ZenMate is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service based in Berlin, Germany. The parent company of the VPN is called ZenGuard. This was an unfortunate choice of name – if you Google¬†it, you’ll get results for¬†a mouth guard that stops people snoring!
ZenMate is one of the few VPNs in the world that reaches out to those who don’t speak English. The application can be customized to show text in German, Turkish, Korean, Russian, or Spanish, as well as English. The website is also available in a wide range of languages, although the homepage stays in English for some nationality selections.
You have three plan options with ZenMate. You can use the basic service for free forever. There are no data throughput limits on this version, and you can use four of the company’s server locations. However, you’ll be pestered constantly to upgrade to the Premium service.
You can get the Premium service on a seven-day free trial. Whichever site you visit in your browser, you’ll see an overlay box encouraging you to take up the Premium free trial. This is the only way to access the free trial. It isn’t advertised on the main site and isn’t an option on the sign-up page for the Premium version.
You can’t get access to the free version as an app. You can add it to Chrome at the Chrome Web Store, or get an add-on for Firefox at the Firefox Add-ons site.
If you go to the Pricing page of the ZenMate website, you’ll only be presented with the option to buy the Premium version. The “.com” site shows prices in US dollars.
If you switch the website to a different country (see below), it will give you¬†prices in the relevant¬†currency.
If you install the free browser version first, you can access a discount offer for the Premium service through a button in the extension interface.
As such, it’s better to install the free browser version before buying the service.
You can pay for a subscription with credit cards, PayPal, Union Pay, or Qiwi Wallet.
ZenMate’s VPN Features
The free plan gives you the following facilities:
Access to servers in the US, Hong Kong, Germany, and Romania
ZenMate’s location¬†in Germany is not ideal. As an EU member, Germany¬†has been taking part in the farcical tug-of-war over internet privacy and data disclosure that is being played by the European Union Commission and the European Court of Justice (ECJ). An ECJ ruling in 2014 invalidated all current data retention laws in the EU.
The previously implemented EU data retention directive only applied to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and not VPNs. The ZenMate manifesto points out that it is¬†more loyal to¬†German data privacy laws than any potential data retention laws.
The website isn’t very clear on all of the security features of the VPN. Thus I can only suspect that it doesn’t have many.
The app features a utility called EverSecure. The description of this utility sounds a little like a kill switch. However, it isn’t. This facility has been included in the app to combat a problem with the iOS implementation. If the iOS operating system detects that an application hasn’t been accessed for a while, it stops it running. The EverSecure function disables that administrative move. It isn’t clear how this feature helps users of other operating systems.
A kill switch blocks internet access when the VPN is not engaged. EverSecure doesn’t do that. It doesn’t reconnect the VPN, so it doesn’t really do anything.
Logs & Legal
There isn’t any mention on the website of how ZenMate¬†manages Domain Name System (DNS) calls. There also isn’t any mention of protection against IPv4 or IPv6 leaks. Most¬†VPNs mention these¬†on their websites, so it’s odd that ZenMate doesn’t mention these features.
Another shortfall in the ZenMate offering is its restriction to one VPN protocol – most VPNs offer a choice. VPN companies that only offer one protocol usually plump for OpenVPN. This is reckoned to be the best in the business. However, ZenMate implements L2TP, which can only be rated as second best.
The best encryption in the VPN industry is AES with a 256-bit key. ZenMate implements this for its app. However, it only uses 128-bit AES encryption for the browser version. This is not secure enough to protect you from detection. Worse still, the browser extensions do not seem to be VPNs, but encrypted proxies.
The ZenMate Website
The website doesn’t have many details. It has very few pages, most of which are contained in the knowledge base.
There’s no¬†link on the top navigation menu to the support department. This only appears after you log in. Once you’ve entered your credentials, that top menu changes.
The flag and country name in the top right corner give access to a drop-down list of nations. Clicking on one of these adjusts the website’s settings and changes the prices in the sales page to the currency of that country.
