'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
Let's get to the bottom line: as VPN services go, you could do a lot worse that Surfshark. It's less expensive than most other VPN services, which helped land it on ZDNET's best VPN list as our value pick, and it has solid, if somewhat inconsistent performance. A big bonus is that you don't have to worry about how many devices you can connect, because there's no limit. That's big, especially if you want your whole home or office behind a VPN.
Depending on the country you're connecting to, Surfshark may leak the fact that you're using a VPN. But we didn't find any issues with leaked IP addresses. It also includes some helpful features like an antimalware scanner and an ad blocker (although we had mixed results with that).
If you want to dive into the details and really get to know this solid product, read on.
Also: NordVPN vs Surfshark: Which is better for you?
$59.76 for 24 months ($2.49/month)
30-day refund guarantee
iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, Linux
Additional support for
FireTV, Smart TVs (Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, Chromecast), Router, Xbox, PlayStation
Purchasing Surfshark is interesting. It's important to remember that VPN companies regularly change their fees, so what we're publishing here might well be different tomorrow. In fact, the fees my editor saw when she checked the site were different from what I saw at the same time. But with that caution, here's a chart showing Surfshark's current basic fee structure (or at least pretty close):
What you pay
Equivalent monthly fee
Annual renewal fee after initial period ends
Take notice of the 25 month program. If you expect to use Surfshark for anything more than four months (five months times $12.95 is $64.95), it is definitely the better deal.
But here's the kicker. If you want to keep using Surfshark after that 25-month period, it will automatically renew every year at the 12-month rate, and not for two years like the original purchase.
I mean, seriously, what self-respecting services company wouldn't have at least one upsell? Surfshark's is called Surfshark One. It contains three (yeah, it gives me a headache, too) new features: antivirus, recordless search, and personal identifying information (PII) data breach alerts.
Here's pricing for that:
What you pay
Equivalent monthly fee
Annual renewal fee after initial period ends
Notice that in this case, if you choose the 25-month plan, you are able to renew it for the same price as you originally bought it. Why the inconsistency with renewal period for the base plan? Why?
Not directly. But it does have a 30-day money-back guarantee. So you do have to pay upfront, but the company will refund your money if you hate it… with a few exceptions.
The company's Terms of Service page says this:
We can refund you on the basis of our 30-day money-back guarantee. Except if you signed up via iTunes/App Store/Amazon or with a prepaid card/gift card. These are out of our hands.
So, if you're not sure whether or not you're going to keep using the service, buy it through a regular credit card.
As it turns out, yes. And in a big way. Most VPNs limit use based on the number of simultaneous connections. So a VPN that limits you to, say, three simultaneous connections can't be used on four devices at once.
One of Surfshark's standout value elements is that it allows you to use it on an unlimited number of devices. So if you want to run your whole house and all its gadgets through Surfshark's VPN, you can do so without worrying about whether you'll exceed some arbitrary limit.
Let's also talk about the types of devices you can use. Surfshark has client applications specifically for MacOS, Windows, Android, and iOS and supports both phones and tablets. But it also provides setup instructions for a wide range of TVs and consoles, routers, and Linux (with full support for Debian 11 and higher, Ubuntu 20.04 or higher, and Mint 20 or higher).
I installed the Surfshark app on a fresh, fully-updated Windows 11 install. To do this kind of testing, I always use a fresh install so some other company's VPN leftovers aren't clogging up the system and possibly influencing results.
What's particularly interesting is that I'm running Parallels Desktop 18 on a Mac Studio with an M1 Max processor. So rather than having to bare metal the test system and do a full Windows install, all I have to do is copy the Parallels virtual machine file and launch it. Now, here's where it gets interesting.
I'm running Arm for Windows, and running these tests inside an emulated x86 environment. And it's still fast. A quick shoutout of thanks to Parallels for being a project partner on this and helping me work out how to best load out the VMs for this kind of testing.
I have a 1 gig fiber feed connected to my test machine over Ethernet, so my baseline network speed is quite fast. Initiating a connection took between three and six seconds for each server location.
To provide a fair US performance comparison, rather than comparing to my local fiber broadband provider, I use speedtest.net and picked a server a few thousand miles away in Dallas Texas to test download speed.
I tested connections to every other continent except Antarctica. Tests originated in Oregon and connected to Stockholm Sweden, Taipei Taiwan, Perth Australia, Hyderabad India, Sao Paolo Brazil and Cairo Egypt.
There are actually two considerations here. The first is hiding your location. There may be many reasons why you want to do this, from personal security to content access. If you're concerned about personal security and believe that the only thing standing between you and death, abuse, persecution, or imprisonment is the VPN you're using, I strongly recommend you read this article: When your VPN is a matter of life or death, don't rely on reviews
The second consideration is whether your VPN hides the fact that you're using a VPN. Many services will block anything they can tell is using a VPN, and VPN use is also illegal in some countries.
