ExpressVPN vs Hotspot Shield review

VPNs are always trying to one-up each other, which means they frequently introduce, remove, and rebrand features. These services can seem a bit complicated, each with their own constantly evolving set of jargon, so any attempt to research and compare different VPNs can quickly become overwhelming. What’s more, while services often tout their more advanced features, they often fail to adequately explain how these help you during day-to-day usage.

Don’t worry: we’re here to help. Below, you’ll find a clear and concise breakdown of every feature that ExpressVPN and Hotspot Shield offer. Just as important, we’ll let you know what each of these does, and provide additional context to give you a better understanding of what you’re paying for.

Highlights

ExpressVPN

  • Many high-speed servers
  • Fantastic unblocking abilities
  • Top-notch security features
  • Keeps no logs and accepts payment in Bitcoin.

Hotspot Shield

  • Fast and reliable connections
  • Works with Netflix US and many other popular streaming services
  • Takes user security very seriously
  • Generous guarantee period

Pricing and discounts

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
Subscription periodsOne monthOne month
Six monthsOne year
One yearThree years
Special offerThree months extra free and 49% off a one-year plan
Save 77% on three-year subscriptions
Highest price per month$12.95$12.99
Lowest price per month$6.67$2.99
One-year price$99.95$95.88
Money-back guarantee30 days45 days

You’ll usually find that month-to-month subscribers pay the highest prices, but at around $13 USD per month, ExpressVPN and Hotspot Shield are a little more expensive than average. That said, it’s clear that these services are aiming to gain long-term subscribers. They offer steep discounts on longer terms and neither offer a mid-length (for example, three-month) subscription.

ExpressVPN users who choose the annual plan cut the cost by almost half ($99.95 for 15 month’s coverage, instead of $194.25). Hotspot Shield offers even greater savings with its three-year plan, though, slashing the price by more than 75% ($107.64 instead of $467.64 for comparable month-to-month coverage). There’s more to VPNs than just their price, though, so don’t make a decision just yet.

Both services offer a money-back guarantee, allowing you to try them out risk-free and cancel for a full refund. ExpressVPN’s guarantee lasts for 30 days, which is the industry standard, but Hotspot Shield goes a step further with a generous 45-day guarantee. It also offers a free plan, but you’ll only be able to access a few servers and are limited to 500MB of bandwidth per day.

Best Deal for ExpressVPN:Save 49% and get an extra three months free by choosing ExpressVPN’s annual subscription.

Best Deal for Hotspot Shield:Get an exclusive 77% discount on three-year plans.

Features

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
Simultaneous connections55
Operating system appsWindows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Firestick/Fire TVWindows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Firestick/ Fire TV
Manual install devicesSelect routersSelect routers, Linux systems
Split tunnelingYesYes
Free extrasBrowser extensions (Chrome, Firefox) Browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox), 1Password, Hiya

Both VPNs come with a wide selection of apps, including some specifically designed for Amazon Firestick, meaning there’s no need to sideload them. There are also extensions for Chrome and Firefox to give you control over your connection right there in the browser.

ExpressVPN has the edge here as it provides an easy-to-use Linux installer and custom firmware that simplifies the process of installing the VPN on certain routers. Conversely, Hotspot Shield users have to follow manual setup instructions for these platforms. Users can connect up to five devices at once on either service, which is about the average.

Both VPNs offer split-tunneling (though not on iOS). This is the ability to let specific apps or websites bypass the VPN. This can be helpful, for instance, if you want to ensure a download isn’t interrupted and don’t care whether it’s encrypted or not. Hotspot Shield comes bundled with a premium password manager and nuisance call blocker, which is great to see.

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
Streaming service
Netflix10+ libraries including US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, India, Japan, and Germany4+ libraries including US, UK, Canada, Japan
HuluUS, JapanUS
Sky GoYesYes
Amazon Prime VideoUS, UKUS, UK
BBC iPlayerNoNo
ABCYesNo
CBSYesNo
NBCYesYes
ITVYesYes
Eleven SportsYesNo
Channel 4NoNo

As you can see, ExpressVPN is the clear winner when it comes to sheer unblocking ability. Not only was it able to access a huge range of geo-blocked streaming services, it allowed us to access almost a dozen Netflix libraries. This is a difficult feat and extremely attractive to VPN users, more than a third of whom want to bypass regional restrictions. In fact, ExpressVPN used to be able to access all of the above platforms. This means that we can reasonably expect these results to change as new workarounds are found.

While Hotspot Shield didn’t fare quite as well, it certainly proved that it’s capable of standing alongside top VPNs when it comes to streaming. It only really had issues with the largest streaming services, and could unblock moderately popular channels without any problems. Notably, Hotspot Shield can unblock several of the most in-demand Netflix libraries, something many other VPNs fail to do.

China

The Chinese government restricts access to all kinds of content using a collection of web-filtering tools known collectively as the “Great Firewall.” The good news is that both ExpressVPN and Hotspot Shield let you bypass these restrictions and browse the web freely.

