Jargon is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face while comparing different VPNs. These are highly-complex applications, and it can be difficult to briefly explain why they’re so impressive. But some of the technical terms providers use in their marketing go right over people’s heads. Additionally, potential customers usually won’t have any frame of reference for technical specifications or benchmarks, so their inclusion is often confusing, rather than helpful.
This is why we’ve created an easy-to-read comparison breaking down everything NordVPN and Hotspot Shield have to offer. Just as important, we’ll let you know exactly what each feature does, and what impact it can have on your day-to-day browsing. This will not only provide you with a better understanding of what you’re paying for, but also help out if you decide to try a different VPN in the future.
Pricing and discounts
|Subscription periods||One month||One month|
|One year||One year|
|Two years||Three years|
|Special offer||Cut the cost of a two-year plan by 68%||Save 77% on three-year subscriptions|
|Highest price per month||$11.95||$12.99|
|Lowest price per month||$3.71||$2.99|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||45 days|
Monthly subscribers can usually expect to pay more for their VPN coverage, and this is true with both of these services. NordVPN has a slightly lower price, at $11.95 USD per month versus Hotspot Shield’s $12.99 per month. It’s clear that these VPNs would rather secure long-term customers, though, since they each offer plans that last several years.
To its credit, NordVPN’s annual plan is very reasonably priced and comes with a 58 percent discount. However, there are real incentives to sign up for an even longer term upfront. For instance, you can get an additional year of coverage for just $30 more. This plan usually costs $286.80, so you’re paying 68 percent less than month-to-month subscribers would, and effectively bringing the cost down to $3.71 per month.
Hotspot Shield’s annual plan is almost double the price of NordVPN’s, but you’re not really expected to choose this since the service offers an even more attractive long-term discount. This service’s three-year plan is only $11.76 more than its one-year subscription. This means that you’ll pay almost 80 percent less than monthly subscribers over the same period ($107.64 instead of $467.64). There is a free plan too, but you only have access to a few servers and a limit of 500 MB of data per day.
Both VPNs include a money-back guarantee, allowing you to try them completely risk-free. Simply sign up as normal, use the service to your heart’s content, and if you’re in any way unsatisfied, cancel to receive a full refund. NordVPN’s guarantee lasts for 30 days while Hotspot Shield gives a 45-day money-back guarantee on all plans, even if you only paid for a month.
Best Deal for NordVPN:Our readers can save 68% by choosing NordVPN’s two-year plan.
Best Deal for Hotspot Shield:Grab an exclusive 77% discount when you sign up for a three-year Hotspot Shield subscription.
|Operating system apps||Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Firestick/Fire TV||Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Firestick/Fire TV|
|Manual install devices||Select routers||Select routers, Linux systems|
|Split tunneling||Browser extensions only||Yes|
|Free extras||Automatic ad-blocking and malware-scanning. Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.||Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, free access to 1Password and Hiya (or Robo Shield in North America).|
These VPNs both come with apps for every major operating system. As such, you’ll be able to use them to browse safely across all of your devices. In fact, Hotspot Shield recently added its own command line-based installer for Linux systems, bringing it in-line with NordVPN as far as app availability goes. Whichever service you choose, you’ll also have access to extensions for Chrome and Firefox. These allow you to quickly switch location directly from your browser.
Both NordVPN and Hotspot Shield include a few extras to help sweeten the deal. NordVPN offers automatic ad-blocking and malware-scanning, for instance. Meanwhile, Hotspot Shield comes bundled with a premium password manager. To be fair, though, NordVPN offers its own freemium password manager named NordPass, so don’t let this one feature sway your decision. Each provider also offers automatic wifi protection, which tells the app to connect any time you use an unsecured network.
Hotspot Shield also comes with a nuisance call blocker (Hiya or Robo Shield, depending on your location). Further, American users gain access to Identity Guard, which can quickly alert you if your personal data is being used online without your knowledge.
|Netflix||Multiple libraries including US, UK, Australia, Canada, India, and Japan||Multiple libraries including US, UK, Canada, Japan|
|Amazon Prime Video||Multiple libraries including US, UK, Canada and Japan||US, UK|
NordVPN is known for its strong unblocking ability. As the table above shows, there really isn’t much that it struggles with. For instance, it can access a number of Netflix catalogs, including the immensely popular Japanese library. Although NordVPN was unable to unblock CBS on this occasion, this network has particularly strict geo-blocking and there are very few VPNs that work reliably with it.