ZenMate Customer Support
There is no live chat for support and the website’s support page is very hard to find. You can’t¬†access the support system until you set up an account and log in. The Support navigation menu option leads to a knowledge base page. There is no button on this page to enable you¬†to raise a support ticket.
The only way you can reach the support team is to search for “contact support” in the knowledge base. This will return an article on how to contact the help desk.
The short article that this search result leads to contains a button that opens up a support request form.
The request form is a standard support ticket form with the exception of the “Contact reason” field. This leads through a series of questions, which ends up being quite complicated.
As soon as you press the Submit button, you receive an auto-response message at your registered email address. This tells you that you will get a reply within one to five business days. It also warns you not to submit a duplicate request.
You don’t have to wait a whole day: you’ll receive a second email in about an hour and a half. This message won’t have a solution to your problem. It’s¬†another automated email that aims to get you to solve the problem yourself, by reading through the articles in the knowledge base.
If you still don’t get answers, you have to reply to this second email and then ZenMate¬†will log your question.¬†When I went through this process, it took a little more than a week before a response to my question came through.
You should opt¬†to try the free browser extension before you buy. This gives you a restricted service, but it also gets you access to the free trial and a discount on the price of the Premium plan. Search for the extension at the Chrome Web Store or in the Firefox Add-on store. Install either version.
Once you’ve installed the¬†extension, you’ll see a shield icon in the top right of your browser. A new tab will open with an “onboarding” page. The extension won’t open until you either log in or sign up for the Premium plan.
You don’t have to pay, however, because a faint link beneath the buy button gives you the option of using the free version. The next screen tries again to get you to sign up for the Premium service. Click on “Get Limited” instead.
You need¬†to enter an email address. It doesn‚Äôt have to be a real one if you only intend to use the free version. If you want to try out the Premium service, you need to give an email account to which you have access. You have to click on a link in a verification email in order to get the free trial of the Premium version.
After entering an email and setting up a password, you’ll be taken to a landing page that promotes another ZenGuard product. The overlay box that you see to the right of the screen will haunt you until you agree to take the free Premium trial.
You can now access the free app.
You will only have access to four servers.
The ZenMate App
To get to the free trial, you need to locate the welcome email that ZenMate sent you when you set up your username and password. Verify your email address, then click on that overlay with the Premium free trial offer. You will then be able to download the app from your account page.
Unusually, the app does not require an installer. Once you click on the downloaded file, you have the app.
There is no login screen in the app. Instead, the authentication feature of the utility relies on a link to the ZenMate website. If you are logged in at the website, you are logged in to the app. In order to connect, you just need to select a location by clicking on the field below the big button in the center of the app.
Once you select a location, the app will start to connect – you don’t have to press that big button to connect. You need to press that button if you want to disconnect from the VPN.
You can access the app’s settings by clicking on the cog icon in the navigation menu at the bottom of the app.
Most of the settings options just open pages on the main website to show the conditions of the contract. The only meaningful controls here are the option to turn off EverSecure and to nominate that the app connects when you log in to the website. Neither of these features seem to do anything.
ZenMate’s VPN Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Tests)
The ZenMate App
Speed tests were performed using testmy.net¬†from¬†Nottingham, UK, with internet service provided by Virgin Media. For each category, five test runs were performed. The first (baseline) test run examined the speed of a connection to London without a VPN. The next two tests connected to London through ZenMate servers in the UK and the Netherlands.
The last tests measured the performance of a connection to New York, USA, both without a VPN and through¬†the ZenMate United States East server. IPLocation.net¬†advised that the ZenMate server is in Chicago.
I was unable to specify conditions for the VPN. I assume the app used L2TP/IPSec with AES-256 encryption. It’s impossible to tell whether communications used User Datagram Protocol (UDP) or Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).
The VPN had an astonishing impact on download speeds. The slowing of¬†downloads from the US¬†was dramatic. The only area¬†in which ZenMate performed well was upload tests with the UK server.
The poor performance of the Netherlands server was surprising. That country gives financial incentives to international corporations that¬†base their data centers there, meaning¬†the Netherlands is¬†home to some incredibly¬†powerful servers. However, ZenMate’s servers don’t match those¬†high performance levels.
