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I’ve been taking a closer look at a lot of VPN services lately. Writing reviews of these services is all about digging into what’s good about them, what’s not so good about them, and how they might fit into my life — or yours. The latest target of my scrutiny is Surfshark, a straightforward VPN with a pretty cool name.
Surfshark is designed to do what all great VPNs do — namely, protect the information you’re transmitting and receiving. Extra protection makes it harder for advertisers, internet providers, and other entities to see what you’re doing or even where you are. Surfshark does a solid job with its core VPN functions, but what really sets it apart is its suite of extra features that competitors can’t match.
The primary job of a VPN service is to encrypt your traffic and enable you to browse the web anonymously without being tracked or logged. In that regard, Surfshark hits the target. There are a number of servers to choose from, and all provide the same amount of protection and let you take advantage of all the same features.
One other notable benefit of VPN anonymity is choosing where your internet traffic is routed through. The reason this is such a great way to anonymize your internet traffic has to do with the way certain websites use IP addresses to serve content. Netflix, for example, has different streaming libraries for different markets, and it uses your IP address to know which library you should get. Since VPNs can change your location in the process of anonymizing your traffic, they can also help you unlock foreign Netflix libraries. This same logic works with all sorts of things, from other streaming services like Disney+ to serious issues like government censorship of the internet.
This is great news for internet users, but it’s not always welcomed by other parties. Netflix, among other streaming services, makes at least some effort to block IP addresses known to be associated with VPNs. As a result, not every streaming service works with every VPN.
I have good news about Surfshark on this front: In my testing, it worked with Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of streaming services, of course, but I prefer to test these major services because they have the most resources and are most likely to be able to identify and block VPNs. Given that Surfshark works with these “big three,” it will likely work with other, lesser-known services. If you need your video fix abroad and your preferred service is shutting you down, Surfshark can help you get around that limitation.
One thing I took notice of immediately is the fact that Surfshark doesn’t have quite as many servers as other VPN providers out there. Surfshark offers more than 1,700 servers, but that’s not quite as much as many competitors do. The reason I noticed this is because it’s usually the biggest thing VPN companies want to emphasize. The more servers, the better, according to them — and they’re right, at least to some extent. NordVPN, for example, touts the fact that it has roughly 5,500 servers around the world. That’s a lot more than Surfshark has.
With that said, more casual users might not mind having “only” about 1,700 servers to choose from. Surfshark lacking in this department might not be a dealbreaker, but it’s something you should keep in mind.
Surfshark does have NordVPN beat in terms of geographic coverage. NordVPN is in 59 countries, while Surfshark is in 63 countries. Given that many VPN users are looking to switch up their location, having lots of countries can be just as important as having lots of servers. But in terms of its sheer number of servers, Surfshark falls a little short when you stack it up against companies offering similar products.
Surfshark’s various apps aren’t all that dissimilar from those put forth by its competitors. The Surfshark application has a main status screen, which lets you know if you’re connected or not. There’s another screen that shows all the servers you have available. Another screen displays Surfshark’s features, which you can turn on and off as you please. And then there’s a Settings menu, which lets you toggle a few other items and view your account information.
I can confidently say I found the Surfshark apps pretty easy to use. Getting connected to a server is a two-step process, consisting of finding a server and either tapping or clicking on it. After that, the apps are basically invisible. You don’t need to interact with them again while browsing or watching videos, which is a plus for those who don’t want anything particularly complicated. Like Tunnelbear and some other competitors, Surfshark is clearly taking a simple “set it and forget it” approach.
That’s not to say you can’t get more into the weeds with setup if you want to, though. Surfshark sort of reminds me of ExpressVPN in that the UI is pretty simple to follow but allows for a bit more tweaking should you so desire it. If you open some of the additional tabs in the interface, for instance, you can choose a very specific server in a region. You can also choose multi-hop servers, as well, which basically run your internet traffic through multiple remote servers for added security.
None of this is shoved into your face, though. By default, you’ll see a normal-looking list of servers. Tapping on one will connect you, and then you can minimize the app and be on your way.
How would you like a VPN service with a built-in adblocker? What about one that shuts down any malware you might come in contact with before it gets close? Surfshark has these features at the ready, and they’re pretty useful.
As far as the ad blocker goes, it was nice to know I didn’t have to have yet another app installed for that purpose. Surfshark takes care of it. I’m usually pretty good about avoiding malware myself, but it was a comfort to know Surfshark had my back while I was out browsing the Wild West that is the World Wide Web.
Like all good ad blockers, Surfshark lets you whitelist certain sites. A pop-up option let me quickly okay sites that Surfshark initially tried to block, just in case a site was legit and got flagged by mistake. I felt that Surfshark really stepped up its game here.
And then there is Surfshark’s no-logs policy, which is a crucial part of a VPN service’s offerings. According to Surfshark, the company keeps no logs at all — perfect for the privacy-obsessed fans of VPNs.
