When you think about the current giants of the VPN industry, PureVPN is one that stands out among the rest, both for its reputation and its gargantuan number of daily active users.
The service is just one of dozens of different VPNs on shelves that claim to be the “World’s Fastest VPN Service”, but does this app really have enough bite to back up all that bark?
Read on in our review to find out!
Checkout and Install Process
To get started, we bought a one month subscription to PureVPN for $11.00 flat (February 2017) via the company’s order website. From here we were given a veritable cornucopia of payment options to use, as PureVPN sets the gold standard for being one of the most open and flexible VPN providers on the market when it comes to how they process your fees.
It would take an entire article unto itself to show the full list of all the payment options you can use with PureVPN, but take a look at the image below to get an idea of what’s available:
One odd difference of note with PureVPN is that instead of paying the bill for your first month of service upfront, the company actually invoices it to you for you to pay at your convenience. This is likely how the company is able to maintain such a huge number of different payment methods thanks to a deal with its third-party processor, we assume.
As far as platform compatibility goes, PureVPN has you covered on multiple fronts including:
- Windows XP and above
- iOS (8.0 or newer)
With manual installation, you can also route dozens of additional devices onto the PureVPN network, like gaming consoles, Roku, Apple TV and more. On Windows 10, the PureVPN installation was quick and to the point, only taking a minor detour to install a TAP adapter in our Device Manager.
One small annoyance was the fact that PureVPN assigned us a username and password, rather than letting us choose our own. The password can be easily changed in your Members Area on PureVPN’s site (which oddly enough has its own separate set of credentials), but no matter what you’ll be stuck typing in the overly complex and long pre-assigned username every time you want to log-in.
As is the standard with any VPN review we do, we try and get the program downloaded and installed in less than five minutes, and PureVPN had no problem sliding in a full two minutes ahead of the curve with a total of three between the time we left checkout and got our first connection to the United States server up and running live.
The desktop app for VPNs come in all shapes and sizes these days, whether it’s the ultra-modern chic of ExpressVPN (EDIT: Link) or the cutesy-but-lovable aesthetic of TunnelBear (EDIT: Link).
If I had to pin down a word for how PureVPN’s recently overhauled Windows client made me feel the first time I turned it on, it would probably have to be “messy”. There’s no clear central design theme running through the app, and with a small, un-resizable window actually navigating through the clutter isn’t all that easy either.
The first window you see in PureVPN is one that asks you “What you want to watch today?”, companioned by a huge drop-down list of various streaming and media providers that install geo-blocks on their content depending on where you’re trying to connect from.
That question changes depending on the current “Mode” you have selected that dictates how the app behaves. There are five different modes to choose from: Stream, Internet Freedom, Security/Privacy, File Sharing, and Remote/Dedicated IP.
These modes control various functions like the encryption type, the server locations that PureVPN will automatically prefer, and how protected your IP is from leaks.
The main PureVPN window is also where you can select servers by location instead of a streaming website, or use the global map to specifically connect to a server in the country of your choosing. You can also search by the specific location through the in-house search bar, but if quickly getting connected via the taskbar with a simple right click is more your style, that works just fine too.
PureVPN scores a few extra points in the settings department than some other VPN providers on this list, offering a wide range of adjustable options including changing over your encryption style, enabling Split Tunneling (more on that in a bit), and activating the internet kill switch.
Overall the PureVPN app performed well without slowing anything down, though the software itself was a bit clunky at times (especially when you open up the “Latest Features” tab, which is nothing but a splash for the company’s blog).
Performance and Speed
In our speed testing on a simultaneous 1GB up/down fiber optic line from Portland, Oregon, we connected to four different servers offered by PureVPN from all from different corners of the globe, and specifically in the cities of: New York, Singapore, London and LA. Each server test was run five times at specific intervals to see how the bandwidth was affected during off-peak hours (6AM local), peak (9PM local), and once more on a Monday, which is the busiest day for VPN providers collectively.
For a company that claims to be the world’s fastest VPN, I was surprised by the slow scores we got out of PureVPN in almost every arena it was tested. Of the 500+ servers that span 141 countries and 180 locations across the globe (one of the biggest networks in the business), not a one gave us performance that was close to “the fastest VPN on the planet”.
In New York City during peak hours at 9PM EST, we found that off an average base speed of 294.91Mbps download and 870.63Mbps upload (tested before and after the 5 other VPN-based tests), PureVPN’s connection brought our average speeds down to just 28.44Mbps down, and 32.17Mbps up.
That’s a decrease of 90% on the download side, easily one of the biggest drops we’ve seen to date, not including the 96% hit the upload speed took. I tried to get those numbers up by running the tests at the best time on the most optimal server (LA off-peak at 6AM, where PIA set the current record), but every time I tried to connect to the “LA” server it would put me in San Francisco instead.
That said, when I was connected to the right server PureVPN connections were still reliable, and held up flawlessly during our 8-hour use test. The app itself was quick enough to get the job done, and never crashed, hung up, or caused any of our other programs running at the time to suffer performance issues.
