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PureVPN review

A feature-packed VPN with some worrying flaws

New Hero
(Image: © PureVPN)

Our Verdict

PureVPN has a lengthy and appealing feature list, but look at the detail - app usability, what the Windows app is doing under the hood, the quality of the support site - and the service just isn't as capable or professional as the top VPN competition.

For

  • Loads of features
  • Above average speeds
  • Decent value
  • Unblocks Netflix

Against

  • Apps have many issues
  • Below-par support site
  • Nasty encryption concern with the Windows app

PureVPN has been providing VPN services since 2007, so it's not surprising that it now claims a lengthy list of features: 2,000+ self-managed servers across 140+ countries and 180+ locations, with apps for nearly everything, a wide choice of protocols, torrent support, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, a smart kill switch, split tunneling, five devices allowed and payment via Bitcoin if you need it.

The company has still lost a few features since we last reviewed it, though. Gravity, its malware-detecting, ad-blocking module has disappeared, and the Windows app can't share your VPN connection through its own wifi hotspot any more.

Platform support remains a highlight, with dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux, extensions for Chrome and Firefox, and more downloads and tutorials to help you set it up on routers, Kodi, Android TV, Amazon's Fire TV Stick and more.

Prices start at $11 billed monthly and $5.81 on the annual plan. That's cheaper than some of the premium competition (ExpressVPN is $13 a month, HideMyAss! is $7 on the annual plan)

The monthly plan is average value at $11, and the annual plan is a monthly $5.81. That's a little more than usual, but the price drops to a bargain $3.33 on the two-year plan. You can save money by shopping around - Surfshark's two-year plan is just $1.99 a month - but PureVPN is cheaper than most, and decent value for what you get.

PureVPN doesn't advertise a trial on the website. We dug deep and found a '5 day free' scheme, though. You're essentially signing up for the one-year plan, but PureVPN doesn't bill you immediately. Cancel within the first 5 days and you won't be charged.

There is also a 31-day money-back guarantee for the regular commercial plans, which is more generous than many. PureVPN's refund policy used to include some sneaky conditions where you wouldn't get your money back if you'd connected more than 100 times, or used more than 3GB of data transfer, but we were happy to see these have been dropped. It's now advertised as a 'no questions asked, risk-free, stress-free' money-back guarantee, so if you're unhappy, just send an email and ask for a refund.

PureVPN

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Privacy and logging

In a previous review, we pointed out that PureVPN made a big deal of its 'zero log' policy, explaining that this meant the company didn't record what you did online. But the small print said there was some session logging, which appeared to include the time you connect to a server, your incoming IP address and the total bandwidth used.

This isn't a minor detail. In October 2017 reports appeared of a man arrested on suspicion of conducting "an extensive cyberstalking campaign", in part based on PureVPN records showing that its services were accessed from originating IPs including the accused man's home and workplace. The 'zero log' VPN kept some kind of logs, after all, and these were able to help connect internet actions to a specific account.

PureVPN sort of responded to this in a blog post, where the company pointed out that it didn't keep full logs, such as your browsing history, and its limited session logging had been fully detailed in the privacy policy.

This doesn't address the issue of why the company described itself as keeping 'zero logs' in the main part of the website, though, when this turned out not to be entirely true. That's also not a trivial point. Logging policies are based almost entirely on trust, and a VPN isn't likely to be trusted if it's seen to mislead users or bury the reality of a situation in the small print.

PureVPN has at least updated its privacy policy, which now includes probably the most explicit no-logging sentence we've ever seen: 'We DO NOT keep any record of your browsing activities, connection logs, records of the VPN IPs assigned to you, your original IPs, your connection time, the history of your browsing, the sites you visited, your outgoing traffic, the content or data you accessed, or the DNS queries generated by you.'

The policy also explains the minimal connection data it does record – 'We know the day you connected to a specific VPN location and from which Internet Service Provider' – and covers plenty of other important issues in a clear and readable way.

The good news, then, is that PureVPN's current privacy policy looks good and says all the right things. It's far better than most of the competition. But the catch is that the previous logging story will understandably lead some folks to question whether they can trust what the company says. We can't tell you what to believe, but it is worth checking out both PureVPN's original blog defense and its current privacy policy before you make up your mind.

Apps

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Apps

Handing over your money to PureVPN is unusually easy, as the company supports just about every payment format there is: credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies (via CoinPayments), AliPay, assorted gift cards, and more than 150 other payment methods via the Paymentwall platform.

After parting with our cash, the website pointed us to download links for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, the browser extensions and more. We grabbed the Windows client, and as it was downloading, a welcome email arrived with login details.

The installer offered to install PureVPN's proxy extension for Chrome and Firefox, as well as the Windows app, a convenient touch. We accepted the default settings and the app and browser extensions were installed within seconds.

