Hotspot Shield is a freemium VPN, meaning it has free and commercial plans. With the free plan, you can only connect to one server, you are subjected to targeted ads, and you lose other capabilities that the commercial plan includes. Those factors make the free plan non-competitive with Private Internet Access (PIA), which does not offer free service. Thus, this comparison is between PIA and Hotspot Shield’s paid plan.
We’ll chart and analyze the commonalities and differences in depth to help you choose between these VPNs. We evaluate and compare prices, features and benefits, speed, privacy, security, and customer relations to help you determine which of these two VPNs is better.
Disclosure: Both Hotspot Shield and Comparitech are owned by Pango.
PIA vs. Hotspot Shield price comparison
PIA has lower prices than Hotspot Shield across the board, although the price differences are modest. PIA’s two-year deal is the best value. It has one of the lowest prices on the market.
Hotspot Shield’s prices are higher than average because it bundles extra products with the VPN service. They include a phone spam blocker and 1Password, a highly regarded password manager.
Whether you use 1Password, a competing product, or one of the top free programs, a password manager should be an essential component of your internet security tools. A password generated by 1Password is going to be much harder to crack than “456,” “password,” your mother’s maiden name, or even your first street address. Also, you don’t have to memorize it.
If you already subscribe to 1Password or don’t have a password manager, Hotspot Shield’s bundle is competitively priced.
PIA vs. Hotspot Shield features
|No value||Private Internet Access||Hotspot Shield|
|Website||PrivateInternetAccess.com||Hotspotshield.com||Simultaneous Connections||Unlimited||Up to 10||Devices Supported||Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Amazon Fire TV, Routers, Smart TV’s, Consoles||Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Amazon Fire TV, Chrome, Smart TVs, Routers||Manual install devices||Select routers||Select routers||Free extras||Browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera, automatic ad/malware blocking||Browser extensions (Chrome, Edge, Firefox)|
|Best deal (per month)||$2.11
SAVE 82% on the 2 yr plan + 3 months free
SAVE 77% on the 3 year plan
Both services can be used with the most popular operating systems; Hotspot Shield also works on Chrome. Hotspot Shield allows a fairly standard five simultaneous connections. PIA doubles that, which can be useful if you have a large family. Hotspot Shield will sell you a family plan.
Private Internet Access and Hotspot Shield both block malware. PIA also blocks ads and trackers. However, it does not block all ads. Brave, a secure web browser, will block all ads without third-party ad-blocking software.
Boxcryptor is included free with some PIA plans, and is otherwise available for purchase. It is encryption software for files you back up to cloud storage sites.
Each VPN offers some features and capabilities the other lacks. PIA gives you more features, but the winner in this category should be whichever VPN gives you features you will use.
Streaming & Netflix comparison
Private Internet Access claims to work with all major streaming services. It was not that successful in our tests. We were able to access Netflix, but other services are becoming more important. Streaming services need to comply with laws in the countries where they operate and with the requirements of their licensing agreements with the content providers. As a result, they are forced to try to block VPNs. VPNs, in turn, develop strategies to unblock the streaming services. Some VPNs are more consistently successful than others, but the ongoing one-upmanship between VPNs and streaming services means that tests can be a snapshot. Our test results may be better or worse next week.
Hotspot Shield was very good for streaming in our tests. We weren’t able to unblock all the Netflix libraries, but we accessed everything else we tried. Although neither of these VPNs made our recent list of the 7 Best Streaming VPNs, Hotspot Shield should be a contender the next time we undertake a comparison.
China’s “great firewall” successfully blocks most VPNs. Neither Private Internet Access nor Hotspot Shield currently works in China. However, Hotspot Shield has worked in the past and can work with trial and error. The company’s engineers are trying to overcome the Great Firewall.
If you live in China, consider one of the VPNs on our list of best VPNs for China. Paul Bischoff completed extensive tests to compare 59 VPNs.
Setup and interface
The automatic setup wizards from both VPNs are simple and satisfactorily fast. Hotspot Shield’s apps are easier to use. The user interfaces are clean and user-friendly. Desktop and mobile apps are very similar. In this regard, Hotspot Shield may be a better choice for beginners.
PIA’s apps are customizable, as are a variety of aspects of the service, but its apps aren’t as simple as Hotspot Shield’s are. They are for people who prefer more user control.
Servers and performance
Both VPNs have an impressive global presence. PIA will not reveal its total number of servers, but third parties say it reached as high as 33,000 and that PIA has reduced its total number of servers. The odds are good that PIA still has a lot more servers than Hotspot Shield does.
