1. Home

Surfshark Review 2019: Affordable Service with Great Features

We spent a lot of time with Surfshark to test out its features, try out its mobile apps, and see how it fares as a daily use VPN. And it did great.

Rating

Rating

Price

$11.95/mo

Pros

  • Simple, clean software that runs on a variety of hardware and platforms. Extremely easy to use on all devices.
  • Excellent bonus features like CleanWeb, Multihop, and Whitelister.
  • Good download/streaming speeds and a wide network of servers.
  • Superb unblocking features and Netflix access.
  • Affordable pricing for all plans.

Cons

  • Encryption and protocol options will not satisfy power VPN users.
  • Mobile apps aren’t as full-featured as we would like.

Finding the best VPN to secure your connection to the Internet is a tall order to fill. With fierce competition in the market, privacy companies are going out of their way to provide the fastest service, the lowest prices, and the best security features possible, all in a bid to capture our attention. Surfshark is one such VPN service, and with our Surfshark VPN review, we’ll investigate the claims to see if it lives up to its promises.

Surfshark features

Surfshark bills itself as a fast, no-logs VPN that can help secure your digital life for completely private access to the open Internet. It boasts over 800 server locations spread across 50 different countries, all accessible with unmonitored and unlimited connections from around the world. Surfshark doesn’t limit your simultaneous connections, either, which means you can protect all of your devices using a single plan.

Some of Surfshark’s best features:

  • Apps for a wide variety of platforms.
  • Affordable subscriptions that will fit almost any budget.
  • Extra features for protecting your privacy and unblocking censored content.
  • Unlimited bandwidth, no throttling, and full use of torrent and P2P downloads.

Installing Surfshark

After creating your account with Surfshark, you’ll be able to download versions of the software for a variety of platforms. Surfshark then provides detailed instructions and walkthrough videos on how to get the VPN installed and connected.

Platforms supported by Surfshark:

  • Windows PCs and laptops
  • Mac OS hardware
  • Android devices
  • iOS (iPad, iPhone)
  • Fire TV and Fire Stick
  • Router installs (DD-WRT, Tomato)
  • Manual configuration using OpenVPN
  • Chrome and Firefox add-ons

Surfshark – Software

Surfshark’s software follows a clean and minimalistic design. It gives you the features you need along with a handful of extras, but it always stays out of the way so you can get back to surfing the web.

Starting up

Surfshark’s installation process as straightforward as can be. You can add it to most devices just like you would add any other piece of software, all thanks to one-click setup files downloaded directly from the VPN’s dashboard page.

Once you have Surfshark installed, launch the app and you’ll be connected to a fast server right away. You can change locations by clicking the button at the bottom of the main screen, allowing you to choose from Surfshark’s full network of worldwide nodes. The server browser itself lets you scroll or search for a country/city, then connect with a single click. It’s arguably the fastest interface on the VPN marketplace.

Software settings

True to its intuitive design, the Surfshark desktop app offers a good selection of customization settings tucked into a tidy little menu. You can start by configuring protection settings like auto-connect, default protection actions on a per-Wi-Fi network basis, and toggle starting the app when you boot your operating system.

The security settings tab has a powerful whitelisting feature that lets you specify individual websites or apps and let them bypass the VPN. This is useful in situations where programs hog a lot of data or simply won’t work with a VPN. By whitelisting them, you can keep your VPN protection switched on to protect the rest of your device. Surfshark also has a kill switch option for disabling Internet access if you lose your connection to the VPN. There’s also CleanWeb blocking features, which we will discuss in more detail below.

Surfshark’s advanced configuration tab has a useful protocol switching feature that lets you choose between OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, or IKEv2 protection. You can also utilize the NoBorders mode, which protects your device from censorship when moving across country lines into areas where Internet freedoms are at risk.

Browser add-ons

In addition to dedicated app downloads, Surfshark also supports browser extensions for both Chrome and Firefox. These bring all the encryption and location variability from the main software to your browser, making it easy to protect information on web pages with just a couple of clicks.

The Surfshark browser add-ons are pretty basic compared to the full software suite. They do include the ability to choose and switch servers and the CleanWeb service to block ads, trackers, and malware, however, making them excellent lightweight additions to any browser add-on collection.

