We originally reviewed ZenMate as a free privacy extension for Chrome about two years ago. The service has now transitioned into the freemium realm, which isn’t bad at all, considering the generally positive reviews and efficacy of the service pre-evolved and the numerous and ongoing upgrades discussed in the balance of this review.
Pricing & Plans
The ZenMate VPN proxy extension/plugin is since available on Firefox and Opera. Those who like the free service, but want access to all 12 servers (versus four), platforms beyond browser-based, whether on a PC or smartphone, and ‘turbo’ versus ‘best effort’ speeds, might opt for a premium plan. The balance of this review is primarily concerned with the premium service which encrypts all your activities, as opposed to the extension which only applies to the browser in use.
ZenMate VPN is like most providers, in that several pricing tiers are offered for premium service, with perks commensurate to how long you register. A month’s subscription will set you back $9.90 – six months come out $8.80 per month. If you choose to commit for an entire year, you’re looking at a monthly expenditure of $7.49. While the savings might not be the best, it’s worth considering the overall pricing, which falls on the lower end of the spectrum. (Also, note that pricing on the ZenMate website is listed in Euros, not Dollars.)
All major credit as well as UnionPay, PayPal, and Bitcoin can all be used to pay. The latter is ideal for those looking to stay anonymous as possible. Refunds are straightforward, just keep in mind the period to request one is 14 days from the start of the first billing cycle.
We here at BestVPN.com put together this ZenMate video review for you to get a better feel of the service:
ZenMate is headquartered in Berlin, Germany, under the similarly named parent company, ZenGuard. The number of servers you can access ranges from 4 to 12, depending on your choice of free or premium service. Server choices are primarily limited to Europe, with Hong Kong, and Singapore – US East and West round out the bunch. Free users have US (East), HK, Germany, and Swiss servers available, but those based outside of Europe might want to look at a premium option for better performance, geographically speaking.
Being based in Germany, unfortunately, leaves ZenMate VPN under the inauspicious umbrella of some pretty shifty laws, including the Data Retention Directive (DRD), though Germany is also famed for its stringent copyright law and hypocritical approach to exporting surveillance tech to nations that can best be rated ‘dubious’ on the human rights (privacy) front. Many providers opt to operate elsewhere due to these unfavorable factors from a VPN perspective.
ZenMate is unfortunately unavailable or limited in functionality in China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Users in these countries should stick to the free iteration of the service, or bear in mind while paying: the unsavory effect of the sentence directly before this one and the screenshot of ZenMate’s position on the issue, found above.
Security & Privacy
Things aren’t far from absolutely rosy on the security front, using TLS 1.2 (RFC 5245) protocol with 128-bit AES-GCM encryption, RSA handshaking, and robust SHA 256 used for authentication purposes, with PFS also in place.
Connection logs are kept, but only on an ad-hoc per server basis, according to the ZenMate team. P2P isn’t expressly disallowed, or encouraged, so the torrentphiles amongst you might want to check personally with support as to that end.
There isn’t a dedicated site blog – just the usual social media accounts to stay abreast of ZenMate’s news, more on which can be found below in the support section.
ZenMate unfortunately only has support through email, though responses were timely and courteous. On the other hand, the setup guides, and knowledgebase do a superb job of heading off most potential questions in a manner that clearly reflects actual user questions, with appropriate but not overwhelming detail. A forum would be an excellent upgrade in this regard, allowing users to exchange information on-the-fly, and likely further improving the service for all concerned. We hope to see such changes made in future ZenMate VPN reviews.
Social media is pretty standard fare: news about the VPN services and various offers, in addition to infosec tidbits, though Twitter is the only one updated on a weekly or higher basis. Facebook is also kept relatively up-to-date, but more along bi-weekly to monthly timeframes.
ZenMate VPN registration is speedy on all fronts. Free users just download the extension relevant to their browser software. Alternatively, paid users need just an email, which doubles as a username, password, and billing information (thus allowing for Bitcoin payment and near-full anonymity).
The VPNProvider Windows VPN client
The ZenMate Windows client is simple, but quite effective. No need to mistake the lack of ‘artisanal’ polish for lack of functionality, with your connection stats clearly on display. Moreover, what’s under the hood is nothing short of quite impressive – Autostart with your PC, Eversecure (killswitch), Smart Locations (essentially a whitelist feature allowing you to choose which a VPN server to choose whenever you visit a particular site, say Netflix auto-switches you to a US server), and a Malware blocker (which didn’t interfere with my own antivirus software, and can be disabled).
Navigating through the client borders on effortless, the design is made with unobtrusiveness in mind, or, at least, it comes across as such. Keep reading for the excellent performance portion of this review, DNS leaks were not to be found, but there’s more.
Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC and IPv6 Tests)
Speeds illustrated in the diagram below were above average to great, especially when using UK servers (which are ideal to our test location, geographically speaking). Tests were conducted using a 30 Mbps connection. The lowest speeds hovered in the 5 Mbps downstream range, when connected to US servers, though considering the distance, the results are expected, and more than adequate, to boot. What’s more, anecdotal testing ran problem free with more than ten tabs, YouTube, music streaming, and a file download, simultaneously – in peak traffic times.
|Graphs show highest, lowest and average speeds for each server and location. See our full speed test explanation for more detail.|
Quite pleasing, there were no WebRTC leaks, Ipv6 leaks, or other DNS leaks to report, on any server – all were tested in this regard! It’s rare to come across such thorough attention to DNS leakage from any provider (more a reflection on false advertising and truth-stretching than an explicit indictment of anyone, though examples aren’t tough to find), and ZenMate definitely aligns the security Feng-Shui – the way monks adorn a temple – sparely, but with singular purpose.
It’s always good practice to run DNS test of your own (at least periodically), using ipleak.net and test-ipv6.com, just to be sure your IP isn’t leaking.
Free users can avail themselves of the same exact security benefits found in the browser-based plugin, while premium users have the added benefit(s) of the killswitch and autostart features, not to mention EverSecure and Malware protection.
As mentioned in this and other ZenMate VPN reviews, ZenMate is accessible on pretty much any device or platform. After all, it’s once of the company’s newfound strengths. What you didn’t know however, is that German users can opt for a business-oriented router (admittedly for the not so cheap price of €395 per year, for entirely encrypted WiFi networks.
Those not based in Germany, or looking for a personal home solution, might want to check out our guide on router encryption.
Zenmate VPN Review Conclusion
- Ease of use
- Good Encryption
- DNS leak free
- Restrained marketing and overall unassuming atmosphere
I wasn’t so sure about
- Plugin loads at start and runs all the time, even when browser is closed
- Germany is dicey for privacy concerns
ZenMate is worthy of consideration in the upper tier of VPN providers on account of its encryption, software functionality, and simplicity (accessibility), if not being the cheapest, though, price does tend to correlate strongly with overall user experience. Security is redoutable, and though Germanic headquarters are alarming, users looking for reliability over the absolute highest anonymity available on the market could certainly find ZenMate fits their VPN bill.
Security alert 10 May 2017: A reader has alerted us to a security flaw in ZenMate’s Windows client. If you disconnect from the the internet (Ethernet or WiFi) when the ZenMate Windows client is running, and then reconnect to it, the VPN software continues to say that you are protected. When, in fact, you aren’t. Our reader contacted ZenMate about this issue, but despite claiming otherwise, ZenMate has yet to fix it. If you run ZenMate on another platform, it might also be worth checking that this flaw does not affect you.