ZenMate is a well-designed and easy to use VPN with plenty going for it. But, like a secondhand car, it’s what’s under the bonnet that leaves cause for concern.
- Strong encryption
- Simple, well-designed apps
- 5 concurrent connections
- Can unblock most streaming services
- Average download speeds
- Limited server network
ZenMate is a German-based VPN that claims to have 45 million users and describes itself as being fast, secure, and easy.
But is it?
Our team has been testing ZenMate for the past few months and this comprehensive review is the culmination of our work.
The consensus was that ZenMate’s speeds were generally OK but not overly impressive. We tested them on both fast and slow connections and a range of devices. The overall impression was positive.
On slower connections, there was no noticeable deterioration in speeds and you could carry out all the usual online tasks with ZenMate connected.
It is on faster connections were slower VPNs can have the most noticeable impact but in our tests, we were pleasantly surprised.
ZenMate was found to be generally fast and able to handle even the most data-intensive tasks such as streaming and online gaming without any issues.
In download speed tests, our regular connection offered speeds of 48.73 Mbps. The following speeds were achieved when connected to a selection of ZenMate servers:
- UK – 38.97 Mbps
- France – 34.40 Mbps
- Netherlands – 39.22 Mbps
- Switzerland – 43.66 Mbps
- Sweden – 40.65 Mbps
- New York, US – 38.46 Mbps
- Australia – 36.16 Mbps
Testing the actual speeds shows a somewhat more significant reduction in comparison to leading providers.
Taking the UK server as an example, ZenMate led to over a 20% loss in speed, whereas in comparable tests, ExpressVPN suffered somewhere in the region of just 9-10%.
To their credit, you don’t have to read too far down this document to find what ZenMate does and doesn’t log.
Let’s start with the good bits.
ZenMate states categorically that it does not record, log, or store any data related to internet activity carried out using their VPN. This has not been independently verified but they are clear that they don’t keep activity logs.
They do however retain some details about you.
The personal data they log if you sign up with them includes your name, address, email, username, payment info, anonymised IP address, country, items purchased, transaction information, billing method, price paid, any chargeback requests, and partial credit card info.
It’s not uncommon for VPN providers to retain details about you as a customer and while there are one or two providers which allow a more anonymous sign-up, it’s not widespread.
ZenMate does not specify how many actual servers it operates but it does offer servers in more than 30 countries around the world.
Their network is heavily weighted towards Europe with more than 20 of those locations being there.
But there are also three locations in Asia, one in the Middle East, one in South Africa, as well as multiple servers in Australia, the USA, and Canada.
There are further locations in Brazil which rounds up their offering.
They tick off all the main markets but there is no denying that their network is not the biggest out there.
Protocols & Encryption
ZenMate uses AES-256 encryption across all its VPN apps.
This is high-grade encryption and is the industry standard these days. It is secure and virtually unbreakable by modern computers.
It’s browser extensions only use AES-128 encryption. This is less secure but robust for lightweight browser use.
We liked the fact that ZenMate generates a new encryption key every time you log out and then back into their service. This means that even if someone did manage to compromise your encryption, as soon as you log out, they would no longer be able to access your account.
ZenMate’s default protocol is OpenVPN but they do also offer IKEv2 and L2TP. Neither PPTP or SSTP are available but as these are less secure, their absence is no big loss.
ZenMate offers all subscribers up to five concurrent connections with every account.
In the current industry, this is the bare minimum we would expect.
It is enough for most individuals to connect all their devices but with many competitors now offering more concurrent connections as standard, we would like to see this number rising sooner rather than later.
You do need to de-registered devices should you hit the limit, which while understandable for the service to control their limits could become annoying if you plan to use many multiple devices with the service.
ZenMate VPN’s headquarters are in the German capital city, Berlin. This means they are subject to German and EU data protection and privacy laws.
It is worth bearing in mind that Germany is a member of the 14 Eyes intelligence group.
This means that ZenMate could be required to share what data it does hold on you with other member states. Although do remember they claim not to store logs of your activity or access.
In general, we were impressed with the ZenMate service.
Connection speeds are good but not outstanding, encryption is robust, and the server network is more than adequate for most users. They also offer five simultaneous connections for every user, which is satisfactory.
