I regularly connect to the Internet using free WiFi hotspots with my Nexus 7 tablet and, although most of the services I connect to use SSL to secure the connection, I felt it would be a good idea to have some extra protection in the form of a VPN.
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a secure connection from your device to a proxy server which makes all your internet retests on your behalf. This means that anyone attempting to listen in on your connection to the WiFi access point will not be able to read any of your data, and won’t even be able to see what sites you are visiting (of course, you need to trust the VPN operator as they may have access to all your traffic!)
There are many VPNs to chose from, some free and some who charge. I decided to try Hotspot Shield which has Android, iOS and Windows versions. They offer a free service and a paid subscription – I decided to try the paid version which promises private browsing, malware protection, and data savings and only costs £0.69 / $0.99 per month.
The client installed with no problem on my Nexus 7 tablet and I was able to purchase the subscription via Google Play without any problem. The connection establishes quickly and seems stable (I found the free version dropped the connection regularly which had the unwanted side effect of leaving you connected to the internet insecurely with no warning). Browsing seems to be a bit quicker when connected to the VPN, and I have seen reports online that the data compression saves approximately 30% which seems about right to me.
The subscription should allow the client to be run on up to 5 devices but, unfortunately, my account code (which needs to be entered on each additional device) is not displayed when I choose the appropriate option from the menu.
I have installed the free version on my Motorola RAZR i phone (running Android 4.1.2) but I cannot get it to connect at all. I get an ‘error 1024’ popup which indicates a connection time out. I have submitted a support request to the Anchorfree team who produce Hotspot Shield and I will update the solution here as soon as I have one.
Update 2 July 2013, My Hotspot Shield reverted to the free version despite still having an active subscription. This meant that I no longer had malware protection, and I got adverts popping up when i started the VPN. My issue with not being able to use the subscription on multiple devices was never resolved. I contacted AnchorFree to query the new problem and the following day my subscription was mysteriously cancelled. I have had no response from AnchorFree. I have now uninstalled Hotspot Shield and cannot recommend it due to poor technical support and customer service. It’s a shame since the application actually seems to work well.