Last update: 01.30.2019
A generally slow VPN with obscure logging practices. And, all this for a relatively high price.
If you’ve heard about or experienced the German precision and quality, you may have some natural expectations about ZenMate. This VPN actually started out as a proxy service by ZenGuard GmbH in Berlin, Germany. Since free applications are always tempting to the public, ZenMate now boasts over 45 million users worldwide.
But is it possible that so many users are mistaken and chose the wrong VPN service? It’s all relative, of course. In our ZenMate review, we attempt to find the truth behind this popular and somewhat controversial cybersecurity service.
Although you may find reviews mentioning 1,000+ servers, from looking at ZenMate’s server map, it seems that the VPN only has a fleet of about 300+ servers in 30+ countries (with 3,000+ IP addresses to offer). This is a relatively small network compared to some other top VPN providers, some of which have thousands of servers globally.
ZenMate claims to be a no logs VPN service, but it does keep some connection logs. It will also ask for your email address when signing up for the free version or the 7-day premium trial.
Some reviews mention possible DNS leaks, but our tests didn’t manage to replicate such a situation. Perhaps this is a reflection of the reports that a few months ago ZenMate implemented a number of changes affecting its level of online security and privacy protection. Our ZenMate review concludes that this VPN is becoming safer to use.
ZenMate offers free browser extensions as well as a free 7-day trial of its Ultimate version. Still, we would mostly recommend it for general usage. For example, to access geo-restricted content. We wouldn’t dare to suggest it for more serious privacy seekers like political activists and hackers.
This VPN doesn’t offer live chat support and, currently, its support is rather sluggish and problematic. It’s also possible that ZenMate may clash with other VPN apps installed on your device. When it’s running in the background, it may not allow you to launch any other VPN.
So much for the appetizer, let’s see how our ZenMate review can help you make up your mind.
Security and privacy: is ZenMate safe to use?
To be frank, we are a bit concerned when it comes to ZenMate security and privacy, and not only because of its German home. Before we delve into this, let us remind you that VPN services can improve their apps, security and privacy features, server fleet, and speeds at any time. That’s why we keep updating our reviews from time to time.
For example, if you had read the review just a few months ago, you would have thought that ZenMate only uses AES-128 encryption to protect your internet traffic, has no kill switch, and no OpenVPN support. All of our current findings may become irrelevant by the time we next update our ZenMate review.
With that said, let’s dig deeper.
ZenMate’s security credentials
The good news is that ZenMate seems to have implemented some major changes to its services. This VPN can now offer you a higher level of security online. Your traffic is encrypted using the AES-256 cipher. This is a military-grade encryption algorithm applied by many respectable VPN services and other entities dealing with sensitive data.
Another major step towards a more secure and more private presence on the net is the implementation of the kill switch.
Another major step towards a more secure and private presence on the net is the implementation of the kill switch. This is indeed a must if you take your anonymity seriously. The kill switch guarantees that a VPN connection drop will not result in leaks that could reveal your location and identity. It does this by shutting down all your traffic if you’re disconnected from the VPN.
In other words, without a well-functioning kill switch, your VPN application can leak sensitive and even vital information about you. This leak includes your physical location, which is one of the main reasons why so many users go for a VPN service in the first place.
ZenMate only supports the L2TP/IPSec and IKEv2 VPN protocols right now. The most popular protocol, OpenVPN, is missing from the repertoire. There’s a ZenMate for OpenVPN product, however, which you will find on the ZenMate website.
The free Chrome, Firefox, and Opera proxy extensions also offer malware blocking, tracking protection, and WebRTC leak protection. All ZenMate VPN apps are very basic and easy to use for beginners. However, this may well be a drawback for more tech-savvy users.
Even if ZenMate seems to have improved on its security and privacy, our review has found some other worrisome details.
No logs as interpreted by ZenMate
ZenMate claims to be a no logs VPN, yet it does seem to keep certain information about you and your connections.
“This data is not passed on to third parties unless there is a statutory obligation to pass on the data, or if the transfer serves the aim of criminal prosecution.”
Gmail privacy issue may affect ZenMate VPN
As we all know, Google is one of the main headaches for those concerned with privacy. So, when the news of third-party app developers gaining access to private Gmail inboxes hit the web, our first question was: Which VPN providers use Gmail?
The list was long and contained some big names, one of which is ZenMate. We are not claiming that ZenMate did anything wrong, but you may still want to find out more about this Gmail privacy issue to see more clearly. If nothing else, it’s somewhat careless for VPN service providers to be using Gmail. Click this link to see which other VPNs use Gmail and how this might be relevant to you.
