Excellent advanced features. Many servers across the globe. Specialized servers. Affordable mobile-only pricing.
Crashed in testing. Netflix blocked on Netflix-specific server. Free trial version not functional in testing.
- Bottom Line
PureVPN has excellent features but is hampered by awkward design and problematic performance.
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PureVPN is a virtual private network (or VPN) service full of contradictions. It has a good-looking interface, but unfortunately it's clunky and buggy. It offers an affordable pricing plan for mobile devices, but extending that coverage to desktops is much more expensive. This app has a lot of potential, especially given the large and geographically diverse collection of servers it connects to, and I hope PureVPN address the problems I found in testing. For now, however, I recommend Editors' Choice winners NordVPN and Private Internet Access for Android VPN apps.
What is a VPN?
When you're browsing the Web, particularly on a mobile device, your data might be more accessible to others than you think. On public coffee-shop Wi-Fi, someone (including the coffee shop owners) could quietly snoop on your Web traffic while you sip your latte, making note of your surfing habits, your conversations, your personal data, and even your passwords. More aggressive attacks use special devices that mimic networks you've visited before, tricking your phone into connecting—often without your knowledge.
Cellular connections aren't safe either, although exploits against them are less common. Researchers have demonstrated that by jamming the 3G and LTE bands, they can force cellphones to connect to Femtocells, or portable cellphone towers, on the 2G band, the encryption of which has long been compromised.
Out on the Web, advertisers use trackers to correlate your movements between websites. And that's not to mention three-letter agencies and Internet ne'er-do-wells that are after your personal information.
Antivirus software can go a long way toward protecting your device, but your first line of defense should be a VPN. When active, the VPN routes your Web traffic through a secure, encrypted tunnel to a remote server. From there, it exits onto the wider Internet and returns via the same route. The practical upshot is that anyone spying on your local network cannot see your traffic, and anyone on the Web can't see your actual IP address (they see the VPN server's IP) or correlate your real-world presence to your online activities.
Political dissidents and journalists use VPNs to access the Web from regions with repressive Internet policies, like Turkey or South Carolina. You can use the same technology to access region-locked content, like free streams of MLB games and BBC television. Note that some services, like Netflix, have gotten wise to this activity and have begun actively suppressing it. Of course, it's up to you to make sure you're not breaking any local laws by using a VPN.
Features and Pricing
PureVPN offers flexible pricing for users who only want VPN on their mobile devices. For $4.99 per month (or $39.99 per year), you can protect up to five mobile devices with PureVPN. If you want to add protection to desktops as well, you'll have to shell out $10.95 per month. Compared with the competition, PureVPN's mobile plan is extremely affordable. Only KeepSolid VPN Unlimited can compete; it also charges $4.99 per month for five devices. But other services (including KeepSolid) include desktops in their pricing plans. Looking at it that way, the $8.00 per month for NordVPN or the $6.95 per month for Private Internet Access seem very attractive.
PureVPN offers a free trial, and signing up doesn't even require a credit card, which I like. Free accounts are limited to 2,048 MB of data and can only access four of the hundreds of server locations that PureVPN offers. Unfortunately I couldn't get the trial to work in my testing, as I explain below.
For paid subscribers, PureVPN has one of the better collections of servers available. The company boasts 180 locations spread across 141 countries, for a total of 583 servers. The servers are geographically diverse, covering Africa, Asia (including China), Australia, Europe (including Russia), and the Middle East as well as Central, North, and South America. Of particular note are the servers in Africa, an area typically underserved by VPN companies. PureVPN has 36 servers in 18 African countries, which is quite impressive.
Diversity of servers is important, since it ensures that no matter where you go in the world, there will be a server nearby to, well, serve your VPN needs. More servers also means less traffic per server, and more places you can use to spoof your location. While PureVPN has a good selection of servers, Private Internet Access has well over 3,000 servers available—the most of any service I've tested.
In addition to its core offerings, PureVPN also includes some advanced features that I'll discuss in more detail later. Note that PureVPN does allow P2P file sharing and BitTorrent, but only when connected to certain servers. Notably missing is ad-blocking. If that's something you need on your Android device, you can find it in Norton Wi-Fi Privacy, Spotflux VPN, and Private Internet Access.
Hands On With PureVPN
You can create a new account from the PureVPN app or log in with your existing credentials. Note that PureVPN generates the credentials that you need to access the company's services, which is different from the username and password you create to access your payment information and so on. This insulates your private information from potential attack, but it's also a bit of a tedious extra step.
Like the Windows app version of PureVPN, the Android app starts you off with a grid of four Mode buttons. Each one lists a different broad activity that you might want to use a VPN for: Internet Freedom, File-Sharing, Security/Privacy, and Stream. Tapping any of these takes you to another screen where you actually initiate your VPN connection. Tap the material design button in the lower corner, and a list of recommended servers appears. These are presented as the best options for the particular Mode you've selected.
What's odd is that you can also tap a button marked Purpose, which breaks down even more specific activities. In Stream Mode, there is a Purpose called US Netflix, and so on. NordVPN uses a similar approach and offers specialized servers for specific activities, and I'm glad to see PureVPN use it as well. That said, it takes far too many taps to engage a VPN; furthermore having both modes and purposes seems redundant. As it stands, the app is confusing, and I doubt the average user would discover these useful options.
