Hotspot Shield is about 2.4 times faster than most VPNs.
It is also secure. It uses the 256-bit encryption and has additional Cybersuite security features. These include a Robo Shield malware and ivirus for Windows and Mac, Identity Guard/Spam Call Blocker, and 1Password.
There’s a free version of HSS, but it’s limited: You get only 1 servers and your speed can’t exceed 2Mbps. Once you have used 500MB of data in a day, the VPN stops working. Also, ads show up very often; I find this very annoying.
The premium version allows speeds of up to 1Gbps. It operates 1,800 servers in 80 countries. Plus, you can connect up to 5 simultaneous devices with one license. The premium family plan is far more generous and permits 25 simultaneous connections.
This VPN gives you a lot of flexibility. It supports Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Linux, Chrome, Firefox browsers, routers, and other devices.
You can use the VPN on Asuswrt/Merlin, GL.iNet, DD-WRT, and FreshTomato routers. The router app uses the OpenVPN TCP protocol instead of the fast-paced Hydra protocol.
Hotspot Shield is one of the most downloaded VPN apps worldwide. I will shed light on its controversial logging policy and much more, including how fast the 24/7 support team responds.
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Short on Time? Here Are My Key Findings
- Supported on many devices, including Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Chrome, Firefox, routers, and more.
- Operates 1,800 servers in 80 countries and 35+ cities. It has servers in all continents and runs 115+ virtual servers.
- HSS is secure. It uses a proprietary Hydra protocol with military-grade encryption and also IPSec’s IKEv2 protocol. A kill switch is available on Windows, Android, and macOS apps, although it is not available on the iOS app. A Cybersuite feature also offers anti-malware and virus protection for Windows and Mac.
- The logs policy is not very transparent. It has a ‘zero user-log policy’ and deletes your IP address after each session. The policy remains ambiguous because it can collect information like the names of websites you visit. Aura has added more transparency to the policy.
- Permits multiple device connections. The free account allows 1 device, Premium permits 5 devices, and Premium Family allows up to 25 simultaneous devices.
- Has a free version, Premium, and Premium Family plans. Paying for Premium monthly costs $12.99, and Premium Family charges $19.99. It gets cheaper if you buy a full-year bundle in one go, giving you rates as low as $2.99/month.
- A good variety of payment methods. You can purchase your plan using a debit/credit card, PayPal, or Google Pay.
- Generous money-back guarantee period. Plans canceled within 45 days after purchase qualify for refunds.
- It is easy to use. The installation process is self-explanatory and doesn’t need complex configurations to set up.
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Hotspot Shield VPN Features — Updated in August 2022
Speeds — Fast and Consistent on Most Servers
Hotspot Shield claims to be the world's fastest VPN on its website. Out of all the VPNs I have tested, none has matched the speeds I observed.
Many factors can affect a VPN’s performance, including the physical distance from the server and the user/server ratio. In this context, the distance was not a huge factor because servers in Canada — which is 12, 992 km away — registered only 2% speed loss. The server in China lost 76% though it is only 9,580 km from Kenya.
I used Ookla’s SpeedTest app to take speed readings on my home connection without the VPN.
I randomly selected 12 servers and did more speed tests.
||Distance From Nairobi/Kenya (Kilometers)
||Download Speed (Mbps)
||Upload Speed (Mbps)
||Ping Rate (ms)
||Download Speed Loss
|New York (US)
The results above show that speeds were lightning-fast in all continents — though not in all countries. Most servers registered less than 10% speed loss.
Latency/ping rate, however, increased on all servers. You are likely to experience delays in server response time even though the speed is fast.
The servers that showed exemplary performances, speed-wise, were the Canadian and Indian servers. They only reduced my speed by 2–4%. The UK, Switzerland, New York, South Africa, and Israel servers reduced my speed by 6−10%. Australian servers also fared well, cutting off only 12%.
I tested additional US servers, namely Seattle, Jersey, and Dallas, which recorded minimal speed loss of between 7–14%.
The worst performing servers were Japan, China, Singapore, and Germany. Note that 3 out of these 4 low-performing servers are within the East Asia region. India and Australia, however, performed well, so I wouldn’t generalize and say all Asia Pacific servers are slow.
