surfshark review 2020 main


We’ve been using Surfshark for a couple of years now and have been impressed by the sheer number of new features the company has added in that time. Most recently, it added two-factor authentication which protects your account and although it’s optional for VPN users, if you use Surfshark’s HackLock service as well, it’s mandatory.

Other new features include GPS spoofing for Android users, which is yet another measure to prevent apps and websites from detecting your real location, and there are plenty of new servers: the total has risen from 800 to 1200, and they now cover 61 countries (though some are virtual locations).

Surfshark is one of the VPN services which has joined together to form the VPN Trust Initiative in a bid to bring more transparency to VPN services and also to put in place standards for security, privacy and other factors. Put simply, it’s a positive thing as you need to trust that a VPN service is going to do its job properly and keep your IP address and location hidden.

The service also offers apps for lots of popular devices (including Amazon Fire TV), doesn’t impose any restrictions on the number of devices that can connect to the service at the same time and gives you a few additional features that you don’t commonly find with competing services such as the Whitelister and CleanWeb. More on those later on.

Surfshark: Pricing

Surfshark’s prices are very competitive, with a two-year subscription working out at £2.79/$3.49 per month. There’s also a one year option for £4.79/$5.99 per month, or if you don’t want to commit you can choose to pay £9.49/$11.95 per month.

If you go for the two-year deal, you can get the even lower price of £1.59/$1.99, which is great value. And as we said, most rivals don’t allow unlimited connections and restrict you to just a few devices connecting simultaneously.

There’s no free trial on Windows, but there is a week-long trial in the Android, iOS and macOS apps. And there is also a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with the service.

Payment options include your standard credit card, PayPal and Google Pay options as well as cryptocurrency options for those who want to pay anonymously, plus Alipay.

For alternative recommendations, see our round-up of the best VPNs.

Surfshark: Features

In order to remain outside of the jurisdiction of the 14-eyes, Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands. That means it cannot be asked to share customer data by the government there.

However, the company has a strict no-logs policy. It does collect your email address and billing information when you set up an account but, beyond that, it doesn’t know whether you use the applications once you’ve purchased the plan, or what you choose to do when you’re using the service. So there’s nothing revealing that could be handed over to authorities anyway.

For diagnostics, Surfshark collects anonymous information including aggregated performance data, the frequency of use of its services, crash reports on apps and unsuccessful connection attempts, but none of these can be traced back to accounts or individuals. It collects this technical data in order to improve its service, inline with many of its competitors.

There are now 1200 servers across 61 countries including the UK and US. Surfshark offers P2P servers for torrenting, and you can either choose the “Fastest P2P server” on the main screen, or go to the Locations tab and click on the P2P section to see all the available servers which are in 17 countries.

Two-factor authentication

If you want to enable 2FA to protect your account, you can do so via the website or in the settings section of the app. There are two methods of getting a code: Google Authenticator or email. Undoubtedly, this does add a bit of inconvenience each time you want to log in, but since that happens pretty infrequently, it’s well worth enabling.

Apps

The apps have a fresh-looking interface and they are as easy to use as you’d hope. We like that there are two quick-connect options: closest and fastest servers. Many apps only offer the former under the guise of “Best” but Surfshark lets you pick which you’d prefer.

There’s also a brilliant Easter Egg in the Windows version, which can be accessed by clicking on the menu button to the right of the Connect button. Click the toggle to Enter Hyperspace and the interface is switched to a Star Wars-like mode where you can jump to the Fastest Ship or Nearest Star (servers, obviously, not ships or stars) and there’s a great spaceship image when you’re connected.

Surfshark review easter egg

You can pick the server you want to connect to in the Locations tab, and you can expand the list for countries which have more than one server. There’s now a circle next to each one indicating how close a server is to full capacity.

There are now multiple servers in the UK: when we initially reviewed Surfshark there was just one. As well as servers in physical locations, Surfshark (like many VPNs) has virtual locations so you can make the internet believe you are in Argentina, for example, even though Surfshark does not have a server in that country. And this fact is made plain thanks to the fact that Virtual servers are found in a separate list to Physical servers, something that helps to instill trust.

