ExpressVPN is currently rated as the best VPN we’ve reviewed, combining an excellent list of features, an easy-to-use interface and impeccable security under one roof. It has run the gamut of matchups, taking down even titans of the virtual private network industry (read our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison for that).
Additionally, ExpressVPN took down PureVPN the last time we compared the two services. However, after an insightful privacy audit and revamped website, PureVPN has exceeded the bar it previously set, meaning it’s time again to see who wins in an ExpressVPN vs PureVPN battle.
As with all of our comparisons, we’re looking at these two VPN providers in a vacuum, so we recommend reading our PureVPN review and ExpressVPN review for our full thoughts. Although they’re different in multiple areas, both provide excellent service, and with generous refund policies and money-back guarantee options at the ready, there’s no risk in giving them a try.
Setting Up a Fight: ExpressVPN vs PureVPN
Before getting into it, let’s set some ground rules. We’re going to compare both ExpressVPN and PureVPN in five rounds: features, pricing, ease of use, speed and security. Each of those rounds is worth one point, and whichever VPN service has the most points at the end will be our overall winner.
Although there’s natural crosstalk between rounds, we’ll try our best to limit the rating to an individual round. That means if the price is good, it’s good, even if there are other factors to consider. Those other factors will be summarized at the end of each round, so we recommend reading our full thoughts rather than just skimming for the winners.
Additionally, our job is to be decisive in each round, but there’s occasionally more to the story than just a single VPN winner. The best VPN for you may be different than our winner, depending on a variety of factors. In this case, where we’re comparing two solid VPN providers, it’s hard to definitively say that one is better than the other for everyone.
With a multitude of solid VPN providers, features have become a defining characteristic for the top dogs. As we’ve seen multiple times before, a lack of features leads to a subpar experience, even if the core VPN service is fine (read our Goose VPN review for an example of that). In this round, we’ll see how both ExpressVPN and PureVPN build on the typical privacy experience.
PureVPN has always been a feature-focused VPN provider, and although some of those features are locked behind a paywall, your base subscription still gets you a lot. That starts, as it should with any good VPN, with a kill switch that will block your internet connection in the event that you lose connection to your remote server.
However, PureVPN builds upon the kill switch with a speed test and split tunneling. Although the speed test is fairly basic, it’s a welcome addition nonetheless. Split tunneling is much more exciting, allowing you to target the VPN connection on a per-app basis. The only missing feature is app kill, which, as you can see in our Astrill review, is fairly specialized.
The paid features include port forwarding, DDoS protection and a dedicated IP address. Each runs an additional dollar per month, which isn’t a bad rate. That said, we would’ve liked to see DDoS protection included for free. Charging for port forwarding and dedicated IPs makes sense, but DDoS protection should be an included feature.
Perhaps the most prominent “feature” is PureVPN’s modal approach to the server connection process. As we’ll get into in round three, there are multiple modes you can choose from when you connect to a server.
Although these modes often cause more hassle than they’re worth when choosing a server, the “streaming” mode is a nice feature that allows you to connect to a server based on the website you’re trying to access.
Otherwise, PureVPN includes browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. They are mostly stripped-back versions of the desktop app, providing a simpler server connection process for Chrome and Firefox. However, the browser extensions also come with WebRTC leak protection and a connection based on the website.
ExpressVPN is a focused application, meaning it’s more concerned with getting you connected than it is with customizability (read our TorGuard review for that). Although there are quite a few VPN features to tinker with, they’re reserved for other parts of the application in order to keep the user experience as simple as possible.
It goes toe-to-toe with PureVPN in the features department, providing a kill switch, speed test and split tunneling. The kill switch is slightly unique in that it still allows you to use devices, such as printers, on your local network, while your connection to the open internet is blocked. Its split tunneling is standard.
The speed test is more robust, however. Instead of just testing latency, like PureVPN does, ExpressVPN displays the latency and download speed of each of its locations, as well as provides a speed index, which notes how fast it is in the overall list. Although a small difference, ExpressVPN’s more robust speed test cements it above PureVPN.
ExpressVPN also offers a browser extension that provides a simpler way to connect to a server. However, it expands upon PureVPN’s implementation with a small privacy toolbox, allowing you to spoof your location, block WebRTC requests and force HTTPS everywhere (read our SSL vs. TLS guide for more on that).
Round One Thoughts
Feature-for-feature, ExpressVPN and PureVPN are equal. Both VPNs offer split tunneling, a kill switch, browser extensions and a speed test. However, ExpressVPN offers more robust versions of those features, displaying the download speed in the speed test and offering multiple privacy tools in the browser extension.
Pricing is important for any piece of software or online service, but especially for VPNs. There seems to be a high level of inconsistency when it comes to VPN cost — read our Hide.me review for an example of that — making this round paramount.
In this round, we’re going to compare the costs, available billing cycles and the money-back guarantee refund policies of PureVPN and ExpressVPN.
On the monthly and annual end of things, PureVPN is in line with the rest of the market, charging around $11 per month and around $70 per year for five simultaneous connections. Although not a bad rate, there are better VPN deals if you’re focused on a shorter duration (read our Private Internet Access review for that).
