PureVPN review

A feature-packed value VPN with some worrying flaws

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Our Verdict

PureVPN is loaded with nifty features and we saw decent results on the performance front. It's good value as well, but the connection logging and weak Windows client may spoil the party for some.

For

  • Decent speeds
  • Loads of features
  • Mobile and desktop apps
  • Good value on the two-year plan

Against

  • Some session logging
  • Windows client has many issues
  • No free trial
  • Restrictions on money-back guarantee

PureVPN has been providing VPN services for almost 10 years, so it's not surprising that it offers a lengthy list of features: 750 servers in 140+ countries, built-in ad and malware blocking, wide protocol support, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, a smart kill switch, five devices allowed and payment via Bitcoin if you need it.

Unusual extras include 'split tunneling' (you decide which traffic goes through the VPN, and which uses your ISP) and the ability to create an instant Wi-Fi VPN hotspot.

The company offers dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux, and there are instructions to help you set it up on consoles, Smart TVs, Amazon Fire and more.

Short-term plans are only average value – $10.99 (£8.80) per month, $8.95 (£7.20) per month billed six-monthly – but the two-year plan for only $3.25 (£2.60) is a really good deal.

PureVPN doesn't have a free plan, and the company's trial plans are a little confusing. One free trial appears to be for business users only, for instance, while a more general three-day trial account is really just a commercial plan where you pay a non-refundable $2.50 (£2) for 3 days of service.

There is a seven-day money-back guarantee for the regular commercial plans, but that comes with conditions. It only applies if you've used less than 3GB bandwidth and haven't connected to the service more than 100 times. That's probably enough for basic testing, but many services give you an unrestricted service for seven days and some offer even more.

Privacy

The PureVPN website spends a lot of time highlighting its 'zero log' policy, explaining that this means "we do not record your activities or what you do online."

However, this doesn't mean there's no logging at all. Like many other services, the company records session data, which appears to include the time you connect to a server, your incoming IP address and the total bandwidth used.

Session logs can be used to help identify you, in some situations. In October 2017 reports appeared of a man being 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.

Most VPN users aren't doing anything that's going to attract major attention from law enforcement, we suspect, and if there's no crime being committed using PureVPN IP addresses, there's no reason for the police to take those IPs and start tracing them back.

It's also worth bearing in mind that PureVPN isn't doing anything unusual. For example, Avast's HideMyAss logs connect and disconnect times, incoming and outgoing IP addresses and the bandwidth used, and keeps this data for two to three months. We don't like the way PureVPN presents this as a 'zero log policy' as that's misleading, but the logging itself isn't any great surprise.

How much this matters depends on what you expect from a VPN and how you intend to use it. If you're a heavy torrent user or want to be completely sure that no internet action can be traced back to you, session logging is going to be a problem. But if you're only looking to protect your regular email, browsing or video streaming then it's most unlikely to be an issue.

Performance

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, Cashu, assorted gift cards, and more than 150 other payment methods via the Paymentwall platform.

After parting with your cash, download links point you to apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. We grabbed the Windows client, and as it was downloading, a welcome email arrived with logon details.

Setup wasn't as smooth as with most of the competition. After the main installer completed, we were prompted to install a driver, then a dialog appeared with the less-than-helpful title 'Microsoft Visual C++ 2013 Redistributable (x86) - 12.0.30501 Modify Setup', prompting us with options to Repair, Uninstall or Close. We picked Repair as the safest option, but it's easy to imagine how novice users might choose Uninstall or Close.

On launch, the Windows client 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. 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 choosing each one.

After selecting a mode, you're able to choose locations from a map or a dashboard. This works much like any other VPN you've used, only perhaps a little better: you can browse locations by cities, countries or regions, search by name, see their ping times, or create favorites for speedy recall later.

We tried connecting to our local UK server, and were surprised to see an alert from Windows Firewall asking if we wanted it to block PureVPN. This is easily resolved by clicking the Allow button, and you'll never see the message again, but it's still a small concern. Other VPN clients set themselves to run alongside Windows Firewall by default, and we're not sure why PureVPN doesn't do the same.

Browsing the Settings box revealed a very wide choice of protocols: OpenVPN TCP/UDP, PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEV and StealthVPN.

Split Tunneling allows you to send only the traffic of specified apps through your VPN. That takes more time to set up, and you have to be very sure which apps you need to redirect, but it can also optimize performance by limiting your data transfer needs.

The VPN Hotspot is an unusual extra, configuring a wireless hotspot which effectively turns the host computer into a limited VPN router. Once it's enabled you'll be able to use your phone, tablet or other devices to go online via the host's PureVPN connection.

Useful low-level features include IPv6 leak protection, an unusually configurable kill switch, and a multi-port option which intelligently chooses the best port, avoiding any closed or throttled options.

Our performance tests* found PureVPN gave inconsistent but largely acceptable results. UK to UK connections reached 19 to 24Mbps download speeds, which is usable enough, although top services regularly manage 30Mbps or more.

Oddly, switching to nearby European countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany gave us higher top speeds of up to 38Mbps, and they were never lower than 18Mbps.

UK to US connections hovered around 20Mbps, although you may need to manually select the best server. When we selected the US and left the client to choose the location, the connection barely managed 10Mbps; only when we manually chose New York did we get 20Mbps.

Going long-distance to locations like Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia typically gave us speeds of around 2Mbps. Still, that's better than it sounds, at least for very basic browsing and email needs, and we've seen a lot of VPNs that do worse.

Whatever server we used, there were no issues with privacy. PureVPN's client provided its own DNS server and made that address available via WebRTC checks, too, ensuring our real identity never leaked.

Final verdict

PureVPN comes bundled with a pile of powerful features, way more than you'd expect for the price, and performance is good, too. On the downside, the Windows client has many problems and the connection logging may be a concern, but if you can live with these issues there's real value here.

*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we've reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.