Surfshark full review
Surfshark is a great-value VPN service which regularly adding new features and improves its service, yet remains one of the more affordable options.
Just recently it was bought by Nord Security, NordVPN’s parent company, but this – if anything – is a good thing as it means Surfshark should remain the cheaper option, with NordVPN itself being seen as the ‘premium’ choice.
Nord Security also owns AtlasVPN, which is the budget option. Surfshark might cost more, but the fact it doesn’t place any limits on how many devices you can connect to the VPN service at any one time, along with other features such as the built-in cookie pop-up blocker, GPS spoofing on Android, and fast connection speeds mean it’s the sweet spot for many people.
Features & apps
- Unlimited connections
- 3200 servers in 65 countries
- GDPR pop-up blocker
- Blocks ads + trackers
Surfshark ticks plenty of boxes, so it looks good on paper. WireGuard, the latest and fastest encryption protocol, is available in all apss and those are available for many devices including the main four – Windows, Mac, Android and iPhone / iPad – plus Linux (Ubuntu or Debian) and Amazon Fire TV and Android TV apps which use smart DNS to unblock streaming services. You can also install the Android app on a Chromebook if yours supports Android apps.
There are over 3200 servers across 65 countries, and Surfshark says all are RAM-based and don’t write any data to hard drives. That’s better for privacy, as it means no data persists if a server was seized by authorities.
Some of those servers are virtual, which means they’re not physically located in their named country, but will give you an IP address that will place you – virtually - in that country and virtual servers are clearly marked with a V in the list.
The apps themselves are light and clean-looking, and make it simple to select a location and connect to it.
There are four lists: Favorites, Locations, Static IP, MultiHop. Unfortunately, none of them tell you how busy each server is, nor its ping, but they are useful.
Static IP, for example, is a bit like a dedicated IP but is a selection of servers included for everyone to use, rather than being a separate add-on feature you pay extra for. When you connect to these servers, you get the same IP address every time, which means you can use services without having to update the IP address you’re using each time you connect to a server.
They’re available in the US, UK, Japan, Germany and Singapore.
The MultiHop list has 14 combinations of routes that your connection can take through two servers, such as India > United Kingdom. This offers extra protection and better masking of your true location because even if a website were able to identify your IP address from the second server, it is almost impossible to trace this back to the first server and - ultimately – to your real IP address and location.
The MultiHop feature is sort of being replaced with Surfshark Nexus. This is a fundamental change in how the VPN service operates. Instead of the usual, and simple – route from your device to a server and then to a website or other online service, Nexus is effectively a mesh network of all Surfshark’s servers.
You’ll be able to pick not only an ‘exit point’ – the same thing as choosing a location in the app right now – but you’ll be able to specify an ‘entry point’ and, in future, a point in between.
It’s not the easiest concept to explain, which is where this diagram comes in:
Nexus brings other benefits, such as regular IP address changes (a feature certain other VPNs already offer). This is already in Surfshark’s apps in beta called IP Rotator.
Kill switch, split tunnelling & more
Dig deeper into the apps’ settings and you’ll find plenty of other features.
CleanWeb blocks ads and as many trackers as it can while you browse websites, while Bypasser (previously called Whitelister and available on Windows and Android) lets you allow specific apps and websites to bypass the VPN. This is called split tunnelling by other VPN services and can be useful if you don't want games or data-heavy apps to run via the VPN.
It should be available on Macs soon, we’re told, but not on iPhones or iPads.
The Kill Switch is available in Windows, Mac, Android and iOS apps but isn’t customisable in any way. It’s off by default, because it’s the absolute type: if the VPN connection drops, none of your apps will have an internet connection. But if you disconnect manually, the kill switch won't activate.
Still, it would be nice to have options, such as cutting off the connection only to specified apps if the VPN connection is lost for any reason.
GPS spoofing is an unusual one, found only in the Android app and something we’ve not seen in any other VPN. Often, apps will know you’re not really in the US, Japan or any other location even if you’re connected to a VPN server because your phone’s GPS gives the game away.
Spoofing that location to match the VPN server location is another tool in the toolbox that can help to overcome regional blocks and reclaim privacy.
Finally, there are the browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Edge. These, as with many from other VPN services, are confusingly marketed as VPNs. In fact, they use proxy servers (because a web browser cannot establish a VPN connection).
Some measures are used, such as HTTPS, to protect your privacy and security, but they do not encrypt all your data as a VPN does. We asked Surfshark, along with other VPN services, to make it clear that they are not part of the VPN service, and it says it is in the process of doing so.
Surfshark offers extra features which aren't part of the VPN service: the One package costs extra on top of your VPN subscription.
The first is Alert (formerly called HackLock). This is an ID protection service where you can enter email addresses, credit / debit card numbers and social security numbers and Surfshark will monitor them and notify you if any are ever leaked in a data breach.
Search (formerly called BlindSearch), which is a bit like DuckDuckGo in that it lets you search the web in privacy, and with no ads. As no filtering happens, you'll see only organic results. Recently this has been improved and is far less clunky than it used to be.
Note that when you use this, Surfshark will record the aggregated number of performed searches. It won’t store what you search for or any websites you visit, though.