Hotspot Shield performed admirably too, unblocking some of the most in-demand Netflix catalogs and a few popular streaming services. That said, it struggled with most of the platforms we tested. This may be because these services have noticed lots of traffic coming from Hotspot Shield’s IP addresses, which is an unfortunate side effect of having a free plan available.
It’s no secret that China has some of the strictest internet restrictions in the world. While the government blocks access to all kinds of content, it’s actually possible to get around this censorship with a suitable VPN. Of course, most are blocked, meaning it’s vital you install the VPN app before arriving in the country.
Luckily, NordVPN and Hotspot Shield both work in China. Hotspot Shield users don’t have to change any settings and can simply browse as normal. However, NordVPN users will have to tell the service to use special privacy-focused obfuscated servers first. To do this, navigate to the settings menu, click Advanced, and make sure the Obfuscated servers (OpenVPN) option is enabled. Now, when you return to the main screen, obfuscated servers will be shown in the list on the left.
Setup and interface
|Automatic setup wizard||Windows, Android, MacOS, Linux, iOS||Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS|
|Main location selection||List-based/ Map-based||List-based|
|Extra settings pages||Yes||Yes|
Each service comes with its own easy-to-use desktop app. NordVPN takes the unusual step of providing two ways of selecting a server, with a list on the left and a map on the right. It also allows you to access specialty servers (dedicated IP, Onion over VPN, and so on) directly from the main screen. The settings menu is neatly separated, with each option clearly described in just a few words. Better still, most features can be enabled or disabled with a simple toggle switch.
Hotspot Shield’s desktop apps are extremely user-friendly. They put a quick connect button front and center and you can change location in as few as two clicks. The server list and settings menus never feel overwhelming and are both very neatly organized. The sidebar includes a few things that aren’t strictly necessary (an about section, for instance) but as far as problems go, this is very minor.
NordVPN’s mobile app is very similar to its desktop ones, except the server list is shown below the map instead of to the side. All major security features are present, and there’s even a new addition: tapjacking protection, which lets you know if an app is trying to trick you into tapping something accidentally.
Hotspot Shield maintains a consistent appearance across all of its apps. There are minor differences, however, like the ability to choose servers specially optimized for streaming or gaming. Other than this, the functionality is effectively the same as the desktop apps, with automatic wifi protection, a kill switch, and split tunneling features included.
Servers and performance
It’s interesting to see the different approaches that these two services have taken. NordVPN actually has one of the largest networks of any major provider, with over 5,400 servers in almost 60 countries. In contrast, Hotspot Shield has fewer servers, but more locations to choose from.
NordVPN has always offered decent speeds but now thanks to its NordLynx protocol, it’s much faster than ever before. In fact, with an average speed of 115 Mbps, it’s faster than any other provider we’ve tested. Hotspot Shield is no slouch either, averaging 63 Mbps. In short, both are fast enough for data-intensive tasks like torrenting or streaming 4K video.
Let’s take a look at where exactly each of these VPNs has servers:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||✔||✔|
|Isle of Man||✔|
|United Arab Emirates||✔||✔|
Although NordVPN offers access to servers in a wide range of countries, Hotspot Shield goes one step further. In fact, it even uses virtual servers to allow you to get an IP address from countries like China, Russia, and Egypt. As these aren’t physically located in their respective countries, there’s no risk of government interference.
That said, NordVPN does have a few locations that its rival doesn’t. What’s surprising is that these are places like Slovenia, Serbia, and Cyprus. While these locations aren’t in as high demand as some others, it’s a little unusual for a VPN that covers 80+ countries to omit them.
|VPN protocols||OpenVPN, NordLynx||Hydra, IKEv2|
|OpenVPN data encryption||AES-256||AES-256|
|OpenVPN control channel encryption||RSA-4096||RSA-2048|
|Cloaking technology||Obfuscated servers||No details available|
|App security||Kill switch (all platforms), automatic wifi protection||Kill switch (all platforms)|
|DNS status||Private DNS||Private DNS|
These services each use different protocols. NordVPN supports OpenVPN, for instance, which is the industry standard, whereas Hotspot Shield uses IKEv2 instead. Additionally, NordVPN and Hotspot Shield both offer their own proprietary protocols, named NordLynx and Hydra respectively. These are designed to be faster than more widely-used protocols, without compromising on security. In fact, Hotspot Shield claims that Hydra is 2.4x faster than OpenVPN for long-distance connections.
