HotSpot Shield Review: is it really that good?
UltraVPN is a virtual private network designed to help users mask online activity, get around geo-blocks, gain access to safe torrenting servers, and do all this with a level of security and encryption. As a VPN, its offering is mostly basic, and it has minimal features. Its pricing structure is also way more complex than usual, and it doesn’t seem to have as robust a customer support system as we’d like.
Hotspot Shield at a glance
You wouldn’t want your IP address getting into the hands of strangers, would you? Hotspot Shield is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that hides your online activity and stops your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from keeping track of the websites that you’re visiting. It’s a great service to improve your online security and privacy.
Hotspot Shield is available on all major platforms and works in most countries. Initially released in 2008, Hotspot has been protecting its users for over 12 years, and there have been some significant improvements to its service since it was first launched. It offers a free package alongside its paid-for subscriptions and is an effective tool for accessing region-locked content.
Unlike other providers, Hotspot has a selection of dedicated servers that have been optimized for gaming and streaming. The mobile versions of the app even include a spam call blocker and the desktop versions deliver incredible speeds thanks to the bespoke Hydracol protocol. If you spend a lot of time streaming Netflix or want a VPN to get faster speeds in online video games, Hotspot is an excellent choice.
Pros & Cons
- One of the faster VPN services
- The free plan is a welcome addition
- Loads of additional security features
- Amazing user interface
- Password manager included in pro plans
- Optimized servers for gaming and streaming
- Easily unblocks streaming apps
- Simple and instant one-click connections
- Works with:
- Questionable logging policies
- Browser extensions aren’t great
- No manual connections
A VPN is a tool that encrypts your internet traffic and makes you completely anonymous online by routing your internet connection through a private server. This means your ISP can’t see the websites you’re visiting and can’t slow your connection down by throttling your bandwidth during peak traffic times. More importantly, your IP address is completely hidden, allowing you to avoid copyright claims if you’re torrenting or SWAT attacks if you’re gaming.
Essentially, they’re one of the most effective tools to protect yourself online, especially if you’re someone that works off unsecured WiFi networks. But VPNs have plenty of other uses too. They’re very popular with people that spend a lot of time streaming films and TV shows from Netflix and other apps. You can use your VPN to connect to servers anywhere in the world, allowing you to access region-locked content.
If you live in a country with strict internet censorship such as India or China, you can use a VPN service to access websites that are usually blocked, bypassing government censorship. Some providers throw lots of useful extras into their subscriptions too, which is certainly the case with Hotspot Shield. A password manager, spam-call blocker, and antivirus software all come included with the Premium plan.
There are four plans to choose from along with two different payment options for each plan (monthly and annual). Paying for an annual subscription will save you the most money. Hotspot Shield is one of the few providers to offer a free plan, too, but it’s limited in features.
- Free Plan
- Plus Plan ($6.99 per month)
- Premium Plan ($7.99 per month)
- Family Plan ($11.99 per month)
First things first, you’re probably wondering why you should bother paying for a subscription if you can just take out the free version of Hotspot Shield. We’d recommend avoiding the free plan. If you need quick access to a VPN service for one-off use then great, this will probably help you out. But if you’re planning on using it more than once, it’s worth noting the free service has a number of downfalls.
For one, there’s a daily data cap of 500MB, which is a tiny amount of data. Barely enough to stream a full film on Netflix. Second, the connection speed is only 2Mbps, which means you probably won’t get to finish a film or a TV show without buffering. 2Mbps is simply not fast enough. And finally, you’ve only got access to a limited number of servers, so the privacy benefits aren’t as great.
So should you go for the plus, premium, or family plan? The plus and premium plans are practically the same, but for $1 extra a month, the premium plan gives you a password manager, spam-call blocker and antivirus software that provides real-time protection against malware. For the sake of $1, we’d recommend going for the premium plan. You can tap into a network of over 3000+ servers across 115 locations, as well as optimized servers for gaming and streaming. It’s a fantastic offer.