PIA now has servers in all 50 states. Hotspot Shield has servers in at least half as many states (its website lists three different figures in three different places). The apps from both VPNs let you pick individual cities. Your connections are faster when you live close to a server. If you live near a city with a pro sports team, neither VPN has an advantage. If you live far from one, PIA has an advantage.
If you don’t live in the U.S., comparing global footprints is a challenge because Hotspot Shield refers to all of its servers as virtual servers. Elsewhere in the VPN industry, “virtual server” means a server that is in one physical location, but is using an IP address assigned to another location.
Because of its obfuscating terminology, we don’t know if Hotspot Shield uses what everyone else calls virtual servers. If so, it does not literally have servers in all the places it lists servers. This is a concern because if you are far from a literal server location, your connection will be slower. If you sign up for a VPN service because you think it has a nearby server, and that server is really somewhere else, you will be disappointed.
PIA does disclose its use of virtual servers, but does not count them in its list of locations.
Here are the countries where PIA and Hotspot Shield list servers:
Both PIA and Hotspot Shield list servers in India on their websites. PIA removed its servers from India in June. Hotspot Shield may have done the same, or may intend to do so, as VPNs have been leaving India due to government restrictions that include logging requirements.
Both PIA and Hotspot Shield made our list of the fastest VPNs. PIA (ninth fastest) was twice as fast when connected to a U.S. server, and more than three times faster when connected to a European server. PIA and Hotspot Shield (twelfth fastest) performed about equally when connected to an Asian server. PIA’s performance advantage is great enough to assert that it is faster.
Hotspot Shield claims to be the fastest VPN, but that is based on a three-year-old study. PIA’s speed advantage may be due to its use of the WireGuard protocol (see below). Either of these VPNs is fast enough for any common online activity.
PIA now uses the WireGuard protocol, which is widely regarded as the fastest and most secure. Hotspot Shield uses its own proprietary Hydra protocol, which it claims is the fastest and most secure. In our tests, PIA was notably faster than Hotspot Shield (see above). Hydra is proprietary whereas Wireguard is open source.
Both VPNs provide a full complement of standard security features, although Hotspot Shield lacks a kill switch in its Apple apps. A kill switch will terminate your internet connection if you become disconnected from your VPN.
We experienced no leaks in our tests with either VPN. A leak will reveal your actual IP address.
PIA lets you customize several security features. It also adds a couple of features to give you even greater privacy protection. Multi-hop lets you route your traffic through several servers at the same time. RAM-only servers have no disc drives, and therefore cannot save data. When you close your browser, no traces of your web use are saved. All of PIA’s servers are RAM-only.
Both Hotspot Shield and PIA give you protection against malware. Hotspot Shield’s included subscription to 1Password is also a security benefit, although it doesn’t increase the security of the VPN. Hotspot Shield’s security features are solid, and more than adequate. PIA gives you more features and advanced users may appreciate having some extra choices.
The United States has laws and intergovernmental agreements that make it less hospitable to personal privacy than quite a few other countries. Some people avoid American VPNs for that reason. However, as neither PIA nor Hotspot Shield collect or save any personally identifying information about you, and neither tracks your internet usage, you have no need for concern.
Private Internet Access was independently audited by Deloitte, a “big four” accounting firm. It confirmed that PIA stores no user information. Hotspot Shield’s no-logs policy has not been independently audited.
PIA also gives you the ability to block trackers. If you use a browser that tracks you, such as Safari, Chrome, or Edge, then Apple, Google, or Microsoft is tracking you. If you use online services from those companies, they will track you. TikTok and Facebook will also track you.
PIA and Hotspot Shield both require email addresses when you register, but they can be burner accounts. PIA will send your password to that account, so don’t use a one-time-only address. Hotspot Shield does save your payment information, and does not allow anonymous payment options. PIA does not save payment information. It does accept cryptocurrency as payment. At one time, PIA also accepted payment from popular retail gift cards. Gift cards no longer show up as an option on the checkout screen.
Hotspot Shield’s privacy policies are typical and adequate. PIA’s privacy policies go to extreme lengths to maximize user anonymity.
Both VPNs use shared servers wherein all users connected to the same server use the same IP address. Websites can’t easily distinguish you from the other users of the same server.
You can buy a dedicated IP address from PIA for an additional $4/month. If you are operating your own server network or need to receive incoming connections, you need a dedicated IP address. Otherwise, it is a disadvantage. The option is necessary for some and otherwise nice to have.
