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Aimee O'Driscoll on in VPN

Hong Kong-based PureVPN has, in the past, enjoyed an excellent reputation as one of the top VPN providers. With a huge network of servers, reliable speeds, and strong security, it’s seemingly a solid option. However, this reputation has recently been tainted with reports of storing logs and having a potentially misleading privacy policy, which might be hard to come back from.

Nevertheless, we’ve tried out the service to offer a full view of what you can expect. Find out about pricing, features, security, performance, and more. Let’s jump in!

Features and pricing

Unlike some providers, PureVPN doesn’t offer a free version. This isn’t a bad thing, as free products typically don’t offer the features most people need from a VPN. There is simply one paid plan which differs in price depending on the length of term you sign up for.

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PureVPN pricing table.

To try the service for one month, it will cost you $11.95 (GBP £9.04). You can get a decent discount for signing up for six months at $8.95 (GBP £6.77) per month, but the steepest discount is for a two-year plan at $2.91 (GBP £2.20) per month. Note that there is no one-year option, something that’s offered by most providers. Overall, prices are about average compared to other large providers. All terms come with a 7-day money-back guarantee, although this is pretty tight considering many providers extend this to 30 or even 45 days.

There is one more option if you’re really on the fence and that’s to sign up for a three-day trial for a non-refundable fee of $2.50 (GBP £1.89). PureVPN offers a large selection of payment options, including credit card, PayPal, Alipay, various coin payments, Cashu, and even gift cards.

So what does your money get you? Once you sign up, you can use the service on up to five simultaneous devices. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android. It’s also compatible with Linux and various devices, including Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick. You’ll have access to a decent network of over 750 servers in more than 140 countries.

The service includes unlimited data transfer and a neat split tunneling feature to enable you to be selective about which data goes through the VPN connection. You also have malware protection, ad blocking, URL filtering, and app filtering. Multiple encryption protocols are available and the app comes with IPv6 leak protection and a built-in kill switch.

Setup and interface

Once you’ve paid for an account, you’ll be sent your username and password to the email you provide. You can then use this to log into the service on up to five devices at the same time.

For the purposes of this review we tested the apps for Windows and iOS.

Desktop

Once you download and install the app, you’ll be prompted to enter your credentials, found in the aforementioned email. Then you’ll arrive at a screen which asks you to select your mode.

PureVPN Change Mode screen.

According to the descriptions on the dedicated support page, the choice you make will have an impact on security, anonymity, privacy, and speed. For our tests, we chose Internet Freedom, which seems to offer the same as Security/Privacy.

You’ll then arrive at the main screen, which by default will ask you to connect to a US server. To change this, simply click the dropdown to see the list of countries.

The list includes additional info, including which servers are virtual and which are recommended for P2P. If you want more specific locations, you can switch to the City tab or use the search bar. Alternatively, if you want to search by purpose, you can switch from Location to Purpose at the top of the screen. You can mark certain countries or cities as favorites for easy access.

The other two options here are to visit the dashboard or to change mode (which is also accessible from the dashboard). When you hit Change Mode, you’ll see a screen similar to the one we saw earlier with five options: Stream, Internet Freedom, Security/Privacy, File Sharing, and Dedicated IP.

Over to the dashboard, you have a number of tabs to explore. We’ll cover the most noteworthy here. In the App Settings tab, you can adjust the settings for the app launch, select your desired protocol, and change the language.

PureVPN App Settings tab.

Below that, the Select Mode tab takes you to a similar screen as the Change Mode one we saw earlier.

Next you have Advanced Options with a few expansions. Expanding the Security item will allow you to enable 256-bit encryption, IPv6 leak protection, and set a reminder to tell you if the VPN is not connected.

The PureVPN Advanced Options screen.

The Internet Kill Switch expansion is where you enable the kill switch, as well as alter other connection settings. A kill switch halts all internet traffic when the connection unexpectedly drops until it is restored. Finally, the Multi Port section houses options for automatic port selection. This checks for closed or regulated ports and selects the best ones for establishing a connection. This is handy if you want to avoid running into port blocking issues.

Next you have the VPN Hotspot tab, which also gives instructions on how to set up a hotspot. And below that are options for split tunneling.

The PureVPN Split Tunneling tab.

