Surfshark review: A solid VPN service with a few extras

This relatively new name in the world of VPNs is off to a great start.

Surfshark in brief:

  • P2P allowed: Yes
  • Business location: British Virgin Islands
  • Number of servers: 800+
  • Number of country locations: 49*
  • Cost: $72 (billed annually)
  • VPN protocol: IKEv2/OpenVPN
  • Data encryption: AES-256-CBC/AES-256-GCM
  • Data authentication: HMAC-SHA256-128/SHA-512
  • Handshake: Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman 384

A lot of people want to secure their connection with a VPN these days, but that presents a convenience problem: no Netflix. There are a number of VPNs that work with Netflix, but Surfshark goes beyond compatibility with just the typical U.S. and U.K. to include another nine countries: Australia, Canada, German, France, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and South Korea.

Surfshark, officially based in the British Virgin Islands with most of its workforce living across Europe, is a relative newcomer to the VPN space. We recently took a look at what this service is like on macOS, and now it’s time to try it out on Windows 10.

Note: This review is part of our best VPNs roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.

Features and services

surfsharkconnected IDG

Surfshark with an active connection.

Surfshark offers a pretty standard looking Windows app, with a left rail for navigation options. The primary dashboard features a connected/not connected indicator, as well as a list of your most recent country connections.

The Locations menu option offers four different types of connections. The first are physical servers, meaning they are located in the actual country indicated. These servers also show quick-connect options for the fastest server based on your location, or a server from a neighboring country. The next tab houses virtual server locations, which means the servers are not physically located in the country they claim to be. Companies usually do this to provide locations that have poor physical infrastructure, or places where the company doesn’t have a business relationship.

After virtual server locations, there are a number of P2P server options, and then several double-hop VPN connections to obfuscate your actual location even further. Surfshark calls this latter option “Multi-Hop,” with 13 different predetermined double-hops including United States to France, France to Sweden, and Netherlands to the United States.

Surfshark also has an ad, tracker, and malware blocker called CleanWeb that is not turned on by default. Finally there’s Whitelister, which is a split-tunneling feature. Whitelister has options for allowing apps and websites to connect outside of the VPN. 

surfsharkcleanweb IDG

Surfshark’s CleanWeb setting.

The only other feature to speak of is something called NoBorders, which is enabled by default and designed to get past national firewalls in restrictive countries.

Overall it’s a nicely designed app that’s easy to navigate, with a host of options. The only quibble I have is in the location section. Here, you can click on the far-right side of each country connection to see more granular region options. In the United States, for example, you can choose between server locations on the East Coast, Midwest, Southwest, and West Coast. It would be nice if these granular options offered ping times or server load indicators to give power users a better idea of which server location they’d like to use.

As for the Netflix promises, I didn’t test every single option, but on the spot checks I did, all the options worked with Netflix. 

Surfshark charges $72 per year for its service, which is a little on the high side but you get unlimited simultaneous device connections. At this writing the company was also selling a two-year commitment for $48 ($2 per month), which is a fantastic deal. Surfshark’s month-to-month price, like most VPN services, is not worth is at $12 per month. Unless you need a guaranteed Netflix connection, you’re better off with Mullvad, which charges €5 (around $6.35) per month.

Performance

surfsharklocations IDG

Surfshark’s country locations.

Based on our tests, Surfshark maintained about 35 percent of the base speed across three different testing periods over five locations worldwide. That’s pretty good, and while it doesn’t hit the upper tier of speed demons that we’ve seen on Windows, it’s still very capable.

Speeds were excellent in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Your experience may vary depending on your location and ISP.

Privacy, anonymity, and trust

Surfshark says it does not collect any of your online activity, including browsing history, session information, bandwidth used, connection time stamps, network traffic, or IP addresses. To use Surfshark you need to supply an email address.

The company accepts payment via credit cards, PayPal, Google Pay, or cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple.

surfsharksmall1 IDG

Surfshark after a fresh install on Windows.

As we mentioned earlier, Surfshark is officially based in the British Virgin Islands, but as with many VPN companies, the staff is scattered throughout Europe and other places around the world. The CEO is Par Kaz, and the CTO is Magnus Steinberg.

Conclusion

Surfshark offers good speeds, compatibility with Netflix, and a solid number of country connections. The Windows app is well designed and easy enough to understand. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s perfect for newbies, but it’s not overly complicated either. The fact that it offers unlimited simultaneous device connections is great, and very unusual. It also works with Netflix, which is a big plus for global travelers or anyone who’d prefer to keep their connection encrypted 24/7. Overall, Surfshark’s a good choice for VPN users interested in casual browsing and streaming.

* Surfshark uses virtual servers, meaning a number of its country locations are not physically located where they appear to be. These locations are clearly marked in the app.

Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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