VPN Review: Surfshark
Surfshark is relatively new to the hotly-contested VPN market, promising things that many other services have long offered, such as secure surfing, online anonymity, and the ability to bypass geo-blocks for streaming or surfing. Our test shows whether Surfshark devours, or is swallowed up by its competition.
What Is Surfshark?
Surfshark is a VPN provider headquartered in the British Virgin Islands that has been on the market since 2017. It offers apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS, as well as FireTV, Apple TV, and AndroidTV. The service also provides browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
With just a few steps, Surfshark allows for VPN connections to easily be created with additional devices like gaming consoles and smart TVs. We tested Surfshark on Windows and Android.
Pros and Cons
Offers lots of features, including split tunneling
2-year plan is a bargain
The server network is a bit small
No external audits since 2018
Installation and Features
An overview of the operating systems supported by Surfshark is visible on the company's website, with any of the applications quickly downloaded and installed. Since no free version exists, it's necessary to create an account and choose from one of the subscription options before accessing the program's dashboard. In the "Pricing" section of this review below, we'll go into greater detail about what subscription options are available for Surfshark.
You can view manual guides for setting up Surfshark on your system or download any of its apps in the customer area.
The program's interface is clear and easy to use. A blue button on the main screen connects you automatically to the fastest server in the nearest country. Directly under the button is a list that displays the most recently used connections.
The "not connected" tab hides your IP address, while the kill switch deactivates your internet connection in case the VPN connection is lost. This ensures that your IP address will not be made public and that your connection will not create any problems.
Apart from manually selecting a specific server, you can also connect automatically to the fastest server or the one that is geographically closest to your location.
When using the app's horizontal mode, a server list can be found to the left, next to the connection window. Otherwise, you can view the server list by clicking on "Locations." Under the search bar, you can select from your favorites, servers with static IPs, and multi-hop servers.
Setting favorites is as easy as clicking on the star symbol next to a server. Servers with static IPs have the same IP address even when you sever the connection and reconnect later on. However, these shouldn't be confused with dedicated IPs as they are shared with other users. Multi-hop servers create a VPN connection between two countries, adding an additional layer of security and anonymity.
By clicking on the speedometer symbol in the upper-right of the server list, you can see the real-time ping of a server next to its location.
Virtual servers are noted with a 'V' in the upper-right corner of the accompanying national flag.
Among the other functions offered in the program's menu is the CleanWeb ad-blocker, which blocks advertisements, malware, and trackers. Surfshark supports split tunneling through Whitelister, which allows for selected websites or apps to be exempted from using the VPN tunnel you create.
The program also offers an email leak check via its web dashboard. The BlindSearch feature enables an incognito search mode which returns organic results free from advertisements or logs. Both of these features are offered in an extra package that you'll need to pay for separately.
Surfshark's Whitelister allows you to select which apps and websites use your VPN tunnel and which don't.
In Settings, you can configure autostart and automatic connections under "Connectivity." To change the VPN protocol, click on Advanced Settings. We'll go into greater detail about these below in the "Security and Privacy" section of this review.
Here, you'll also find the NoBorders feature, which comes in handy for establishing connections in countries that restrict Internet usage, such as China. More on this in the "Performance" section.
Surfshark's browser extension is basically a slimmed-down version of the desktop client that can be accessed directly in your browser.
The Surfshark browser extension is available for Chrome and Firefox.
Surfshark's mobile app is very similar to its desktop client. With the exception of the mini version, its menus are the same, except they are on the bottom, rather than the top of the interface. All extra features, including split tunneling, the kill switch, multi-hop routing, and the ad-blocker are accessible in the mobile app.
Anyone who has used Surfshark's desktop client will quickly find their way around the service's mobile apps.
Generally speaking, there's little fault to be found with any of Surfshark's applications: They're visually appealing, easy to use, and possess all important features, including split tunneling and multi-hop routing. In the case of the last two features, these, unfortunately, have not become standard among all VPNs.
Score: 4.7 / 5
Surfshark's 3,200 servers are spread across 65 countries. Most of these are located in Europe, however, the service also has some presence elsewhere in the world, which is impressive considering its age. As so often, Africa and the Middle East are the least represented, with only four servers (Nigeria, South Africa, Israel, and the UAE) catering to these huge areas.
Europe is particularly well-represented among Surfshark's servers.
Surfshark (still) can't go toe-to-toe with the VPN heavyweights, however, for such a young service, it does have a respectable geographic presence.
Score: 4 / 5
The speed of all VPNs which we tested was evaluated using a server in Europe with a 1 GB/s connection. We tested random Surfshark servers in the US and Germany at different times of the day to more accurately evaluate their speeds and performance. More information concerning our methodology can be found in our VPN speed test.
The table below shows the average results from the last 365 days, arranged in order of download and upload speed (descending):
With a download speed of 191.7 MB/s and an upload speed of 42.8 MB/s, Surfshark secured second place, just barely losing out to our overall winner, NordVPN. Compared to its performance in our 2019 review (10th place), this represents a considerable improvement.
