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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 details – 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
  • Decent value
  • Unblocks Netflix, Disney+
  • Wide platform support

Against

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

Hong Kong-based PureVPN has been in the VPN business since 2007, so it's no surprise that it's built up 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, and payment via Bitcoin if you need it.

Platform support is another 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.

Read more: Privatise Business VPN

There's support for connecting up to 10 devices simultaneously, too, up from five since our last review and more than most providers - NordVPN only has six.

Pricing is a little higher than average at $11 billed monthly, $8.33 on a six-month plan, and an effective $5.82 a month billed annually.

PureVPN used to offer a two-year plan at $3.33 a month. That's disappeared, though, which leaves the service looking a little expensive. Sign up for its annual plan and you're charged $70; choose Surfshark's two-year plan and you'll pay $48.

There's a small compensation in PureVPN's 7-day trial. This costs $1, but it gives you plenty of time to see if the service does what you need, and if you cancel your account before the week is up, you get your dollar back.

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, but we are happy to say that 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

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.

The company has worked to address these issues, though. It began with the 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.'

In 2019 PureVPN engaged Altius IT to audit its 'security systems and privacy policies', and this was the conclusion of the report:

“[We] did not find any evidence of system configurations and/or system/service log files that independently, or collectively, could lead to identifying a specific person and/or the person’s activity when using the PureVPN service.”

While that's good news, there's no detailed information on the precise scope of the audit, or exactly what Altius IT examined. There's also no commitment to ongoing audits.

Contrast this with TunnelBear, which now does annual reviews covering apps, infrastructure and its website, and publishes detailed technical reports on (for instance) security issues found within the apps and how they've been addressed.

PureVPN has taken a step forward, then, but that's just the start. Next, we'd like to see a promise to carry out regular audits, with a much wider scope, and where the full report is made public – not just a sentence.

PureVPN

(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.

PureVPN

(Image credit: PureVPN)

The installer offered to install PureVPN's proxy extension for Chrome and Firefox, as well as the Windows app, which looked like a convenient touch. But although we accepted the option to install the browser extensions, that didn't happen; only the app was installed.

On launching the app, 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.

PureVPN

(Image credit: PureVPN)

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.

It's not clear what this means. Choose the Streaming option, for instance, and this apparently gets you 'Low Security.' Well, that might be okay, but how 'low'? Low, in what way? 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 three seconds for IKEv2, eight seconds for OpenVPN. Desktop notifications alert you when you're connected.

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 IKEv2.

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, which is a little worrying, as the app warned 'beta features may be unstable.' (Split tunneling has been in beta for at least six months, too, which doesn't give a good impression of PureVPN's development resources.)

PureVPN

(Image credit: PureVPN)

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. And the 'articles' are embarrassingly short, even by FAQ standards.

Clicking the question 'How do I select network type?', for instance, gets you this advice: 'Go to Settings. Select Network Type. Select desired option.' Well, uh, thanks for that.

A 'PureVPN Ideas Forum' link supposedly allows you to suggest new ideas for the service. Unfortunately, clicking it did precisely nothing. Our idea is to properly test the existing apps, before even thinking about adding new features.

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 choose 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.

The 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 the app was failing to connect via OpenVPN, and by default, if the app can't get online with one protocol, it automatically switches to another, and keeps doing this until it runs out of options. There's nothing wrong with this kind of fallback feature in principle, but the problem is PureVPN doesn't tell you that it has done this or show you the protocol you're using, which means there's no way to see how secure your connection might be.

It got worse when we noticed that the app's native Windows network connections (IKEv2, L2TP) had the data encryption setting 'Optional... (connect even if no encryption).' So, in theory at least, you might think you're connecting via super-secure OpenVPN, when in reality the app is using the ancient PPTP with no encryption at all.

To put this in 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. But in practice, we found multiple issues with IKEv2 connections.

Sometimes, after we forcibly closed the connection, the kill switch didn't work at all, and our real IP was exposed until the app could reconnect.

