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Hotspot Shield free review: Safeguard your privacy affordably

Verified by Amy Reeves

Virtual private network (VPN) service providers offer individuals online privacy and data security by cloaking and anonymising their information so their online activity remains hidden from prying eyes and cybercriminals. Hotspot Shield is a reasonable option for those seeking a free VPN service with considerable security features to safeguard them from malicious online threats. 

This article will thoroughly examine Hotspot Shield’s free VPN service, assessing its features and benefits.

30-second review

Hotspot Shield is a reliable VPN that offers a fast and secure service. Its free version has a 500MB daily data usage limit, which can be increased on Android and iOS devices by watching ads. It’s easy to use and has great features, making it one of the best free VPNs available. It offers more than 160 servers for free users, surpassing most other free VPNs. 

As with most free things, there are strings attached to the free version of Hotspot Shield There are some drawbacks, such as the lack of optimised streaming and gaming modes. The unavailability of these modes restricts users from playing games, such as Fortnite, on different servers or viewing geo-restricted content. There are significantly fewer servers and locations available to users than in the premium version. Those on the free version can only access the support centre to browse FAQs, whereas premium users can access 24/7 live customer support.

Furthermore, Hotspot Shield’s free version can only be downloaded on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Chrome, whereas the premium version can be used on smart TVs, routers and Linux. However, all the protocols and additional features, such as Internet Protocol (IP) and Domain Name System (DNS) Leak Protection, are accessible to free users.  

Rating: ★★½

How we research and rate free VPNs

250+
HOURS PERFORMANCE TESTING
700+
CUSTOMER REVIEWS READ
500+
HOURS OF RESEARCH
35
COMPETITORS COMPARED
4
VPN EXPERTS CONSULTED

Our researchers are dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date information so you can make an informed decision when it comes to choosing a reputable free VPN. We will only recommend a provider after hundreds of hours of testing, competitor feature comparisons, and after taking into account verified customer feedback and reviews and the opinions of industry experts.

Our Hotspot Shield VPN free version review score was determined by the following categories:

  • Privacy and performance (30%)
  • Features and functionality (30%)
  • Reputation and credibility (25%)
  • Plans and pricing/value (10%)
  • Customer experience (5%)

We research and test a total of 25 elements within these categories including:

  • Number and location of servers
  • Streaming service accessibility
  • Security features such as AES-256
  • Performance (upload, download, latency)
  • Value for money, guarantees, and customer service
  • Independent server-site security audits

All of our VPN articles are verified by our in-house team of fact-checkers, so you can be assured that our content is as accurate and up to date as possible. For more information, read our article on how we review VPNs

Hotspot Shield overview

  • Data limit: Daily limit of 500MB
  • Number of servers for free account users: 160+ 
  • Number of locations: One (US)  
  • Maximum number of connected devices: One for free users, 10-25 for premium users 
  • AES-256: Yes
  • No-log policy: No
  • Audited no-log policy: No
  • Headquarters: US

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Numerous servers Not ad-free (on Android and iOS)
All protocols available in the free version Limited simultaneous connections

How does Hotspot Shield VPN compare to other free services?

Hotspot Shield’s free VPN is a decent option for users, as it offers numerous beneficial features compared with other renowned VPN services. Proton VPN is regarded as one of the best free VPN services, but offers only 152 servers compared with Hotspot Shield’s 160+ servers. PrivadoVPN’s and Hide.me’s free versions are also popular among internet users, but they have monthly data caps of 10GB, whereas Hotspot Shield VPN provides uncapped data usage (500MBs per day but can be increased by watching ads). So, in some regards, such as server count and data usage restrictions, Hotspot Shield has a lot to offer compared with its competitors.

Nevertheless, like all free VPNs, it does have its drawbacks, such as a limited number of simultaneous connections. Most free versions allow users to connect three or more devices, whereas Hotspot Shield’s free version only offers one connection. Another major issue is that the free version has ads that must be watched to bypass the 500MB daily data limit, often ruining the user experience. Conversely, Proton VPN’s free version is completely ad-free. 

