Pro rating:7 / 10
Verdict:Good

ZenMate is recommended for users who primarily want to stream and unblock sites like Netflix. However, if you’re worried about privacy – in particular DNS leaks – or overall speed, then you may need to look elsewhere.

For:
  • Secure encryption
  • Unblocks Netflix
  • Quick to connect

 

    Against
    • Some slow download speeds
    • DNS leaks observed
    • No live support

     

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      ZenMate was developed and is currently based in Germany. One of the main things to be concerned about here is mass surveillance and cooperation with US intelligence agencies. However, since ZenMate claims to keep no logs of user behavior or website connections, this should not be an issue.

      When it comes to functionality, it's no surprise that ZenMate has over 40 million users. It is definitely geared towards beginner VPN users and provides an extremely user-friendly interface. Ultimately, it is most suited to those who want to unblock streaming sites and enjoy fast connections for private browsing.

      If you’re looking for the utmost privacy, the DNS leaks we observed will be a definite turn-off, especially when you’re comparing against competitors with solid security, such as our top-rated provider, ExpressVPN. Also, the speed tests we ran weren’t all that convincing when it came to downloading from a geographically distant server. However, with a 14-day money back guarantee, you’ll have ample time to test it out to see if it’s a good fit for your needs.

      Features and pricing

      While ZenMate’s literature talks about a free version, this actually only refers to the browser extensions, which aren’t really VPNs, but rather HTTPS proxies. If you do decide to go this route, which isn’t recommended, you’re limited to servers in Germany, Romania, Hong Kong, and the US. Plus, ZenMate doesn’t claim to be able to provide high-speed connections with its no-cost version, so if you’re looking for a reliable free browser extension, you may need to look elsewhere.

      For the purposes of this review, we’re using the Premium VPN service, which includes desktop and mobile apps as well as premium versions of the browser extensions. You can try this out for seven days for free. Just a heads up if you do go for this trial, your confirmation email may end up in your junk mail, so check for it there.

      Once the trial is over, the Premium subscription will set you back $4.99 (GBP £3.83) per month for an annual subscription, for use with up to five devices simultaneously. For shorter terms, the price rises steeply at $9.99 (GBP £7.66) per month for six months and $12.99 (GBP £9.96) per month on a monthly basis. Overall, it’s a little above average in terms of pricing.

      Deal alert: Zenmate is currently running a promotion offering 50% off standard prices. The plans listed below are the standard, non-promotional prices.

      ZenMate pricing table.

      Downloads are available for Windows, MacOS, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. You can also get mobile versions for Android and iOS. Payment options include most major credit cards, PayPal, UnionPay, and Qiwi wallet. ZenMate doesn’t currently accept Bitcoin.

      All apps enable you to easily choose your server’s country location. They also include several default features, including EverSecure. This is basically ZenMate’s name for a kill switch and it forces the VPN to connect every time you connect to the internet. Within the desktop app, there’s also the option to Auto Start on Log In to save a little time.

      While that’s pretty much all you get with the desktop version, if you download a browser extension or use the mobile app, you’ll have access to additional features. These include the handy Smart Locations function (more on that below), malware blocking, and tracking protection.

      Torrenting isn’t explicitly promoted by ZenMate, but given its unlimited bandwidth and decent speeds when you’re using a geographically close server (see the performance section below), it shouldn’t be too difficult in many cases. However, there are VPNs out there that are more suitable for this purpose.

      Setup and interface

      Getting started with ZenMate is super simple. Whether it’s a good thing or not, there aren’t a ton of options, so beginners will easily navigate the interface. Once you’re signed up, you simply install the appropriate version for your operating system and log into your account.

      For this review, we tested the apps for Windows 10, Chrome, and iOS.

      Desktop

      When you launch the desktop version, the dashboard will appear in the bottom right of the screen. Once you start using another application, the dashboard will return to your tray. You’ll then have to click on the tray and the ZenMate icon to make it reappear. If you’d prefer to access it with one click, you can simply pin it to the taskbar.

      You can perform a couple of functions from the tray without pulling up the dashboard. Just right click the icon and you can opt to disconnect or change the server location. Within the main dashboard, you’ll see whether you are secure or not, and which country’s server you are connected to. Then there are just four options. In the first, you can view your account settings (including upgrade options) and edit your account. Within the Settings tab, you can enable EverSecure and AutoStart on Log In

      The desktop app interface.

      Here, you can also change the language and navigate to support. Next is the Statistics screen, which shows you your connection time and download and upload traffic. Finally, you have the Notifications screen.

      There is no option to choose your exact server location, a feature that more advanced users will probably miss. However, as mentioned, if you use one of the browser extensions, you will have access to a couple more features. These are available for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. They work independently of the desktop application, which is designed to secure your entire device. We tried the Chrome extension, which has a slightly less sleek, but more functional interface than the desktop version:

      Chrome browser extension.

      Here you can enable Smart Locations, Malware Blocking, and Tracking Protection by going into the Features tab. Smart Locations is a handy and easy-to-use tool that enables you to automatically switch servers depending on the website you're visiting. For example, if you tend to watch a lot of US Netflix, but want to be able to easily switch to streaming BBC iPlayer from the UK, you can set it up to switch servers automatically.

      Mobile

      The mobile app looks very similar to the desktop version, with a few different options. The main omission here is the Statistics screen, which probably isn’t a big deal for most users. There are, however, additional options in the settings screen including AdBlocker, Tracking Protection, and Malware Blocking.

      The mobile app interface.