Routers made in recent years have NAT firewalls that filter traffic between your devices and the internet. Those firewalls are an important component of your internet security defenses. Neither PIA nor Hotspot Shield has that capability.
PIA can be difficult to reach. Hotspot Shield provides all the standard forms of support, noting that phone support from any VPN is rare. We emailed six questions to Hotspot Shield in two sets of tests. We received answers to four of them in less than an hour. One response that took more than nine hours greatly increased the average time. Hotspot Shield’s responsiveness is considerably better than what we’ve experienced with most VPNs.
Both VPNs have earned “excellent” ratings based on user reviews on Trustpilot. Hotspot Shield has a weighted average rating of 4.8/5, which tops PIA’s 4.6/5 rating. Hotspot Shield also has fewer customers who rate the service as “bad”: seven percent versus 10 percent for PIA.
A majority of recent complaints about Hotspot Shield were about billing issues. A majority of recent complaints about PIA were about inadequate responsiveness from tech support or customer service. For additional context, Hotspot Shield has more than 550 user reviews, while PIA has more than 8,500. Ratings could be skewed in Hotspot Shield’s favor because many of the reviews come from subscribers of the free plan.
Both VPNs have problematic websites, but they do offer lots of useful content. PIA’s website had readability issues in five different browsers, but worked fine in older versions of Maxthon and Opera. Hotspot Shield’s website is difficult to navigate. Both websites have support links on the menus at the top of their home pages, but only have search boxes on their support pages. Finding the help you need on both sites can be challenging.
Neither VPN offers video tutorials, but both have interesting blogs. Both VPNs have setup guides with screenshots, which are very helpful, and both have additional illustrated guides that cover other usage topics.
PIA vs. Hotspot Shield: The winner
On balance, PIA is slightly better. Both PIA and Hotspot Shield are among the better VPNs, but both give prospective customers a couple of reasons to choose a competitor. Both are outstanding for U.S. residents because of their vast server networks in the country. PIA has an edge with servers in every state. People who live far from major cities will benefit from that, as will people who do a lot of domestic travel.
PIA’s security and privacy features and policies are its greatest asset. Hotspot Shield is solid in those regards, but not as strong or reassuring. PIA is also cheaper. If you aren’t interested in Hotspot Shield’s bundled services, PIA is the better value. Both VPNs rank among the market leaders in speed, but PIA is faster.
Hotspot Shield proved to be much better at unblocking location-limited streaming content in our tests. PIA was able to unblock Netflix, but struggled with the services that are now eclipsing Netflix in popularity. If unblocking streaming media content is your most important consideration, go with Hotspot Shield or one of our top rated VPNs for that purpose.
Hotspot Shield has better customer service and support than PIA does. Hotspot Shield’s customer satisfaction level is very high, although subscribers to its free plan may skew that data. PIA is not always responsive. Hotspot Shield’s new ownership has improved the VPN’s privacy, speed, and service.
You may be concerned about PIA’s ownership by Kape Technologies. The company’s past is at odds with PIA’s mission. So far, PIA’s customers have not been affected in any adverse way.
Hotspot Shield Coupon
SAVE 77% on the 3 year plan
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Comparing PIA and Hotspot Shield: our methodology
We evaluated and compared these two services in:
- Server networks: PIA and Hotspot Shield operate thousands of servers in dozens of countries. Bigger server networks allow you to be able to access more content. They increase the likelihood of finding a server near your physical location, which enables faster speed. Both of these VPNs are hiding some information about their networks, so we reveal that.
- Speed: Using a VPN slows your internet connection. The fastest VPNs, PIA and Hotspot Shield included, make little difference. We conduct our speed tests on VPN servers in three continents.
- Unblocking: People use VPNs to bypass blocked content and geographic restrictions. Websites and countries with restrictions are currently engaged in a battle with VPNs. We test all VPNs with popular streaming services including Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+ to determine whether they can successfully overcome blocking attempts.
- Security: We review encryption methodology, connection protocols, the availability of kill switches in apps, protection against data leaks, and extra features (such as malware blocking by Hotspot Shield and PIA).
- Privacy: We review logging practices, data collection, government requirements in the VPN’s home country, the possibility of anonymous registration, and company history regarding privacy.
