Surfshark VPN review

A fast VPN service, but not without issues

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Image Credit: Surfshark

Our Verdict

Surfshark offers solid performance and some advanced features, but it's a work in progress, and there are problems, too. Try it, maybe, but carefully.

For

  • Some advanced features
  • Unblocks Netflix
  • Very cheap two-year plan
  • Speedy live chat support

Against

  • No trial
  • App interface is basic in some areas
  • Support website needs work
  • Some servers may not be physically located in the advertised country

Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest changes and additions since this review was last updated.

  • Pricing changes. 1-month plan is now $12.95 per month, 2-year plan is now $2.49 and a new 3-year plan is $1.94 per month. 1-year wasn't available at the time of update. (June 2019)

(Image credit: Future)

Surfshark is a small VPN. How small? As we write, for example, Surfshark's Android app has had 50,000+ installs. In comparison, ExpressVPN has more than 10 million.

Size isn't everything, though, and there's no doubt that Surfshark has a substantial set of features. You get 800+ servers in 69 locations across 50 countries, plus Windows, Mac, iOS and Android apps, Chrome and Firefox addons, and no limits on the number of simultaneous connections.

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 if anything goes wrong.

Surfshark's monthly plan is more expensive than some, at $11.95, and paying for a year up-front still only cuts the cost to $5.99 (CyberGhost, NordVPN, VyprVPN and others are less half that.) But the two-year plan looks like a real bargain at $1.99, one of the lowest prices we've seen for a full-featured VPN.

Surfshark's recently expanded payment methods are another highlight, with support for credit cards, PayPal, cryptocurrencies, Amazon Pay, Google Pay and Ali Pay. 

You'll need to use one of those methods up-front, unfortunately, as Surfshark doesn't have a general free trial (although, as usual, you can get seven days free if you sign up via the apps), but there is some protection from a 30-day money-guarantee.

Surfshark

Surfshark keeps no logs on its users and protects yoru 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, 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. That works for us.

Surfshark reports that it has passed a security audit by the German Security company Cure53. This is limited to an examination of Surfshark's browser extensions, so can't tell us anything about logging or other back end processes, but we're not complaining. 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.'

Apps 1

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

(Image credit: Image Credit: Surfshark)

Apps

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 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 its locations are displayed in multiple columns, allowing you to squeeze many more onto the screen. 

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

In our last review, we found the client could take a very long time to register its IP when connecting, but that problem seems to have disappeared. Connection times were normal throughout the review.

A basic Location list allows you to choose from every available country. A Search box speeds up finding a country, but there's no Favorites system to manage commonly-used servers, and no server load figures or ping times to help you make the best choice. There is at least a Recently Used list, though, and if you only ever use the same three or four servers, they'll be quick and easy to find.

MultiHop

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

(Image credit: Image Credit: Surfshark)

A separate MultiHop tab passes your traffic through two VPN servers for maximum security. There are 13 routes available, where the first server is your initial connection (options include USA, 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, Netherlands, Portugal,  Singapore, Sweden, UK, USA.)

After all this UI simplicity, we weren't expecting much from the Settings panel. But it turned out to be a real surprise, with a stack of valuable tweaks and extras.

A smart Wi-Fi Protection panel enables defining what the client does when you access a network. It can automatically connect every time, or only when the network is unknown; ask you what to do; or not take any automatic action at all.

Kill switch

You can enable Surfshark's kill switch from the settings menu (Image Credit: Surfshark)

(Image credit: Image Credit: Surfshark)

A kill switch disables internet access when the VPN connection drops.

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.

You're able to create whitelists of both applications and websites that will bypass the VPN (an equivalent of the split-tunneling feature you'll see with providers like ExpressVPN), which is great news if you need fine control over what passes through the VPN tunnel.

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 change the protocol between OpenVPN UDP and TCP, or IKEv2.

Surfshark's Windows client may look basic, then, and there's no doubt the location picker is more limited than most. But there's a lot of additional power under the hood, and if you'll use any of these extras, it's well worth a try.

Installing the Android app, we found much the same stripped-back interface – little more than a Connect button and a Surfshark logo.

Tapping icons at the bottom of the screen gives you access to most of Surfshark's features, though, including the ability to customize auto-connection rules by network, URL filtering, and the split tunneling-like WhiteLister.

The app has gained some important features since our last review, including an integrated kill switch and the ability to change protocol between OpenVPN and IKEv2. There's even a welcome extra option, 'Use Small Packets', which may improve performance with some mobile networks and routers.

Best of all, the annoying auto-connect bug which crashed the app during our last review, seems to have been fixed. This time, everything ran smoothly, with no technical hassles of any kind.

Surfshark

We test the performance of every VPN we review with OpenSpeedTest (Image Credit: OpenSpeedTest)

Performance

Surfshark's support for OpenVPN includes providing downloads of configuration files for each of its servers. That's good news if you're planning on manually setting the service up on other platforms which can use them, and it also allowed us to use our automated performance testing software to check out 40 of Surfshark's locations.

Connection times could be a little longer than usual, at two to eight seconds (although you're unlikely to notice, unless you're measuring them). But there were no connection failures, and latency was within the expected range.

All servers returned IP addresses for their advertised locations, but running ping tests suggested a few may be physically located elsewhere. Both the Mumbai and Vietnam servers appeared to be in or near Germany, for instance. If you're nearer Germany than Vietnam, that probably won't matter, as you'll get better speeds while still having a Vietnamese IP. But if you're nearer Vietnam, this may affect performance.

Download speeds for the closest and most popular locations were reasonable. UK performance was decent at around 55-60Mbps on our 75Mbps test connection, near European locations were barely any different at 40-50Mbps, and US connections gave us 48-54Mbps.

Even heading to the other side of the world didn't significantly spoil the party, with Australia and New Zealand managing a very acceptable 30-40Mbps.

Netflix

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

Netflix

Surfshark has its problems, but we must give the company credit for its Netflix stance. There's no wasting your time with vague and general claims about bypassing geographic restrictions, without making specific commitments – the website actually lists unblocking US Netflix as one of Surfshark's main features.

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

YouTube has only the most basic of geographic protections, so we weren't surprised to find that Surfshark also allowed us to browse US YouTube content.

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

Surfshark

Surfshark's support site has a number of tutorials on how to get your VPN connection setup (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.

While there's a little useful content there, it's mostly related to setup, for example including guides to setting up the service to run on various routers. When we searched for more details on Surfshark's own features, we found most were described in the same one or two lines used on the main website, and others (NoBorders) weren't mentioned at all.

Fortunately, if you have any issues, support is available 24/7 via live chat. We asked a simple question about NoBorders, and an agent had explained what we needed to know around two minutes later. Complex connection problems will take longer to fix, probably, but it looks like you won't have to wait long for Surfshark to begin pointing you in the right direction.

Final verdict

Surfshark is a speedy and powerful VPN with an array of advanced features. There are some issues, too, but the service has seen some major improvements in recent months, and it deserves to be on your VPN shortlist.