Hotspot Shield has been a popular VPN for years, but when I saw a graphic on its website proclaiming it the “world’s fastest VPN,” I was immediately skeptical. That’s why I decided to find out for myself if Hotspot Shield is really as good as it claims. I was particularly interested in Hotspot Shield’s streaming ability, speed, security, and free version.
While I was impressed with Hotspot Shield’s streaming capabilities, I was disappointed with its overall lack of consistency. Its speeds varied a lot and so did the availability of servers and features across platforms. Also, I discovered a privacy scandal alleging that Hotspot Shield collects its user’s IP addresses. Although it wasn’t as bad as it sounded, it still makes me hesitant to trust the service.
While Hotspot Shield often fell short of the top premium options on the market, I was impressed by how much it offers with its free plan. If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, you can try Hotspot Shield’s unlimited free plan or try out a premium subscription for 45 days with its money-back guarantee. That way, you can test it yourself before deciding to commit.
For Windows and iOS users, Hotspot Shield has streaming and gaming optimized servers in the US and the UK. My team and I tested the optimized servers and the normal servers to see how they worked.
Although Hotspot Shield only mentions being able to access Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and YouTube on its website, it was able to give me access to all of the most popular streaming services during testing.
Working with colleagues in other countries, Hotspot Shield servers let me stream my home US content on Netflix. Likewise, my colleagues in the UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, and other countries had no issues accessing their home catalogs. Hulu, Disney+ (US and Canada), HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video (US), and UKTV also worked flawlessly.
Hotspot Shield’s proprietary Hydra protocol (also known as Catapult Hydra) makes streaming easy because it hides the fact that you’re using a VPN. This means that websites won’t block your connection, as it looks the same as a normal connection.
Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield’s free plan wasn’t able to access any streaming services due to limited server access, which has likely resulted in these servers being blacklisted by most streaming platforms. If you need a free VPN for streaming, I recommend you try Proton VPN’s streaming servers.
Thankfully, the premium plans were not plagued by this issue. I was able to access my Netflix account instantly using one of Hotspot Shield’s US servers.
The Irishman loaded with no problems, giving me lag-free viewing even in HD and zero buffering in 4K. Testing other locations with colleagues across the world, my team and I made use of servers in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Japan, India, and Brazil and never had any issues.
Hotspot Shield’s servers in the US also reliably accessed Hulu. When I tried watching Palm Springs, everything played perfectly.
On some servers in the US, my video started pixelated but only took 10-12 seconds to increase to HD, and it remained stable for the rest of the show. This is on par with what I’ve experienced with the top streaming VPNs.
After testing the US server and 15 other servers with colleagues abroad, Hotspot Shield was able to access Disney+ in the US, Canada, and the UK.
The Mandalorian loaded in under 6 seconds, and, although pixelated at first, the quality increased to full HD in 10-20 seconds. Even using servers that are far away, you won’t miss any of baby Yoda’s adorable antics.
Other streaming platforms like HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer offered similar experiences across the board with one minor issue. Amazon Prime Video’s US catalog is the only one that can be accessed while connected to Hotspot Shield. Unfortunately, you’ll be out of luck if you want to access your home region’s catalog if it isn’t the US one.
I recommend you try CyberGhost’s streaming-optimized servers for Amazon Prime Video. If you pay good money for an Amazon Prime Video account, you should be able to watch even when you travel abroad or use restricted networks. Better yet, during my tests, CyberGhost unblocked most other streaming platforms as well.
I was disappointed with Hotspot Shield’s inconsistent speeds. While I had super fast speeds on servers close to my actual location, there were huge drops in my speeds when I connected to servers far away. Unfortunately, choosing a different protocol (like its proprietary Hydra protocol) didn’t make a difference.
If you want blazing-fast speeds in any location worldwide, I recommend ExpressVPN. I’ve tested ExpressVPN’s speeds across multiple countries and have never been disappointed.
I tested speeds in the US, Germany, Australia, and the UK. Although the speeds in nearby countries were excellent, there was a massive drop-off when I connected to servers farther away.
On Hotspot Shield’s server in Australia (about 15,000km away), my speeds dropped by almost 90%, and the ping skyrocketed. This inconsistency was really shocking. I was so surprised that I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. I ran another test, but my results didn’t change.
I wanted to see how fast the IKEv2 protocol worked versus the Hydra protocol, so I ran some more tests. The only time I noticed a benefit in manually switching to Hydra was when I was connected to a distant server. Otherwise, the speeds were the same or worse.
There’s also a speed test tool right within Hotspot Shield’s Windows app. I compared its results with Ookla (a popular speed testing system) to see if they were consistent. The Hotspot Shield speed tester always gave different results from Ookla (about 30% different). Still, the in-app speed test was helpful to quickly get a rough idea of my current speeds and switch to a different server if they were too slow.