Split tunneling is a handy feature that enables you to choose which apps you want to use with or without a VPN.

And that wraps it up for the main features of the desktop app. As you can see, you have a robust set of options, and advanced users will no doubt be happy with the high level of customization available.

Mobile

Unfortunately, setup for the mobile app isn’t quite as straightforward. Once you install and log into the app, you’ll be taken through a set of popups to show you how it works. It then looks like you’re good to go. However, when you try to connect to a server, you need to go through a series of steps to configure the VPN. It’s all straightforward, but is a bit of a pain considering the ease of setup with many other providers.

Once you’re set up, the main screen shows your current IP and server location. To change locations, you can select the connect button. Here you can choose to search for a specific location or to select according to purpose.

The PureVPN mobile app interface.

One thing to note here is that each time you want to switch servers, you have to go back into the device settings and disconnect from the VPN. Then you go into the app and choose the new server. Finally, you have to go back into the device settings to reconnect to the VPN. This is really not user friendly and would quickly become frustrating if you need to switch locations often.

The menu button in the top right hand corner houses two options The first is the Settings screen where you can change your protocol, select a dedicated IP, and alter the language. This is where you can access the split tunneling settings should you decide to use that feature.

The PureVPN Settings screen.

The second menu item is Modes, which is similar to the Change Mode screen in the desktop client.

This mobile app has a broad range of options as compared to those offered by other providers. However, it’s definitely let down by the overall user experience.

Servers and performance

PureVPN has an adequate network of over 750 servers, offering locations in more than 140 countries, although more than half of these countries are covered by virtual servers. While the selection isn’t quite as big as those of some of its competitors, such as ExpressVPN, there’s definitely enough to satisfy most users. PureVPN assists you in deciding which server to use by providing helpful icons in the server list. You can also mark certain countries or cities as favorites for easy access.

Overall, the service we experienced was mostly reliable. We played online games while connected to various US and UK servers with no issues. We also streamed 1080p using the same servers without experiencing any buffering. Connecting and disconnecting from servers was usually quick, but it occasionally took up to a minute. There was one occasion, when trying to test Netflix, that the connection attempt resulted in us having to reinstall the client (more on that below).

When we carry out our speed tests, we aim to be as empirical as possible. For each test, we downloaded the same file (~100MB in size) from a server in Oregon. The tests were conducted in Toronto, Canada, using three sample VPN servers in the US West (Los Angeles), US East (New York), and UK (London). We also tested the download without the use of VPN to serve as a control.

All tests were repeated at three different times throughout the day. The boxplots below show how PureVPN compares to other providers we’ve tested in the same manner. In each plot, the thick black line represents the median download time, while the red diamond represents the mean. Lower is better.

PureVPN boxplot

As you can see, PureVPN faired very well in the speed tests. When connected to US servers, speeds were typically only around 25-50% slower than those without using a VPN. The UK server was slower which is understandable given the geographical distance, but it was far quicker than some other UK servers we’ve tested from other providers. What’s more, the spread in results was very small, which is indicated by the small size of the box. This means you can generally predict how fast a server will perform once you’ve used it a couple of times.

Of course, it’s important to point out that these tests aren’t definitive and can only serve as a general indication of the performance you might see. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness, so these tests should be taken with a grain of salt. They were run while using a 30Mbps connection, so you’ll likely see longer wait times with a slower connection, and perhaps smaller or larger discrepancies.

Does PureVPN unblock Netflix?

Accessing Netflix is an ongoing issue for most VPN providers. While some are managing to keep at least some servers working with Netflix, others aren’t faring so well. We tried to access Netflix using our test servers in New York, Los Angeles, and London. Using the New York server, we weren’t even able to access the Netflix website. The other two servers got us to the site, but attempting watch resulted in an error message.

We tried switching to Streaming Mode but got the same results. Of course, if the IPs from these servers are flagged by Netflix, then they’ll be blocked, no matter what mode we’re in.

Next, we tried using the Purpose option for server selection and chose Netflix US (Faster Streaming). The first time we tried this the connection attempt went on for more than ten minutes. We hit Cancel, only to have the cancellation attempt continue for ten minutes. At this point, with the attempt still running, we uninstalled and reinstalled the app. The next attempt to make this connection worked and it connected us to a New York server. This time, we could access the Netflix site, but trying to watch something delivered an error.