My results were consistent when I used other speedometers like TestMy and M-Lab.
The superfast closed-source Catapult Hydra protocol used in Hotspot Shield dominates most tunneling protocols, including the open-source WireGuard protocol used by other VPNs to boost speeds.
If your connection is slow, the Hydra protocol won’t slow it down further like other VPNs. It uses a data transfer mechanism that doubles your download speeds and is roughly 2.4 times faster than protocols like OpenVPN.
When I tested the IKEv2 protocol, I noticed my speeds were 30−40% slower than the Hydra protocol.
Hotspot Shield’s unmatched speed makes it ideal for VOIP communications or any online activity that requires large bandwidth transmission.
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Server Network — Has Good Coverage and is Steady
Hotspot Shield has 1,800 servers in 80 countries and 35+ cities. Because there are so many servers, you won’t experience any overcrowding — during my tests, I got consistent speeds on most of them.
On the free app, you can only use 1 server. The app lists Premium servers, but I couldn't use them until I upgraded. I do not like how the free version is limited in terms of server options because I cannot find a close-by server that guarantees me the fastest speeds.
Besides the servers in the Americas, Europe, and Australia, Hotspot’s coverage extends to the Middle East, the Asia Pacific, and African regions. It has servers in countries where most VPNs don’t operate, like China, India, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Egypt, Israel, and Kenya.
Some of the server locations listed on Hotspot Shield’s website are exclusive to specific devices and may not show on yours. This can limit you to using a single device if the VPN doesn’t support the server you want to use on your other devices. For example, I did not see the Kenyan server on my Windows 10 app and, therefore, had to install the VPN on my android phone to use the server.
HSS assigns you 1 server in most countries, without any extra city-based servers. You can’t make your location appear as if you reside within any of the cities in these countries.
Multiple servers are only available in a few countries like the US, which has 20+ servers in states or cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, and Seattle. The city servers allow you to spoof your location within the country. Other countries with more than 1 server include Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Spain.
Hotspot Shield automatically selects a server for you based on the location you choose or live in. If, for example, you live in Virginia Beach, it connects you to the US Virginia server. This ensures you get a server with the fastest speeds. It connected me to the South African server after pressing the Connect button. I wasn’t disappointed with this selection because the speeds were incredible.
I would be more impressed if it showed server load data, download/upload speed tests, and ping rates. This helps you to make informed decisions when selecting servers. So far, the data is only displayed once you have connected to a server.
It saves the servers you frequently use under the ‘Quick access’ section. You don’t have to scroll down the long list of servers in your subsequent sessions. I accessed my favorite servers right away each time I wanted to use the VPN.
Changing servers while connected to the VPN takes about 10 seconds. The kill switch will stop the internet connection to your device during this short period and then reconnect you once you are on the new server.
You get more privacy with Hotspot’s dynamic IP addresses because you are assigned an IP address that several other customers are using. The shared IPs made it hard for anyone to identify within the flocks of users.
There are some 115+ virtual servers listed on the app. Thus, the VPN offers you many IP addresses in several countries without operating physical servers there. The risk of losing your data to hackers is also low when you use virtual servers.
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Security — Safe To Use
I consider Hotspot Shield very secure because of the countless security features packed into it.
First, it uses the proprietary Hydra protocol. The protocol has a good reputation because 2 renowned computer security firms — BitDefender and McAfee — use it.
Catapult Hydra is a hybrid of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.2 and OpenSSL commercial-grade protocols. It uses AES 128-bit and 256-bit GCM encryption depending on your device type. These are known to provide maximum protection without compromising much speed during data transmission. To explain this, I’ll get a bit techy in the next line.
The AES encryption has the 2048-bit RSA authentication certificates and the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDHE) for key exchange between clients. So, if someone thinks about decrypting the data you are transmitting through the VPN, the ECDHE’s perfect forward secrecy (PFS) mechanism changes encryption keys after each session to throw them off the radar. Even if the person decrypts one session, they can’t use the same keys for other sessions.
