HotSpot Shield VPN Review Overview
- 3200+ servers
- Fast server speeds
- Easy-to-use app
- Stores logs
- 36 month plan - $2.99 per month ($107.64 total cost)
- 12 month plan - $7.99 per month ($95.88 total cost)
- 1 month plan - $12.99 per month ($12.99 total cost)
HotSpot Shield touts itself as “the fastest VPN for secure internet access.”
Right off the bat, this made us nervous – sure, it’s a common marketing tactic, but it’s a bold claim.
And when you make bold claims, you need to back it up with evidence.
Unfortunately, it’s been our experience VPN providers aren’t very good at backing up such claims… especially ones like being the fastest VPN.
This is partially because it’s virtually impossible to prove.
There are so many different variables affecting connection speeds that one VPN might be the fastest for you, but someone sitting right next to you – even on the same internet connection – might find a different provider gives them better speeds.
Still, we started this review in the hopes Hotspot Shield would surprise us. And we were surprised – keep reading to find out why.
How HotSpot Shield Compare to the Competition
Take a look at How We Rate VPN Providers!
Poor Location, CDT Privacy Accusations, and an Ongoing FTC Investigation
To begin, HotSpot Shield is an American company.
We have nothing against American companies, of course, but the fact remains it’s one of the worst countries for a VPN provider to be based in.
This is because the US is literally one of the eponymous nations of the UKUSA Agreement, also known as the 5 Eyes Alliance.
If you know anything about VPNs, then you’ll know 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes jurisdictions aren’t privacy-friendly.
On top of that, the company has an “ethically ambiguous” history.
HotSpot Shield’s parent company, AnchorFree (now known as Pango), advertises itself as a privacy services solution… but is also known to partner up with advertising and marketing companies.
Then there’s the question of a rather serious 14-page filing by the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDC).
Here’s a snippet from the press release (you can follow the link for the full filing):
Not good at all. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) still seems to be investigating, declining to comment on the investigation’s status.
Until they do, it’s up to HotSpot Shield to prove the allegations wrong.
Oops – Not a Lot of Privacy Here
Unfortunately, Pango CEO David Gorodyansky’s statements referring to the complaint as “unfounded” are empty words.
The facts are against HotSpot Shield – but you have to read the fine print to realize it.
It’s here that Pango straight-up admits they personalize ads displayed in their VPN apps (albeit only the free versions).
Even worse, they “log what domain names that users visit” (apparently they forgot to proofread), though they claim it isn’t together with any identifiable data.
However, IP addresses are collected.
Pair that up with the following, and you’ll see why we absolutely do not recommend anyone trust Pango-owned VPNs:
“Device hashes [are] used to identify devices and associate them with other data we collect (such as for measuring bandwidth use, providing support, understanding how you interact with our VPN, and other analytics and marketing purposes).” [Emphasis ours]
Sure, Pango follows that up with the claim “device hashes are not linked to VPN browsing activity.”
But that doesn’t add up with the fact they do record your VPN browsing activity and device hashes are used to “understand how you interact with our VPN.”
We’ll need to wait for the FTC to eventually conclude and publish their investigation’s findings before making it official, but we recommend giving HotSpot Shield a very wide berth.
When it comes to online privacy, we don’t suggest you give any VPN with such shady policies the benefit of the doubt.
Strong Encryption and a Proprietary VPN Protocol (edit: +more)
EDIT: As of 07/07/2020, TheVPNShop.com confirmed with HSS that their encryption standard was upgraded from 128-bit to 256-bit. Great news! Additionally, they now offer multiple VPN protocols in addition to their proprietary protocol (Catapult Hydra), including OpenVPN, Wireguard, and IKEv2.
Adding to the ever-growing list of reasons to avoid HotSpot Shield is their substandard encryption: 128-bit AES.
To be fair, 128-bit AES encryption is still secure. But the industry standard is 256-bit AES because it’s twice as secure.
And if you think it doesn’t really matter, consider the fact that quantum computing advancements are expected to halve the effective key sizes of encryption standards.
Translation? In the foreseeable future, HotSpot Shield’s encryption will only effectively be 64-bit.
Especially considering they’re using Catapult Hydra for their VPN protocol. They claim it’s because OpenVPN (the best-recommended VPN protocol) was creating latency issues, but to do so they had to reduce the amount of data being transferred.
Which explains the substandard encryption standard, of course.
We recommend taking a look at our Beginner’s Guide to VPN Protocols, as well as this article on VPN encryption, to better understand why this is so dodgy.
Kill Switch and DNS Leak Protection
Ready for some good news?
HotSpot Shield understands a kill switch isn’t optional, so they made sure to add one to their system. And they have some form of DNS leak protection and an auto-protect feature as well.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends for this section.
Not only do you need to manually active the kill switch, but they also claim when DNS leaks are detected while using their VPN, it’s because the sites that detect such leaks are wrong.
This is an incredibly arrogant and blatantly harmful stance to take. DNS leaks are pretty serious if you need to protect your online activity from draconian censorship.
If ANY site is detecting such a leak, then there’s a leak.
HotSpot Shield also loses a point for not having any split tunneling feature, which lets you decide what apps and websites use your regular internet connection and which are routed via the VPN servers.
That said, they do offer network adapter configuration, along with a SmartVPN feature for bypassing specific domains and applications.
This one is more of a “nice-to-have” for most of us, but it’s always great to have the option of using TOR over VPN.
TOR (The Onion Router) is a proxy browser that redirects all your online activity through 3 servers spread across the globe.
This obfuscates your physical location, which can be a lifesaver in countries like China.