Finally, using the live chat, a representative helped us by giving us a server destination to enter in the Dedicated IP mode. This indeed worked to access Netflix. We had a similar experience with Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer. They didn’t work with our test servers or using the Purpose server selection but a representative could tell us which server to use in the Dedicated IP mode. It’s not super convenient to have to ask, but with a quick response time in live chat, it still offers a solid option for streaming.

Does PureVPN work in China?

PureVPN can be used to bypass ‘The Great Firewall’ in China. It has a ton of support documentation dedicated to ensuring users in China are able to connect. However, bear in mind that even though many VPNs work in China, their websites may be blocked. If you’re planning to use PureVPN while in China, it may be best to make a copy of the support documentation before traveling as it may be inaccessible from within the country.

Security and privacy

PureVPN is a Hong Kong-based company and as such is not not subject to mandatory data retention laws.

The subheading for its privacy policies reads:

“We do NOT keep any logs that can identify or help in monitoring a user’s activity.”

However, details of a recent FBI case contradict that statement, as PureVPN’s logs were indeed handed over to authorities to aid in a conviction.

Now, this was a criminal case, and it is fairly standard for VPNs to state that they will hand over information to law enforcement, if they possess any. The logs in question were not browsing logs, but timestamps. These involve real user IP addresses and VPN connection times. While they don’t reveal actual user activity, they can be matched with logs from third parties, such as email providers, to implicate activity, as was the case here.

Other VPNs keep similar logs, and should disclose this in their terms. However, with this provider claiming that they keep no logs at all, and then seeing actual logs surface, it becomes apparent that PureVPN is not upfront with its users. As a result, the general consensus has become that they cannot be trusted.

Although the area of privacy is questionable, PureVPN fares well on the security front. It uses 256-bit encryption in conjunction with 2,048-bit RSA keys for authentication. 256-bit encryption is often referred to as ‘military grade’ and is considered as good as it gets. You can choose between multiple protocols for encryption, including OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, PPTP, SSTP, and IKEv2. This option appears in the App Settings tab of the client.

PureVPN used to include a Secure DNS option within the client, but this is no longer available. However, upon testing we didn’t observe any leaks. Moreover, PureVPN uses its own DNS servers which is a plus for privacy. It also offers IPv6 leak protection and a built-in kill switch. Note that these are not enabled by default so you’ll have to go into Advanced Options to turn them on.

The kill switch acts as an additional layer of security so that the internet connections drops as soon as the VPN connection is lost for whatever reason. You can also decide (in the Advanced Options tab) if you want to force the internet connection to drop when you turn off the VPN manually.

Customer service

As a large provider, it’s no surprise that PureVPN comes with a wealth of documentation to help with everything from getting started to troubleshooting and dealing with specific cases like use in China. This can all be found by visiting the Support Center under the My Account tab.

If you can’t find what you need or simply have a quick question, the 24/7/365 live chat support is ready to give a prompt response. It is powered by LiveChat, so if you’re looking for additional privacy, you may want to contact the support team directly by submitting a ticket. When we tested this method, the response time was under an hour which is really quick compared to other providers we’ve used.

However, using the live chat option delivered mixed results. The service was always prompt and we did get help with unblocking streaming sites. On the other hand, we received some vague responses as well as the refusal to answer a basic question about security.

Verdict

PureVPN provides an easy-to-use interface with plenty of customization options. Performance-wise, our results were mixed. On the one hand, it offers fast, reliable speeds, but it was let down a little by some connectivity issues. While it wasn’t the simplest process, we were able to unblock streaming sites like Netflix and BBC iPlayer.

When it comes to security, PureVPN ticks all the boxes with strong encryption, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, and a built-in kill switch. However, the recent bad press around its privacy policy is bound to be a big red flag to many potential users.

One thought on “PureVPN review 2017: Is the bad press coverage of this VPN warranted?

  • Awful VPN. Connection worked fine for the first few months, then, after a few months, it started dropping every few minutes, making it impossible to use. I’ve tried everything the helpdesk suggested but nothing would work. Clearly a problem on their side, but they refused to refund. So, stay well away. It will stop working and they will keep your money.

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