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Hotspot Shield and PIA (Private Internet Access) are two VPN providers based in the USA. Hotspot Shield is known for its fast proprietary Hydra protocol and over 1800 servers in 85+ locations. On the other hand, PIA uses WireGuard and has over 36700 servers in 77+ countries. Both use AES-256 encryption, allow torrenting, and can be used to stream Netflix US.
These are just a few topics that I’ll be covering in this VPN comparison. I will analyze Hotspot Shield vs Private Internet Access on various topics, declare a winner in each category, and summarize the results in the end.
|“Best for” nominee||Fastest VPN, Best for Kodi, Best for torrenting||Best overall, Best for USA, Best for Netflix|
|Price starts from||$7.99/month||$2.69/month|
|Review||Hotspot Shield review||PIA review|
Let’s begin this comparison with a speed test. Usually, I’d take advantage of our in-house speed test. Yet the fastest protocols for each service (Hydra for Hotspot Shield and WireGuard for Private Internet Access) are not on it.
Thus, I will do these tests manually with the help of the Ookla speed test. As always, your results may differ from mine as many factors influence the results. Baseline speeds are 294 Mbps download and 319 Mbps upload.
|Download||201 Mbps||206 Mbps|
|Upload||36 Mbps||88 Mbps|
|Download||163 Mbps||229 Mbps|
|Upload||66 Mbps||87 Mbps|
|Download||183 Mbps||291 Mbps|
|Upload||37 Mbps||271 Mbps|
|Download||163 Mbps||246 Mbps|
|Upload||87 Mbps||27 Mbps|
As you can see in the table above, both VPNs delivered fairly good results. And yet, PIA emerged victorious, mainly because of its faster upload speeds, Germany excluded.
|All physical servers||No||No|
|Owns all servers||No||No|
When it comes to server infrastructure, PIA is leagues ahead of Hotspot Shield. Private Internet Access has over 36700+ servers in 77+ countries, some of which are physically located in those countries, while others are virtual. It does not have full ownership of this massive fleet, nor are these servers RAM-only. However, P2P traffic is fully allowed.
Meanwhile, Hotspot Shield has 1800+ servers in 85+ countries. Like its predecessor, not all servers are physical, it doesn’t have control of the entire server infrastructure, and none of those servers are RAM-only. But at least you can also torrent.
|Free trial||Yes, 7 days||No|
|Money-back guarantee||45 days||30 days|
|Payment options||Credit card, Paypal||Credit card, PayPal, Amazon Pay, cryptocurrencies, Beam, Mint, gift cards|
In terms of pricing, Hotspot Shield gains a slight edge by having a free version and a free trial, which PIA lacks. However, Private Internet Access has more plans to choose from, and they are slightly cheaper than the ones offered by Hotspot Shield. Ultimately, this depends on perspective, but from my point of view, PIA is the better option.
Hotspot Shield pricing
Many are probably familiar with Hotspot Shield because of its free plan. Naturally, it has some limitations. The most frustrating one is perhaps the 500 MB daily data cap. Connection speed is also throttled to max out at 2 Mbps. Finally, it lacks the kill-switch and Smart VPN features, meaning you can’t really try out the VPN fully on this plan.
A 7-day free trial is there, but keep in mind that you have to provide your credit card information to be eligible for it.
Once you’re ready to buy the VPN you can take advantage of the many Hotspot Shield deals online. Alternatively, the default pricing options are as follows:
- $12.99/month for a monthly plan
- $7.99/month for a yearly subscription
Other plans include additional security apps, such as antivirus, password manager, and a spam-call blocker.
There’s also a 45-day money-back guarantee. Finally, there are only a few payment options available, Credit card and PayPal, none of which are anonymous.
Private Internet Access pricing
Private Internet Access does not have a free version or even a free trial. To remedy this, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, which still allows you to try the VPN risk-free.
If you’ve decided to purchase PIA, there are some coupon codes that you can utilize for a better deal. Otherwise, the regular pricing plans are:
- $9.95/month for a monthly plan
- $3.33/month for a yearly plan
- $2.69/month for two years
The two-year plan offers an additional two months for free and a bonus Boxcryptor license. Boxcryptor is a file encryption program that secures your cloud storage files on Dropbox, Google Drive, and other services.
To top everything off, Private Internet Access has a good variety of payment options, such as credit card, PayPal, Amazon Pay, various cryptocurrencies, and even gift cards.
|Protocols||Hydra, IKEv2||OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard|
|Kill switch||Yes||Internet and app-level kill switch|
|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)||Split tunneling, PIA MACE, Shadowsocks, SOCKS5|
If you’re looking for top-notch security, PIA is definitely the better choice. Let’s zoom in on each VPN individually to see why that’s the case.
Hotspot Shield security features
Hotspot Shield uses the standard AES-256 encryption cipher. Available tunneling protocols include IKEv2 and its proprietary Hydra protocol, which is hailed as one of the fastest options available.
The service also offers a kill switch and split tunneling, called Smart VPN. Smart VPN allows you to choose which apps will bypass the VPN connection. The mobile version comes with extra malware scanning capabilities, and the browser extension has its own bundle of features.
Overall, Hotspot Shield is fairly basic and doesn’t offer much variety in terms of security features.
Private Internet Access security features
Now onto PIA. This VPN also comes with AES-256 encryption, yet the default setting is AES-128. This isn’t a huge issue, and it does improve performance due to less encryption. But for new users, it would be preferable to have top security settings out-of-the-box. On the other hand, experienced users could find this customizability quite welcoming.
