Hotspot Shield is known by many people thanks to the free VPN service that it offers, which is a practical solution for casual users. They also have a premium plan that enhances the security of your online data, while providing anti-malware protection and the possibility of bypassing geo-location restrictions. Hotspot Shield’s ease of use and lightweight VPN clients are some of the aspects that make it a good choice for new users, but is it a good solution for privacy concerned users? We’ll find out in this review.
Security and Privacy
Hotspot Shield is designed to offer convenience and to make things easy for VPN users, particularly those who are new to this technology and who are not familiar with all the elements that it involves. The downside is that this simplicity becomes an issue as they fail to clarify some important technical information. Some relevant details about the service and the level of security and privacy that Hotspot Shield provides are not explained.
The website doesn’t offer clear information about the protocols used, which is not a good sign for users who are looking for top protection for their online privacy. That being said, as per the support service, their Windows client features OpenVPN with 256-bit AES encryption. Their paid service also offers an ad-free browsing experience and malware protection.
As previously mentioned, they log users’general location for advertisement purposes (on the free version) and since AnchorFree, the company behind Hotspot Shield is based in the US, it would be advisable to be cautious. Plus, they don’t support Bitcoin or other anonymous payment methods (only cards and PayPal), which means that overall, Hotspot Shield would not be the first choice for users who need complete privacy.
Hotspot Shield works with popular platforms like Windows, Mac OS X, iOS and Android. However, there is not support Linux, DD-WRT, Tomato or Windows Mobile. The list of unsupported devices also includes smart TVs, Roku and gaming consoles, meaning that the compatibility of Hotspot Shield is limited when compared to other VPN solutions. The free version is practical when you don’t want to invest into a VPN subscription yet but need to disguise your IP address or access websites in the United States securely.
However, it is only possible to access servers in that country and you will also have to put up with many ads. In terms of speed, the free VPN is also considerably slower, which can be frustrating if you need to stream media. In fact, with the free option, you won’t be able to access popular streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu.
Upgrading to the paid plan known as “Elite”, will allow you to get rid of the ads and to get access to servers in more locations, while enjoying better speeds. This would be the best option if you want to enjoy security and flexibility to defeat censorship or geo-location restrictions.
The Elite plan provides access to servers in the United States, Canada, Germany, China, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, India and Hong Kong. Although the selection is not as extensive as what some of the leading VPN providers support, it is varied enough to ensure that users across the world can get a server that works well for their location.
We mentioned that there is a free plan, which is a practical choice for some users, in spite of its limitations. However, since it is packed with ads and only offers access to one location, you may prefer to pay for the Elite plan, which costs only $49.95 for two years, meaning that the monthly price is just above $2. This plan offers the best value for money, but you can also opt for a yearly plan for $29.95 or six months for $19.99.
The Elite plan gives you access to all the servers in the network and it supports up to 5 simultaneous connections. There is also a Business plan that supports 20 devices for $19.95 per month, 60 for $54.95/month or 100 for $84.95 per month.
Hotspot Shield’s website offers a searchable knowledge base, which includes a list of frequent questions and guides to address common issues. There is also a forum available and if needed, customers can contact the support team via ticket. Unfortunately, the responses are often delayed. The lack of efficient assistance and more options to get in touch with their team are disappointing.
Ease of use, user-friendly interface and decent speeds (in most cases) are some of the good points about Hotspot Shield. They also offer reasonable prices and hassle free client, which would make them popular with new VPN users. However, the customer service is an area that needs to be improved and the lack of advanced features may also put off users who are expecting more from a VPN service. If privacy is your major concern, you may need to look somewhere else but if you just need an affordable and easy to use VPN for general browsing, this could be the one.