- Ease of use: Every VPN creates apps for some or all of the major operating systems for computers and smartphones. Creating user-friendly apps, as PIA and Hotspot Shield do, takes care, time, money, and continual refinement. Those apps must be backed with good tech support and other customer service, including a helpful website, multiple methods of contact, and quick responsiveness. We test, review, and compare all those factors.
- Value: Price is part of value, but what you get per dollar determines value. VPNs run introductory promotions and try to make price comparisons difficult, but we find ways to make comparisons. We look for money-back guarantees and test their credibility. We note upselling practices and report any unsavory business practices. We also report extra features that competing VPNs do not routinely offer.
If you’d like to know more about the specific tests we run on VPNs like PIA and Hotspot Shield, check our full VPN testing methodology.
PIA or Hotspot Shield FAQs
How do PIA and Hotspot Shield handle your data?
Private Internet Access collects no data during registration and has a convincing no-logs policy that has been independently audited. Hotspot Shield’s no-logs policy has not been independently audited.
Hotspot Shield collects information about your usage for analytics purposes. That includes what device, browser, and Pango apps you use, what operating system you use, and the name of your ISP. Pango uses this information for internal security, legal compliance, billing, payment, and marketing.
PIA also gives you the ability to block trackers, which should prevent browsers and other companies in the advertising business from spying on you. Of these two VPNs, PIA is much more interested in protecting your anonymity, including from itself.
Should I be concerned about Kape Technologies?
Kape Technologies is an Israeli company that now owns PIA, ExpressVPN, and CyberGhost, as well as other companies in the cybersecurity industry. Kape was formerly named Crossrider.
Crossrider developed an ad injection product that fits the definition of adware. This software was sold to third parties, which meant that Crossrider was able to claim that it was not literally an adware distributor. That claim was disingenuous.
Crossrider has a better case in arguing that it had no intention of its product being used to distribute malware. However, it was. When Crossrider was exposed, its reputation was damaged enough that it discontinued the ad injection product and then changed its name.
With a new name came a new direction: selling digital security products. Kape went on an acquisition spree. It spent $127.6 million on PIA and a whopping $936 million on highly regarded ExpressVPN. Each company is still being independently operated.
No evidence suggests that PIA has been compromised by Kape. After several years under the new owner, PIA continues to improve its product and satisfy a high percentage of its customers. Crossrider’s checkered past may be a cause for concern, but PIA still has an unblemished record as a company devoted to privacy and security.
Has PIA ever been hacked?
No. In 2015, the VPN was alerted to an IP address leak vulnerability. Its engineers promptly updated the software to fix the potential problem and immediately notified its customers of the need to update their apps. Modern technology would prevent that type of vulnerability.
Which is better for torrenting: PIA or Hotspot Shield?
Both VPNs allow torrenting. PIA’s speed edge should make it better.
Does PIA or Hotspot Shield use obfuscated servers?
Yes, PIA does. That increases your anonymity.
What works better on a game console: PIA or Hotspot Shield?
You can buy a router with Hotspot Shield software pre-installed, which will allow you to connect your gaming devices to its service. Hotspot Shield also offers specific servers for gamers.
Which VPN works better for India: PIA or Hotspot Shield
PIA has recently removed its servers from India because the Indian government requires VPN providers to store data. In this article, Hotspot Shield implies that it has a virtual server for India that is actually located in Singapore.
How long have PIA and Hotspot Shield been in business?
Hotspot Shield was started in 2008. Hotspot Shield was originally developed by AnchorFree. It is currently owned by Pango, which is a subsidiary of Aura.
Private Internet Access began business in 2009. Kape Technologies acquired LTMI Holdings (London Trust Media), the holding company for Private Internet Access in late 2019. Kape owns other VPNs and related businesses.
How profitable are PIA and Hotspot Shield?
Kape Technologies does not break down its financial data by subsidiary. It earned $230.7million last year. PIA’s revenue is about $20 million according to ZoomInfo and Datanyze. Those figures are consistent with what Kape projected when it announced the pending acquisition of PIA. ZoomInfo states Hotspot Shield’s revenue is $9 million, and Datanyze cites a similar figure.
How many users do PIA and Hotspot Shield have?
The PIA website says it has 15 million customers, but in its acquisition announcement, Kape Technologies said PIA has more than a million subscribers with about half of them in the U.S. The difference might be explained by active accounts versus total number of accounts registered.
Hotspot Shield does not report a figure, but an unreliable source says it has more than 650 million users. Hotspot Shield has more than 100 million downloads on the Google Play store. Those are presumably mostly users of the free plan.