ZenMate used to be known for its free offering, which helped it amass a sizable user base of over 40 million. These days, it only offers a paid version, targeting users willing to pay for the luxury of fast, reliable connections and a wide selection of servers.
Last time I tested this VPN, it was plagued with a few issues including a questionable logging policy, slow speeds, and DNS leaks.
That said, ZenMate has been making efforts to improve its service, so I’m curious to see just how much has changed.
In this 2020 ZenMate review, I reveal what I’ve learned after putting the VPN through my thorough testing regimen. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to decide if this could be the right VPN service for you.
Before I jump into all the juicy details, here’s a quick overview of how ZenMate fared in some key areas.
ZenMate key data
|OVERALL RANK: #7 of 45 VPNS|
|Average Speed*:||32 Mbps|
|Video Streaming Support:||4K UHD|
|Other Streaming Services:||Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, ITV Hub, All 4|
|Encryption Type:||256-bit AES w/ Perfect Forward Secrecy|
|Log Policy:||Unclear if connection logs are kept|
|Protocols:||OpenVPN, IKEV2, and L2TP|
|Value for Money||
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$2.22|
|Money Back Guarantee:||30 days|
How does Zenmate compare to other popular VPNs?
Here’s how Zenmate compares to two of the most popular and highly rated VPNs out there, ExpressVPN and NordVPN. You can see a more detailed breakdown here of ExpressVPN vs NordVPN.
|Average Speed||32 Mbps||135 Mbps||115 Mbps|
|Encryption typeType of encryption e.g. 256 AES||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||256-bit AES|
|Kill Switch||Windows only||desktop only|
|Records identifying logs||Unclear|
|Unblocks Netflix US|
|Unblocks Amazon Prime|
|Unblocks BBC iPlayer|
|Lowest cost per month||$2.22||$6.67 per month||$3.30 per month|
|Money back guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days|
To test ZenMate, I’ve been using the VPN for everyday activities over the past few months. I’ve used it for browsing, streaming, and downloading to see how it compares to other VPNs. In addition, I’ve conducted in-depth testing on various facets of the VPN, including:
- Download speed tests
- Ability to unblock streaming sites such as Netflix
- Leak tests (WebRTC, IPv6, and DNS)
- Competency and promptness of customer support
…and lots more!
Some of ZenMate’s main claims are “lightning speeds” and a “strict no logs policy.” I was particularly eager to find out about improvements made on both fronts.
Other questions I wanted to answer include:
- Does ZenMate bypass restrictions put in place by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming sites?
- Is the service worth the price?
- Is Zenmate safe to use?
- Is ZenMate’s security on par with other providers?
- How is its customer support?
…plus a ton more about this service.
I tested various versions of ZenMate’s software including a mobile app and a desktop client. This way, I got a full view of how the service performs for a multi-device user and everything you need to know to make a decision.
The overview and pros and cons below will provide some brief insight into where this service shines and where it lacks.
ZenMate pros and cons
I’ll get into these in more detail, but here are some of the most important positive and negative features of ZenMate’s VPN service:
- Unblocks Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and more
- Offers a 7-day free trial and 30-day money-back guarantee
- Uses strong encryption and other security features
- Allows unlimited connections
- Inexpensive VPN
- Allows torrenting
- Doesn’t cover as many countries as most top rivals
- Some slow speeds
- Doesn’t have live chat support
- Doesn’t work in China
Speed: How fast is ZenMate?
So how about this claim of lightning speeds? Since ZenMate didn’t perform all that well on the speed front the last time I tested it, I was interested to see if it had improved.
While speed test results should be taken with a grain of salt, they do provide us with a decent method for comparing the speeds of various providers.
Many reviewing outlets use an online speed tester with a home or office connection to determine the speed of various VPNs. This isn’t a bad method and it’s the one we use when others are unavailable, but it’s flawed for many reasons.
To give more accurate results, we use a virtual machine to test VPN speed, where possible. This method isn’t perfect either, but it does offer more reliable results.