Granted, TOR does slow your internet speed down. And the encryption level is relatively low, so it’s almost always best to use TOR through a VPN connection.
Luckily, HotSpot Shield works decently with TOR. This is great, as they don’t offer a Double VPN (or Multi-Hop) feature, which serves the same basic need by routing your connection through 2 VPN servers.
Thousands of Server Connections
On the plus side, you have 3,200+ servers in over 70 countries to choose from. This is the kind of server network size we like to see – the bigger, the better.
Why? Well, for starters, the more servers there are, the lower the risk of network overload.
With thousands of servers for customers to share, the load is spread out better, so your speed shouldn’t be negatively affected.
Speaking of speed, it’s time to discuss the results of HotSpot Shield’s fastest-VPN claim.
A quick (no pun intended) caveat: VPN server speeds are affected by dozens of factors, as we mentioned in the introduction to this review.
We do try to create a standardized speed test for VPNs by always using the same devices, internet connection, and server locations.
But bear in mind if you do purchase a HotSpot Shield subscription, you’ll likely have a slightly different speed experience.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look:
As you can see, HotSpot Shield offers competitively high speeds. Although they certainly aren’t the “fastest VPN”, they’re definitely a top contender.
Device Compatibility and Connections
HotSpot Shield recently updated their list of supported devices.
Here’s what they have to offer:
- Chrome (browser extension)
- Smart TVs
You also get up to 5 simultaneous connections, so long as you’re a premium customer.
Subscription Plans and Pricing
This is especially true considering how much money Pango is charging for HotSpot Shield subscriptions:
- 1 Month – €12,99 ($14.47 at the time of writing)
- 1 Year – €95,88 ($106.83 at the time of writing)
- 2 Years – €167,76 ($186.91 at the time of writing)
Bear in mind HotSpot Shield has different pricing tiers for different areas too (Europeans are going to pay more in general).
If you want an idea of how terrible this pricing is, compare it to what some of our recommendations for The Best Overall VPNs charge.
ExpressVPN, for example, is only $12.95/month, while NordVPN costs $11,95/month.
Let’s face it – HotSpot Shield is over-priced, especially considering how little they’re offering.
Unblock Websites for Slightly Less Limited Streaming
You’re probably feeling as starved for good news as we are at this point.
Thankfully, we can deliver some: HotSpot Shield is one of the increasingly few VPN services that can still stream Netflix.
Unfortunately, there’s a “but…”
Netflix’s proxy detection is constantly getting better at blocking VPNs. And while HotSpot Shield is flying under the radar for now, they’re not going completely undetected.
We couldn’t get Netflix US or UK to work, so you might find you’re stuck watching Netflix Canada.
You might be able to get one of the other Netflix regions to work, but you’ll need to open a support ticket requesting a list of currently working servers.
Alternatively, take a look at our suggestions for the Best Netflix VPNs.
Difficulty with streaming online content (largely thanks to annoying, prohibitively expensive exclusivity deals) led more and more people back to torrenting.
Now, the legality of torrenting is a complicated matter we won’t delve into here. You can take a look at our piece Is Torrenting Illegal? for the full picture.
But basically, there are legal uses for the peer-to-peer (P2P) network, which is why we cover the topic.
HotSpot Shield takes the same stance as we do – they don’t condone using torrents to break copyright laws, but they aren’t going to stop you from torrenting safely either.
So yes, you can technically torrent with HotSpot Shield. But given the security flaws, it’s a risky move.
We have a review of The Best Torrent VPNs you can look at if you want a better option.
Usability and Support
Okay, back to the “good news mixed with bad news” routine…
HotSpot Shield is incredibly fast to install.
Most VPNs take about 5 minutes, but we were able to start connecting to a server in under 3 minutes.
The app design is also very sleek and easy to use.
Even if you’ve never touched a VPN before, you should be able to navigate HotSpot Shield’s most basic settings without any difficulties.
Unfortunately, that’s largely due to the lack of any advanced settings, particularly in terms of security.
And even with such a streamlined product, you’ll still need to spend a few minutes making sure all the security features that are available are switched on.
And it doesn’t get any better, especially because there’s no live chat support.
You’re almost entirely dependent on a Help Center that looks good but is low on substance. To get any issue or questions properly addressed, you’ll need to book a support ticket.
And once you submit that ticket, you might as well start looking for the answer on Google.
Chances are high you’ll find it in the help center or blog of another VPN provider’s website long before HotSpot Shield gets back to you.
The average response time seems to be about 2 to 4 days. But some customers complained online they had to wait more than a week.
How to Cancel HotSpot Shield and Get Your Money Back
We make no qualms about the fact we do not recommend HotSpot Shield at all, despite their high speeds. So if you recently paid for a subscription and you want out, here’s what to do:
- Sign in to your HotSpot Shield Dashboard
- Click “Details” in the Account section
- Click “Cancel” for the subscription you wish to terminate
- HotSpot Shield will ask for a reason – unfortunately, you have to provide one (we recommend using “Other reason” from the options available, then simply saying you no longer need a VPN – otherwise, you’re going to get dragged into a long-drawn tit-for-tat forcing you into the next payment cycle)
- Book a support ticket requesting a refund (provided you’re within 45 days of purchase)
How much does HotSpot Shield cost per month?
Does HotSpot Shield work for Netflix?
Can Hotspot Shield be trusted?
HotSpot Shield’s parent company has some dodgy connections, the privacy policies are shady, and the provider’s dismissal of valid DNS leak reports as “mistaken” don’t make them sound like a legitimate VPN.
However, the FTC investigation is still pending.