Surfshark is a new provider on the VPN scene but it’s creating quite the buzz. From great unblocking capabilities to top-notch customer service, rumor has it that this provider could be giving some of its top-rated competitors a run for their money.
We’ve been testing out Surfshark to see what all the fuss is about. This review will tell you everything you need to know about this VPN provider and the service it offers, including pricing, features, security, and more.
Every Surfshark plan comes with access to all its native apps, available for MacOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. The VPN software can be manually configured with Linux and home routers. Browser extensions are available for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, though bear in mind these will only protect browser traffic and not your entire device.
One of the big perks of Surfshark is that it currently allows users to connect an unlimited number of devices at one time. Although some providers offer six to ten simultaneous connections, the industry standard is five. With unlimited connections, you’ll be able to protect every device in your household, even if you have a large family. It’s worth noting that we tend to come across this perk with newer providers looking to attract as many customers as possible early on, but a limit might be introduced once Surfshark becomes more established.
Data is unlimited, P2P is allowed, and there’s a true no-logs policy, so torrenters are definitely catered to. This provider offers a strong security suite, including military-grade encryption, perfect forward secrecy, a kill switch, and DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leak protection.
Additional features include CleanWebTM (an ad and malware blocker), WhitelisterTM (a split tunneling feature), multihop servers, and traffic obfuscation.
Surfshark offers one plan, but you get steep discounts when you sign up for longer terms. If you opt for month-to-month, the price is $11.95 per month, whereas a one-year subscription is $5.99 per month, and a two-year package will cost $1.99 per month. The monthly price is about average, but the two-year deal — which represents 83% in savings — is an excellent deal.
Surkshark accepts a range of payment methods, including major credit cards, PayPal, Coingate, Alipay, and more. The ability to pay with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is welcome news to privacy-conscious users.
If you’re worried about committing to a service you don’t love, Surfshark has you covered. It offers a 30-day money-back guarantee which should give you ample time to decide if it’s for you.
READER DEAL: Sign up for a two year plan and pay only $1.99 per month. That’s a saving of 83%.
Servers and performance
Since its inception, Surfshark has been ramping up its server count pretty fast. Its network has expanded from around 100 servers to 500 in a short space of time. While this isn’t a patch on larger providers like NordVPN (with more than 5,000 servers) and CyberGhost (with upwards of 3,000 servers), it’s not too shabby for a newer entrant.
When it comes to the number of countries covered, Surfshark does well there too, with 50 countries in its network so far. These are mainly European countries, although there are eight Asia Pacific countries, six in the Americas (including the US and Canada), and a handful of others. All of Surfshark’s servers are physical (there are no virtual servers), and while they are leased, they are not shared with any other providers.
Switching between servers is simple and connecting usually only takes a few seconds. Aside from the regular server list, you have a MultiHopTM list, from which you can choose a server pair for a double VPN connection.
We tried out several test servers (single connection) in the US West, the US East, and the UK, performing a range of everyday activities, such as streaming, browsing, and playing online games. Using a VPN can often turn simple tasks like streaming and browsing into frustrating experiences due to slow, unreliable connections that cause lag and buffering. But it looks like Surfshark has this covered and we didn’t run into issues during general use.
Surfshark speed test performance
We tested the select servers mentioned above for download speed, using tests that we’ve designed to be as empirical as possible. We test each server at three different times during the day. Each test consists of downloading the same game file which is 165 MB in size. The tests are always conducted from Toronto and control tests are run using no VPN connection.
We run the same tests for multiple VPN services, so you can see how they measure up against each other. The results are displayed in the boxplot below. The line where the dark and light blue boxes meet shows the median speed. Lower is better. The size of the box is an indicator of the spread in the results. Smaller means more consistent.
As you can see, Surfshark fared pretty well. When connected to a geographically close server in the US East, speeds were only slightly slower than those observed in the control tests. Things did slow down when we tested servers farther away in the US West and the UK. However, this is something we see for most VPN services and makes sense given the extra distance that data has to travel.