We use a gigabit connection in North America and measure the download speeds of our test VPNs. Tests are carried out using three different test servers, in the US, the UK, and Hong Kong. We repeat tests at three different times during the day, spaced a minimum of four hours apart.
It turns out that ZenMate didn’t exactly live up to its claims. While it wasn’t the slowest VPN we’ve tested, it definitely wasn’t the fastest and “lightning” isn’t a term I would use to describe it. The average download rate was 32 Mbps across all locations and times. Compare this to the fastest VPN we tested, which was ExpressVPN with an average speed of over 100 Mbps, and you can see that there is room for improvement.
The best speeds we saw were, as expected, on the US servers, while the Hong Kong connections were very slow. That said, speeds for a given location were fairly consistent, so once you’ve connected to a location a few times, you’ll know what to expect.
It is worth noting that ZenMate’s average speed is still fast enough for streaming SD, HD, and live HD video. It may even be okay for 4K UHD.
Our test locations were in Europe, Asia, and North America. If you don’t have a location preference and simply want an encrypted connection, then you can opt for the fastest server for your location. To connect to the fastest server, select Best server location from the app’s server list dropdown.
Using various test servers, I played online games and tried streaming 1080p video. I did experience some poor quality at the beginning of some videos, mainly when connected to a US server. However, after a couple of minutes, the quality would improve and there would be no issues, including lag or buffering, after that.
Switching between servers was quick, usually taking only a few seconds. I didn’t have any problems with dropped connections.
Bear in mind that these tests only serve as a very general indicator of VPN performance. The nature of the internet gives way to a significant level of randomness. When using this VPN, you may see very different results, depending on factors such as your location and internet speed.
Apps: Which devices will ZenMate work with?
ZenMate offers native apps for most major operating systems, including Windows, iOS, MacOS, Android, and Fire TV.
Zenmate browser extensions are available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. These can be handy for browsing and streaming but bear in mind that browser extensions only encrypt the traffic that’s going through your web browser. All other apps on your device, for example, media players and torrenting apps, will remain exposed. Use the native apps if you want protection beyond your web browser.
Each app provides access to servers in 37 countries. The network comprises over 3,600 servers in total. While this is a decent-sized network, it’s not as large as many rival providers. For example, NordVPN and CyberGhost have server numbers surpassing 5,000, while ExpressVPN offers locations in 94 countries.
The apps have a clean, modern design and are easy to navigate. The desktop app extends to a full screen which I personally like. There are just two settings tabs, General and Connection, with all the options you need in terms of setup preferences and security.
The mobile app is more simplistic with a basic connection screen and server list. There is a settings page, but it lacks anything of note that allows you to tweak the VPN.
ZenMate can be configured manually to work with Linux and select routers. A router VPN will protect all of the devices connected to it, and it only counts as one connection in your device limit. ZenMate allows you to connect five devices at a time.
Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi
Does ZenMate work with Netflix?
Yes, it does!
Unblocking Netflix US with ZenMate was a breeze. The server list has a For streaming tab which shows you a list of servers suitable for popular streaming platforms. Just choose the Netflix US option and you’ll be good to go.
This is in contrast to some other providers for which you need to consult the website or check with a customer service representative to see which server to connect to. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is an extra step in the process than ZenMate manages to eliminate.
If you’re looking to unblock Netflix catalogs from other countries, you may be in luck. ZenMate lists servers for Netflix Germany and Netflix France and I confirmed that both worked. However, for other countries, you may need to look elsewhere. I wasn’t able to unblock the UK library or any others I tried.
Want to use ZenMate to stream from sites other than Netflix? I had luck with the following platforms during testing:
- BBC iPlayer
- Amazon Prime Video
- All 4
- HBO Now
As mentioned, there were a few quality issues at the start of some streams, but not enough to put me off using this VPN for regular streaming.
If you’re a Kodi user, ZenMate isn’t the best VPN option. It will work with Kodi if you’re using a device that ZenMate has a native app for, for example, your Windows PC, Amazon Fire TV, or Android device. However, if you’re using Kodi on a separate system like Linux, it won’t be supported by ZenMate.
Does ZenMate allow torrenting?
