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Hotspot Shield is a VPN service that’s all about keeping you protected online. Anytime you’re connected to the internet via a public network, your data is at risk. Hotspot Shield — like most VPN service providers — enables you to encrypt your internet traffic so your private information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Today, I’m going to be reviewing Hotspot Shield in great depth, looking at what’s good about the service and what’s bad before rendering a final verdict. Whether you subscribe or not is ultimately up to you, but hopefully, this guide provides you with the tools you need to make an informed decision.
When it comes to the basic job of a VPN service — encrypt and reroute internet traffic through a remote server — Hotspot Shield nails it. I found it easy to open the app, select any server I desired, and immediately begin browsing anonymously and securely. Without much fuss, I could connect fast and forget about my VPN.
If you need a specific server in a specific region for a task, Hotspot Shield should have you covered there, too. I’m currently located in Mexico, which means that I’m typically redirected to the Latin American versions of websites. While testing Hotspot Shield, I chose to connect to the service’s Houston, Texas server and was once again getting the U.S. version of my beloved IGN.com. That’s the power of VPN location-shifting, and Hotspot Shield’s strong selection of alternate locations allowed me to make the most of this geographic aspect of the VPN experience.
And yes, you can indeed watch the U.S. catalogs for many video streaming services using Hotspot Shield. With the VPN activated, I was able to use Netflix and Hulu without issue. Video streaming services can be pretty vigilant about blocking VPN access, so you may have to try one or two before you’re good to go. I didn’t have any problems using my favorite streaming services on the Houston server, so you may want to try that one if you end up subscribing to Hotspot Shield. My testing largely backed up Hotspot Shield’s claims of working seamlessly with major streaming services.
Hotspot Shield has a number of pretty useful features — though, on a more disappointing note, some of these features are present in the desktop app but aren’t available in the mobile apps. Using the Windows app, I was delighted to find a speed test built right into Hotspot Shield. In the settings menu, you’ll find “Smart VPN” (which lets you bypass the VPN for certain websites and apps — a feature more often called “dual tunneling”), and a number of different security protocols you can toggle on and off.
Hotspot Shield’s Premium tier also comes with a few extras that could save you some money if you already pay for similar products. With a subscription, you also get access to 1Password, a password manager that keeps tabs on all your website login details; and Robo Guard, a service that blocks spam calls on your phone. These two services are bundled with Hotspot Shield at no additional cost, and they could be worth considering when you compare Hotspot Shield’s offering to what its competitors have on tap.
It’s not uncommon these days to see VPN service providers touting server counts in the thousands. Hotspot Shield is not alone in that department, as it claims to have “1,800+ servers in 80+ countries” — a fairly large footprint, though by no means the largest in the business.
One thing that really impressed me about Hotspot Shield’s servers, however, was just how many there were in the United States. Many VPN services have U.S. servers in the largest cities, but that typically leaves them with a count of about five or six. Hotspot Shield has 25 “virtual locations” in all, including a bunch of cities other VPN services don’t bother with. If you wanted to, for example, subscribe to YouTube TV and connect to the Philadelphia server, you could get Philadelphia TV stations pretty easily. It’s something Hotspot Shield makes possible that most competing services don’t, and it’s a particularly big deal if you’re planning to use your VPN primarily to shift your location.
I also wanted to point out Hotspot Shield’s more task-oriented server options, too. You can connect to a server specifically for streaming movies, or one that is more suited to online gaming. I’ll get into how using that went in the next section.
In my time reviewing Hotspot Shield, I found it relatively easy to navigate. I could open the app on my chosen platform, pick a server, and then set the app aside and continue about my business. When I wanted something more than a “set it and forget it” experience, Hotspot Shield had me covered there, too: There were plenty of settings and features to explore, and the Windows app made configuring those a simple task.
However, I noticed some discrepancies between the Hotspot Shield apps on the different platforms I used in my testing process. On mobile, Hotspot Shield offers a lesser experience than the one I enjoyed so much on my desktop computer. Just about all of the bells and whistles are missing from the mobile app, leaving just a list of servers to choose from and… well, that’s it. Hotspot Shield’s mobile apps could really use some love, as it seems obvious they weren’t a priority.
With that said, all of the apps — regardless of platform — are laid out in a way that makes sense. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding the server you want, and you shouldn’t encounter any obstacles when turning a particular feature on or off. All of the apps are pretty fast, too — there are no performance issues to mention, nor did I experience any crashes or errors during my time using the product.
