An accessible VPN that’s not for power users; ZenMate VPN Review
ZenMate VPN is an attractive, easy virtual private network (VPN) that is great for those just hopping onboard the VPN train for the first time. It has more than 35 countries to choose from when selecting your server location, as well as strong 256-bit encryption, so whichever one you decide to use you can count on a fast, private connection.
What We Like
- Thousands of servers in 35+ countries around the world
- Detailed information on server load and number of concurrent users on each
- Fast connections don’t hamstring browsing, even with distant servers
- Works on Windows, MacOS, and Linux; Android and iOS apps available
- Clean interface with easy, intuitive connection options
- Good value for money
- Torrent recommended servers
- No logs stored by default
What We Don’t Like
- No ability to choose individual server location within countries
- Somewhat limited connection options compared to competition
- Only “Netflix Optimized” servers can connect to Netflix
- Certain settings can cause problems with online gaming
- No double VPN options
- No free version, but seven-day free trial available
We rigorously tested the ZenMate VPN, taking into account everything from the setup process to design, performance, price, and more. To cut to the chase, it’s ideal for newbies, but we found there were a few shortcomings in terms of security features and server selection, so more experienced users may want to look elsewhere. With that said, read on to see our full review of ZenMate VPN.
Setup Process: Quick and easy
Getting started with ZenMate VPN isn’t a complicated process. Whether you’re buying a subscription outright, or enjoying the seven-day free trial, you download the client from the website, install the application (on Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, or Android), and sign in with your account. From there, you can select just a single quick-connect button to connect to a recommended VPN server for you.
When you’re ready to dive into the more detailed parts of the ZenMate service, you simply press the expansion arrow and you’ll find a number of additional server options and account settings that you can play with to customize your experience.
If you’re setting up the ZenMate app on Android or iOS, the process is much the same. The ZenMate extension on Firefox and Chrome is a similar process, but you add the extension to your browser, rather than installing an app.
Design: Accessible and intuitive
VPNs might seem complicated and even a little daunting, but ZenMate has done an excellent job of making their app feel accessible and friendly. It has a soft, blue and white color palette, attractive transparencies, and some fluid animations to make the whole experience feel welcoming and intuitive.
Servers can either be listed by country or recommendations for certain services, such as BBC iPlayer or Netflix, and information like server distance, load, and user numbers are clearly visible and within easy reach.
Settings and account options are accessible and simple to wrap your head around, too, with each option displaying a sentence or two of explanatory text alongside them. Toggle buttons and drop down menus make it difficult or nearly impossible to mess anything up.
Performance: Strong with some hiccups
The speed of our connection to ZenMate VPN was typically strong, although it measured significantly lower than other VPNs we have tested. The fastest download speed we were able to achieve while connected to ZenMate servers was just 74 Mbps on our 1 Gbps internet connection.
That’s fast enough for a snappy usage experience, whether you’re streaming videos, playing games, or browsing multiple websites at the same time, but it’s significantly slower than other VPNs.
We did run into the odd slow-load a few times during testing, but typically disconnecting and then reconnecting solved that issue. We could connect to Amazon Video on any server we tested, but Netflix required the use of “Netflix Optimized” servers, of which ZenMate VPN offers several in different countries.
Expect a snappy usage experience for streaming videos, playing games, or browsing multiple websites.
We also had a couple of issues with gaming, where we needed to disable ZenMate’s DNS Leak Protection to find servers on Rocket League, but once that was done we were off to the races with a fast, lag-free connection. There were a couple of stutters at times, but they were few and far between.
For those desiring stability over speed, ZenMate VPN does offer the option to use TCP instead of UDP connections, which can improve reliability at the cost of speed. There are also options for choosing a VPN protocol: OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP.
ZenMate claims that there are thousands of servers you can be connected to when using its VPN service and they are located in more than 50 countries around the world. That leaves you with plenty of choices when it comes to where you want your connection to appear to originate from. Plus, the lists of servers that are specifically targeted to circumvent geofencing for certain streaming and torrent services are well documented and varied.
It’s important to point out that the options are fewer than some of the competition, which in some cases can offer double the number of server locations and thousands of servers to pick from. So we would have liked to see a little more user preference for server location within countries, too. For example, when we ran into the odd performance hiccup with servers, we wanted to remain in the same country but pick a different server there, but there was no obvious way to do so.
Another miss: There is also no option to select two servers for a double VPN connection for added privacy and security.
Streaming: Hit and miss
We tested the streaming functionality of ZenMate on two separate occasions and had two very different experiences. On one occassion, we were able to stream though Netflix by using the specified servers in a number of countries. On another occasion, Netflix detected those servers as proxies and refused to work. The same is true of Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer.
While ZenMate has dedicated streaming servers, and they seem dedicated to offering that as a feature, there are better options if streaming is your main concern.
