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ZenMate VPN review

ZenMate VPN Review

On their website, ZenMate promises not only security and privacy online but also 360° protection. Though this does sound impressive, we need to look at what that actually means.

In this ZenMate review, I’ll throw some light on the service explaining its every aspect in greater detail. Streaming performance, features, security, apps, and customer support – all will be covered. Let’s find out whether ZenMate delivers on its promises.

Rating:3.0
Country:Germany
Logs:No
Price:from $1.64/month
Support:Knowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat
Locations:78 countries
Torrenting:Yes
Netflix:Yes

ZenMate pros & cons

Pros

  • Good server coverage
  • Reliable kill switch
  • Affordable price
  • Browser addons
  • 24/7 live chat
  • P2P support
  • Streaming servers
  • 30-day money-back guarantee

Cons

  • Doesn’t work in China
  • Scarce tunnelling protocols
  • Lacking mobile apps
  • Based in a 14 Eyes country

Visit Zenmate to learn more about the features

Speed and performance: How fast is ZenMate?

Let’s make it clear that VPNs don’t have a speed – it’s all about how much a VPN slows down your baseline connection. Connecting to the internet through a VPN server means your data takes a longer route to its destination and back. Then there’s encryption, which also slows your connection down.

With that in mind, let’s see how “fast” ZenMate actually is.

Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload

IKEv2

LocationPing (ms)Download Speed (Mbps)Upload Speed (Mbps)
US (NY)11125012
US (FL)13327520
US (LA)13022220
UK5027346
Germany3929256
Japan2952364
Singapore22722315
Australia27122511
Lithuania5282288
India16381
Argentina27333

The IKEv2 protocol offers good speeds. Despite having pretty steep drops in India and Argentina, the average download speed drops were only 30%. The upload speeds weren’t as impressive, reducing the connection by 85% on average. However, the ping times were dramatically increased, so much so that it would be enough to exclude this option if you’re looking for a VPN for gaming.

OpenVPN

LocationUDPTCP
US (NY)105/49/257107/146/227
US (FL)130/54/64143/65/178
US (LA)159/28/271159/93/138
UK49/44/23644/224/284
Germany37/83/7736/187/42
Japan279/17/166312/38/40
Singapore296/12/154453/72/104
Australia281/40/13336/46/52
Lithuania5/138/3005/264/261
India180/3/1174/5/1
Brasil281/2/2333/1/0.2

Usually, it’s quite easy to tell UDP and TCP apart. The latter is much slower, but in this case, ZenMate flipped the rulebook. The average TCP download speed drop is 65%, while the upload speed drops off by 60%. The results could have been better, but the results are somewhat skewed by the perennially-slow Brazil and India.

UDP speeds were poor across the board. The average UDP download speed drops were 86% and 53% for upload speeds. The same problematic locations played a role, and ping times were high.

Overall, ZenMate doesn’t offer too much variety in terms of tunneling protocols selection. Their IKEv2 performs quite well. It should be your go-to if you want good download speeds and don’t care about the upload.

Streaming: Can I watch Netflix with ZenMate?

ZenMate has specialized servers for streaming. So, if you want to unblock a streaming service, that’s what you’ll be using. The labels indicate which platforms they are intended for.

ZenMate streaming dashboard

Using these servers, I managed to unblock US Netflix, but the experience wasn’t smooth. The video buffered for quite a long time, and the streaming quality was reduced. However, the American Netflix library isn’t the only one available via ZenMate, so you’ll have plenty of options.

I also managed to unblock BBC iPlayer, but the experience was very similar to Netflix. It did unblock the video, but it took a while to load, and the streaming quality was poor. If you previously were used to the service without a VPN, you may notice the impact.

Although YouTube didn’t pose any problems, DAZN refused to be unblocked. Even switching to optimized streaming servers didn’t resolve the issue. So, if you want to watch fight sports, you’ll have to turn elsewhere.

Is ZenMate good for torrenting & P2P?

Due to local regulations, torrenting is restricted on specific servers, but it does work. If you’re looking for a VPN for torrenting, ZenMate should do the trick.

ZenMate torrenting servers list

The connection speeds had a good start but then started stalling at ~4MB/s (32mbps). Due to the nature of P2P, this may have little to do with ZenMate.