Here’s the best part: unlike with many other VPNs, neither ExpressVPN nor Hotspot Shield requires you to do anything differently to surf safely in China. However, as both service’s websites are currently blocked, you’ll have to install the service before actually arriving in China. It doesn’t hurt to save manual setup instructions too, just in case you find that you need to troubleshoot on your arrival.

See also: Best VPNs to use in China

Setup and interface

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
Automatic setup wizardWindows, Android, MacOS, Linux, iOS, some routersWindows, MacOS, Android, iOS
Main location selectionList-basedList-based
Extra settings pagesYesYes
Mobile-friendlyYesYes

Both of these services come with user-friendly desktop apps. ExpressVPN’s features a large quick-connect button on the main screen and a server list that’s separated into categories. Users can view recommended servers or see all locations on a given continent. The settings menu is similarly spread across several tabs and uses clearly-worded descriptions. This helps keep things clutter-free and simple enough for just about anyone.

ExpressVPN vs Hotspot Shield Express servers

Hotspot Shield’s desktop app is similar, but it arranges its servers alphabetically, with the US and UK servers coming before any others in the list. Additionally, there’s a quick access section with your two most recently-used locations. If you’d prefer, you can search for your desired country directly. The settings are neatly organized and it’s easy to understand what they all do. There’s even the option to start a live chat session directly from the support tab.

ExpressVPN vs Hotspot Shield Hotspot shield servers

ExpressVPN has clearly done its best to create a consistent user experience across all of its apps; in fact, the mobile version is almost identical to the desktop one. The only real difference is in the settings menu, as certain features (using only ExpressVPN’s DNS servers, for instance) are missing. It’s important to note that there is still a full suite of security features though.

ExpressVPN vs Hotspot Shield ExpressVPN App

Hotspot Shield’s mobile app is actually more enjoyable to use than its desktop ones. This is because it does away with most of the clutter on the sidebar, making it much easier to find what you’re looking for. Additionally, it allows you to connect or access settings directly from the main screen. For what it’s worth, the settings haven’t really changed; the only difference is that you can’t manually choose which protocol to use.

ExpressVPN vs Hotspot Shield Hotspot Shield App

Servers and Performance

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
Server countries94+80+
Total number of servers3,000+1,800+

There really isn’t too much of a difference between these two VPNs’ networks. ExpressVPN covers more locations than Hotspot Shield (or any other major provider).

They offer similar speeds, too, with ExpressVPN averaging 58 Mbps compared to Hotspot Shield’s 63 Mbps. Considering streaming 4K video only requires a 25 Mbps connection, either of these VPNs should be fast enough for anything you throw at them.

Below, you’ll find a full list of the countries where these providers offer servers:

 ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
Albania
Algeria
Andorra
Argentina
Armenia
Australia
Austria
Azerbaijan
Bahamas
Bangladesh
Belarus
Belgium
Belize
Bhutan
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Brazil
Brunei Darussalam
Bulgaria
Cambodia
Canada
Chile
China
Colombia
Costa Rica
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Ecuador
Estonia
Egypt
Finland
France
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Guatemala
Hong Kong
Hungary
Iceland
India
Indonesia
Ireland
Isle of Man
Israel
Italy
Japan
Jersey
Kazakhstan
Kenya
Kyrgyzstan
Laos
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Macau
Macedonia
Malaysia
Malta
Mexico
Moldova
Monaco
Mongolia
Montenegro
Myanmar
Netherlands
Nepal
New Zealand
Norway
Pakistan
Panama
Peru
Philippines
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Russia
Serbia
Singapore
Slovakia
Slovenia
South Africa
South Korea
Spain
Sri Lanka
Sweden
Switzerland
Taiwan
Thailand
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States
Ukraine
Uruguay
Uzbekistan
Venezuela
Vietnam

Although ExpressVPN has the wider network, Hotspot Shield actually has servers that can get you an IP address from a few places that its rival doesn’t. These include China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, all countries with histories of internet surveillance and anti-freedom of speech legislation.

Since these virtual servers aren’t actually located in their respective countries, there’s no need to worry about government interference. That said, as both providers have a no-logs policy, you can’t be traced regardless.

There is a slight issue with Hotspot Shield, though. Its server list includes several locations that you can’t actually access, like Myanmar, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. To be fair, there is a support article explaining that some locations are only available on specific operating systems, but these countries’ servers can’t be found anywhere. Support suggested this could be because the list was recently updated. As such, it should only be a temporary issue.

Security

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
VPN protocolsOpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TPHydra, IKEv2
OpenVPN data encryptionAES-256AES-256
OpenVPN control channel encryptionRSA-4096RSA-2048
Cloaking technologyCipher-block chainingNo details
App securityKill switch (all platforms)Kill switch (all platforms)
DNS statusPrivate DNSPrivate DNS

ExpressVPN users can connect using the standard OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols, or switch to the older, more secure L2TP protocol. Hotspot Shield, however, only lets you use IKEv2 or its proprietary Hydra protocol. It claims that Hydra allows you to connect faster (anecdotally, this checks out;  the Hotspot Shield apps connect in a couple of seconds) and provides higher speeds on long-distance connections than OpenVPN does.