When the kill switch did work, it displayed an alert asking if we'd like to reconnect. If we said yes, the app fully enabled our internet connection, and traffic was unprotected until it could connect. (A better VPN app allows itself to communicate with the server, but blocks everything else until the tunnel is enabled.)

Worse still, after repeatedly closing an IKEv2 connection while PureVPN was trying to re-establish it, the app was so confused that it told us the VPN was active, when in reality it was down, leaving us unprotected.

That's one of our more extreme tests, designed to evaluate how an app behaves in extreme situations, and it could be that you'll never run into the issue in real-world use. Most VPN apps don't fail quite that badly, though, and it's another indicator that PureVPN's Windows app isn't as good as it needs to be.

Speed Test

(Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

Our performance tests began using the benchmarking sites SpeedTest and TestMy to measure download speeds from a UK location on a 75Mbps connection, when using our nearest UK server.

Our baseline connection speed (without a VPN) managed 70-71Mbps, and this fell to a median of 64-65Mbps when using PureVPN, around a 9-10% slowdown. Some VPNs achieve 4-5Mbps more, but you're unlikely to notice much difference.

To see just how fast PureVPN could go, we ran the same tests from a US location, connecting to our nearest US server, and using a 600Mbps connection.

PureVPN scored very well on our daytime tests, with median speeds of 190-250Mbps. Some VPNs are much faster – Speedify managed 275-410Mbps, speed champion Hotspot Shield reached 460-580Mbps – but a lot of companies struggle to reach even 100Mbps.

Unfortunately, our evening runs were so poor they were hard to believe, at 2-15Mbps.

This could be some issue of PureVPN's (overloaded or failing server, say), but it could also be a benchmarking problem, something to do with our test setup, or its route to PureVPN. (We tested during April 2020, when coronavirus lockdowns had boosted internet and VPN traffic, and maybe that contributed to these low figures.)

As our first run returned broadly similar results to our last review (190-250Mbps vs 200-300Mbps), we're going to treat those speeds as more typical, and not mark PureVPN down for its lower test results. These still raise a question, though, and we'd recommend keeping them in mind if you sign up. Don't just do one-off speed tests, spend your 7-day trial checking the performance of multiple servers at several times of day, making sure they deliver the consistency you need.

Netflix

(Image credit: PureVPN)

Netflix

Most VPNs claim they let you access geoblocked content from anywhere in the world, and PureVPN is no exception. 'Movies, TV shows or sporting events; PureVPN allows you instant & unrestricted access to your favorite content', the website claims.

The apps claim built-in support for many platforms, too, including Amazon Prime Video, BBC, Hulu, Netflix and more. This isn't easy to find – it's not displayed upfront, you must choose a 'Popular Websites' option, then click a drop-down list to view the website names – but once you've found your way around, it's easy enough to use.

It didn't get us access to BBC iPlayer, unfortunately, as the site displayed a 'this content doesn't seem to be working' error. This isn't the error message we usually see when the BBC detects VPN use, so it's possible there's some other complication. We had exactly the same issue the last time we looked at PureVPN, though, so if you also have this problem, it's probably not going to go away any time soon.

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.

The company failed to get us into Amazon Prime Video, unfortunately, but our testing ended on a positive note with PureVPN successfully unblocking Disney+, something we rarely see with other VPNs.

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.

PureVPN has updated some of the very old content we noticed last time (the 'How to Setup VPN on Windows 10' article was dated October 2015), and there is plenty of useful content here, but we still have some issues.

A good 'How to set up OpenVPN' article should point you to the OpenVPN website and describe how to get it working with your system, for instance. PureVPN instead recommends you download a custom and outdated version of OpenVPN, then follow a dubious set of instructions, including making system-wide and fundamental Explorer settings changes (disabling the 'Hide extensions for known file types' option), just to make the tutorial work – very bad practice.

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 gives you a lot of functionality and is solid enough value, with an impressively wide variety of platforms supported. However, customer support is somewhat wobbly, and there are some worrying issues here which prevent this service from competing with the best VPN players out there.

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