For tunneling protocols, you have three options – OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard. Secondly, a kill-switch is also available, which can work even when the VPN app is off. There’s also PIA MACE, a feature that blocks ad, malware, and tracker domains.
Additionally, split tunneling is available. You can customize it by choosing which apps should go around the VPN connection. Alternatively, you can select apps that shouldn’t work without PIA enabled.
Finally, some proxy settings are available, but only with OpenVPN. First off, a SOCKS5 proxy for P2P users. Plus, Shadowsocks is also an option, which you can configure to a handful of locations.
|Jurisdiction||United States||United States|
|Logging||No-logs policy||Court-proven no-logs policy|
|Anonymous payment||No||Bitcoin, gift cards|
One commonality between these two VPNs is their home turf – the United States. Privacy enthusiasts should be wary of this location, as it is a founding member of the Five Eyes alliance.
PIA has a bit more credibility as their no-logs policy has been tested when authorities could not get any meaningful information for a court case. However, this VPN is also owned by Kape Technologies, which is infamous for being an adware company in the past.
Meanwhile, Hotspot Shield has been accused of storing aggregate user data and sharing it with other companies. Aura, the current owner of Hotspot Shield, owns TouchVPN, which is also a freemium VPN. Some could argue that this company is in the business of collecting user data through free products and then selling it. This sounds very far-fetched, but feel free to make your own judgments.
In any case, I think it’s fair to say that both VPNs aren’t great in terms of privacy.
|Major dedicated apps||Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android||Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android|
|Other dedicated apps||Fire TV & Fire Stick, Android TV||No|
|Browser extension||Chrome, Edge, Firefox||Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera|
When it comes to device compatibility, these services are almost even. Both have dedicated apps for Windows, Mac Linux, Android, and iOS. Additionally, they have browser extensions available for Chrome and Firefox, with PIA adding Opera to the mix. Lastly, you can manually configure your router with either VPN to secure your entire home network.
And now for some differences. Hotspot Shield takes the lead by having dedicated apps for Amazon Fire TV, Fire Stick, and Android TV. And although PIA can have more simultaneous devices connected with one subscription, Hotspot Shield is definitely more versatile and wins this round.
|Other Netflix libraries||Yes||No|
If streaming is a priority, Hotspot Shield is the better option. Nevertheless, both VPNs were able to unblock Netflix US and stream content in HD without any issues. At the same time, Hotspot Shield could unblock other countries’ libraries, while PIA could not.
Other streaming platforms worked with both VPNs. It’s worth noting that neither service has smart DNS, so they’ll never perform consistently on multiple devices as the best VPNs for Netflix do.
Torrenting and P2P
|Allowed on||All servers||All servers|
|Free SOCKS5 proxy||No||Yes|
|Split tunneling||Yes (Smart VPN)||Yes|
Thankfully, both services do not restrict P2P traffic on their servers. Yet, it should come as no surprise that since PIA has more security features than Hotspot Shield, it is also the superior choice for torrenting.
For starters, it has a free SOCKS5 proxy, allowing you to secure your torrenting client. Both VPNs have split tunneling available, yet PIA’s is a bit more customizable. Finally, PIA supports port forwarding, ensuring a better torrenting experience if you’re required to seed.
|Works in China||No||Yes|
|Tor over VPN||No||No|
The situation with China is constantly changing in the VPN context. One thing is certain, though – neither of these two services is great for China. If you plan on traveling there, choose something from our list of best VPN services for China.
And yet, the situation isn’t completely hopeless – at least for PIA users. That’s because it has the Shadowsocks proxy feature, which could work in China. It might not work all the time, but it’s better than Hotspot Shield, which doesn’t have any features dedicated to this issue and simply does not work in China.
When it comes to customer support, both services are on even ground and deliver outstanding results. It’s possible to get help via 24/7 live chat or emails, and various guides are also available to troubleshoot issues yourself. Naturally, free users of Hotspot Shield do not get access to live chat services.
Best VPN by category
|Speed and servers||Loses❌||Wins✔️|
|Total wins||2 out of 9||5 out of 9|
Hotspot Shield vs PIA – which is better?
It was an exciting competition, but the results are in – Private Internet Access is the better choice. PIA is faster with WireGuard, has an enormous number of servers to choose from, is slightly cheaper, and offers more security features. Unfortunately, both providers have questionable histories related to privacy, but nothing is really conclusive.
After losing a few points, Hotspot Shield recovered. It is superior in terms of device compatibility and streaming. After that, PIA once again scored some points. This time, it proved to be well-equipped for torrenting and browsing in restrictive countries like China. Finally, both Hotspot Shield and Private Internet Access offer good customer support options.
In conclusion, Hotspot Shield is better suited for streaming on some devices, while PIA is meant for overall security.
Which VPN do you prefer? Don’t hesitate to voice your opinion in the comments section!
You may also like to read:
Is Private Internet Access a good VPN?
Private Internet Access is an excellent VPN. It is cheap, fast, secure, and has plenty of servers around the world.
Is Private Internet Access fast?
Yes, Private Internet Access is fast. Thanks to the WireGuard tunneling protocol, it’s one of the fastest VPNs available.
Can Hotspot Shield be trusted?
Hotspot Shield should not be trusted fully. It is based in the US and has a free version of the app. It can be assumed that they’re monitoring your browsing data and misusing it. However, there is no evidence of this, although some skepticism is understandable.
Is Hotspot Shield truly free?
Hotspot Shield is a freemium VPN. That means that there are free and paid versions of the app. Naturally, the free version comes with some limitations that make it subpar compared to the paid version.
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.