ZenMate VPN review | TechRadar

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ZenMate is a simple VPN aimed at non-technical users who want an easier way to protect their online privacy.

This more newbie-oriented approach starts with the website. There’s no jargon, no complicated feature lists, just a quick explanation of VPN technology and some example benefits. The service is mostly about the core basics.

There are plenty of locations on offer, with 3,600 mostly torrent-friendly servers across 74 countries, up from just 30 in our last review. That’s now more countries than NordVPN (59), Windscribe (64) and Private Internet Access (68), although it’s still lagging just a little behind ExpressVPN’s 94.

There are apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Android. ZenMate is owned by Kape Technologies, the company behind CyberGhost, and most of its apps are based around CyberGhost technology. (The Windows client is essentially CyberGhost 7 with a ZenMate frontend, for instance.)

ZenMate used to restrict you to five simultaneous connections, but not any more – you can connect as many devices as you need.

The apps are limited, but you do get built-in DNS leak protection and kill switches to help shield your activities from snoopers.

Editor’s Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest changes and additions since this review was last updated.

Number of servers increased to over 3800. (April 2020)Number of servers decreased to 3700. (April 2020)New free browser extension has been released for Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Opera. (July 2020)Plans and pricing

ZenMate pricing starts at $10.99 billed monthly. That’s up from $9.99 during our last review, but it’s still fairly average for monthly accounts.

Opting for the six-month plan sees the cost fall to $5.39 a month.

The annual plan comes with 6 months free for the first term. That means you’ll pay an effective $2.22 a month for 18 months of protection, rising to $3.33 afterwards.

That’s a very low price, marginally outperforming even a value provider like Private Internet Access. It can’t match Surfshark, though, which charges just $1.99 a month on its two-year plan. (If you’re concerned about signing up for long-term deals, look at the total you pay. ZenMate asks $39.96 for the first 18 months, then annually; opting for Surfshark gets you two years of protection for just $47.76.)

ZenMate isn’t finished yet, though. The company gives you a seven-day free trial to test the service before you get billed, which is very unusual these days. And even after you’ve handed over your cash, you’re further protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Privacy and logging

Today’s ZenMate price plan deals:

26% off annual plan

Hassle-free privacy for the networking novice

ZenMate’s main website is straightforward, but poking around in the darker corners – in particular, the privacy policy and terms of service pages – revealed some of the most brain-numbingly over-complicated legalese we’ve ever seen.

Just about every element takes longer to describe than it should, and seems written for lawyers rather than regular users. We’re told that “by registering for a nongratuitous ZenMate Service and having completely entered the payment information into the system, you submit a binding offer on the conclusion of a contract regarding the use of the respective ZenMate Service.”

Uh-huh.

The documents also make little effort to highlight details that might interest VPN users, such as clarifying what sort of logging takes place, or ZenMate’s response to legal actions. The privacy policy is approaching 5,000 words long, but the closest it gets to anything useful is a throwaway comment: ‘…activity done by the user inside the ZenMate VPN tunnel, which is NOT recorded, logged or stored at all.’

Instead, the document spends most of its time on examples and situations that aren’t the tiniest bit relevant to the average user. Would you like to know when the company might process your personal data, for instance? Here’s how it’s explained:

‘In rare cases, the processing of personal data may be necessary to protect the vital interests of the data subject or of another natural person. This would be the case, for example, if a visitor were injured in our company and his name, age, health insurance data or other vital information would have to be passed on to a doctor, hospital or other third party. Then the processing would be based on Art. 6(1) lit. d GDPR.’

Dig into the support pages and you’ll find a few very general descriptions of ZenMate’s no-logging promises. Here’s an example:

“We do not store or log your personal data which can be used to identify you or what you’re doing online. We do not monitor your online sessions. In fact – we can’t! Strict German privacy laws regulate our company’s use of your information. As we don’t store the data in the first place, this also means that we can’t be forced into giving away personal data to any government or sell it to any 3rd parties.”

Well, that’s good to hear, but we would much prefer ZenMate to formally spell this out in a privacy policy which the average customer might actually be able to read. Or better still, follow providers such as TunnelBear and have its systems publicly audited to confirm that the company is doing what it promises.

Ookla’s SpeedTest was one of the benchmarking sites we used to test ZenMate’s performance (Image credit: Ookla)Performance

We checked out ZenMate’s performance by using the benchmarking sites SpeedTest and TestMy.net from two locations.

UK performance was excellent at 69-70Mbps on our test 75Mbps line, a minimal 4-5% drop on our speeds with the VPN turned off.

Next up, we measured download speeds from a US location with a super-speedy 600Mbps connection. ZenMate didn’t begin to make use of the available bandwidth, but was still a little faster at 80-120Mbps.

That’s going to be more than enough for most tasks and devices, but it’s a long way behind the best of the competition. NordVPN and Windscribe regularly hit 250Mbps and more.

Testing took place in March 2020, in the early days of the coronavirus lockdown, so there’s a possibility that extra web and VPN traffic held speeds back a little.

These results are very similar to the 80-100Mbps we saw in the last review, though, so we’re reasonably confident that they’re accurate. (Though keep in mind that they’re still only accurate for UK and US speeds from our test locations; you may see different results.)

We did notice one significant improvement, though: the very slow connection times we noticed during our last review have disappeared, and the client now takes an average of 2-10 seconds (depending on protocol) to get connected. Previously we could be waiting up to 20 seconds, which was very annoying if regularly switching locations, so we’re very, very happy to see normal service restored.