Windows Firewall Error

(Image credit: PureVPN)

On launching the app, a Windows Security Alert warned us that 'Windows Defender Firewall has blocked some features of this app.' We don't think there's anything harmful going on (the app is probably just using the firewall to manage its kill switch), but it looks unprofessional, and could leave users concerned about their safety.

Getting Started

(Image credit: PureVPN)

After permitting the app to use Windows Firewall, it prompted us to pick one of five modes: Stream, Internet Freedom, Security/Privacy, File Sharing and Dedicated IP. We suspect most people will wonder whether to choose Internet Freedom or Security/Privacy, and there's no immediate guidance to explain the difference.

The support website told us that selecting a mode would optimize PureVPN's settings for that task. For example, choosing Security/Privacy would prioritize security above all else, but the Streaming and File Sharing modes would optimize for speed.

VPN novices might appreciate this approach as it means they don't have to understand and tweak the underlying settings. But experts are less likely to approve, as there's no obvious indication of what each mode does. 

Windows Modes

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Choose the Streaming option, for instance, and this apparently gets you 'Low Security.' Well, that might be okay, but how 'low'? What does this mean? There's nothing wrong with task-based mode selection, but we would like a clear display of the low-level settings for each mode, so that experienced users can understand the consequences of their choice. 

(Fortunately, there's a workaround. Head off to the Settings dialog and you can choose your preferred protocol and other key options, ensuring you'll get the security you need. Well, maybe, but more on that later.)

After selecting a mode, you're able to pick locations from a dashboard. This has plenty of functionality, allowing you to browse locations by cities or countries, search by name, see ping times, or create favorites for speedy recall later.

A 'Change Mode' link enables switching to another mode, at least in theory. When we tried, the app warned that we must close our current connection, first. Well, okay, but then why not grey out or hide actions when they can't be carried out? 

Connection times were reasonably fast at around 3 seconds for IKEv2, 8 for OpenVPN. Desktop notifications alert you when you're connected.

PureVPN

(Image credit: PureVPN)

PureVPN has dropped its Gravity feature, which blocked dangerous URLs, filtered content and more. That's not a disaster - you're always better off getting this kind of technology from an antivirus vendor - but it's still a pity to see such a major feature disappear.

Elsewhere, the Settings box has plenty of options, some useful, some not.

There's a neat touch in PureVPN's startup options. The app doesn't just enable launching on system start; it can automatically open your default browser once you're connected.

PureVPN

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Need a different protocol? PureVPN allows you to choose from OpenVPN TCP/UDP, PPTP, L2TP, SSTP and IKEV.

Although the PureVPN website advertises split tunneling, the ability to send only the traffic of specified apps through the VPN, it wasn't immediately visible in the Windows app. We had to enable a Beta Features setting to access it, a little worrying, as the app warned 'beta features may be unstable.'

A Help and Feedback link displays the main support site within the client. Sounds like a great idea, but it's very poorly implemented. The window where it's displayed is too small and can't be resized, so there are always vertical and horizontal scroll bars. Although we could view article titles, that was all— clicking them had no effect. The page included a Live Chat button, too, but that also did nothing when clicked.

A 'Support Ticket' link was more successful, allowing us to send a message to support by typing in a box and clicking Submit: very easy.

PureVPN

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Advanced features include IPv6 leak protection, and a multi-port option which intelligently chooses the best port, avoiding any closed or throttled options. You can opt to use a non-NAT network to get a unique IP address, and port forwarding is available if you need it.

We took a look at PureVPN's Android app, and it was much the same story as the Windows version. After choosing a 'Mode', we were able to select countries, cities, or choose a Purpose (optimized for China, unblock this or that streaming service, and so on). It's more awkward to use than the average VPN app, but you'll figure it out easily enough.

What's maybe more interesting is that the Android app doesn't drop most of the desktop's settings and options, which is what we normally see. It has a very similar feature set, including a choice of protocol (OpenVPN TCP/UDP or IKEv2), a kill switch, split tunneling, port forwarding and more. Again, if you'll use some or all of that functionality, it's well worth a try.

Windows App Testing

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Windows app testing

PureVPN's Windows app looks reasonable and is certainly packed with features, but does it deliver the functionality you need? We ran some in-depth tests to find out.

Choice of protocol proved to be the first issue. Whether we selected OpenVPN UDP or TCP, the app always connected via IKEv2. 

Digging deeper, we found that if the app fails to connect via one protocol, it automatically switches to another, and keeps doing this until it runs out of option. There's nothing in principle wrong with this kind of fallback feature, but the problem is PureVPN doesn't tell you it's done this or show you the protocol you're using, which means there's no way to see how secure your connection might be.

Next, we noticed that the app's native Windows network connections (IKEv2, L2TP) had the data encryption setting 'Optional... (connect even if no encryption).' Uh, a VPN that might or might not encrypt your connection, and won't give you any way to find out? Really?

