Hotspot Shield review: A fast, fully featured VPN

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Most VPNs use standard connection protocols such as IKEv2 or Wireguard – but Hotspot Shield uses its own proprietary protocol, called Hydra. The publisher claims that this makes it the fastest VPN around, while still providing unbreakable security courtesy of 2048-bit RSA encryption. As we’ll see in our tests below, this innovation really does allow Hotspot Shield to race ahead of most competing VPNs.

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That’s not all the software has going for it. The interface has been revamped several times in the past few years, and the latest release of the Windows client has a smart white-on-black interface, providing a wealth of connection information in a clean and accessible layout.

It’s quite easy to use. You can connect or disconnect by clicking or tapping the big button in the middle of the window, while the location browser lets you choose from servers in more than 80 countries. It’s a shame though that you can’t bookmark your favourite servers – the “Quick access” section only shows preselected options for gaming and streaming – and there’s also no indication of a server’s load or ping time shown until after you connect.

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There’s not much more to the software. A built-in speed tester lets you check the performance of your internet line, and in the Settings panel you can configure the VPN to run automatically whenever you’re connected to the internet, or when you connect to an unsecured wireless network. A Kill Switch toggle suspends your internet connection if the VPN cuts out, and you can also turn leak prevention on and off – although it beats us why you’d ever want to disable it.

Aside from a slight reorganisation of the elements, the Android edition looks very similar. You can also install Hotspot Shield on macOS, iOS and Linux, along with Android and Amazon Fire TV systems – and if you have a compatible router you can also configure Hotspot Shield to protect all the devices on your network at once.

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Hotspot Shield VPN review: Pricing

You can actually use Hotspot Shield for free – but this comes with several limitations. Only servers in the US are available to free users, you can only connect one device at a time, you’re limited to 500MB of data transfer per day, and you’ll also see adverts while browsing.

A paid-for subscription gives a much better experience. Pricing starts at £10.99 a month, which removes all restrictions and adverts, allows you to choose from the full range of servers and lets you connect from up to five devices at once.

If you’re willing to sign up for an annual subscription you can save quite a lot of money: that costs £83.88, equivalent to £6.99 monthly. By far the best deal is a three-year subscription, which currently costs £96.84, or just £2.69 a month. That’s not the lowest price we’ve seen – CyberGhost costs £68.25 for three years, while Private Internet Access is just £65 – but it’s still very reasonable.

READ NEXT: The best VPN services you can buy

Hotspot Shield VPN review: Performance

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Using a VPN always has an impact on the speed of your internet connection, but Hotspot Shield claims to be the fastest VPN around. We tested this using a Virgin Media fibre broadband connection; without a VPN, this gave us an average download speed of 219Mbits/sec, according to the Google Speed Test tool.

For our first test, we installed Hotspot Shield on a Windows 11 laptop with default settings and connected to a server in the UK. Repeated the Google speed test showed that performance had fallen only very slightly, to 218Mbits/sec. That’s phenomenally good – the best speed we’d previously seen was 204Mbits/sec from NordVPN.

We then connected to a server in New York and repeated the test. Predictably this was slower, but again only by a tiny margin – we measured transatlantic speeds of 195Mbits/sec. This time NordVPN was a hair faster, with a rate of 196Mbits/sec, but we’re more accustomed to seeing speeds of around 170Mbits/sec in this test. No doubt about it, Hotspot Shield on Windows is an exceptionally fast VPN.

We next tested the VPN on an Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 tablet. Performance here wasn’t quite so impressive: using a London-based server we got download speeds of 179Mbits/sec, while the New York server gave us 123Mbits/sec. It’s not clear why this is; our guess would be that the current release of the Android client still uses a regular IKEv2 VPN connection, rather than the super-fast Hydra protocol as on Windows.

Even so, we’ve no complaints about these speeds. There’s more than enough bandwidth here for anything you’re likely to want to do online, and the Smart VPN option lets you specify individual applications or websites that should bypass the VPN and run at full speed.

Hotspot Shield VPN review: BitTorrent and streaming

One popular use of a VPN is to get around legal or technical restrictions on file-sharing. Hotspot Shield fully supports this: you can upload and download whatever you like, using servers in countries such as Switzerland or Mexico, where there are no legal sanctions against sharing copyright material. That said, Hotspot Shield doesn’t officially promote copyright infringement, and warns users not to do it.

A VPN can also help you access region-restricted video content. Hotspot Shield is certainly fast enough to watch 4K HDR video, and it offers dedicated streaming servers in the US and UK to help unblock the most popular services.

We were impressed by how well these worked. After connecting our Windows laptop to the US server with a few clicks, we were instantly able to browse and watch US content from Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu. And when connected to the UK server, we had no problem viewing shows on BBC iPlayer, BritBox or Now TV – great news for British travellers. Few other VPNs can match this breadth of streaming support – we’ve only previously seen it from ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Windscribe.

Things didn’t go so well on Android, sadly. Even after we’d connected to the US streaming server, the Netflix app insisted on showing us the UK library, and we couldn’t get into Hulu at all. The BBC iPlayer and BritBox apps wouldn’t work either, although we were able to get British shows on Now TV and US ones on Disney+.

The one service where we absolutely couldn’t get access to foreign videos was Amazon Prime Video. That’s true with all VPNs, because Amazon restricts content according to the registered address of your Prime account, rather than relying on your virtual location.

Hotspot Shield VPN review: Privacy and security

Hotspot Shield proved secure in our testing, not exhibiting any DNS or IP leaks. However, its parent company Anchorfree is based in the USA, which means it could possibly be subject to surveillance or legal requests from the authorities.

That will concern anyone who really needs a VPN to conceal their identity, such as whistleblowers or political dissidents. But for video streaming and torrenting via servers outside of the US it may not be such a big issue. 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.

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Hotspot Shield VPN review: Verdict

If connection speed matters – or if you want to unblock the widest range of video services – then Hotspot Shield is a superb choice. It’s amazingly fast, and although it stumbled in our Android-based streaming tests, the Windows client let us into every regional library we tried.

The only things that might hold you back are the price, and the fact that it’s located in the USA: you can pay less for something like NordVPN that’s located in a more privacy-friendly jurisdiction. If Hotspot Shield suits your needs, however, you won’t regret paying a little extra for this excellent VPN.



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