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There’s no denying that NordVPN is one of the top VPNs in the market right now. But just how far ahead of everyone else is it? What if we tried comparing it to a smaller provider? For example NordVPN vs Hotspot Shield. However, the latter is certainly not a small fry in the industry. It has made a name for itself by being a great freemium option and having its own proprietary tunneling protocol called Hydra.
A good side-by-side comparison will help us understand what’s keeping the best providers on top and in what areas others can improve. I’ll have a look at the most relevant criteria of any VPN, including connection speeds, server coverage, pricing plans, security and privacy features, and much more. After checking through all the categories, I’ll summarize the results and declare a winner.
|“Best for” nominee||N/A||N/A|
|“Best for” winner||Best overall, Best for Netflix, Best for P2P, Best for China||N/A|
|Price starts from||$3.71/month||$6.99/month|
|Review||NordVPN review||Hotspot Shield review|
Since NordVPN has implemented WireGuard, their connection speed has been unparalleled. Hotspot Shield is using their proprietary Hydra tunneling protocol, which is also pretty good, but so far it is not integrated into our speed testing tool. For now, the results in the table reflect their OpenVPN performance. Therefore, it’s safe to assume (and our manual tests confirm) that Hotspot Shield speed test results will make a significant jump after we have the Hydra protocol numbers.
NordVPN vs Hotspot Shield: 14-Day Speed Average
|Download Speed||1,289 Mbps||209 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||1,262 Mbps||436 Mbps|
|Download Speed||1,313 Mbps||114 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||1,240 Mbps||314 Mbps|
|Download Speed||1,361 Mbps||179 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||1,190 Mbps||446 Mbps|
|Owns all servers||Not all||No|
|RAM-only servers||Not all||No|
|P2P servers||Not all||Yes|
If you want to take a peek at different corners of the Web, you need an array of strategically placed servers. Both VPNs are quite well equipped in this regard, with NordVPN having 5500+ servers spread across 59+ countries, while Hotspot Shield has 1800+ servers in 85+ countries.
Plans and pricing
|Free trial||7-day, for macOS, iOS, Android||No|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||45 days|
|Payment options||Credit card, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, ACH Transfer, cryptocurrencies, UnionPay||Credit card, PayPal|
Hotspot Shield does not offer a lot of options when it comes to pricing. You can pick the free version of the app, subscribe for a month at $9.99/month, or get the cheaper annual plan at $6.99/month. There’s also the option to pay an extra fee to bundle in some of their other apps, but that’s not what this review is about.
NordVPN has more options to choose from and they become increasingly cheaper. A single month would cost $11.95, one year costs $4.92/month and two years cost $3.71/month. And although they do not have a free version, it’s possible to get a free trial on Android and iOS.
Hotspot Shield does have a slight edge because they offer a 45-day money-back guarantee, compared to the 30 days of NordVPN. But this small win does not last as NordVPN has a greater variety of payment options, including anonymous payment methods like cryptocurrencies.
|Protocols||NordLynx, OpenVPN, IKEv2||Hydra, IKEv2|
|Kill switch||Internet kill switch, app kill switch||Internet kill switch|
|DNS and IP leaks||No leaks||No leaks|
|Security features||Split tunneling (Windows, Android), Double VPN, Onion over VPN, CyberSec, SOCKS5 proxy, Obfuscated servers, DNS and IPv6 leak protection||Malware scanner (Android & iOS) and other features for the Chrome extension, Smart VPN (Windows, Android)|
Unsurprisingly, Both VPNs are using the standard military-grade AES-256 encryption cipher. The duo also has the IKEv2 tunneling protocol in common. But some differences crop up once we look into their proprietary tech. NordVPN is using NordLynx, which is based on WireGuard. Additionally, they offer the OpenVPN protocol as well. Hotspot Shield, on the other hand, uses their Hydra tunneling protocol.