Technically, Hydra’s fast speeds and high levels of guaranteed security eliminate the need for WireGuard tunneling protocol, so HSS does not offer it. The latter is a modern, safe, and fast tunneling protocol.
My only concern is that no third parties have audited the Hydra protocol source code. It raises questions about how the protocol’s security and privacy technologies compare to the other standard industry protocols.
In addition to the in-house Hydra tech, Hotspot Shield also uses IPSec’s IKEv2 protocol. Most VPNs offer this protocol or use it as an alternative to the safe OpenVPN protocol. I advise you to leave the app in its default setting, which automatically selects a suitable protocol for you to avoid small complexities.
The kill switch feature on Windows, macOS, and Android clients reduces the chance of your IP leaking when your connection drops. I experienced firsthand how this works. During my browsing sessions, my device could not access the internet until I was connected to a VPN server and assigned a unique IP address. It is, however, not available on the iOS app.
HSS has not enabled the kill switch on its apps. To turn it on, click Settings, select Advanced, and you will see the Kill Switch option.
Besides the kill switch, the Prevent IP Leak feature also protects your IP from leaking. It further prevents WebRTC and DNS leaks so that your internet service provider does not monitor your activities online.
I went the extra mile and performed leak tests on the HSS. It did not leak my IP and DNS information. It also passed a WebRTC leak test.
Warning: If your internet service provider issues an IPv6 address, the VPN could expose your IP and personal data. Some VPN apps don’t guarantee IPv6 or WebRTC leak protection. Turn off these features on your device or browser.
The Auto-protect feature scans your networks and temporarily stops connections to unsecured WiFi networks that hackers can use to steal your information. It then tunnels your traffic through the VPN to keep you secure from such attacks. I always felt protected because HSS warned me each time my device was near an unrecognized network to avoid the connection or allow the VPN to secure it.
SmartVPN is also a tunneling feature on HSS that allows you to select the apps and websites which should not route through the VPN. To do this, you’ll need to add the domain of the site or the name of the app you want to exclude to the SmartVPN list.
Additional security features on Hotspot Shield include:
A Robo Shield Spam-Call Blocker/Identity Guard for Android and iOS stops the calls you don’t want to receive from people or unknown numbers. After activating it on my Android phone, I could preview callers’ details before accepting or rejecting the calls without any of them knowing I had intentionally declined their call. The feature allows you to report malicious calls to the FTC directly from the app.
1Password stores passwords to the websites you visit and alerts you if one or more of your accounts is vulnerable. I find the feature necessary because I visit many sites within a day that require me to provide or confirm my passwords very often. Using 1Password, I accessed the websites with just one click, thus saving a lot of time. It works on Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and also Chrome browser.
HSS also has an Anti-Malware and virus Protection that works on computers — Windows and Mac — as well as mobile devices. It scans the websites you want to visit for threats and warns you about malware, phishing, and infected sites so that you don’t click or download infected files.
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Privacy — It is a Bit Ambiguous and Lacks Transparency
Hotspot Shield does not guarantee your privacy.
It has been running a shady logs policy in the past years. A background check reveals scandals have rocked the company back and forth.
In 2017, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) complained to the Federal Trade Commission (FDC). AnchorFree Inc. (the company providing Hotspot Shield’s service) was not transparent about its data sharing and traffic redirection activities.
In 2018, cybersecurity researchers found a bug that exposed users’ private information like WiFi names that hackers could use to find their location.
These are too many red flags.
Because it is in the US, Hotspot Shield is under the jurisdiction of the Five Eyes Alliance. This is off-putting because the NSA and other surveillance agencies can ask it to share your data.
Hotspot Shield states that it doesn’t keep any information that can be linked back to you.
After each session, HSS deletes the IP addresses it collects from you. The IPs are obtained in an encrypted form to assist with approximating your geographic location and the servers near you.
I, however, found that Aura can use the IP addresses it collects to send advertisements your way. Even though ads only show on the free app, the clause does not specify whether Aura’s partner sites also use the addresses to profile the paying customers.