      Overall, the app is super simple and very intuitive. This does have something to do with the fact that there are every few options available, which might be a disappointment to some users. However, if you’re a beginner, you’ll probably rejoice at its simplicity.

      Servers and performance

      ZenMate has over 1000 servers in 28 countries. This is a solid number for a provider of this size, and it claims to be continually adding more. Unfortunately, you don’t get information about individual servers and are simply connected to whichever one ZenMate decides for your choice of country.

      Streaming 1080p video was seamless, and there was no buffering while connected to various servers in the US and Europe from the test location in Canada. There was also no noticeable lag when playing online games using similar server locations.

      Connecting to various servers seemed particularly fast and never took more than a few seconds. The connection didn’t drop while surfing, although there were a couple of instances when it dropped while downloading a file. This happened once during our speed tests, and again when downloading a larger game file.

      For our speed tests, in order to be as empirical as possible, we downloaded the same file (266MB) from a Chicago server. We did this using three sample VPN servers at three times during the day. The results were compared to those of two other VPNs (CyberGhost and PrivateVPN), which were tested in the same way. We benchmarked these results against a control test using no VPN. The tests were conducted from Toronto, Canada using servers in the US and the UK. In the boxplots below, the thick black line represents the median download time, while the red diamond represents the mean. Lower is better.

      A boxplot of speed test results.

      The ZenMate results were generally pretty good for US servers, which were presumably geographically close to the test location. However, the US West results were inconsistent, and the UK test times were consistently slow. The latter significantly brought down the average speed, such that it was several times slower than that of the control tests. The size of the box in the chart above is an indicator of the vast spread in the results.

      In general, it appears that the consistency and speed of this provider diminishes quickly as you start to use servers that are further away. Although, it’s important to bear in mind that these tests can’t be considered definitive and simply provide a general indication of what you might observe in practice. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness, so tests such as these need to be taken with a grain of salt. They were run on a 30 Mbps connection, so those with slower connections will endure longer wait times and potentially smaller or larger discrepancies.

      Does ZenMate unblock Netflix?

      ZenMate appears to be one of few VPNs that still work with Netflix, although not quite reliably. Netflix worked seamlessly when connected to US West and UK servers, but each time we switched to US (albeit a very general option), Netflix delivered a proxy error. It appears that ZenMate is predominantly using IP addresses that they know have not been detected, but are unable to do this across the board.

      Similar observations were made on both the desktop and mobile versions. However, on mobile, there were some instances where connecting to the VPN prevented shows from starting, seemingly because of a slow connection rather than a proxy error.

      As well as Netflix, we were able to unblock other streaming sites with both apps, such as BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime.

      Does ZenMate work in China?

      While ZenMate may work for some users in China, the company doesn’t claim that it will. They actually advise against purchasing a premium account in China – and a couple of other countries – even if you’re able to download it.

      On the other hand, if you’re looking to unblock content in other specific countries, you can check ZenMate’s dedicated support page to see where it claims the VPN is working.

      Security and privacy

      ZenMate doesn’t collect, process, or store personal data, except for in certain instances, including service requests and newsletter subscriptions. An email is required for signup and a temporary password is sent to this address. There is a mention in the privacy policy that IP addresses are stored temporarily after signup “in order to prevent attacks against ZenMate”. The fact that no timescale is specified for the temporary storage is a little unnerving.

      When it comes to data security, this provider uses 128-bit AES encryption, whereas most opt for 256-bit. According to ZenMate, 128-bit is preferable to 256-bit “because it provides good security, is really fast and seems to be more resistant to timing attacks.” While this doesn’t present a particularly strong argument, 128-bit is still generally considered very secure. This is used in conjunction with 2048-bit RSA keys and SHA256 for authentication.

      A kill switch is enabled by default, so a connection is forced every time you connect to the internet. You can easily switch this off at any time – by disabling EverSecure – if you’d rather that a connection is not forced.

      While ZenMate claims no webRTC leaks or DNS leaks, we did observe DNS leaks (IPv4 and IPv6) while testing various servers. This is disconcerting for a VPN provider whose main claim is anonymous internet access. We contacted the support desk regarding this issue but were unable to resolve it during the correspondence period. While this could possibly be solved by using an additional layer of protection, if privacy is a major concern, you may want to keep shopping.

      Customer service

      ZenMate’s support pages include plenty of FAQs and troubleshooting documentation. It doesn’t offer live chat support but you can submit an email request. However, it’s clear that they’d rather you deal with the issue using their documentation. It isn’t immediately apparent that you can contact them via email when you visit the support page, and you have to do some digging to find the form. You also have to provide lots of detail when filling it out, with multiple help document suggestions popping up as you complete each field.

      The support is provided by Zendesk so it’s not done in-house, which may raise privacy concerns for some. When we submitted a request, we got an automated message saying that we’d receive a response in one to five business days, which seems to be a little on the slow end. We did get a response from a bot within a few hours, which addressed one out of the two issues queried, but not to a satisfactory level.

      Verdict

      Overall, ZenMate offered a fast and mostly reliable connection. While its speed test results were inconsistent, if you're able to stick with geographically close servers, you shouldn't see too much of an issue with surfing, streaming, and perhaps torrenting. Moreover, if you’re looking to unblock Netflix and other blocked streaming sites, then you should be in luck.

      On the other hand, if privacy is your major concern, you may need to look elsewhere. While ZenMate ticks many boxes when it comes to security, including a kill switch and a secure encryption method, the DNS leaks we observed are pretty disconcerting. ZenMate also isn’t the most suitable option if you’re looking to unblock basic websites in countries like China or the UAE.

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