To summarize the whole security and privacy question, we can say that ZenMate certainly didn’t use to be the most secure and private VPN, but it has improved and is still improving. Still, their practices lack transparency and there are other issues, which should scare away those in need of total privacy.
The first word that comes to mind in relation to ZenMate’s performance is “glacial.” Our tests show that, based on your location, you may experience latencies from 50 ms to 330 ms with download/upload speeds no one would boast about. It’s possible that a closer server will provide you with half-decent speeds. But once you try to stream in HD from a far-away server, you will run into buffering issues and annoyingly slow speeds.
ZenMate has an average server fleet with a few hundred servers in 30+ countries. This, combined with the 45+ million users could explain ZenMate’s slowness – it may be the issue of overloaded VPN servers.
We took our time and tested ZenMate VPN in some popular locations to see for ourselves how it performs. These were our baseline speeds without the VPN activated:
Then, we launched our ZenMate Premium app and connected to the US, UK, Japan, and Australia servers. Here’s what we found:
Well, these numbers should talk for themselves. As you can see, the drop from our base speeds is substantial. Who knows how low they can go on a 30Mbps baseline.
If you’re located in South America, Africa, or Asia, this VPN may not be the best choice for you, since there is almost no coverage in these regions. Your connection speeds will be slow simply because of the physical distances from the “nearest” servers.
What is it good for?
Basically, you can use ZenMate for accessing geo-blocked websites if you’re a traveler or you live abroad. But you may not be able to use it in China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia, for example. Or if you’re able to, it’s probably not advisable. It’s possible to get good speeds with closer servers for streaming Netflix and other online media platforms. But, this VPN may only work with Netflix US, if at all.
To conclude the speed section, you may want to try the free version of ZenMate even though it’s rather limited compared to the Ultimate version. However, our review would recommend other top-notch premium VPN services like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, or NordVPN for more versatility, security, and overall speeds.
How to download and install it
It’s as easy to download your chosen client and install it as it is to use ZenMate. On the official website, select the Downloads menu and choose your platform from the pop-up menu. This VPN supports a good range of platforms, including Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Firestick TV, Apple TV, and more. Of course, these platforms are only available for the ZenMate Ultimate version. The free ZenMate VPN is only supported on Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
If you click the respective links, such as Open VPN, Linux, and Firestick TV, you’ll be redirected to the dedicated download page. Press the orange Download Now or Buy Now button to be forwarded to the ZenMate Ultimate purchase page.
All the available clients can be easily downloaded and installed. You can also scroll down the page and select the link for your client at the bottom to directly open the respective download page. Remember to sign up for a ZenMate account because otherwise, you can’t use it.
How to use ZenMate
ZenMate has undergone several changes recently, which also affected the subscription plans. Right now, you have three options. First, you can use ZenMate for free if you download the browser extensions only (Chrome, Firefox, and Opera).
You can also purchase the Ultimate plan for a month, a year, or two years (or get a 7 day free trial).
Once you launch your desktop app and log in to your account, it practically vanishes and operates from the background.
You can easily disconnect or change your location from the main screen. The connection time to VPN servers is quite impressive but you may experience lags with far-away servers. To change your spoofed location, simply click on your currently-assigned server location (country name) and select another one from the list. As simple as that. ZenMate is really easy to use, even for the newest VPN users.
There are four icons at the bottom of the desktop client: My Account, My Settings, My Statistics, and News.
On the My Account tab, you can choose the Ultimate pricing plan if you want to end your 7-day trial. You can also change your email address and log out of the VPN app here.
The My Settings tab could be a disappointment for more advanced VPN users and ones who expect more freedom and customization options. These are the features you can change or check here:
- EverSecure: on by default to make sure that you are always connected to ZenMate when going online
- Run ZenMate on startup: this is also on by default
- Kill Switch: you can switch on this feature for a higher level of internet security and privacy to protect you from leaks
- DNS Leak Protection
- Enable Locations Monitoring
- Change Language: supported languages include English, Russian, German, Turkish, South Korean, and Spanish
- Terms of Service
The last four menu items simply redirect you to the respective webpage.
On the My Statistics tab you can see the following very basic metrics:
- Connection Time
- Download Traffic
- Upload Traffic
The News tab is supposed to display a list of notifications if there are any.
The other clients (Android, iOS, and the extensions) are quite similar, although they may have fewer options for customization. It’s important to mention, though, that the browser extensions and the mobile apps have features that the desktop apps don’t: Malware Blocking and Tracking Protection. So, it makes sense to use a combination of these apps for an extra layer of security.