Speeds for each server were fairly consistent at different times of day, which means you’ll generally know what to expect from a given server location once you’ve been using it for a while.
We should note that these results can only serve as an approximate indicator of what you might actually experience when using the service. The volatility of the internet adds a factor of randomness, so the tests should be taken with a grain of salt. They were run while using a 60Mbps connection, so you may see longer wait times with a slower connection, and potentially smaller or larger discrepancies.
Does Surfshark unblock Netflix and other popular streaming sites?
Yes, Surfshark works with Netflix as well as some other popular streaming sites. For Netflix, we usually focus testing on US Netflix as this is the most popular library. Surfshark unblocked US Netflix on all the US servers we tested. We also tested it with other servers too; in fact Netflix was unblocked with every server we tried.
However, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t always mean you’re getting access to the library that corresponds to the server location. Surfshark (and some other providers) will redirect to the US Netflix library for some — and in this case, most — locations. The ones we tested that didn’t redirect were the UK, France, Netherlands, India, and Japan, so you can use Surfshark to access those countries’ respective Netflix libraries.
We tested the service with a few other popular and notoriously difficult-to-unblock streaming services, and it did great. We were able to unblock Amazon Prime Video with a US server, and Hulu was accessible too. Plus, a UK connection gave us access to BBC iPlayer.
Does Surfshark work in China?
Yes, Surfshark should work in China, but may not be completely reliable (although, that could be said for most VPNs that work there). Surfshark is clearly committed to giving users in China access to its service, as can be seen by its activity on reddit threads in reaction to the issue. For example, after users in China having luck with the service in July 2018, it was no longer available in October. However, a Surfshark representative stepped in on the reddit forum and updated it when the issue was resolved.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for VPN providers to evade the Great Firewall of China and few are able to do it reliably. Many will come right out and say that’s it too difficult and they’ve all but given up, whereas you have others, like Surfshark, who keep fighting to offer access to the free web.
Security and privacy
Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, which happens to be home to top-rated provider ExpressVPN. In fact, it’s no coincidence that they’re both based here and it’s clear that both companies recognize the advantages of being located in a country where the government doesn’t require any data retention or reporting.
Indeed, Surfshark takes privacy and security very seriously. In this section, we’ll explain what you can expect in terms of logging, encryption, and leak protection, as well as describe any additional security features.
This means that even if the company was forced to hand over data, there would be no personally identifiable information to give. You are required to provide an email address upon signup, which is stored, but if you use a burner email and pay using cryptocurrency, there would be almost no trace of you having signed up at all.
Surfshark uses 256-bit AES encryption, which is considered as good as it gets. This is in conjunction with an SHA512 authentication hash and 2048-bit DHE-RSA key exchange, along with perfect forward secrecy.
There are two protocol options: OpenVPN and IKEv2. While OpenVPN has long been the gold standard for VPN protocols, IKEv2 has the advantage of negotiating connections faster, which is especially helpful for use on mobile devices. Either way, both are great options, so you won’t be disappointed.
Surfshark measures up to its competition when it comes to leak protection too. DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leak protection are built in. What’s more, this provider uses private DNS servers instead of public ones, so you don’t need to worry about the likes of Google seeing your DNS requests.
Surfshark provides a kill switch that disconnects your device from the internet in case the VPN connection fails. This prevents you from browsing or any conducting any other online activities without protection. The kill switch is disabled by default in the Windows app, but can be enabled by clicking the gear icon in the main screen, selecting Security, and toggling the kill switch on. It is enabled by default in the iOS app but you can disable it in the Settings screen. You won’t find a kill switch setting in the Android app, but it is there and you can enable it in the phone or tablet settings.
Additional security features
Surfshark offers a few additional features that help kick this service up a notch. First, there’s the WhitelisterTM feature that can be controlled in the security settings tab. This is a split tunneling feature that enables you to whitelist certain apps or web pages to bypass the VPN.
