Editor’s Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest changes and additions since this review was last updated.
- Pricing has changed. There is no lifetime option anymore, but, 2-year and 3-year plans were added.
- Server locations increased to 25. (June 2018)
- Extensions for Chrome and Firefox are now available.
- Kindle isn’t supported anymore.
- The service introduced Hotspot Shield for businesses, called simply Hotspot Shield Business.
- Refund duration increased from 30 to 45-days.
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.
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”.
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).
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.
30/03/2017: AnchorFree recently updated the Hotspot Shield VPN with its new CATAPULT Hydra technology, a proprietary VPN protocol. The technology development was underway for over two years and has been deployed it to all of its VPN users, across mobile and desktop applications. Additionally, CATAPULT Hydra proprietary data transport system is available to their partners licensing and deploying VPN solutions within their own security and privacy solutions.
*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.