Surfshark is relatively new to the market and only emerged some time back in 2018. Yet in the short time it’s been around it has already managed to establish a rather impressive network of servers. Best of all, it’s available now at a great price compared to current top dogs in the market. Learn more.
September 21, 2020•
Surfshark has been around for roughly a year now and while new players are always entering the VPN industries, it has been an interesting experience. Their consumer pricing is impressive but what does Surfshark have to offer in terms of features and can their performance surpass their low pricing? Let’s take a deeper look.
Pros of Surfshark
Cons of Surfshark
Like most top VPN service providers in the industry today, Surfshark offers consumers a leg up in privacy and security. This is accomplished through the usual dedicated service – a secure, encrypted tunnel that allows users to hide their traffic from prying eyes.
To accomplish this, Surfshark leverages on a few key protocols – the tried and tested OpenVPN as well as IKEv2. OpenVPN is generally accepted as the de-facto standard with high speeds and security. IKEv2 is also pretty good and works well with mobile networks.
Adding to this mix, Surfshark also offers Shadowsocks which is more known as an encrypted proxy. The key reason for this is likely that Shadowsocks works well in China, a touch market for VPNs due to Beijing’s crackdown on such services.
There have been user reports that Surfshark works for China-based users, but unfortunately I am not able to verify this at the current point of time.
Aside from the secure handshake with VPN servers, Surfshark also has very strong encryption for the data transmitted though the VPN tunnel. Where some providers allow users to adjust the encryption rate for better performance, Surfshark runs full tilt with AES-256 bit.
This works in tandem with a kill switch system which you can use to sever the Internet connection automatically should there be any issues with the VPN connection.
Internet activity is usually tracked using logs that are kept by the servers you connect to. The information collected usually includes IP address, browsing history, network traffic, and more. In short, that’s what allows a user to be tracked and identified.
Surfshark is dedicated to offering a no-logs service which means that your Internet activity is kept anonymous. I also tested the service for DNS Leaks and WebRTC leaks, both of which showed as negative.
Surfshark currently offers several what it calls “multi-hop” connections. This means that users connecting to the Surfshark network have the option of routing through two VPN servers consecutively. This increases the anonymity factor for greater ease of mind.
Aside from that, the basic network covers over 61 countries around the world with a network of over 1,000 servers. That’s quite good for an up-and-coming service provider.
As with most good service providers, Surfshark has made their service available for several platforms so that you can use it with almost any device in existence. Their basic application covers mainstream platforms like Windows and iOS.
Alternatively, you can also install it on your gaming devices or smart devices like smart TVs.
For users who don’t mind a slower connection, Surfshark can also be used on routers (see how to install Surfshark on a router here).
However, do take note that router-installed VPN services can be much slower due to encryption. It takes processing power to handle encryption and most routers are weak in that area, hence a slower connection.
Surfshark’s browser extension was audited by Cure53 and was found to be secure. You can read more about that here.
Personally, I’ve been using Surfshark for around a year now and I’ve mostly been quite happy with their speeds. I’m connected to their US servers most of the time since I’m a Netflix fan and that’s where the best stuff is.
Still, their overall performance is good and in fact, well up to par with most of the top service providers in the business.
As with always, I tested Surfshark’s speed with several key locations around the world. To keep this in context, my physical location is in Malaysia and as such, PINGs (latency) will be higher for me depending on my physical distance to the VPN server. This is a fact regardless of VPN service provider.
To measure the speed of Surfshark I first took a baseline measurement, since Internet speeds vary from time to time due to various factors;
Keeping that in mind, here are the results for my tests to other locations with Surfshark on and using the OpenVPN (UDP) protocol;
During the speed tests, connection speeds to the Perth server in Australia seemed to be throttled, either by the test server or ISPs in the country. While this did not affect the VPN connection speed, it simply goes to demonstrate another use of a VPN – overcoming bandwidth throttling.
Normally, VPNs will place greater emphasis on performance in certain countries over others simply due to popularity. The first thing to take note of here is that in almost all locations tested, while not offering the fastest speeds I’ve seen so far, Surfshark is able to keep up very consistent speeds.
This is usually more telling of a VPN service than it is of one which has fantastic speeds in one or two locations and unusable connections in others. I was impressed that Surfshark managed to keep up performance in areas such as India and Indonesia as well, which are areas where I usually see performance dip significantly.
Also remember that these speeds were achieved at Surfshark’s fixed standard of 256-bit encryption. Overall, excellent results I would say, the most impressive being in consistency.
Now that we’ve looked at the speeds you can get over Surfshark’s connection, it brings the next area under even more scrutiny – coverage area. Surfshark has over 1,000 servers in more than 61 countries. For a relatively new service provider, this is a very large network and something that many VPN service providers haven’t achieved even after years in the business.
Almost all their servers are actual physical servers, with a handful of virtual locations. Virtual locations are instances where the VPN provider doesn’t have an actual service in the country but I able to spoof your location as from the area.
Their servers are also very capable and can handle all the protocols and features that Surfshark has to offer.