The one issue we had was with their logging policy. It’s not overly explicit and although attempting to comply with regulations such as GDPR it could be much easier to navigate for the average user.
Being headquartered in Germany also raises questions and if you’re aiming for a provider outside western surveillance networks, you’ll need to give this one a miss.
ZenMate offers mobile apps for both Android and iOS devices.
These apps are largely the same. Both are clean, well-designed, and straightforward to use. They are also lightweight and do not take up too much space on your device.
Setup is straightforward and once logged in, the most prominent feature is the Quick Connect button which lets you connect with a single touch.
If you want to choose a server location, you can access the full list from this page too.
We liked the fact streaming friendly servers are set in their own category.
The app will ask you to allow it to ‘Add VPN Configurations’ but this is simply a case of giving permission and doesn’t take more than a few moments. It’s common across all VPN apps.
There is a lack of additional features with ZenMate mobile apps which is a shame. But for getting your mobile device secure and private, these apps do a good job.
ZenMate’s apps for macOS and Windows desktops look pretty similar but in our tests, while the Windows installation went without a hiccup, the Mac app was a little more problematic.
Once downloaded, their macOS app was happy to open on startup, which was fine. But if we tried to open it mid-session, nothing happened and a restart was the only way to make things work again.
Once logged in, both desktop apps looked great and were simple to use.
There are some nifty features too, including the all-important kill switch, the ability to change protocols and IPv6 leak protection.
There is no specific option for DNS leak protection but in our tests no DNS leaks were found.
Aside from that, there’s not much else to play around with.
On the face of it, these are very good apps. But under the hood, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
We have already mentioned the ZenMate browser extensions for Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. These are lightweight and efficient but don’t offer the same level of encryption.
The service will work with pretty much any device that supports VPN but there are no further apps available for any other operating system. While other providers offer apps for systems running Linux or the Amazon Fire TV range, sadly there’s no dedicated support here.
Those that don’t have dedicated apps require manual setup. While ZenMate provides guides which are pretty simple to follow, if you are not technically literate, it can prove to be a frustrating process.
ZenMate clearly states that it offers all users optimised servers that it claims can unblock US, UK, and German Netflix.
In testing, the service works with Netflix but on odd occasion did require changing server.
The US and UK ones were however plagued with connection issues which made it extremely difficult to watch anything as long as a movie.
This issue seemed more prevalent at peak hours, so it could just be a case of excessive demand. It is something ZenMate needs to resolve though.
There are also dedicated optimised servers for watching the BBC iPlayer.
These were far more stable than many of their Netflix equivalents in our tests and connection speeds on them were also very good.
We had no problems streaming even lengthy content on the BBC iPlayer.
There are also optimised ZenMate servers for Hulu, YouTube, Yle, HBO Now, Globo SportTV, Fox Sport, Eurosport, Channel 4, ORF, Player.PL, Comedy Central, Globo, and more.
We did not test all of these but the ones we did all worked without a hiccup.
This reinforces the suggestion that the issue with the Netflix servers was one of demand rather than anything else.
ZenMate offers three different subscription packages:
- 1 month – £8.99 / 9,99€ per month
- 1 year – £44.99 / 47,88€ (£3.75 / 3,99€ per month)
- 2 years – £49.20 / 49,20€ (£2.05 / 2,05€ per month)
The monthly price is overly high but the longer package prices are highly competitive. For a few pounds, euro or dollars more you can get two years for almost the same price as one.
ZenMate also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Sadly payment can currently only be made using either PayPal or a credit card. There is not currently an anonymous payment option which is a pity.
There’s also a free 7-day free plan available which is a nice addition and a free trial is not commonly found elsewhere.
ZenMate is one of those VPNs that offer a lot but lets itself down in some key areas.
On connection speeds and encryption while not the fastest, there is little to fault.
The ZenMate server network, while not huge, is more than adequate. It can unblock most streaming services, its prices are competitive, and its apps, while not perfect, are certainly on the right track.
But there are some issues too. Netflix-optimised servers are unreliable, the Mac desktop app was problematic, and the payment options limited.
But the main problem surrounds information on logging. ZenMate doesn’t do enough to make clear their policies.
Overall ZenMate is a reliable and usable service. There are better options out there such as ExpressVPN, and while they’re not half bad if they improved in one or two areas they would be a much more rounded service.
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