To put this into perspective, we suspect it's very unlikely that you'd get an unencrypted connection, as the server should never allow that. But there's no excuse to allow even the faintest possibility, especially as it's so easy to fix. Just set the network connection to use at least the alternative 'Require encryption (disconnect if server declines)' setting, like almost every other VPN around.

We're also left with a bonus concern: if PureVPN could make a simple mistake like this, what else has it missed?

Finally, we checked out the app kill switch. In theory this should block internet access if the VPN drops, ensuring your data won't be transmitted over an alternative unencrypted connection.

In practice, we found a small issue. When we forcibly closed IKEv2 or OpenVPN connections, our test system was able to use another internet connection, but only for a fraction of a second before the app blocks access and reconnects. The best VPN apps have no leaks at all, but the Windows app covers the basics, and its limited exposure is too brief to be a significant privacy risk.

Speed Test

(Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

Connect to a VPN and the client encrypts your traffic and re-routes it through another server, an extra overhead that is very likely to affect your internet speeds.

The precise performance penalty is difficult to measure as it's affected by so many factors - your location, the server you're accessing, the platform you're using, the protocol, your network connection type - but we use a couple of tests to get a feel for how a service performs.

We began by setting up the benchmarking sites SpeedTest and TestMy to measure download speeds from a UK location, when connecting to our nearest UK server. 

Our baseline connection speed (without a VPN) managed 67-68Mbps, and this fell to a median of 61-63Mbps when using PureVPN, around a 6-8% slowdown. Some VPNs achieve 3-4Mbps more, but you're unlikely to notice any difference, and PureVPN is more consistent than most.

To see just how fast Pure VPN could go, we ran the same tests from a US location, connecting to our nearest US server, and using a 500Mbps connection.

PureVPN scored very well, with most of our test runs achieving median speeds of 200-300Mbps. Some VPNs give you more - Private Internet Access managed 315-450Mbps - but a lot of companies struggle to reach even 100Mbs, and overall, we think PureVPN has more than enough speed for the typical user.

Netflix

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Netflix

PureVPN makes more of an effort to support website unblocking than most of the competition. The company doesn't just make airy promises on the website and then forget about them later, it includes specific support for streaming within its apps, in theory allowing you to access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer and a host of other services from wherever you are in the world.

We double-clicked the BBC option, and watched as the client connected, our default browser opened, and displayed an 'err-network-changed' message. What? This looked like a serious problem, but the browser had just detected the change in our network settings as the client connected, and once this was complete, the BBC iPlayer site opened as usual.

We weren't able to stream iPlayer content, as the site displayed a 'this content doesn't seem to be working' error. This happens sometimes, with some VPNs, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, but what we do know is it's not related to iPlayer detecting our VPN. As PureVPN unblocked BBC iPlayer during our last review, we'll assume it still does, and this is a temporary glitch.

There was better news with Netflix, where not only does PureVPN support multiple countries (US, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan), but they work as expected, with no odd error messages, leaving us free to browse and stream whatever Netflix content we liked.

You're not restricted to the services built into PureVPN's apps, of course. YouTube wasn't included on the list, for instance, but connecting to a US server in the usual way got us in.

PureVPN

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Support

PureVPN has a large support site with a huge number of tutorials and troubleshooting guides. The opening page points you to categories like Setup Guides, Troubleshoot, FAQ and Account and Billing, for instance, and most of these sections include more content than you'd expect.

The Setup Guide has subsections for 15 platforms, for instance (yes, really), and even some of those individual sections have more content than the entire support site of lesser VPNs.

Although it's an impressive amount of work, the quality of the articles and advice is sometimes poor. The 'How to Setup VPN On Windows 10' article is dated October 2015, covering a slightly different interface to today, and recommends users create a PPTP connection, the least secure protocol available. The manual OpenVPN setup guide is flawed, too. 

An 'OpenVPN for Windows 10' link actually points to the plain Windows 10 guide, for example, and doesn't even mention OpenVPN. 

Try the Windows 8 page and you're asked to download a custom and outdated version of OpenVPN, then follow a lengthy series of instructions, including making system-wide Explorer changes (disabling the 'Hide extensions for known file types' setting), and which we've previously found won't necessarily work.

If the website can't help, you're able to raise a support ticket from within the client. 

We asked why our Windows app wasn't able to connect via OpenVPN. A reply arrived within 30 minutes, but its main suggestion was to use another protocol, not exactly helpful. The agent also asked for more details, and we replied with these, but didn't receive any further response.

Alternatively, you can use live chat on the website. We were able to contact a support agent within a couple of minutes, but found we got the same basics-only response as we received to our ticket. PureVPN couldn't get close to the level of support we'd received from top competitors like ExpressVPN, then, but response times were good, and the replies were enough to solve our immediate issues.

Final verdict

PureVPN has a lengthy and appealing feature list, but look at the detail - app usability, what the Windows app is doing under the hood, the quality of the support site - and the service just isn't as capable or professional as the top VPN competition.

  • Also check out our complete list of the best VPN services