Both services use 256-bit AES encryption — this is so secure that without the correct decryption key, it would take an attacker hundreds of years to crack. ExpressVPN uses 4096-bit RSA keys, though, which are twice as long as Hotspot Shield’s. While neither is especially likely to be cracked, this extra length makes ExpressVPN’s keys more difficult to guess in a brute force attack.

Each of these VPNs includes a kill switch that stops sending data the moment your connection drops. This way, you’ll never inadvertently browse without protection. What’s more, they both cloak your data in different ways.

ExpressVPN encrypts each packet of data using the one that came before, so an attacker would have to capture your entire session’s data and then break the encryption to see what you’ve been up to online, which is effectively impossible. Hotspot Shield hasn’t revealed any details about how it’s able to bypass strict web-filtering, but we can speculate. It’s likely a feature built directly into the Hydra protocol, and may involve disguising your VPN traffic as standard web traffic.

Privacy

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
HQ baseBritish Virgin IslandsUSA
Connection logsSome, but no identifiable dataSome, but no identifiable data
Activity logsNoneAggregate logs only
User details for signupEmail addressEmail address
Anonymous payment optionsBitcoinNone

These services both have solid privacy policies, but ExpressVPN has a slight advantage. To begin with, it’s based in the British Virgin Islands, a country with no data-retention laws. Conversely, Hotspot Shield is based in the US, a member of the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance.

On the plus side, neither service logs any data that could identify you. Hotspot Shield does keep session duration data and a record of the sites you visit but stores this in such a way that it’s impossible to trace anything back to one specific user. ExpressVPN keeps minimal connection logs including the date of your connection. However, none of this data can identify you. One major advantage ExpressVPN has is that it accepts Bitcoin payments. Conversely, at the moment, it’s not possible to sign up for Hotspot Shield anonymously.

Configuration

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
Address allocationSharedShared
Dedicated IP address possibleNoNo
NAT firewallNoNo

Both of these VPNs use shared address allocation systems. This means that all users connected to a specific server share the same IP address. In other words, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to tell which user visited a particular website.

Some VPNs include a NAT firewall, which helps filter out suspicious incoming packets. ExpressVPN and Hotspot Shield both block all incoming data by default, so this is unnecessary. Neither service allows you to get a dedicated IP address, with ExpressVPN claiming that its current IP address rotation policy helps increase your anonymity.

Customer Service

ExpressVPNHotspot Shield
HQ baseBritish Virgin IslandsUSA
Connection logsSome, but no identifiable dataSome, but no identifiable data
Activity logsNoneAggregate logs only
User details for signupEmail addressEmail address
Anonymous payment optionsBitcoinNone

Both VPNs provide 24/7 support over email and live chat. However, you should note that Hotspot Shield only offers this service to paid subscribers. Instead, this VPN recommends free users try to find answers in the expansive knowledge base. ExpressVPN has a similar, searchable database of FAQs, as well as a YouTube channel filled with video guides.

Generally, if you need help, live chat is your best option. However, this feature may not always be accessible, for instance, if you’re traveling in China. That’s why we decided to conduct an experiment, reaching out for assistance over email and recording the average response time. You’ll find the results of our testing below:

ExpressVPN
Question Initial response timeNumber of emailsQuestion answered
Is this service fast enough for streaming?21 minutes1Yes
Can I install this VPN on a Tomato router?1 hour 18 minutes1Yes
Can I use this service safely in China?53 minutes1Yes
Hotspot Shield
Question Initial response timeNumber of emailsQuestion answered
Is this service fast enough for streaming?20 minutes1Yes
Can I install this VPN on a Tomato router?7 minutes1Yes
Can I use this service safely in China?18 minutes1Yes

Usually, you’d expect to hear back from email support in a few hours but both services shattered these expectations. In fact, Hotspot Shield had an average response time of just 15 minutes! This will vary based on several factors, but it’s still one of the fastest we’ve seen. Both providers addressed the questions asked and provided links to relevant knowledge base articles. Just as important, they encouraged users to reach out again should they have any more issues.

The winner: ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN Nov 2020

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.ExpressVPN.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

If our research has shown anything, it’s that it’s a mistake to dismiss Hotspot Shield. After all, it’s very fast and more than capable of handling any streaming or torrenting you might want to do. What’s more, it’s packed with powerful security features.  and doesn’t log any data that can identify you. It even works in China, which isn’t something many VPNs can claim.

Today’s victory goes to ExpressVPN though. While marginally slower, this service offers access to a higher number of countries and unblocks a wider range of streaming platforms. Further, it boasts an impressive array of security and privacy protections, including the ability to sign up anonymously with Bitcoin, which Hotspot Shield lacks. Whether you’re looking to browse free from government surveillance or simple to stream Netflix abroad, ExpressVPN would make an excellent choice.

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