ZenMate VPN features

Smart Locations

Smart Locations work like automated split tunneling. The feature automatically turns on VPN for select websites. That way, if you know that you’ll be using Netflix only when connected through a VPN, you can enable smart locations. This saves a lot of time when you have to switch servers for particular uses. Sadly, it’s only available on their browser add-on.

Smart location zenmate

On the downside, this is also something that could introduce DNS leaks. This is because of DNS Prefetching which is used to save time by caching frequently visited addresses. When Smart Locations is enabled, this could reveal your pre-cached DNS. Thus, the possible solutions include disabling DNS pre-caching or just sticking to the desktop app.

Favorites

If you find yourself returning to the same server often, there is a favorites section. You can just click the star icon on the right side, and it will add the server to your Favorites tab. From there, it will be easy to find it for later use.

Zenmate favorites tab

This is the most useful with streaming servers as it may sometimes take a while to find the right one for a service that you want to unblock. You can even add several of them for backup when the other ones are full.

Is it safe to use ZenMate?

ZenMate can only be considered safe from a technical standpoint. Where it fails to meet our expectations are the privacy policy and location. If you’re looking for a secure VPN service, those can be a dealbreaker.

Encryption

Your connection is made private with the help of the AES-256-CBC cipher. This method uses private keys for traffic encryption and decryption. Meaning that you could send and receive the data, but it would remain incomprehensible to outsiders as they don’t have private keys. Also, when you’re connecting a server, authentication is processed with the help of the SHA-256 hash function.

This isn’t too different from other VPN services in the market. I detected that ZenMate connects to some of the same servers as CyberGhost, using identical ports and configurations. This may sound weird, but in fact both are owned by Kape Technologies. It would seem that under the hood, the services are more similar than they may appear.

Tunneling protocols

Tunneling protocols coordinate how your data will be sent via the VPN. Will it be faster but less secure, or will it be very safe but slower – it is up to you. Changing the tunneling protocol should be a conscious decision depending on your use case. With ZenMate, you get to choose from:

IKEv2 – one of the most common tunneling protocols. It works on a long list of devices out of the box and is pretty lightweight. Available on Windows and macOS apps.

OpenVPN (TCP/UDP) – an open-source protocol that is quite customizable. You can use UDP skipping additional data verification checks for speeds or TCP for slower speeds but stronger data integrity. Available for Windows, Android, and iOS apps.

Sadly, those two are all the options you get. There’s no WireGuard, and no Shadowsocks or obfuscation. You’re getting a pretty limited setup, which can be a security flaw in itself.

Kill switch

A kill switch is an additional safeguard when the link between your device and VPN server gets interrupted. We put them to the test to see how they would fare in real-life situations. The first test involves blocking IP addresses via a router to stop the connection. The second is killing the VPN processes from the device and checking how the app responds.

In the first test, the kill switch triggered as it should. It disabled my Internet connection and started to reconnect in the background. The only issue was that it didn’t give any notification about the killswitch being engaged.

When disabling OpenVPN processes, the app noticed these changes and created additional ones to reconnect. Though, when I killed the whole background process, ZenMate still indicated that I was connected despite losing access to the Internet. Only a computer restart resolved this.

So, you can be confident that ZenMate will have your back even in cases when the connection drops.

Logging

ZenMate is based in Germany, which isn’t perfect. The country is part of the 14 Eyes surveillance alliance and is a member of the European Union. All of this is can be problematic if you’re looking for privacy and anonymity.

The service itself promises no logs but the privacy policy seems to contradict itself. They state that: “The data controller shall process and store the personal data of the data subject only for the period necessary to achieve the purpose of storage, or as far as the European legislator grants this”. So, their no logs policy could quickly be turned around if the EU/Germany’s stance on data retention changes.

They also admit to collecting quite a lot of data from website visits and even using tracking pixels in newsletters. This isn’t something that you’d want to find in your VPN’s terms of service from a privacy standpoint.

ZenMate servers and locations

ZenMate has quite good server coverage. They have 2800+ servers around 78 countries, thus covering much of the globe. So, you’re getting quite a lot of options to choose from.

RegionNumber of countries
Europe41 countries
The Americas9 countries
The Asia Pacific16 countries
The Middle East and Africa12 countries

Users who want to connect to Europe or the Asia Pacific will get the most countries to choose from. Even the Middle East and African locations aren’t skipped – ZenMate truly offers more variety than you expect to see.

Plans & pricing

ZenMate has two distinct pricing plans: Pro and Ultimate. The only features that Ultimate users get are OpenVPN support and P2P network support (i.e. torrenting, etc.).

