Each company has its own way of doing things and that’s one of the wonders about testing different software, not only you get to know which you like the most, but you also learn about how the different companies focus in different aspects. Given this, Hotspot Shield deserves appraise for one of the best clients we’ve seen from an esthetic and usability point of view. In fact, the whole experience can be described as simply pushing the button to connect. Because of that, we get the feeling the company exaggerated a bit here, as making a simple ‘connect and go’ client eliminates the ability of customizing some of the settings every ordinary user likes to. Torrenting is allowed, but you must be careful which servers you choose for this purpose, as there’s no indication of any of them being exclusive for it.
IP Leak Prevention and Automatic Wi-Fi Protection
It’s unfortunate that users are not able to choose different protocols – nor even see which protocol or port we’re using at the time. Similarly it’s only possible to access the country server list after already being connected to one of them, which is strange to say the least. This exaggerated simplicity carries towards the settings department, which by itself is something we always like to check to find any hidden pearls. But, unfortunately, there’s not much room to move around here either, despite still looking visually attractive.
Surely, there are nice editable options: having Hotspot Shield run on computer startup, enabling it to prevent IP leaks, choosing the language of the client and also a couple of extra features to have the VPN turn itself on automatically when connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots. The latter becomes very important when connecting to questionable networks, but it’s possible to opt for turning the VPN on automatically even for the ones that are safe, granting full protection when in public. But it still feels short and, honestly, we could use some more: a kill switch for instance is already a common addition these days and something everyone expects to see.
The VPN network of Hotspot Shield cannot be considered the vastest there is. Actually, it doesn’t even come close to that since there are only 20 different countries available, but it’s still more than enough to provide worldwide coverage, which is more than many providers do, sometimes even with multiple servers. Europe, for instance, has servers from Spain to Russia, with server availability in other key areas elsewhere in the world. This includes Australia, Japan, India, Turkey and – surprisingly enough – China and Hong Kong. Once again, though, it’s too bad that our choice is limited to a country. Being able to choose the precise locations of the servers could be useful to unblock a service available in a country but with exclusive features for different cities, like YouTube TV, for example.
Yet, the best news regarding Hotspot Shield is the quality of the server network. As you know, VPN speeds also depend on external factors that no VPN provider can control, such as distance to the different servers and each user’s internet connection speed. This results in high pings and, consequently, slower connections, but with Hotspot Shield this obstacle is surprisingly overcome, as speeds are always consistent regardless of the server you connect to. Obviously, your ping will still be high on distant countries – we got nearly 300 when testing Australia – but download and upload speeds are usually around the same levels for most of the countries on the list, which is honestly quite impressive.
Our various tests were conducted from Europe, and because of that Sweden and Russia had the best results. On the contrary, India and the U.S. proved to be the weaker, while the rest of the world’s servers behave decent and consistently.
This is one big shady and confuse area for Hotspot Shield. On the one hand, the VPN relies on a strong TLS 1.2, 256-bit encryption, besides also providing HMAC message authentication, meaning that your data, passwords, online transactions and instant messages are always secure. Likewise, Hotspot Shield also provides active protection against malware websites, which is available in both the free and paid versions of the software.
Additionally, it is also said that AnchorFree may use this information for service improvement purposes, but to “identify your general location, or optimize advertisements”, too. This gives the company the right to gather data from cookies and use it to deliver targeted ads on the ad-supported free version. On top of that, information can also be shared with third parties if users give their consent, which isn’t exactly benefiting privacy protection. Usually your consent is based on an install screen notification – that few people notice, care about or understand properly – stating that by using the service you’ll be automatically agreeing with the company’s practices.
OS, Device Support
Leaving quite a messy area, we reach one that will certainly please most users. In fact, Hotspot Shield already supports many devices: besides the usual Windows (7, 8 and 10) and Mac (OS X) operating systems, there are also apps for Android and iOS in the respective online stores. All these work flawlessly and sport the same simple interface on every device, making it easy to get the hang of using the VPN on each of your devices. The settings options work similarly as well, so there’s not much to alter, leaving you free to connect easily. It’s worth to note that, because people are much more likely to connect to public hotspots using their smartphones and tablets, the automatic Wi-Fi protection for both safe and unsafe networks gets a whole other importance here.
Browsers weren’t forgotten either, with add-ons and extensions for Firefox and Chrome which, once again, look and behave alike. The maximum number of simultaneous connections is five.
There are two ways you can benefit from Hotspot Shield’s service: for free and by a paid subscription. But while some companies offer limited-time trials of their VPN’s full version and others opt for having no time restrictions but a handful of blocked features, with Hotspot Shield you get the best of both worlds. Just by visiting the site you can choose what device to download the software for and your unlimited time free version starts immediately. However, as you know by now this version is supported by targeted ads, but fortunately there are only a couple of them from time to time. Also, when using this version your bandwidth levels will be limited to 500MB per day, and you’re only allowed to use one of the 20 countries available, which by default is the U.S.
But curiously enough, upon installation you’ll be asked about activating a 7-day free trial. This trial is for the full Elite version of Hotspot Shield, which means that for an entire week you can enjoy unlimited bandwidth levels and access the company’s entire set of servers without any ads disturbing you.
Then the paid subscriptions come into play, the Elite plan we just referred. There are three billing periods for you to choose from and the longer you bind for the more you save on your final bill. The single monthly subscription costs $12.99, while the six-month one is already 31% cheaper, costing $8.99 per month. But the most attractive plan is the annual one, with a monthly cost of $5.99, a 53% discount for a total price of $71.88. And if you think this is good just until you find out about the limited lifetime offer for only $119.99, less than the value of two annual memberships. While they are a notorious upgrade compared to the free version, the paid subscriptions differ only in the pricing, which is something we salute as there are never any service restrictions on ‘lower’ plans, not even bandwidth limits.
You can pay using credit/debit cards or PayPal and all transactions have the right to a 45-day money back guarantee.
Hotspot Shield gives you a handful of ways you can contact the team, if any assistance is required. Nonetheless, the most direct way you can do this is by relying on the good old ticket submission method, since there are no phone lines or live chat anywhere, which is unfortunate. Still, there’s also a decent FAQ page where users will find answers for the most basic questions and a blog where the company posts some service updates and relevant news articles. Hotspot Shield’s social media pages are updated pretty regularly with the same content as the blog, but customers may also resort to those pages to post questions. Facebook’s Messenger is actually a very common tool for support, with the company usually replying in a couple hours.
Hotspot Shield is definitely worth a chance, in case you haven’t given it one already as the software has been downloaded over 500,000,000 times, something that the company reminds you off constantly. The program is suitable for everyone, but it’s clearly designed to appeal lighter users given such an emphasis on making everything as simple as clicking a button and cutting on the most ‘technical’ features. But Hotspot Shield’s biggest positive point has to be the consistency of the speeds, with overseas servers behaving very decently. In the same measure, the prices can be considered pretty fair, especially the annual and the lifetime subscriptions. This, along with the two free tests and the fact that users get the entire program in every plan, only makes this section something to stand for.
- Very easy to use and visually attractive
- IP leak prevention and Wi-Fi hotspot tools
- Brilliant server speed consistency
- Browser extensions
- Attractive prices
- Unlimited time free version
- Short on extra features
- Only 20 countries