Rating:
6/10
?
  • 1 - Does not work
  • 2 - Barely functional
  • 3 - Severely lacking in most areas
  • 4 - Functions, but has numerous issues
  • 5 - Fine yet leaves a lot to be desired
  • 6 - Good enough to buy on sale
  • 7 - Great and worth purchasing
  • 8 - Fantastic, approaching best-in-class
  • 9 - Best-in-class
  • 10 - Borderline perfection
Price:
$12.95/month
Surfshark VPN running on a MacBook and iPhone
Surfshark

Surfshark has grown in popularity following its acquisition by NordVPN and then with its announcement of the Nexus VPN standard. Product announcements aside, though, how good is Surfshark really, and are there noticeable traces of the takeover by NordVPN? I’ll take a look in this full review.

Here's What We Like

  • Great for Netflix
  • Cheap when on sale
  • Easy to use

And What We Don't

  • Slow
  • Expensive "real" price
  • Defaults to poor protocol
  • Long connection times

How-To Geek's expert reviewers go hands-on with each product we review. We put every piece of hardware through hours of testing in the real world and run them through benchmarks in our lab. We never accept payment to endorse or review a product and never aggregate other people’s reviews. Read more >>

What Can Surfshark Do?

Overall, Surfshark is a decent VPN. It does everything you need a virtual private network to do, including encryting your connection and spoofing your location. It also does a good job of getting through to Netflix, though of course this may not remain the case forever. You can also use it just fine for torrenting. However, it comes with some downsides, particularly its mediocre speeds.

Tip: Check out our guide to what a VPN is if you’d like to know more about VPN basics.

As a result, it’s hard to place Surfshark. While it’s among the best VPNs thanks to the extremely low price of its initial plan and it currently does well with streaming, I’m not entirely sure if that weighs up against its low speeds. It also misses the mark in some other areas, some more important than others.

For example, in June 2022, it has a widespread server network, with over 3,200 servers in 65 countries. This is roughly on par with NordVPN, which has about 5,000 servers, albeit in fewer countries (60).

Then again, ExpressVPN serves over 90 countries, while HideMyAss boasts servers in 210 countries (which is more countries than are in the UN; it designates several dependencies as independent countries to make that math work). While 65 countries is fine and will do well for most people, it doesn’t make Surfshark stand out, either.

Another thing that irks us a little about Surfshark is its very long connection times. While I appreciate establishing a VPN tunnel between two servers isn’t instantaneous, I’m a little unsure why it takes Surfshark up to ten seconds at times. NordVPN, for one, only takes a few seconds to do this.

Surfshark making a connection

It’s little annoyances like this that make Surfshark feel a little unpolished at times.

Getting Into Netflix

However, a lot of these minor criticisms are made good by how well Surfshark handles Netflix, or at least how well it works at the time of writing, in June 2022. The simple fact remains that when using a VPN for Netflix, you’re never sure if it will work or not. In the past, for example, Surfshark had great trouble cracking Netflix, as did other VPNs, like NordVPN and ExpressVPN.

Right now, though, Surfshark is where it’s at. When I tested, every single UK server I tried worked right away, as did the ones in the United States. In fact, it went so well that I only tried three times instead of the normal five or so. Hulu also seemed to work pretty well, though it seems Amazon Prime Video is still off-limits, which is normal.

I was very surprised at how well Surfshark manages streaming services, to be honest, as it used to have some trouble in this department. However, there’s one development that may hold the answer: Surfshark Nexus.

Surfshark Nexus

Surfshark Nexus is a newly developed technology that allows Surfshark to randomize IP addresses. While I admit I was a little skeptical of this at first (VPNs make a lot of promises they rarely fulfill), it seems to be working pretty well, at least for Netflix. The improved speeds promised by Nexus are still far away.

That said, the other explanation could be that Surfshark managed to get its hands on a large number of “clean” IPs to get into Netflix. Whatever the case may be, right now it works, and well.

Surfshark NoBorders

Another interesting feature Surfshark offers is NoBorders, which promises special technology to get past internet blocks. This may seem like a great buy if you need to escape censorship, but thankfully you don’t need anything special to do so. Any VPN can handle this for you, so if you don’t like Surfshark, you can simply use another service.

Like its vaunted multi-hop connections, this is just a bit of advertising copy that Surfshark has put up to draw in customers. In this case, and most others, all you really need to worry about are core features, which is something Surfshark handles well enough.

Price: How Much Does Surfshark VPN Cost?

Though overall I may seem less than enthusiastic about Surfshark, it has one huge upside: it’s downright cheap. If you sign up for the two-year plan, you pay just under $60, while the one-year plan is just $48 (there will be a banner on the site that claims this offer is temporary; it is not).

Surfshark pricing schedule

However, there are a few caveats attached to this price: it only applies the first time you sign up. As it states in the fine print that is a little too translucent for our taste, after the initial period ends, you’ll pay $96 per year. Unsurprisingly, automatic renewal has been switched on for the customer’s convenience.

At $30 per year, Surfshark’s teaser rate is an okay buy, but at almost $100 once the promo period ends, I’m a lot less keen on it. For that money, you’d be much better off signing up to ExpressVPN—we compare the two providers in our ExpressVPN vs Surfshark piece if you’d like to know more details.

NordVPN does much the same, offering a very low rate to start with and then upping it dramatically when it’s time to sign on for real. For our money, I recommend you sign on to either one for two years, and then the other once that period is up. After four years have passed, you can then opt for another, third, cheap service. I don’t recommend paying full price for Surfshark.

Surfshark Refund Policy

If you’re not too sure about Surfshark but two years of service for $60 sounds good, then you’ll be happy to know that there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee in place. However, you should know that, while you will get your money back, you’ll need to put up with some shenanigans to do so.

