You may be interested in using ZenMate thanks to its attractive pricing and intuitive interface. This would be a mistake: the service is inherently insecure and you may as well stand on the rooftops and yell your personal information out from there. Check out our ZenMate review for more details.
ZenMate says it was “made with love in Germany,” which is possible to believe when you see its nifty interface design. However, the sacrifice of some key functionalities to achieve this efficiency won’t suit everybody, nor will its poor security and privacy policies.
Though we’d like to recommend ZenMate for its ease of use and price, its security is too far from the example set by the best VPN providers to do so. Even if security isn’t your priority, it doesn’t have the oomph to let you stream properly, either, meaning any of our best VPN for Netflix picks are a better choice.
It can be described as having an opposite set of strengths and weaknesses to StrongVPN (which you can read about in our StrongVPN review). It’s slightly nicer to use on your desktop than stalwarts like ExpressVPN (read about its interface in our ExpressVPN review), but probably doesn’t have the security and speed of an elite service like any you find in the top echelons of our VPN reviews.
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- Allows torrenting
- No-logging policy
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- Easy to use
- Reasonably priced
- Gets into U.S. Netflix (kinda)
- No choice of encryption protocols
- No killswitch
- No split tunneling
The first thing you notice about ZenMate is that it doesn’t open a new application bar at the top of your desktop screen. All its functions are operated from the desktop client that you access through the green shield icon that appears in whatever application you’re using. Clicking on this icon opens a small interface like a speech bubble.
It’s similar in shape and size to the now popular mobile sized desktop clients used by VyprVPN or ExpressVPN (read our VyprVPN review). The fact that it’s attached to the top of the screen so you can’t move it around might seem like a disadvantage at first, because it means you can’t have it open and keep your eye on it while doing other things.
However, besides your server location there’s not much in the interface that you’re likely to want to keep an eye on. It doesn’t tell you things like connection speed or the type of encryption being used. The advantage of having it attached to the top of the screen is that you don’t lose it behind all the other windows you have open, and the icon itself is always visible.
ZenMate offers easily installed browser extensions that mean you can also see the shield icon in your browser. If you click on it you can then see where you’re connected to and where you’re pretending to be connected from, but you should only have one of them open at a time or your connection speed will suffer.
Not having a choice of encryption protocols like OpenVPN or PPTP will be a disadvantage to some users. ZenMate says all its subscription levels use 256-bit AES encryption but that’s as detailed as it gets unless you dig really deep in the FAQs. See our discussion of its security features below for more information.
It allows unlimited bandwidth and supports torrenting. We were able to get past the Netflix geoblocking in the U.S., but the screen was quite pixelated, which indicates a steep drop in the speed of our connection. We couldn’t get past the BBC iPlayer’s geoblocking at all (check out our best VPN for BBC iPlayer article for services that do).
Note that ZenMate does not offer split tunneling, a feature that is becoming the norm in the best VPN services. It allows you to choose which applications in your computer go through the VPN in case you don’t want your communication with your printer to be encrypted.
ZenMate also doesn’t have a killswitch. This is a feature that automatically disconnects your internet connection if the VPN connection fails and is a must for the more security-conscious user.
ZenMate has a free VPN service that gives you access to servers in four locations. If you upgrade to Premium, the prices are somewhat lower than those of the top players in the market.
6-months plan $ 7.50 / month
$44.99 billed every 6 month
1-year plan $ 5.00 / month
$59.99 billed every year
As you can see, ZenMate is a good bit cheaper than the competition on a month-to-month basis, though as you can read in our NordVPN review or CyberGhost review, there are much better multi-year subscriptions out there.
ZenMate’s prices differ solely based on length of subscription, rather than on the number of features available. These prices seem reasonable for a service that sacrifices some functionality to style, but when you take the security and speed issues into account you’ll have to think carefully about whether it’s worth it.
Note that ZenMate also offers a 14-day money-back guarantee, which is not as good as ExpressVPN’s 30-day refund guarantee. It doesn’t offer a free trial, although the free plan does give you the ability to try out most of its features in advance of purchasing it.
In most respects ZenMate gets good marks for ease of use, although we got off to a bad start with it. We weren’t given a password at sign in, but had to log out, log in again, request a password reset and then set a new password with an email link. The original password email we received a day later, probably after it had been stuck in Google’s spam filter for a while, not a heartening thought.
Once that was sorted out we found the desktop client to be a good example of smart, economical design. There are four icons at the bottom of the interface, linking you to information about who you’re logged in as, as well as settings, usage statistics and notifications.
In the settings menu you can change the language from English to German, Spanish, Turkish, Russian or Korean, which seems an oddly random selection of languages, perhaps reflecting the nationalities of its staff. From here you can also set the app to launch when you start your computer, and enable desktop notifications.
The icons are self-explanatory and even when they move from the bottom to the top of the interface when you click on the notifications tab, it’s not disorienting because the window is so small that you can see what’s happening easily.
This nifty interface is the best thing about ZenMate, although it wouldn’t hurt to make it a bit more colorful. Also, the usage statistics aren’t functioning yet but are promised to be coming soon.
From the interface you can also change server, disconnect from the VPN or log in to your account online in order to access account information or read the FAQs.
The mobile app is pretty similar to the desktop client except you go to the app store to download it, then log in and you’re ready to go. It will ask for permission to make changes to your phone settings and will remember your choice of server if you have installed the desktop client first.