Aside from that, Surfshark also has several servers that offer users a fixed IP address. Although limited in number, these can come in handy since most ISPs offer regular consumers dynamic IPs only and charge extra for fixed IP addresses.
Finally, we also have the multi-hop connections. These are fixed routes whereby Surfshark runs VPN connections though pairs of secure servers, increasing the security of the connection for its users. Interestingly speed test results were also quite good with a multi-hop;
One of the key things I look out for in a VPN is their capability in overcoming geo-blocked content, especially when it comes to media streaming. I subscribe to Netflix and where I am, the regional media library is awful – so I use a VPN to watch Netflix US content.
I have tried so many VPNs that claim to allow Netflix streaming, but aside from top players such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and a handful of others, connection is spotty at best and I constantly get the dreaded ‘PROXY DETECTED’ message.
Thankfully, Surfshark has never caused me any problems with streaming. I’ve run Netflix over Surfshark over the past three months and had zero issues with Netflix or the BBC’s iPlayer so far.
As a comparison to this, I recently also tested another service provider and the Netflix experience there was sub-optimal. Let me play you a scenario; VPN A (Surfshark!) lets you stream Netflix easily and steadily at any time. VPN B has good speed and minimal buffering, but you need to constantly connect and disconnect to get Netflix working. Which would you choose?
At $2.49 per month for a 12-month subscription (+ 12 months FREE!), Surfshark’s pricing is awesome. Seriously. To take that into perspective, ExpressVPN charges a discounted rate of roughly $8+ per month while recently NordVPN increased their prices to $3.49 per month.
For a service which offers such consistent performance and solid features, this is absolutely a steal and I’d say, a solid ‘buy’ option.
One thing I demand of all the VPNs that I like are that they come problem-free. This is applicable not just to the connection, but I also look out for a seamless sign-up experience, easy access to the apps I need to download, ease of use in the apps, and fast help if necessary.
Of all the VPNs I’ve used, I consider Surfshark one of the top ten I’ve tried where I didn’t look at something and said; “that’s weird”. To me, that is an important point that distinguishes them from the competition.
We, as paying customers, shouldn’t have to struggle to use a service we’ve paid for and the way Surfshark has built their customer experience model is smooth. From the moment you click ‘sign up’ to the time you turn off your device, it simply works.
Many VPN services today come with some extra value-added features built in and Surfshark is no exception. However, rather than try to take over the role of a main security solutions provider it has focused on features that add to its primary purpose.
The Whitelister feature is something that lets you allow some traffic to bypass the VPN service. This is useful as some apps or sites have issues with VPNs – for example Microsoft Office 365 or some specific websites here and there.
Surfshark allows you to work this in two ways – you can either allow an app on your device to completely bypass the VPN service, or you can add some website URLS (addresses) to the Whitelister and access them directly.
This is what Surfshark calls server obfuscation. It is another option for you to use if there are still sites that you need to access but for some reason have blocked VPN traffic specifically. Traffic obfuscation is applied to your connection to make it appear more like regular internet traffic instead of VPN traffic.
For some who are in highly restrictive areas such as China, regular VPN operation might not be enough to get around extremely high supervisory guards put in place to block services. This is where Surfshark’s No Borders Mode comes in. Simply flick a switch and let the app do the work for you.
As another added value service, Surfshark gives you the CleanWeb option to have it block ads and trackers, leaving you a cleaner (pardon the pun) web surfing experience. Overall, I’ve found this to be a bit of a mixed experience as I would rather let my Internet security software handle it.
First off, despite the heading, Surfshark does offer fast first-line support via their online chat on the website. They also do respond quickly to emails for assistance. However, I found that in some cases their responses seemed to be a little questionable in terms of accuracy.
As an example of this, one of their customer service reps told me that IKEv2 was the default connection setting when installing their Windows application, but this didn’t seem to be correct. I’m not saying their customer service is bad, but just a little questionable at times (a reasonable doubt, perhaps?).
Unlike most VPN service providers who have great outreach on social channels, Surfshark’s Twitter account shows hardly any activity. Their Facebook page likewise seldom gets updates and both channels seem to only have a handful of followers.
While itself not a black mark against the company or service, it does raise further doubts about what should be a popular consumer service. Surely, they should have more people interested in their activities – their customers at the very least.
Aside from streaming Netflix, my next point of interest is in P2P. I am a torrent hog and while Surfshark claims to support torrenting on most of their servers, I generally found that torrent speeds are quite bad with Surfshark on.
I had to make use of their app whitelisting to bypass the Surfshark connection in order to get decent speeds again on my torrent client.
Now you know all the ups and downs I’ve had with Surfshark and I must conclude that it really is a very good service. I’m currently on their two-year plan and it has been my VPN of choice over the past few months (with some breaks in between to test other services).
The key takeaways I’d like to highlight again are the very consistent speeds I got using the service, their fantastic pricing, and finally, their seamless streaming of Netflix. Some of you might have other requirements, but I believe in terms of basic performance and privacy, Surfshark hits the mark quite well.