For example, when I went to get our refund, I had to send a total of four emails to Surfshark support. Each time I sent our polite request for them to honor their money-back guarantee, I got something back asking us to reconsider, usually reciting one of their marketing claims about how Surfshark is the best, etc, etc.

Again, I got our money back in the end, it just wasn’t exactly a smooth process.

The Best VPN Services of 2022

Best Overall VPN
ExpressVPN
Best Budget VPN
SurfShark
Best Free VPN
Windscribe
Best VPN for iPhone
ProtonVPN
Best VPN for Android
Hide.me
Best VPN for Streaming
ExpressVPN
Best VPN for Gaming
Private Internet Access
Best VPN for Torrenting
NordVPN
Best VPN for Windows
CyberGhost
Best VPN for China
VyprVPN
Best VPN for Privacy
Mullvad VPN

Interface: Easy-to-Use on Any Device

Using Surfshark is a breeze. The interface has been put together really well and you won’t have any trouble figuring out how to use it. It eschews NordVPN’s graphical interface (check out our Surfshark vs NordVPN article to see where else it differs) for a simple one that has a list of servers on the left and a connect button on the right.

Surfshark main interface

It’s simple and gives you a great overview, so you never truly feel lost. The worst thing I can say about it is that the interface stuttered a little at times, though that could also be because I tested it on a virtual machine running Windows 10. Besides that and the long connection times, Surfshark is easy to use.

Note: Surfshark VPN has applications available for Mac, Windows, Linux, iPhone, iPad, and Android, with extensions/add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

I also like the settings screen, accessed through the vertical bar on the far left. It clearly lays out all your options, which is great because you’ll need to change a few to make the most of Surfshark, something I’ll talk about next.

Surfshark settings menu

Security and Privacy: Fantastic After Some Tweaks

When it comes to how safe Surfshark is, the news is mixed. When it comes to your private information, the service claims to be a no-log VPN, so it does not keep a ledger of your online activity while connected. In the end, you always need to take these claims at face value, but so far there’s no reason not to believe Surfshark’s assertions.

When it comes to how safe you are, though, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The first is that Surfshark will, unless you change this, automatically assign you a VPN protocol when it connects to a server. Plenty of VPNs do this, but Surfshark has the unpleasant habit of defaulting to the IKEv2 protocol, which is fast, but not as secure.

I suspect Surfshark does this to make up for its modest speeds, but we really don’t like IKE and recommend that you change the protocol to something else—OpenVPN-TCP is always good. I did so and, as a result, my speed test results in the next section are quite a bit lower than in most other reviews.

The other oversight on Surfshark’s part is that it has its kill switch off as a default, something else it shares with NordVPN. I really don’t understand why it does this, as a kill switch is a pretty important part of your security setup as it will shut down your internet connection if the VPN fails. Thankfully, you can easily switch it on, but I think it’s an odd thing to have off by default.

Naturally, we ran security tests on a few of Surfshark’s connections, and all came up clean as a whistle. As far as we can tell, Surfshark is perfectly secure.

Internet Speeds: Less Than Great

When it comes to internet speeds, Surfshark usually does well, as long as you use its protocol switching method which, as mentioned earlier, I suspect usually defaults to the slightly dodgy IKEv2. However, when set to OpenVPN, Surfshark’s speeds are abysmal, taking a hit of over 80%, even on relatively close locations.

I conducted tests from Cyprus and connected to servers in Israel, the UK, New York City, and Japan using OpenVPN-TCP. Our base speed without a VPN engaged was just north of 100Mbps. I took each reading three times to make sure there weren’t any anomalies; in each case, I took the best result. Below you can find a table with my readings.

Unprotected speed test

As we recommend in our VPN speed testing guide, I used speedtest.net for our measurements.

As you can see, these results are pretty bad. Generally speaking, a server as close by as the one in Israel (roughly 300km or 200 miles away) should give us decent speeds as distance is the biggest factor when calculating VPN speed loss. However, I got speeds as poor as those connecting to New York City, which is more than 5,000 miles away.

Normally, you’d ascribe this to the server having a bad day, but the fact that the server in London (3,000km or 2,000 miles away) still only gets 17 percent of the original speed shows that the issue is likely systemic. Even considering how far Japan and the U.S. are from Cyprus, these speeds are still pretty bad.

Location Ping Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Unprotected (Cyprus) 4 102 31
Israel 264 8 10
United Kingdom 131 17 11
NYC 267 8 6
Japan 604 3 3

The bottom line is that if you want a connection that’s both fast and safe, you may want to look further than Surfshark.

Should You Choose Surfshark Over Other VPNs?

Surfshark is a little hard to place: while I like how well it handles Netflix and how cheap it is for first-time buyers, it lacks a certain panache that other services have. Add to that its mediocre speeds—which may impact your Netflix experience—and overall I’m going to give it a pass.

However, if Netflix is your main priority and you don’t mind using Surfshark’s default protocol, then it may be worth the buy, especially at the introductory price.

Rating:
6/10
Price:
$12.95/month

Here’s What We Like

  • Great for Netflix
  • Cheap when on sale
  • Easy to use

And What We Don't

  • Slow
  • Expensive "real" price
  • Defaults to poor protocol
  • Long connection times
Profile Photo for Fergus O'Sullivan Fergus O'Sullivan
Fergus is a freelance writer for How-To Geek. He has seven years of tech reporting and reviewing under his belt for a number of publications, including GameCrate and Cloudwards. He's written more articles and reviews about cybersecurity and cloud-based software than he can keep track of---and knows his way around Linux and hardware, too.
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