Surfshark VPN review
There are so many virtual private network (VPN) services competing for your interest and, honestly, the best ones are mostly similar, that it starts to boil down to one or two things that set them apart. For NordVPN, it’s the user-friendliness stick by which all other VPNs are measured. For Hotspot Shield, it’s all about speed. And for Surfshark VPN, it’s the number of devices you can use.
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Fast download speeds
- Speedy connection and disconnection
- Great perks
- No manual server switching
- Slow international upload
- Payment amount discrepancies
- Password-changing woes
Our top five VPNs
- Hotspot Shield
Surfshark VPN prices and plans
On face value, Surfshark scores easy points on the payment front because it offers Australian pricing, which tends to mean no surprise fees nor mental gymnastics figuring out how much you’re actually paying. The thing is, when I bought my Surfshark VPN subscription for this review, the Australian prices offered were converted back to US currency and, subsequently, weren’t as cheap. According to my bank account, I paid $89.09 all up for the two-year subscription instead of the advertised $76.53 price, which feels misleading. To add to the concern, this plan was listed as one year when it should be two (even though Surfshark wasn’t offering an annual plan at the time of updating this review).
Below is a table that breaks down the three payment tiers Surfshark VPN offers.
|One-month plan||AU$16.58||AU$16.58||View Plan|
|Six-month plan||AU$8.31||AU$49.87||View Plan|
|Two-year plan||AU$3.19||AU$76.53||View Plan|
Data effective 20/05/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
As is the VPN trend, the more you pay, the better the monthly value, even if you are stung with the full upfront cost. Surfshark’s monthly pricing is towards the high side, beaten only by CyberGhost in the VPNs we’ve tested on the site, but the advertised price for the two-year plan is one of the best in terms of value.
Whether you opt for one month, six months or two years, you can take advantage of a 30-day money-back guarantee (Surfshark doesn’t have a free trial). There is also a seven-day free trial, but you need to sign up via the app to access it.
For comparison, the table below shows how Surfshark VPN compares to our current top five VPN providers.
|Surfshark||AU$16.58/mth||Unlimited simultaneous connections||View plan|
|NordVPN||US$11.95/mth||User-friendly, speedy connection||View plan|
|ExpressVPN||US$12.95/mth||Blocks ads of your choice on all devices||View plan|
|Hotspot Shield||US$12.99/mth||Incredibly fast performance||View plan|
|CyberGhost||AU$18.49/mth||Stacks of servers||View plan|
|PureVPN||US$10.95/mth||Loads of supported countries||View plan|
Data effective 20/05/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
Surfshark VPN connectivity and user experience
After paying more than what was advertised, my next hurdle was during the sign-up process. While most of this process is as straightforward as other providers, Surfshark wants you to immediately change your password to something incredibly secure when you sign up via browser. This is an admirable inclusion unless, like me, you get stuck on that page and are then are later unable to change your password because the temporary one it assigned you (but didn’t tell you) is requested when you do want to update it.
In fairness, this was a good way to test the Surfshark support, which was very quick to respond on live chat and offered timely assistance to help me resolve this issue (one I haven’t faced with other VPNs). I wasn’t off to a great start with Surfshark but it was pretty much all smooth sailing thereafter.
Surfshark takes around five seconds to connect to a server, whether locally or somewhere else in the world, and a second or two to disconnect. This speedy connectivity ensures that uptime-sensitive tasks like music streaming aren’t disrupted during connection or disconnection for the majority of my tests (with a few occasional one-second disruptions).
While the 3,200 servers and 65+ countries are on the short side compared to our current best VPN recommendations, there are five cities to choose from for Australia, three for the UK and 23 for the US. Most of the rest of the countries are limited to a single connection option except for Canada (three), France (three), Germany (four), India (three), Italy (two), Poland (two), Portugal (two) and Spain (three). It’s also worth noting that the country count was 62 at the time of updating this review.
The other issue is that while it’s convenient that a new server location is a single click away, there’s no way to manually connect to alternative servers, meaning you’re at the mercy of whatever Surfshark determines to be the best. If you do like a simplified VPN, Surfshark defaults to the fastest server (closest to you) and there’s a fast connect option that will connect you to the nearest country (New Zealand in my tests).
