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Hotspot Shield review: A fast, fully featured VPN

Expert Reviews Staff
18 May 2018
Hotspot Shield VPN review
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
12.99
inc VAT per month

Easy to use and incredibly fast, but it’s not perfect for privacy – or streaming

Pros 
Amazing speeds
Slick interface
Good value on an annual plan
Cons 
Pricey if you pay monthly
Doesn’t unblock Netflix US
Privacy concerns
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Hotspot Shield has recently been redesigned, with a slick blue-and-white colour scheme that makes it one of the most polished-looking VPNs around. The old grid-based interface has been replaced by a friendly map, along with displays showing how much bandwidth you’ve consumed and your virtual IP address. Happily, it’s as easy to use as ever: you can still connect or disconnect at a click of the button at the top, or pick one of 24 locations from the pop-out menu above the map.

There’s little else to the interface. You can use the Settings panel to configure the VPN to start up with Windows, and to toggle the Kill Switch, which disconnects your connection if the VPN cuts out, so that your true IP address and location aren’t exposed. There’s also an option to turn IP leak prevention on and off – although we see little reason why you would disable it – plus options to turn on the VPN automatically when you connect to specific Wi-Fi hotspots, or unknown ones.

Buy now from Hotspot Shield

If you fancy giving Hotspot Shield a spin, you can try the “Elite” (paid-for) service for free for seven days; after that, it falls back into a free, ad-supported mode, which gives you no control over the server location, and blocks you from accessing some region-locked content.

READ NEXT: The best VPN services you can buy

Hotspot Shield review: Setup and basic use

Installing Hotspot Shield can be a bit confusing. The Windows installer assumes that you want to activate the seven-day trial, even if you’ve already paid; to correct this, you need to counterintuitively click the Back button, then the Menu button and sign-in.

Once you’re past that, though, it’s a smooth ride. The VPN connects quickly and even lets you easily hop from one location to another without disconnecting. It won’t choose a server for you – you have to decide for yourself which location will fit your needs – but that’s not a huge problem, especially if you’re just looking for some extra security and privacy while connecting to public Wi-Fi.

Hotspot Shield review: Server locations

Hotspot Shield can’t claim the most extensive server list on the market, but its 24 locations give you a decent range of options across the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and particularly Europe – so you should be able to find a decent connection, whether you’re looking to circumvent region locks on video streaming services or evade government censorship.

Hotspot Shield review: Performance

One of the best things about Hotspot Shield is that it’s incredibly fast. Perhaps we were unusually lucky, but while connected through a UK-based server we enjoyed an amazing 98% of our regular downstream bandwidth – and when we switched to the Netherlands that still held up to 97%. Even more remarkable, connection speeds via the US and Hong Kong were 89% and 94% respectively of our regular non-VPN speeds. That’s really exceptional.

The news isn’t quite so good when it comes to streaming, however. Hotspot Shield didn’t have any problems streaming video from Comedy Central or NBC in the US, but Netflix’s proxy-detection mechanisms spotted the VPN and refused to play.

Hotspot Shield review: Privacy and security

Hotspot Shield didn’t exhibit any DNS or IP leaks during our testing; earlier this year a security researcher found vulnerabilities that could expose the user’s real country (though nothing more than this), but that flaw has since been patched.

Since AnchorFree is based in the US, it’s possible that services could be subject to surveillance or legal requests from the authorities. But the company states that it doesn’t collect any personally identifiable information, and publishes regular transparency reports that detail any requests received from law-enforcement authorities for user data (81 in 2017), along with the amount of information delivered in response (zero).

There have also been some concerns that Hotspot Shield’s free version shares data about your browsing habits with advertisers, and even the paid-for service collects anonymised and aggregated information about the sites and apps you use. This information can’t be linked to you specifically, but it may give you cause for concern.

Buy now from Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield review: Pricing

Hotspot Shield is expensive if you pay monthly, at £12.99 per month. But if you’re willing to splash out annually it’s far cheaper, at £71.88 for the whole year – and you can also get a lifetime subscription for £120, which is unbeatable value if you’re looking to stick with the service for a few years.

Hotspot Shield: Verdict

If connection speed matters and you’re prepared to pay up front, Hotspot Shield could be a superb choice. The lack of US Netflix will rule it out for some, and would-be whistleblowers and privacy advocates might prefer a service based in a more neutral jurisdiction. Overall though it’s a fast and reliable VPN.

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