The chart below shows Surfshark's average speeds over the past months.
To put Surfshark's performance to the test, we used the VPN for an entire day for all of our regular Internet-based activity. We're happy to report that the speed test wasn't an outlier, but reflects what you can expect when using the service on a day-to-day basis. We didn't encounter any disruptions or other problems, such as captchas when performing Google searches, as is common with some other VPN providers.
In terms of streaming, Surfshark also did very well, allowing us to view foreign content on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and the BBC's iPlayer without issue.
For anyone planning a trip to China, you'll be in good hands with Surfshark, so long as you download the client before take-off and activate the NoBorders feature. We recommend selecting the Shadowsocks protocol (unfortunately, only available for Windows and Android) since automatic protocol selection won't work with many servers.
Taken together, Surfshark did excellently in our performance assessment.
Score: 5 / 5
Security and Privacy
When using Surfshark, data traffic is encrypted with AES 256, considered to be the most secure encryption standard on the market. On Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS, Surfshark supports OpenVPN's TCP and UDP protocols, IKEv2, as well as the new gold standard when it comes to security and performance, WireGuard. Windows and Android users can also take advantage of the aforementioned Shadowsock protocol, which allows for China's "Great Firewall" to be bypassed.
No leaks were identified during testing meaning that our privacy remained secure throughout.
Like ExpressVPN, Surfshark is headquartered on the British Virgin Islands, a country that does not have strict laws on data storage or allow data to be shared with (foreign) security services. The British Virgin Islands is also not a member of the Five or Fourteen Eyes intelligence-sharing agreements. In terms of privacy, the location of the company's headquarters should be seen positively.
They concluded that the program's extensions "make a very robust impression and are not exposed to any issues, neither in the privacy nor in the more general security realms." However, this audit was not all that comprehensive and limited to the service's browser extensions. As such, Surfshark can't really go toe-to-toe with its competitors who regularly allow all of their applications to be audited by third parties.
When it comes to security, everything looks good on paper. We think that Surfshark can do better and that the time is right to submit to an extensive external audit for all of its applications.
Score: 4 / 5
Surfshark's help center contains general FAQs and a knowledge base with tutorials, as well as payment information. Although we were told that more languages were available for the help center, we could not find any apart from English.
Surfshark's help center is nicely divided into different thematic areas.
Surfshark can be directly contacted via a 24/7 live chat or support ticket. When doing the latter, it took roughly a minute for us to establish contact with helpful support personnel; our email was answered after roughly seven hours.
Queries in languages other than English were answered by the live-chat support personnel using automatic translations.
Surfshark's short response time secured it points, however, multi-lingual personnel would be a welcome addition.
Score: 4.3 / 5
As in many other cases, the longer the subscription with Surfshark, the lower the monthly price. At 81% less than the monthly price, the 2-year subscription is a true bargain among even the least expensive VPN providers from our sample. An overview of current prices can be found in the table below:
|24 months||6 months||1 month|
|Base price per month||$2.49||$6.49||$12.95|
|Contract period (months)||24||6||1|
|Number of Devices||unlimited||unlimited||unlimited|
|Number of servers||3,200||3,200||3,200|
|Number of countries||65||65||65|
|No server logs|
Surfshark can be paid for with credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, cryptocurrencies, Alipay, or instant transfer. Special organizational or corporate rates are not offered.
The provider also doesn't allow users to trial the service, however, a 30-day, money-back guarantee is included in all plans.
Surfshark might be new to the VPN ocean, but gives a solid accounting of itself, even when set alongside the bigger or older "fish". For one thing, it's faster than nearly all of them. On top of this, it offers intuitive applications, lots of features, and fast support. Taken together, the provider is a solid choice for anyone, but a particularly good catch if you're looking for a VPN for the long haul: Its 2-year subscription plan is one of the most affordable on the market.
In some areas, Surfshark can't get the better of its competitors though. While in 2019 we were impressed with its independent audit, two years later, it has lost a bit of its shine. This is because such audits didn't become a regular part of the service, but appear instead to have just been a one-off gimmick. Were Surfshark to submit to these more frequently, and allow its commitments to security and privacy to be put to the test, there wouldn't be much to fault the provider for.
Most reviews on Trustpilot are positive, with a significant number of users rating it "excellent" or "good". The service's solid price-performance ratio is the reason for much of this. Alternatively, most criticism of the service is related to the speed of its connections.
A list of the best alternatives to Surfshark can be found below.
- Private Internet Access
- Hotspot Shield
- IPVanish VPN
- Mullvad VPN
- VPN Unlimited
- Avast SecureLine
- Perfect Privacy
- Avira Phantom
- Free VPN
- Best VPN
- ... for Chrome
- ... for Firefox
- ... for Germany
- ... for USA
- ... for Italy
- ... for China
- ... for France
- ... for Prime Video
- ... for Netflix
- ... for Disney+
- ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN