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There are many ways to achieve success in the VPN market. Some services innovate and create unique features to attract customers. Others don’t deviate as much and instead try to improve on the existing formula. Whatever path they choose, success is not guaranteed.
This time I’ll be comparing Hotspot Shield vs ExpressVPN. Hotspot Shield is a VPN that’s known for delivering fast connection speeds, having a free version, and being a good overall VPN. Meanwhile, ExpressVPN is more expensive than the average VPN, but it performs insanely well on many fronts.
ExpressVPN has over 3000 servers in 94+ countries, all of which are RAM-only and don’t store data on hard drives. It is secured by military-grade encryption, based in the British Virgin Islands, and its no-logs policy has been independently-audited.
Hotspot Shield has 1800+ servers in 85+ countries, all of which allow P2P traffic. It’s based in the US, uses military-grade encryption, has a no-logs policy, and doesn’t have any anonymous payment options.
So what other differences crop-up when looking at these two up close? Let’s have a peek.
|“Best for” nominee||Fastest VPN, Best for Kodi, Best for torrenting||Best overall, Fastest VPN, Best for UK|
|Price starts from||$7.99/month||$8.32/month|
|Review||Hotspot Shield review||ExpressVPN review|
Hotspot Shield vs ExpressVPN video review
This speed test should be especially exciting because both providers are using proprietary tunneling protocols. ExpressVPN is using Lightway, while Hotspot Shield is using Hydra. Unfortunately, neither of those is available in our own VPN speed test. Thus, I’ll be using the Ookla speed test while connected to these VPNs.
The baseline upload speed is 319Mbps and the download speed is 294Mbps so you could gauge the speed difference.
|Download||201 Mbps||248 Mbps|
|Upload||36 Mbps||277 Mbps|
|Download||163 Mbps||243 Mbps|
|Download||183 Mbps||163 Mbps|
|Upload||37 Mbps||152 Mbps|
|Download||163 Mbps||207 Mbps|
|Upload||87 Mbps||61 Mbps|
The results are very impressive from both contestants, but I believe it’s fair to say that ExpressVPN won this round. Their upload speeds did not lag as far behind as they did for Hotspot Shield.
|Owns all servers||No||No|
There are a lot of similarities between the server infrastructures of these VPNs. Server count and country choices are very close – 3000+ servers and 94+ countries for ExpressVPN and 1800+ with 85+ countries for Hotspot Shield. With such large numbers, it’s not surprising that neither one has full ownership of their server fleet.
However, ExpressVPN has one ace in its sleeve that can turn the tide of this stalemate. That’s TrustedServer technology, which means that their servers are RAM-only and don’t store any data on hard drives. This is a great privacy boon when using ExpressVPN.
|Money-back guarantee||45 days||30 days|
|Payment options||Credit card, PayPal||Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, Paymentwall (AliPay, UnionPay, and more)|
Pricing is where these two providers decided to split up and take on different approaches. Hotspot Shield has fewer pricing plans but is cheaper and the plans come in various tiers to include other security software. Meanwhile, ExpressVPN has more plans and payment options but is more expensive. Affordable prices are important so Hotspot Shield wins this round.
Hotspot Shield Pricing
First off, this VPN has a free version. Understandably, it comes with significant limitations – you can only connect to the US, you get a daily allowance of 500MB of data, slower connection speed, and limited video streaming features. A free trial of their premium app is not available so this is really your best option to try out the service.
Paid plans come in two options – monthly or yearly. If you want the VPN with 3 additional security apps, then the Premium plan costs $12.99/month and $7.99/month for the yearly plan. The Family version can offer solely the VPN and includes more member accounts and device connections.
Payment options are a bit slim for Hotspot Shield – you can only pay via credit card or PayPal. And if your expectations don’t get met, there’s a generous 45-day money-back guarantee.
ExpressVPN does not have a free version or even a free trial of their app. However, you could just take advantage of their 30-day money-back guarantee and refund the service if it isn’t satisfactory. You can also refer friends to ExpressVPN and if they sign up then both of you gain 30 days of extra subscription time.
