Hotspot Shield review

A well-known VPN service that offers a free account

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Our Verdict

In our testing, this VPN actually improved the speed of our internet connection, and with a tempting asking price, this is a very compelling piece of software.

For

  • Low price
  • Spectacular download speeds
  • 7-day trial

Against

  • Few server locations
  • Limited configuration options

AnchorFree's Hotspot Shield is a very popular VPN service, best known for its free account.

Hotspot Shield Elite is the £18.95 ($25, AU$33) per year extended edition (£63.95 lifetime plan – that's $84, AU$112) which drops the ads, supports private browsing, virtual locations, allows "access all content", and supports up to five devices.

The service offers a choice of 20 locations including the US, UK, Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Russia, Turkey and Mexico.

There are clients available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and, unusually, Kindle.

The Elite account comes with a 7-day trial, but you must enter your credit card details when you sign up. You're charged once the trial is over – however, there's also a 30-day refund option.

Privacy

The official product pages never tell you everything you need to know about a service, so we headed off to the Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions pages to uncover the real details. Hotpot Shield doesn't have the shortest of either of these that we've ever seen, but they still do a reasonable job of explaining how the system is run.

There's not just a blanket "no logging" claim, for instance. Instead it's explained that personal details such as email addresses and payment information are stored, but not related to your online activities, and any browsing or connection information which might be recorded is deleted when your VPN session closes.

One unusual clause says that "as part of the Service, AnchorFree may install its own certificate on your Device as a Trusted Publisher" – and "AnchorFree reserves the right to make future installs or updates to such certificates on your Device in connection with providing the Service at any time without any notice..."

That isn't necessarily a problem, but it's certainly more intrusive than most of the competition.

There's also an age clause, warning that you may not "use the Hotspot Shield Software or the Service if you are under the age of 18".

Performance

Hotpot Shield's colourful client is compact and straightforward to use. Just click a button to connect, optionally change your location as required, and the system clearly shows when you're protected.

There are an array of buttons for popular streaming and other sites, including Netflix, YouTube, HBO and Facebook. Clicking any of these immediately opens your default browser at that address.

Hotpot Shield Elite has a very small number of settings. The most important – automatically turning on the product for unsafe Wi-Fi hotspots, and preventing leaks – are turned on by default, so you're not left with much to do.

IPLeak.net showed that the service hid our IP address and avoided DNS leaks. The WebRTC test showed an IP address belonging to an AnchorFree anonymous proxy. This didn't expose our identity in any way, but it may have allowed other sites to detect that we were using a VPN and block us accordingly.

The results from our performance tests* were excellent, with latency showing only a marginal 11% increase compared to our normal connection, and both upload and download speeds were a little faster once connected to the VPN (30% and 4%, respectively).

Final verdict

We'd like more configurability and a wider range of locations, but Hotspot Shield Elite's high speeds and low price give it a lot of appeal, and the 7-day trial makes it easy to test the service for yourself.

*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we've reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.