Surfshark Review – Affordable and One of the Best
Surfshark VPN Review
Can This Affordable VPN Be One Of The Best?
Pricing and Features
Surfshark recently increased its monthly price to $12.95 each month if you select the monthly option. When compared to other monthly fees, that places Surfshark at the higher end of the pricing spectrum. For example, the industry-standard monthly price comes in at around $10.20 each month. Out of all the VPNs we have reviewed, Surfshark’s almost $13 price tags is one of the most expensive out there, especially compared to a service like Mullvad, which only charges $5.54 monthly.
However, that is not the only pricing option that Surfshark offers. When considering their yearly and 2-year plans, Surfshark strikes a considerable bargain. If you opt for the 2-year program, you will be paying just $59.76, which is much less than the average price of $71.87 each year. You can also opt for the lesser payment period of 6 months; however, you will be paying $38.94 for only half a year. These plans will save you a lot of money compared to the other more expensive options out there.
We always recommend that you try the monthly option before you buy to test out the product to see if it is right for you. However, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you think it is likely that you will keep the more extended commitment option, you could sign up with the knowledge that you would be given a refund if you were unhappy with the service.
While the monthly price might seem a little steep compared to other services, this company does offer an excellent value for what they deliver. First and foremost, they allow you to use an unlimited number of devices on your account. Other services generally cap the connections at ten or less. For example, CyberGhost, one of the most popular VPNs, allows their customers to connect to seven different devices, whereas ExpressVPN allows a generous ten. You don’t have to worry about how many devices are connected when you use Surfshark.
Surfshark also includes specialty P2P and BitTorrent servers as part of their standard service. Additionally, if you are looking for ad-blocking, their CleanWeb tool works well to protect you from pesky ads.
Surfshark’s greatest strengths are the features that the average user does not often see. One of these features is known as Whitelister. Whitelister is a split-tunneling tool that allows users to route website or app traffic outside of the VPN protected tunnel. You also have the ability to “whitelist” websites, which means they will not be subject to VPN protection when you visit them. This is great for online banking or streaming sites you don’t want to change your region. The Whitelister solution is clean, functional, and goes above and beyond the competition in this regard.
Another great feature that Surfshark offers is called Multihop. Multihop creates a VPN connection with one server, then bounces your traffic to yet another server so you will be better protected. Not many other VPN services offer such a feature. Even though you might not use the multiphop or Whitelister features every day, it stands to reason why their standalone monthly fee is so high. If you would like to see more details about these features, see below.
Surfshark only lacks in one area. That is, they offer no direct access to the Tor network via the VPN connection. This feature is available on other top-tier VPN services such as ProtonVPN or NordVPN. Other companies also allow you to pick and choose which additional part you would like to include, so you aren’t paying for features that you won’t use. NordVPN offers users a static I.P. address, which is excellent if you ever get blocked while using your VPN connection. Surfshark offers a static I.P. option; however, you will have to share it with other users connected to the same server.
When it comes to the actual nuts and bolts, there are several ways to establish a VPN connection. One of the most widely preferred ways is through what is called OpenVPN. The OpenVPN protocol has established quite a following due to its reliability and speed. Most importantly, it is entirely open-source, so it is continually being examined and adjusted for vulnerabilities.
The Surfshark VPN offers the OpenVPN protocol on all of its apps, including iOS, Android, Linux, and Windows. For the Mac version of the app, the well trusted IKEv2 protocol is used and available as an option on the other platforms.
While OpenVPN is currently the most trusted and widely sought after protocol for VPN tech, the future seems to be going a different route with what is known as WireGuard. WireGuard is also an open-source protocol, but it is much faster and easier to deploy. It also utilizes the latest in encryption, which is always a plus.
Surfshark had already deployed the WireGuard protocol on all Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android systems in October 2020. Most VPN experts expect that WireGuard will be the new standard in encryption, and many top companies in the industry are deploying it as their primary protocol. It seems that Surfshark is staying current with the latest trends, and this is excellent news if you are a current or prospective user.
