Hotspot Shield review: a consistently good VPN performer

A trusty VPN that continues to offer reliable and consistent performance, Hotspot Shield has speed, affordability, and great streaming performance

Hotspot Shield review
(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)
T3 Verdict

A consistently good VPN, Hotspot Shield offers a reliable performance that offers the kinds of security and features you're after.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    P2P support on all servers

  • +

    Unblocks Netflix, Disney Plus, iPlayer and Prime Video

  • +

    Consistently good performance

  • +

    Limited free service available

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Lack of security audit

  • -

    Mobile apps not as good as desktop

Hotspot Shield makes a name for itself with both its completely free service, as well as exceptional connection speeds in the past. But how does it stand up against its competitors in this round of testing? You can take a look at whether we rank Hotspot Shield as one of the best VPN services with our review in brief below, or keep scrolling for all the nooks and crannies of our Hotspot Shield testing.

One minute Hotspot Shield review 

Hotspot Shield offers over 1,800 servers across 80 countries, and is known in these parts as a consistently good performer, ticking boxes across streaming, security, and speed. While some of its key competitors have finally outdone it in terms of sheer performance, Hotspot Shield is still a reliable contender in the VPN wars.

Offering a selection of fantastic features across a number of clients, Hotspot Shield is perfect whether you're new to the world of VPN or not, with the option to get your hands dirty, or simply select a server, click connect and get going. 

Encryption is top tier, combining Transport Layer Security with AES-256 and AES-128 encryption, 2048-bit RSA certificates. On top of that, it utilises Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman, ensuring - every step of the way - your data remains safe and off limits to prying eyes.

Nifty features like a kill switch and Smart VPN allow for even more intuitive usage. Not to forget you'll be able to bypass geo-restricted content across the board on Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, and Prime Video.

However, while its Catapult Hydra retains its excellent speed performance, we have seen other VPN providers overtake in the race for the fastest VPN. That said, sometimes consistency is all you really want from a VPN, which Hotspot Shield certainly offers. Better still, it's even more affordable - especially when you opt for its 3-year plan.

The stats:

  • Servers: 1,800+
  • Locations: 80+ countries
  • Devices: 1 device on free plan, 5 devices on Premium, 25 devices on Premium Family
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, router, smart TVs
  • Protocols: Hydra, IKEv2
  • Top features: Streaming specialist servers, P2P support on all servers, kill switch

Hotspot Shield review: Hotspot Shield price and is there a free trial?

There are many reasons to be excited about Hotspot Shield, not least because, as well as seeing a reduction in price across a number of its plans, T3 is able to offer its readers an exclusive rate on Hotspot Shield's 3-year plan, bringing it down to a cost of just $2.49 a month. In turn, the provider is giving Surfshark a run for its money as the best cheap VPN on the market.

  • 1 month: $9.99/£8.99 a month
  • 1 year: $7.99/£6.99 a month (billed $95.88/£83.88 every year)
  • 3 years: $2.49/£2.29  a month (billed $89.64/£96.84 every three years)

For those new to the world of VPN and unsure where best to spend their money, Hotspot Shield also has your back with its free service. More than simply a Hotspot Shield free trial, with its free client you can give the service a go with no time limit - though there of course will be other limitations in comparison to its premium version, or any paid-for VPN service. This includes the choice of just 1 server, a data limit of just 500MB or unlimited with the Chrome extension. You'll also be unable to unblock Netflix with it - this is advertised as a premium feature.

After a true free trial of its premium offerings? Those using the free service will be prompted to make the most of a Hotspot Shield 7-day free trial of its premium service. Once you are onboard with a subscription to Hotspot Shield, there is an additional safety blanket with its 45-day money back guarantee. While not explicitly a free trial, this gives you well over a month to see if Hotspot Shield is the VPN for you. If the answer proves to be a big fat no, you'll be able to get a full refund as long as you pipe up within that period.

Does Hotspot Shield work on Netflix? What other streaming services can it unblock?

One of the joys of Hotspot Shield is its specialist servers. Rather than coming face-to-face with an endless list of servers labelled by country/city and not much else, Hotspot Shield points you in the direction of its specialist streaming servers, ideal for bypassing restrictions and binging content on the likes of Netflix.

Across the board, Hotspot Shield was able to unblock all of the major streaming platforms we like to test - Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime, with the former two prone to putting up the biggest fights. Little to no problems here, though, making Hotspot Shield a contender for the best streaming VPN.

In our Netflix testing, the only real issue we found was in accessing Canadian Netflix. Here we were only able to access Netflix Originals, so if you were after any titles exclusive to Netflix in Canada, Hotspot Shield may not be the go-to choice. Otherwise, it's a great Netflix VPN for those in the UK, US, Australia, and even Japan.