I have to subtract some points for the sparse mobile apps, though. It’s a tiny bit baffling that Hotspot Shield would offer features on one platform and not have them on another. That makes the wider experience very inconsistent as a result.
The three pillars of a good VPN service are security, privacy, and speed. In one of these areas, sadly, Hotspot Shield stumbles a little more than it does elsewhere.
As far as security is concerned, Hotspot Shield seems to take this aspect of its product seriously. There are numerous servers to choose from in a plethora of regions around the world. There are several VPN protocols you can use for the task at hand. Hotspot Shield even has a “kill switch” feature to block internet traffic when the VPN disconnects, and an “auto-protect” feature that automatically turns the VPN on when you connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Both are welcome perks, and the latter is particularly impressive: While some other competitors (like VyprVPN) have similar auto-connect features, it’s far from a given.
Privacy, though? This is a spot that has us a little more concerned than we usually are with most VPN services. The location of Hotspot Shield’s headquarters is sort of ambiguous, though it seems most of the company can be traced to a parent group called Aura, which is largely based in the United States. Because the U.S. government mandates some forms of reporting, can subpoena records, and is known to share data with allies, that could be problematic — especially if you’re a U.S. citizen or resident. On top of that, some have called out Hotspot Shield in the past for not being totally forthright about what it does with user data. Aura claims that no logs are kept and that now recorded data that can be traced back to specific users. Some have taken Hotspot Shield to task, though, for (allegedly) monitoring what users are doing with its VPN.
On the speed front, at least, Hotspot Shield rebounds a little bit. I didn’t encounter any noticeable differences in speed when browsing the web, streaming video, and downloading files.
Hotspot Shield has a specific server you can connect to for streaming, though for what it’s worth, I honestly couldn’t see a difference between using that versus another server.
Hotspot Shield also has a server dedicated to gaming, which is unusual. I generally don’t recommend VPNs for online gaming, because even the fastest ones add at least a little lag to your gaming experience. Billing a server as being dedicated to gaming was a bold move for Hotspot Shield, so I was eager to try it.
Unfortunately, I found Hotspot Shield’s gaming server pretty underwhelming. Without a VPN, I was playing Rocket League with a ping of 60. With Hotspot Shield turned on and connected to the gaming VPN server, that shot up to 270 — rendering my game totally unplayable. To be clear, this isn’t unusual, and I’d expect this from pretty much any VPN service. Then again, most VPN services don’t go out of their way to claim that they can handle online gaming. Perhaps Hotspot Shield should be a bit more humble.
Because of how similarly most VPN services are priced, features really become a big part of the equation. It’s not enough to just do the typical VPN stuff — a service has to earn that money by going a bit above and beyond. In that regard, I think Hotspot Shield does an admirable job.
For a single user, the Premium tier costs $12.99 month-to-month or $95.88 for an entire year. That gives you access to Hotspot Shield on five simultaneous devices, plus lets you use 1Password and Robo Guard, too. The Premium Family tier lets you add more devices at once for $19.99 month-to-month or $143.88 per year, but that option doesn’t include 1Password and Robo Guard.
You can try Hotspot Shield out using its Basic free tier, though you should be warned: that service caps your speeds and limits you to a small amount of data transfer per month. If you’re interested in Hotspot Shield, you’re really better off subscribing to one of the paid Hotspot Shield subscription plans and exercising the service’s 45-day money-back guarantee if you’re unhappy.
It’s tough to look at Hotspot Shield as just a VPN service, because really, it’s a whole security package. The Premium tier comes bundled with 1Password and Robo Guard, and that is a pretty good deal for the price you’re paying. Add the large server count and those plentiful “virtual locations” in the U.S. and you end up with a pretty solid offering.
Hotspot Shield is fast, feature-packed, and all-around impressive. On a technical level, its inconsistent experience across platforms is its only major flaw — but, despite Hotspot Shield’s generally impressive performance in my tests, the service’s brush with privacy watchdogs casts a shadow over its reputation in the privacy department.
If you don’t give a hoot about that and just want a solid VPN with exceptional location-shifting abilities and a great track record of working with major streaming services, then Hotspot Shield is a fine choice. If you care deeply about your browsing habits staying truly private, though, you might want to look elsewhere.