You can also select a server by location or city, giving you fine control over where your data flows. The list is searchable, which is very useful, considering the number of servers PureVPN offers.
The Settings menu has several advanced options. You can sync favorite servers and locations between devices, activate a Kill Switch that prevents data from leaking out should your VPN become disconnected, configure the VPN to connect automatically when you join an insecure Wi-Fi network, and enable the Split Tunneling feature which routes data from only specific apps through the VPN. All told, it's a compelling collection of options.
I ran into several problems while using the app. For one thing, it has a tendency to crash. One action in particular—toggling off the Internet Kill Switch—caused the app to crash every time I performed it. I can forgive an app being a little touchy, provided it does the job. Private Internet Access, for example, crashed often in my testing, but it did work. I can't say the same for every aspect of PureVPN. The company has confirmed that a new version that should address these issues will be released in early January.
More troubling was the fact that connecting to PureVPN made using the Internet all but impossible during my initial tests with the free trial. Most VPNs will have some negative effect on Web performance, but I had hopes that the Android app would match the prowess of the PureVPN desktop client, which actually improved upload and download speeds. The opposite was true. Despite getting very good baseline scores without a VPN active, turning on PureVPN greatly increased latency and degraded upload and download speeds to the point where my speed-test app simply stopped. I confirmed that the issue was with PureVPN and not my network or device by running the speed test with PureVPN off and Private Internet Access running.
I reached out to PureVPN, and the company advised that I switch on the Multi Port feature found in the Protocol section of the Settings menu. According to the app, this feature scans available ports and uses those that aren't blocked or throttled. Doing so did improve speed-test scores.
What made a much bigger difference was performing the same test with a Pro level paid account. With a Pro account and Multi Port active, I was finally able to carry out my speed tests. Just to be sure, I created a new free account and tried my tests again, 24 hours after my first attempt, and had the same connection problem. A PureVPN representative told me that the free version does not throttle traffic, but it does limit the specific servers that can be used, as well as the locations. Whatever the reason, I had the same issue several times. A nonfunctional free trial is, to my mind, worse than no free trial at all, and I hope PureVPN rectifies the issue. As it is, if I were a customer using the trial to make up my mind about PureVPN, I would have moved on to another service.
Speed Test Results
No matter what VPN service you use, you're going to see some change in how your device performs on the Web. Generally, you'll see increased latency and reduced speeds as a result of having your Web traffic bounced around. In some cases, you'll actually see an improvement in performance, usually as a result of being connected to high-bandwidth infrastructure along the way. As I mentioned earlier, that seemed to be the case when I tested PureVPN's desktop client, which improved download speeds by 166 percent. Unfortunately, it's not a trick the company managed to pull off in my tests of the Android app.
My testing found that PureVPN increased latency by 566.7 percent. This might sound enormous, but latency is measured in milliseconds, so even big changes have only a small impact. That said, the NordVPN Android app only increased latency by 32 percent. PureVPN is on the higher end of the latency test results, unfortunately.
In the download test, where it previously dominated, PureVPN managed a bronze showing by slowing download speeds by 45.6 percent. The Private Internet Access Android app slowed download speeds by only 10.3 percent and holds the best score for this particular test on Android devices. Still, 45.6 percent is on the better side of average for this test.
The upload test saw similar results, and I found that PureVPN slowed uploads by 44.5 percent. Spotflux VPN, on the other hand, actually improved upload speeds by 6.5 percent—a small, but not insignificant, effect. PureVPN's score is solidly average.
For the most part, I didn't notice a dramatic impact on browser performance when using the paid version of PureVPN. One thing to note is I couldn't access Netflix while using PureVPN. Not even the service's specific USA Netflix server granted me access to my episodes of Stranger Things or Penny Dreadful. That's not unusual, as Netflix has aggressively moved to block VPN use for all of its customers, but it's disappointing that PureVPN is presenting its service as a solution which clearly doesn't work.
Good, but Buggy
I believe that PureVPN's overall VPN service is, fundamentally, a good one. Previous tests on a desktop computer have shown that it can improve speeds online, and on Android it offers specific servers for specific activities, and brings a great collection of globally diverse VPN servers for a reasonable price. The inclusion of a flexible mobile-only plan and easy signup make it all the more attractive. But there are serious problems that make me withhold my endorsement when it comes to the Android app. Bugs in the app caused frequent and repeatable crashes. Apparent network issues require manual reconfiguration, and features such as the free trial and the US Netflix servers did not work as advertised in my testing. For now, I'll continue to recommend Editors' Choice winners NordVPN and Private Internet Access VPN, both of which offer excellent performance and features on Android.
Other PureVPN Encryption
By Max Eddy Software Analyst
Max Eddy is a Software Analyst, taking a critical eye to Android apps and security services. He's also PCMag's foremost authority on weather stations and digital scrapbooking software. When not polishing his tinfoil hat or plumbing the depths of the Dark Web, he can be found working to discern the 100 Best Android Apps. Prior to PCMag, Max wrote for the International Digital Times, The International Science Times, and The Mary Sue. He has also been known to write for Geek.com. You can follow him on… More »
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