Unlike other VPNs I’ve tested, Surfshark didn’t meddle with any of my normal internet activities, which means I was free to use peer-to-peer software like Slack, all of my digital gaming platforms, and regular web use was uninterrupted while Surfshark was switched on.
Surfshark VPN number of devices
In my Norton Secure VPN review, I was disappointed by device restrictions. If you want Norton Secure VPN outside of the Norton 360 security suite, you have to pay per device, which flies in the face of the usual VPN approach of allowing for a fixed number of simultaneous connections (not devices). This number tends to hang around five, but Surfshark blows this out of the water by allowing for unlimited simultaneous connections.
This means you can feasibly buy one account and protect all the supported devices in your home, without having to worry about any restrictions. Surfshark even encourages you to share your VPN account with your family members. For comparison, the VPN in our current top five with the most simultaneous connections is PureVPN and that has 10, which is great next to its peers but nowhere near as impressive compared to Surfshark.
Here’s a list of the devices that Surfshark VPN supports:
- Chrome (browser plugin)
- Firefox (browser plugin)
- Fire TV
- Apple TV
That’s a healthy list of supported devices, but it’s worth flagging that the reason Xbox and PlayStation are listed without the specific console names is that Surfshark is supported via VPN-connected PC or router. While this isn’t the same as native console support, it does mean that Surfshark also offers basic support for routers, though this is limited to Asus, DD-WRT and Tomato routers.
Surfshark VPN speeds
As soon as you connect to any VPN server, even one in the same city as you, expect your internet to slow down. The better ones will only have minor speed dips for nearby servers and should still preserve decent latency (online responsiveness) as well as download and upload speeds when connecting to faraway servers.
|VPN server||Download speed||Upload speed||Latency|
|US VPN (manual)||82.52Mbps|
What I tend to do in these tests is let the VPN determine a server for a US connection, then manually find a faster one in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Because Surfshark doesn’t offer an automatic US option, I tested for Los Angeles and San Francisco, with slightly better results from the latter. Most impressively – and this is something I haven’t seen before – the download speeds from the San Francisco server were faster than the download speeds from the Sydney server. While 13% isn’t an ideal download slowdown percentage for a Sydney VPN server, 11% for a US server is solid.
That said, upload speeds take a massive hit, jumping from the 13% slowdown for the Sydney server to a whopping 73% when connecting to the one in San Francisco. On the latency front, there was impressively no change with the VPN on or off with the Sydney server, while the jump to 157ms is beaten only marginally by NordVPN, ExpressVPN and Hotspot Shield’s 153ms latency.
Surfshark VPN streaming
When it comes to streaming, download speed is infinitely more important than upload speed, so I was confident that Surfshark would do okay in these tests. For those who don’t mind running the risk of falling on the wrong side of user terms and conditions, it’s possible to use a VPN to access geoblocked content from other countries. Similarly, Aussies abroad may be interested in accessing Australian streaming services when they’re travelling, which the more recommendable VPNs also let you do.
The table below shows how well Surfshark performs with popular US and Australian streaming services (and one UK alternative). All of these services have a tendency of being able to sniff out lacklustre VPNs.
|Service||ExpressVPN compatible?||Buffering speed|
|HBO Max||Yes||Extremely slow|
|Stan (including Stan Sport)||Yes||Fast|
While Surfshark is compatible with almost every service in the table above, the extremely slow buffering speed for HBO Max and Peacock makes for a frustrating streaming experience. Still, if you prefer Netflix and Hulu, Surfshark will serve you well, but bear in mind that the Netflix library was initially slow to load even if buffering speeds were fast.
For Australian server tests, Stan passed with flying colours but Kayo was a little trickier. Kayo didn’t score the usual VPN error where it refuses to load, but it took about 20 seconds just to load into the main menu then refused to play any content. You can (incredibly slowly) navigate the menus, but you shouldn’t expect to be able to watch Kayo content with Surfshark.