As for the family plan, there’s no difference between this and the premium plan other than the number of devices you can connect. The family plan is essentially five accounts rolled into one, allowing you to connect 25 devices simultaneously. Is it worth paying extra for? Not really. Especially when you can just install the software onto your router and bypass the limited number of simultaneous connections on offer (five across the pro and premium plans). A 45-day money-back guarantee is included as standard in all paid subscriptions – far more generous than the traditional 30-day policy offered by other providers.
Hotspot Shield is surprisingly fast. So fast, in fact, that it’s right up there with the big names like ExpressVPN and NordVPN. While the connection speed is capped at 1Gbps, there aren’t many people with internet connections that can go faster than that anyway, so it isn’t an issue. The reason Hotspot Shield is so fast is largely due to its patented Hydra protocol. This has been built from the ground up by the technical experts at Hotspot and is easily capable of delivering speeds of 500Mbps on average.
When we put Hotspot Shield to the test, we weren’t disappointed. On average, we were reaching speeds of just under 100Mbps. That’s fast enough to support Ultra HD streaming on Netflix and high-def streaming on Amazon Prime Video without any buffering. We didn’t experience any issues with disconnections either, which is always a positive! There’s nothing worse than your connection cutting out in the middle of a film.
We also tested servers in locations on the other side of the world than our home in the US. On UK servers, we only noticed a slight dip in our speeds, and similar with servers in the rest of Europe. Ultimately, the Hydra protocol fixes many of the issues that are associated with other protocols such as OpenVPN and IPsec, which makes Hotspot Shield one of the fastest providers out there. If you’re looking for guaranteed top speeds, you can’t go wrong here.
few servers, but they are spread in over 100 locations around the world
Hotspot Shield has a massive network of over 3000 servers, providing plenty of options when it comes to both connection speeds and location. Thanks to its Hydra protocol, you won’t have to worry about any secure servers or complicated configurations. There are no manual connections, which means you can’t actually choose from individual servers. Instead, Hydra chooses the best server for you depending on your requirements and location.
|Number of servers||Over 100 servers|
|Top download speed reached||68Mbps|
|Server locations||Over 17 countries|
|Simultaneous Connections||Up to 3|
There are servers in over 80 countries, which opens up a world of opportunities for accessing region-locked content on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming apps. The servers cover all of the key territories you would expect, from the Americas and Europe to the Asia Pacific and the Middle East. In terms of locations, you can connect to servers in Cyprus, Egypt, Algeria, United States, Japan, China, and loads more.
Some countries include city-specific servers. As an example, the US servers cover 27 different cities, while Australia has six cities to choose from. Whether you’re using your VPN service to get access to region-specific discounts for online shopping or trying to live stream sports events that are only available in certain territories, Hotspot Shield won’t let you down.
Overall User Experience
Hotspot Shield couldn’t be any easier to use and has fantastic support across an impressive number of platforms. The only thing that’s missing is the ability to manually choose servers, but the instant auto-connect feature never missed the mark so it’s not really an issue!
There are native apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and even Linux users, so you should be able to access Hotspot Shield regardless of what desktop or laptop you’re using. The Windows and Android apps are pretty similar. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the client, you’ll be greeted with a window that’s in the same style as if you were operating in dark mode. It looks pretty slick, and all of the features you would want to access are clearly laid out.
The middle of the window displays a toggle on/off button that you can activate to turn the VPN on or off. Underneath that there’s a dropdown panel listing the virtual network locations, making it easy to switch between servers in different locations. Connections are super fast. While some VPNs can take up to ten seconds to get you connected, Hotspot took a couple of seconds.
Your current connection speed, IP address, and the name of your local network are always clearly displayed in the window, which is a welcome bonus. There’s a network kill switch and a split tunneling feature in the form of Smart VPN, which allows you to choose which devices on your network are connected to the VPN. This is useful if you’ve installed the VPN software onto your router but don’t want every device in your home connected to it.
Similar to the desktop versions, Hotspot Shield can be downloaded directly onto the vast majority of Android and iOS mobile devices. Visually, there’s not much difference between the mobile and desktop versions of Hotspot Shield, although there are some missing features. This is expected, as most mobile VPN services don’t include a kill switch, and this is the case with Hotspot Shield.