Surfshark uses IKEv2/IPsec by default on all of its apps, but if you prefer to use OpenVPN you can switch to this protocol, and there’s a choice of UDP and TCP for those that really know what they’re doing. A new addition is the Shadowsocks protocol, now out of beta, it’s a good idea to stick to OpenVPN or the default if you’re not a security expert.

There’s a kill switch, which will disable internet access if the VPN connection suddenly drops, but in the Windows app it’s a system-wide kill switch that you can’t customise so that only certain apps’ connections are terminated. 

What we like is that you can see at a glance whether a particular server is busy or not, that you can mark favourites and that recently used servers appear on the main screen for even faster re-connection.

Surfshark review Android app

In the Android app you have a choice of the native Android kill switch or the Surfshark one, plus useful options to auto-connect to the VPN when using mobile networks and / or Wi-Fi networks. Oddly, the option to only use the VPN when connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks (shown below) has disappeared in the latest version of the app, which was 2.5.8 at the time of writing.

 Surfshark review Android app

An optional setting that’s not enabled by default in any of the apps is CleanWeb, which blocks ads and trackers, but beyond that you don’t get any extra features or settings to play around with.

Another feature is Whitelister (available on Windows and Android) which lets you allow specific apps and websites to bypass the VPN. Surfshark suggests you could use this for banking apps but there may be other instances such as applications you need to log into for work that will benefit from this option.

NoBorders is a toggle you can use in “restrictive regions” to unblock the internet where it’s usually locked down. Unfortunately, we were unable to test this feature to see if it would work in China.

You’ll find apps for Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux and Fire TV, as well as browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.

HackLock and BlindSearch

Surfshark has recently introduced two extra features which aren’t part of the VPN service: they cost extra on top of your subscription.

The first is HackLock. You can enter email addresses here and Surfshark will monitor them and alert you if any are ever leaked in a data breach. Soon, you’ll be able to do the same for credit / debit card numbers and social security numbers.

HackLock also lets you check if your passwords are vulnerable, and if you need to change any of them.

Second, there’s BlindSearch, which is a bit like DuckDuckGo in that it lets you search the web in privacy, and with no ads. As no filtering happens, you’ll see only organic results. Currently, it’s a bit clunky to use in the mobile apps as you’re redirected to a web browser and then have to tap ‘start’ to actually get to the page where you can search.

Performance

When it comes to performance, Surfshark fares pretty well. We found that we were able to connect to Netflix using multiple different servers. When connected to a UK server, BBC iPlayer worked without a hitch, so Surfshark can offer access to iPlayer content even when you’re abroad. Surfshark is a great choice overall for streaming video.

We also found that it was noticeably quicker than its rivals to connect to a server, taking only around a second, and during our testing there were no DNS leaks at all. There are options for adding extra security and privacy using the MultiHop feature, which will route your connection via two servers for extra encryption. There are various combinations to choose with MultiHop, too.

It’s very difficult to test the speed of a VPN, as there are so many variables involved and results tend to differ from day to day and even minute to minute. However, during our testing we found that the UK servers had almost no impact on our internet speed (we were testing from London so this was largely expected), but when connecting to US servers we saw much slower speeds that varied from good to middling to poor (the latter when using the automatically selected server in Boston). 

Surfshark review

However, if you do find you’re getting poor speeds, the solution is simply to try a different server (if one is available in the desired country) and it will usually fix the problem in seconds.

We’ve seen faster speeds from other VPNs, though, including NordVPN, ExpressVPN and PureVPN, but as we’ve said, performance varies all the time on every VPN service. 

The good news is that tech support is incredibly speedy. You can use the 24/7 online chat to speak to a representative. During our testing we had a response within seconds of asking a question, and it was a very helpful response from a friendly and cheerful Surfshark employee.

Verdict

Surfshark is easy to use and now has a good range of useful features – it’s far from the barebones service it used to be.

Whether you use them or not, you can’t argue with the price. It’s even better value if you have a large family as there’s no limit to how many devices you can use. Performance is very good and we’re happy with Surfshark’s no-logs policy, plus the fact it has been independently audited.





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