While you most likely know what you want from a good VPN before diving in, there is still much more to be had than just what's on the surface. Any of our top picks will give you numerous useful features, but what makes one better than the next?
Safety is of course a top priority when it comes to using a VPN, but what other standout features matter most to you? Speed? Security? The ability to unblock your favorite streaming services? Perhaps the hardest part of the process is picking a single VPN provider that fills all of your specific needs.
We're diving in and taking a peek at one of the world's most famous VPNs, NordVPN, and comparing to what is often one of the cheapest (and fastest!), Surfshark. We'll take a look at some of the key areas for both providers, so you can make a solid decision as to which is best for you. On with the show!
- TechRadar's NordVPN review
- TechRadar's Surfshark review
First impressions and specs
Number of servers:
NordVPN: 5,500+ / Surfshark: 3200+
NordVPN: 60 / Surfshark: 99
Maximum simultaneous connections:
NordVPN: 6 / Surfshark: Unlimited
NordVPN: 30 days / Surfshark: 30 days
Lowest monthly cost:
NordVPN: $2.49 / Surfshark: $2.05
After installing either of these two top-tier VPN apps, you'll see they are easy to navigate and have most of their features right at your fingertips.
NordVPN features a map interface with server locations dotted around the world, flanked to the left by a traditional server list. Surfshark forgoes any map, but features a clear server list and a big ‘connect’ button. It’s debatable how useful Nord’s map actually is, but it’s still a nice touch.
While Surshark has greatly upped their server game recently, NordVPN still has them beat. That being said, Surfshark does have more locations in more countries. It's unlikely this will matter to the end-user, but Surfshark's unlimited connections just might.
Surfshark’s unlimited connection policy is perfect for those with tons of devices — if you want to stay protected on a couple of phones and PCs, your Xbox and PlayStation, plus your smart TV and anything else, Surfshark can do it all with one subscription.
NordVPN vs Surfshark: Plans, pricing and trials
NordVPN starts at $11.99 for its one-month plan, and its one-year plan comes in at $4.99 a month. Surfshark’s one-month and one-year plans are the slightest bit more, at $12.95 and $3.99 a month respectively.
If you're ready to go all-in, however, both will net you big savings for a two-year signup. NordVPN rings in at just $2.49 a month (opens in new tab), saving you big on just the one-month plan.
However, Surfshark’s two-year plan is truly even more tempting at an unbeatable $2.05 a month (opens in new tab) — one of the reasons it stays atop our best cheap VPN list.
Both offer 30-day money-back guarantees, so for sheer bargain value, Surfshark is the clear winner here. But how does it stack up against Nord in terms of functionality?
NordVPN vs Surfshark: Privacy
Surfshark offers a good selection of security features, including support for OpenVPN UDP, TCP and IKEv2 protocols, alongside AES-256 encryption and a useful kill switch to protect you if your connection fails. Double-hop (routing through two VPN servers) and split tunneling are nice added features to provide extra protection – although split tunneling is only currently available on Windows and Android.
NordVPN offers protocol switching, top-class encryption, a kill switch and more, but also adds a number of unusual features such as ‘Onion over VPN’ which routes your connection over the Onion network, and support for Nord’s proprietary high-speed protocol NordLynx.
Both VPNs make it easy to access all the essentials the vast majority of users will need, but NordVPN just pips Surfshark to the post with extra functionality for those who’ll actually use it.
NordVPN vs Surfshark: Logging
Both Nord and Surf state that they don't keep logs and are also based in places where they aren't required to store user data. NordVPN in Panama and Surfshark in the British Virgin Islands.
Of course, we like to see proof of any claims such as these, and that typically comes in the form of independent audits. Price Waterhouse Cooper has verified these claims for NordVPN.
NordVPN vs Surfshark: Performance
One of the biggest selling points for almost every user is flat-out performance — AKA how well does it actually work?
Surfshark has had some big improvements all around, notably jumping speeds up to 950Mbps+ in our latest testing (up from 790Mbps last time). NordVPN is no slouch, however, bringing in an above-average 820Mbps in our latest test, though that's down a touch from 880Mbps previously.
NordVPN does still seem a bit faster in the US, however, but both performed reliably and without missed connections. The larger depot of servers from Nord may prove handy should you need to find a more reliable connection, but either of these two will still have that option available.
Overall, both NordVPN and Surfshark provide stellar performance across a wide range of servers.
NordVPN vs Surfshark: Streaming
Second to performance — or maybe even first for many of you — is streaming. You may be surprised to know that not all VPN providers can unblock all streaming services. Some can't handle much at all, while others are masters as navigation geo-restrictions.
NordVPN continues to stand tall in unblocking Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, HBO Max, iPlayer and more. It continues to stay strong, even adding WhatsApp into the mix.
Surfshark likewise has no trouble with Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ or iPlayer.
It's basically a wash between these two as far as unblocking goes, but Surfshark is a bit more simplistic to navigate when the time comes to get down to business. Both rightly earn a spot on our best Netflix VPN list, though.
NordVPN vs Surfshark: Torrents
Both NordVPN and Surfshark still make our list of the best VPNs for torrenting, but Surfshark makes things a bit easier in that realm by automatically connecting you to a suitable server when it notices P2P activity.
NordVPN stays quite hush when it comes to torrenting, but the majority of servers work just fine for torrenting as well. Automatic switching is available here as well, so it truly comes down to speed in the battle between these two — and Surfshark nudges out the win there.
Both function well, but if you’re a big P2P-er, then it might be worth checking out ExpressVPN (opens in new tab), which we rate as the best all-round VPN for torrenting.
NordVPN vs Surfshark: Mobile apps
The superb apps from NordVPN will not leave you wanting much more, as both Android and iOS versions give you the choice of protocol and various other features like favorites and auto-connect. There are some device-specific add-ons as well, like Siri quick connect.
Surfshark's app is no slouch either, letting you choose a protocol and encryption method as well as a prominent kill switch.
Nord carries over the map interface from desktop, while Surf's a bit easier on the eyes. Quick-connect, server selection and other features are all easy to access in both. NordVPN could easily swap out their map display for a list, which would make things flow a bit more easily on mobile.
It's always hard to pack so many features into mobile apps — or even desktop apps for that matter — so we can't really fault either here for trying to do it in the best way possible.
NordVPN vs Surfshark: Support
Not everyone is a technical genius, so having great customer support is definitely a huge selling point for users. Things can and will go wrong, and being able to get answers right away helps make the experience that much better.
NordVPN has an instant chat that is extremely responsive. Wait times are minimal and far better than waiting hours for an emailed reply. Their expansive list of support articles helps get immediate fixes as well.
Surfshark also offers chat, which again is quick and to the point. Their support articles continue to get better as well, leaving us with little doubt that it would be hard to find a fix within minutes for most issues.
It's a draw here as both NordVPN and Surfshark shine when it comes to the multitude of support options.
NordVPN vs Surfshark: which is better?
So ... which is better? Both NordVPN and Surfshark really shine among other VPN providers, but it really comes down to what you absolutely want to get from a VPN.
If you're looking to be reassured that you made the right choice with a well-known VPN that won't cause any fuss, NordVPN will undoubtedly serve you well. It's atop many of our best lists for a reason, and will foreseeably stay that way for quite some time.
If you want to save a few bucks and feel like you're a savvy VPN shopper, Surfshark is one of the best deals going (opens in new tab). You'll get plenty of great features, stellar support and peace of mind with a reliable VPN.
We have no problems recommending either of the two, but if you're still wanting a bit more, why not dive into our NordVPN review or Surfshark review to get down to the nitty-gritty of what more each has to offer.