Hotspot Shield review - streaming

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

Hotspot Shield review: What security features can you expect?

There are a few things to consider when it comes to the security of a VPN, from the features it offers, to its protocols, encryption, and policy on logging your data. In terms of both protocols and encryption, Catapult Hydra certainly sounds impressive, with the kind of specifications to match. Based on TLS (Transport Layer Security), Hotspot Shield offers both AES-256 and AES-128 encryption, with the use of forward secrecy techniques, ensuring each session's keys are changed, meaning you can't be tracked by one set of details. This is done with Ellipstic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDHE).

When it comes to Hotspot Shield's protocols, you'll find its very own Hydra Catapult, as well as IKEv2. Hotspot claims Hydra to be "verified by experts as the fastest, most secure on the market", which we certainly saw some of the power of in our speed testing. In terms of features, you'll find a dedicated kill switch for when your connection drops.

Hotspot Shield review - privacy

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

Hotspot Shield is transparent when it comes to logging. It states on its website it does not retain records of IP addresses or any other means of identifying you/your device. It does go on to state a list of what it does log, including duration of sessions, domains visited, and IP addresses in regards to fraud protection. It's fair to say, while this is promising, it could very well be empty words, with no privacy audit carried out to back up these claims.

P2P support is available on all servers, which means great news for anyone looking to sign up to Hotspot Shield for torrenting purposes. We had success putting these claims to the test, able to download torrent files while connected to servers in the UK, US, and Japan.

Hotspot Shield review of speed and overall performance

Previously Hotspot Shield has found itself sitting pretty at the top of our best fast VPN buying guide. Did it manage to maintain its top spot? Well, sadly not.

UK serviers

Hydra Catapult: N/A (no Catapult)

IKEv2: 60Mbps

While Hotspot Shield still delivered some excellent results, it's fair to say it has been overtaken with many more providers having their own WireGuard-based protocols that manage to outshine. Surfshark, for instance, saw highs of up to 700Mbps, while NordVPN hit between 480-820Mbps.

That said, results were still consistent at 360-380Mbps in the US in comparison to our last testing. It therefore seems to be more a case of other providers improving than Hotspot Shield deteriorating.

US servers

Hydra Catapult: 360-380Mbps

IKEv2: 34-40Mbps

It makes sense to avoid IKEv2 protocol unless, for whatever reason, you need to use it, showing poorer results than Hotspot Shield's Catapult Hydra.

When it came to testing other locations, we also tried out connections further afield to ensure Hotspot Shield offered universally good speeds for those not based in the UK or US. Good news, with the likes of Vietnam regularly registering speeds of 60Mbps and more - more than enough oomph for those looking to use Hotspot Shield for streaming.

Client set-up and available support from Hotspot Shield

Available to install on a range of devices, including Linux, Hotspot Shield offers a client that is straight forward to set up, opening up to reveal a sleek yet detailed interface, offering ample control for those who want it, while still being accessible for VPN novices. 

With an obvious On/Off button, connection happens within seconds, including those locations at a much further distance, getting you up and running - and, more importantly, secure - in practically no time.

Very visual in its design, once connected you're presented with a map to pinpoint your new virtual location, as well as being able to see other data clearly displayed. This includes speed and your newly appointed IP address.

Servers are arranged by country, and you're able to click on any one and take a deeper dive into their locations, whittled down to cities. Sadly, there is no favorites system, though you can filter to find its special streaming servers.

Hotspot Shield review - iOS/iPhone

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

Discover features like auto-connect, allowing your VPN to take the wheel and automatically connect to a server when it detects unsecure networks, as well as Smart VPN, which gives you the option to choose domains that don't route through the VPN connection.

The client even offers gateways to support pages, including advice and a direct link to the live chat. Convenient, it simply takes out the middle man of opening up a browser to find the answers yourself.

In terms of apps for smartphones, Android's Hotspot Shield client feels like a close copy of its Windows counterpart, meaning you're not likely to be fobbed off with a more diluted version when using the Android VPN version. The interface is streamlined but still just as detailed, offering easy usability, with its iOS client offering much the same experience, making this a decent option for iPhone VPN users, too.

Hotspot Shield review: Our final verdict

While not the market leading VPN in terms of speed anymore, Hotspot Shield offers consistently good performance with the features to match. Want a VPN purely for streaming? It's got your back, able to access all the most popular platforms. It's also got some nifty features up it's sleeve to ensure reassurance in terms of security and privacy, though a proper audit certainly wouldn't go amiss.


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