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Hotspot Shield

Rank #9
Ryan Glenn portrait
Ryan Glenn | VPN Expert
Updated November 1, 2020

Hotspot Shield claims to be the world's fastest VPN. We put them to the test while diving deep into other aspects of the VPN and finding some questionable logging policies. In this deep dive review, we will answer those questions from security, geoblocking, speed, streaming, and more.

What's in this Review?

Highlights
Pros and Cons
Privacy
Security
Server Locations
Streaming & Torrenting
Speed
Censorship
Ease of use
Pricing
Verdict

Highlights

Server Size
3,200+, 3,200+ IP Adresses

Server Locations
82 Countries, 35+ Cities

VPN protocol and Encryption
Catapult Hydra(Proprietary) Protocol; AES-128 bit Encryption

App Compatibility
Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Fire TV

Router Compatibility
Yes, installing the VPN on a compatible router is recommended to secure all devices without the need for downloading an app on each device or worrying about simultaneous device limitations. This is great for gaming consoles, smart TVs, and streaming devices.

Streaming
Unblocks popular streaming platforms including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, and more

Logging Policy
Intrusive logging - Usage, Device, Diagnostic, and Location Information

Support
24/7 Live Support

Pros
  • Fast speeds and low latency
  • Strong miltary grade encryption (256-bit AES)
  • Blazing fast speeds
  • Huger server network
  • Premium version for streaming, torrenitng, and gaming
  • VPN apps for range of platforms
  • 24/7 customer support
Cons
  • Intrusive logging policy
  • Kill Switch only for Windows
  • Unreliable for use in China
  • Lacking double encryption or port forwarding
  • Based in the US part of the the 5 Eyes

Privacy

Hotspot Shield is based in the US part of the the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes surveillance alliances meaning they are subject to sureveillance and data retention laws. For users looking for complete anonymity this VPN is not for you but if remaining anonymous is not at the forefront keep reading as HostSpot Shield has a lot to offer including fast speeds.

Logging policy

Hotspot Shield has a questionable logging policy lets take a further look. They state they do not link any personally identifying information to your browsing activity.

VPN products do not log any information that associates your identity with your VPN browsing activity. We do not maintain any records that show what you were browsing or accessing through a VPN connection

Although they do not collect online activity or browsing history that personally identifies you, they do collect a lot of undesired information.

Here is what Hotspot Shield does collect as stated in their privacy policy:
  • Account information - includes any details when signing up such as name, username, email address, and payment method
  • Usage information - services, bandwidth, longevity
  • Device information - device identifiers, browser types, device types and settings, operating system versions, mobile, wireless, ISP, and application version numbers
  • Diagnostic information - requests to their servers, timestamps, and referring URLs
  • Location information - IP Address latitude and longitude to connect you to the closest VPN server
In addition, the free version logs or shares:
  • City-level location
  • Mobile advertising identifier(IMEI number)
  • Shares device information
We do not provide Google Ads with any personal data about you, except for an approximate city-level latitude and longitude which lets them show ads that are more relevant for your approximate geographic location. However, Google Ads may collect information through their SDKs, such as your mobile advertising identifier, IP address, and device information, for the purpose of serving you with “personalized” ads (ads that they think are more relevant to you) and measuring your response to those ads.

Unfortunately, this is common and standard with free VPNs, as they share personalized information about your personal preferences. This helps tech companies like google build a profile of you so they can tailor future advertisements and make profits off you.

There are some inconsistencies between the promise of keeping you anonymous and the information they do log. Given that Hotspot Shield is based in the US and their intrusive logging information, we recommend against Hotspot Shield for users that want complete anonymity. However, if you want a VPN for accessing streaming services with fast speeds or for the purposes of encrypting your data over public WIFI this VPN is for you.

Security and Encryption

How secure is Hotspot Shield?

Hotspot Shield uses AES 256-bitencryption algorithm to hide your data. It’s the same encryption standard adopted by the U.S. government and used by security experts worldwide to protect classified information.

AES-256, which has a key length of 256 bits, supports the largest bit size and is practically unbreakable by brute force based on current computing power, making it the strongest encryption standard.

256-bit keys means 2^256 or 1.1 x 10^77 possible combinations. That’s 115,​792,​089,​237,​316,​195,​423,​570,​985,​008,​687,​907,​853,​269,​984,​665,​640,​560,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000 combinations! A brute-force attack on a 256-bit keyspace is simply infeasible, even if all the world’s most powerful supercomputers ran for as long as the universe has existed so far, billions and billions of times over.

Protocols

Hotspot Shield uses its proprietary Catapult Hydra

Catapult Hydra is a proprietary protocol developed by AnchorFree and it is used to power Hotspot Shield and the majority of large cybersecurity companies that offer VPN services from within their apps, such as McAfee, BitDefender, Cheetah Mobile, and many others.
Catapult Hydra uses different algorithms to establish the VPN tunnel, perform authentication, establish client connections and exchange the payload data inside the tunnel. This results in significant performance advantages.

