Hotspot Shield developed its own proprietary VPN protocol known as Catapult Hydra, which is both good and bad.
When it comes to VPNs, I like to be a bit finicky.
After all, what’s a VPN that doesn’t allow you to unblock global streaming libraries, have fun torrenting, and still protect your privacy?
That’s why, whenever I get hold of a new VPN, I always make sure to go into the testing process with an unbiased eye.
This way, I get to know the service from the inside out, and also bring you up to speed with the latest VPN info.
So naturally, when I stumbled upon Hotspot Shield by Pango, I had to put it through the works.
And here’s how I work to score and rank them.
Hotspot Shield claims to be a fast and extremely secure VPN that unblocks all internet content.
It also uses proprietary technology to boost speeds and allows torrenting…at least, that’s what the service providers claim.
But if you’re like me and have some experience in the field of VPNs, then you know that for any product, intense testing is required to get to the real performance parameters.
And that’s what I did with this one as well.
The results I found were mixed. While the VPN does provide good coverage and ping speed, the privacy and logging policy leave something to be desired.
Also, I have my doubts about the service’s browser add-ons.
The score result is poor at 58 over 100!
But enough beating about the bush. Let’s dive into the details of Hotspot Shield and see what it’s made of.
Brief Overview of Hotspot Shield VPN
Hotspot Shield is owned and operated by Pango, a US-based company.
Currently, the VPN service is divided into two parts: a free VPN service with limited capabilities and a premium version known as Hotspot Shield Elite.
In terms of customer base, I found the service to be rather impressive.
It has over 650 million customers worldwide and boasts a large server network spanning over 80 countries.
The free version is supported by ads and comes with a 500MB data cap per day.
In contrast, the paid version removes the data cap, offers access to all the global servers, and comes with an impressive range of security features.
And yes, you do get rid of the ads as well.
With such features, I was curious to find out how it performs in my standardized VPN tests.
As usual, I tested it out for streaming quality first.
Hotspot Shield and Netflix?
I began by trying out the Netflix US library, which is notorious for its many geoblocks and restrictions.
As expected, the free version failed to get past the streaming giant’s safeguards.
But the paid version drilled through Netflix’s walls like a hot knife in butter!
Although the service doesn’t have dedicated streaming servers, still, connecting to any general US server is enough to get the ball rolling.
Just try out a few to settle on what works best for your needs.
After my success with Netflix US, I also tried out the UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan libraries.
In each case, Hotspot Shield successfully unblocked location-specific content.
Next, I headed over to some other streaming services such as Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Disney Plus, and was able to get smooth streams in each case.
Does It Support Torrenting?
After I was satisfied that the provider does indeed support streaming, I next headed over to test out the service for torrenting.
First, I tried to torrent using the free version but was immediately blocked.
But the paid version allowed me to use torrenting to the fullest extent.
In fact, on closer inspection, I understood that Hotspot Shield actually supports and promotes torrenting actively.
All premium servers are fully compatible with P2P sharing, and the website even has resources on torrenting best practices.
Torrenting speeds are fast, and the VPN kill switch and DNS Leak Protection make this service well-suited for torrenting.
Plus, as Hotspot Shield hides your IP from the service provider, this means all your P2P activity will remain hidden.
They did pass all the leak tests here.
However, there’s a cloud to this silver lining as well.
It uses a proprietary protocol, which means you can’t really be sure whether your P2P activity is safe from prying eyes or not.
Plus, the logging policy isn’t that great either.
All things considered, I’d say if you prefer privacy while torrenting, then this service leaves a lot to be desired.
Check out ExpressVPN instead if you value your privacy above all.
Is Hotspot Shield Fast Enough?
When I first heard of Hotspot Shield, like most popular VPN providers, Pango claimed that it was the fastest VPN around.
But I’ve tested enough VPNs to know that no one can really be taken at their word when it comes to VPN speeds.
So, I decided to check out what’s what for myself.
Hotspot Shield uses a proprietary protocol called Catapult Hydra that’s designed to enhance speeds as compared to other services.
I started the process with a 32Mbps connection and got down to business in Malaysia here.
Since Hotspot Shield doesn’t allow the selection of individual servers but only the location country, I couldn’t really check out multiple servers in the same location.
However, with the Singapore server connected, my download speed was about 25Mbps, which isn’t really good enough in my opinion (a drop of over 21% in speed).
Next, I headed over to the UK, and it’s getting worse with just a 14Mbps download speed.
After covering the above two locations I next took a trip across the world to the US, to be specific Houston.
