Product Reviews

Surfshark VPN

Surfshark is an interesting VPN which comes crammed with features, runs almost everywhere and has one of the best value introductory deals around.

The network has 3,200+ servers (that’s almost doubled since our last review) distributed across an impressive 160+ locations in 65 countries.

There are Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux apps, Chrome and Firefox extensions, and a website-unblocking Smart DNS system for games consoles, TVs and more. 

Whatever you’re using, there’s no need to worry about annoying ‘simultaneous connection’ limits – you can install and run Surfshark on as many devices as you like.

The service is strong on the technical essentials, including strong AES-256-GCM encryption, WireGuard, OpenVPN and IKEv2 support, Shadowsocks to help you bypass VPN blocking, a no-logs policy, and a kill switch to protect you if your connection drops.

There’s real depth here. Android apps can see through most VPNs by requesting your physical location, but not Surfshark – a GPS Spoofing feature enables it to return the coordinates of your chosen VPN server. 

Oh, there’s also URL and ad blocking, P2P support on most servers, VPN chaining (use two servers for one hop), split tunneling, the company’s own zero-knowledge DNS servers, and 24/7 support via email and live chat if anything goes wrong.

SurfsharkDiskless Servers

Surfshark’s diskless servers provide extra privacy and security as all data is wiped when their powered down (Image credit: Surfshark)

Recent infrastructure improvements include Surfshark following ExpressVPN and NordVPN in moving to 100% diskless servers, greatly limiting the opportunity for attackers to compromise or extract information from the network.

Surfshark says its new password technology will ‘regularly evaluate your password based on recent cybersecurity findings and send you a note if it needs changing.’ There’s no information on how this works so we can’t assess how useful it might be, but extra password-related advice is always welcome.

Dark Mode

Surfshark’s dark mode is easy on your eyes (Image credit: Surfshark)

App-related additions include an ‘Invisible to devices’ feature which hides your device from others on the network when you’re connected to the VPN, giving you an extra layer of protection. The Mac app now has a capable kill switch, new in-app notifications tell you about important account, payment or technical issues, and there are some small but welcome usability tweaks (smarter location searching in the apps means entering LV now finds Latvia and Las Vegas, for instance.)

Surfshark: Plans and pricing

As you’d discover from our dedicated Surfshark price and deals guide, the service’s monthly plan is more expensive than some, at $12.95, and paying for a six months up-front still only cuts the cost to $6.49. 

The 12 months +12 months free plan is a great deal for the first term at $2.49, though it doubles on renewal to $4.98 for the annual plan.

That initial price tramples all over most of the competition. Even Private Internet Access, one of the best value VPNs around, trails a little behind at $2.69 a month for the first term of its two-year plan.

The long-term $4.98 isn’t as impressive, but we think it’s good value for what you’re getting, and still compares well with annual plans from many other big names (HideMyAss! asks $4.99; Hotspot Shield charges $6.99, ExpressVPN $8.32, ProtonVPN’s Plus plan is around $9.50.)

If price is top of your priority list, though, long-term plans from the likes of ZenMate ($1.64 a month over three years) or Ivacy ($1.33 over five) might be worth a look.

Surfshark’s seven-day free trial for Android, iOS and Mac gives you some time to sample the service for yourself. We’d like something longer, with Windows support, too, but it seems unfair to complain when many providers have no trials at all.

Surfshark even delivers more than you’d expect with its range of payment methods, with support for credit cards, PayPal, cryptocurrencies, Amazon Pay, Google Pay and Ali Pay. 

But if, after all this, you sign up and find the company isn’t for you, no problem – you’re protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Surfshark No Logs

Surfshark keeps no logs on its users and the service protects your connection with AES 256 encryption and a kill switch (Image credit: Surfshark)

Privacy and logging

Surfshark’s privacy features start with the VPN basics: secure protocols (OpenVPN UDP and TCP, WireGuard, IKEv2), AES-256 encryption, and a kill switch to block internet access and prevent identity leaks if the connection ever fails.