A newly added feature is Antivirus. That’s very much in its fledgling stages of development and is available on Windows and Android only. In fact, even that is stretching it: real-time malware protection is ‘coming soon’ for Windows users, so for now, it isn’t going to replace a mature security suite such as Norton 360 or McAfee Total Protection – both of which have upped their VPN game recently.
Privacy & Jurisdication
If you want to enable 2FA to protect your Surfshark account, you can do so via the website or in the settings section of the app. There are two methods of getting a code: Google Authenticator or email.
Undoubtedly, this does add a bit of inconvenience each time you want to log in, but since that happens pretty infrequently, it's well worth enabling as it helps to prevent anyone else signing into your Surfshark account.
But what about the privacy of the service itself? Surfshark used to be registered in the British Virgin Islands, which is outside of the jurisdiction of the 14-eyes – countries which share intelligence with each other.
Fairly recently, but before it was bought by Nord, Surfshark switched to the Netherlands, citing “its favorable business, economic and political environment, as well as no-logs-friendly legal jurisdiction”.
Although a 9-eyes country, the fact that a court struck down its mandatory data retention policy in 2015 means that Surfshark can continue to operate its no-logs policy as before.
“Our servers do store information about your connection to a particular VPN server (user ID and connection time stamps), BUT this information is automatically deleted within 15 minutes after termination of your session. And be assured that no information is stored about the websites you visit.”
So, overall, the change in jurisdication isn’t an issue. But there is one problem: Surfshark hasn’t yet had its no-logs policy audited by an independent third party. That means you currently have to take its word for it that it doesn’t record the information it claims not to.
An audit was carried out, but it covered only the browser extensions. Surfshark told Tech Advisor that it was planning to 'run a new independent audit of its product' in the first half of 2021. That didn’t happen, but we’ve been told that the “scope of the audit is being defined” right now (March 2022) and the plan is for it to be completed this year.
We’ve no reason to believe that Surfshark isn’t sticking by its no-logs policy, but until the results of the audit are released, the service lacks the reassurance you get from NordVPN and others which have been audited.
Performance & unblocking
When it comes to testing a VPN's performance there are many factors and variables involved. And because WireGuard enables such high speeds, you need a very fast internet connection to test it.
Unfortunately, none were available to us at the time of review, but as ever, there are other independent tests which show that Surfshark is one of the fastest VPNs around.
On average, across various servers and at different times of day, Surfshark's WireGuard speeds are upwards of 600Mbps for both upload and download, according to VPNpro.com.
The graph below shows Surfshark’s WireGuard download speeds for the past 30 days (covering all of February 2022).
In our own tests, we found no IP or DNS leaks. There is a slight problem, however, because currently Surfshark doesn't support IPv6. This means it will block all IPv6 traffic and force your devices to use IPv4. As with the no-logs audit, we were told that Surfshark would add IPv6 support last year, but it didn’t happen. As of March 2022, the company said it was still working on this. For more, see does it matter if your VPN doesn't support IPv6?
We had issues with the Windows app, which had a variety of problems connecting to servers, and took up to four attempts on occasion, taking longer than we'd have liked. It turned out that it always preferred the older, slower IKEv2 protocol, and refused to connect to any servers at all using WireGuard. This persisted after a complete uninstall and reinstall of the app. The Kill switch worked as advertised, though.
As for getting around regional blocks and accessing content with Surfshark, we were happy to find it unblocked BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub when connected to a UK server.
It's also able to unblock 15 Netflix regions and lots of other services such as Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max and Hulu. Overall, Surfshark is a great choice overall for streaming video.
Every time we've tried the 24/7 online chat, a representative has replied within a minute and has been able to answer our questions quickly and efficiently with a friendly and cheerful attitude. Just note that chat is available on Surfshark’s website, not in the apps.
Price & plans
Surfshark, like all VPN services, offers big discounts if you sign up for a year or more. At the time of writing, it was offering 82% off its one-month subscription price when you sign up for a two-year subscription.
That costs £53.80 / $59.76, which works out as £2.24 / $2.30 per month – and you get two months extra free, a total of 26 months. The UK prices here include VAT, which is why they’re higher than the exc. VAT prices shown on Surfshark’s website.
Unfortunately, as with NordVPN, there’s a nasty surprise when the subscription renews: the same amount is then billed annually, making it twice as expensive: £4.50 / $4.60 per month.
We’d suggest cancelling the subscription before it renews and shopping around for other VPN deals.
If you want the extra features in Surfshark One, they cost £1.34 / $1.49 per month
There’s no free trial but a 30-day money back guarantee offers a way to try Surfshark and get a refund if you’re not satisfied with the service. Payment options include credit card, PayPal and Google Pay as well as cryptocurrency options for those who want to pay anonymously.
For alternatives, see our recommendations of the best VPNs.
We’ve always said that Surfshark offers great value, and that’s still true in 2022 as the service is markedly better than it was when it launched in 2018.
With new features such as Nexus and the IP Rotator that goes along with it, great speeds, capable unblocking, plus the fact there’s no limit to the number of devices you can use with the VPN service, there’s little to complain about.
But Surfshark isn’t perfect. The no-logs policy needs to be audited, some features aren’t available in some apps and it needs to make it a lot clearer that the browser extensions don’t offer VPN protection. There are also the connection issues we experienced in the Windows app, which were unfortunate.
However, for the vast majority of people who just want a VPN for unblocking and some extra privacy online, Surfshark is an excellent choice.
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