With Hotspot Shield’s free version, you’ll find that your speeds are throttled to a maximum of 2Mbps. As you’re limited to just 500MB of data per day, you won’t be able to use it for much except basic browsing.
Since your speeds might be different based on a variety of factors, you can test Hotspot Shield’s speeds for free for 45 days. If it isn’t fast enough for everything you do online, you can just get a refund with its money-back guarantee.
I tested Hotspot Shield’s gaming capabilities by connecting to servers close to my location. I played Dota 2 and Rocket League with Hotspot Shield, and the speeds were so fast that I forgot I was using a VPN.
Having the lowest possible latency (server delay measured in milliseconds) is crucial when playing fast-paced games, and Hotspot Shield’s average of 41ms was plenty fast enough.
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’s network of 3200+ servers in 73+ countries is decent for a lesser-known VPN. I was pleased to see it also had some harder-to-find VPN locations, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
I tested common server locations in North America and Europe, as well as some faraway servers in uncommon locations. I never encountered network errors or dropped connections, and I never had to wait more than 5-7 seconds for any of its apps to connect.
The one confusing thing about Hotspot Shield’s network is that some locations and servers are unavailable depending on which platform you’re using. For example, the Windows app has 127 servers available while the Mac app only has 85.
I tried to find extra information about what servers aren’t available on some platforms, but the live chat agent couldn’t answer that question. There is information on the website about what locations are available on specific devices, so I recommend you check those out before making a decision.
Even though I never had trouble connecting to any of the servers, I don’t want to be surprised when a server isn’t offered on one of my devices. If you value consistency like I do, I suggest you try ExpressVPN’s 3200+ servers in 94+ countries. It has a wider range of servers, and they’re all available on every device.
Hotspot Shield keeps things simple with only 2 protocol choices on Windows and Mac:
The app automatically chooses the best protocol for your connection. I never found a speed benefit to switching protocols. Even though the proprietary Hydra protocol is supposed to boost speeds and decrease latency, switching from IKEv2 didn’t always help and sometimes made my connection worse.
On its Android and iOS apps, Hotspot Shield uses Hydra exclusively — you don’t have the option of changing to other protocols.
Across all platforms, Hotspot Shield features 256-bit encryption and RSA certificates with 2048-bit keys — the same level of encryption used by the US military. Hydra takes advantage of ephemeral keys, which generate a fresh encryption key every time you connect. That means that even if a hacker broke into a previous VPN session, they wouldn’t be able to compromise any subsequent ones.
Even with encryption this powerful, your data can still leak and reveal your real IP address, location, and other data to third parties. I ran a DNS leak test and found that my DNS wasn’t leaking, and my real location remained hidden.
To make sure I stayed completely hidden, I tested Hotspot Shield servers for other common types of leaks. This included WebRTC, and IPv6, all of which can reveal information about you while you use the web. I had similar results testing for the other types, giving me peace of mind that Hotspot Shield’s data security was iron-clad.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t have security bonuses like invisibility on LAN (which hides your device from others on the same network) or dedicated obfuscated servers that can work in restrictive countries. While there’s no ad-blocker in Hotspot Shield’s desktop apps, the browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome include automatic ad blocking along with cookies, trackers, and malware.
According to the company that owns Hotspot Shield, Aura, there’s no way that your data can be linked back to you as an individual.
Hotspot Shield only collects your IP for fraud prevention, to determine your location (so it can connect you to nearby servers), and track how you interact with its product. Your IP is encrypted and then deleted after your session. On mobile, it also uses a mobile IP that allows data to be collected about your specific device without identifying you personally.
The only major downside is that Hotspot Shield has never undergone a third-party audit, so we just have to take Hotspot Shield’s word for it. This is a little worrying considering that it’s based in the US and explicitly states that it will comply with requests from the US government.
I suggest you try ExpressVPN if you’re looking for a VPN that has undergone a third-party audit and has a proven track record of not releasing your data.
There are personalized ads in Hotspot Shield’s free version, but none of the information used to personalize ads (except an approximation of your latitude and longitude) is provided by the VPN.
The free Hotspot Shield app uses Google’s advertising ID system. This doesn’t connect anything you do online with your real-life identity, but just make sure you aren’t logged into any Google accounts. If you’re logged in, Google can track you online while you use Hotspot Shield. If you want a free VPN that doesn’t use Google’s ad services, I suggest you try Proton VPN’s free version instead.
Hotspot Shield actively encourages torrenting on any of its servers with a torrent-dedicated page on its website. It’s compatible with popular torrent clients like BitTorrent and uTorrent, but support recommends using a client called Vuze for the fastest and most reliable connection.