In the past, ZenMate didn’t promote itself as a torrenting VPN, so I was curious to see if anything has changed on this front.
Indeed, these days, the VPN is very much positioned as a go-to for torrenting. For example, the ZenMate website provides a step-by-step guide for unblocking torrenting sites.
In addition, this provider makes it very easy to find an ideal server for torrenting. When choosing a server, select For torrenting to see the list. There’s a decent selection of server locations, including lots in Europe, one in North America (Canada), one in Asia (Japan), and one in Africa (South Africa), so you should be able to find one that’s somewhat geographically close to you.
One concern I had with ZenMate in the past was its questionable logging policy. I go into this in more detail in the next section, but during this review, I still couldn’t garner enough information to recommend this as a no-logs provider. There is also the speed factor to consider. The slow speeds we observed could very well be a turn off for torrenters.
With the above in mind, there are VPNs out there that are more suitable for this purpose.
Security, privacy, and logging
ZenMate is based in Germany, a member of the 14 Eyes alliance. Involvement in this alliance means that the governments of member countries can monitor citizens of other countries, for example, the UK or US, and share the information between their respective governments.
When it comes to VPNs, this is really only an issue if the VPN is logging data that you wouldn’t want to be shared with others, such as information about your online activity or personal details (for example, your IP address).
Logging has many other implications; VPN logs may be sought by copyright trolls, local and domestic law enforcement, and anyone else seeking to identify a user. Any logs that are stored are also at risk of being exposed in a data breach.
Here’s a relevant snippet from the policy:
“Additionally, as part of our fraud detection measures, we shall collect data relating (i) to Website usage information, such as IP address (captured and stored in an anonymized format), approximate location (country only) and (ii) transaction information, items purchased, the price paid, billing method, partial credit card information, chargeback requests, cancelled orders. The above-mentioned Personal Data is not, at any point, associated with any kind of activity done by the user inside the ZenMate VPN tunnel, which is NOT recorded, logged or stored at all.”
The wording here is confusing. We can safely garner from the last sentence that no user activity logs are maintained, which is a definite plus. However, it’s still not clear if any connection logs are maintained within the VPN. I tried asking customer support and got the following response:
“Regarding your concern, non-personal data such as IP address that was collected are usually used for delivering our website content correctly and optimize the content of our website and its advertisement.”
I’m not saying I suspect ZenMate is doing anything wrong here, but users deserve a clear answer about what, if any, information is being collected while using a VPN. Ideally, I’d like an explicit answer on whether IP addresses and timestamps are collected, as this combination of information could be used to identify a user and map their online activity. I’ll update this review as I learn more.
Encryption details are as follows:
- 256-bit AES encryption
- 2048-bit RSA keys
- SHA256 authentication hash
- ECDHE perfect forward secrecy (this ensures that past sessions remain secure even if an encryption key is compromised)
A kill switch is built into all ZenMate apps. It stops your entire internet connection if your VPN connection drops for whatever reason, ensuring your data doesn’t leak.
The kill switch is enabled by default and you can’t turn it off. Somewhat confusingly, in the Windows client, there is the option to toggle the kill switch off in Settings > General. But if you do this, you’ll get a popup message telling you it can’t be deactivated.
DNS leak protection is built-in and can be toggled on and off within the General tab. We observed no issues when testing for leaks.
WebRTC protection is not included, although we didn’t observe any leaks in our testing. You may want to disable WebRTC in your browser to be on the safe side.
ZenMate doesn’t offer built-in IPv6 leak protection either, but it does give you the option to automatically disable IPv6 connections. I usually recommend that users disable IPv6 if you’re worried about leaks, but this handy feature takes care of that for you.
When it comes to protocols, you have a few options: OpenVPN, IKEV2, and L2TP. I usually favor OpenVPN where possible as this is considered the industry gold standard. That said, IKEv2 is a fast and secure alternative for mobile devices.
ZenMate uses its own private DNS servers which is a plus from a privacy perspective. Many VPNs use public DNS servers such as those run by Google. In those cases, Google (or another third party) can see DNS requests and which websites are being visited.
Does ZenMate work in China?
