With a huge high speed network and reasonable pricing this is great all-round VPN but BitTorrent users and those wanting deep anonymity should look elsewhere.
Hong Kong based PureVPN offers very a fast VPN service offering 500+ servers in 141 countries. There are highly configurable clients for both Windows and Mac users both of which offer the very attractive option of allowing users to select the best server based on purpose rather than simply geographical location. Those trying to access services in other countries such as HBO and streaming sporting coverage will find this particularly useful. The iOS client is more basic but is easy to setup. BitTorrent is supported but only in a limited number of countries. There are some unanswered privacy concerns about information kept during account registration and while this will be of little consequence to average users it suggests that those wanting the absolute anonymity should look elsewhere.
The company behind PureVPN
PureVPN is the main product of Hong Kong-based GZ Systems and has been operating since 2007. The website is sketchy on additional company details with only a physical mailing address in Central Hong Kong given. Whatever, they are certainly now a major player in the VPN industry with the claimed one million+ customers.
Hong Kong nominally has its own legal system inherited from the British but it is none-the-less part of mainland China. This may be a source of concern to some users (particularly those from mainland China) whose main reason for using a VPN is complete anonymity. For non-Chinese users, Hong Kong’s remoteness and independence from North American and European courts may be re-assuring.
What is their offering?
PureVPN has three plans all of which offer essentially the same service but differ only in the length of contract. There is a one-month plan for $9.95, a six-month plan for $44.95 and an annual plan for $49.95. At the time of writing they were providing an additional year for free for those who signed up to the annual plan. The pricing structure is clearly aimed at getting users to sign up for the annual plan.
All plans have quite generous features including clients for Windows XP and later, Mac OS X 10.5 and later, iOS 7 and later and Android devices, use of up to 5 devices simultaneously, unlimited data transfer and unlimited switching between servers.
All plans are offered on a three day trial though you need pay up front to start the trial. Three days is an unusually short trial period with many other VPN vendors offering a full 30 days.
PureVPN offers two add-ons at an additional cost: a $2.95/month NAT firewall and a $4.95/month smart DNS server. The smart DNS server is essentially a service that allows you access geographically restricted web services across the world without the need to log into servers located in a particular country. So for example you could watch BBC streaming content from the UK and from the USA without the need to switch to servers located in each country. Other providers offer Smart DNS servers so shop around before committing.
Setting aside SmartDNS, PureVPN uses Google DNS servers which are used by default in all the clients. Google DNS has a good reputation for security but the service is logged. PureVPN claim this does not impact anonymity as the IP provided to Google is derived from the VPN rather than your real IP. It is difficult to verify this claim. We do note that PureVPN is in the process of introducing their own DNS server network but this was not implemented at the time of writing this review.
PureVPN only allows BitTorrent and P2P in particular countries, elsewhere it is blocked. “P2P/File-sharing is not allowed on servers of countries where it's illegal by law to do so such as United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), Canada, Australia etc." Servers where file sharing is allowed are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, British virgin islands, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mongolia, Mauritania, Mauritius, Moldova, Monaco, Myanmar, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Turkey, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Venezuela.
PureVPN provides access to 500+ servers in 141 countries including 161 in the USA, 14 in Canada, 67 in the UK and 7 in Australia. Almost all servers support the PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP and OpenVPN protocols though these are not necessarily available across all operating systems. So for example the iPad/ iPhone apps are configured for IPSec by default and using other protocols requires manual setup.
How well does this VPN protect your privacy and security?
So it appears that PureVPN can identify you personally as a customer but can’t relate this to your internet activity in any personally identifiable way.
I was a bit worried about my real IP being logged during registration so I tried registering while using another VPN in order to mask my IP. The site wouldn’t let me do this. It detected I was using a VPN or proxy and said I would need to provide my phone number. This was even more worrying; a phone number is even more personally identifying than an IP.
This is not an uncommon provision for web service companies but is of concern for a VPN provider where privacy and confidentiality are so important.
On the plus side, PureVPN offers a huge assortment of payment options including several anonymous methods such as pre-paid cards, anonymous online systems plus BitCoin. This is excellent news for those seeking maximum anonymity but is somewhat negated by the fact that IPs are logged during account creation.
Is the product easy to install and use?
