Once upon a time, virtual private networks were used purely by security engineers, MI5 agents and early internet message board nerds. But with the rise of geo-restricted streaming service libraries, your average Jane and Joe are leaping onto the VPN bandwagon so they can access region-locked content.
So as the humble VPN’s audience changes shape, so are the VPN services themselves. More user-friendly VPNs have begun surfacing their heads above the waves – so to speak – and the popular Surfshark VPN has emerged as one of them.
Launching in 2018, Surfshark VPN now has over 3,200 servers in more than 65 countries and has since released other products like Surfshark Alert and Surfshark Search – a personal data detection tool and a pared back search tool, minus the ads, tracking and logging seen on Google.
Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, a territory which has no data retention laws, meaning it isn’t required to store any of your data – something it backs up in its no-logs claim. It’s one of the very few VPN providers that give subscribers an unlimited number of simultaneous device connections, and it’s pretty secure to boot.
To review Surfshark, we tested it on a variety of devices, measuring speed of the servers and checking compatibility with streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Hulu. We looked into the VPN’s security credentials and compared the cost of a subscription to similarly featured VPNs.
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- Number of servers: 3,200
- Server locations: 65 countries
- Devices supported: Unlimited
- Operating systems supported: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Fire TV, Android TV, Chrome, and Firefox
- Pros: Cheap, good for streaming, RAM-only servers
- Cons: Not the fastest of servers, some features are exclusive only to Windows and Android
Surfshark has three price tiers to choose from. The prices change pretty much every day, but hover around the same ballpark. At the time of writing, a 24-month subscription costs £43.21, which works out to £1.80 a month. A six-month subscription costs £28.15, which works out to £4.69 a month and if you just want to pay for a regular one-month subscription, it will cost you £9.36 a month.
The month-by-month plan is pretty pricey, costing more than both NordVPN and ExpressVPN. But the six-month plan and 24-month plan are both competitively priced – being the cheapest provider when it comes to VPN subscriptions at these price tiers. You can pay via credit card, Apple Pay, PayPal, Google Pay, Amazon Pay or even crypto – for those extra vigilant about their financial privacy.
Surfshark offers a free seven-day free trial on the iOS and Android app, but it doesn’t offer a free trial in the traditional sense when it comes to desktop applications. What it does is give you a risk-free 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied. Essentially, when your 30 days are nearly up, you have to email Surfshark’s support team or log on to the live chat and request a refund and a cancellation, and you’ll get your money back, no questions asked. It’s a little bit of a hassle – especially if you just want to try the VPN out.
You can also optionally add in a subscription to Surfshark Search and Surfshark Alert. Search is like a Google search engine, without the ads or logs and just the organic results. The provider calls it “the real incognito mode”. Surfshark Alert sends you a notification if your email is found in a data leak, giving you the heads up to change your password for that specific account. It costs an extra £0.72 a month.
We don’t know if we’ve been indoctrinated too far into Google’s ecosystem, but we missed the news carousels and the frequently asked questions inside Google search. That said, Surfshark Search isn’t really supposed to give you all those bells and whistles of a traditional search engine – it’s for private searching, with unbiased organic results.
The biggest perk of Surfshark is that it’s not only cheap, but it’s available on a smorgasbord of operating systems, including Android TV and Fire TV. Better yet, it supports an unlimited number of devices, so you’ll be able to connect to Surfshark on as many platforms as you like. It’s a big bonus when you compare it to NordVPN’s six devices or ExpressVPN’s five.
Surfshark contains all the standard privacy features you’d expect from a half-decent VPN, as well as a few neat extras. It uses AES 256-bit encryption, dubbed military-grade, and masks your DNS and IP address, so you know your data won’t be leaked when you’re connected to the VPN. We ran a series of privacy tests while connected to differing Surfshark servers to sense-check the company’s claims using IPleak.net and DNSLeakTest. We found that Surfshark was indeed obscuring our identity.
It uses the IKEv2 protocol as the recommended default, but you can switch over to OpenVPN or WireGuard if you so prefer. If you connect using the OpenVPN protocol, obfuscation will automatically kick into effect (something Surfshark calls camouflage mode). It hides all traces that you’re connected to a VPN.
Of course, there’s an in-built kill switch, but it isn’t turned on by default, so you’ll have to manually toggle it on in the settings. A kill switch blocks your device from accessing the internet if your connection drops, acting as the final line of defence so that your data is never exposed. Sadly, it can’t be customised, so you can’t toggle it on to only work with certain apps.
One really interesting security measure is that Surfshark utilises purely RAM-based servers, which essentially means that no data can be physically taken as with hard drive servers, and all data can be wiped remotely if necessary. It’s something that not a lot of VPN providers have switched over to just yet.