Short-term subscriptions are decent, at best, but PureVPN excels when it comes to multi-year contracts. It’s one of the few services to offer a five-year subscription, which brings the overall cost down to less than $100. For a point of reference, CyberGhost’s $99 three-year plan is one of the best values on the market (read our CyberGhost review, and our ExpressVPN vs CyberGhost review).
PureVPN is unmatched when it comes to long-term subscriptions. The shorter durations are unimpressive, but when you can get privacy protection for around $1.50 per month, that hardly matters. Additionally, PureVPN offers a 31-day money-back guarantee, meaning there’s no risk in trying it out.
If you’d rather purchase a trial account, you can, but it’s not a great deal. PureVPN offers a three-day trial account for $2.50, but with the refund policy at the ready, it’s better just to try a full plan.
ExpressVPN is one of the pricier options, with a monthly rate that’s $1 more expensive than NordVPN (read our NordVPN review). Although the rate is consistent with other top-of-the-line VPN services, it provides little value when compared to longer durations.
In addition to a one-month plan, ExpressVPN offers six-month and one-year options, all with five simultaneous connections. The six-month plan runs slightly less than PureVPN’s annual plan at $60, while the annual option costs the same as PureVPN’s five-year plan at $100. You can get three months of service for free when you first sign up, but regardless, the rate is much higher than PureVPN’s.
Backing up the subscription is a 30-day money-back guarantee, which ExpressVPN honors, much unlike VPN.asia (read our VPN.asia review for more on that). Although technically a day shorter than PureVPN’s money-back guarantee window, the refund policies are more or less the same.
As for payment, ExpressVPN matches PureVPN with PayPal, credit cards and bitcoin, which is better than IPVanish (read our ExpressVPN vs IPVanish piece), though it lacks other privacy-focused options, such as cash. If that’s what you’re after, be sure to read our Mullvad review.
Round Two Thoughts
Although ExpressVPN and PureVPN offer solid service at their respective prices, there’s no denying that PureVPN provides a better value. A $100 five-year plan is hard to contend with, even for ExpressVPN. That puts PureVPN on the board for this second round.
3. Ease of Use
A VPN should be automatic, allowing you to choose your server location and forget that the application is even running. In this round, we’re going to compare how easy it is to get ExpressVPN and PureVPN set up, as well as how easy it is to connect the VPNs.
PureVPN takes a different approach when connecting. Rather than just presenting you with a number of server locations and asking you to choose one, the VPN provides multiple modes. These modes don’t change anything about the connection process. Rather, they point you toward specific servers or allow you to connect based on a website.
Although the idea is great in theory, it makes the VPN user experience more cumbersome in practice. They are, for all intents and purposes, filtering options for the number of servers — there are more than 2,000 servers in more than 140 countries — though under the guise of something greater.
Furthermore, they can cause some confusion when connecting. For example, when using the VPN’s streaming mode, we struggled to access Netflix, but on the normal “internet freedom” mode, Netflix loaded just fine.
You can favorite locations for quick access to servers you frequent, but outside of that, there are no filtering options. You can’t alphabetize the list of server locations or connect based on a recommended server from PureVPN. The VPN application is still usable, but it feels too cute. In an attempt to make the application more than what it is, PureVPN hurts the user experience.
The upside is the member’s area, which you can access on PureVPN’s. This dashboard is excellent, allowing you to quickly manage your subscription, find help when you need it and set up the application on other platforms. We’d like to see that design philosophy carried over into the local app.
ExpressVPN, as mentioned in round one, is streamlined through and through. After choosing a plan and checking out, you don’t even need to log in to the application. Rather, ExpressVPN provides an activation code that you’ll use to authenticate your device.
After doing so, ExpressVPN will open, displaying a smart location chosen based on your actual location, and a large “on” button. Although it doesn’t need explaining, ExpressVPN makes it clear that you need to click the button to secure your server connection.
For most people, the smart server location is fine, but you can also choose a server using the “choose location” button. ExpressVPN has more than 3,000 servers located in 94 countries.
There are a number of settings enabled by default, too, including the kill switch. The most important default setting is related to startup, though. ExpressVPN will automatically run and connect when you start your computer. As long as you’re content staying on the same virtual location, you’ll likely forget it’s even on your machine.
Everything about ExpressVPN emphasizes usability, allowing the VPN to get out of the way of your daily connection process. The app is also suitable for mobile devices, earning ExpressVPN a nod in our best VPN for iPhone and best VPN for Android guides.
Round Three Thoughts
This round is the most decisive of the lot. Although PureVPN isn’t difficult to use, it lacks ExpressVPN’s polish. ExpressVPN’s ease of use helps it melt into the background of your daily computer usage, easily earning it a point this round.
Perhaps the most concrete round of this comparison, speed is one of the key factors to consider when choosing a VPN. Below, we’ll go over our speed test results for PureVPN and ExpressVPN. For both VPNs, we tested multiple server locations using OpenVPN/UDP and AES-256, with our unprotected speed as a point of comparison.
