PureVPN

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: 6,500+ self-managed servers across 140+ countries and 180+ locations, with apps for nearly everything, OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols, torrent support, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, a smart kill switch, split tunneling, and optional extras including dedicated IPs, port forwarding and even DDoS protection.

Platform support is 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.

PureVPN Network

PureVPN has thousands of servers across the world (Image credit: PureVPN)

There's support for connecting up to 10 devices simultaneously. That's better than most of the competition, although Hide.me, IPVanish, Ivacy and Private Internet Access also support 10 devices as standard, and Windscribe has no limits at all.

Pricing starts a little higher than average at $11 billed monthly. The annual plan also looks costly at an equivalent $5.83, especially as signing up for two years cuts the monthly bill to $3.33. Or to put it another way, parting with $70 gets you one year of service, while handing over $80 gets you two. That looks like great value to us, although Private Internet Access' also asks $3.33 a month on its annual plan, dropping to $2.69 if you sign up for two years.

Dedicated IPs are also cheap at only $2.99 a month for a US address on the annual plan. Private Internet Access charges $5 a month, NordVPN $5.83 on its annual plan.

PureVPN Trial

You can test PureVPN out for 7 days for just $1 (Image credit: PureVPN)

If you're intrigued, there's a 7-day sort-of 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.

If you sign up for a full plan and you're unhappy, there's a 31-day money-back guarantee, with no dubious clauses in the small print to catch you out. If you're unhappy, just send an email and ask for a refund.

Privacy and logging

PureVPN's Privacy Policy gets off to a good start, with a lengthy list of all the data the service doesn't log: '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.'

Sounds great! But, it's a little oversimplified. The company says at the top of the page that it doesn't maintain connection logs, for instance, but scroll down and there's a section titled 'Information Included in VPN Connection Logs' where it lists the details it does collect: the day you connected to a specific location, your ISP, the connection length, how many connections you make, and the overall total of bandwidth you use (not per connection, apparently.) There's no logging of origin IP, destination IP, the specific time you connected or your activities afterwards, so this limited data is most unlikely to compromise your privacy. But we think it's a bad idea to say 'we don't record your connection logs' at the top of the page, then list the ways you log connections a little further down.

The policy also states that PureVPN employs 'a few tools' in its apps to 'conduct VPN diagnostics and monitor crash reports.' But then it goes on to list Google Analytics, iTunes, Crashlytics, Apptentive, Firebase, New Relic and MixPanel, which may be more than you expected. This kind of crash reporting isn't uncommon, but we expect it to be optional, and that's not the case here. There's no 'Send crash data?' option in Settings - PureVPN sends it regardless (and if you don't read the privacy policy, you'd never even know this was happening.)

PureVPN Logging

PureVPN has passed a no-logging audit conducted by KPMG (Image credit: PureVPN)

There's positive privacy news here, too. In 2020 PureVPN announced it had passed a no-logging audit by KPMG, concluding that the service doesn’t log a user’s origin IP address, a user’s assigned VPN IP, the specific time when a user connects to a VPN server, or log a user’s activities through its VPN connection.

PureVPN also says it opted for an ‘always-on’ audit policy, which means KPMG can 'initiate a non-scheduled privacy audit at any time of the year, without any prior notice.'

The audit seems to have been thorough, with PureVPN saying it involved 'the inspection of our complex infrastructure, server configurations, codebase, technical data logs, and global servers, along with 'interviews of our personnel who are involved in server maintenance and database handling.'

The report hasn't been made public, so you can't check out the details for yourself. And it's only attempting to verify the main no-logging policy, not look for privacy issues in general. Could there be any privacy problems with PureVPN's crash diagnostics, for instance? Who knows, that was outside the scope of the audit.

Still, we're not complaining - even with these limitations, there's vastly more reassurance here than you'll get with most VPNs. Hopefully PureVPN will continue with regular audits, and make the full reports available, not just a sentence.

PureVPN Payment Methods

PureVPN now only accepts PayPal and credit cards  (Image credit: PureVPN)

Apps

Signing up with PureVPN is easy enough, but we noticed the company now only supports payments via credit card and PayPal. The options to pay by Bitcoin, AliPay, gift cards and more have all been dropped.

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 Windows Client

The Windows client now features a plain but simple interface (Image credit: PureVPN)

The app has dropped its confusing 'Modes' system, which works for us, and the interface is plain and very simple. A status panel displays the recommended location; tapping on the location list displays more; there's a big On/ Off button to connect and disconnect, and some tiny sidebar icons for other app areas, (Settings, Help, Account.)

PureVPN Locations

You can choose your preferred server location from a list (Image credit: PureVPN)

The location picker is capable enough, with a Recent Locations list, a Favorites system, and a searchable list of countries with ping times to help you spot the fastest. 

Clicking an arrow to the right of a country expands it to list any cities. That's a familiar idea, but most VPN apps only display that kind of 'expand me' indicator when a country has multiple locations. PureVPN does it for all countries, so we regularly expanded a list to find it included only one city.

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

PureVPN Windows Settings

The Windows app has very few settings (Image credit: PureVPN)

Settings are more basic than the previous Windows app. There's still a kill switch, and you can choose from IKEv2 and OpenVPN TCP/ UDP protocols, but there's not much else. Old features like split tunneling have gone.

A Help button includes one of the most useless FAQs we've seen. Four items only, none of them that useful ('What are recent locations?', 'How can I edit my subscription?', 'How can I see ping values for a location?' and 'What does p2p tag mean?'), with incredibly short answers, and even some of these are hopelessly wrong.

The entire answer for the Ping question reads 'To see ping values, go to Preferences and enable the ‘Enable Ping’ option', for instance, but that refers to the previous client. There is no 'Enable Ping' option in this version. And our build was approaching six months old, so this error has been around for quite a while.

