Excellent interface. Good speed test scores. Numerous, geographically diverse servers. Offers dedicated IP. Allows P2P and BitTorrent.
No quick-start option. Lacks ad-blocking. Doesn't play nice with Netflix
- Bottom Line
PureVPN has an attractive, easy-to-use interface, and offers servers all over the world. The iPhone app helps you choose servers based on your purpose, and it scores well in our speed tests.
There's an expectation of security when you're using an iPhone. Malware coders focus on the low-hanging fruit, Windows and Android. In addition, iOS is security-focused from the ground up. But when you connect to a foreign network, all bets are off. Your internet traffic is not protected by Apple's walled garden. If the network is insecure, either by ineptitude or design, your data is at risk. That's why you need a virtual private network (VPN) just as much on your iPhone as on any other device. The price for the PureVPN iPhone app is a bit above the average, but it offers advanced features and an impressive collection of servers all over the world.
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What Is a VPN?
Office workers reading this may recognize the term VPN as referring to "that thing you need to log into to work from home," but a VPN is much more than that. When you use a VPN, your web traffic travels through an encrypted tunnel to the VPN service's secure server before heading out into the wider internet. This means that any bad guys monitoring the network you're using—be they hackers, advertisers, or government spooks—won't be able to see your web traffic, or trace your movements on the internet back to you. Any time you're using a public Wi-Fi network, like the one at your local coffee shop, you should fire up a VPN to make sure no one is snooping on your movements.
VPNs protect your privacy, but they can also unlock restricted content. In countries with oppressive internet policies, activists and journalists use VPNs to sidestep government control and contact the outside world. VPNs can also be used to access region-locked content, such as BBC and Netflix streaming services, but many such companies are starting to fight back against VPN cheats. More on this below.
While using a VPN is a great step toward better security, it's important to know the limitations of VPNs, too. If the site you're headed to doesn't use HTTPS, malefactors might intercept your traffic as it goes from the VPN server to the site and back. One thing a VPN can do is help secure your data from your ISP, lest it be sold.
Features and Pricing
PureVPN currently offers neither a free version or a free trial of their product. There is, however, a seven-day money-back guarantee. If you're unwilling to plunk down cash for a VPN, consider the numerous excellent free VPN services on the market.
We really like that PureVPN doesn't lock features behind different price tiers, instead offering the same capabilities with different billing cycles. PureVPN costs $10.95 per month, though there are usually discounts in play. You can also opt to pay $53.70 for a six-month subscription, or $70.80 for a two-year term. Subscription payments can be made via just about every means you could desire: credit card, AliPay, Bitcoin, Cashu, PaymentWall, or PayPal. The service also accepts nearly a dozen other cryptocurrencies. You can even pay with gift cards from popular stores. If you ever wanted to use your Starbucks gift card to buy a VPN service, this is your chance.
PureVPN has a monthly price slightly above the current average, which is roughly $9.99. It's worth noting that Editors' Choice winner, NordVPN (for iPhone), costs only one dollar per month more, and offers specialized servers for specific needs. Our other Editors' Choice for iOS VPN, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, costs just $6.99 per month.
An additional $1.99 per month gets you a simple Network Address Translation (NAT) firewall, but it's not like the NAT firewall that comes free with Golden Frog VyprVPN (for iPhone). You control the PureVPN firewall by logging in to your account, and it affects all devices. Another $1.99 buys a dedicated IP address, which may be more useful on the desktop than on mobile devices. Note that these are promotional prices, and subject to change.
Whichever you choose, you get five licenses to spread across all your devices. In addition to the iPhone edition reviewed here, PureVPN has clients for Android, Linux, macOS, and Windows. PureVPN also offers software for routers and streaming devices. TorGuard VPN (for iPhone) sells routers and Apple TVs with its software preinstalled, as does Private Internet Access. Running VPN software on your router can be a smart way to extend protection to every device in your house at no additional cost. Of course, a VPN on your home network's router does you no good when your mobile device leaves that network.
Other benefits may not be as valuable on an iPhone. PureVPN offers P2P file sharing and BitTorrent on more than 200 of its servers, but in our experience those features are most valuable on a desktop computer. And the split tunneling feature from the desktop editions doesn't show up on the iPhone.
On the iPhone, you can choose either the IPSec protocol or the newer IKEv2 protocol for your VPN connection. There's also an option to use L2TP, but this requires manual protocol installation. To change servers with L2TP, you must visit PureVPN's server list online and manually edit the VPN settings, something few users would choose. Other platforms get more choices, among them OpenVPN. We recommend that people use OpenVPN when possible, because of its speed, reliability, and open-source status. However, Apple makes companies jump through extra hoops to get approval for VPNs using OpenVPN. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited (for iPhone) is one of the few apps offering OpenVPN.
PureVPN doesn't do everything, however. For instance, it doesn't block ads, whereas Private Internet Access VPN (for iPhone), VPN Unlimited, and a few others do. Nor does it provide access to the Tor network in addition to its VPN protection, which NordVPN does. These are, admittedly, fringe features. Their absence doesn't hurt PureVPN's score, but their presence helps boost the profile of the competition.
Note that PureVPN is headquartered in Hong Kong. The city doesn't have mandatory data-retention laws, so PureVPN is not required to store data on users or their behavior. Also, some VPN companies have, in the past, injected ads into users' web traffic. A company representative assured us that PureVPN does not do this, nor does it any way profit from user web traffic.
Hands On With PureVPN
As with other iPhone VPNs, installing PureVPN on the Apple iPhone 7 we used for testing was quick and simple. We had a little trouble logging in at first, because we forgot that the login credentials to manage the account are different from the credentials for the VPN itself. The logic is that it separates your usage and payment identities, allowing for greater anonymity, which makes sense. But if it confused us, we assume it will confuse others. We'd like to see PureVPN handle this more elegantly.
