Surfshark review: All Guns Blazing

Last Updated on May 13, 2022 by Anastasios Antoniadis

A Surfshark review has been long overdue on this website, and after a disappointing experience with Atlas VPN, I believe the timing is right. So, we will take a deep dive into what Surfshark offers and whether it lives up to its reputation as both one of the best VPNs and the most affordable premium VPN.

Surfshark Overview

Surfshark was founded in 2018 and is located in the British Virgin Islands, just like ExpressVPN. Despite its young age, it has become one of the most well-known VPNs, eventually leading to a merger with Nord Security in 2021.

You will find Surfshark in one of the top three spots of almost every VPN top list by digital outlets, and, on paper, its feature set is among the most impressive ones.

Let’s see then if it becomes one of my top picks too.

Surfshark Features

Two features in Surfshark stood out to me initially. Firstly, it was one of the first VPNs to offer unlimited device connections with one subscription. While eventually, most VPNs will adopt this feature, it used to be a unique one. The second feature is a pool of static/dedicated IPs in 5 countries (Germany, Singapore, Japan, the US, and the UK).

I have already written a rundown of all the VPNs that offer static IPs. The difference is that most VPNs offer dedicated IPs as an add-on, while Surfshark users have access to it as part of their standard subscription.

Finally, and this is a great one for reviewers and users, Surfshark offers a 7-day free trial, on top of the 30-day money-back guarantee. You can get the free trial on both Android and iOS, and once you can set up your account, you can use it on any device.

I reviewed Surfshark during the 7-day free trial period offered. As an extra point, it’s Surfshark’s support that made me aware of this free trial.

Without further ado, let’s see the complete Surfshark feature list:

FeatureValue
Number of countries (includes virtual servers)65
Number of servers3200+
ProtocolsWireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2 across all servers
Log PolicyNo logs
RAM-Only ServersYes (Third-party infrastructure)
Ad and Malware BlockerYes
Kill SwitchYes
External AuditsYes (Server infrastructure & browser extension audits by Cure53)
Split TunnelingYes
Dedicated IPYes
Obfuscated ServersYes
Number of devices per licenseUnlimited
Money-back guarantee30 days
Free trial7 days
24/7 SupportYes
Tor/Onion over VPNYes (no extra features)
EncryptionAES-256
Headquarters LocationBritish Virgin Islands (Outside of 5/9/14 Eyes Jurisdiction)
Average Download Speed Dropoff10.29% (#2)
Average Upload Speed Dropoff3.53% (#1)

To begin with, the 7-day trial combined with the 30-day money-back guarantee is the second-longest test period provided by a VPN that I’m aware of (CyberGhost provides a 45-day money-back guarantee).

In-house server infrastructure is a huge plus, but I believe the only two VPNs that offer 100% RAM-only private server infrastructure are NordVPN and ExpressVPN. RAM-only technology is vital both from a privacy and performance standpoint.

Surfshark offers 100% RAM-only infrastructure, as their support confirmed to me, and we will explain below. I guess this is a feature that would bump up the price significantly.

Another important note is that while more and more VPNs go through independent audits, very few will have their server infrastructure audited the service’s backbone.

Remember that back in 2018, NordVPN’s breach resulted from a third-party server rented by NordVPN, and the issue was a result of a vulnerability in the server infrastructure. While Surfshark does not own its infrastructure, at least it ensures that it is independently audited.

Now let’s have a look at the extra privacy, and security-related bells and whistles Surfshark brings to the table:

  • Multihop: Multihop technology essentially puts two VPN servers between you and your destinations, ideally in two different countries. This makes it harder for adversaries to track you, while Surfshark claims that it can speed up your connection by avoiding high-traffic routes.
  • CleanWeb: This is an interesting fature, as it is not just an ad and tracking blocker. It seems like a feature that filters incoming traffic at the VPN server-level removing malware, advertising and tracking, which is not only great for your privacy but also a way to save mobile data.
  • Rotating IPs (aka Surfshark Nexus): Rotating IPs on server-level are nothing new. All major VPNs rotate user IPs. Atlas VPN took it to the next level by rotating IPs within the same server while the user is connected. With Nexus, Surfshark rotates IPs between a set of servers in the same location while you are connected.
  • NoBorders mode: This is enabled whenever Surfshark detects that you are connected to a restrictive network, limiting the available servers you can connect to the ones that will perform better under such restrictions.

Moving on to the performance test section will reveal a few other fascinating things.

Surfshark Performance (Speed Test)

If you’ve been following my VPN reviews, you should know that I always run my tests and do my browsing and streaming with all the latest features enabled.

My goal was to use Surfshark on WireGuard, CleanWeb, NoBorders mode, and Rotating IPs. Note that the latter is still in Beta.

As I went to Surfshark’s settings to switch my VPN protocol from Auto to WireGuard, I noticed that Surfshark deemed my network restrictive and had disabled WireGuard and OpenVPN (UDP).

On the plus side: Instead of acting all clunky, the client warned me of the issue.

Time for my first support inquiry, then. I was first in queue so I got instantly in touch with a support agent who instructed me to use the diagnostic tool under Settings > Get help > Troubleshooting tools.

