Hotspot Shield VPN is definitely one of the best free VPNs on the market. It offers great speeds and beautiful user interface. Although it's free, it also has advanced features like Kill Switch or IP Leak Protection.
- Free product
- Great performance
- Beautiful user interface
- Great browser extension
- Data limit of 500MB
- Only one location (US)
- Legally based in the US
Hotspot Shield is probably the World’s most popular VPN product. One of the main reason for its success is the freemium business model. You can download and use the product completely for free, but you can transfer only up to 500MB of data. There is also a premium version called Hotspot Shield Elite which starts at $12.99 per month.
Hotspot Shield is developed by a company called Anchor Free. Its roots are going back to 2005 and Anchor Free currently operates from California, United States, but also have a development center in Kiev, Ukraine. Hotspot Shield us the company’s only product with over 500 million downloads (not actual users). In April 2018, the Hotspot Shield Business VPN has been released.
The solution is available for all major operating systems including Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. There is also a great extension for Google Chrome which works just as good as the program. The paid Elite subscription can be shared on multiple devices (e.g. it’s multi-platform).
Hotspot Shield VPN is being known as the fastest VPN on the market and we are about to find out in our comprehensive review which includes Internet speed test.
In order to gain better performance, Hotspot Shield dropped the industry standard VPN protocols IPSec and OpenVPN in order to replace it with their own protocol called Catapult Hydra. There are significant benefits in connection speeds. Catapult Hydra is also being used by other security companies like McAfee, BitDefender, Cheetah Mobile, and many others. The major disadvantage is using only the 128-bit AES data encryption and HMAC message authentication. Other VPNs are mostly using the 256-bit AES encryption which is more secure.
From the features point of view, Hotspot Shield VPN offers quite a standard set which includes Kill Switch, IP Leak Protection, and Auto-Connect on unsafe Wi-Fis. See the detailed features overview at the end of our review.
As we already mentioned at the beginning of this review, Hotspot Shield VPN is completely free but has a 500MB cap on the data transfer. To use it you only need to create an account with your e-mail. If 500MB is not enough for you, you need to upgrade to a paid plan called Elite. The Elite plan starts at $12.99 per month, but you can save if you purchase a full year in advance for $71.88 (e.g. $5.99 monthly). Or get the unlimited license for $119.99 which is a pretty good deal.
Overall Hotspot Shield is a great VPN product with a beautiful user interface and excellent connections speeds. It’s free, but the data limit is very small, so if you are serious about it, go with the Elite plan.
The biggest question for many of you is should I use Hotspot Shield or TunnelBear VPN? Well, both are free with the same data quota, but we like Hotspot much better due to its interface and speeds, TunnelBear can be sometimes a bit slower. On the other hand, TunnelBear offers 21 server locations while Hotspot Shield only one (in the United States).
Hotspot Shield Free Download
One of the best things about Hotspot Shield VPN is that you can download and use it completely for free. The only difference compared to a paid product is the data limit (500MB per month).
Free Download Free with a monthly data limit
Using the product requires only simple registration (e-mail) and you don’t need to enter any payment details or personal information.
Hotspot Shield Free vs. Elite Comparison – What are the Key Differences?
There are quite a few differences between the Free and Elite version of Hotspot Shield VPN. Of course, the biggest one is the unlimited bandwidth on Elite, but what are the others?
With the Free plan, you may occasionally get to see third-party ads while browsing the Internet and you don’t get a dedicated customer support. Another major difference is the variety of server locations, with Free you can only connect to the United States while with Elite you can choose from another 25 countries around the world.
With Elite you will also get a cloud-based malware protection which prevents you from accessing malicious sites or downloading harmful files (please note it’s not a replacement for your desktop antivirus program).
In terms of performance and speeds, it’s practically the same. On the client, there are no extra features with the Elite plan.
If you would like to try the Elite plan before you pay, go with the 7-day free trial (Credit Card required). Just be sure to cancel the subscription before it expires, otherwise, you will pay a regular monthly fee ($12.99).
Pricing & Discounts – How much does Hotspot Shield VPN cost?
If you decide to invest in the Elite plan, the smartest option is probably the 2-year plan for $71.66 (e.g. $2.99 per month). That’s a very good price and much cheaper than Hide My Ass VPN or ExpressVPN. If you are serious with Hotspot Shield get the lifetime license for $119.99.
The standard monthly subscription will cost you $12.99 which is quite expensive.
Unfortunately, there are no coupon codes to get an additional discount. However, there are sometimes good promotions during which you can get the product even cheaper. For sure we will inform about these in our Deals & Coupons section.
Hotspot Shield also offers quite generous 45 days money-back guarantee, so if you are not happy with the product after the purchase, you can simply ask for a refund.
User Interface – Is Hotspot Shield easy to use?
YES! Hotspot Shield is the smoothest and slickest VPN product we have tested so far and most likely on the whole VPN market. Everything feels just right from the download, install and first use experience. I am pretty sure even my grandmother would know how to use it.
Once you start the app it will automatically connect to a closest (or your last chosen) VPN server. If you disconnect, there will be a big button to start a connection.
Once you are connected you will see a time, bandwidth (download and upload), your virtual IP address and your location which you can change.
