AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield comes in two versions: a free, ad-sponsored version; and an upgraded, ad-free premium version with full access to Hotspot Shield’s locations and features, and no limitations on data traffic. With over 2,500 P2P-optimized servers spread across 59 countries (on iOS at least, other platforms currently have access to 27 servers), Hotspot Shield provides safe and anonymous access to a wide array of geo-restricted websites and platforms, including Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t use any standard VPN protocols such as OpenVPN, IKEv2, etc. Instead, it guarantees privacy with its proprietary Catapult Hydra technology that focuses on superior performance and, according to the company, is used by many major cybersecurity firms that offer VPN services, like Bitdefender and McAfee, as well as carriers like Telefonica.
It's based on Transport Layer Security 1.2 (TLS), and employs AES-128 encryption, along with 2048-bit RSA certificates for server authentication. It also uses Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (EDCHE) for exchanging keys, generating new ones for each session.
While Hotspot Shield promises not to collect any information that can be used to identify you, such as IP addresses or online activities, it states that the company and its service providers do collect some information before you connect to the VPN. This includes device-specific data like unique mobile ID, operating system, hardware model, language, and network information.
The company also states it may use your IP address to obtain your approximate city-level location for analytics and service improvement, as well as for marketing attribution purposes. This cannot directly tie you to any specific online activities.
Hotspot Shield's Features
Some of the provider’s apps come with a kill switch, which terminates the internet access in case your VPN connection is interrupted, keeping your sensitive information safe from malicious outsiders.
The Windows client comes with an IP leak protection feature, including the option to automatically connect to Hotspot Shield when accessing unsafe Wi-Fi hotspots, safe hotspots, or other networks.
The Android client has an option to automatically connect to the most optimal server for your device. Additionally, it can be set to automatically protect specific apps whenever they connect to the internet. The app also has a malware scanning tool, as well as a battery life extension option.
The iOS client doesn’t have the fastest server connection feature or any autoconnect options. The only perk you get is the Insecure connections feature that alerts you if you’re attempting to connect to an insecure network. Neither the Android nor iOS clients have an integrated kill switch.
Hotspot Shield supports simultaneous connection on up to five devices, although not on routers.
Speed and Performance
Upon testing, Hotspot Shield’s performance proved exceptional. The download speeds were impressive and consistent, including with many servers far away from the device’s current location.
Hotspot Shield's pricing
Hotspot Shield has four pricing plans. The most expensive one is the one-month option at $12.99. It is followed by the six-month subscription that costs $8.99 per month and the one-year plan at $5.99 per month. The option that will get you the most for your money is the three-year subscription plan, billed at only $3.49 monthly.
All options come with a 45-day money-back guarantee, which is more than what other VPN providers offer and is more than enough to check out the service. You can also take advantage of the seven-day free trial during which you can use all the perks of the Premium subscription. The provider accepts two payment options - credit cards and PayPal.
Torrents and VOD
Hotspot Shield fully supports limitless torrenting on all its P2P-optimized servers. Not only that, but the website also has a few guides to get you all set for safe torrenting under VPN protection.
It can also be used to unblock services that are unavailable at certain locations. For instance, you can use it to access the popular streaming platform Netflix from anywhere in the world. Hotspot Shield also unblocks content on Spotify, Hulu, and more, with support for even more streaming services coming soon.
This VPN service doesn’t have a large list of supported platforms. It has clients for Windows, Windows Phone, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
However, one of the major disadvantages is its lack of router support. So if you were hoping to increase the number of devices used simultaneously with VPN by setting it up on your router, you will be disappointed. The same goes for other platforms. Due to the use of the Catapult Hydra technology instead of standard protocols like OpenVPN, you can only use the service with Hotspot Shield’s own clients.
That said, the installation and use of the clients are extremely user-friendly. The Windows client can be downloaded directly from the website, whereas the Mac client, mobile apps, and browser extensions can be installed from their respective stores.
More on Web Security
In addition to having a useful Help section inside the Windows and Android apps, Hotspot Shield’s website has a large connection of tutorials and troubleshooting articles in its Support Center. If that doesn’t provide an answer to your questions, you can contact human support that is theoretically available 24/7 via chat for Premium users, although this option is not always visible due to agents’ non-availability. Contacting the support can also be done by filling a support ticket.
Ease of Use
All of the clients are very intuitive and easy to use. Connecting to a server is done in just a few clicks and within several seconds. There are multiple ways of doing this, including from a list. The menu and the settings are simple and don’t have many options, but they do cover the essentials.
Should I buy Hotspot Shield?
One of the fastest VPNs out there, Hotspot Shield is all about performance. Surprising speeds can be encountered when connecting to most servers, including the rather distant ones, with reliable connectivity and support for a wide range of geo-restricted services and P2P file-sharing.
And while there is certainly some logging, the website gives multiple assurances that it will not store or share information that can be used to connect your online activities with your identity, including the parent company’s transparency report.
Although it doesn’t have clients for many platforms or routers, the existing ones are very user-friendly and will cause no problems, not even for the VPN beginners. If you encounter any, the website’s help section addresses most problems and the human support team can help you out with the rest. Ultimately, if raw speed is your top priority, Hotspot Shield is an excellent choice of VPN.