Servers and Server Locations
When it comes to best VPN services, location is crucial. Having access to many places across the globe means that there is a better chance that you can find a server close to your present position to connect to. A shorter distance between you and the server means a better connection with less latency. If you often travel, finding a service with global coverage is a must.
Surfshark does a great job of spreading its servers out across the globe, and it has servers located in 64 countries, which is slightly above the industry average. Very few other companies can boast more. The leader, ExpressVPN, has servers in an impressive 94 countries, and CyberGhost boasts 90. The rest are about on par with what Surfshark offers.
However, Surfshark is very smart about where they place their server, and they serve locations such as South America and Africa, which other companies largely ignore. They also cover countries with stringent internet usage policies, such as Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, and even China. If they were wise, competitors would be smart to follow the Surfshark model.
When taking into account total servers, Surfshark offers a decent number, totaling 1,724. However, while this seems like a sizable amount, this number only puts them mid-range when considering the leading VPN companies. Both NordVPN and CyberGhost have over 5,300 servers, and Hotspot Shield, Express VPN, and TorGuard even have over 3,000.
It is important to remember that a sizeable server load is not everything. It also depends on how many subscribers the company has and how the servers are spread out globally. All in all, Surfshark is adequate with its server load, and users should have no issues connecting in locations all over the world.
In addition to their physical server locations, Surfshark also offers what is known as virtual servers. These are software-defined servers, which means a single physical server could represent several virtual locations. This technology allows companies to add servers to increase capacity and configure these servers to appear to be in a different country. Many companies use virtual servers to represent country locations in which they cannot guarantee the safety of the data passing through.
Most users have no problem using virtual servers; however, a company must utilize them to be completely transparent with how they operate. They should provide the actual location of the server as well as the virtual location that they represent. Luckily for Surfshark users, the company very clearly labels all of its virtual places (Slovenia, Costa Rica, Chile, and Albania), represented by a server in the Netherlands.
Your Privacy With Surfshark
When you are shopping for a new VPN, you must trust who you are handing your money to. When your VPN is up and running, that company will have a lot of insight into what you are doing online. It would be relatively easy for an unscrupulous VPN provider to spy on your traffic or even sell your information to a third party. In the very worst case, they could even turn over your information to the authorities if they were to request it.
For the most part, Surfshark seems to be very clear and honest with where they stand on privacy. With that being said, the full VPN service is one that is built on trust. If you ever feel that any VPN company is not trustworthy, you should look elsewhere.
Surfshark makes it very clear in their policies that they will never log users’ I.P. addresses, network traffic, connection timestamp, or browsing history. These are the types of policies that you should look for in a VPN company. The company can provide a high level of anonymity since they do not limit how many devices you can connect. That means there is no reason for them to employ any user tracking policies.
However, just like most VPN companies, they do collect some amount of information. This information includes your billing history, account setting and info, and some aggregate data about server time. They are also apparent with the fact that they do receive some advertising I.D.s from third parties such as Google Play. These I.D.s can be manually reset and are used to replace permanent identifiers such as the IMEI number on your phone.
When we contacted a representative from Surfshark, they assured us that these I.D.s are what are being used to see whether or not the company’s advertising efforts are driving the app installations. The app itself does not contain any ads. If the user policies are going to include this information, they should do a better job of explaining it to their users so they could understand what these I.D.s are for and how they are used.
The same representative told us that the company itself is highly decentralized and located in various places worldwide. In fact, they hold offices in the U.S., Ukraine, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Lithuania, India, Finland, China, the UK, Germany, and Cyprus. Surfshark seems to be very transparent with its company structure and how it operates, which is outstanding quality for a VPN company.
One thing to note about the Surfshark company is that they do not own all of the datacenters that they use. Instead, they use “trusted third party” data centers to handle some of their data. In July of 2020, the company changed all of its servers over to RAM-only servers. This is an excellent move for a VPN company since it makes the servers diskless and unable to store your private information permanently. If the server were to be physically removed or disconnected, all of the data would disappear. Many leading companies in the industry are making a move to the RAM servers, and it seems to be an excellent choice for privacy.