While connected to each of the continents, I also tested whether there was a DNS leak, which would potentially provide information to your ISP or other services about what sites you visit or your originating location or IP address.
You can see the results below. I used dnsleak.com, dnsleaktest.com, ipleak.net, and browserleaks.com for my testing process. Here are the results:
Notice the red flag next to Brazil. That's because testing did pass, but dnsleak.com reported that the connection was from the United States, not Brazil.
Tests to Taiwan, India, and Egypt all showed that the connection was via Surfshark. You can see this in the message from Taiwan via ipleak.net:
Another example is this from Egypt via browserleaks.com.
When connecting to three countries -- Taiwan, India, and Egypt -- Surfshark failed to hide VPN usage via three of the four leak tests. When connecting to Egypt, Surfshark failed to hide that fact using all four of the tests.
Surfshark advertises it can connect you to 100+ countries. Technically, that's true, although it does so with some countries using virtual servers. These are servers indicated with a V on the location name:
These are servers that aren't physically located at the location specified, but which have connections in those locations. This might cause some delays in performance, which Surfshark documents here.
Take a look at the screenshot above. There are two other useful features. First is the search field at the very top. You can quickly look for a location and then connect to it. You can also favorite locations you like.
Connecting is a simple matter of tapping the location you want.
The vertical button bar on the left of the screen is Upsell City. If you haven't paid extra for the Surfshark One service, each button (with the exception of the gear icon on the bottom) takes you to an upsell screen.
That gear icon takes you to settings.
Here, you're presented with a bunch of setting options. The most useful is the top menu, for VPN settings.
It has the usual settings you'll find on almost any VPN product, including Kill Switch and Protocol. But there are two features that are helpful. The first is CleanWeb, which purports to block malware and ads. I wasn't able to test it for malware, but I did try it for ad blocking. As you can see in the before and after images below, CleanWeb didn't do much for ad blocking.
Protocols available are WireGuard and OpenVPN. It looks like Surfshark used to offer IKEv2, but that's not available anymore. With WireGuard (which is excellent), the lack of IKEv2 is no great loss.
Look around you. Have you noticed how everything has turned gray? That's because you've just entered the gray area of VPN usage.
Also: What is torrenting and how does it work?
While using VPNs to bypass geoblocks is not necessarily illegal in most areas, it most definitely is a terms of service violation -- and streamers like Netflix and Hulu do not approve.
But Surfshark, like most of the other VPN services, recognized that using their service to bypass geographic limitations for content is a big draw. So they talk out of both sides of their mouth(s).
Here's an example. Surfshark is running a very long and detailed article entitled, Which Countries Get the Best-rated TV Shows & Films on Netflix? It discusses which countries have the best Netflix catalogs and what shows might be watched in what regions. Now, why would Surfshark run such an article if they didn't want to not-so-subtly imply their service makes watching different Netflix feeds from other countries possible?
And yet, at the very bottom of the article, there's this line: "Surfshark does not encourage using a VPN in any way that would potentially violate the Terms of Service of streaming service providers." The word "not" was emphasized in boldface type by Surfshark, not me.
Now, what about torrenting? Sure, torrents are great for downloading big Linux distribution images (better known as "distros"). But when people talk about torrenting in the context of VPNs, it's because they mostly want to illegally download images of movie and TV DVDs and Blu-rays -- which is basically just stealing.
Also: What is VPN split tunneling and should I be using it?
Surfshark has nothing -- absolutely nothing -- on its site for "torrent," "torrenting," or "p2p." Not in its help messages or in a search of its site. But Surfshark does have the ability to search for p2p in its interface, which (remember, there's no published information) presumably surfaces servers optimized for peer-to-peer sharing.
Note: I did get some small clarification from a conversation with a support rep. See the next section.
So, is Surfshark good for torrenting and streaming? As much as it's good for any download, it would seem so. But there's nothing in its interface that goes to those features specifically.
The company has a pretty solid Help Center with knowledge base notes and installation guides. These are all fairly well written and clear.
Surfshark offers email and chat support. When you connect to the chat support, you're first greeted by a chatbot. There's no obvious way to reach an actual, human agent. But when I asked the chatbot to connect me to a human, it did in about a minute.
I asked about the p2p search I mentioned above. Here's the answer I got back: "All the rest of the servers will redirect you to the p2p servers, as they are special for torrenting, due to having more ports open."
We also had a very pleasant conversation about chatbots and AIs like ChatGPT. The details of that conversation aren't necessary for this review, but it did go to the fact that the support agent was both human and engaged in the conversation.
Obviously, human agents differ in personality, but if we can judge by the interaction I had with "Eric," Surfshark's customer support for basic questions and answers was pretty good.
If you need a VPN, Surfshark is a good deal. Performance was quite good, it's priced less than most other venders (a lot less), and it offers unlimited connections.
Honestly, what's not to like?
Here are a few comparable VPN services worth considering if you don't think Surfshark is the right one for you.
You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.