Mobile VPN apps

Surfshark’s mobile apps are essentially scaled-down versions of its desktop software. They have the same look, layout, and feel as the Windows and Mac OS releases, but things are rearranged a little to make them more convenient on small touch screens.

Starting the mobile app gives you the same quick connect button and server browser links as before. The options are even under the same tabs and in the same order. Several of Surfshark’s most powerful features are not available on mobile, however, including the encryption protocol switcher and NoBorders mode. Fortunately, CleanWeb is still available, so you can protect your smartphone or tablet from trackers and malware by toggling the switch.

Testing Surfshark’s speed

VPNs are responsible for a lot of things, the most important of which is protecting your online identity. You can’t use the Internet if it’s as slow as molasses, though, and VPNs are notoriously sluggish when compared to an unencrypted connection. We ran Surfshark through a battery of speed tests to see if its network produced high enough speeds to enjoy online surfing, streaming, and large file downloading.

Speed test methodology

There’s no such thing as the perfect speed test. There are countless variables that come into play, everything from hardware differences to normal ISP lag. We can’t control for everything, but to make sure our results were as accurate as possible, we ran three different speed tests at different times throughout the day. Each time we tested we ran the unencrypted ISP first, followed by Surfshark with its default connection and encryption settings. Your results will still vary from ours, but overall the numbers below can be used as a rough guide for the VPN’s generalized speed.

The speed tests we used include the following:

  • VPN Speed Test #1 – We downloaded a series of files ranging from one to 16 MB in size. These were served by a content delivery network that automatically detects and adjusts location for optimal results.
  • VPN Speed Test #2 – A ten minute test where we downloaded a single 100 MB file from the same server once every 60 seconds, then charted the speeds.
  • VPN Speed Test #3 – A quick speed test that connects to a single server to record the best upload and download speeds.

Surfshark speed test – Results

Surfshark performed well on our speed tests, often coming in just below our standard ISP connection. There were no abrupt drops in speed or moments where we lost data. We were able to watch videos and download files almost as normal and with no discernible difference between mobile and desktop connections.

The tests below were performed using Surfshark’s default settings and the quick connect feature. You may be able to get faster speeds by reducing the encryption or switching to a different server.

Multi-file download (Test #1):

  • Highest recorded ISP speed: 13.82 mb/s
  • Highest recorded Surfshark speed: 10.86 mb/s

100 MB repeated download (Test #2):

  • Local ISP – 7.14 mb/s (low) – 5.64 mb/s (high) – 8.44 mb/s average
  • Surfshark- 6.65 mb/s (low) – 4.69 mb/s (high) – 5.12 mb/s average

Single burst test (Test #3):

  • Best ISP speed (single server): 30.49 mb/s download, 3.98 mb/s upload
  • Best Surfshark speed (single server): 17.18 mb/s download, 3.50 mb/s upload

What’s the verdict? Surfshark does a great job delivering fast connections. It performs as well as or even better than other mainstream VPNs, including on multi-file download tests. Overall, Surfshark is a great choice for anyone who needs high and reliable server speeds.

Torrent downloads

VPNs and torrent downloads go together like peanut butter and jelly. Torrents potentially expose your location and identity to malicious third parties, yet they’re incredibly useful for grabbing large files from multiple sources simultaneously. VPNs swoop in and keep your identity safe, allowing you to torrent safely and anonymously.

Some VPNs do not support torrent downloads. Many limit their speeds or only allow them while connected to certain servers. Surfshark doesn’t feature any of these limitations. You can download torrent files from any site you like, all while enjoying speed and privacy from Surfshark’s straightforward interface.

Surfshark’s security

The core of any VPN is centered around the company’s security policies and practices. Certain features are crucial for keeping you safe, like DNS leak protection or a detailed zero-logging policy. Others directly affect the viewability of your data and how difficult it is to discern your identity. We cover all of these areas and more below.

Logging policy

Data you send through a VPN is a vulnerable point in your online security. The company could theoretically keep detailed records of your activity without disclosing this information, after all. A VPN’s logging policy ensures data isn’t stored on the company’s servers for an extended period of time. This includes access logs, traffic information, IP logs, timestamps, and other areas. The fewer logs a VPN keeps, the better.