Zenmate ultimate plan

Price-wise, one month of Ultimate costs $10.99, 1 year is $53.88, and three years is $59. The amounts will be charged on purchase, though it still means opting for longer plans yields better savings.

Zenmate pro plan

The Pro plan changes the scheme: 1 month costs $7.99, 6 months cost $19.14, and the longest, yearly plan is $23.88. So, it’s a good deal, albeit at the cost of some basic features like OpenVPN support.

The payment options include only credit cards and PayPal. So, once again, privacy-conscious individuals may be disappointed. If you were planning to pay for your subscription with cryptocurrencies, it won’t be possible here.

Still, there is a 7-day free trial and a 30-day money-back guarantee. So, you’ll have plenty of time to decide whether the service lives up to your expectations.

Interface and ease of use

Desktop versions

Windows

One of the first things you may notice is that the app looks like a copy of CyberGhost’s app. I also found it strange that the server list displayed numbers of active users who are currently connected to it.

zenmate windows application

The UI sometimes feels poorly thought out. For example, it’s impossible to select different regions within a country. So, if you want to connect to a specific part of the United States, you’ll have no way to control it.

The connection itself lacks customization options. You can make the app start up on boot and automatically connect to a specific server. The only toggles are switching between IKEv2 and OpenVPN connections, enabling random ports, and disabling DNS and IPv6 leak protection (though, I strongly advise you not to disable them).

macOS

If you’re an Apple user, your ZenMate experience will be more minimal than on Windows. The settings tab includes only General, Account, and Connections tabs. The latter is blank, Account shows your email and currently used device number, while General allows toggle to run at startup.

zenmate macos app

You can choose between different servers for streaming and torrenting. There are no other feature toggles or customization options.

ZenMate mobile apps

Android

The app seems pretty basic and has some UI flaws. For example, the font color clashes with the background, making it incredibly difficult to read. You can’t access the server list while you’re connected.

ZenMate VPN android app screen

Overall, it feels like a poorly made clone of the CyberGhost app. It doesn’t stand out in functionality or design choices.

iOS

The best way to describe ZenMate’s iOS app is by imagining a single button with a country list. This is because those are the only things that you’re getting on this app. There is also a settings menu, but it only shows your username, plan, active connections, and app version.

ios app zenmate

The iOS app uses a slightly different font, which doesn’t clash as much as it does on the Android version. However, this hardly solves the severe lack of features.

Browser extensions

ZenMate is one of the few providers that have more features on browser extensions than on the apps. It includes a stealth connection that removes your cookies and browsing history cache when you disconnect from the VPN.

browser addon chrome zenmate

There is a browser-level split tunneling feature called Whitelister. It can be activated for particular websites which you’d like to connect directly to. So, when you’re visiting them, the VPN will be turned off.

Customer support

Like most services, ZenMate covers the basics with FAQs and guides on their customer support page. There, you’ll find everything from common issues to the best workarounds.

If you prefer a hands-on experience, you can create a ticket via their support system. Though, their live chat seems to be the faster option. When I reached out to them, I was assigned a customer support agent almost immediately.

I asked about the similarities between ZenMate and CyberGhost. The agent claimed they have their own servers, with their in-house team maintaining them. This is strange, considering I found out that their servers use CyberGhost’s CA certificate and have the same hostname naming structure.

Is ZenMate worth getting?

All things considered, ZenMate is a mediocre VPN service. It does a couple of things right: their OpenVPN TCP version is well-optimized, their kill switch doesn’t fail, and pricing makes it one of the most affordable VPN options. This shows that with the right management, the service could one day be a top-shelf VPN.

However, as it stands now, the service feels like a CyberGhost beta version, lacking its own UI identity and unique features. The VPN falls short in tunneling protocols, and features like split tunneling are missing from the apps.

Until these shortcomings are resolved, you can get a much better package with other service providers.

FAQ

Is ZenMate free VPN safe?

ZenMate doesn’t have a free version, it only has 7 days free trial. If you are using an extension, it will only encrypt your browser traffic. Using an app is much safer.

Can ZenMate be trusted?

ZenMate uses solid encryption and is quite proficient from a technical standpoint. However, there is a lack of transparency and audit reports, making its trustworthiness a grey area.

Does ZenMate work in China?

No, ZenMate doesn’t work in China.

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