Hotspot Shield does not offer any other protocols not even the industry leading OpenVPN and that they are confident Catapult Hydra can deliver better performence. Some of their claims are:

  • Connecting to a VPN server is established much faster
  • Less data is transferred inside the tunnel
  • Connection speed for long-distance connections is 2.4x faster than for OpenVPN tunnel between the same client and server
Kill Switch

Hotspot Shield offers a kill switch for Windows and recommend enabling this in the Windows app. The kill switch is an advanced security measure, which prevents your data from leaking to the web. If your VPN connection is ever interrupted, the kill switch will immediately stop traffic from entering or leaving your device. By halting all online activity, the kill switch keeps your personal information from being exposed to your internet service provider (ISP) or other prying eyes.

Unfortunately the kill switch is not available for Android, iOS, or MacOS.

Server Locations

Hotspot Shield has one of the biggest server networks and individual IP Addresses. They offer 3,200+ servers, 3,200 IP Addresses, 82 countries in 35+ cities. They offer great wide spread server coverage across the world.

Hotspot Shield server interface

Geoblocking, How well does it fare in China?

Finding a VPN in China is difficult, China has tough restrictions and government surveillance. Some VPN's are not powerful enough to bypass these restrictions and are blocked from accessing VPN sites and apps. In countries with advanced censorship, infrastructure will run what is DPI (deep packet inspection) and will determine if packets belong to a VPN. The results with Hotspot Shield are mixed as some users report it working in China while others are blocked. Since Hotspot Shield uses different servers to establish a connection depending on the device type some devices may work while others won't.

If you are looking for a reliable VPN to work in China we recommend checking out our most reliable VPNs in China.

Streaming

Hotspot Shield Elite does a great job for streaming and does a great job of bypassing geoblocks while unblocking a few Netflix libraries including US, UK, Japan, and Canada Netflix. I tested many of their server locations and was able to stream Netflix, one of the toughest geoblocking services. However, this does not work for the free version so you will have to upgrade.

Other streaming platforms that I had no problem with:

Torrenting

Hotspot Shield is great for torrenting as all their servers allow P2P filesharing. They will hide your P2P activity from your ISP and mask your IP address. The Kill Switch feature for Windows is nice to have the extra security. Make sure the kill switch is enabled in the VPN app. Torrenting is not available in the free version.

Speed test results

Hotspot Shield has blazing fast speeds, in fact it was able to land among the top tier fastest VPNs. We conducted a speed test, first by testing local speeds from New York and secondly international speeds. We tested 4 international server locations which are UK, Australia, Japan, and Canada.

We capped our speeds at 100 Mbps to compare VPN results and then by calculating a % loss between our baseline and resulting speeds to understand how much the VPN affected our speeds. The starting baseline speed with no VPN for upload is 94.38 Mbps and download is 85.74 Mbps.

One thing to note when I selected a server furthest away from my location the speed slightly decreases. The longer your traffic travels the slower your speeds will be, however, the best VPNs will mitigate the effects and ideally, you won't even notice the difference at all.

Server Location Download Upload Ping
US - New York 87.26 Mbps (7.54% loss) 80.69 Mbps (5.89% loss) 12 ms
UK - London 78.35 Mbps (16.98% loss) 42.18 Mbps (50.80% loss) 66 ms
AU - Sydney 30.49 Mbps (67.69% loss) 13.36 Mbps (84.42% loss) 341 ms
JP - Tokyo 41.42 Mbps (56.11% loss) 23.79 Mbps (72.25% loss) 135 ms
CA - Toronto 72.64 Mbps (23.03% loss) 59.54 Mbps (30.56% loss) 21 ms

Ease of Use and Support

Hotspot Shield makes it very simple and easy to use across all platforms. It is very easy to use their interface which is consistent very similar across platforms while the advanced features are easy to access.

Hotspot Shield server interface
Browser extensions

They do offer browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, however we recommended using a full VPN rather than a browser extension in most cases.

There are also plenty of FAQ's, guides, and troubleshooting on their webiste for additional help. You can refer to their Support.

Customer Support

Hotspot Shield has 24/7 live chat support and email support.

Pricing

Hotspot Shield pricing is straight forward, they offer three different plans. The first option is their free tier, the second is their monthly plan, and third is their yearly plan.

Payment methods

Here are the pament option however they do not offer any forms of cryptocurrency for users that want quickly and easily keep their anonymity.

  • Credit/Debit card
  • Paypal

Verdict

7.7
Privacy & Security
Speed & Reliability
Streaming & Torrenting
Advanced Features
Usability & Support

Hotspot Shield is not for users looking for anonymity however there is a lot they offer with great server coverage internationally and exceptionally well for streaming, torrenting, and gaming.

Bottom Line

Hotspot Shield has blazing fast speeds with some of the best sppeds we tested making it a great choice for 4k streaming, torrenting, and gaming.
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