With DNS protection and IP Leak protection both enabled, we went on to find out how PureVPN handled link security tests on DNSLeakTest.com, DNSLeak.com and IPLeak.net Unfortunately, even with all that added protection both DNS leaks came back with a negative score, but the app was slightly redeemed once IPLeak came back with airtight results.
To offer DNS leak protection on top of your regular connection and then to have that fail too is an extra ding as far as we’re concerned. If the feature doesn’t actually work, don’t lure your customers into a false sense of security when the source of their identity online is at risk.
Finally, we give every VPN we review a shot to take our “best of the worst” challenge, which is a single speed test run on the closest possible server to our home base in Portland. While normally this would net the fastest time, the trick is we run it on Monday at 9PM PST, otherwise known as the worst possible commute hour (and day) for VPN networks on the West Coast.
In this test, PureVPN kind of got its cards handed to them, with all-time low scores if 65.86Mbps down and 54.51Mbps up from a server in Seattle, WA. Considering this is coming off a base speed of 734.10Mbps down and 722.81Mbps up, we’d say that the clogged up 9PM pipes of Monday madness must have taken their toll on poor old PureVPN this time around.
Right off the bat, it’s obvious that the design of PureVPN’s mobile app is decidedly more clean and focused than the desktop option, with a sleek green aesthetic that rotates photos of the last server location you connected to on the homepage.
PureVPN really knocks it out of the park with the extra settings on its mobile app, which extend from everything to changing your encryption type (IKEv2, IPSec, and L2TP on iOS) to actually chatting with a support representative directly from within the app itself.
This is also where you can toggle the On Demand VPN, a proprietary feature that dynamically turns the VPN on or off depending on the specific site you visit in the mobile browser of your choice. By populating a list of sites that you want protection on while you use, PureVPN will turn itself on anytime the site is live, and off again once you’ve navigated away from the page.
This means that you won’t suffer speed loss on other applications like messaging or YouTube, but can still enjoy all the identity protection benefits you need while doing tasks like online shopping or banking through the mobile browser.
The mobile app also lets you connect directly to a support agent directly from the app, a huge plus in my book. Other apps will either open a separate browser window, or don’t offer mobile support at all, so it’s refreshing to see PureVPN take such a progressive approach to helping customers when their VPN is in trouble on the go.
Security and Encryption
PureVPN offers all the standard encryption methods and then some, and lays the choices between them out in clear terms that any potential customer could understand. With the help of two friendly measuring sticks (a lightning bolt for speed and a green shield for security), PureVPN shows you how you’ll compromise between the two sides of this coin depending on the encryption method you select.
On the Windows 10 desktop app, PureVPN offers the option to connect through: PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEV, TCP, and UDP.
PureVPN is also one of the first on the market to offer the newest VPN encryption method, called StealthVPN. StealthVPN adds yet another layer of SSL 256-bit AES encryption on top of the already-encrypted channel, preventing Deep Packet Inspection tools from being able to detect that the source of your IP is coming from a known VPN provider.
Lastly, PureVPN will also let you enable extra-secure features (which may slow your connection down a bit as a tradeoff) like secure DNS and IPv6 leak protection, both of which prevent external sites and services from detecting your information through alternative means.
Just like it packs it on with the security offerings, PureVPN on Windows 10 is just about as feature-rich as you could ask for from a desktop client.
Some standout choices from the bevy of delights in this department include the option to turn your desktop or laptop into a VPN Hotspot, where you can connect any device through your client using the onboard Wi-Fi and some unique traffic tunneling techniques.
Another crowd favorite was the Split Tunneling feature, which makes it so only a select few apps will route traffic through your VPN, while anything not on the list will use your regular IP instead. This is great if you want unsecure apps like your browser to remain protected, but still like to keep music streaming apps like Spotify running on the main network uninterrupted.
For Business users, PureVPN has DDoS-protected dedicated IP addresses on offer (for an extra fee), secure remote access VPN features, as well as external NAT firewall protection for yet even more layers of protection.
PureVPN also offers an internet kill switch, which can be configured to stop all internet activity when a dropped connection is detected, or even go so far as to use Windows Firewall to create a custom rule which hard stops traffic while the VPN is deactivated. This ensures total protection from the moment you turn your VPN on until the moment it drops off, a plus in our books no matter which way you look at it.
PureVPN has one of the most extensive and deeply archived knowledge-bases we’ve seen so far, answering just about any question you could have about VPNs and probably a few more you couldn’t. Everything from simple setup guides to highly technical topics like installing PureVPN for customer DD-WRT firmware rollouts are covered in excruciating detail, ensuring that no matter what your issue is, there’s a FAQ page to address it.
But in the rare case you hit a roadblock that the knowledge base alone can’t solve, PureVPN’s customer service (and more specifically its 24/7 support) functions much the same as it does on other VPNs: as a Live Chat window that lives on the bottom-right hand corner of your screen whenever you’re on a PureVPN webpage.
From opening the window to a representative popping in the conversation I didn’t wait more than about 15 seconds, great response time for any VPN of this userbase size. After asking a question about server locations and specifying my connection locations, one of the support reps quickly got me over to an appropriate department to handle the problem.