As you can see the user interface is super simple. In the top-left “burger” menu, there are just a few items. The most important one is probably the settings. In settings, you can tweak the app behavior (start on Windows launch, automatically connect on WiFis etc.), language and enable/disable IP leak protection or Kill Switch.
You can also see there are a few up-sell points in the free version. There is a full-width line “Upgrade to Hotspot Shield Elite” at the bottom of the interface and menu item. Occasionally you may also get a pop-up notification offering you a free trial version of Elite. But that’s it. We find it very well balanced and not intrusive. In some free VPN products, the aggressive up-selling may be very annoying.
Server Locations & Countries – Where you can connect?
We already know Hotspot Shield is a beautiful product, but how many VPN locations it offers? Unfortunately, not many. Similarly, as TunnelBear VPN, you can choose only from 26 countries to connect. That’s a very few if you consider most of the premium products are offering 50+.
This is the cost of running a freemium product. While having many users, probably much more than the premium only VPNs, you still need to maintain the costly infrastructure. And that’s why the amount of servers with free VPNs is always quite limited.
The full list of locations includes (Elite plan only; Free plan offers only the US):
- Africa – none
- Asia Pacific – Australia; New Zealand; South Korea; Taiwan; Hong Kong; Japan; China
- Europe – United Kingdom; Netherlands; Germany; France; Sweden; Spain; Ireland; Czech Republic; Romania; Russia; Ukraine
- India – India
- Middle East – Israel; Turkey; Pakistan
- North America – United States; Canada; Mexico
- South America – Brazil
It’s also not possible to chose or know the city to which you are connected.
Does Hotspot Shield Support YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Amazon Prime, & BBC iPlayer?
During our testing, Hotspot Shield worked well with YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Amazon Prime, Google, and Facebook.
However, as with almost every VPN we have tested, it didn’t work with BBC iPlayer which requires a UK location. It looks like BBC iPlayer is automatically blocking nearly all VPN accesses.
Performance & Internet Connection Speed Test
Hotspot Shield VPN is definitely one of the fastest products we have been testing. Not just the user interface and connection to the server is super fast, also the infrastructure is well balanced with minor differences.
The benchmark download speed was roughly 28 Mbps, similar speeds were achieved in all locations except Australia and Brazil. But even these were pretty fast and totally usable for a regular browsing or streaming.
|Location||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|No VPN (benchmark)||10||27.88||4.76|
Tested using web service by Ookla.
Upload speeds were slightly worse, but still OK. The major slow down was measured in the US and Australia.
As with basically all VPN products, the ping in other countries was just too high and definitely not for any kind of gaming experience.
In terms of customer support, Hotspot Shield doesn’t offer much to free users. Practically only FAQs, quite comprehensive knowledge base and submitting a ticket (not sure about the response time). There is no e-mail address or phone number to call.
If you are an Elite user, you may take advantage of the live support chat. But only if it is available and there is some free agent. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough during our testing to have someone online.
Submitting a support ticket is quite a struggle due to the annoying suggestions which takes almost half of the screen and can’t be disabled.
If you browse through the Hotspot Shield website, you actually don’t find any claims like “strict no-logging policy” which are quite a standard these days (even if it’s not true). In the knowledge base, the official statement says:
We do not collect any personally identifiable information on Hotspot Shield. We do not collect, store, or share any permanent identifiers of users, including IP addresses. We do not keep any activity logs for any of our users, whether they are free or Elite.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end here, besides the IP address Hotspot Shield may also collect:
- Device information like hardware model, operating system version, browser type, language, wireless network, and mobile network information.
- Traffic information data about which websites you visit and which apps you use in order to serve you generic ads.
All these information may be shared with:
- Third-parties like website hosting, payment processing, data analysis, information technology and related infrastructure provision, customer service, email delivery, online advertising, auditing, and other services.
- Law enforcement organizations which provide a valid request approved by a local court
- Acquirer, successor, or assignee as part of any reorganization, merger, sale, joint venture, assignment, transfer or other disposition of all or any portion of our business, assets or stock.
- And probably the worst one – individual for any purpose, unless we are prohibited from doing so under applicable law.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Hotspot Shield headquarters is based in the United States, California which is not a good jurisdiction for protecting privacy.
Overall, this is very worrying and probably the less privacy oriented policies we have ever read. If you are concern about your privacy, you should consider using some other VPN product. For example, ExpressVPN which doesn’t log anything.
Conclusion – Is Hotspot Shield VPN Free a good choice?
On the other hand, you will get a great product with super fast app interactions and infrastructure. For zero price. And the price here is one of the main reasons for using Hotspot Shield VPN. If you are looking for a solid VPN to protect you when reading e-mails in Starbucks, Hotspot Shield VPN will do the job for sure.
Appendix – Detailed Features Overview
|Server Locations||26 Countries|
|Compatibility||Windows, Android, macOS, iOS|
|Customer Support||FAQs, Ticket, Live Chat|
|Price for 1 Month||$12.99|
|Price for 1 Year||$71.88|
|Free Trial||Yes (7 Days)|
|Money-back Guarantee||Yes (45 Days)|