The FAQs deserve mention under “ease of use” because although ZenMate has a less instantaneous support service than some of its more expensive competitors, it does help you make your dealings with support staff more efficient through intelligent organization of the FAQs.
For example it gives clear instructions on how to access and take a screenshot of your own computer’s log if support staff need the information to troubleshoot a problem with your service. We didn’t have any such problems, however.
ZenMate supports Windows 7 and later, Mac OSX 10.10 and later, iOS and Android operating systems. However, it doesn’t guarantee that it will work with beta versions of desktop OSes. As we mentioned above, ZenMate also has browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, and these are a useful option if you want details about your VPN connection to be available at a glance.
ZenMate allows up to five simultaneous connections, meaning we would put it up in our top five of best VPN for multiple devices if it weren’t for its flaws. However, if you do decide to go for the ZenMate plunge, rest assured you can use it on up to five devices at any time.
ZenMate offers four server locations to users of its free service, and these are in mostly desirable locations: the U.S., the UK, Hong Kong and Romania (though we wouldn’t recommend using the HK server to tunnel under the Great Firewall, use any of our best VPN for China picks for that).
If you upgrade to Premium you get access to thirty locations around the globe. However, these are more heavily concentrated in Europe than those of some competing VPN services, which will often also have several U.S. cities in their lists. It’s also quite a small number of servers compared to the competition.
ZenMate has two U.S. servers, no servers in the Middle East outside of Israel, one in Africa, and its East Asian servers are in Singapore and Hong Kong.
It does say in its FAQs that if enough customers request a server location it will do its best to add it to the list. Since it claims on its homepage to have had 43 million users it must be confident that this spread of locations is catering to the needs of most people. We’re not so sure.
ZenMate claims on its homepage to offer lightning fast speeds. We found the upload and download speeds to be slow when compared to most of the competition, as you can see below. On the plus side the speed of the initial connection to the service was quite fast.
As you can see, ZenMate is a far cry from any of the fastest VPN services on the market.
ZenMate has a no-logs policy and it emphasizes that it abides by the German government’s strict privacy laws. For comparison, see our Shellfire review in which we noted Shellfire’s claim that the German government’s control over ISPs is a gray area. Shellfire said that its no-logs policy was due to a lack of rigor in these laws.
We’ve noticed that other VPNs including Shellfire and VyprVPN like to assure customers of their security by referring to national government regulations. It goes to show that these private companies are vulnerable to legal pressure at times and you can never be too careful with your information on the internet, or trust that what is true today will be true tomorrow.
A shortcoming of the ZenMate service for some customers will be the lack of choice about encryption protocols. However, it does specify that all customers get 256-bit AES encryption.
ZenMate Logging Policy
There’s some evidence that ZenMate might not be completely rigorous in its no-logs policy. For example, Cloudwards.net signed up for its service in Amsterdam but when we logged in from Russia and looked at our connection information on the Chrome browser extension it told us we were connected through a Spanish server from the Amsterdam IP address.
It clearly had a record of our IP address from when we signed up for the service. Having this record almost a week later casts an interesting light on its no-logs policy. It obviously does log some customer information beyond what is needed for billing purposes.
We also noticed that on the dashboard in the ZenMate website, alongside the record of your registered devices, there’s a record of when you were last seen and on which device. This is perhaps less a security vulnerability than a reassurance that you’ll always know if anyone else has been using your devices recently.
One nice feature of ZenMate is its “identity shield” for Premium users. This is a feature that screens your emails against known data leaks on the internet, and sends you an email if it finds any cause for concern. You can read more about it on the ZenMate FAQ page under “privacy and security.”
ZenMate DNS Leak
On a more cautionary note, a DNS leak test showed that while we were connected to the ZenMate server in Brazil our IP address in Russia was visible to Google in Belgium and to a DNS service called Hurricane Electric in the US:
ZenMate is making a display of being conscientious about security since another reviewer revealed a vulnerability connected with the use of media players like WebRTC when using its Chrome browser extension.
In a statement on its website it addresses the issue. It now offers a workaround that you have to configure yourself, an unfortunate exception to its general policy of not making customers do any configuration.
ZenMate does not offer live chat customer support and its response to email is slower than we’d like. This is not what most people probably envision when they read phrases like “premium customer support” on the ZenMate homepage. What this appears to mean is that if you pay for the Premium service you get some basic customer support.
It does have a decent knowledgebase however, and this is organized under five general headings like “account and payment” and “ZenMate VPN for Mobile,” with the subheadings visible as FAQs underneath. It gives a lot of information about how the VPN works, and about its rationale for designing it in the way we’ve described.
The key feature of ZenMate VPN is its basic user friendliness and it seems to be banking on customers appreciating a service where you’re less likely to need to access customer support to understand how the application works in the first place.
To sum up, ZenMate has the makings of being an interesting player on the VPN market with some very nice design features. It could be an ideal service for people who don’t want to think too much about what their VPN is doing, but at the moment its speed isn’t good enough and its security leaves a lot to be desired.
On the plus side, ZenMate is a reasonably affordable option that does get into some geoblocked content, and doesn’t suffer from frequent disconnections, which is important considering that it doesn’t offer a killswitch among its features.
Overall, however, we’d recommend the reader to check out NordVPN, CyberGhost or ExpressVPN before committing to ZenMate. What are your thoughts on the service? Please let us know in the comments below and thank you for reading.