With an impressive commitment to user privacy and choice, ZPN offer an unusually high-quality VPN service for free – and their paid-for options are even better.
Pricing & Plans
There are four ways to use ZPN, and two of them are completely free:
Firstly, on a mobile device using the Android client, you have the option to use the VPN on an hourly basis without any need to register with ZPN. This limits you to two locations and disconnects you after an hour but does its job very well – it’s appropriate that it’s called Easy Connect.
Secondly, there’s the option to use the service for free on any device, subject to registering with ZPN and a 10GB monthly data transfer limit. Bandwidth is also restricted, but you have access to three more locations than with the hourly Easy Connect option. Peer-to-peer traffic is disabled for users of either free service.
For users wanting the full ZPN service, there are two more options:
The ‘Mobile’ subscription allows the use of the service on only one device with a 50GB data transfer limit, but all 20+ VPN locations are available, and there’s no restriction on the use of P2P. This is the cheapest way to purchase ZPN, with a yearly subscription working out as little as $1.99 per month.
Finally, there’s the full-on ‘Premium’ subscription. Purchasing this on a recurring monthly basis will cost you $5.99 per month, but this is cheaper if you pay annually. Plus it allows up to five simultaneous connections, and there are no limits on data transfer or bandwidth.
Payment can be made by BitCoin as well as PayPal or credit card, offering the opportunity for a high level of anonymity if desired. Impressively given the level of free service they offer, there’s also a full satisfaction 7-day money-back guarantee when users take the plunge and buy a subscription.
ZPN is operated by Vostok Soft FZC and is headquartered in the United Arab Emirates – more on this below. It provides access to 272 VPN servers across more than 20 locations across the globe, and users of the full Premium service are permitted up to five simultaneous connections. ZPN also operate a built-in firewall on all active VPN connections, adding extra security and stability to their service. For example, this allows them to actively prevent its use for things like distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
Security & Privacy
ZPN are serious about transparency and user choice as well as security, and this is reflected in their protocol provision. Rejecting PPTP as too insecure, they do offer L2TP connections, but rightly major on OpenVPN with the option of adding SSL on top for an extra layer of security and complexity. What’s more, they provide a web interface for selecting, in detail, the precise level of security you require as a registered user. This ranges from the OpenVPN default setting of BlowFish-128, to the very strong AES-256 cipher. Hash authentication can be handled by SHA1 or MD5, and handshaking goes up to RSA-2048. This is an excellent level of security, and the SSL option also makes it easier to circumvent restrictions on OpenVPN usage in certain countries.
Despite being based in the UAE – a country hostile to VPN users – ZPN is not subject to any legal restrictions as an operator of VPN servers based outside the country. They’re honest and forthcoming about the status of VPNs in the UAE on their blog, and we can confirm that what they’ve written about the legal situation of VPN use is consistent with other independent Internet sources. It’s an odd situation, but the upshot for users of ZPN is that they shouldn’t expect any interference from the jurisdictional government.
ZPN also have a largely logless policy: for free users, bandwidth logs are kept to keep track of service limitations, but for Premium users no logs are kept whatsoever. This also means there is nothing for ZPN to share with authorities should a jurisdictionally appropriate legal request be made.
All of the above make ZPN a very secure VPN indeed, and users can expect a high standard of privacy and anonymity.
Also on the website is a regularly-updated blog featuring posts on a variety of topics. A quick scroll through reveals a post about the legal situation around VPN use in Dubai, a special offer for users of web forums, and a few guides to using the VPN for practical purposes.
ZPN’s only form of personal support is through web-based tickets, open to anyone who’s registered on the website. We found the system easy to use, and we never had to wait more than a few hours for a polite, detailed and helpful response: While we initially had issues getting the advertised level of encryption over a third-party OpenVPN client, support were able to identify and fix the issue within a few hours. While this is functional, it’d be nice to see more options for live support, and even the facility to append files to tickets would be an improvement. We were also a bit confused to see our ticket history mysteriously disappear mid-way through a conversation with support – thankfully it was still possible to reply by email.
