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Take a look at what to expect with Hotspot Shield
If you’re in the market for a VPN, then you probably already know the harsh truth: Every time you connect to the internet, you are potentially putting your personal information at risk. Wi-Fi hotspots are not as safe as they seem, and even your own home network can be vulnerable if you browse unprotected. That’s why I typically recommend using a VPN service, which can help keep your information protected from prying eyes. One such service is Hotspot Shield, and we’re going to take an in-depth look at it today. Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN choice, but why do customers like it? Let’s talk about Hotspot Shield’s feature set, pricing, and more.
Hotspot Shield is a subscription service that gives you access to VPN servers. When connected, Hotspot Shield encrypts your internet traffic and directs it through a server in a remote location. This is the basic functionality of most VPN services, though Hotspot Shield does have a few other features it can lay claim to.
For starters, Hotspot Shield has a few different encryption protocols available for use, depending on the amount of speed you want and the security you need. Its “Smart VPN” dual tunneling feature also lets you set which apps and websites can go around the VPN when it’s turned on, which is great if you play games online or want to visit the local version of a particular website.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t slack in the area of servers, either. The service boasts “1,800+ servers in 80+ countries,” and has “virtual locations” in a few U.S. cities some other VPN providers don’t support.
The premium subscription tier of Hotspot Shield has a handful of extra perks attached to it, including access to services that you’d otherwise have to pay for separately. You get “identity theft protection” through Identity Guard, “password management” via 1Password, and the ability to block spam calls on your phone with Robo Shield.
Before we get too deep into this section, there’s an obligatory warning that must be issued regarding streaming video services and VPN services. Oftentimes, services like Netflix only have permission to stream TV shows and movies to certain regions of the world. By using a VPN, you can get around this restriction. For obvious reasons, these streaming video services don’t like that. It is more likely than not a terms of service violation to stream something like Netflix from other areas. If you do it, you run the risk of such a service taking action on your account.
With that behind us now, Hotspot Shield isn’t shy about letting customers know it supports not just Netflix, but also Hulu, YouTube, and other streaming media platforms. If you connect to a server in a supported region, you’ll likely be able to watch what you want without hitting any brick walls. Not only that, but if your ISP happens to be throttling streaming video traffic for whatever reason, Hotspot Shield will encrypt it and make it tougher to recognize, which should allow you to stream without interruptions.
If there is a bugaboo with Hotspot Shield — a real reason to be concerned about using it — it has to do with the area of privacy. And that’s pretty important, right? If you’re using a VPN, it’s probably because you want to use the internet as securely and as privately as possible. If a VPN gives you doubts in that department, that is not a good thing.
Fortunately, it appears Hotspot Shield does not “log or record online activities that you conduct over a VPN connection in any way that can be tied back to you.” That information isn’t explicitly stated on the Hotspot Shield website, and instead had to be tracked down on the website of the product’s parent company, Aura, but it’s there.
On the flip side, however, Hotspot Shield has had some privacy missteps in the past. For example, the privacy group CDT filed a complaint with the FTC claiming that Hotspot Shield “monitors information about users’ browsing habits while the VPN is in use.” That was back in 2017, though, and there have been no reports of any action taken by the FTC against Hotspot Shield in the years since.
Lastly, it’s tough to pin down where exactly Hotspot Shield is headquartered. We do know that Hotspot Shield’s parent company, Aura, is located in the United States. So are many of its subsidiaries. In theory, this could make using Hotspot Shield a little riskier, because the U.S. government is one of many that require certain kinds of record-keeping — created records that could later be subpoenaed by the government.
A good VPN service should keep you protected regardless of the device you’re using. After all, there will come a time when you need to step away from your laptop and venture outdoors. Wouldn’t it be nice if your smartphone, for instance, had the same VPN access as your computer at home?
Hotspot Shield has apps available for your PCs, including those running Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. On top of that, a few mobile apps exist too on iOS and Android. A Google Chrome extension exists to apply VPN protection to Google’s web browser only. And several flavors of Smart TVs and routers can also make use of Hotspot Shield to both encrypt and anonymize your internet usage.
