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Many quality competitors charge less than half the price. Although we review based on standard prices, there are ways to get the service for less. There’s no support for paying by Bitcoin, but you can use a range of other methods, including cards, PayPal, and for extra anonymity gift cards from hundreds of companies. Sign up for a Premium account and although you’re asked for your payment details, you’re not billed for the first 7 days. Cancel within that time and there’s nothing to pay, and even if you hand over the cash, you’re still protected by a generous day money-back guarantee.
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Hotspot Shield VPN review

Many quality competitors charge less than half the price. Although we review based on standard prices, there are ways to get the service for less. There’s no support for paying by Bitcoin, but you can use a range of other methods, including cards, PayPal, and for extra anonymity gift cards from hundreds of companies.

Sign up for a Premium account and although you’re asked for your payment details, you’re not billed for the first 7 days. Cancel within that time and there’s nothing to pay, and even if you hand over the cash, you’re still protected by a generous day money-back guarantee. CyberGhost also offers 45 days, but most providers stop at 30, and Private Internet Access only gives you 7. Hotspot Shield will notify you if your connection is interrupted or disconnects Image credit: AnchorFree Privacy Understanding a VPN’s security usually starts by looking at its protocol support, encryption and authentication details.

This can be hugely complicated, but just seeing that a service supports a secure protocol like OpenVPN can give you reassuring feedback about its safety. Instead it uses its own proprietary Catapult Hydra technology. This isn’t as worrying as it might sound.

Catapult Hydra’s focus is on improving performance, and the encryption side of the protocol uses much the same standards as everyone else. Which, for non-encryption geeks, is more than good enough to keep you safe. One problem with proprietary technologies like Catapult Hydra is there’s no easy way to see what else is going on.

OpenVPN is open source and any developer can look at the code, figure out how it works, perhaps find problems or suggest improvements, something which isn’t possible here. That doesn’t mean you must take Hotspot Shield’s claims entirely on trust, though. The company points out that Catapult Hydra is used by ‘the majority of large cybersecurity companies that offer VPN services from within their apps, such as McAfee, Bitdefender, Cheetah Mobile and many others.

Client implementation is also important, especially when it comes to blocking DNS and WebRTC leaks which might give away your real identity. Some of Hotspot Shield’s apps include a kill switch to prevent this by shutting down your internet until the VPN is back up, but does this really work? Some quick Windows tests got off to a good start. Even with the kill switch turned off, the client didn’t leak our real IP address when we changed locations, and our IP address was exposed for typically no more than a couple of seconds if the connection dropped.

When we turned the kill switch on, our IP address wasn’t visible at all. Digging deeper, we found the client opened multiple local TCP connections to manage the tunnel.

If we forced these to close, we wondered, would that break the client? That ability to cope with unexpected events is a sign of smart engineering, and suggests the client will cope with oddball issues that might break other apps. AnchorFree Logging Hotspot Shield makes apparently definitive no-logging claims on its website. A support page , for instance, states that “We do not collect any personally identifiable information on Hotspot Shield.

We do not collect, store, or share any permanent identifiers of users, including IP addresses. We do not keep any activity logs for any of our users, whether they are free or Premium. For example, the Privacy Policy also tells us that the service collects information about: If you’re looking for extra reassurance, though, AnchorFree’s Transparency Report , is an interesting read. It details the requests it received in for information from governments and law enforcement agencies and how much user data it produced that turns out to be 56, and none.

Ookla Performance Hotspot Shield makes big claims about the performance of its Catapult Hydra protocol, but does it live up to the hype? We checked the service out with SpeedTest , TestMy and other websites to find out. Connecting to our nearest UK location returned speeds of around 65 to 67Mbps on our 75Mbps fiber broadband test line. Some tests showed performance dropping as little as 1Mbps compared to non-VPN connections, one of the lowest overheads we’ve seen the average is around 2.

Even if you’ve a relatively slow internet connection, that should ensure you see fractionally better performance than the competition.

Next, we used the same benchmarking websites to check US servers from a US location, using a very fast Mbs connection. Speeds dropped to around Mbps, but that’s still a significant improvement on a lot of the competition many struggle to reach Mbps, few ever exceed Mbps. Short-term tests can never tell you very much, but Hotspot Shield was unusually consistent, too, giving us better-than-average confidence in the accuracy of our results.

Long-distance checks aren’t as useful as there are more factors which can influence performance, but as we’ve seen in previous reviews, Hotspot Shield also performed very well in these. UK connections to Europe and US servers delivered very similar results as our local UK servers, and even the farthest connections, like Vietnam, regularly managed more than 60Mbps. These are stellar results, both for top speeds and consistency, especially for the most distant locations.

If you plan to regularly connect to faraway servers, Hotspot Shield just might be one of the best VPNs around. Netflix Netflix Connecting to a VPN can help you bypass all kinds of website restrictions, from streaming sites which block content in specific countries, to countries such as China which block a host of popular sites.

Measuring a VPN’s unblocking abilities is difficult as there are so many factors involved, but we try to get a feel for its effectiveness by checking how the service works with YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Netflix. Hotspot Shield gave us speedy access to geoblocked YouTube clips, without any hassle at all. That’s good news, although also no great surprise, as YouTube is relatively easy to unblock. We had no success with BBC iPlayer, unfortunately, which displayed its ‘not available in your location’ warning and refused to stream content.