Surfshark clearly and repeatedly insists they keep absolutely no logs of any type. Their help pages specifically list over half a dozen data points the company refuses to store, including incoming and outgoing IP addresses, browsing/downloading history, which servers you connect to, and how much bandwidth you use.

For the main logging areas, here’s where Surfshark stands. It’s clear to see the company puts a high priority on user privacy:

  • Traffic logs – No
  • IP address logs – No
  • Timestamp logs – No
  • DNS request logs – No
  • Bandwidth logs – No

The only data Surfshark stores about its customers is an e-mail address for account purposes and billing information in case you need a refund. In fact, you can even use cryptocurrency payments to circumvent that last one.

Surfshark’s jurisdiction

Where a VPN company is registered can have a huge impact on your privacy. Businesses are bound by the laws of the region they’re registered in, meaning they must follow any data retention practices put in place by the local government. If the regulations state that a VPN must keep logs and turn them over to law enforcement agencies by request, they’re forced to comply, oftentimes in secret.

Surfshark is registered in the British Virgin Islands, an area with surprisingly friendly data retention laws. This allows the company to operate as they see fit, putting client privacy above all else. Surfshark even noted that if the British Virgin Islands changed their data retention laws, they would see another location to register their business in.

DNS leak tests

When using a privacy service such as a proxy or VPN, it’s important that all traffic is sent through a non-local network to make it anonymous. If any piece of data escapes this routing, it can be used to trace your activity and find your real location. To combat this, VPN services use what is called DNS leak protection on their software. Put simply, this feature ensures nothing is ever sent outside of the VPN tunnel, guaranteed.

Having good DNS leak protection is vital to your online privacy. Surfshark offers the service on its desktop software, but not mobile apps. We tested this out using third party DNS leak tests to see if the feature actually performed as intended. Each time the results came back positive: no data leaks of any kind. With a properly installed Surfshark app, your desktop browsing is safe and secure.

Automatic kill switch protection

Kill switches are another common security feature found in many VPNs. This system monitors your connection to the Internet at all times. If you’re connected through your VPN, the kill switch remains inactive. If you suddenly lose your VPN protection, the switch activates and cuts your Internet at the core, ensuring no data leaks through unencrypted. It’s a simple solution that can be used in high-risk situations for even stronger online privacy.

Surfshark’s kill switch is available on its desktop apps and is switched off by default. You can toggle it on by visiting Settings > Security and clicking the slider. Most users will be fine without it, though if you want to make sure no information ever leaves your device without VPN protection, turn it on right away.

We tested Surfshark’s kill switch feature by simulating an accidental disconnect by force closing the port it uses for data. Surfshark’s software responded right away by blocking the OS-based reconnect, keeping our information safe until the VPN could re-establish a connection with a secure server.

Encryption and security

Surfshark offers powerful 256-bit AES encryption, plus several protocol alternatives for anyone who wants to customize their connectivity. This is usually reserved for advanced users, but even if you casually stumble across the options while exploring the app, Surfshark ensures you understand exactly what you’re doing before clicking a new option.

You can access Surfshark’s additional encryption options by running the software and navigating to Settings > Advanced > Protocol. Here, you’ll see the following options:

  • Automatic – Surfshark automatically selects the best protocol for your network (default).
  • OpenVPN / UDP – Best combination of speed and security.
  • OpenVPN / TCP – Usually slower than UDP.
  • IKEv2 – Allows for faster speeds without compromising security. May not work on some connections.

Just about everyone will get along fine with Surfshark’s default automatic setting. If you have trouble connecting, or if your speeds suddenly drop, you can always try switching over to alternative ports/protocols to see if that fixes things.

Surfshark CleanWeb

A feature unique to Surfshark’s VPN service is CleanWeb. This simple but handy tool blocks ads, trackers, and malware before they even reach your device, effectively serving as a non-local adblock extension.

Naturally, we had to test out a few websites with CleanWeb turned on and off. Not surprisingly, it worked quite well. With CleanWeb we saw a dramatic reduction in the number of ads displayed on many web pages, even with our own adblocking extensions turned off. It’s a potentially powerful feature a lot of users will adore, especially since it’s available on mobile devices.

Multihop

Another useful feature offered by Surfshark VPN is multihop protection. This up-and-coming technology is gaining popularity for its ability to add an extra layer of anonymity to online traffic. Instead of simply routing your data through a single node, multihop pushes it through at least two, making even more difficult to trace online activity back to your location.