Surfshark also uses a live warrant canary, which is also an excellent measure of transparency. A warrant canary is a measure that, when it is removed, will signal to its users that the company has been issued some warrant or a national security letter that will prevent Surfshark from disclosing to their users.
Just like the metaphor of a canary in a coal mine, the user will know that if Surfshark removes the page, there is an emergency. Additionally, they offer the protection that if authorities contact them in the event, they will be unable to identify a single user.
In an attempt to promote transparency and customer relations, many companies have been commissioning third-party audits of their systems in order to verify their statements and claims about security and customer privacy. Surfshark also commissioned their own audits of their Chrome and Firefox browser back in 2018, which received a new review from the auditors at Cure53. Of course, an audit of these plugins is helpful; however, it might not go far enough. There are plenty of users who use these plugins, but it by no means comes close to the number of users using their core products. We hope that in the future, they offer a more comprehensive audit of their core services and products so that users can have peace of mind when using their VPN. It is entirely feasible if companies like Tunnelbear can host annual audits from third-party inspectors.
Hands-On With Surfshark
For this review, we tested Surfshark on an Intel core notebook running the latest Windows 10 version. For their Windows client, Surfshark offers a compact and stylish app designed with smart designs and flat colors. The design also expands and collapses in order to show less information if so desired. It is relatively modern and has a stylish feel to the plan.
Once you sign in, it is reasonably intuitive to start selecting which server you prefer specifically, and not just from the country as a whole. While the service is not as simple as some other interfaces, it is clean and clear, especially when using the mobile app. In fact, even the desktop version is similar to a mobile app floating on-screen.
One of the most exciting details when choosing your server is selecting your choice even down to the city level. You can keep your favorite locations stored for future use. It is impossible to switch between servers at an individual site, but perhaps that is something they will be adding in the future. Of course, this is a relatively advanced feature and would not be helpful to the average user.
Speaking of advanced features, Surfshark does not skimp when it comes to extras. They have the split-tunneling and Whitelister features as mentioned above. These features help route traffic around the VPN network and determine a setlist of applications that will operate on a whitelisted application list. Any application that you place on the whitelist will not be slowed down when the VPN is running. It will also bypass the VPN encryption. These options are great for using low-risk applications such as internet banking or content streaming.
Another great feature is the Multihop, which does exactly as it sounds. You can direct your VPN to go through several VPN servers rather than only one. This allows users to further obfuscate their traffic and online activities, even to most Surfshark infrastructure. It operates much in the same way as a mini Tor network. The only downside to using this feature is that you might experience more latency with your connections. Also, you aren’t able to choose both of your locations, but it is still an excellent feature to have included.
One final feature that is worth mentioning is the Camouflage mode. This feature will disguise your VPN network traffic to appear as HTTPS traffic. Many other VPNs have also started to include a similar feature, which is especially handy if you are in a region that does not allow VPN use.
In order to test Surfshark VPN, we put it through a VPN leak test. According to our tests, Surfshark passed and successfully hid both our ISP and IP information. We were able to confirm the server we were using and that Surfshark did not provide any information to our ISP. Surfshark is a highly usable VPN with detail for privacy and security.
Surfshark and Netflix
One of the biggest reasons to use a VPN is to access restricted regional content. Depending on your location, streaming services such as Netflix will offer up different content lists. When you use a VPN, you can spoof your location to trick the service into showing you various content libraries. This is one of the reasons that Netflix attempts to block VPN services so aggressively. The content providers sign rights contracts for only the agreed-upon regions, so they lose money when streamed outside.
Luckily for Surfshark, that should not be an issue. We had no issues unblocking Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or BBC iPlayer in any of the regions that we tested during our streaming tests. It is crucial to keep in mind that this access could be blocked at any moment. If it is blocked, there is the possibility that Surfshark will issue a workaround, but there is no guarantee at what rate. A service that works great today could be gone tomorrow.