But that’s just the start. Surfshark has its own private DNS on each server to reduce the chance of others spying on your activities. And the ability to use a double VPN hop (connect to Paris, say, then leave the Surfshark network in New York) makes it even more difficult for anyone to follow your tracks.

Like ExpressVPN, Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, and the company points out that this means it’s not required to keep logs of user actions.

A FAQ page on logging spells this out, stating that Surfshark doesn’t collect: ‘Incoming and outgoing IP addresses; Browsing, downloading or purchasing history; VPN servers you use; Used bandwidth; Session information; Connection timestamps; Network traffic.’

The only data the company keeps about you is your email address and billing information, the FAQ explains. 

The page used to say Surfshark collected some anonymous, aggregated stats – performance information, frequency of use of the system, unsuccessful connections, crash reports – but that detail has been removed. We don’t know why, but it’s not solely because Surfshark doesn’t record this data any more, as the Windows app Settings box still has a ‘Collect anonymous crash reports’ option. Still, if you’re unhappy, you can limit this data collection a little by turning the ‘Crash reports’ setting off (an option you won’t get with all VPNs), and overall, there’s nothing too surprising here.

The Surfshark website boasts that it has passed a security audit by the German Security company Cure53. And that’s true, but this was limited to an examination of Surfshark’s browser extensions, so it can’t tell us anything about logging or other back end processes. And as it happened in November 2018, we’re unsure that it tells us anything useful about the service as it is today.

Still, it’s good to see that Cure53 found only two relatively small issues, and concluded that it was ‘highly satisfied to see such a strong security posture on the Surfshark VPN extensions, especially given the common vulnerability of similar products to privacy issues.’

On balance, Surfshark appears to be saying and doing the right things, but we’d like more. A detailed privacy policy would be a good place to start, and we’d like wider and more frequent security audits, too.

Surfshark Windows Client

Surfshark’s windows client will look very familiar to those familiar with other VPNs (Image credit: Surfshark)

Windows app

Getting started with Surfshark was easy. We downloaded and installed the Windows client, chose the signup option, and were even able to select a plan and hand over payment from within the installer, no third-party browser required.

The Windows client interface is more versatile than most, adapting like a responsive website as you resize its window. At its smallest, the client looks much like any other VPN app, with a Connect button, status information and a list of locations. But expand or maximize the client window and it reformats to display new panels and options.

Getting connected is easy. Tap the button, desktop notifications tell you when Surfshark connects and disconnects, and the interface updates to display your new virtual location and IP address.

The Location list doesn’t display latencies, but server load icons highlight your best (and worst) options, and a Favorites system enables managing commonly used servers.

A Static IP list enables connecting to locations in Germany, Japan, Singapore, UK and US, and receiving a fixed IP from each one (that is, your IP will be from the country you choose, but it’ll be the same every time you connect.) That could be handy if you need to connect to an IP-restricted network while using the VPN, but keep in mind that any other Surfshark customer can use the same IP, so you’ll need some extra layer of authentication.

Right clicking the Surfshark system tray icon displays a miniature app window, rather than the usual basic text menu, allowing you to connect to the fastest server, choose one of your most recent locations, or open the full app interface.

Surfshark Multi-Hop

Surfshark even includes a MultiHop feature that sends your traffic through two VPN servers for added security (Image credit: Surfshark)

A MultiHop tab passes your traffic through two VPN servers, ensuring that even if the exit server is compromised, an attacker still won’t have your real IP. There are 14 routes available, where the first server is your initial connection (options include USA, Canada, UK, Singapore, Germany, France, India, Netherlands and Australia), and the second is where you’ll appear to be to the outside world (France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Netherlands, Portugal,  Singapore, Sweden, UK, USA.) The idea is that even if the exit server is compromised, the attacker will still only get an anonymous IP.

A Whitelister panel enables creating whitelists of applications, websites and IP addresses that bypass the VPN (an expanded version of the split-tunneling feature you’ll see with providers like ExpressVPN). If using Surfshark breaks a particular website or app, adding it to the whitelist should solve the problem.

Alternatively, you’re able to set the Whitelister to route only your chosen apps through the VPN. That may be more useful if you’re only using Surfshark for one or two tasks, maybe torrenting; set up your torrent client to connect via the VPN and everything else will use your regular connection.

This worked as advertised for us, and it’s great to see a VPN provider deliver this level of split tunneling support on the desktop. (Some VPNs have split tunneling-type systems on Windows – ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, ProtonVPN – but most save the feature for their mobile apps.)

Surfshark’s CleanWeb feature blocks ads, trackers and malicious links. We’re unsure how effective this might be, though, as in our quick tests we found specialist tools like uBlock Origin blocked more ads and offered more control.

A NoBorders mode aims to help you get online in countries where VPNs are commonly blocked. Surfshark doesn’t explain in detail what this does, but presumably it tries to obfuscate your traffic in some way.

More conventional features include options to launch the VPN along with Windows, or switch the protocol to WireGuard, OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2 or Shadowsocks (an alternative way to direct traffic through an encrypted tunnel, commonly used to bypass internet censorship in China.)

Surfshark Kill Switch

You can enable Surfshark’s kill switch from the settings menu (Image credit: Surfshark)

A kill switch is on hand to block your internet connection if the VPN drops. It works, too, but not quite as well as we’d like.

Our first issue is that it’s only available in the most extreme form, where the kill switch prevents you accessing the internet at all, ever, unless you’re connected to Surfshark. It’s good to have that more secure option available, but we’d also like the ability to have the kill switch active only if the connection drops within a VPN session. If it does kick in, you still have the option to close the app and use your regular internet connection, instead. 

In another complication, although the kill switch successfully blocked our internet traffic when we forcibly closed the VPN, it didn’t display any notification to alert the user. If you’re browsing and the VPN drops, all you’ll see is your internet connection fails with no obvious reason why. This may only last for a few seconds, until the app auto-reconnects, but it’s still potentially annoying. 

Even if you’re unaffected by having your internet blocked for a few seconds, we think the app should inform you that the connection has dropped. What happens if a particular server is flaky and it’s doing that every few minutes? The user needs to know.

If you don’t have the kill switch active, the problem gets worse. If the VPN drops, not only will your connection remain active, but you won’t see any warning. And as we found the app occasionally failed to reconnect, again without warning the user, your identity and data could be exposed for some time.

Surfshark’s Windows client needs a little work, then, but it’s generally easy to use and there’s a lot of functionality to explore.

Surfshark Android App

This is the user interface of Surfshark’s Android app (Image credit: Surfshark)

Mobile apps

Mobile VPN apps are often far more basic than their desktop cousins, but Surfshark’s Android offering is surprising similar. There’s more or the same interface, the same location list, multihop connections, CleanWeb’s ad and malware blocking, and split tunneling for apps and websites with the Whitelister.

There’s the same WireGuard, OpenVPN/ IVEv2 and Shadowsocks protocol support, and a kill switch to protect you if the VPN drops.

The Android VPN app throws in extra features, too: a choice of encryption methods (AES-256-GGM or Chacha20Poly1305, maybe giving you better speeds), a ‘use small packets’ option to improve performance with some mobile networks, and the ability to automatically connect to the VPN when you access mobile, secured or unsecured networks.

And if any of this doesn’t work as it should, you can send bug reports, raise or browse tickets from within the app (no need to open your browser and waste time hunting for the right area of the support site.)

Surfhsark iOS App

Surfshark’s iOS app also shares a similar look and feel to its desktop counterpart (Image credit: Surfshark)

It’s much the same story with Surfshark’s iOS VPN app: the look and feel are very similar, and you still get the kill switch, the choice of protocols (OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard) and more. 

