Size isn’t everything, though, and there’s no doubt that Surfshark has a substantial set of features. You get 500+ servers in 50 countries, plus Windows, Mac, iOS and Android apps, as well as 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.
- Want to try Surfshark? Check out the website here
If you’re impressed by that, wait until you see the prices. The monthly plan is relatively expensive at £9.49 ($12.34), but paying a year upfront sees that fall to a mid-range £4.79 ($6.23), and as we write, the two-year plan costs a bargain basement £1.59 ($2.07) per month. That’s a special deal, but Surfshark seems to run these regularly – Black Friday, Christmas – and something like it will probably turn up again.
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.
Getting started with Surfshark seemed 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 client’s interface, no third-party browser required.
This all seemed very smooth and straightforward until we choose the PayPal payment option, logged in, and saw a ‘Cannot reach this page’ message. Although Surfshark had embedded a browser in its own interface, it looked like this still needed some work.
We switched back to Chrome, visited the Surfshark site and signed up there, this time successfully. The website redirected us to a simple account page with almost no features at all. In particular, there are no options to cancel a plan, change payment methods or anything else. You must email support and ask them to do whatever you need, which is never our preferred option.
What you do get on the web page is a Download section with links to Surfshark’s various apps. We grabbed a copy of the Windows client and installed it without any issues.
We’ve seen some minimalist interfaces before, but Surfshark’s Windows effort is something else. It’s mostly white space, with the Surfshark logo, ‘Quick connect’ and ‘All locations’ bars, a tiny Settings icon, and nothing else at all.
Newbies could get by with little more than tapping the Quick Connect bar, and watching as Surfshark connects to the nearest server. Desktop notifications tell you when it connects and disconnects, and the interface updates to display your new virtual location and IP address.
This is simple enough, although we noticed the client could take up to 20 seconds to register its new IP when connecting via IKEv2, or up to 12 seconds with OpenVPN (we would normally expect to wait around six to eight seconds).
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.
A separate MultiHop tab passes your traffic through two VPN servers for maximum security. There are eight routes available, where the first server is your initial connection, and the second is where you’ll appear to be to the outside world: UK – France, UK – Germany, US – Netherlands, US – Portugal, France – Sweden, Germany – UK, Netherlands – US, Canada – US.
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.
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 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 list of locations.
The settings included most of Surfshark’s extras, including the ability to customize auto-connection rules by network, URL filtering, and the split tunneling-like WhiteLister. There were some notable omissions, though, with no kill switch or ability to change protocol.
The app did appear to have a significant bug. When we turned on auto-connect and tapped ‘No networks excluded (allow selected networks to bypass VPN)’ to check out that feature, the app crashed each and every time. Why? We asked technical support about this – and we’ll cover their surprising response later in the review.
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.
Connections proved reliable, with almost no connect failures, and even those succeeded on the first retry. Latency was within the expected range, and all servers appeared to be where Surfshark claimed.
Download speeds for the closest and most popular locations were good. UK performance was excellent at around 60Mbps on our 75Mbps test connection, near European locations were barely any different at 50-60Mbps, and US connections gave us 45-55Mbps.
Even heading to the other side of the world didn’t significantly spoil the party, with Australia and New Zealand managing a less consistent but still very acceptable 20-40Mbps.
There were some issues with a few of the servers. India was very disappointing at 1-5Mbps, and Slovakia was barely any better. Perhaps we were just unlucky, but we would still recommend you test all your preferred locations carefully to see how they perform for you.
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 Netflix from six of its eight locations, not quite a perfect record, but way better than many larger competitors.
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.
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.
If you find this as feeble as we did, you’re able to contact support via a web form. We decided to send this message about the Android problem we noticed earlier:
‘When I go to Settings, turn on Auto-Connect, then tap ‘No networks excluded’, the app closes and I’m asked whether I want to relaunch it. Is this a known bug, or…?’
A line saying we would be contacted ‘as soon as possible’ didn’t fill us with confidence for a speedy response, but the good news is that a reply arrived only 13 minutes later.
The not-so-good news? This is what it said: ‘Could you try not pressing No networks excluded and see if the bug happens again?’ We would hazard a guess that if you find a VPN app crashes every time you do something, a reply along the lines of ‘well, don’t do that, then’ might be a little disappointing. But we’ll leave you to judge that for yourself.
Surfshark is a speedy and powerful VPN with an array of advanced features. There are some big issues, too, and the service isn’t nearly as polished or professional as the best of the competition, but at these prices, Surfshark just might be worth a try.
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