You can at least submit a ticket from within the app, or open a live chat window, but this also isn't ideal. When we clicked the Chat button, it opened a browser tab at a link similar to https://ift.tt/2QxvYrO, which wasn't even branded PureVPN. Probably it's staffed entirely by PureVPN employees, and it's all entirely safe. But it would still be reassuring if the live chat window opened on the PureVPN site, rather than some third-party service that most users won't recognize. 

PureVPN DNS Leak Test

You can check for leaks using PureVPN's DNS Leak Test tool (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. The old Mode interface has been replaced by a similar stripped-back version to the desktop, and there are just a handful of key settings in the kill switch, split tunneling (only apps you specify get to use the VPN) and choice of protocol (OpenVPN or IKEv2.)

The previous apps were a little confusing, so it's good to see the redesign. Ditching everything which didn't work means there's not a whole lot left, though, and the apps look a little underpowered compared to the competition.

PureVPN Protocols

The Windows app has limited protocol options (Image credit: PureVPN)

Windows app testing

We found some nasty underlying problems with the previous Windows app, but would the new version be any better?

IKEv2 connections are now set up correctly to require encryption, a major improvement on our last tests. They don't save your credentials locally, and IPv6 is disabled by default.

Protocol handling is still, well, strange. We noticed that if we chose the OpenVPN UDP protocol, PureVPN actually connected via IKEv2, apparently because it has this fallback procedure - if it can't connect via its default protocol, it'll try something else. Sounds reasonable, but we found that the only way to connect via OpenVPN was to turn the fallback option off.

This matters less than with the previous app, as you're now able to see the protocol you're using in a Connection Details panel. It's confusing, though, and leaves us wondering what else might be going on under the hood.

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 it didn't always quite work out this way.

We ran a tool which repeatedly checked and displayed our external IP address, then tried various ways of forcibly closing the connection. Mostly this worked as it should, and the only IP address we saw belonged to PureVPN. But a couple of times we saw our real IP, which means a request had successfully bypassed the kill switch and travelled (unprotected) through our regular connection.

One of our more extreme tests tries to close the connection many times in a very short period of time. This isn't something likely to happen in the real world, but we use it as a test of code quality, to see how the app handles unexpected events (and race conditions, to get technical.) The answer here was 'poorly' - the app hung on a 'Connecting...' message, giving us a new IP every few seconds. The Cancel button didn't work, so we had to close the app entirely to regain control.

During testing we also noticed PureVPN connections dropped all on their own (no need for us to do anything) no less than five times. We don't know the reasons for that, and it could be related to our test environment, so we're not going to draw any definite conclusions. Most VPNs never drop a connection even once during app tests, though, so PureVPN's flakiness did leave us wondering.

New Speedtest Image

We used several speed testing sites to determine PureVPN's performance (Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

Our performance tests began by setting up the latest PureVPN app on Windows 10 systems in the US and a UK data center, each with 1Gbps connections.

We measured download speeds using several top benchmarking sites and services, including SpeedTest's website and command line app, TestMy and Netflix' Fast.com. We took five measurements at each site and calculated the median speeds, ran the tests using OpenVPN and IKEv2, and repeated the full test set in both morning and evening sessions.

UK OpenVPN scores were poor at just 30-75Mbps (most VPNs reached somewhere in the 200-300Mbps range; some are even faster.) Switching to IKEv2 helped, with speeds jumping to 125Mbps, but that still can't begin to compete with the 500Mbps+ we see from most WireGuard-equipped VPNs.

Our US test location saw marginally better results at 90-100Mbps for OpenVPN, 90-140Mbps for IKEv2. That's still well below average, but it might be enough for your needs. And keep in mind that you may see very different results depending on your location and setup, so it's worth taking the 7-trial and running a few speed tests of your own.

Unblocking

PureVPN was able to give us access to US Netflix in our tests (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix and streaming

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 latest apps no longer have the 'Popular Websites' list where you can choose a platform. Instead, the service works much like most other VPNs - choose a server in the country you need, connect, and see if your streaming service is accessible.

That worked just fine with BBC iPlayer, where PureVPN got us complete access from all three of our test connections.

It was the same story with US Netflix, where we successfully streamed content with all three of our test locations.

The company failed to get us into Amazon Prime Video, unfortunately, but our testing ended on a positive note with PureVPN successfully unblocking Disney+, again from all three test locations, a decent unblocking performance overall.

PureVPN Platforms

PureVPN has setup guides for 15 different platforms on its site (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.

There's a lot of information here, and some unusual and welcome touches. You don't have to bookmark a particular tutorial to view it later in your browser, for instance - in many cases you can download a PDF for more convenient offline reading.

Articles aren't always fully up to date, though, and many present information on features in the old apps without making it clear that they're not included in the latest releases. 

A few articles are so inadequate that they're almost dangerous. The OpenVPN Manual Setup Guide includes pointers to setting up OpenVPN on most platforms, for instance. Click a link titled 'OpenVPN for Windows 10' and you might expect you'd get instructions on how to secure your traffic with OpenVPN, but no. The link actually points you to a general 'how to set up a VPN on Windows 10' article with Windows built-in VPN client, and using PPTP, such an insecure protocol that most VPNs dropped it years ago.

Now, experienced users will quickly spot the error, but newbies might easily imagine that a 'PPTP' was some part of this OpenVPN they've been recommended, set it up as described and think they're safe. 

If the website can't help, you're able to raise a support ticket from within the client. Our test question got a basic but just-good-enough reply in around 30 minutes.

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.

PureVPN review: Final verdict

PureVPN gives you a lot of functionality and is solid enough value, with an impressively wide variety of platforms supported. However, speeds are below average, 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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