Small but welcome recent additions include the ability to set your preferred language from within the app, and reset your VPN profile to maybe solve connectivity issues. 

It’s an impressive setup, especially for the iOS end of the range, which is often short-changed for features in comparison to other platforms. 

Put it all together and these are impressive apps, well implemented, straightforward to use, and a refreshing change for anyone tired of losing VPN functionality on mobile devices.

Surfshark Performance

We used several different speed testing services to determine Surfshark’s performance (Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

We measured Surfshark performance from a US location and a UK data center with a 1Gbps connection, giving us plenty of scope to see just what the service could do.

We installed the latest Surfshark app on our test systems, connected to our nearest location, and checked download speeds using performance testing sites including SpeedTest (the website and command line app), TestMy.net and Netflix’ Fast.com. We collected at least five results from each site, repeated each test again using up to three protocols, and ran the full test set in both morning and evening sessions.

UK OpenVPN results were below average at 165-170Mbps. Most top VPNs reached somewhere in the 250-350Mbps area during recent tests.

Surfshark has a secret weapon in its WireGuard support, though, and switching protocols saw downloads soar to 550-700Mbps.

US speeds are disappointing by comparison, with OpenVPN reaching 100-150Mbps, IKEv2 just 40-45Mbps, and even turning to WireGuard only got us 15-210Mbps. That’s lagging well behind top US performers like TorGuard (410-480Mbps), StrongVPN (590-600Mbps) and ExpressVPN (490-630Mbps.)

Put it all together and it looks like Surfshark can deliver very acceptable performance. The speeds you’ll see will depend very much on your location and target servers, though, so it’s important to take the trial and carry out performance tests of your own.

Surfhsark Unblocking

Surfshark was able to unblock Netflix in all of our tests (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix and streaming

If you’re tired of VPNs who vaguely hint about their unblocking abilities, but never make any real commitment, you’ll love Surfshark. Not only does the company say up-front that it unblocks Netflix, but it also names the near 20 countries where it currently works (US, France, Japan, Italy, Australia and more.)

This wasn’t just overblown marketing-oriented confidence, either. We were able to access US Netflix from each of our three test locations.

BBC iPlayer can sometimes be more of a challenge, but not this time. Surfshark bypassed its VPN blocking with ease, giving us access from our three test UK locations.

The good news kept coming, too, with Surfshark getting us into both US Amazon Prime and Disney+, giving it a perfect 100% in our unblocking tests.

Surfshark Support

Support guides even include tutorials on how to set up Surfshark on Chromebooks (Image credit: Surfshark)

Support

If Surfshark doesn’t work for you, the support site has setup and installation tutorials, troubleshooting guides, FAQs and other resources to point you in the right direction.

There’s plenty of useful content, but organization can be a problem, and the site doesn’t always present the most relevant documents first. Click ‘Get Started’, for instance, and as we write, the first article at the top of the list is ‘How to enable dark mode?’ 

The page goes on to list setup instructions for various platforms, but again, it’s not always easy to find what you want. 

To compare, click Windows Setup at ExpressVPN and you’ll see links to setting up the app, OpenVPN GUI, or configuring the service manually on Windows 7 or 8, with a separate guide for Windows 10. 

Click ‘How to set up Surfshark VPN on Windows’ at Surfshark and you’ll get an app installation guide only. There are separate OpenVPN and manual setup articles, but they’re in a separate Manual Setup guide, and you must find them yourself. Not difficult, but it wouldn’t be necessary if Surfshark did a better job of organizing and presenting its documents.

Fortunately, if you have any issues, support is available 24/7 via live chat. We tried this while trying to diagnose a connection issue, and had a friendly reply in under 60 seconds. So even if you’re only struggling to find something on the website, it might be worth opening a chat session– the problem could be sorted out quicker than you might think.

Surfshark review: Final verdict

Surfshark is a powerful and (initially) low-priced VPN with an array of advanced features. There are some issues, too, on balance the service needs to be on your shortlist.


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