Both VPNs use 256-bit AES encryption, which is widely considered uncrackable. NordVPN uses 4096-bit RSA keys which are twice as long as Hotspot Shield’s. This makes the key harder to crack, but realistically, even 2048-bit keys are extremely secure. Whichever service you use, you can take advantage of a built-in kill switch. This stops sending data if you unexpectedly disconnect from the VPN, ensuring you never inadvertently browse on an insecure connection.
Finally, NordVPN and Hotspot Shield both cloak your data, hiding the fact that you’re using a VPN at all. NordVPN does this using its Obfsproxy-based obfuscated servers; these essentially reshape your data, making it look like regular internet traffic. Hotspot Shield hasn’t revealed how its Hydra protocol evades VPN-detection measures but it presumably works in a similar way.
|Activity logs||None||Aggregate logs only|
|User details for signup||Email address||Email address|
|Anonymous payment options||Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple||None|
Each of these VPNs is strong on privacy but NordVPN comes out on top. First, it’s based in Panama, a country that doesn’t require companies to log user data. Conversely, Hotspot Shield is based in the US, which is a Five Eyes country. This means that your data could hypothetically be shared freely between the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
This isn’t a deal-breaker, since neither VPN keeps any logs that could be traced back to you. In fact, NordVPN doesn’t store any logs at all, and Hotspot Shield only logs aggregate data, so you can’t personally be identified. What’s more, NordVPN allows its users to pay in some of the most popular cryptocurrencies, whereas Hotspot Shield doesn’t currently support any anonymous payment methods.
|Dedicated IP address possible||Yes, in Germany, the UK, the US, France, or the Netherlands||No|
To provide even greater privacy, these services use a shared IP address allocation system. This means that everyone who’s connected to a given server shares the same IP address. As such, it’s effectively impossible to tell which user accessed a specific website.
There is one major difference between these services, though; NordVPN lets you obtain a dedicated IP address if you’d like. In other words, you can pay an extra $70 USD per year and get an IP address that only you use. This makes it slightly easier to track you across the web but makes it much less likely that your IP address will be blacklisted by the services you use.
|Live chat||Yes (in-house)||Yes (Zendesk)|
|Average email response time||6 hours, 45 minutes||32 minutes|
|Searchable knowledge base||Yes||Yes|
The good news is that it’s very easy to get help with either service. They both operate a 24/7 help desk, reachable over live chat or email. However, Hotspot Shield only provides support if you have a paid account. As such, if you’re a free user or just curious about the service, you’ll have to find answers to any questions you might have in the knowledge base. Both VPNs provide detailed walkthroughs for fixing common problems, but NordVPN also offers video guides, on both its website and official YouTube channel.
Usually, live chat is the best way to get help. But what if the service goes offline or you can’t access it for some other reason? We sent out three questions over email to gauge each provider’s response time and the quality of their answers. You’ll find the results in the tables below:
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|Can I share my account with others in my household?||6 hours, 17 minutes||1||Yes|
|How is NordLynx different from OpenVPN?||9 hours, 51 minutes||1||Yes|
|Does this service protect against WebRTC leaks?||4 hours, 8 minutes||1||Yes|
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|Can I share my account with others in my household?||25 minutes||1||Yes|
|How is Hydra different from OpenVPN?||34 minutes||1||Yes|
|Does this service protect against WebRTC leaks?||38 minutes||1||Yes|
NordVPN replied to all of our queries within a reasonable timeframe, but Hotspot Shield continues to have one of the most responsive support teams of any provider we’ve tested. Obviously, response times vary based on all kinds of factors, so you may find it takes more (or perhaps even less) time to receive a reply.
While both providers relied on pre-written sentences for part of their answers, they also tailored sections to better answer our specific questions. NordVPN was especially likely to include links to support articles, whereas Hotspot Shield tended to summarize their articles (where they existed) directly in the email instead.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Let’s be clear: these are both very high-quality services with a lot to offer. However, there has to be a winner, and in this case, it’s NordVPN. To its credit, Hotspot Shield provides high speeds and a truly impressive set of security features. It even works in China, which is almost unheard of from a VPN with a free plan.
NordVPN has a few characteristics that make it a better option for most people, though. First, thanks to its new NordLynx protocol, it’s among the fastest VPNs on the market. This, coupled with its unlimited bandwidth and strong unblocking ability make it the perfect choice for torrenting and streaming safely. It’s packed with security and privacy features too, so you won’t have to worry about who might be watching.