Surfshark Trouble Shooting tools view
Image source: Surfshark

On the next pop up window you can click Collect Diagnostics:

Surfshark troubleshooting tools options: collect diagnostics, reset network, restore original settings
Image source: Surfshark

Once the diagnostic tool runs, it will generate a code you can share with the support agent. The issue was that other VPN services were running on my computer; ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and IPVanish, so he recommended either disabling or uninstalling them. Typically I have the services disabled but I decided to uninstall are some were not terminating.

This got the issue fixed in less than 10 minutes.

Time to step on the gas pedal then!

LocationPing [ms]Download Speed [Mbps]Download Speed DropoffUpload Speed [Mbps]Upload Speed Dropoff
Baseline – Athens, Greece, no VPN769.69N/A10.02N/A
Greece – Athens4771.66-2.83%9.841.80%
Romania – Bucharest2566.44.72%9.742.79%
Spain – Madrid7867.083.75%9.653.69%
France – Marseille6763.958.24%9.782.40%
UK – London5065.895.45%9.752.69%
Netherlands – Amsterdam4666.254.94%9.792.30%
Germany – Frankfurt6263.518.87%9.822.00%
USA – New York12164.916.86%9.55.19%
USA – Los Angeles18552.8524.16%9.792.30%
Canada – Toronto13359.7714.23%9.653.69%
Australia – Melbourne29556.8118.48%9.277.49%
Hong Kong26951.1726.57%9.416.09%
Average Download Dropoff10.29%Average Upload Dropoff3.53%

The above scores indicate that you can keep your computer connected to most of the locations I tested from Greece and browse the web or even work without any issues. I would obviously exclude Australia and Hong Kong from that list as the latency would be noticeable.

Another important observation is that connecting to a Greek VPN server led to better performance than the baseline. This is probably not sustainable, but it still happened whether it’s the routing, the removal of ISP throttling, or something else.

Surfshark is the third-best performer in download speed among VPNs I have reviewed, trailing only NordVPN and Atlas VPN. Due to the numerous issues I encountered during my Atlas VPN review, I will leave it out of the equation for now. Hopefully, we will sort this out in the future.

In terms of upload speed, the dropoff is minimal worldwide, so Surfshark claimed the #1 spot easily.

Here is an outlook on the best performers:

  1. NordVPN – Download dropoff: 9.93%, Upload dropoff: 28.26%
  2. AtlasVPN – Download dropoff: 9.92%, Upload dropoff: 14.07%
  3. Surfshark – Download dropoff: 10.29%, Upload dropoff: 3.53%
  4. Ivacy – Download dropoff: 16.03%, Upload dropoff: 22.62%
  5. ExpressVPN – Download dropoff: 18.25%, Upload dropoff: 26.50%

While these numbers are constantly updated, Surfshark is definitely in a very strong position in terms of speed.

Note: Greece does not boast the greatest connection speed and quality in the world. Even the baseline connection comes with a 25% dropoff as the router cannot sync at 100Mbps. US media outlets typically report higher dropoffs as they can test VPNs on faster, more stressful connections. On the other hand, if you see a VPN keeping a low latency in Greece, it will probably maintain it in most developed countries.

Surfshark Safety, Leaks & Encryption

Even top-tier performance means nothing if your VPN connection cannot protect you from outsiders. Let me note here that the prevention of DNS, WebRTC, IPv6 leaks is just a basic requirement. It’s not rocket science, and it should never happen.

I ran a test while connected to the US – New York, and this is exactly how a leak report should look like:

Astrill VPN DNS, IPv6 and WebRTC security report results.
Image source: AstrillVPN

So far, everything is looking, but it’s always worth looking at the IP itself and seeing its associated activity. I use Spur for this task.

The address is reported as an exit node for several services, including SmartProxy and Infatica. It seems to range between 50 and 100 simultaneous users, mainly from the US, and is predominantly used for file sharing.

Spur IP analysis
Image source: Spur

Before you get rattled, this is precisely what you should expect to see. Here is an example from NordVPN:

Spur IP analysis
Image source: Spur

VPN server nodes will always be marked by activity monitoring, but this is why you would want to use a VPN. To avoid your getting your own IP red-flagged and associated with file sharing for instance.

The key difference between the two screenshots is that NordVPN’s server is not associated with other services (private infrastructure).

In case shared infrastructure bothers you, you should only look at NordVPN or ExpressVPN. Both VPN providers come with a higher price tag, but they offer their own, more extensive server infrastructure (5300+ servers in 60 countries for NordVPN, 3000+ servers in 94 countries for ExpressVPN).

Surfshark Apps

Everything looks great so far, so let’s have a look at Surfshakr’s ease of use and user experience on its Windows and Android Apps.

Windows App

While aesthetics and user experience are sometimes a matter of personal preference, Surfshark’s Windows app is very smooth and appealing. However, I prefer using its dark mode instead of the default one.

