet traffic far more extensively than other countries, and implement blocks on VPN services and associated infrastructure. Take a look at the list of the best VPNs for China tested and confirmed to bypass censorship in the country.
You can connect up to 5 devices at once with Hotspot Shield Premium. I put this to the test by connecting 2 Windows PCs, an Android phone, an iPhone, and an iPad. I noticed no difference in speeds when streaming on several devices at once.
The free plan with Hotspot Shield only allows for 1 device connection. If you need more device connections, you can check out CyberGhost to connect 7 devices at once.
You can use Hotspot Shield on the following:
Most of these devices work as you’d expect, but I was particularly surprised that the Android app had so many more features than the iOS app (including a kill switch, and Smart VPN). I was also glad to learn that Hotspot Shield offers support for Linux and select routers, especially since other review sites claim that they’re not supported.
If you’re looking for a VPN with more impressive features for your Windows device, there are several great options in the guide to the best VPNs for Windows.
The Hotspot Shield app for Windows, macOS, and Linux has one of the cleanest and most intuitive interfaces I’ve used. You can see all the information you need at a glance, such as server, speed, latency, data usage, and server load.
Hotspot Shield’s interface for mobile devices is also straightforward, but it’s missing additional information available on the desktop versions (including speed, data usage, and latency).
The browser extensions use the same core design and include display speed and data usage from your current session.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t test Hotspot Shield on my MacBook Air, since the VPN requires OS X 10.12 or later.
Hotspot Shield provides browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. An extension is a fast way to get internet protection instead of opening the VPN app every time you want to connect. It also allows you to pick specific sites to bypass the VPN. I’m a big fan of this feature as I can unblock streaming sites without changing the localization of other websites. This means that I can watch Netflix in the US and still access my local bank account without the site thinking I’m in the US.
The only downside is although there’s an ad-blocker built in to the browser extension, it didn’t work for me. Even after reloading the browser extension 3 different times, I had no luck.
A clear upside to this service is how easy it is to install. During my tests, I was able to get the VPN set up and start using it in under 2 minutes.
You can uninstall Hotspot Shield on Windows by opening “Programs and Features” in the control panel and removing it. On Mac, simply drag the Hotspot Shield app from “Applications” to “Trash.”
On Android, hold down on the app and click “Uninstall.” You can also drag the app to “Uninstall” to remove it. On iOS, hold down the app and click the “X” at the top of the app to uninstall.
You can contact Hotspot Shield’s support team in 3 ways:
I contacted Hotspot Shield’s support through live chat and was connected to an agent within 1 minute. While the agent was friendly and fast to respond, I didn’t get a useful response when I asked which streaming services are supported.