That’s disappointing, especially as it worked very well for our last review. Unblocking success rates can vary over time, though, and Hotspot Shield told us that ‘issues with BBC are a known issue that we are currently trying to resolve’, so maybe it’ll be working again by the time you read this.

Netflix goes to great efforts to block VPNs and is normally the most difficult streaming site to access. Hotspot Shield allowed us to download torrents without any bandwidth limits or restrictions Image credit: There’s no mention of this on the front page of the website, most of its feature lists or the opening page of its FAQs.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll discover some good news. The service fully supports P2P on all servers, so once you’ve connected with any of the clients Windows, Mac, Android or iOS , you’re ready to start downloading.

The support site has a few simple guides for beginners, with advice on why you might want to use a VPN for torrenting , and pointers on How To Download Torrents Anonymously.

Whatever method you’re using, Hotspot Shield doesn’t have any bandwidth limits or restrictions, so you should be able to use the service as much as you like. Hotspot Shield offers clients for most major platforms and browsers Image credit: AnchorFree Client setup Sign up for Hotspot Shield and you’re redirected to your web console, where you’ll find download links for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS clients, along with the Chrome extension.

If you’re hoping to find instructions for setting up connections manually, on routers or other platforms, you’re going to be disappointed. Hotspot Shield used to support standard protocols such as OpenVPN, but you’re now only able to use its proprietary ‘Catapult Hydra’ technology. The company claims this is worthwhile, quoting speed increases of up to 2. These apps and clients are, at least, easy to install and use. The Windows client set itself up much like any other application, while the mobile apps and Chrome extension are available in their relevant app stores.

Log in with the username and password you created during signup and you’re ready to explore the service. This is what you see when you first open Hotspot Shield’s Windows client Image credit: AnchorFree Follow the instructions and you’re connected to the service at a very high speed. We connected from UK to Vietnam in an average of seconds, for instance. Most VPNs take at least 5 seconds to make a local connection, some require It all looks great and is very well presented.

Clicking the current location displays a list of other countries you can choose from. You now have the option to choose locations within a few countries, a welcome improvement since our last review, but there’s still no Favorites system or ‘Recently used’ list to speed up reconnecting.

You can set Hotspot Shield to connect automatically or even enable a kill switch from the settings Image credit: AnchorFree Hotspot Shield’s settings dialog is equally simple, with very few options. It still covers the bare essentials, though, with switches to run the client when Windows starts, prevent IP leaks and enable a kill switch to block internet access if the VPN drops. There’s one welcome bonus feature in the client’s ability to automatically connect to Hotspot Shield when you access unsafe wifi hotspots, safe hotspots or all networks.

That option isn’t available nearly as often as we’d like, and it’s good to see it here. The ‘Web domain bypass’ feature is a recent addition, and enables choosing domains that won’t be routed through the VPN, handy for websites which don’t work as usual when you appear to be in another location.

The client’s Help option is another plus. You can get step-by-step advice in a click or two, and if that doesn’t help, a Contact button opens your browser at Hotspot Shield support’s Live Chat page for some professional assistance. This is the interface of Hotspot Shield’s Android app Image credit: Open the app, click Connect, and your current location is displayed on a small map.

Tap the location name or the map and you’ll notice a useful extra. While the Windows client always reconnects initially to whatever server you were using last, the Android app can be set up to connect to the fastest server for your current location. Scrolling down the screen reveals another handy option in the ability to automatically protect the traffic of specific apps.

Add your required apps to the list and Hotspot Shield will automatically connect whenever they need to go online. A Settings panel also follows much the same pattern as the Windows client, with options to start when your device boots, or to automatically turn on Hotspot Shield for particular network types secured, unsecured, mobile. There’s no integrated kill switch setting, unfortunately, but you do get a battery-saving extra in the ability to turn off the VPN when your device is sleeping.

We’re glad to see the Android app also has embedded help documents from the Hotspot Shield site, allowing you to get guidance on common issues from within its interface, rather than simply opening a support website and leaving you to find the relevant articles on your own. There’s not a lot of power or configurability here, then, but the Android app is certainly easy to use, and its ability to automatically choose the best server is a welcome advantage over the Windows client.

AnchorFree iOS app Hotspot Shield’s iOS app is another close interface match for the other clients, with little more than a connect button, a world map and list of locations, and a very few settings.

As usual, the iOS version has a touch more visual style than the desktop competition. Once you’ve hit the Connect button, the app doesn’t just highlight your current location on the map, it also leaves it pulsing, gently. That makes it easier to spot your location at a glance, and conveniently, it looks great, too. What you don’t get is much in the way of functionality. The ‘optimal server’ connection option you get with Android isn’t available here, and you’re left to select a specific country as your default location.

The Settings panel is sparse, too, with no autostart or autoconnect options, and no kill switch. The only option you get is an ‘Insecure connections’ setting which warns you if you’re connecting to an insecure network, perhaps prompting you to connect manually.

What is a VPN?

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Hotspot Shield VPN

Chrome What is a VPN? Hotspot Shield VPN acts like an underground tunnel that connects you to your favorite websites. People all around the world use Hotspot Shield VPN to gain unrestricted access to all their favorite content from almost any location. With governments and ISPs continuously trying to censor the internet, internet freedom and net neutrality have become controversial issues that affect the lives of virtually all people.

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