VPN Servers Countries Data limit/month Platforms supported Torrenting Unblocked streaming Audited no-log policy
Hotspot Shield Free 160+ 1 15GB* 5 Yes No No
Proton VPN Free 100 3 No limit 6 No No Yes
PrivadoVPN Free 12 10 10GB 6 No Yes** No
Windscribe Free 11 11 2-15GB*** 12 Yes Yes** No
Atlas VPN Free 3 3 5GB 4 Yes Yes** Yes
Hide.me Free 5 5 10GB 19 Yes No Yes

* Daily 500MB data limit that can be increased by watching ads

** Limited library access; video/audio quality reduced by bandwidth limit

*** >2GB data requires email verification, social media promotion

Best alternative to
NordVPN is one of the most trusted VPN providers in the world, offering top-notch encryption, incredible speeds, and extra features to make all your online activities more secure.
4.5
Excellent Trustpilot rating
24/7 customer support
AES-256 encryption
VIEW PLANS At NordVPN

Hotspot Shield VPN free features

Although the free version of Hotspot Shield doesn’t offer the same features as its premium version, it still provides a reasonable experience for its users. Access to streaming content, up to 10 simultaneous connections and ad-free browsing is only available on its premium plans but the free version still prioritises its users’ security and privacy, providing all the essential protocols on both free and paid versions. Users also have access to a considerable number of servers.

Server count and countries

Compared with Hotspot Shields’s premium version, which has 800+ servers, the free version only offers around 160 servers. The number of accessible locations is restricted to only one: the US. Data and speed limits prevent users from streaming most video content with the free version. A premium subscription is required to fully access content.

Encryption and privacy

Hotspot Shield uses Advanced Encryption Standard with 256-bits (AES-256) and its own VPN protocol, Hydra. It supports Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2), which is considered extremely secure.

Hotspot Shield has an unclear no-logs policy, as it stores certain information, including the time duration of your VPN sessions, the bandwidth consumed, device hashes and the domains that you accessed. Furthermore, it has not yet audited its privacy policies to verify its claims which state that the collected data is anonymised and can’t be tracked back to the users.

To prove their security and privacy claims, most VPN companies often share third-party audits of their products. However, Hotspot Shield VPN still needs to release audit results. In comparison, TunnelBear, another VPN provider offering a free version, has been conducting annual audits for the past five years to establish its credibility. 

Hotspot Shield has released a comprehensive transparency report covering its services from 2016 to 2018. Despite several requests, the report confirms that the company has never disclosed any user information. Additionally, the company doesn’t store browsing activity data but collects users’ IP addresses to match them to the best VPN server. This IP address information is encrypted and deleted at the end of the VPN session. 

Hydra, Internet Protocol Security and OpenVPN protocols are included in the free version, allowing users to enjoy the same benefits as those with premium subscriptions. Hotspot Shield’s own protocol, Hydra, uses the trusted Open Secure Sockets Layer library for encryption and represents an upgraded transport protocol version. However, this protocol is not a new encryption method. Developing a new encryption technique would require rigorous testing to ensure security, as any undiscovered weaknesses could be exploited.

Hotspot Shield is owned by Pango Inc., which Aura acquired in July 2020, a US-based company. It’s important to note that the US is part of the Five Eyes Alliance and has a history of issuing warrants demanding sensitive user information, making it less than ideal for a VPN service.

Hotspot Shield free version performance test results

Testing a VPN involves several steps to ensure it provides the security, speed and reliability you need. At Independent Advisor, our formula includes:

  1. Connection speed: We start by testing our internet speed without the VPN connected using a tool like Speedtest.net. Next, we connect to the VPN and run the speed test again. While it’s common for a VPN to slightly reduce your speed due to encryption overhead, we’re looking for significant drops that could affect your browsing or streaming experience. We test for download and upload speed and latency to ascertain how they are affected by using the service in different server locations.
  2. Security checks: We use a service like IPLeak.net to check for DNS leaks, which can reveal one’s true location, even when connected to a VPN. We also check for WebRTC leaks, which can expose your IP address.

Our researchers applied these same standards when testing Proton VPN’s performance.

Download speed Degradation (% of base value) Upload speed Degradation (% of base value) Latency Latency increase from base value
No VPN 152.09Mbps 159.16Mbps 6ms
UK to UK 156.06Mbps 102% 156.82Mbps 98.50% 10ms 166%
UK to US 139.98Mbps 92% 55.12Mbps 34.60% 109ms 1816%
Speed test before connecting to Hotspot Shield free VPN
Speed test when connected to Hotspot Shield VPN free UK server
Speed test when connected to Hotspot Shield VPN free US server

Without connecting to any server, our download speed was 152.09Mbps, and our upload speed was 159.16Mbps, with the latency being 6ms. While connected to a UK server, the download speed became 156.06Mbps, and the upload speed was 156.82Mbps with 10ms latency.

Next, the US server showed a download speed of 139.98Mbps, an upload speed of 55.12Mbps and 109ms latency. Our researchers were unable to test the speeds when connected to an Australian or Japanese server, as they are not available.

Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) leak test

WebRTC, a standardised technology, enables direct communication between web browsers without requiring an intermediate server. However, this can result in a possible IP leak (WebRTC leak) that cybercriminals can detect and exploit. So, using a VPN that successfully cloaks your IP address is essential. Hotspot Shield successfully masked our original IP address, passing the WebRTC test without any leaks.

