Hotspot Shield VPN Review 2023: Features, Pros & Cons

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Hotspot Shield VPN Review 2023: Features, Pros & Cons

Hotspot Shield VPN Review 2023: Features, Pros & Cons
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Hotspot Shield’s speed-oriented features may not be enough to overcome its lack of testing and questionable data logs. Read more in our full review below.
Hotspot Shield markets itself as the “world’s fastest VPN.” While it provides good speed and performance, it lacks a clear no-logs policy—a key security feature one expects from a VPN.
Hotspot Shield’s contradictory data logging practices make it hard to recommend for users who prioritize security above all else.
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It appears Hotspot Shield no longer offers its free version and has a 7-day free trial instead. Hotspot Shield’s free VPN had limited features, compared to its premium subscription, but it was free of charge and unlimited to use. When I went to download the free version to test for this review, I was prompted to enter payment information and start a free 7-day trial. After the free trial, I’d be charged $12.99/month. It was stated that I could cancel the subscription anytime and take advantage of their 45-day money-back guarantee.
Figure A
Offering a free trial instead of an unlimited free VPN service is normal. In fact, VPN providers like Surfshark and CyberGhost VPN don’t have a free VPN but instead offer a 7-day and a 24-hour free trial for their premium VPNs.
However, it’s strange that Hotspot Shield still advertises having a free VPN service despite it actually being a free trial. Also, they haven’t updated their promotional materials to reflect this, as they continue to have testimonials stating they have a free VPN.
In fairness to Hotspot Shield, it may just be that they haven’t gotten around to updating their website and its corresponding information. But this is a cause for concern, as transparency is one of the things I look for in a VPN.
For those interested in trialing Hotspot Shield, you can do so—free of charge—for seven days.
Outside of their free trial, Hotspot Shield offers two plans: a monthly and an annual subscription. I wish Hotspot Shield offered more plan options, as other VPNs usually have a monthly, yearly and a two- or three-year subscription.
Hotspot Shield’s yearly plan of $7.99 per month is expensive, with competitors usually offering an annual plan for around $4-$6 a month. If you want a VPN with a feature-packed annual subscription, NordVPN’s Plus annual plan at $5.49 is one of the best.
Hotspot Shield’s monthly plan for $12.99 per month is also a bit pricey but is on par with other VPNs’ similar monthly subscription. For those looking for a more affordable monthly VPN plan, Proton VPN’s Plus monthly subscription at $9.99 is a good pick.
Fortunately, Hotspot offers a 45-day money-back guarantee for both plans that will allow you to refund your payment if you feel Hotspot Shield VPN isn’t a good fit.
Of Hotspot Shield’s plans, I recommend going for the 7-day free trial or the more affordable yearly plan.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t come with the OpenVPN security protocol—widely viewed as the most secure VPN protocol. Instead, it comes with the speed-oriented WireGuard and IKEv2 (IPsec) protocols and its very own Hydra protocol that’s also built for speed.
Not having OpenVPN is a miss given its high level of security. It would’ve also given users a protocol for tasks that require more security and not just speed. For encryption, Hotspot Shield has the gold-standard AES-265 encryption.
It also comes with protection against DNS leaks but this isn’t turned on by default—an odd choice given that other VPNs have this turned on out of the box. It’s also not user-friendly; a novice user may accidentally leak their data if they fail to spot the toggle. In my opinion, Hotspot Shield should have their DNS leak protection turned on upon setup.
Hotspot Shield claims to be a no-logs VPN, and they produce an annual Transparency Report to support the claim. However, it appears the most recent report was published in 2019.
In addition, back in 2017, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) filed a complaint against the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Hotspot Shield’s Free version logged user data, like incoming and outgoing IP addresses and connection logs, and sold it to advertisers despite its claims of being a no-logs VPN. Hotspot has changed ownership since and reiterated in a 2022 privacy notice that it “does not record your VPN browsing activities in any way that can be associated back to you.”
In the same notice, however, Hotspot Shield makes it clear that it collects IP addresses to protect against fraud and derive non-identifiable items such as geographic location and information about the user’s internet service provider. The VPN says that this is done to provide a better user experience.
While I appreciate Hotspot’s transparency with their data collection, their no-logs policy is contradicted by its recording of IP addresses.
If you’re looking for a VPN with a cleaner no-logs policy backed by numerous third-party audits, ExpressVPN and NordVPN may be better for you.
While Hotspot Shield can be considered safe, it has areas of concern within its security features and logging practices.
Hotspot Shield’s three key features prioritize speed and performance.
Hotspot Shield claims to be the “world’s” fastest VPN,” aligning a lot of its features towards speed. One of these features is its speed test that’s built right within the VPN’s main dashboard.
Figure B
With the speed test tool, we get the standard download and upload speed readings, ping and packet loss data. It also provides users a history of speed tests already performed.
If you’re the type of user who values speed, this is a great tool that will let you periodically check your connection’s performance. It’s also going to be useful if you regularly experience spotty internet connection and want a built-in tool to monitor speed.
Hotspot Shield comes with two split tunneling features: split tunneling apps and split tunneling websites. This allows users to pick which apps or services they want to route via a protected VPN connection and which ones they want to run through their regular ISP.
