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Surfshark review 2021

Aimee O'Driscoll VPN AND CYBERSECURITY EXPERT

surfshark logo squareSurfshark has been creating quite a buzz on the VPN scene over the past few years, giving some industry veterans a run for their money. Unlike many other VPN providers, Surfshark isn’t one for grand claims. It bases its sales pitch on privacy and security, but actually has lots more on offer.
So how does this VPN really compare to the industry giants like NordVPN, ExpressVPN and CyberGhost? Does it offer a similar experience or does it fall short?
In my 2021 Surfshark review, I tested out desktop and mobile apps to see how this provider stacks up. Here are some of the questions I wanted to answer:

  • Is Surfshark fast enough for streaming?
  • Can Surfshark unblock Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and other geo-restricted sites and apps?
  • Is Surfshark secure and private?
  • Will Surfshark work in China?
  • Is it suitable for torrenting?

In this review, you’ll find the answers to those questions and many more.

I’ve been using Surfshark to stream, browse, torrent, play online games, and access public wifi. Below is a quick summary of my experience, but you can read on to find out more about why this VPN is increasingly popular.

Do I recommend Surfshark?

Surfshark is a lightweight VPN that comes with an expansive suite of features. It keeps no logs and offers plenty of security extras. Surfshark enables you to unblock a huge number of region-locked streaming services and works well in China. There’s no connection limit, which is a huge bonus these days.

Surfshark has introduced the WireGuard protocol which can give you excellent speeds. This makes it a great choice for seamless browsing, streaming high-definition video, and torrenting large files. There really isn’t much not to like about this VPN. We did find the customer support isn’t quite as helpful as that of competitors, so there is room for improvement there, but it’s definitely not a deal-breaker.

Surfshark Key data

OVERALL RANK:  #2 of 43 VPNs
Speed
Score: 9/10
Average Speed*: 71 Mbps
Video Streaming Support: 4K, UHD video conferencing
Streaming
Score: 10/10
Netflix: Yes
Other Streaming Services: Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, BBC iPlayer
Security
Score: 9/10
Encryption Type: 256-bit AES
Kill Switch: Yes
Log Policy: No logs
Protocols: WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2, Shadowsocks
Value for Money
Score: 9/10
Lowest Monthly Cost: $2.49
Money Back Guarantee: 30 days
Websitehttps://surfshark.com/

Surfshark pros and cons

Here’s a summary of the things Surfshark gets right and where improvements could be made:

Pros:

  • Unblocks Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer
  • Kill switch in all apps
  • Excellent speeds
  • 24/7 live chat
  • Works in China
  • No logs
  • Unlimited devices
  • Allows P2P

Cons:

  • Customer support could be refined
  • May prompt captchas when browsing on mobile

I’ll delve into more detail on each of these points below.

Speed: Is Surfshark fast?

Yes. Surfshark fared great in our latest speed tests, and is currently the fastest VPN we’ve reviewed. I was able to stream 4K video and use HD video conferencing while connected to various servers. And I had no issues playing online games while connected to each of the test servers.

surfshark speed test

In our previous review of Surfshark, it only averaged 71 Mbps, which means its speeds have nearly tripled in 2021. Much of that improvement is due to the recent addition of Wireguard, a lightweight VPN protocol that offers much more bandwidth than OpenVPN and other protocols without sacrificing security.

Since its launch, Surfshark has been ramping up its server count pretty fast. Over the past couple of years, Its network has almost doubled from around 1,700 servers to more than 3,200. These servers cover 65 countries. While some rivals such as ExpressVPN and CyberGhost cover more countries, Surfshark provides ample choice for most users.

We tested Surfshark server locations at three different times during the day. The average speed across all tests was 207 Mbps. This puts it in first place, handily beating both NordVPN and ExpressVPN.

Click to enlarge.

The server locations were in North America, Asia, and Europe. Here are the average speeds:

  • North America: 170 Mbps
  • Asia: 220 Mbps
  • Europe: 230 Mbps

As you can see, not only are speeds fast, but you can also expect fairly consistent speeds no matter which server you connect to.

It’s worth noting that these tests aren’t definitive and only offer a general indicator as to the type of performance you might see in practice. The internet is inherently volatile which adds a randomness factor to speed test results. Depending on your base internet speed, you may see larger discrepancies in speeds when connected to the VPN.

See also: The Fastest VPNs of 2021

Apps: What devices work with Surfshark?

One of the biggest perks of this service is the ability to connect as many devices as I want to the VPN at a given time. Most providers restrict connections to between five and 10. This might seem like a lot, but these days, the number of devices a family is using could quite easily surpass that limit.