Mobile versions of the app can be downloaded through the Apple and Google Play stores, but make sure you don’t accidentally download and install the free version. If you’re choosing the paid plans, there are separate links for these in the app stores, so check carefully to make sure your cell phone and other mobile devices are fully protected.
Overall, the mobile apps were simple to use and we didn’t notice any bugs in our weeks of testing. Unlike other VPN services, we didn’t notice a significant drain in battery life either, which was a bonus given the amount of time we spend streaming Netflix on our cell phones!
This is the one area where we feel Hotspot Shield falls short. The free version of Hotspot Shield only lets you connect one device and, regardless of which paid-for plan you take out, you can only connect a maximum of five devices.
This is a far cry less than the unlimited or ten simultaneous connections that are offered by other providers such as Surfshark, but thankfully you can get around this by installing the Hotspot Shield VPN software directly onto your router. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to connect as many devices as you want! Don’t fret if you don’t know how to do this. Instructions are provided further down in this review.
- English (US)
- English (UK)
- Portuguese (BR)
Hotspot Shield uses AES-256 bit encryption as standard to secure your connection, ensuring no one will be able to see your IP address or get access to our personal information. As well as being one of the fastest protocols on the market, Hydra is also one of the most secure and only available from Hotspot. There’s a powerful network killswitch included in the desktop versions of Hotspot Shield and there’s DNS and IPv6 leak protection included as standard.
The premium and family plans are the best for security as they include antivirus software and a spam-call blocker. The Antivirus software can be installed on Mac and Windows devices and provides proactive and real-time protection against malware and other viruses. The spam-call blocker is compatible with iOS and Android cell phones, allowing you to automatically block unidentifiable marketing calls and report these calls to the FTC so no one else has to put up with their nonsense!
And, if you’re someone that regularly forgets their passwords, you’ll absolutely love the Password Manager that’s included. This is a fully-encrypted platform that stores your passwords across all of your different user accounts for websites and apps. If you’re fed up with making up passwords for new accounts you create, the Password Manager can auto-generate powerful passwords and will automatically store these for you. And if any of the websites storing your personal information are hacked, the Password Manager’s breach alerts will instantly alert you, allowing you to take action before it’s too late.
No logging policy, but it’s not the strictest we’ve seen
Split tunneling is a feature many VPNs offer that allows you to hand-select which apps or websites will go through the VPN’s services and which will use your usual ISP. Often, many veteran VPN users like this feature as it provides a measure of control over data and speeds. However, UltraVPN does not offer split tunneling.
UltraVPN uses high-level encryption (specifically, AES 256-bit encryption). If you’re unfamiliar with the power of this kind of encryption, you should know that even the world’s fastest existing supercomputer would take an average of literally millions of years to figure out the 256-bit-long key to unlock this protection. It’s so trusted that many militaries and financial organizations across the globe use it, so UltraVPN very efficiently and effectively protects your user data.
There are no browser extensions for UltraVPN.
A kill switch cuts you off from the internet if you lose connection to a VPN server. It’s a standard feature among most VPNs, as it prevents your computer from reconnecting to the internet via your ISP when you think you’re still protected by the VPN’s server’s security measures. Thus, it keeps you from being exposed to outside threats without being aware.
UltraVPN provides users with a kill switch, but it refers to this feature as a “firewall.” Fair enough, but it’s not the standard term most VPNs use and it could be confusing to some users. Still, the kill switch seems effective in our experience.
Some VPNs have begun to upgrade their servers to RAM-only data storage. Unlike storing data on a disk, where it must be deleted using specific processes, data stored as Random Access Memory is automatically erased whenever the server is rebooted. This means there will be no trace of your internet activity, as no data is retained whatsoever.
UltraVPN does not offer RAM-disk mode, which isn’t exactly surprising given that it offers few features and even some of the more robust VPNs out there have not made the switch to RAM-only.
Hotspot Shield is the VPN shield you need when it comes to keeping hackers and malware at bay.
The company doesn’t own and operate all of its servers, so some of the servers in its network are shared with other companies. While this isn’t unusual, larger providers such as ExpressVPN operate with a network that’s privately managed. Its servers aren’t RAM-based either, so some information such as timestamps can be saved onto them and aren’t automatically wiped after every use.