The table below uses the best-case 11% download speed variance when connecting to a CyberGhost US server and applies it to the average typical evening download speeds (TEDS) for providers across NBN fixed-line speed tiers. To put it into practical perspective, the three columns on the right of the table show the number of simultaneous streams you could run on with a single account for Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer. Note that while Netflix taps out at four simultaneous streams, BBC iPlayer technically allows for unlimited streams and Hulu has an unlimited-screens upgrade.
|NBN speed tier||Average NBN TEDS||Surfshark TEDS||Netflix 4K|
|NBN 12||11.43Mbps||10.17Mbps||Too slow||Too slow||Too slow|
|NBN 25||22.31Mbps||19.86Mbps||Too slow||1 stream||Too slow|
|NBN 50||46.89Mbps||41.73Mbps||1 stream||2 streams||1 stream|
|NBN 100||89.72Mbps||79.85Mbps||3 streams||4 streams||3 streams|
|NBN 250||212.10Mbps||188.77Mbps||4+ streams||13 streams||8 streams|
|NBN 1000||350Mbps||311.50Mbps||4+ streams||19 streams||12 streams|
Surfshark VPN extras
The Surfshark VPN side dishes start at sign-up, albeit they’ll cost you an extra monthly fee. An extra AU$1.27 a month gets you Surfshark Alert, which alerts you if your email comes up in leaked databases, and Surfshark Search that pledges private, effective and organics search results minus ads and logs.
Part of the subscription cost includes a selection of servers in Germany, Japan, Singapore, the UK and the US that have static IP addresses if consistency is important to you. If you want to go the opposite route and don’t mind the slower speeds, you can up your online security by connecting to dedicated ‘MultiHop’ servers that route traffic through multiple Surfshark servers.
Surfshark also has a ‘Whitelister’ feature, which is the VPN’s term for split tunnelling, except it makes this usually more advanced VPN feature more accessible to everyday users. Click on it to add the apps or websites you’d like to bypass Surfshark so they work like they would with the VPN disconnected. You’ll also find ‘CleanWeb’ in the same part of the app, which is off by default, but is absolutely worth flicking on to block ads, trackers and malware.
There’s also a Smart DNS service if you’re looking to access faster speeds for streaming geoblocked content (albeit without the protection). Finally, Surfshark is serious about your privacy in terms of its logging policy, which is to say that it doesn’t keep a log of what you do online. For Surfshark, this includes no logs for:
- IP address
- Browsing history
- Used bandwidth
- Session information
- Network traffic
- Connection timestamps
Surfshark VPN vs NordVPN and ExpressVPN
NordVPN and ExpressVPN are two of the most popular VPN services available and, at the time of updating this review, are the top two for our current top-five VPNs. They both boast cheaper monthly pricing than (US$11.95 and US$12.95 vs AU$16.58), but neither can compete with the value of Surfshark’s two-year plan.
While all three VPNs boast easy-to-use interfaces with fast connection and disconnection times, NordVPN has more servers (5,440 vs 3,200) but fewer server locations (59 vs 65+), and ExpressVPN has fewer servers (3,000+ vs 3,200) but has servers in more locations (94 vs 65+).
All three VPN services boast zero-logging policies, Smart DNS, split tunnelling, military-grade encryption and 30-day money-back guarantee in lieu of trials. While Surfshark boasts unlimited simultaneous connections, NordVPN only offers six and ExpressVPN taps out at five per account. In terms of speed, NordVPN and ExpressVPN only had single-digit percentage changes for download and upload when connecting to a Sydney server, whereas Surfshark takes a 13% hit.
That said, Surfshark’s 11% change to download speeds beats the best test results from NordVPN and ExpressVPN (19% and 16%) when connecting to the closest US server. Surfshark also beats NordVPN for better upload speeds (73% slowdown vs 84%) but can’t hold a candle to ExpressVPN’s 29% change.
Should I buy Surfshark VPN?
Surfshark VPN is absolutely a worthy purchase. If upload speed matter most or you want the option to manually select servers (or just have more servers and/or locations), there are better VPNs out there. Still, minimal impact to latency, great download speeds from the US, and unlimited devices offer more than enough reasons to validate an investment in Surfshark VPN, particularly if you buy into the great value two-year plan.