PureVPN showed up impressively during our last round of speed tests. It has a number of virtual servers, but we only tested physical servers to ensure everything was fair. As you can see in our results below, PureVPN kept up when tunneling within the same country and dropped only a little in speeds when heading abroad.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Unprotected (St. Louis)||7||81.23||21.06|
|New York, U.S.||35||61.58||17.1|
|Sao Paulo, Brazil||154||58.19||15.61|
There’s some variance, but even so, PureVPN is fast. Most impressive was how quick it was when connecting to Hong Kong. Although our upload speed dropped a lot in the Hong Kong location, we only lost 25 Mbps on our download rate, which is excellent. The latency stayed low, too.
The biggest factor with PureVPN is your unprotected speed. It’s fast, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s a small amount of variance you need to contend with. If you already have a slow connection and require a highly specific location, it’s possible — though fairly unlikely — that it’ll be slower than the rest of the locations.
ExpressVPN remains the fastest VPN service we’ve tested, not just because the speeds stays quick when close to home, but because it stays quick when abroad. Comparing numbers, it’s more consistent than PureVPN and takes very little off the initial connection. Most impressive, though, is its international performance.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Smart location-Kansas City||44||105.49||7.94|
Comparing the average speeds, PureVPN hovered around 64 percent of our unprotected download speed, on average, which is excellent. ExpressVPN’s speeds are faster, though. Its average was 78 percent of our unprotected speed. Although they trade blows close to home, ExpressVPN’s international performance makes it faster overall.
As you can see in our results, ExpressVPN maintained consistent speeds throughout the world, dropping by only a little in Japan. Like PureVPN, though, if your incoming speeds are slow, there may be too much of an initial tax.
Round Four Thoughts
This round is tough. When creating our fastest VPN guide, we based our speed tests on a weighted average, which cemented ExpressVPN at the top of our list, though only by a small margin. Using weighted averages is best when testing multiple VPNs because, in most cases, locations close to your physical location will be faster.
That’s not as true for PureVPN and ExpressVPN. Both VPNs are fairly fast, even when traveling abroad. For the sake of this round, we’re going to revert to the numbers. On average, ExpressVPN had less of a download drop, earning it the win this round.
5. Security & Privacy
No matter the price or features, a VPN is nothing if its security and privacy isn’t sound. In this round, we’re going to compare the privacy policies of PureVPN and ExpressVPN, as well as the security options offered in each application.
PureVPN defaults to an “automatic” protocol when you boot the application, which it claims has the best balance of speed and security. This automatic protocol is ambiguous, as PureVPN can use anything from PPTP to OpenVPN based on your internet connection. We’d recommend changing to OpenVPN right away (read our VPN protocol breakdown to learn why).
OpenVPN is paired with AES-256, which is the strongest stuff around, as you can see in our description of encryption. To ensure the security measures were as good as they seemed, we ran PureVPN through a series of DNS leak tests, also checking IP and WebRTC leaks. Thankfully, everything came out clean.
However, it’s important to remember that PureVPN has a large number of virtual servers. They’re noted in the application, so you can steer clear of them if you’re worried about security. Testing the virtual servers, we could fairly easily trace the physical location of the server. On bare-metal servers, though, everything was fine.
ExpressVPN comes out swinging with the gold standard in VPN security: OpenVPN with AES-256. Like PureVPN, there are other protocol options, including L2TP, PPTP and SSTP, but OpenVPN is used by default. The encryption is locked, as it is with most VPNs, but you can configure it if you don’t mind digging around with OpenVPN configuration files.
There’s also the new Lightway protocol. It’s still in beta, but we took it for a spin in our ExpressVPN Lightway piece.
There’s also an automatic option, which, again, we recommend changing (especially if you’re visiting the Middle Kingdom — read our guide on how to use ExpressVPN in China). Running ExpressVPN through the same series of leak tests, everything came out clean. There are also a number of virtual server locations, though fewer than PureVPN’s.
Privacy is handled with the utmost respect. ExpressVPN gathers minimal information during connection, including the total data transferred, the app version and if the connection was successful. No personally identifiable information is logged, but if you’re really concerned with privacy, you can go a step further.
ExpressVPN’s token-based authentication means you don’t need to use a real email address. You can easily sign up with a burner email and pay with crypto.
Because you never need to log in locally, you never have to hand over information to ExpressVPN. Even if that did happen, that information would be in safe hands, considering ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which has some of the best privacy laws in the world.
Round Five Thoughts
This is another close round, and determining a winner in this one is a bit of a null point. Both VPNs offer a no-logs policy and OpenVPN with AES-256. Our job is to split hairs, though. In that context, ExpressVPN has a slight edge with its token-based authentication and location in the British Virgin Islands.
6. The Verdict
In previous versions of this comparison, it wasn’t at all close and ExpressVPN mopped the floor with PureVPN. It’s much closer now because PureVPN improved many parts of its security and clocked in with some fast speeds, to boot. However, the usability still takes a backseat to ExpressVPN, and that was the determining factor for us.
What do you think of these VPNs? Do you agree that ExpressVPN is the better option? Tell us why or why not in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.