The most worrying thing about Hotspot Shield is it’s yet to publish a single transparency report. If Hotspot Shield is doing a fantastic job of protecting its users’ privacy, why isn’t undergoing third-party audits to prove this? We’re slightly concerned by this, especially as so many other VPN providers are regularly publishing transparency reports.
UltraVPN is based out of the United Kingdom, which isn’t exactly conducive to internet privacy matters. In fact, the UK is part of the 14 Eyes surveillance alliance and shares intelligence with several other countries. That means, despite its no-logs policy and encryption protocol, we fear that UltraVPN could be forced to comply with government mandates to hand over its user data.
We much prefer VPNs that are located in more privacy-friendly locales that have laws that support internet data protection and user anonymity.
Honestly, you’ll need to contact the customer support service at UltraVPN to ensure that you’re using the right router for the service. What we can say, though there is limited online information, is that you’ll need to be able to run OpenVPN or IKEv2 protocols on your router. Other than that, there is nothing advertised on the company’s website regarding router firmware compatibility.
UltraVPN has not been audited by external entities for its privacy or security measures. This shouldn’t count too much against the VPN, though, as many of its competitors also have not undergone these audits. In fact, external auditing to confirm things like no-log policies and encryption methods have so far only been undergone by a handful of VPNs. Doing these audits helps to build trust in the claims made by the company, but we don’t expect UltraVPN to submit to one any time soon.
ExpressVPN is a competitor of UltraVPN that has developed a new protocol called Lightwave. It is reportedly more secure than OpenVPN, but some users have suggested that it tends to be slower on average than VPNs that use the older protocol. Regardless, only ExpressVPN is using Lightway at this time.
Unblocking Streaming Services
Most streaming services have their own measures in place to detect VPN software. This is making it more difficult to access the likes of Netflix and Disney+ while connected to a VPN, but thankfully, we didn’t have any issues while we were using Hotspot Shield. It’s a fantastic tool to unblock streaming services. Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Amazon Prime Video, and Funimation can all be easily unblocked.
We were able to access region-locked content in the US, UK, Europe, and even Japan, so there are plenty of opportunities here to watch whatever you want. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that Hotspot Shield can unblock UK streaming servers such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player, as these are normally a lot more difficult to unblock.
Hotspot Shield’s lightning-fast speeds make it one of the best VPN tools you can use for streaming. You’ll never be bothered by that buffering symbol and it’s fast enough to support streaming in Ultra HD without any issues.
As one of the few VPN providers to offer optimized servers for gaming, Hotspot Shield is one of the best services you can use. There are loads of benefits to routing your connection through a VPN service when you’re playing online multiplayer games such as Call of Duty, Apex Legends, and Fortnite. You can lower your ping, which will give you a significant advantage over other players, especially in first-person shooters.
When you’re connected to a VPN, your IP is fully hidden, so you can call your enemies’ bluff if they say they know where you live or threaten a SWAT attack. Some VPNs can slow your connection down when you’re playing online video games, but not Hotspot. As the majority of League of Legends servers are based in Asia, we wanted to see what would happen if we used the VPN to connect to a server in Asia. This actually provided us with a faster connection speed, making the experience much more enjoyable.
If you want to use Hotspot Shield on your PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch, you’ll need to get the VPN onto your router. You can do this by following the installation instructions that are provided a little further down. Doing so will also let you access discounts and promotions that are only available in certain countries. We managed to say $5 on Devil May Cry 5 in comparison to the US price thanks to a special promotion in Japan at the time of writing!
You should never use torrenting programs such as uTorrent or BitTorrent without the protection of a VPN service. It’s simply too dangerous. You don’t know who you’re sharing files with or who’s watching you download them. Not all VPN services support P2P file-sharing activity on their network, but Hotspot isn’t one of them. It supports P2P activity on every single one of its servers, and as all subscription plans provide unlimited bandwidth and download speeds of up to 1Gbps, Hotspot Shield is simply one of the best VPN services you can use for torrenting.
Accessing blocked websites
With so many locations to choose from and support for 13 different languages, Hotspot Shield is a fantastic tool for accessing blocked websites. If you live in a country that’s renowned for its internet censorship, you’ll be able to use Hotspot Shield to get onto websites that are usually blocked.
