Hotspot Shield logo.
Image: Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is one of a few VPN providers that offer both free and premium plans. While the Premium plan offers more in terms of server location and simultaneous device connection, there is more to know about both plans to help you decide whether to go for the free Basic plan or pay for the Premium service.

In this article, I discuss the features available on this VPN, including their pros and cons to help you choose the right option for your needs.

Hotspot Shield VPN Free vs. Hotspot Shield VPN Premium: Comparison

The table below summarizes how the key features of Hotspot Shield’s Basic and Premium plans compare.

FeaturesBasic (free)Premium ($7.99/month) annual billing
Split tunnelingYesYes
Internet kill switchYesYes
Hydra protocolYesYes
Simultaneous device connections1 device10 devices
Streaming modeNoYes
Gaming modeNoYes
Data limitsUnlimitedUnlimited
PlatformWindows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome.Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Linux, Smart TV, Routers.
Virtual server locationsOne location125+ locations

Feature comparison: Hotspot Shield VPN Free vs. Hotspot Shield VPN Premium

Let’s take a look at some of the key features and their availability in Hotspot Shield plans.

Split Tunneling

Hotspot Shield has split tunneling in both its Basic and Premium plans, allowing users to access a public network while still being connected to a VPN server. The feature has two capabilities: Bypass VPN and Route via VPN. With Bypass VPN, users can select apps or websites that will connect to the internet without a VPN. As for the Route via VPN, users can select apps that exclusively go through the VPN connection. This technique can result in increased network speeds and a boost in the flow of traffic.

Hotspot Shield Split Tunneling.
Figure A: Hotspot Shield Split Tunneling. Image: Hotspot Shield

Internet Kill Switch

This feature acts like a stop-loss in trading. It is available on both versions of Hotspot Shield and works by stopping data flow or internet traffic from occurring when the secure connection suddenly drops. With this feature, you can prevent data leaks that may occur when your VPN encounters a sudden disconnection.

Hotspot Shield Kill Switch.
Figure B: Hotspot Shield Kill Switch. Image: Hotspot Shield

Hydra Protocol

Hotspot Shield offers different VPN protocols, including Smart and WireGuard, but Catapult Hydra is their proprietary VPN protocol. It is available to Hotspot Shield Basic and Premium users. This protocol, according to Hotspot Shield, is their fastest VPN protocol and works by using standard TLS-based security to establish secure client-server connections and encrypt the payload. Hydra is available in all Hotspot Shield-supported platforms.

Hotspot Shield Hydra Protocol.
Figure C: Hotspot Shield Hydra Protocol. Image: Hotspot Shield

Device Connections

Hotspot Shield can allow you to connect to one device at a time if you’re a Basic user. However, if you’re a Premium subscriber, you can connect to 10 devices simultaneously on a single subscription. Hotspot Shield is available on all major platforms, including iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux, Smart TVs, and Chrome.

Server Locations

Hotspot Shield is among the few VPN services that have servers in China and Russia. Free VPN users have access to only one server location in the United States. If you subscribe to the Premium plan, you can access 800+ servers scattered in 125+ virtual locations. Premium plan users can also enjoy city-level server locations; for example, there is an option to connect to 29 different US locations, 6 in Australia, and 4 in Canada.

Hotspot Shield Server Locations.
Figure D: Hotspot Shield Server Locations. Image: Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield Basic pros and cons

Hotspot Shield Basic comes with a lot of benefits, but there are some drawbacks too. Below are important pros and cons to consider.

Pros of Hotspot Shield Basic

  • It is free forever.
  • Supports important features, such as split tunneling and kill switch.
  • Unlimited data bandwidth.
  • Hydra protocol available.

Cons of Hotspot Shield Basic

  • Requires users to buy VPN time by watching ads.
  • Banners or ads displayed at the top of the browser can be a distraction.
  • Not available on Linux, Smart TV, or Routers.

Hotspot Shield Premium pros and cons

Hotspot Shield Premium offers more value than the Basic version. Consider these pros and cons when making your decision.

Pros of Hotspot Shield Premium

  • Offers servers in China and Russia.
  • Offers city-level server connection.
  • Available across major platforms — Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Linux, Routers and Smart TV.
  • Can connect up to 10 devices simultaneously.
  • Offers a 7-day free trial and 45-day money-back guarantee.

Cons of Hotspot Shield Premium

  • Doesn’t offer MultiHop or dedicated IP address.

No crypto payments option such as in other VPNs like ExpressVPN and Surfshark.


My review of Hotspot Shield Basic and Premium plans involved thorough testing and analysis of their key features. I started by downloading the app on my Android phone and Windows PC.

During testing of the free version on my Android, I noticed that it is not entirely free. You have to watch ads to buy 15 minutes of VPN usage. There are also promotional banners displayed while browsing. As for the Premium plan,  I used the seven-day free trial to assess and test all the features of Hotspot Shield comprehensively. All the features worked very well. I was also able to switch server locations smoothly. Lastly, I supported my findings with information from the company website and also user reviews from reliable review sites.

For more information, read our full review of Hotspot Shield.

Should your organization use Hotspot Shield VPN Free or Hotspot Shield VPN Premium?

While Hotspot Shield is a good VPN for both Basic and Premium users, the two can serve you differently. From my findings, the free version with its limited capability can only serve those who don’t need much out of a VPN service. Therefore, if you’re not a heavy VPN user, and are willing to watch ads before surfing the net, the free version might be enough.

However, if you are a regular VPN user who demands a lot from a secure VPN connection, the Premium version should be your best bet. The paid plan can allow you to stream Netflix and other on-demand videos with ease. Online gamers can also find it very valuable. With its 800+ servers in 125+ virtual locations including China and Russia, you can access information and enjoy a secure VPN experience in many places. So, the choice is yours to make, depending on what you want out of a VPN service and also the amount you are willing to pay for a premium.

Subscribe to the Cloud Insider Newsletter

This is your go-to resource for the latest news and tips on the following topics and more, XaaS, AWS, Microsoft Azure, DevOps, virtualization, the hybrid cloud, and cloud security. Delivered Mondays and Wednesdays

Subscribe to the Cloud Insider Newsletter

This is your go-to resource for the latest news and tips on the following topics and more, XaaS, AWS, Microsoft Azure, DevOps, virtualization, the hybrid cloud, and cloud security. Delivered Mondays and Wednesdays