Breaches and audits

Reputable VPN services often conduct audits to clarify their policies, which increases transparency and makes them more trustworthy. Hotspot Shield is yet to conduct an audit of its privacy policy as it claims to only store necessary data, which is kept in an anonymised state. However, Hotspot Shield’s unique protocol called Hydra has been audited by a third-party team. The lack of a firm no-log policy and an audit raises questions about its reliability.

Hotspot Shield free version compatibility

The free version of Hotspot Shield is available on Android, iOS, Mac, Windows and Chrome. The premium version is also available on Linux and smart TVs and is compatible with specific routers.

Desktop app

The desktop application is simple and easy to understand and most features are easily accessible. The home screen consists of the server bar, the power button and the data usage indicator.

You can choose the settings option to select different protocols and you can navigate all the available servers from the bottom-left bar where the current server’s name appears.

You can choose the settings option to select different protocols.

Overall, the app is straightforward to use and provides good functionality.

Mobile app

The mobile app is quite similar to the desktop app with a near-identical interface. A timer indicates the remaining time for free users, which they can increase by watching ads.

Servers can be located and viewed from the bar below the power button:

Everything related to your account can be viewed from the rightmost option at the bottom.

Hotspot Shield customer support

Free users of Hotspot Shield can only access the support centre, search the FAQs section and speak with a chatbot that answers limited questions. Users can request the chatbot to relay their query to the customer support team, who then respond via email.

What do customers say?

Overall, Hotspot Shield has positive reviews, rating over four stars out of five on all major app stores and Trustpilot. Most customers appreciate its support services, unblocking of restricted content and steady connections.

“The ads can be inconvenient and annoying, but it’s still a great app for me, especially since I don’t have to pay anything. I love how it doesnt give me an ad everytime I open an app or take a picture like other VPNs with a free plan. Overall great app. Although, sometimes it will turn on without me turning it on and I’ll have an ad that goes off while I’m sleeping or while I’m in class. But that’s happened like four times in all the seven months I’ve used it.”

  • Solomon Griffen via Google Play

“It is a really good app to get into things that have been blocked like my school wifi blocks SnapChat, TikTok and all of that stuff and, for me, before I got this I couldn’t do anything because I don’t have a SIM card well I wanted to try my luck and get this and, to my surprise, it actually worked! It doesn’t really help connect you to wifi more but it unblocks stuff and does help with internet traffic the only reason I don’t give it five stars is because it’s pretty slow most of the time and it makes me watch a good bit of adds like four in a row every once in a while.

But I recommend this if you need wifi access to something and almost everything’s blocked like at school or if you want to at least take more caution in being safe while using others wifi or hotspots!”

  • Jasmine via Apple App Store

Independent Advisor’s verdict

Hotspot Shield’s free VPN is ideal for users looking for a bargain, as it offers a reasonable number of servers and all the necessary protocols. Some concerns include the data limit, as only 500MB data can be used per day, but this can be increased on Android and iOS devices by watching some ads.

Other than that, it’s a reasonable option compared to other free VPN services such as TunnelBear (with a 2GB data limit) and Atlas VPN (with limited server count and compatibility).

★★½

Score breakdown

Reputation ★★★
Privacy ★1/2
Performance and features ★★1/2
Plans and pricing value ★★★1/2
Customer experience ★★
Round up of today’s best VPN deals
NordVPN 2 year £2.49 /Month
£2.49 /Month
Surfshark 24 month £1.79 /Month
£1.79 /Month
ExpressVPN 12 month £6.79 /Month
£6.79 /Month
CyberGhost 2 year £1.78 /Month
£1.78 /Month
Proton 2 year £4.26 /Month
£4.26 /Month
PIA 2 year £1.57 /Month
£1.57 /Month
Atlas 2 year £1.34 /Month
£1.34 /Month
PrivadoVPN 2 year £1.99 /Month
£1.99 /Month
Windscribe 12 month £4.60 /Month
£4.60 /Month
IPVanish 2 year £2.92 /Month
£2.92 /Month

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.

Amy’s work covers topics ranging from home, interior and garden design to DIY step-by-steps, planning permission and build costs, and has been published in Period Living, Real Homes, and 25 Beautiful Homes, Homes and Gardens.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Amy manages homes-related content for the site, including solar panels, combi boilers, and windows.

Her passion for saving tired and inefficient homes also extends to her own life; Amy completed a renovation of a mid-century house in 2022 and is about to embark on an energy-efficient overhaul of a 1800s cottage in Somerset.