Surprisingly, here I got speeds of over 26Mbps, which is amazing considering the distance traveled by the data packets across the globe from where I am exactly.
What’s more, in each case the connection was steady, and there was very little fluctuation.
No wonder my experience with the Netflix US libraries has been extremely well received.
All things considered; I think Hotspot Shield is one of the better VPNs when it comes to the US servers but not the rest.
But what about security?
Is It Secure Enough?
When it comes to the security factor, Hotspot Shield has enough ammo under its belt.
The service uses industry-grade Advanced Encryption System algorithms to protect user data as it travels through the VPN tunnel.
Another interesting fact about this service is that it doesn’t employ any of the usual VPN protocols like OpenVPN or L2TP.
Instead, the company has developed its own proprietary VPN protocol known as Catapult Hydra.
This is both good and bad.
For one, the protocol is a company secret, which means users actually have no idea about how their data is being handled.
I did some digging and was able to understand that the protocol is based on the OpenSSL library, and is in essence an improvement of the TCP.
However, due to being a proprietary protocol, Catapult Hydra offers blazing-fast speeds.
The good news is, their free version also incorporates the Catapult Hydra and not the PPTP protocol that is deemed insecure by today’s standards.
Plus, even though the protocol itself isn’t public, nevertheless its performance has been evaluated by large corporations such as McAfee and BitDefender.
I also tested the service for IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks, and both the mobile as well as desktop apps performed impeccably for all tests.
However, the browser extensions weren’t that successful in guarding against WebRTC and DNS leaks.
The Windows app comes equipped with a kill switch that ensures your data is protected against sudden connection drops.
But this feature is only available on the Windows platform and is disabled by default.
This, I think, is a severe drawback of the service.
Yet another drawback that I discovered also has to do with the kill switch.
When switching servers, the kill switch doesn’t get activated automatically, which means your IP is exposed for a tiny time frame.
This, though momentary, is a lapse nonetheless.
But despite these smaller shortcomings, I was happy to find that Hotspot Shield activates automatically when you’re connected to an unsafe network.
Plus, it also has a domain bypass feature.
However, in case you’re an advanced user looking for features such as double-hop, split tunneling, and manual configurations, then you’ll be disappointed.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t have any of these features, and it even lacks an AdBlocker.
On a serious note, Surfshark offers all these premium features at a fraction of the Hotspot Shield’s price.
All things considered; I’d say Hotspot Shield is a service that comes with mixed blessings as far as security is concerned.
Does It Do Enough To Protect Your Privacy?
As I’ve already mentioned before, Hotspot Shield is owned and operated by Pango, which is based in the US.
This means it falls under the jurisdiction of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance.
That’s enough to make privacy freaks like me jittery.
Here are the 7 habits that I followed in order to protect my online privacy even without the use of a VPN.
Although it doesn’t log all your online activity, the service does keep track of quite a lot of info such as IP, email, username, and mobile ID.
Do you know the IP itself can say a lot about you more than you ever imagine?
I was even more vexed to find that the free version actually shares user information with third parties for marketing purposes.
This is not really something you expect from a VPN, which, at the core, is meant to protect your privacy.
I also found that in the past, Pango has been involved in multiple incidents of user data misuse.
Coupled together, all this has led me to believe that Hotspot Shield is not really that good at providing peace of mind when it comes to user privacy.
Do not forget why we need a VPN in the first place.
Will It Bypass The Great China Firewall?
YES…and maybe no.
Hotspot Shield has mixed results when it comes to bypassing censorship restrictions in countries such as China and Russia.
The proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol works well on some platforms to provide good unblocking performance.
But in some cases, the service failed to get past the Chinese firewall.
If you’re looking to travel to any of the high-restriction nations, Hong Kong soon will be on the list of high internet restriction areas.
More on the VPN for Hong Kong from my perspective, I suggest you opt for a better option such as NordVPN.
After much deliberation, I’m of the against opinion that Hotspot Shield is a great VPN on its own, compared to other premium service providers and it does leave a lot to be desired.
However, the service is fast (the US alone), reliable, and can unblock most streaming services.
Plus, it’s got a free plan, which is something you don’t really see in VPNs these days.
So, should you try it out?
I’d say if you’re just starting out and want a VPN primarily for entertainment purposes, then Hotspot Shield will serve you well.
However, for more advanced users, I suggest taking a look at other options that provide greater customizability.
Check to see if you are a privacy freak like me, take this fun quiz here to find out.