Just make sure Hotspot Shield’s integrated kill switch and IP leak protection are turned on before torrenting (the kill switch wasn’t on by default). This helps ensure your real IP address and other data stay hidden while you download P2P.
I tested Hotspot Shield’s torrenting performance by connecting to a server in Poland and downloading a 1GB copyright-free file. My download finished in under 10 minutes.
Even though I don’t condone downloading copyrighted or illegal material, I still don’t want my ISP or government watching what I do on torrent apps. Hotspot Shield’s encryption, leak protection, and automatic kill switch hid my IP address, location, torrent activities, and other private data while I was connected.
Hotspot Shield probably won’t work in China. Although customer support claims that it does, I can’t guarantee that it works because most VPNs don’t.
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.
This defense system is so advanced that hardly any VPNs can penetrate it. To find the few that do, take a look at this 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, all without sacrificing performance. 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 all the devices at once. The show Stranger Things on Netflix stayed in HD without sudden pixelation or interruptions ruining spooky moments.
The free plan with Hotspot Shield only allows for 1 device connection. If you need more device connections and don’t mind paying a premium for a VPN then I recommend IPVanish as it supports unlimited connections.
You can use Hotspot Shield on the following:
Most of these devices work as you’d expect. However, not all devices have the same features or servers available. I was particularly surprised that the Mac app had far fewer features than any of the other devices.
When it comes to usability, the Hotspot Shield app for Windows and macOS 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 servers, speed, latency, data usage, and server load.
The only small con to the Hotspot Shield user interface on desktop and mobile is that it doesn’t have many advanced features like server obfuscation, multihop, or a wide variety of protocols. While the Windows app offers the most versatility, it still falls short of the best VPNs for Windows.
Hotspot Shield’s windows app gives you access to most of the features the VPN has. You get access to streaming-optimized servers located in the US and the UK. You also get Hotspot Shield’s “Smart VPN” feature. Also known as split tunneling, Smart VPN lets you exempt URLs or apps from the VPN connection. By adding my online bank to the Smart VPN list, I could check my accounts without the VPN setting off fraud alerts.
Of all of the apps, the Mac app is missing the most features and servers. It’s only got 85 of the 127 servers available on the Windows app, you can’t see the latency in the app, and you don’t get SmartVPN or streaming servers.
Hotspot Shield’s interface for mobile devices is also straightforward, but it’s missing all of the additional information available on the desktop versions. There’s also no option to change your connection protocol.
The iOS app, similar to the Mac app has no extra features and offers no additional information about your connection. Confusingly though, you have access to a streaming server, a gaming server, and 40 more server options than the Mac app.
The Android version of Hotspot Shield also has SmartVPN. However, instead of adding exceptions for the VPN to bypass, it lets you select apps for which the VPN will always be enabled. This is helpful in case you ever forget to turn on Hotspot Shield before opening apps.
The Android app also includes an identity theft alert. Hotspot Shield will scan the Dark Web for your email address, warning you if it has been compromised by hackers. I ran the check and saw the email address associated with my account was compromised on 3 websites, so I changed those passwords immediately.
If you use Chrome or Firefox, Hotspot Shield has browser extensions that block annoying ads and encrypt your data right in your browser. It also allows you to pick specific sites to bypass the VPN. I’m a big fan of this feature as I can access streaming sites without changing the localization of other websites.
The browser extensions also include some features I’ve never encountered in other VPNs. The most unique extension bonus is “Sword,” which feeds fake information to tracker bots to throw them off your trail. It also has a WebRTC blocker to prevent data leaks when you video chat.
You’ll find additional settings if you click the “Browser settings” button in the extension’s configuration menu. An Auto Protection feature lets you add VPN protection to certain websites automatically, even if Hotspot Shield is turned off. You can also add exceptions if there are sites you only want to visit through your usual unprotected network.
Hotspot Shield offers support for Linux and routers. The Linux versions only run using command lines within the console instead of a visual interface as some apps do.
If you use devices that Hotspot Shield doesn’t have native apps for (like Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Playstation, Apple TV, or Roku), you can still protect them by installing the VPN on your router. Router VPN setup is always somewhat technical, but I thought the online router guides were easy to follow for Asus (Merlin and Asuswrt), GL.iNet, FreshTomato, and DD-WRT.
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 quickly and easily 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. If you use iOS, just 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:
If you only have the free version or aren’t a subscriber yet, no agent will talk to you except for some basic email inquiries about buying the VPN, which is pretty annoying. I like to ask a lot of questions about servers, security, torrenting, and other issues when I’m deciding which VPN to spend my hard-earned money on.