Most of the VPNs we tested were reasonably simple to install on both Windows and OS X using the default VPN protocols and PureVPN was no exception. Just sign up for an account at the PureVPN website, download the client, install it and then enter your username and password into the client and select a server and protocol.
The setup procedure differs somewhat between Windows and Mac OS X. First, the Windows setup launches with a good tutorial explaining VPNs in general and the particular features of PureVPN. This is missing from the Mac version.
Second, the Windows version offers a wide choice of protocols: L2TP, PPTP, SSTP, IKE and Open VPN over either UDP or TCP while the Mac installs just L2TP and PPTP. If you want OpenVPN to be available on a Mac then you have to get your hands dirty and install either the TunnelBlic or Viscosity OpenVPN clients and then configure the client. We did this and it worked fine but it is essentially a manual installation of OpenVPN outside the PureVPN client so using OpenVPN means firing up TunnelBlic. Sure it works but it is a clunky solution and needs to be fixed.
(A work of warning: while PureVPN offers a wide range of VPN protocols and encryption depth choices, the Windows default is PPTP with no encryption. This is very insecure so the first thing users should do is to select a secure protocol like OpenVPN preferably with 256 bit encryption.)
Third, the Windows control panel offers beta versions of a smart DNS service, Web protection and split tunneling, the first two as additional cost extras. We did not test these beta features.
Finally, there is a difference in the way servers are presented for selection by the users. Both offer the option of selecting by geographical location or purpose but the selection of “purposes” is greater in the Windows version.
I really like this selection by purpose feature of PureVPN as it makes things simpler for average users. For example if a user in Europe wants to watch movies in the UK they just select “Online Streaming USA” rather than have to select a server in the USA by geographical location, a task full of imponderables for most users.
Basic installation on iOS is even easier than on desktop systems. Just download the app from the Apple store and run it. All users have to do is to follow the inbuilt installation guide which entails entering their account details into the app and downloading and installing the default IKEv2 VPN profile in order to setup an IPSec connection. It’s a pretty simple process.
Selecting a server on iOS is nowhere as slick as on the desktop clients as only geographical locations are offered rather than selecting by purpose. Changing protocols from the default IPSec is also clunky. I had to end up setting up a PPTP profile manually; a task that would challenge many average users. Configuring OpenVPN is even trickier and definitely not for the faint hearted.
A possible annoyance for some iPad users is the iOS app is designed for the iPhone and only provides for a portrait view.
How well does the VPN perform?
PureVPN was one of the top performing VPN products in this series of tests. Connected to the fastest local server the reduction in download speed was only around 9% compared to no VPN. Increase in ping times were similarly small. These are excellent results and indeed most users would not even notice the performance hit when using PureVPN. Using the product all the time should be quite practical.
When connected to VPN servers in other countries there is more severe performance hit than when using local servers though this is less pronounced connecting to websites hosted in the same country as the VPN server. However we were able to connect from Sydney Australia to Home Box Office in the USA with quite acceptable download speeds. SD movies displayed fine with virtual no stuttering or other issues. There was also no problem registering to HBO from another country—as far as HBO was concerned the registration was coming from the USA.
What other features are offered?
The Windows version is currently offering beta versions of two paid extras: a $2.95/month NAT firewall and a $4.95/month smart DNS server. The NAT firewall provides helps with improving anonymity while the smart DNS server could be useful for users who want to access restricted servers in several different countries. PureVPN gives no details as to what is logged on their smart DNS servers.
The ability to select servers by purpose rather than just location is a really handy feature for users and something that few other VPNs offer.
How good is the support?
We used the online chat facility to ask several questions. Response was quick—less than a minute in most cases—and the information we needed was provided accurately and courteously.
Worth noting is the extensive array of online help resources which would rate as among the best of the VPNs covered in this review. If you are the kind of person who is happy to read documentation and guides then you are well catered for at PureVPN.
|Price||$9.95 month billed monthly, $49.95/year|
|Refund period||3 days|
|Max concurrent connections||5|
|Network size||141 countries 500+ servers|
|BitTorrent allowed||Yes in particular countries but not USA, UK and most other developed countries|
|Own DNS server||No|
|Default Win protocol||PPPT with no encryption|
PureVPN Website: http://www.purevpn.com/
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