Surfshark is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, which, Surfshark’s website brags, is a nation that has “no obligatory data retention law.” Surfshark isn’t required to keep records or to fork them over to any government, and that’s a big deal in the world of VPNs.
One caveat to all of this is that Surfshark’s no-logs policy is something we’ll have to take on faith. Like several competitors, Surfshark has not submitted to regular third-party audits. Only a few VPNs can say different, but those that do have a clear advantage. While there’s certainly no reason to believe that Surfshark is lying, a third-party audit would help paranoid folks like me rest a little easier.
Another area you might care about when it comes to using a VPN is speed. When connecting to a VPN, you probably don’t want your internet experience to change in any significant way, and that includes how quickly web pages load and how fast your downloads are.
There are two basic ways that VPNs can affect your internet speed. One is that your internet will naturally slow down because your information is traveling further: Rather than heading directly to whatever website you’re accessing, your data is being routed through a server somewhere else — and that server can be very far away. The second thing that can happen is that VPN servers can get busy and crowded, resulting in traffic bottlenecks. Some VPNs control this by instituting speed caps or data caps, which have obvious consequences for users.
Surfshark has no caps, which is a big plus. It also claims to be extremely fast. In my testing, Surfshark lived up to its claims. I connected to Surfshark from outside the United States and managed to get the U.S. versions of Netflix and Hulu up and streaming without a hitch. Just to double-check, I performed a speed test and found that, though Surfshark was a little slower at the onset, it came remarkably close to my ISP’s normal speed. No VPN can be perfectly fast — routing traffic to distant servers is always going to be slower than taking the direct route — but Surfshark did a fantastic job of keeping the impact so minimal that it was effectively negligible.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that what’s negligible for web browsing and video streaming may not be negligible for online gaming. There’s a reason that most online games connect you to local servers: The further your data has to travel, the worse your “lag” will be. Using a VPN will always result in at least a little lag, which may not be that big a deal for a turn-based strategy title, but will really hamper you if you’re playing a first-person shooter. This isn’t a knock on Surfshark, though — there’s no VPN on the planet that can route you to Romania and back and still give you time to no-scope that noob. Using a fast VPN (like Surfshark) and choosing nearby servers will keep things more manageable, but there will always be a tradeoff between VPN use and raw internet speed.
Surfshark has apps for a lot of different devices. You’re not always at home sitting in front of a desktop PC or a laptop, after all. Sometimes you’re connecting your iPad to a WiFi hotspot. Sometimes you’re stuck in a desolate area and forced to log your phone onto whatever network you can. These connections are potentially more dangerous in terms of data theft, so a VPN can really come in handy in these circumstances.
Surfshark works in the places you might expect. There are Windows, Mac, and Linux clients. But Surfshark also works with iOS devices — iPhones, iPads — and Android tablets and phones, too.
A lot of VPNs have solid platform support for computers and mobile devices, but Surfshark sets itself apart by offering really impressive support for streaming video devices. Surfshark works with Fire TV and Apple TV devices, as well as a few other smart TV platforms.
I used Surfshark on my Windows laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad, and found a pretty consistent experience throughout. All of the apps work in pretty much the same way — they’re quick and easy to understand — and didn’t present any issues when connecting to servers or actively using the service.
Most VPNs offer you a better price if you’re willing to pay for a longer subscription plan up front. Here, Surfshark is no different than everyone else. Where it does stand out, however, is how much some of its longer plans actually cost. They’re ridiculously cheap.
One month of Surfshark will run you $12.95, which is right where most VPN services sit in terms of price. Step that up to a six-month plan, however, and suddenly your effective monthly rate drops to $6.49. Pay for two years up front — $59.76 in total — and you can have Surfshark for the equivalent of just $2.21 per month. Again, that is unbelievably cheap, and is definitely the way to go if you’re able to hand that money to Surfshark all at once.
In terms of value, Surfshark comes away looking very impressive. This would be a strong VPN even if it were priced at typical industry rates. The fact that you can get it for a little more than two bucks a month on the two-year plan makes it an absolute steal.
Surfshark delivers a lot for the money. It’s a speedy VPN service that’s easy to use. It supports streaming platforms like Fire TV, and it works like a dream with major streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. Given those remarkably Surfshark pricing plans — especially the two-year deal — Surfshark has a lot going for it.
Surfshark has some things that gave me pause, like its lower number of servers. Even for a tough customer like me, though, Surfshark’s disadvantage in the server wars isn’t a dealbreaker. Surfshark still has plenty of servers, and it spreads them across an impressive number of countries.
My recommendation to you is to subscribe to Surfshark for a month, at least. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you don’t like it, you can quit and get that money back. If you find Surfshark works for you — as it ended up working for me — then you can stick with it and enjoy an elite VPN for a very low price.