Sadly, Hotspot Shield is left in a tight spot when it comes to additional security features. While NordVPN has plenty, such as Split Tunneling, Double VPN, Onion over VPN, Obfuscated servers, and more, Hotspot Shield has considerably fewer. They have Smart VPN (available on Windows and Android), which allows you to choose which apps or websites should bypass the VPN tunnel. And also a malware scanner on mobile platforms.
|Logging||Independently-audited no-logs policy||No-logs policy|
NordVPN knocked it out of the park in the area of privacy. Their jurisdiction is in privacy-respecting Panama, their no-logs policy has been audited independently, and they offer the option to pay anonymously via cryptocurrencies.
Then we have Hotspot Shield. They are based in the USA, a hot pan for privacy enthusiasts. They have a no-logs policy as well, but no options for anonymous payment. Without a doubt, NordVPN is the winner in this category.
Compatibility with devices
|Major dedicated apps||Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS|
|Other dedicated apps||Fire TV & Fire Stick, Android TV||Fire TV & Fire Stick, Android TV|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox, Edge||Chrome, Edge|
|Manual setup||Routers, firewalls, NAS||Routers|
Compatibility is one area where these two barely have any differences. They have dedicated apps for all the major platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS) and additional apps for Amazon Fire TV, Fire Stick, and Android TV. However, NordVPN’s non-Windows apps are closer to their Windows app in terms of available features. That is not the case for Hotspot Shield.
Browser extension support is similar. Both support Chrome and Edge, while NordVPN also supports Firefox. Both can also be configured on routers.
It’s almost a tie, but NordVPN inches ahead by supporting 6 simultaneous connections instead of 5 like Hotspot shield.
|Other Netflix libraries||Yes||Yes|
|Smart DNS||Smart Play||No|
Both NordVPN and Hotspot Shield can be used to unblock Netflix and its numerous regional versions. Besides, both VPNs come with fast performance, which means that streaming in HD and 4K is possible. So, who’s the winner of this category in this NordVPN vs Hotspot Shield comparison?
To select a winner, we must include additional streaming services as well. NordVPN can help you unblock Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and plenty more. Hotspot Shield can’t match that, even though it unblocks BBC iPlayer and some others. And in the long-term, NordVPN, with its army of servers, seems like a good choice, which will always have a solution for unblocking media streaming websites.
Torrenting and P2P
|Allowed on||All servers||All servers|
|Free SOCKS5 proxy||Yes||No|
|Split tunneling||Yes (Windows, Android)||No|
Although you are able to torrent with both of these VPN services, only one of them is truly optimized for it. And of course, that would be NordVPN, which provides a SOCKS5 proxy for added security, split tunneling on Windows and Android, and specialized P2P servers for greater download speeds.
|Works in China||Yes||No|
|Stealth VPN||Yes (Obfuscated servers)||No|
|Tor over VPN||Yes (Onion over VPN)||No|
Hotspot Shield claims that their proprietary Hydra tunneling protocol is one of the most secure options on the market. Sadly, user reports claim that it’s not reliable when dealing with obstacles like the Great Firewall of China.
On the other hand, NordVPN has a few options available for dealing with censorship-heavy countries. They have Obfuscated servers that can get around DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) and Onion over VPN as an extra layer of security when using the Tor Browser.
Customer support is another area where these providers see eye-to-eye. They are available 24/7, have a live chat option, communication through email, and plenty of guides on their support websites.
I contacted both to get a sense of how well they operate. I received the replies fast and the agents were fairly knowledgeable. My first impressions were good and I’m sure you will be in good hands if you’ll ever need some quick help.
NordVPN vs Hotspot Shield video review
NordVPN vs Hotspot Shield: category comparison
|Speed and servers||Tie||Tie|
|Total wins||7 out of 9||0 out of 9|
NordVPN vs Hotspot Shield – which is better?
The conclusion could not be any clearer – NordVPN is the superior choice. This battle may seem a bit unfair, considering that NordVPN is the top provider in almost every category. But sometimes there is value in seeing what exactly sets apart the good from the best.
In some regards, Hotspot Shield came very close to NordVPN, which means that it’s still a great VPN. Perhaps it makes more sense when getting the premium Hotspot Shield bundle with the password manager and antivirus included. But as a standalone app, it’s a bit overpriced. There are cheaper alternatives out there.
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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.