So which operating systems does Surfshark work with? Apps are available for the following:

  • Windows 7 and newer
  • MacOS 10.12 or newer
  • iOS 10.3.3 or newer
  • Android 5.0 or newer
  • Linux Ubuntu and Debian
  • Amazon Fire TV

As of 2021, Surfshark is compatible with Apple’s new M1 chips.

Multi-language 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. Surfshark can be manually installed on compatible home routers if you want to protect all your devices.

Surfshark apps.

Surfshark’s new and improved apps are lightweight so they should work with low-end devices. I find them a bit more intuitive than the older versions.

Surfshark desktop server list.

The server list is displayed when you launch the app. You can connect to the fastest server or a server in the nearest country, or select a country of your choice. Countries are listed in alphabetical order. There’s a search function and I can add locations to a favorites list by clicking the star to the right of the location. You can see a rough indication of the total load on a location’s servers by looking at the circle to the right of the location name.

Surfshark MultiHop servers.

Notably, there’s a separate list for MultiHop (double VPN) servers, which is far more extensive than you’ll see for most other VPNs that offer this feature.

Surfshark static IP servers.

You’ll also find a list of static IP servers for several countries, including Japan, Germany, and the US. This option enables you to connect to the same server each time (instead of being assigned one at random), which is handy if you’d like to keep the same IP address. This is available on the Windows and Android apps.

You can change the overall aesthetic of the app to a darker version by enabling dark mode.

Other options include:

  • Invisible to devices: This feature is available on Windows and Android and will make your device invisible to other devices on your Local Area Network (LAN).
  • Whitelister: This is Surfshark’s version of split tunneling and can be used to send select traffic through a normal connection instead of the VPN. You can also do the reverse and only send select traffic through a normal connection. It’s available on the Windows and Android apps.
  • CleanWeb: A feature that block ads, trackers, and malware
  • Search: Previously named BlindSearch, this is a paid addon. It’s a private search tool that works similarly to DuckDuckGo and StartPage.
  • Alert: This is another paid addon and was previously named HackLock. It’s a data leak alert system that will let you know if your email addresses or passwords have been involved in a breach.

Surfshark Features tab.

There are several more features including the kill switch, protocol options, and NoBorders mode which I’ll go into later.

surfshark mobile app screenThe mobile app is very similar to the desktop version so switching between them is a breeze. The feature roster varies slightly from app to app, but the mobile versions offer more than you’d find in many rival VPN apps.

One issue I did find on mobile was that after I started using the app, many search engine entries involved me having to complete a captcha before I could continue, presumably because the shared IP address was flagged for some reason. This is a minor annoyance but could be frustrating for some users.

Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi

Does Surfshark unblock Netflix?

Yes, Surfshark now unblocks 30 international Netflix libraries including Netflix US, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, India, Singapore, France, Germany, Italy, and several others. In my last review, it unblocked just six international Netflix catalogs, which is still above average. If it can’t connect you to the library that corresponds to the server you’re connected to, Surfshark will redirect you to US Netflix.

Surfshark also works with Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, ITV Hub, All 4, Hotstar, HBO, Sky, and many other local streaming services.

Overall, Surfshark is one of the best VPNs out there when it comes to unblocking region-locked content.

The VPN works with most devices that run Kodi and is compatible with Kodi addons.

Does Surfshark allow torrenting?

Yes, Surfshark allows torrenting.

Data is unlimited, P2P is allowed, and Surfshark operates with a true no-logs policy. When you start running a P2P app while connected to the VPN, Surfshark will automatically connect you to a special P2P server (the closest one available).

Surfshark's P2P page.

There is also a split tunneling feature that allows you to choose which traffic goes through the VPN. This is handy if you want to use the VPN for torrenting while using a regular connection for other activities, or vice versa.

In addition, all Surfshark apps have a built-in kill switch which will force my internet connection to drop if the VPN connection drops unexpectedly. Note that the kill switch is disabled by default but you can toggle it on in the app settings.

Security, privacy, and logging

On the surface, Surfshark’s security features look fairly standard in comparison to other major VPN providers. It uses 256-bit AES encryption, which is as good as it gets. This is in conjunction with a SHA512 authentication hash and 2048-bit DHE-RSA key exchange, along with perfect forward secrecy.

OpenVPN is enabled by default on the desktop apps, while IKEv2 is the default for mobile. Shadowsocks encryption is an additional option for Windows and Android users, in case the other protocols cannot be established. A new addition to Surfshark’s protocol options is WireGuard. This lightweight, open-source protocol is becoming popular among VPN providers and users alike, as it boasts great speeds, excellent security, and compatibility with all major operating systems.

Surfshark protocols.

Surfshark includes a kill switch that can be toggled on and off within the apps. This will prevent you from browsing unprotected should the VPN connection drop.