A VPN doesn't need to communicate tons of status information. Are you connected? Where's the server? What's the current IP address? Anything beyond that is gravy. IPVanish VPN (for iPhone) fills the leftover space with a graph of traffic. TunnelBear, VPN Unlimited, and NordVPN display a world map. We like the fact that PureVPN's iPhone edition uses that space to display pictures from around the world. When you first log in, a screen prompts you to select one of five modes: Stream, Internet Freedom, Security/Privacy, File Sharing, and Remote/Dedi IP (short for Dedicated IP address). You can tap the menu icon to change modes as needed. Depending on what you select, PureVPN delivers a customized experience. This is smart organization, but we wonder how helpful it will be for someone who just wants to get online. Hide My Ass VPN (for iPhone) does something similar, although its approach is a bit more straightforward.
A downward-facing plug icon with a green background indicates that you're not connected to a VPN server. Tapping the plug displays three servers that match your selected mode, as well as an icon to choose from any of PureVPN's server locations, and another icon to select a server based on your purpose. When you're connected, the plug icon faces up, on a red background. We found this visual representation a bit odd, but got used to it eventually.
The choices offered when you tap Purpose depend on which mode you've selected. If you chose Security/Privacy (which is what we consider the default VPN experience), choices include data retention security and VOIP. With Internet Freedom selected, you can identify which of many services you want to stream, select online gaming, or find servers optimized for China, among other things. For the dedicated user aiming to get the perfect VPN experience, these choices are amazing. For the average user, not so much.
PureVPN offers users 794 servers across 141 countries in 180 different locations. The list includes servers in Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe, North America, and South America. Note that PureVPN also offers servers in China, Russia, and Turkey. That puts PureVPN among the top contenders, based on servers and locations alone. But keep in mind that Private Internet Access has more than 3,000 servers, meaning you'll easily find a server close to you no matter where you go.
On the desktop edition of PureVPN, you can choose servers on a global map. The iPhone edition simply offers a list, with the option to view by region or country, or see only those you've marked as favorites. Note, too, that the iPhone edition doesn't report session duration or bandwidth usage the way the Windows product does.
Like IPVanish, PureVPN lets you enter a list of domains for which it forces a VPN connection. But why bother? PureVPN doesn't cap bandwidth, so you might as well enable the handy Always On VPN feature. TunnelBear and IPVanish also offer Always On.
As noted earlier, streaming services don't appreciate those who use a VPN to get access to region-locked content they didn't pay for. Netflix, in particular, is cracking down on such rogue access. And indeed, when we tried to stream Netflix video with PureVPN active, it simply displayed a network error. This isn't unreasonable, but it's disappointing considering the hoopla that PureVPN makes about being to stream content from anywhere.
VPN Speed Tests
Regardless of which VPN you use, your speed performance will likely take a hit from the extra security measures. Most of the time this is just a mild annoyance; it's hardly like going back to the days of modem screeches and dial-up performance. When we tested PureVPN on Windows, it greatly improved download speeds, two years in a row. The iPhone edition did fine in testing, but nothing like the Windows edition.
For testing mobile VPNs, both Android and iOS, we turn off the volatile cellular connection and rely strictly on Wi-Fi. On an iPhone, that's easy enough—just enable airplane mode and then turn Wi-Fi back on. For the actual testing, we rely on Ookla speed test. (Note that Ziff Davis, PCMag's publisher, also owns Ookla).
We start by running the test multiple times and averaging the results. Immediately after that, we turn on the VPN and repeat the process. Averaging and comparing the two sets of results yields the percentage of change. Do bear in mind that networks are volatile. The same test in a different location, or on a different day, might yield different results. Still, this test gives us a snapshot of VPN performance.
Ookla reports three figures, download speed, upload speed, and latency. This last statistic is simply the time it takes for your device to ping an external server and receive a response. PureVPN's latency score wasn't bad; it increased latency by 65.3 percent. TunnelBear upped the latency by almost 10 times that, 601.4 percent. Best score in this test goes to NordVPN, with just a 22.5 percent increase in latency.
As noted, when tested under Windows, PureVPN actually made downloads go faster, by quite a lot. It also sped up downloads in our iPhone-based testing, by a more modest 6.8 percent. Only Hide My Ass did better, with downloads coming in 10.1 percent faster. TunnelBear again tanked this one, slowing downloads by a noticeable 60.1 percent.
High latency can cause trouble for lag-sensitive activities like gaming. Slow download speed can affect streaming. For most users, upload speed is the least important of the three stats. All of the recent iPhone VPNs had some effect on upload speed, but none put a huge drag on it. Slowing uploads by 8.7 percent puts PureVPN on the high side, but the worst score, earned by Private Internet Access, was just 13 percent. IPVanish and TunnelBear VPN (for iPhone) had the least impact on uploads, 3.5 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.
On the iPhone, PureVPN didn't display the crazy enhancement of download speeds that it did on Windows. However, its scores are completely acceptable. You won't notice a drag on your connections.
If you're looking for iPhone VPN performance that's perfectly tailored to your needs, and are willing to fiddle with a few settings to achieve that, PureVPN is for you. Select from the five modes, choose the purpose you have in mind, and let it find the very best server for you. In testing, it didn't display the stunning increase in download speed exhibited by its Windows-based cousin, but it also didn't slow things down appreciably. It's a solid contender, but you should also consider our iPhone VPN Editors' Choice selections, NordVPN and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited.
Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips… More »
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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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