The most impressive part of Surfshark’s multihop feature is that it lets you choose which servers to direct your traffic through. You can choose an initial node, followed by an exit node, allowing complete customization of where your IP address appears to be from, all without sacrificing too much speed.

Using Surfshark in China

China has some severe restrictions in place that block access to most VPNs. As of February 2018, the government has successfully banned nearly all VPN companies operating from foreign soil. In some cases it may be possible to load a VPN onto your device before setting foot in China and using it while abroad, but overall it can be quite difficult to access the free and open Internet from within the country.

Surfshark, as with most VPNs, is completely blocked in mainland China. You unfortunately won’t be able to access the website or the service while inside the country. Unless regulations change or Surfshark finds a workaround, this will likely remain the case for the foreseeable future.

Netflix availability

Each country’s local Netflix catalog is different from the next, all thanks to international content laws. You can watch certain movies from the U.S., but as soon as you cross the border into Canada, you’re subjected to an entirely different set of regulations.

A lot of people use VPNs to get around this restriction. Unfortunately, Netflix has started actively blocking VPNs, preventing users from accessing worldwide content with this method. A number of services have found methods of breaking through, however, which is where this review comes into play.

Surfshark boasts reliable Netflix streams from any device, including smartphones. We tested this out using multiple servers on the company’s network, each time reloading the app or browser window to completely refresh the page. The results were, shockingly, quite good. Surfshark can unblock Netflix in the U.S., France, Japan, and the UK with easy regularity. Servers in other countries are a bit hit or miss, sadly, but the ones that do work work well.

Surfshark customer support

It doesn’t matter how experienced you are with VPNs or online privacy, you’re bound to run into a few problems from time to time. That’s why customer support services exist. A VPN company’s support team can be the only thing that stands between you and a working Internet connection. If they’re fast, friendly, and efficient, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

There are two main types of customer support: help articles and personal chats. Help articles are great for troubleshooting basic connection questions on your own. Surfshark has a good selection of these, covering everything from setup guidelines to billing and technical problems.

If articles aren’t enough, the Surfshark website has a live chat option at the bottom of every screen. Click it to connect with an available agent for a personalized touch to troubleshooting. You can also submit support tickets if time isn’t necessarily an issue.

Surfshark – Pricing and plans

The VPN marketplace is highly competitive. The more services the better, as each one tries to outdo the other in terms of speed, security, usability, and most importantly, price. If a company can deliver everything you need and include a low subscription fee on top of that, there’s no reason not to sign up.

Surfshark splits its subscription packages into three categories. The longer you sign up, the bigger your discount. All plans are backed by a 30-day money back guarantee, and you can also get a sneaky 7 day trial by downloading the mobile app and clicking a link inside. Note that the prices below are subject to change.

  • 1 month – $11.95 per month
  • 12 months – $5.99 per month billed at $71.88 every year (save 5%)
  • 24 months – $1.99 per month billed at $47.76 every two years (save 83%)

All of these plans include unlimited access to all of Surfshark’s features, apps, and servers. Once you join, you’re all-in.

Surfshark – What we liked, what we didn’t

We spent a lot of time with Surfshark to test out its features, try out its mobile apps, and see how it fares as a daily use VPN. We also tried the mobile apps and compared them to other top VPNs in the market space. Below are our final thoughts for the Surfshark experience, highlighting the pros and cons from our point of view.

We liked…

  • Simple, clean software that runs on a variety of hardware and platforms. Extremely easy to use on all devices.
  • Excellent bonus features like CleanWeb, Multihop, and Whitelister.
  • Good download/streaming speeds and a wide network of servers.
  • Superb unblocking features and Netflix access.
  • Affordable pricing for all plans.

We didn’t like…

  • Encryption and protocol options will not satisfy power VPN users.
  • Mobile apps aren’t as full-featured as we would like.

Is Surfshark right for you?

When it comes down to it, which VPN you choose is a matter of personal preference. Maybe you like one company’s app layout better than another, or maybe a VPN has a single server location you can’t live without.

No matter your preferences, though, it’s worth noting that Surfshark is a good all-around VPN. It’s excellent for everyday users and can keep your data protected and secure no matter where you go.

Leave a comment