These days, VPNs need to go above and beyond to stand out in such a crowded market. That is why many companies are opting to include additional features rather than just the standard VPN protections. For example, Tunnelbear now offers a password manager and a bear-themed browser adblocker. Hotspot Shield is another example of their Pango account connecting you to various security and privacy products for a small fee. Additionally, TorGuard and ProtonVPN have started their own mail services.
So how does Surfshark stand out in such a crowded VPN marketplace? They have built a custom DNS service that protects your DNS connection, an ad-blocker called CleanWed, a fraud alert called HackLock, and a privacy-based search tool called BlindSearch. Some of these services require a small monthly payment, but most of them come with the core services. Surfshark really does add a lot of value to their package by offering these additional features.
Speed and Performance
Anytime you use a VPN, you will be adding physical distance between your device and the internet connection, so you can expect to see slower speeds and performance. In order to understand just how much the Surfshark VPN connection is affected, we ran several speed tests to test the ping, download, and upload speeds. For all of these tests, we were using the same Intel laptop running Windows 10 and using speedtest.net by Ookla.
The first test that we ran was just a standard speed test with no VPN connection in order to establish a baseline for comparison. Here are the results below:
Next, we ran a test connected to the optimal server setting. That is the server closest to our physical location and can be done without changing the server settings. Here are the results:
Interestingly, while our download speed decreased drastically, our upload and ping time both increased. So far, the closest server test is impressive. Let’s try a server located in the U.S. next:
Our ping increased and upload decreased for the last test, but the download speeds are still pretty high. As you can see, Surfshark’s speeds are a little unpredictable but still function well enough from several locations. These speeds are not bad at all and are actually relatively higher than we expected for a middle of the line VPN.
It is important to remember that these results came to use during a particular time and in a specific location. If we were to repeat this test tomorrow, we would get entirely different results. So testing what we know and comparing them to similar services, Surfshark does not lag far behind the bigger-name VPNs at all. Remember, though, many different elements make up a good VPN, and you should never base your decision to purchase on speed alone.
Surfshark and Other Operating Systems
Surfshark offers apps for iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows. They have also created client apps for FireTV, which is rare for most companies. They also offer browser plugins for Firefox and Chrome internet browsers. It should be noted that for browser plugins, your location is only spoofed from within the browser. They do not route any other traffic through the VPN network if you choose to use them.
If you have any other device, you can set up the Surfshark VPN through a DNS resolver on PlayStation and Xbox, Linux, or routers. Finding a VPN service that has a standalone app for this many systems is quite rare. However, even if you are using a device that does not have a downloadable app, you are still able to configure the VPN settings manually in most cases.
For a service in this price range, we are very pleased to see so many offerings as far as clients go. Additionally, we are happy to see that this VPN is accommodating int the support of many lesser-known devices. If you ever have any issues setting up your device, there are detailed instructions available on their website. Additionally, they have a very responsive customer service system and they will respond to your request in a timely manner.
Safe, Fast Surfing
We have covered numerous VPN reviews and hit almost every VPN on the market today. We see dozens of new VPN services each year and do our best to give each of them a fair shake. It is beautiful to see a VPN that puts so much effort and detail into creating a quality product. The interface is simple and straightforward, and the unlimited device policy is quite generous. You can connect a total amount of devices with no cap and even offer extra features such as the multihop and split-tunneling features.
Surfshark isn’t the fastest network we have ever seen compared with other services, but it does hold its own against the bigger and more established networks. It also offers a great range of locations and servers to choose from. They have even made sure that they are using the latest and greatest technology and protocols on the market.
They have excellent customer service and full transparency in their privacy policies. One of the most significant privacy moves was their shift into RAM-only servers, which protects their consumers if authorities confiscate the servers. We have high hopes for Surfshark that their product will continue to evolve, and we will see it join the elite ranks for NordVPN and ExpressVPNs. Until then, Surfshark is a quality choice with a stable interface and decent speeds. It is an excellent bargain for the price, and users can enjoy some great extras as well.