A double VPN (multi-hop) feature, when in use, tunnels your traffic via two VPN servers. This adds an extra layer of protection for the extra privacy-conscious user, although it could slow down internet traffic. Surfshark uses traffic obfuscation on OpenVPN traffic to help cloak your VPN connection and enable you to bypass restrictions on VPN usage, such as in China.
Automatic wifi protection is built into the apps, so you can set up the VPN to connect every time it detects a wifi connection. Finally, the service comes with CleanWebTM, a feature that block ads, trackers, and malware.
Settings and interface
Surfshark’s apps are very simple to set up and use. They’re probably not to going to win awards for aesthetics, but they’re clean, modern, and simple to navigate. For the purposes of this review, we tested the Windows and iOS apps.
The desktop app has a minimalist look but that helps with finding what you need quickly. Once you’ve logged in, the only things you’ll see are the Surfshark logo, a Quick connect button, and the server location. Note that clicking Quick connect won’t connect you to the server shown, but instead will connect you to the fastest server for your location, most likely a geographically close one. You can select All locations to see a list of servers.
The first choice you have here is Optimal location, which is the same as Quick connect in the main screen. The servers are simply listed in alphabetical order by country. Where there are multiple location options in a country, the city is also listed. There is no option to add servers to a favorites list, but you can view recently used servers at the top of the list, which is just as helpful.
In the upper right-hand corner of the server list screen, there’s the word MultiHopTM. When you click this, you’ll see a list of double VPN options. The destination country is the one from which your IP address will be assigned. Seven different destination locations represents a pretty good selection compared to other providers that offer a similar feature.
Moving on, back in the main screen, clicking the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner will take you to your settings options. Under the General section, you have four options: Connectivity, Notifications, Security, and Advanced.
The Connectivity options include connecting on Windows or device startup and automatic wifi protection settings. The Notifications tab has just one option regarding status notifications.
Security tab options include enabling the kill switch, CleanWebTM, and WhitelisterTM.
The Advanced screen houses Protocol options. You can choose from automatic, OpenVPN / UDP, OpenVPN / TCP, and IKEv2. Each protocol option comes with a handy description of what you can expect from the connection in terms of speed and security.
Overall, this is a really simple app and suitable for beginners. However, there are plenty of advanced options available for stepping up security and tailoring the connection.
The Surfshark mobile app is very similar in design to the desktop version. It’s just missing a few features. In the main screen, you have a Connect button and a server list dropdown. The logo switches from blue to green once you’re connected, and you’ll see your new IP address and whether or not the kill switch is on (which it is by default in the mobile app).
The server list is pretty much the same as in the desktop app, except you don’t have the multi-hop feature, so no double VPN to take advantage of.
In the Settings screen, you have the kill switch (enabled by default in the mobile app) and CleanWebTM. Missing here is the split tunneling feature, WhitelisterTM.
This is another easy-to-use app with enough features to appease beginners and even some more advanced users.
Navigating to the Help section on Surfshark’s website, you’ll find a decent amount of information to help you get started with the service. There are various setup guides, including manual connection guides, router tutorials, and extension and app guides. In addition, some FAQs are answered, although this isn’t as comprehensive a section as it could be.
Most of what you need should be here, but if not, live chat is available to help. Note that while testing the service, the live chat was unavailable at times and clicking the chat button directed us to an email form instead. However, a representative acknowledged that there is a glitch and you may have to wait a few seconds after opening the website for the live chat to be available. We tested this and it appeared to be true.
Even if you do submit an email form, you can expect a prompt response. We got a response to one query in under an hour, and to another in just under two. The live chat feature is outsourced to Zendesk, so those looking for the utmost privacy may want to use the email form anyway.
Of course, no service is perfect and there are a couple of downsides. There were some slow speeds recorded (although this isn’t uncommon among even the top providers), and the server network is relatively small compared to many competitors.