Surfshark also has a similar feature to NordVPN’s Double VPN feature, which routes your traffic through two different servers for extra security. It calls this feature “multi-hop”, and you can select from a range of different servers to route your traffic through two different servers. It’s available on both the mobile and desktop applications and comes in the same list-based interface as the single servers.
There’s also a handy split-tunnelling feature – Surfshark calls this feature Whitelister, which is actually a more accurate name for split-tunnelling if you ask us. But you can only access this on Windows and Android. What this does is exclude an application or a website from using the VPN, so your speeds won’t be throttled if you’re playing a game, for example. Annoyingly, it’s not available on Mac or iOS devices.
Weirdly, while Surfshark has a feature called CleanWeb – said to “block annoying ads and trackers” to save network data, we were still getting ads all over the internet. It does say it stops adware and malware, but we didn’t test the voracity of this. We’d still recommend a dedicated adblocker and anti-virus software.
In May, Surfshark underwent a third-party audit which was conducted by Germany-based Cure53. This wasn’t an audit testing whether it keeps logs of customers’ data, but Surfshark does have a strict no-logging policy. It states in its terms and conditions that it doesn’t “collect IP addresses, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection time stamps, network traffic and other similar data”.
The audit did give us some insight into the security of the company’s server infrastructure though, and it found that its servers were robust, and no serious issues were detected. But while it hasn’t done a logging audit, the fact that Surfshark uses RAM-only servers should put your mind at ease. RAM-only servers can be wiped as frequently as the provider likes, meaning any traces of your data won’t fall into the hands of any bad actors.
Performance and user experience
Admittedly, Surfshark isn’t the fastest VPN in the world. While speed tests showed that quick-connecting to the fastest server (United Kingdom – London), our speeds only dropped by 10 per cent, making it comparable to the likes of NordVPN. Browsing the web using Surfshark felt extremely slow and sluggish as pages took a long time to load. These are rough numbers, but anecdotally, we didn’t find it the snappiest VPN in our tests.
Some of the servers also took quite a while to connect – the Manassas US server took around 15 seconds before our connection had been established. That said, it’s one of the nicest VPNs in terms of simplicity. There’s a neat alphabetical server list on the left and a button for quickly connecting static IP addresses and multi-hop servers.
We also tried out the browser plugins for both Chrome and Firefox, and they work exactly like the desktop apps – although you won’t get access to the kill switch or the Whitelister. The extension appears in the top corner, just like any other plugins you’ve installed. If you can, we’d recommend using the desktop application, however.
Streaming Surfshark on Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Hulu
You can watch region-exclusive shows on Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Hulu using Surfshark, as long as you have a Netflix subscription. It’s not piracy to use a VPN to watch Netflix, but it does breach the platform’s terms of service.
Surfshark performed admirably in our Netflix test, successfully unblocking Manifest on the desktop, iOS and Android, and it didn’t matter which United States server we tried. We didn’t experience any buffering issues either which was a nice bonus. It performed similarly well on Disney+, unblocking the American version of the platform with every server we tried.
Hulu didn’t work when we tried cycling through a few servers like the New York server or the Orlando server, but after browsing through the company’s help pages, we saw that it recommended connecting through the Detroit server if we were having issues, and that seemed to do the trick. On all the platforms we tried, Detroit gave us the most success in unblocking the Hulu app and website.
Theoretically, you should be able to watch Prime Video using Surfshark, but you will need a US Amazon Prime account since accounts are linked to your billing information. Even if you try and access Prime Video from New York, for example, you’ll still run into the brick wall of being directed to the UK site.
iOS and Android
In terms of mobile apps, we found the Android app to be a lot better than the iOS app. Like the Mac app, there’s no split-tunnelling feature on iOS, but the Android app is packed with features.
The Android app benefits from the lovely additions of a GPS spoofer, the option to turn on small data packets and the option to change the default encryption cipher – an algorithm that encrypts your information.
We like the GPS spoofing feature in theory because you don’t see this on many VPNs at all. But using it was a different story, however. Attempting to spoof our location on Pokémon Go (which goes against the terms of service and could get you banned) resulted in a GPS error, so we aren’t sure how effective it really is.
The verdict: Surfshark VPN
For such a low price and the perk of unlimited simultaneous devices, Surfshark is one of the best VPNs around. The user interface is nice and approachable, it unblocks all the major streaming services and has the security chops to back it up thanks to those RAM-only servers. There’s a nice big emphasis on multi-hop in the interface which was nice.
While speeds are a little slower than we’d like, with pages sometimes taking a long time to load, our experience when streaming content wasn’t hindered. We didn’t experience any buffering issues at all when accessing US servers.
Android and Windows users are definitely getting the better deal in terms of Surfshark’s feature set, gaining access to the Whitelister and things like GPS spoofing and small packets, but it works reliably no matter what OS you’re accessing the VPN on. With such an affordable price tag, we’d recommend Surfshark to anyone looking for a simple, no-nonsense VPN that does the job of unblocking region-locked content.
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