Our ZenMate review finds that this is a very easy-to-use VPN service, which is certainly its main strong point.
ZenMate for Netflix
You may get lucky and be able to use ZenMate for Netflix.
We managed to use the United States server to access Netflix US, as you can see. The speed was okay for HD streaming. However, keep in mind that our baseline download speed was around 300Mbps at the time of the test. This is what fast.com, the dedicated Netflix speed test, showed us when testing the US server:
This is very slow, especially if you think about it in percentages. If you have a 30Mbps base download speed – forget about HD and maybe even SD.
Other regions like Canada, the UK, or France don’t seem to work at all with ZenMate – Netflix has apparently blocked them and you will likely encounter the usual error message.
It’s also possible that you can unblock BBC iPlayer or ITV Hub via the UK server. But, again, the quality of your connections may be questionable – decent for some, sluggish for others.
Let us remind you here that just because you can luckily access US Netflix right now, it doesn’t mean that it will always be like this. Netflix is quite tough on VPNs and it’s only a matter of time when all the ZenMate servers are blocked. Not to worry, however, that’s one of the reasons VPN providers increase their server lists.
If you want the best VPN for Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Kodi, or any other media streaming platforms, we advise you to take a look around our website.
ZenMate for torrenting
Although torrenting and P2P usage used to be explicitly forbidden by ZenMate, the provisions seem to have disappeared from the Terms of Service. With that said, this is a German VPN and Germany is notoriously tough on copyright infringements. Also, as we’ve already mentioned, the speeds are atrocious anyway.
In other words, once again, we would advise you to look elsewhere and find a decent VPN service for torrenting.
Live chat support
Our ZenMate review has arrived at the biggest drawback. This VPN has no live chat support at all. It’s very disappointing because sometimes you do need a solution or answer right away, if possible. You may not have days or weeks to figure something out.
All you are left with is a Support menu on the website with a relatively good and informative FAQ knowledge base. If you don’t find your answer, you can still submit an online support ticket, which could take a week or so to get resolved, if at all.
Although low-quality support should not be the primary reason for you to look for a more decent VPN service, ZenMate doesn’t shine elsewhere either.
Apps and extensions
As we have mentioned earlier in our review, ZenMate offers great coverage of all the major platforms and more. It can work on Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and it also has Chrome, Firefox, and Opera proxy browser extensions.
These VPN apps seem to work just fine and they are also very easy to use. Formerly, most of the extra platforms, like Linux, OpenVPN, Apple TV, and Amazon Firestick TV, weren’t available. So, the good news is that these clients are all supported now if you buy the ZenMate Ultimate VPN plan.
From a certain angle, we could say that ZenMate is decently priced. It has a rather limited but free version, it also offers a 7-day premium free trial as well as a 30-day money-back guarantee with the following Ultimate VPN subscription plans:
The pricing and the plans have gone through some impressive changes. Except for the monthly plan, they’ve dropped considerably. It’s possible ZenMate will increase these prices in the future. We’ll keep our eyes open for a new update.
The payment methods include the usual – credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Maestro), PayPal, and other alternatives, such as UnionPay and Bank Transfer. However, you cannot pay with Bitcoin, which can be a big minus in the eyes of more privacy-conscious users.
These prices look decent. But you can get a lot more for the same money elsewhere.
ZenMate by Reddit
ZenMate’s 46+ million users don’t seem to be doing a lot on Reddit. Most posts and comments are several years old, so whatever issues they may be complaining about could have been long sorted.
However, there is one thread, about 3 months old, which is about a user having “to switch between servers frequently to be able to watch streams” due to blocked servers. As replies suggest, shared IP addresses and whatever certain users use these servers for may be the cause. No wonder why Netflix can find out about such servers and block them right away.
Just like we have emphasized in this review, you need to try it yourself to see whether it’s working for you or not without paying first.
Bottom line of our ZenMate review: next, please!
ZenMate may be a German product, but certainly not as precise as other products from Germany, such as Mercedes and Porsche cars. Its speeds can be more like an old Volkswagen at times.
In general, our ZenMate review concluded that the service may be worth trying out for free (7-day trial) if you want to experience the speeds and security level this VPN can provide. We would recommend the free 7-day trial version for those who simply want to spoof their IP address and location to access geo-blocked content.
But, to be honest, even for that you can find better free VPN services.
How about learning from other VPN users?
Have you ever tried to use ZenMate or any other VPN apps before? What are your impressions?
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