Surfshark full review
We've been using Surfshark for several years now and have been constantly impressed by the sheer number of new features the company has added over that time. From two-factor authentication - which protects your account - to RAM-based servers (and a lot more of them) the subscription has steadily become even better value.
Other features introduced over the past year or so include GPS spoofing for Android users, which is yet another measure to prevent apps and websites from detecting your real location, and WireGuard, the latest encryption protocol which brings super-fast speeds.
Surfshark is one of the VPN services which has joined together to form the VPN Trust Initiative in a bid to bring more transparency to VPN services and also to put in place standards for security, privacy and other factors. Put simply, it's a positive thing as you need to trust that a VPN service is going to do its job properly and keep your IP address and location hidden.
The service also offers apps for lots of popular devices (including Amazon Fire TV), doesn't impose any restrictions on the number of devices that can connect to the service at the same time and gives you a few additional features that you don't commonly find with competing services such as the Whitelister and CleanWeb. More on those later on.
Features & Apps
In the past six months or so, the server count has rocketed from 1700 to over 3200 across 65 countries including the UK and US.
The features list is impressive:
- Unlimited connections
- P2P support
- WireGuard support
- RAM-based servers
- Two-factor authentication
- GPS spoofing (on Android)
- Kill switch (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS)
- Unblocks Netflix, iPlayer & other streaming services
It's hard to think of another VPN service that can tick all those boxes and only charge what Surfshark does. With unlimited connections, you can log in and use the service on as many devices as you like. Plus, on top of those are Cleanweb and Whitelister.
CleanWeb blocks ads and trackers as you browse websites, while Whitelister (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. Currently, it's only available on the Windows and Android apps though.
Apps are available for Windows, macOS, Android and iPhone/iPad as well as Amazon FireTV and Linux, plus browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. They have a clean-looking interface and are as easy to use as you'd hope. There are two quick-connect options: closest and fastest servers. Many VPN apps only offer the former under the guise of "Best" but Surfshark lets you pick which you'd prefer.
If you want to enable 2FA to protect your 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.
You can pick the server you want to connect to in the Locations tab, and you can expand the list for countries which have more than one server, such as the UK and US. There's a useful circle next to each one which shows how full or empty a server is.
As well as servers in physical locations, Surfshark (like many VPNs) has virtual locations so you can make the internet believe you are in Argentina, for example, even though Surfshark does not have a server in that country. And this fact isn't hidden: Virtual servers are marked with a V in the list.
There's also a MultiHop list which routes your connection through two servers for extra protection and better masking of your true location.
Surfshark uses IKEv2 by default, but you can select WireGuard now which should give you much better speeds, especially when connecting to servers that are physically near you - within about 1000km, say.
The kill switch will disable internet access if the VPN connection suddenly drops. If there's a criticism here, it's that in the Windows app it’s a system-wide kill switch that you can’t customise so that only certain apps' connections are terminated as you can with some rivals.
In the Android app you have a choice of the native Android kill switch or the Surfshark one, and in iOS, the kill switch is enabled by default.
NoBorders is a toggle switch you can use in "restrictive regions" to unblock the internet where it's usually locked down.
In order to be outside of the jurisdiction of the 14-eyes, Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands. It's very unlikely the UK Government would exert its power to request that data be handed over there, but even if it did, there should be none anyway.
That's because Surfshark has a no-logs policy. It collects your email address and billing information when you set up an account but, beyond that, it doesn’t know whether you use the applications once you’ve purchased the plan, or what you choose to do when you’re using the service.
Surfshark does collect anonymous information including "aggregated performance data, the frequency of use of its services, crash reports on apps and unsuccessful connection attempts", but the company says none of these can be traced back to accounts or individuals.
When we quizzed Surfshark further about the policy, we were told that the user's location is extracted from their IP address to use features such as Quick Connect but this isn't logged anywhere.
Although an audit was carried out, it was limited to the web browser extensions so as of this review. Surfshark told Tech Advisor that it was planning to 'run a new independent audit of its product' in the first half of 2021, so we're hoping this will be a much more thorough exercise which will confirm the no-logs policy as well as the general security on offer in all its apps and servers.
Alert and Search
Surfshark offers two extra features which aren't part of the VPN service: they cost extra on top of your subscription.
The first is Alert (formerly HackLock). You can enter email addresses, credit / debit card numbers and social security numbers and Surfshark will monitor them and alert you if any are ever leaked in a data breach.
Second, there's Search (formerly 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.
When it comes to testing a VPN's performance there are many factors and variables involved. Plus, because this review was written during lockdown when we had no access to our offices, we were limited to using a 35Mbps home broadband connection.
This meant any speeds we saw would likely be limited by the broadband and not Surfshark. And given we know that - on average - Surfshark's WireGuard speeds are upwards of 600Mbps for both upload and download, attempting to run any tests from home was almost pointless.
We did run a couple of tests with various servers in or close to the UK just to see if there was any slowdown and sure enough, there wasn't. Even connecting to Sydney the other side of the globe, we still saw over 30Mbps down and 6Mbps up - both only slightly lower. Highly impressive.
There were 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. Fortunately, it says it will add IPv6 support this year.
When connected to a UK server, BBC iPlayer worked without a hitch, something that can't be said for many VPN services at the moment. It's also able to unblock 15 Netflix regions and lots of other services such as Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max and Hulu. 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.
Surfshark’s prices are very competitive, with a two-year subscription working out at £1.82/$2.49 per month at the time of writing. There are also six-month and one-month plans, but they're much more expensive per month so unless you really can't afford to pay for a two-year subscription (£43.77/$59.76) up front, then there's no reason to even consider them.
And as we said, most rivals don't allow unlimited connections and restrict you to just a few devices connecting simultaneously.
There’s no free trial but there is also a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with the service.
Payment options include your standard credit card, PayPal and Google Pay options as well as cryptocurrency options for those who want to pay anonymously.
For alternative VPN services, see our round-up of the best VPNs.
Surfshark ticks a lot of boxes and it's tricky to find things to criticise it for. Two of the cons we've listed at the top of this review should be addressed within a few months and you may not care about the third: split tunnelling being unavailable on macOS, iOS, Fire TV and Linux.
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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