Customer service understood what was going on immediately, and was able to walk me through step-by-step until the solution was applied.
The story wasn’t the same when it came to email support, however. Despite clearly stating my question twice, both times the support team gave me the wrong answer along with broken english that didn’t solve the problem.
PureVPN is a no-log policy VPN, and only keeps a very minimal amount of basic information on their users while explaining every step of what they use (and why) along the way.
Like many no-log VPNs, the information that PureVPN does collect, like names, your email address, and phone number (only for users from specific countries) is only used to update you on policy changes or send you info on VPN deals (which can be turned off if you like).
Because PureVPN is stationed out of Hong Kong, they are free from governmental scrutiny across the globe thanks to the region’s “No Mandatory Data Retention Laws”, which doesn’t require services like VPN providers to keep any identifying information on their customers.
“When and if a competent court of law orders us or an alleged victim requests us (that we rigorously self-assess) to release some information, with proper evidence, that our services were used for any activity that you agreed not to indulge in when you agreed to our Terms of Service Agreement, then we will only present specific information about that specific activity only, provided we have the record of any such activity.”
This is a huge deal, because it means that even if PureVPN were subpoenaed for your data, the company wouldn’t even have it to go back to because they were never made to keep it in the first place.
Because PureVPN supports completely anonymous payment options such as Bitcoin and even store gift cards, you can protect yourself behind multiple walls of identity obfuscation if that’s your main purpose for using the VPN (as opposed to streaming alone).
As far as torrenting goes, PureVPN does allow P2P/torrenting traffic over its lines, but only in the designated countries listed below:
If you’re more than a few thousand miles away from these countries you might find your traffic speeds taking a serious hit while you sail the copyrighted seas.
Cancel and Uninstall Process
PureVPN doesn’t make it as easy as one might hope to cancel your service with them, making you jump through multiple screens and hiding the right links behind tiny buttons and grey text.
Once you go to the My Services tab and click the icon on the right of your plan, at the bottom of that page is where you’ll find the “Request Cancellation” button. Simple enough, right?
Not right. Once you submit a Request Cancellation form, your query will be sent off to a team at PureVPN, who will then determine whether or not you’re eligible to terminate your plan at that time.
This was all a bit overkill as far as I could tell, and not anywhere near the level of ease we found when cancelling competing VPNs in this class.
Because PureVPN has been around as one of the longest serving VPN providers since 2006, it’s no surprise to see the company’s 9.5 rating on TrustPilot, given to them based on a whopping 2,287 user reviews.
PureVPN runs away with the top spot for scores on TrustPilot, with 84% of respondents rating the service 5 stars, 11.7% going four stars, 2% choosing two stars, and 1.7% giving just one star.
The VPN’s reputation among other reviews is a bit more of a mixed bag, however. While PCMag gave the service ⅘ stars, noting the clever design and fast speeds as high points of the experience, others like BestVPN weren’t so kind.
On that site PureVPN ranked with the lowest score possible at just ⅕ stars, with the reviewer claiming the numerous connection reliability issues and IPLeak test results were too much to overlook.
PureVPN doesn’t offer any free trials or a free version of the product, however they do have a 7-day money-back guarantee in case you pay for the service but aren’t happy with its performance.
Right now PureVPN is shipping out its services in three packages: one month, six months, or two years.
- On a purely month-to-month plan, PureVPN will set you back $11.00 flat every 30 days.
- If you go with the six-month plan that price drops to $8.95 a month, or $53.70 upfront
- Last is the one year plan, which includes an extra year free and brings your total monthly cost down to just $2.99/mo, or $71.76 upfront
Including the standard monthly plan that lets you support 5 devices at a time, PureVPN also offers supplemental services for Business users on an a’la carte basis, such as a NAT firewall for an additional $0.99 a month, or a dedicated IP with DDoS protection again for another $0.99 added on.
Lastly, the service is running a special right now that gets you an additional 10% off your plan at checkout, which is an even bigger incentive to sign up for a longer plan now and reap the savings in the long run.
There’s no denying that PureVPN is one of the largest and most popular VPN networks operating on the wires today, but after putting it through its paces, it’s becoming difficult to see why.
PureVPN does have a huge number of available servers to choose from, so if your main concern is trying to find a service that maintains a connection near your hometown you’ll probably have better chance with this than anything else.
That in mind, the Windows app is plagued with a cluttered unfocused UI, we experienced over 90% speed loss on all connections, and the security of the connection was constantly called into question as it failed every DNS leak test. Plus, if all those negatives make you want to cancel your service, you can’t even do it until someone gets back to you a day or two later.
For $11.00 a’la carte monthly, there are more sensibly priced services other than PureVPN that offer a better balance between app design, speed, and cost.
- Tons of extra features
- Nice mobile UI design on iOS
- 5 devices on one plan
- Higher price than some faster services
- Automatically assigns complicated user credentials
- 90% average download speed loss
- Failed all DNS leak tests
- Clunky design on Windows 10 app