Figure C
In my testing, Hotspot Shield’s split tunneling for apps worked as advertised; it was able to split my VPN connection based on my selected apps. Unfortunately, split tunneling for websites didn’t work as well; I recorded DNS leaks on the website I had running through the VPN.
If you plan on using Hotspot Shield’s split tunneling feature, my testing showed that its split tunneling for apps is the more secure option. This can be beneficial for users who want to save on bandwidth or want more speed for tasks that don’t necessarily need VPN protection.
Figure D
Hotspot Shield also allows for 10 simultaneous device connections, letting users protect multiple devices through a secured VPN connection. This is a subtle but important feature which will benefit users who use multiple laptops, computers, tablets or smartphones.
Having 10 allowed connections is plenty, considering other VPNs normally provide only 6-8 connections. For example, NordVPN and CyberGhost VPN only allow six and seven simultaneous device connections, respectively.
Yes, Hotspot Shield VPN is a fast VPN, however, it wasn’t the fastest-performing VPN I’ve ever tested.
My testing consisted of doing work in Google Workspace apps, having multiple tabs open for research, attending online video meetings and streaming 1080p YouTube videos. During my use, web pages loaded quickly and I didn’t experience any slowdowns with the VPN running.
For speed tests, Hotspot Shield performed really well for downloads as it recorded only a 19.45% drop in speed compared to my ISP. If your type of workflow involves downloading a ton of big files, Hotspot Shield can be a good pick.
Its upload speed was less impressive at a much higher 81.09% drop in speed. In practice, though, I had no trouble uploading video files into Google Drive.
When I first tested for DNS leaks, one leak appeared but I realized the IP leak protection was off. Once turned on, Hotspot Shield recorded zero DNS leaks after multiple tests.
This is an area for improvement for Hotspot Shield as DNS leak protection should ideally be running upon setup, especially for less tech-savvy users who might blindly trust the VPN to not leak their data.
For its server suite, Hotspot Shield provides 3,200+ servers from around 85 countries and 112 locations. Its server network falls in the middle ground compared to other VPNs, with the average VPN having around 3,000 to 4,000 servers across more than 60 countries. However, Hotspot Shield’s server network allows you to unblock a good amount of geo-restricted content.
If you’re looking for a larger server suite, CyberGhost VPN is a good choice with its more than 10,000 servers across 100 countries.
Hotspot Shield has specialized streaming and gaming servers, but it only provides specialized server locations within the United States and the United Kingdom. If you’re not in any of these places, it might be better to connect to a server location closer to you instead.
I wish that it also included specialized servers for security or torrenting to provide even more options to users, but having these streaming and gaming servers are welcome inclusions to Hotspot Shield VPN’s server suite.
Figure E
I primarily used Hotspot Shield’s Windows desktop application on my laptop for this review. In terms of in-app experience, Hotspot Shield’s desktop app is well-designed but is a bit unintuitive. Its server list doesn’t show which locations or servers are specialized for streaming or gaming. To get to those servers, you have to go through some trial and error to find out that they can be found in either the US or UK locations.
In addition, having the “Prevent IP Leak” button turned off by default should also be fixed.
I liked its minimalist design and found its one-click on/off switch reliable.
While Hotspot Shield offers fast performance, 10 simultaneous device connections and a healthy server network, it lacks requisite security features to be recommended as a top-tier VPN.
Specifically, its questionable data logging prevents it from being a good choice for those looking for added security.
I recommend Hotspot Shield if you’re only focused on speed and want to occasionally change your virtual location through its server list. Its built-in speed test may also be useful for those who want to quickly monitor their internet connection within the app itself.
If after this review you feel Hotspot Shield VPN isn’t for you, we’ve listed three strong alternatives that could be a better fit.
If security is your top concern, NordVPN should be on top of your list. It offers a strong portfolio of third-party testing, a variety of security-focused features and a healthy server network. It also offers fast performance and a well-designed desktop application.
We rated NordVPN a 4.7 out of 5 stars in our full review. To learn more, read our NordVPN review here.
For users looking for an unlimited free VPN, ProtonVPN is one of the best. Its free version provides users with unlimited data and zero ads. Through its free tier, you get access to servers from five countries on one device. It also operates on data-friendly Swiss laws that provide an additional layer of security for your data.
We rated ProtonVPN 4.0 out of 5 stars in our full review. To learn more, read our ProtonVPN review here.
If you want a no-nonsense VPN experience, you should give ExpressVPN a try. It has an intuitive and modern-looking desktop application that offers a pleasant user experience. On top of that, ExpressVPN provides great speed and performance and servers spread across 105 countries.
We rated ExpressVPN 4.4 out of 5 stars in our full review. To learn more, read our ExpressVPN review here.
My review of Hotspot Shield involved a comprehensive analysis of its key features and real-world performance. I had hands-on experience with Hotspot Shield through a one-month Premium plan on my Windows laptop.
To test for download and upload speeds, I used Ookla’s public Speedtest. For DNS leak protection, I ran Hotspot Shield multiple times (with different servers) using DNSLeakTest.
I scored Hotspot Shield on various attributes, including its security features and price, based on an internal algorithm to get a rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars. I looked at Hotspot Shield both on its own and in relation to other VPNs in the market.
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Hotspot Shield VPN Review 2023: Features, Pros & Cons
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