Surfshark VPN Review: good performance, good options
Surfshark VPN is a commercial VPN service based in the Netherlands, initially release in 2018. Surfshark is available for MacOS, Windows, and Linux, as well as browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. There are also versions available for Fire TV 2 and later, and Android TV OS 5.0 and later.
Surfshark at a glance
- Unlimited simultaneous connections with any devices supported
- Static Servers available
- Multi-hop servers available
- IKEv2, OpenVPN, Shadowsocks and Wireguard protocols
- Split Tunneling
- RAM-only servers
- Kill switch
- GPS spoofing for Android users
Surfshark, like other VPN services such as IPVanish or NordVPN, functions very similarly in regards to how their services are offered, paid for, and managed. All features are the same regardless of which plan or subscription period you have, and the only differentiating factor is the price. There is no free version of the Surfshark VPN service.
One month subscription is the most expensive way to get the VPN, with a current price as of the time of writing this of $12.88 USD per month ($15.95 CAD, converted using google). If you opt to pay for two years at a time, that price drops by 81% to $2.49 USD per month, or a third option of a 50% discount if you sign up for 6 months at a time, at the rate of $6.42 USD per month. The 2 year plan also comes with a 30 day refund / guarantee option, but there is no mention of refunds or trials for the monthly or 6 month plans.
Surfshark offers a variety of payment methods, including:
- Credit Card
- Google Pay
- Amazon Pay
- Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Dogecoin.
Surfshark offers unlimited simultaneous connections regardless of what devices are being used, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited P2P traffic, though it does not have specific servers for P2P and so speeds can vary depending on server load. However, something that is quite rare in commercial VPN services is the option of using multihop connections, where first you connect to hop #1, say, United Kingdom, and then connect next to a server in France. Obviously, this will likely decrease speed, but it adds another layer of protection. Even when using multihop servers though, one should never assume their connection is bulletproof, or completely anonymous or protected, but it’s a nice feature to have that absolutely does help.
Surfshark: clients and supported protocols
The Surfshark client displays a number of different pieces of information right on the front page, such as a list of favourite connections, all locations, static-IP specific locations, and MultiHop locations; as well as a connection button that changes to show information such as your IP address once you have connected to the specified server.
There is no default protocol selected for Surfshark, rather the option of “automatic” is the default, which contiously chooses the fastest and most stable option for you. However, you can easily change to the other protocols via drop-down box. There are other options available such as “NoBorders” which is useful for bypassing internet restrictions such as the Chinese Great Firewall, as well as a built-in speedtest option for seeing how your connection to different servers would look like. When I connected using the “automatic” setting, WireGuard was what the client most often chose for me, and it’s becoming a popular and respected protocol to use, so I had no complaints to that decision.
Surfshark has servers in over 65 locations, with countries ranging from Algeria, Canada, USA, Singapore, Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Indonesia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, and more.
Surfshark does not have specific servers for things like P2P traffic or Netflix connections, so your performance for P2P traffic may vary depending on connection, as may your streaming services connectivity.
Surfshark: privacy and security features
On the security features side of things, Surfshark provides:
- Internet kill switch - Automatically shuts off all networking and access to the public internet if disconnected from the VPN, when this is enabled. It should be noted, that even if you close the VPN software; if you have this enabled and you forget to disable it, all internet access will be cut off until you disable the feature -- this can be helpful for security sake, but just something you need to keep in mind if you suddenly realize you have no internet access when using this VPN service / feature.
- Wireguard protocol - A new up-and-coming protocol in the VPN world, boasting open-source code, significantly faster speeds as well as safer and more power saving than other protocols.
- Shadowsocks – Mostly used for avoiding firewalls and censorship, and is not really designed for privacy or anonymity.
Surfshark: speed tests
To test the speed of Surfshark, first a base test was run without the service. The PC used was connected to a 250down/20up connection in Canada. Using speedtest.net for the test, the results were as follows:
Without the VPN, connected to a speedtest server in my city:
- Ping - 12ms
- Download - 245.71 mbps
- Upload – 19.60 mbps
Next, connecting to the VPN and letting it use the server location it deemed best, which ended up being in a neighboring city to me, yielded the following results:
- Ping - 12 ms
- Download – 219.16 mbps
- Upload - 18.61 mbps
Result 2, I selected Iceland as my country of choice and once again ran the speedtest, to the following results:
- Ping - 131 ms
- Download – 233.04 mbps
- Upload - 9.06 mbps
Overall, I really thought the speeds were quite acceptable, and nothing you can really complain about, a quick P2P test also confirmed these speeds were all accurate. Overall there was nothing speed or connectivity wise that I had any issues with whatsoever. As I have written about other VPN’s in the past, I personally would not use this VPN while gaming if I was connecting to any sort of international server, as the higher pings (>100) would likely adversely affect my gaming experience, but I would see no problem with using a local server whilst gaming, if someone had a need to do so.
Surfshark privacy tests
NOTE: This section has been edited since the first posting, based on information provided in the comments section, and the tests were re-ran with better results!
If your VPN is leaking your IP address or any DNS information, it's not doing its job, so two tests were used to see how Surfshark performed.
DNS Extended Version Leak Test: PASSED (https://www.dnsleaktest.com)
Originally I had tested Surfshark while using Firefox, and I encountered MASSIVE DNS leaks...However, as one Ghacks commenter pointed out, the issue was due to Firefox using DNS over HTTPS. After disabling this feature, I re-ran the DNS test, and found no DNS leaks, which was quite a relief given the big scores other sites have given Surfshark. This is important to note though, as other fellow Firefox issues may have this DNS leak issue happen if they are using Firefox with the default settings, and this DNS over HTTP feature enabled!
IP Leak Test: PASSED (https://ipleak.net/)
There we no issues when running the IP test, with the IP Address showing as American.
Surfshark unblock streaming platforms test
Surfshark has limited ability to unblock regionally locked content. There are no specific servers designed for this purpose, and many of the major streaming services have Surfshark IP addresses blocked or blacklisted.
I was unable to watch any content on Netflix when I tried it... However, interestingly, it wasn’t that an error would pop up, or that Netflix would call me out for using a VPN…Rather, the videos simply would not load, and I would just be faced with a black screen.
I tried numerous servers, and this same incident would happen; so I could only be lead to believe that it was still Netflix kicking off / breaking my connection / not feeding me the content due to the VPN. I did not try every server available to me, so perhaps others may have better results or luck; but after trying a handful of servers and only ever getting the same result, I considered this to be enough of a test for the sake of this article, and moved on, considering this basically a fail.
A look at the Surfshark Windows desktop application
Interacting with the Windows client is very straightforward, though it did take me a second to find the options menu, located by clicking the gear icon on the bottom corner of the UI. However, after I found that, it was no big deal and clicking through the menus allowed me to find everything I was looking for fairly quickly and easily.
Surfshark is loved by many for it comes to speed and ease of use, and with no obvious or glaring issues, I have no reason to say anything negative about this VPN; it's cheaper than some of the others, though maybe not the cheapest, it has multihop connections available, and there are numerous security protocols to choose from.
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