Blocks imposed by the Chinese government mean it’s very difficult to find a VPN that works in China, let alone one that works reliably. That said, there are a few VPNs that strive to serve the vast number of VPN users there.
ZenMate, unfortunately, is not one of them.
Unsurprisingly for a smaller VPN, Zenmate doesn’t prioritize users in China. While some users have had luck in the country, many have not. The provider itself even warns users not to pay for a subscription with the anticipation of using the service in China.
Even if you are able to download the application in these countries, we strongly recommend that you do not sign up for a paid subscription. We are not responsible for the lack of service and are not liable to provide refunds. This applies to China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The same goes for users in Iran and Saudi Arabia. If you’re traveling to one of these countries or China, you’ll want to opt for a VPN that prioritizes giving users around the globe access to the free web. I also asked about UAE and was told that the VPN likely won’t work there either.
Is ZenMate’s customer service any good?
One of the issues I had with ZenMate in the past is the fact that it doesn’t offer any kind of live support. Any VPN provider worth its salt offers live-chat support, so I was optimistic that the new-and-improved service would include this feature.
I was disappointed.
ZenMate provides a fairly thorough support section on its website, covering set up, using the service, and troubleshooting.
In fairness, the email support was quite prompt with the average response time to my basic questions being around an hour.
Note that the email support system is outsourced to Zendesk–an unrelated third-party company—which isn’t ideal for more privacy-conscious users.
Servers and locations
ZenMate has increased its number of servers and locations over the past few years, from over 1,000 servers in 30 countries to more than 1,500 in 37 countries. These are all physical servers as opposed to virtual ones. ZenMate owns all of its servers, which is unusual to see—most VPNs rent them. This is a plus as it gives ZenMate full control of its servers from a security and performance standpoint.
Locations include countries in Europe, Asia Pacific, North and South America, and Africa. The largest concentration of servers is in Germany, Romania, the UK, and the US, with more than 200 servers in each of those countries.
Three of those countries (all but Romania) have servers in multiple locations. However, it’s not possible to choose your server based on its city. As such, it’s the luck of the draw as to which one you get. The option to choose your location can be handy in some situations, for example, if you’re looking to avoid blackouts of sporting events coverage or want to select the nearest server.
Wondering how much this service will set you back? You may be pleasantly surprised.
The monthly rate is $10.99, which is around the industry average. Opt for an 18 month term to get a large discount and pay $2.22 per month. Or select the 6 month offer of $5.39 per month.
All deals come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
ZenMate offers new users a seven-day free trial. While this might seem pointless when there’s a lengthier money-back guarantee, a free trial is preferable for many users. With a free trial, you don’t have to pay anything upfront, and in ZenMate’s case, you don’t have to hand over any payment information (on desktop). This way, you get to avoid the hassle of trying to get a refund or canceling automatic payments if you don’t think the service is a good fit once the trial has ended.
Payment options include PayPal and credit card, but no cryptocurrencies.
ZenMate coupon codes
Should I buy ZenMate?
After thoroughly testing this service, would I recommend you give it a go?
I wouldn’t put this VPN at the top of my list overall but I do see it as a good fit for some users. Speeds were okay for streaming and ZenMate unblocks plenty of geo-restricted sites, so I like it as a streaming VPN. It’s a secure service so it’s suitable for general browsing.
While ZenMate allows P2P filesharing and has no caps on data or bandwidth, I’d advise going for a faster VPN if you plan on torrenting regularly. Users in China will need to look elsewhere too.
Are you a novice user? If so, you may miss having a live chat feature for instant help with setup and troubleshooting.
Speed is a big one for most users as it affects pretty much everything you do online including general browsing, HD streaming, and especially downloading. The fastest VPN we’ve tested so far is ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN is highly secure and excellent at unblocking streaming platforms. It’s compatible with most devices and even works reliably in China. What’s more, its customer support is second to none, making it great for beginners and advanced users alike.
If you’re on a tight budget, CyberGhost is a great alternative. It’s known for its unblocking abilities and strict no-logs policy. CyberGhost protects your internet traffic with strong security features and offers excellent support.