Hotspot Shield lets you connect up to five devices at the same time. This limitation probably won’t be an issue if you’re a single user — after all, you may not need to keep all of those gadgets connected all at once. If you need to add more devices, however, Hotspot Shield does let you by offering a Premium Family tier of its service. We’ll get into that next.
Hotspot Shield, when considering all that you get with a subscription, is fairly affordable and comparable to other VPN services out there.
And what’s that? There’s even a free tier? Yes, Hotspot Shield does have a free tier, but it’s extremely limited. If you opt for the free subscription, then Hotspot Shield will limit the amount of data you can transmit and the speed you connect at. Still, free is free! If you need a VPN in a pinch, Hotspot Shield may not cost you anything at all.
For most users, though, a paid plan will be a better fit. If you plan on using your VPN pretty frequently, you’ll want to take look at Hotspot Shield’s two tiers of paid plans. One is plain old “Premium,” which seems to be built for single users. This can be had for $12.99 per month or $95.88 per year. The latter equates to a monthly rate of around $7.99 per month.
The “Premium Family” subscription, meanwhile, costs $19.99 per month or $143.88 per year. This steps up the total number of simultaneous devices you can connect with — sort of. The cap per user is still five, but a family plan gives your household up to five users on the account, meaning your total household coverage could reach 25 devices.
It is worth noting, however, that Premium Family does not include access to Identity Guard, 1Password, and Robo Shield. These perks are for the individual version of the Premium tier only, according to Hotspot Shield’s website.
Deals on VPN services pop up on a fairly regular basis, which means there could be an opportunity for you to save even more on a subscription to Hotspot Shield somewhere down the line. At the present, there doesn’t appear to be a deal active. Rest assured, though, that we’ll be on the lookout should any new deals be announced. When that happens, we’ll update this page accordingly.
There is some good news to report on this front and some bad news. First, the bad news: Hotspot Shield does not have a free trial. You won’t be able to test the service’s top tier out without any charge, though Hotspot Shield does offer a 45-day money-back guarantee should you subscribe and then later decide the service isn’t for you.
Now the good news: Hotspot Shield offers a tier of service that is totally free. This can give you a taste of what the service has to offer, and will enable you to play with the Hotspot Shield apps for a while and see if they jive with you. Is Hotspot Shield’s free service on par with the paid offering? Absolutely not. It caps your connection speeds, only lets you connect to one server in the U.S., and limits you to 500 MB of data transfer per day. Still, this free version is something a lot of other VPN providers don’t provide at all, so kudos to Hotspot Shield for doing it.
Some VPN services require you to ink a contract before you can use the service. This obviously puts you in a bit of a predicament should you decide to cancel. If you sign a contract, you’ll either be stuck paying for the service for the contract’s duration, or you’ll be asked to pay a stiff penalty to get out of it. Neither option is all that enticing.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t require you to sign a contract of any kind. You are free to sign up for the service on a month-to-month basis, or you can prepay for a year and get the service at a discount. There is also a 45-day money-back guarantee, as mentioned earlier, so you have options early on if you decide you’d rather use a different service.
There are some VPN services out there that’ll make you jump through hoops to cancel your plan. They might hide the cancellation screen on the website, for instance. Some may even force you to call a phone number and talk to a real person in order to cancel.
Hotspot Shield makes the act of canceling pretty darn easy. All you have to do is visit the Hotspot Shield website, click over to the “Account info” section, and then click “Cancel plan” under the “Membership” heading. Hotspot Shield will ask you why you are canceling but otherwise won’t do much else to stand in your way.
Whether you should get Hotspot Shield or not will come down to your own personal use case — and how much you value privacy. On the one hand, Hotspot Shield offers quite a lot of value for a service that costs pretty much the same price as its competitors. On the other hand, though, you may not feel all that comfortable using it if you worry about your browsing habits being shared with or viewed by others. The decision ultimately rests with you — but if you’re looking for further guidance, you could always read our complete Hotspot Shield review!