Pricing plans for ExpressVPN come in three forms:
- Monthly for $12.95/month
- Six months for $9.99/month
- Yearly for $8.32/month
A tad pricier than Hotspot Shield and other VPNs in general, but overall not too bad. It’s also possible to find coupons with better deals online. Another saving grace is the number of payment options, such as credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, AliPay, UnionPay, and much more.
|Protocols||Hydra, IKEv2||Lightway, OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec|
|Kill switch||Yes||Yes (except iOS)|
|DNS and IP leaks||No leaks||No leaks|
|Security features||Malware scanner (Android & iOS) and other features for the Chrome extension, Smart VPN (Windows, Android)||TrustedServer, Stealth servers, zero-knowledge DNS, split tunneling, port forwarding|
The duo is not on even ground in terms of security. But some common details occur, so let’s start with those.
As is tradition with VPNs, these two use the standard military-grade AES-256 encryption cipher. Both also share the IKEv2 tunneling protocol, a kill switch feature, no issues with IP or DNS leaks, and split tunneling.
The main highlight of ExpressVPN is its proprietary Lightway tunneling protocol, which is optimized for speed, security, and stability. Additional protocol options include OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec.
ExpressVPN comes equipped with the earlier mentioned TrustedServer, which ensures data security and privacy on a fundamental level. It also has its own encrypted DNS, adding more layers of protection while browsing with this VPN.
Other neat features include MediaStreamer for getting around those pesky geo-restrictions, and also split tunneling and port forwarding.
On the other hand, Hotspot Shield does not have such a plentiful bounty of features. However, just like their opponent, it’s equipped with its own proprietary tunneling protocol Hydra, which is extremely fast. It also has Smart VPN, which is essentially just split tunneling. There’s also Auto-protect that automatically enables the VPN when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network.
|Jurisdiction||US||British Virgin Islands|
|Logging||No-logs policy||Independently-audited no-logs policy|
There’s really not much to compare in the privacy department. ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which is not a member of any surveillance alliance and has no data retention laws. Their no-logs policy is not just lip service and has been independently-audited. Finally, anonymity fans can pay with Bitcoin to ensure a private transaction.
Meanwhile, Hotspot Shield is based in the US, a founding member of the Five Eyes alliance. They claim to have a no-logs policy, but so far no third-party has been employed to verify it. Lastly, there are no anonymous payment options available.
With such differences, it should come as no surprise that ExpressVPN takes the crown in this round.
|Major dedicated apps||Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android||Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android|
|Other dedicated apps||Fire TV & Fire Stick, Android TV||Fire TV & Fire Stick, Android TV, Chromebook, Routers|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Edge||Chrome, Firefox, Edge|
|Manual setup||Routers||Chromecast, nVidia Shield, Kindle Fire, Nook HD|
ExpressVPN has been on a winning spree through the last few categories and device compatibility will not stop that. It’s available on all major platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android), has numerous dedicated apps for a lot of different devices, including Amazon Fire TV and Fire Stick, Android TV, and even routers. Browser extensions are available for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. Finally, manual setup is possible for Chromecast, nVidia Shield, Kindle Fire, and Nook HD. With so many supported devices it’s almost a shame that you can only have 5 simultaneous connections.
Hotspot Shield does not have such an impressive array of supported devices, but there is some overlap with ExpressVPN. It’s available on the same major platforms, has dedicated apps for Fire TV, Fire Stick, and Android TV. Browser extensions are only available for Chromium browsers like Chrome and Edge. Additionally, manual setup is possible on a variety of routers, such as DD-WRT, Asus, and FreshTomato. Similar to their nemesis, Hotspot Shield only supports 5 simultaneous connections on a regular plan.
|Other Netflix libraries||Yes||Yes|
One place where these two providers really shine is streaming. Both had no issues unblocking various Netflix libraries, and other streaming services were hardly a problem as well.
Hotspot Shield also lacks any kind of Smart DNS feature, which would make it on par with other great VPNs for streaming. Meanwhile, ExpressVPN has MediaStreamer, which enables the VPN to successfully unblock content on a wide range of services.