The US tests produced the unusual situation where the VPN’s upload speeds were higher than its download speeds.
Virgin Media doesn’t use IPv6 addresses, so I couldn’t¬†test for IPv6 leaks. I checked for IPv4, Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), and DNS leaks with ipleak.net and doileak.net. I accessed these sites while connected to the ZenMate Dutch server through the app. The app performed well except for DNS leaks – my ISP’s DNS server IP address showed up.
ZenMate Chrome Extension
I repeated the above tests for the ZenMate Chrome extension. This implementation uses AES encryption with a 128-bit key. This is much weaker security, but it is quicker to perform. The difference in speeds compared to the app implementation was remarkable.
Again, these tests were performed from Nottingham, UK using a residential internet service provided by Virgin Media. The servers I connected to in the UK and in the Netherlands were the same as those used for the tests on the ZenMate app. However, when I connected to the ZenMate US East service, IPLocation.net told me that this connection was to a data center in Manassas, Virginia.
The browser extension gave far better speeds in every test, except for those that used the VPN server in the Netherlands. The Dutch server gave slower speeds when tested with the browser extension that it had with the app. The browser extension connected through the US server actually improved download speeds.
When testing IP leaks, I connected to the ZenMate server in the Netherlands. Like the app, the browser extension prevented anyone from seeing my real address. The app leaked the address of my regular DNS server, but the browser extension did not. However, whereas the app was able to mask my IP address through WebRTC, the browser extension left this information exposed.
If you are looking for more comprehensive VPN to use with your Chrome browser, we recommend taking a look at our best 5 VPNs for Chrome guide for more information.
I checked out the performance of the VPN at getting into streaming services. Although these tests were performed from the UK, I applied the UK ZenMate server to see whether popular streaming sites would detect the VPN and block access to content. I tried Netflix UK, BBC iPlayer, and the Channel4 website. The Netflix proxy detection system spotted the VPN and refused to deliver content to me. However, I was able to watch shows on BBC iPlayer and Channel4.
I switched to the Atlanta ZenMate server in the US and checked whether I could access shows at Netflix, ABC, and NBC. I got into Netflix. This is top quality VPN performance, because this is the streaming service that defeats most of the VPNs in the world. Despite the appalling speeds logged by this VPN server, the playback of a show was continuous, without pauses or stutters for buffering. Surprisingly, ABC spotted the VPN and blocked delivery of a show. NBC let me watch content. However, that site doesn’t invest much in its VPN detection system. To check whether NBC was just letting anyone in, I turned off the VPN and tried to access it from my UK IP address. NBC blocked me.
I turned off the app and tested the Chrome browser extension. This service had exactly the same results as the app. With theZenMate UK server selected, Netflix UK blocked access, but BBC iPlayer and Channel 4 let me watch content. When I switched to the US East ZenMate server I got past the US Netflix VPN detection system. NBC also let me watch a show, but ABC blocked me.
The ZenMate app is available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android devices. The browser extension is available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
The browser extensions are not, strictly speaking, VPNs. They are encrypted proxies. Although the distinction between these two may seem minor, you are better off choosing the browser extension to access streaming services, but using the stronger security of the app for more sensitive activities.
ZenMate Review: Conclusion
By combining the strength of the app and the speed of the browser add on, you could probably get all you need out of this VPN service. The VPN probably isn’t secure enough to be reliable for those in locations such as Iran, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia who need air-tight privacy to keep safe on the web. However, gamers and streamers would be well served by the browser extension. Those who need more privacy should switch to the app.
14-day money-back guarantee
One-week free trial
Free browser extension
I wasn‚Äôt so sure about:
Encryption and security methods
Slows connections with the app
No kill switch
DNS leaks and WebRTC leaks
Poor quality customer support
Keep in mind that this VPN’s performance depends on the server that you connect to. If the server you need to connect to is as slow as the ZenMate server in the Netherlands, then you would probably be better off looking elsewhere for a VPN. Take advantage of the Premium plan free trial to assess the service for your own circumstances before you commit money to this VPN.