About the Company
Hotspot Shield is a VPN service of AnchorFree, which is a US-registered company. Hotspot Shield is one of the most used VPN services by the ‘free’ users. It has been mostly used as a geo-unblocking service but ‘elite’ users care more about their security and anonymity so they use Hotspot Shield for a secure and anonymous online environs.
Hotspot Shield offers limited but strong features which majorly revolve around unblocking, anonymity and security. Here’s a glance at the features Hotspot Shield offers to its users:
Users can connect to servers in 17 countries across the globe for accessing geo-blocked content. Hotspot Shield unblocks the restricted content seamlessly whether it is websites, streaming channels or any other types of online services.
Hotspot Shield does have a Free subscription but it is pretty much useless. It only gives users access to the US servers, while restricting them from accessing some of the most wanted streaming websites like Hulu and Netflix. Plus, the amount of advertisements injected in to the webpages is unbearable. What Hotspot Shield really focuses on is its Elite plan. The 12 month plan costs $2.50/month, 24 months plan costs $2.08/month, and monthly account costs $4.99. Elite account users don’t have any restrictions.
Depending on the region you are paying from, AnchorFree will offer different payment method, as well as the money back guarantee. Yearly and bi-yearly packages are offered as standard, with some countries also offering monthly subscriptions or payment options including ‘pay via cell phone’ etc. currently, users paying from the US are subject to fewer payment options and higher prices but it may vary in future.
Though we have tried and tested the Hotspot Shield Free account and did not like it even a bit, here are some details that you should know about:
- The Free plan only offers US virtual location.
- Will show Elite Payment Wall while accessing Netflix, BBC, Hulu etc.
- Displays sponsor ads in all kinds of shapes and sizes but most as banners at the top of the browsers.
- You will be redirected to an advertisement page from the page you wanted to sta. This will happen every once in a while, making it almost impossible to enjoy browsing. What about streaming? Kiss it goodbye because of the ads killing your streaming sessions and taking you to ‘call to action’ pages.
The Elite Plan is Hotspot Shield’s actual plan and does what its users require from a basic yet effective VPN service. Here are some details about it:
Elite Plan: The Elite Plan offers multi-device support for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Kindle, and is completely Ad-free. It also provides cloud-based malware protection and virtual locations in the US, UK, Australia, Germany, China, Japan, Canada, India and Hong Kong. However, not all the features are available on all platforms.
- Elite Plan offers 15+ virtual locations.
- Does not display Elite Payment Wall while accessing Netflix, BBC or any other websites.
- Does not annoy users with any ads and the overall experience is very smooth.
Hotspot Shield offers a variety of payment methods to choose from including PayPal, Mopay, Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express. However, unlike most of the other VPN providers, Hotspot Shield doesn’t support Bitcoin, which is big turn off for users who primarily prefer this mode to pay for their online purchases or subscriptions.
Protocol Support & Encryption
After our thorough analysis, we figured out that Hotspot Shield offer some solid security through its Windows client with OpenVPN protocols. The client offers 256-bit AES encryption for safer browsing and data sharing. However, this information is not clearly stated on Hotspot Shield’s website. We confirmed about the 256-bit AES encryption by contacting Hotspot Shield’s Help Desk agent.
AnchorFree provides the VPN client for all major OS which are Windows, iOS (using IPsec), Android and Mac. For rest of the operating systems Hotspot Shield can be easily set up manually. The dialer’s over all look and feel is pretty good, which tells that the designers and developers have put in some real hard work to develop the product we see today.
The Android client, however, dumped us out of the browsing session unceremoniously without a warning. On rest of the operating systems we didn’t see any significant problems. In fact, there were a number of positive things we noted about the Hotspot Shield clients. They connect rapidly with the desired servers and the browsing/streaming speed also stays stable (only on the Elite Plan). Plus, you don’t have to stare at the dialer to figure out whether or not it is connected because when it is connected it shows a huge ‘Connected’ banner-like indication right on the face of the client.
Hotspot Shield is not very clear about whether it encourages P2P file sharing or not. Most of its servers block P2P file sharing, while others allow but don’t keep the users and their sessions anonymous, which can cause real trouble to P2P fans.
Hotspot Shield’s Elite users can add up to 5 devices to their account. This means that they can enjoy Hotspot Shield on various kinds of devices running diverse operating systems.
AnchorFree does promise not to collect, store or share any ‘permanent identifiers’ of users, though they do make use of targeted advertising for free users.
Money Back Guarantee:
Hotspot Shield offers a money back guarantee if the user is not satisfied with the service. The Hotspot Shield Elite users are eligible for a 100 percent, 30 day money back guarantee. How to avail the money back guarantee is discussed in detail on Hotspot Shield’s payments page.
Before you turn to the customer support, there is this searchable knowledge base at Hotspot Shield’s official website that you should check out. Here, you are most likely to get the answers or solutions you are looking for. There is a list of frequently asked questions as well as guides, along with a helpful/unhelpful button for users to directly submit a request to the support.
Posting a question in the help section will result in a response from a customer support executive within a day or two. However, at times users only get notification that their question has been escalated to a support ticket instead of getting the response they had anticipated. This is definitely not a very helpful situation. The Forum is also oddly sparse for huge service like Hotspot Shield that caters to around 200 million users worldwide.
Innovative Features or Special Add-ons
Here are the details of additional features offered by Hotspot Shield:
Dedicated IPs – No
Internet Kill Switch – Yes – (Only for Android through VPN Client)
Streaming Booster – No
Online Gaming Support – Yes (But consider it as a No)
Hotspot Shield claims that the service is good for gaming websites. However, this is all it is good for; to access blocked gaming sites. When it comes to playing online games, Hotspot Shield is not a VPN to use. We tested Hotspot Shield with a number of its servers to play numerous online games but due to the high ping the gaming experience was unsatisfactory.
NAT Firewall – No
Web Protection – No
Anti Malware Protection – Yes
Hotspot Shield’s Anti-Malware feature helps users prevent malware including the most common ones such as Flash Trojan virus on Mac, infected sites, phishing sites and spam sites.
Encrypted Email – No
Stealth Browser – No
DDoS Attack Protection – No
Hotspot Shield is a user-friendly VPN service that encrypts traffic, keeps the speed steady and offers flexible payment methods. The service is not rich when it comes to Add-Ons or special features that many other providers offer. However, it meets all the basic requirements of a VPN user i.e. unblocking content, becoming secure, and anonymous.
The free plan bombards users with unwanted advertisements through its annoying ad platform, injects code into web pages, slows down the response time and modifies browser settings. Even the Elite users aren’t safe from the adverts or gigantic Hotspot Shield Elite banners as soon as their Elite membership expires. The service doesn’t support Bitcoin as a payment mode.
All in all, AnchorFree Hotspot Shield gives you the freedom you deserve to browse a restriction-free internet along with protection from the undue surveillance, malware and other cyber threats such as hacking or identity theft. The VPN is also affective on public Wi-Fi hotspots. Hotspot Shield Elite plan must be tried out for security, anonymity and freedom requirements.