Apps come with the following features that you won’t often find on many other VPNs:

  • MultiHop servers: Double VPN servers can add an extra layer of security and Surfshark has lots of options to choose from.
  • NoBorders mode: This will enable you to use the VPN in restrictive regions such as China.
  • Auto-connect: When enabled, the VPN will establish a connection as soon as your device is connected to the internet. This is particularly useful if you want to ensure you’re always protected when using public wifi.
  • Private DNS servers: 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.
  • ChaCha encryption: Android users can opt for ChaCha encryption which often performs better on mobile devices.
  • Leak protection: I found no evidence of IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks when connected to Surfshark. This means third parties won’t be able to see my real IP address.

Leak test results.

Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, which also 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 the two companies recognize the advantages of being located in a country where the government doesn’t require any data retention or reporting.

You won’t have to worry about your information being tracked while using this service. Surfshark is very explicit about its zero-logging policy. It keeps no traffic logs and, according to its privacy policy, it does not “collect IP addresses, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection time stamps, network traffic and other similar data.”

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.

In 2021, Surfshark started checking user passwords against those exposed in known breaches in the Surfshark Alert Database. If it detects a password that’s been breached before, you’ll be prompted to change your Surfshark password. Don’t worry; Surfshark isn’t sharing your password with anyone. It’s just comparing hashes.

Does Surfshark work in China?

Yes, Surfshark works in China.

Surfshark has recently added a large number of additional servers. One of the major reasons for this is to provide as many IP addresses as possible to help defend against China’s blocking process. Surfshark has dedicated testers in China who can confirm if all is well or if there are any issues.

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.

Is Surfshark customer service any good?

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.

Most of what you need should be there, but if not, 24/7 live chat is available to help. I used this service a handful of times and received courteous and prompt responses that helped resolve my issues and answer questions.

Surfshark Live chat support.

The live chat feature is outsourced to Zendesk, so those looking for the utmost privacy may want to use the email form. This seems to be well manned and I got a response to my query in under an hour.

That said, there may be some more work to do on the customer service front. Although I had good experiences, we have heard from other users who have had issues getting a refund from Surfshark when they decided not to use the service.  I was assured by a representative that getting a refund is as simple as contacting the team through live chat or email, and one of our writers successfully tested the refund policy recently, so hopefully future users won’t run into the same problems.

Surfshark pricing

surfshark pricing sept 2020

Surfshark has one plan, but offers discounts depending on your subscription length.

Here’s a breakdown of Surfshark’s pricing:

  • One month for $12.95 per month
  • Six months for $6.49 per month
  • One year plus 12 months extra free for an average of $2.49 per month

The one-year option offers great value for money with savings of 81 percent.

Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee on all plans which should give you ample time to decide if it’s the right service for you. Alternatively, if you sign up via the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, you can get a free seven-day trial. Even though you need to sign up on a mobile device, once you have the trial subscription, you can use it on desktop too.

Surkshark accepts a range of payment methods, including major credit and debit cards, PayPal, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Coingate, Alipay, and many country-specific payment methods. The ability to pay with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will be welcome news to more privacy-conscious users.

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Should I buy Surfshark?

It turns out that Surfshark is very deserving of all the buzz and this provider has a lot going for it. It offers a reliable service and takes privacy and security very seriously. Plus, it has excellent speeds for streaming and even works in China. An unlimited number of simultaneous connections may be the tipper for some users.

The only real concern regarding Surfshark’s service stems from the complaints around the company’s refund policy. This is an important area of customer service so I’m keen to see if Surfshark holds true to its 30-day guarantee in the future.

Surfshark alternatives

While Surfshark provides an excellent all-round service, there’s room for improvement in a couple of areas. If you’re looking for the fastest VPN available, then you might want to consider NordVPN. This blows many of its competitors out of the water when it comes to speeds and it performs well in other areas.

NordVPN has over 5,500 servers, far more than most other providers. Plus, it boasts excellent security and top-notch customer support. It’s great for unblocking geo-restricted streaming sites and can help you access the free web in China.

How does Surfshark compare to other popular VPNs?

Comparing VPNs side-by-side can give a good indication of the caliber of provider you’re looking at. Here’s how Surfshark compares to two other top-rated providers, NordVPN and ExpressVPN. You can find out more about these two in our in-depth comparison.

ExpressVPNNordVPNSurfshark
Average Speed135 Mbps115 Mbps71 Mbps
Encryption typeType of encryption e.g. 256 AES256-bit AES256-bit AES256-bit AES
Kill Switchdesktop only
Allows Torrenting
Records identifying logs
Unblocks Netflix US
Unblocks Amazon Prime
Unblocks Hulu
Unblocks BBC iPlayer
Lowest cost per month$6.67 per month$3.30 per month$2.49 per month
Money back guarantee30 days30 days30 days
Overall rating9.39.79.6