Torrenting and P2P
|Allowed on||All servers||All servers|
|Free SOCKS5 proxy||No||No|
|Split tunneling||Yes (Smart VPN)||Yes|
Torrenting and P2P is another area where this duo is almost on par, yet ExpressVPN once again inches forward. This time, port forwarding is the feature that pushed it across the finish line.
Besides that, both providers allow P2P traffic on all of their servers. Neither one has a SOCKS5 proxy, which would make them great contenders for the best VPN for torrenting. Luckily, both VPNs do have split tunneling features.
|Works in China||No||Yes|
|Stealth VPN||No||Yes (Stealth servers)|
|Tor over VPN||No||No|
If you’d like to climb over the Great Firewall of China then in this case you only have one option – ExpressVPN. Hotspot Shield used to work a few years ago, but lately, users have been reporting connection issues. Plus, there are no dedicated features available to get around such censorship.
Meanwhile, ExpressVPN still works remarkably well in China thanks to its Stealth server feature. It ensures that your VPN traffic is masked and looks like regular internet traffic. However, it’s still not the best option out there.
When it comes to customer support, these two providers can definitely see eye-to-eye. But there are some minor differences as well.
First off, both have 24/7 live chat options available. However, Hotspot Shield made this feature exclusive to paying customers, which isn’t very nice from a free users’ perspective. But I suppose it’s to ensure that premium users get priority. Naturally, since ExpressVPN does not have a free version it does not have to deal with this dilemma.
If a support agent from either service cannot solve your issue immediately, it will be converted to a support ticket instead and communication will continue through email. And you can always troubleshoot issues yourself by perusing through their support page guides.
Best VPN by category
|Speed and servers||Loses❌||Wins✔️|
|Total wins||1 out of 9||7 out of 9|
Hotspot Shield vs ExpressVPN – which is better?
Finally, we have reached the finish line. The results are clear – ExpressVPN is the superior choice. But that doesn’t mean that Hotspot Shield is a bad VPN. In fact, it could have other strengths. Let’s review our journey here.
The connection speed of these providers was very close. Both are using proprietary protocols so it’s definitely an interesting matchup. But ExpressVPN won because their upload speeds did not lag far behind their download speeds.
Hotspot Shield secured a small victory by being the cheaper option of the two. Of course, further examination showed just why it’s cheaper – it did not win in any further categories.
ExpressVPN has more security options, better privacy practices, supports a larger variety of devices, works better for streaming, torrenting, and getting around censorship-heavy countries. Finally, both are on par at customer support.
The verdict – ExpressVPN has a substantial price tag, but it’s justified by the number of features. Meanwhile, Hotspot Shield is cheaper and pretty fast, but I’d argue that the small feature list could warrant a bigger price drop. As it stands right now, there are better VPN services out there that are worthy of your attention.
Do you agree or disagree? Let me know by leaving a comment!
Is Hotspot Shield a reliable VPN?
Yes, Hotspot Shield is reliable. It is fast, has no DNS or IP leak issues, and does not keep any logs.
Is Hotspot Shield VPN good for gaming?
Hotspot Shield’s proprietary Hydra protocol is well-known for delivering incredibly fast download speeds, making it well-suited for online gaming.
Can I watch Netflix with ExpressVPN?
Yes, you can easily watch and unblock geo-restricted content on Netflix with ExpressVPN. It works with other streaming services as well.
Is ExpressVPN worth the money?
ExpressVPN is pricier than most VPNs, but it works really well across the board. However, you might want to look into cheaper options if you only need a VPN for a few specific things.
What is the best VPN 2021?
In my opinion, NordVPN is the best VPN in 2021. It’s fast, secure, available on many platforms, and works well with Netflix.
Disclaimer: Affiliate links help us produce good content. Learn more.
Ethan is a security researcher and digital privacy advocate. He spends his time unraveling various anonymity and security tools, plus contributing to open-source projects. Otherwise, he keeps a low profile by hiking or cycling around the countryside.