ZenMate VPN was criticized in the past for some of its log-keeping practices, but since its takeover by Kape Technologies in late 2018, it’s changed that policy to one that is completely log-free. It also has routine data deletion practices for anything recorded during account creation and service purchase and a strict policy of not sharing personal data with anyone outside of payment providers and any partner services required to provide VPN functionality.
One caveat to this, though, is that ZenMate is based in Germany, which is part of the 14-Eyes intelligence sharing service. It claims that it will share anonymized, non-personal data with law enforcement if required, so ZenMate VPN doesn’t have the same privacy protections as companies which are based outside of Western government oversight. However, part of their operations are based out of Bucharest, Romania, which isn’t part of any intelligence-sharing organization.
ZenMate VPN is competitive with its industry contemporaries and undercuts a number of them.
Security Features: Stronger today than it has been
ZenMate employs a number of security-enhancing features to make sure that your data stays protected while transferring to and from its servers.
- Advanced Encryption Standard (AES): ZenMate VPN employs AES 256-bit encryption on its desktop client, and 128-bit on its mobile client, making it almost impossible that anyone could ever decrypt your internet traffic while in transit on ZenMate’s service.
- Strict, 100 percent no logs policy: ZenMate does not store logs of any kind. It is very clear on this. That means that if its servers ever seized, there would be no record of you having used them.
- Automatic kill switch: If your VPN connection is interrupted for any reason, this stops your internet traffic dead, making sure that when you connect to a ZenMate server your traffic is either encrypted and protected, or isn’t going anywhere.
- DNS leak protection: This means you only use DNS servers operated by ZenMate. This is useful for privacy but did give us some trouble with certain games.
Overall, ZenMate VPN security is strong and it’s been reinforced since Kape Technologies bought the company. However, in May 2018 a security vulnerability was discovered which made several million of its browser extension users vulnerable to malware attacks. It was swiftly patched.
Torrenting: Officially supported
No company is going to go out of its way to suggest you download anything illegally, but many won’t even take the step to facilitate torrenting due to the legal gray areas of being associated with such a practice. ZenMate VPN isn’t scared to do so, however, offering a dedicated tab in its user interface for torrenting. The tab contains a list of optimized servers to help you get around ISP and government blocks on torrent sites, but it does make it quick and easy to do so and shows that ZenMate VPN cares about facilitating what its customers want to do online.
Ad Blocking: Not present
ZenMate doesn’t include a built-in ad blocker, so information about your system and connection may be leaked to ad trackers and malware. Some VPN services include a built-in DNS-level ad blocker to eliminate this potential loophole, but you won’t find that feature here.
Customer Service: Ticket-based system
Customer service and support are provided through a ticket-based system, so there is no option to speak to a live agent over the phone or web chat. Your only option is to fill out a ticket and wait for a reply.
Price: More affordable than most
ZenMate VPN is competitive with many of its industry contemporaries and undercuts a number of them. While its best prices are reserved for those who pay a year or two in advance, there are some great offers at the time of writing. For the equivalent of $2 a month, you can get two years of the service – it works out to $49. Alternatively, you can pay $48 for just one year, at $4 per month, or $10 a month with a rolling contract and no subscription commitments.
Competition: ZenMate VPN vs. NordVPN
As the industry standard VPN service, NordVPN scored the highest on our independent tests and is arguably the yardstick that all others are measured against. ZenMate VPN manages to hold its own against NordVPN, but it doesn’t quite meet the mark.
The biggest thing ZenMate has going for it is that it’s more affordable, whether you’re buying month to month or longer subscriptions, than NordVPN. Its interface is also somewhat easier to navigate, but it falls behind on features. With no double VPN option, a lack of server selection, and a comparatively limited number of 30 countries (vs. NordVPN’s 60+) ZenMate VPN is easier to recommend as a first-time VPN, where Nord is arguably better for power users.
A fine VPN service for first-timers.
ZenMate might not be the best VPN service for everyone, but it can be a worthy VPN service for some (mainly new users) and it does it at a price that’s better than most. It’s easy to use, accessible, and has a very quick set up with a seven-day free trial which helps you figure out if this is the right VPN for you. Better yet, it’s only improving. Just months after its takeover, it’s improved privacy and server selection, so in another year or so we could be looking at a top-tier service at a very competitive price.
Similar Products We’ve Reviewed:
- Product Name: ZenMate VPN
- Price: $9.99
- Speed (Fastest Observed): 74 Mbps (Tested on a 1Gbps connection)
- Operating Systems: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android
- Devices: Five devices
- Server Locations: 30+
- Number of Servers: Undisclosed
- Streaming: Dedicated servers (didn’t work on second testing)
- Torrenting: Yes, with kill switch
- Encryption: AES 256-bit OpenVPN
- Logging: Some logs, data is anonymized, no transparency reports
- Jurisdiction: Germany