I checked for trackers on the HSS Android client using the Exodus privacy tool and found 5 ad trackers. Most apps use trackers to profile you and generate marketing data, so it's not unexpected. However, it is not good for privacy because you have less anonymity when a VPN shares your data with third parties.
Hotspot Shield can also collect information about the domains of websites you visit (without URL). I feel that this is too much invasion of personal privacy, given that the service should offer maximum anonymity.
Besides the above, Hotspot Shield may collect the following information;
- Usage information such as the frequency of use and bandwidth used
- Device information including identifiers, operating systems, browser type, internet service provider, and network information
- Connection timestamps of how much time spent using the apps
- Location information
While Hotspot Shield Elite’s log policy is debatable, using the free version means you are handing your privacy over to Aura to sell.
Aura desperately needs your data as a free user for monetized ads. You can be penalized for using ad-blocking services to stop ads from showing. A clause under its terms of service reads that;
“Aura reserves the right to prevent your access to the service or continued use thereof if you violate this agreement, engage in fraud or copyright infringement, or employ ad-blocking product or other software or mechanism that prevents you from participating in advertising programs, surveys…”
The above statement sounds ridiculous, but it shows how hungry the vendors are for free users’ data.
Hotspot Shield does not have anonymous means of payment like Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency. The question to ask is, what happens to personal details collected when you use your credit/debit card to pay? Let’s hope it isn’t sharing it out as it has done in the past. But anyway, who knows?
Pango previously owned Hotspot Shield Elite alongside other VPNs like Betternet, TouchVPN, and Hexatech. It also created cybersecurity products like Robo Shield, Identity Guard, and 1Password. The products were all taken under Aura during the 2020 acquisition of Pango. Perhaps Aura brings new life to the logging policy, which has been very controversial in the past.
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Simultaneous Device Connections — Between 1 to 25 Devices
Hotspot Shield Elite allows 5 simultaneous device connections. I tested this on my Android smartphone, tablet, and 2 Windows laptops — fell short on 2 devices to see if the 6th would go through as well…wink!
The free version of this app is limited to only 1 device. That’s not helpful because you can’t share connections and switch between devices freely. You’ll have to do all your activities on a single device.
You can make up to 25 simultaneous device connections on the HSS Premium Family plan. It allows 5 member accounts, and each can take 5 simultaneous connections. Of course, this option comes at a higher price.
Device Compatibility — Supported on Most Devices
It is most likely that Hotspot Shield works on your device. The list of supported operating systems (OSs) and devices is exhaustive. Among them are:
- Android 5.0 and higher on phones and tablets
- iOS 11 and higher on devices like iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPod Touch
- macOS X 10.12 and higher on MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Pro, and Mac mini
- Windows 7 and higher on desktops and laptops
- Linux OSs like CentOS, Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, and Linux boxes
- Routers running on FreshTomato, Asuswrt/Asus Merlin, GL.iNet, and DD-WRT
Hotspot Shield works on Chrome and Firefox. Its browser extensions have most of the security features found on HSS apps like WebRTC leak protection to keep your IP and the websites you visit private. You also surf more safely because they have blockers for malware, ads, and trackers. I didn’t see the usual ads on the websites I visited while connected to the VPN, which confirmed that the ad blocker works.
You can choose websites that should not route through the VPN when using the browser extension. If a website is always blocking you when connected to foreign servers, you simply need to add the website domain to the split tunneling list. You can find the list under the Auto-protect feature in the Settings area of the Chrome or Mozilla Firefox add-on. A downside to using the extension client is that you have access to just 9, more or less, servers. Also, the VPN doesn’t secure the other apps on your device.
If your device is incompatible with this VPN, there is a way to cheat the system. Installing the VPN on your router will protect everything, including devices that do not support the VPN. Once I installed HSS on my Asus router, all devices using the network were protected by the VPN. The configuration process is straightforward.
First, acquire any of the above compatible routers and install Hotspot Shield VPN. If your current router is issued by your internet service provider, use the acquired one as an extension so that all your network is routed through the VPN. Finally, connect your unlisted device to the network, and you are ready to go!
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Hotspot Shield Features — Updated in August 2022
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