How to install
Once you’ve decided which plan you’d like to take out, it’s a simple case of downloading the relevant app you need and installing it onto your device(s). The Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and Smart TV apps are incredibly simple to set-up and install, and as the mobile versions of the software are available directly through the relevant app stores, just follow the instructions provided once you’ve downloaded them.
If you’re going to have more than five devices using Hotspot Shield at once, you’ll need to install the software onto your router. To do this, you’ll first need a router that’s compatible with VPN software. Such routers include select Asus models, DD-WRT and FreshTomato, and Strawberry routers. To install the software onto your router, open up your internet browser and type in your IP address. This will take you to your router’s settings, where you’ll then need to enter your VPN credentials that can be obtained from the account page in your user profile.
It’s worth noting that the installation process is slightly different depending on which router you’re using, so we’d recommend clicking here to head to the Support page, where you’ll find set-up instructions for every compatible router.
Hotspotshield is a relatively small provider in comparison to NordVPN and ExpressVPN. A small team usually means lackluster support and a complete lack of live chat, but not in this case! Hotspot Shield now includes 24/7 live chat, a feature that has only been recently added. It can be accessed through the Auro support team.
Unfortunately, there’s no phone support, so if you were expecting to speak to someone over the phone then you’re out of luck. There’s no ticketing system either, but we wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing. Most ticketing systems are extremely slow and it’s much easier to send an email instead.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to speak to a member of the Hotspot Shield team. It provides plenty of troubleshooting solutions in the Support area of its website. There’s a lot of general information included here too, covering everything from specific set-up instructions for individual platforms and information on your payments and subscriptions.
Not much, to be honest. Hotspot Shield is the shield you need when it comes to protecting yourself online, but that shield could be strengthened with the following:
- No double VPN protection – This would strengthen what’s already an impressive selection of security features by allowing users to encrypt their connection twice.
Unlimited simultaneous connections – Five simultaneous connections as a limit is a pretty poor number to be honest, especially when there are so many other VPN providers that offer unlimited connections as standard.
Can Hotspot Shield be trusted?
Is Hotspot Shield a virus?
Absolutely not! Hotspot Shield is one of the most secure VPN providers out there and actually protects you against viruses thanks to its built-in antivirus software.
Is Hotspot Shield fast?
Hotspot shield is one of the fastest VPN services we’ve ever used and supports download speeds of up to 1Gbps.
Is Hotspot Shield really free?
Hotspot Shield has a free subscription plan that provides you with an encrypted connection so you can browse the internet anonymously. However, this free plan is extremely limited and doesn’t include the features included in the paid-for subscriptions.
Does Hotspot Shield sell your data?
Hotspot Shield will never sell your information to third parties such as marketing companies and is forbidden from doing so.
Can I use Hotspot Shield to watch Netflix?
Hotspot Shield is a fantastic VPN service to unblock region-locked content on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+
Should I pay for Hotspot Shield?
We’d strongly recommend avoiding the free plan and paying for your Hotspot Shield subscription so you can enjoy the full range of impressive features that are available.
Is Hotspot Shield free good for torrenting?
The free version of Hotspot Shield doesn’t provide enough data to support torrenting. You’ll need to pay for a subscription to utilize Hotspot Shield’s fantastic speeds and P2P support for torrenting.
Does Hotspot Shield hide your IP address?
If you’re connected to the internet through one of Hotspot Shield’s servers, your IP address and online activity will be completely hidden. No one will be able to see what you’re doing online.
Hotspot Shield is a fantastic VPN service, delivering some of the fastest speeds we’ve ever seen. Its combination of award-winning security features and strong connections make it suitable for a wide variety of uses, from unblocking streaming apps such as Netflix to hiding your IP address when you’re torrenting or leeching files.
One of the biggest benefits of taking out a subscription with Hotspot Shield is the additional security features that come bundled in with the premium plans. The Password Manager is an incredibly useful tool, as is the antivirus software, especially if you’re planning on doing a lot of file sharing as P2P sites are usually a hotbed of activity for viruses.