On the first tab, you will find the list of servers, and there are two particular things of interest for me here. Firstly, Surfshark marks virtual locations with a V. Most VPN providers typically avoid sharing this information, especially inside the app itself (usually, you will find a least of virtual locations on the provider’s website). I love the fact that Surfshark is entirely transparent here.

The other remark is that I love the way Double VPN/Multihop servers are shown in the corresponding tab, using the flags of the two countries in question.

Essentially you are going to need two more tabs in the Surfshark app. The rest are extra features (Surfshark Altern, Antivirus, and Search) and Surfshark One promotions that you can just ignore.

You can control your VPN and Windows app settings through the two screens shown above. As you can see, I have pretty much everything turned on and use WireGuard. And that’s all. Very straightforward!

Android App

The Surfshark Android app is a one-to-one port of the Windows app, so there will be no room for confusion during the transition.

On the Android app will find all the features available on the desktop app, but the user interface is even smoother. One extra feature Android users will enjoy is the built-in ability to override GPS location (ideal for those who want to change their location in Pokemon Go, or create Play Store accounts in multiple countries).

That’s about it. All the bells and whistles are here for mobile users too.

Surfshark Multihop Performance

Multihop or Double VPN is an interesting idea for extra protection, but the real question is how usable it is, as, on paper, it significantly increases overhead. In this part of the review, I explore the effect of using multihop servers and whether they are a viable option or just a marketing selling point.

To my surprise, Surfshark handled multihop pretty well, and it is perfectly viable in most cases. Australia > US might be a bit of an overkill, though.

LocationPing [ms]Download Speed [Mbps]Download Speed DropoffUpload Speed [Mbps]Upload Speed Dropoff
Baseline – Athens, Greece, no VPN775N/A10.02N/A
United Kingdom > France6471.614.52%9.742.79%
United Kingdom > Germany6231.4258.11%9.792.30%
Australia > United States43942.1643.79%8.8211.98%
Canada > United States14954.8426.88%4.555.09%
Netherlands > United States17353.528.67%9.822.00%
Singapore > Hong Kong24951.6831.09%9.386.39%
Singapore > India26648.5535.27%9.425.99%
United States > Portugal37749.833.60%9.554.69%
Average Download Dropoff32.74%Average Upload Dropoff11.40%

Note that streaming, browsing, and working on my blog while connected to a multihop server worked just fine even in the most distant connections. Quite impressive!

Surfshark Kill Switch Performance

At one point between multiple server switches in my multihop evaluation, it seems that the kill switch hung, causing my internet connection to go down. I could not disable the Surfshark service from the Windows Task Manager, so I had to restart my PC to get back into action.

While this is not a typical VPN use case (switching servers every 30 seconds), it was a stress test for the kill switch, and it didn’t go perfectly.

Surfshark Stream Unblocking

Once again (I keep repeating this in all my reviews), the status of stream unblocking has changed in major streaming platforms as accessibility is being tied to the initial account creation location or payment method location.

In the past, I could unblock Netflix libraries worldwide from Greece, but now I’m limited to watching my the Greek or the Originals library because I created the account in Greece. That is, no matter where I switch my location to.

However, there is still room for VPN use if you travel abroad or if you want to use a VPN to open a foreign account. For instance, using a VPN and a US payment method allows you to unblock Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.

The challenge here is that you also need a US address (easy to get) and a US payment method (costly).

With that in mind, unblocking Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Hulu, US channels, BBC iPlayer, HBOX Max, HBO Now, and YouTube TV is within Surfshark’s capabilities.

A fantastic feature Surfshark brings to the table is Smart DNS. You can set up Smart DNS on any device through your Surfshark account and access streaming services even if the device you use does not support VPNs.

You can also install Surfshak’s add-on on Kodi or use the Amazon Fire TV stick.

Surfshark Torrenting

Surfshark’s servers are fully optimized for P2P downloads so that you will have no issues accessing torrent sites and downloading torrents from most worldwide locations. Surfshark is definitely among the best VPNs for torrenting too.

Does Surfshark work in China?

Surfshark works in both China and Hong Kong as long as you use the OpenVPN protocol, which automatically enables camouflage mode.

Surfshark Plans & Pricing

As we are starting to wrap up this review, pricing is one of the strongest arguments for Surfshark. You can get unique features and performance for a very reasonable price. Here are Surfshark’s plans:

For comparison, here are the pricing plans for NordVPN and ExpressVPN, Surfshark’s main two opponents for the crown:

NordVPN pricing

ExpressVPN pricing

For anything other than the monthly plan, there is a strong argument to be made for Surfshark as your best option for long-term commitment to a VPN.

Surfshark Alternatives

To reiterate, I believe the only viable alternatives to Surfshark in terms of privacy features and performance are NordVPN and ExpressVPN. The main argument for these two options is their own, homegrown server infrastructure.

ExpressVPN is the clear winner here in terms of available countries, with 94 supported countries, compared to Surfshark’s 65 and NordVPN’s 60.

Overall Verdict

I believe the numbers speak for themselves in Surfshark’s case. A very strong candidate for the crown of the best VPN (although I am not really fond of such claims). If you want a premium VPN with the best price to performance ratio Surfshark should be on your radar.

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