There is also a small FAQ on the site, but this doesn’t offer much by way of insight into potential technical problems. Somewhat more helpful are the setup guides, which are thorough and detailed – more on these below. The ZPN team are also active on social networks, but there’s not much by way of visible two-way interaction – for example, we noticed several unanswered questions on their Facebook page.
ZPN’s website claims you can be registered in 45 seconds, and this is probably accurate. You’re asked to enter a username and password, as well as an email address that has to be validated before the account is activated. The thing that took us the longest was filling in the lengthy Captcha – though we’d far rather have to do this than use a VPN service flooded with bots.
Once registered, you get a nice email telling you what to do next, and more help on getting started is available when clicking through to confirm your email address. It’s great to see a VPN provider helping new users make that first step.
The ZPN Windows VPN client
ZPN have a clean, simple VPN client for Windows: visually resminiscent of a smartphone app, it works well and is easy to use. Selecting a server and connecting is simple and obvious, and there are some powerful options accessible through the menu icon on the left.
As well as the option to start the VPN automatically with Windows, there’s a Kill Switch to prevent traffic escaping in the event of a connection failure, and beefy DNS and IPv6 leak protection options designed to prevent any possibility of a leak occurring. The DNS leak protection works by physically changing your Windows network adapter to use ZPN’s DNS servers and the IPv6 leak protection feature works by entirely disabling IPv6 on the VPN connection. These are both somewhat ‘nuclear’ options, but they’re far more reliable than some other more subtle implementations we’ve seen.
The client also comes with the option to change the protocol and port used by the VPN, which is useful for getting it to work properly in different network circumstances. There’s also a checkbox to load configurations from the web tool as mentioned above, allowing an incredibly granular level of control over precisely what level of security you want on your VPN connection. Finally, the client’s options are rounded out by a setting to enable or disable automatic updates, as well as a button to check for and install updates immediately.
Performance (Speed, DNS and IP Test)
Connection speeds over ZPN’s VPN compared well to our unprotected test connection: despite a few dips, speeds were reasonably high in general, and reliability was good. We had no trouble browsing, streaming or downloading over either free or Premium servers.
|Graphs show highest, lowest and average speeds for each location/VPN. See our post on our new speed tests for more information.|
As mentioned above, there’s robust DNS leak protection, and we had no issues with our IP tests – except that one of the French servers we connected to was recognised as being in Italy by our location tests. ZPN use Google for their DNS needs.
As well as bespoke clients for Windows, Android and iOS, ZPN provide high-quality setup guides for most platforms. We were particularly pleased to see the inclusion of guides to using the service with third-party OpenVPN clients across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux, as well as robust support for highly personalised OpenVPN config files. This further promotes transparency of service and makes it easy to see if you’re really getting what’s advertised.
The ZPN Android App
The Android app, available from the Play store, is visually very similar to the Windows client, with the additional perk of the hourly free version of the VPN available without registration. Useful options include the ability to choose between TCP or UDP connections, as well as to select which port to connect over, and there’s a battery-save feature too.
As with the Windows client, you can opt to load configuration settings from your web interface. It’d be nice if there was the option to automatically start the VPN with the phone or to automatically activate protection on specific networks, but the client is still fairly powerful and very easy to use.
ZPN Review Conclusion
- Strong encryption
- No logs whatsoever for Premium users
- Completely free options with few restrictions
- High level of commitment to anonymity and privacy
- Powerful and easy-to-use client with robust DNS leak protection
- Helpful support
- Good Android app, plus OpenVPN available on iOS
We weren’t so sure about
- Live support would be a nice addition
With a strong client, great transparency, high customizability and very helpful support agents, ZPN offer a really good VPN service at a range of very affordable prices – not the least of which is, of course, completely free. It’s especially remarkable that using the Free service doesn’t make you feel like you’re a second-class citizen, and yet there’s also enough on offer to justify upgrading to a Premium subscription. The combination of an excellent Free service plus a money-back guarantee mean there’s no reason not to give ZPN a try – follow the link below and see what you think.