Even if you’ve paid for a plan, I found it a little tedious to get a hold of a chat agent. After you log into your account, you have to start a conversation with a chatbot before speaking to live chat support. Other providers like ExpressVPN let you start chatting with a real person right away.
Nudging you toward knowledge base answers helps relieve pressure for live chat agents, but it makes for a worse user experience.
There’s also a “Live Chat” shortcut within the support tab of Hotspot Shield’s desktop apps, but it just opens the chatbot so you still have to ask to speak with a real human. Once I made the request, I was always chatting with a real person within 2 minutes. Agents provided polite (although not always helpful) answers to my questions. I asked if it works in China, and the agent said that it does and advised me to make sure I’m connected before I open my web browser in China.
I also tested the support ticket system by asking a question about torrenting. I got a thorough email reply 15 hours later.
We personally test the customer support team of every VPN we review. This means asking technical question through the live chat feature (where applicable) and measuring the response time for email questions. Whether you need to connect to a specific server, change your security protocol, or configure a VPN on your router, finding a VPN with quality customer support should be important to you.
Besides its free service, Hotspot Shield offers 2 premium pricing plans. The normal Premium plan includes 5 device connections for one user. With the Premium Family plan, you get 5 member accounts and each account gets 5 device connections. However, Hotspot Shield is more expensive than some of the best premium providers.
You can pay for Hotspot Shield with the following methods: Debit or credit card, PayPal, Google Play (Android only), and iTunes (iOS only).
The free version of Hotspot Shield is a nice offering, but it’s too limited for my usual online activities like streaming and gaming. The free apps also misleadingly display the full server menu, but it only allows you to auto-connect to a server in the US. When I tried to connect to any other servers, I got a screen telling me to upgrade to premium to unlock all locations. In addition to that limitation, its strict 500GB daily data cap was way too low for me to use for anything beyond basic browsing. There are other good free VPNs that are better for data-heavy online activities.
The better move is to just use the 45-day money-back guarantee to try Hotspot Shield with no restrictions on features or data. It’s much more generous than most VPNs, which usually only give you 30 days or less. That gives you plenty of time to test it out, and I went through the refund policy myself just to make sure it was legitimate.
After signing up for a 1-month premium subscription and testing its features for a couple of weeks, I contacted support through email and asked for my money back. When they asked why I wanted to leave, I told them I simply wanted the refund, which was approved just 20 minutes later. I had my money back in my account the following day.
Hotspot Shield is a decent VPN, but it has a few downsides. It lets me access numerous streaming services, torrent anonymously, and it has a sizable network with strong encryption. However, I was unimpressed by the speed drops in distant locations and the discrepancies in available options on different platforms.
Considering its drawbacks, it’s hard to justify the higher price. However, with its 45-day money-back guarantee it’s risk-free to try Hotspot Shield for yourself. You can also give the free version a try to get a look at the basic features. Just keep in mind that your speed will be throttled down to 2Mbps and is limited to 500MB a day.
[Try Hotspot Shield risk-free]
Still unsure about Hotspot Shield? Here’s the full rundown on the best VPNs in 2023.
Yes, Hotspot Shield protects your data with military-grade encryption. It had a privacy scandal but has since clarified its privacy policies. To be sure I could trust Hotspot Shield with my data, I tested for every type of privacy leak and my IP address, location, and other personal data were always hidden. However, Hotspot Shield is based in the US, a founding Five Eyes surveillance country.
These details are not ideal for privacy, so I feel a little safer using providers with tried and true security practices, like ExpressVPN. It was even raided as part of a legal investigation and despite police taking physical possession of its servers, nothing was found on ExpressVPN’s users thanks to its zero-logs policy. That’s why I recommend you try ExpressVPN’s secure network for a VPN that gives you absolute confidence that your data is never logged and your online activities stay private.
Yes, there’s a completely free version of Hotspot Shield that comes with 1 server in the US and 500MB of monthly data. It’s enough for some basic web browsing and email, but most activities (like streaming, gaming, and torrenting) require a lot more. That’s why I recommend the premium version. Thankfully, it’s risk-free to get Hotspot Shield without committing by using its 45-day money-back guarantee.
Yes. During my tests, Hotspot Shield let me log into Netflix and watch my favorite shows in HD with no annoying lag. My colleagues abroad could access Netflix as well, proving it can access content libraries all around the world. This lets you watch the shows you pay good money for even when you travel or are on restricted IPs (like at work or on public WiFi).
Yes, your IP will be hidden from sites you visit, hackers, and other third parties while you’re connected to Hotspot Shield. It does collect your IP but it’s encrypted, can’t be connected to any of your online activities, and is deleted after each session.
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