ZenMate was able to unblock Netflix in the US in our tests, so we saw no nasty errors crop up (Image credit: Netflix)Netflix

Connecting to a VPN can not only get you a virtual identity in another country, but may also give you access to content you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise, such as YouTube clips which are only available in specific locations.

Some sites attempt to detect and block access via VPNs, so to check this, we test whether a service allows access to BBC iPlayer, US YouTube, US Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

YouTube does little or no blocking, and we expected a quick success. Sure enough, ZenMate allowed us to stream content without difficulty.

ZenMate’s Windows client includes a Streaming section with locations optimized for specific services. That’s better than you’ll see with many VPNs, who might offer multiple cities in a country, but leave you to try them one by one until you find something that works.

The system got off to a good start with the BBC iPlayer location, which got us in immediately and allowed us to stream whatever we liked.

ZenMate unblocked US Netflix for us, too; good news as it wasn’t able to do that during our last review.

The service kept up its 100% success rate by getting us access to Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, too.

ZenMate’s Windows client is similar to many other VPN apps (Image credit: ZenMate)Windows client

Signing up with ZenMate is quick and easy. Newcomers to the service get a 7-day free trial, but if you’ve had that before, even years ago, you’ll be asked to pay. (That’s a pity, but you’re still protected by the 30-day money-back guarantee if something goes horribly wrong.)

As we mentioned earlier, ZenMate’s Windows client is essentially CyberGhost 7 with some of the extras removed (there’s no ad or tracker blocking, for instance), and ZenMate branding.

That’s mostly good news, because it’s a capable client with a familiar and easy-to-use interface.

Launch it and you’re presented with a default location, a list with more countries, and a big Connect button. Even total VPN newbies will quickly figure out what to do.

The location list is smarter than most. You can filter it by location type (all, torrenting, streaming), sort it by distance or server load, and save commonly used locations as favorites for speedy recall later.

Double-click a location and you’re connected within a few seconds. The client displays a desktop notification when it connects or disconnects, ensuring you always know when you’re protected, and when you’re not.

The Settings panel gives you a choice of protocol (Image credit: ZenMate)

A Settings panel includes a choice of protocol. In common with many other VPNs, ZenMate has dropped support for older protocols, so there’s no L2TP anymore; you only get IKEv2 and OpenVPN TCP or UDP.

Other options include the ability to connect via a random port to bypass some VPN blocking schemes, and block DNS and IPv6 leaks. There’s an option to automatically connect when your system starts, and you’re able to choose your preferred server.

The client also has a kill switch, which aims to protect you by blocking internet traffic if the VPN connection is lost. We forcibly closed the VPN connection when using each protocol, and the client automatically reconnected every time, without ever revealing our true IP address. The only minor issue is that it didn’t display a desktop notification to warn of the problem, and so in a real-world situation, all you would know is that your internet is down. That’s not a major deal, though, and overall ZenMate performed very well.

Put it all together, and although the client isn’t outstanding, it’s improved since our last review, handles the VPN basics well and is generally user-friendly.

ZenMate offers clients for both Android and iOS (Image credit: ZenMate)Mobile apps

ZenMate’s Android app has a very similar stripped-back design to its desktop cousin: the current location (‘Auto select’ by default), a big On/Off button, and a tiny menu icon.

This keeps it very simple to operate. If you just need to encrypt your current connection, there’s no need to do anything beyond hit Connect when you start, and Disconnect when you’ve finished.

The location list is also a close match to the desktop, with an option to view ZenMate’s streaming servers and a Favorites system to save your most commonly used servers.

The app appears to be OpenVPN-only, and has just two connection settings: one option to connect using a random port, and another to use TCP instead of UDP.

Overall, ZenMate’s Android app gets the basic VPN job done, but it does very little more. It scores for ease of use, but if you’re looking for power or configurability, prepare to be disappointed.

It’s much the same story with the iOS app: it looks and feels almost identical to the Android edition, but there’s nothing beyond the most basic features. Its version history shows very little change over the past year, too (as we write, the last update was 194 days ago), suggesting this isn’t going to change any time soon.

ZenMate has browser extensions available for Chrome, Firefox and Opera (Image credit: ZenMate)Browser extensions

ZenMate’s free Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions provide a simple way to enable or disable the service, and choose new locations, from within the browser interface.

As with all browser proxies, these have their limits – in particular, they only protect your browser traffic, everything else uses your regular connection – but that may be enough for simple website unblocking tasks.

The Chrome extension (and its identical Firefox cousin) opens with a simple console where you can choose a location and connect in a couple of clicks. The location picker looks much the same as the desktop version – it has a list of locations, simple Favorites system, text filter, but no server load or ping time details – and if you’ve ever used another VPN, you’ll figure it all out within seconds.

Bonus features include blocking of malicious websites and trackers. These are disabled by default, but you can turn them on with a click.

And, well, that’s about it. ZenMate’s browser extensions cover the proxy basics and they’re worth trying as a free product, but they’re no match for the best of the commercial competition.

ZenMate’s support site leaves a lot to be desired (Image credit: ZenMate)Support

ZenMate’s support site opens with a conventional web knowledgebase. Articles are sorted into three categories (‘Getting Started’, ‘Using ZenMate’, ‘Troubleshooting’), there are links to some of the most common options, and a Recent Activity list covers recently added documents.

This looks promising, until you begin to explore, and realize just how little help is really available.

You might assume that a ‘Getting Started’ section would have some installation guides, for instance. There is a section called ‘Product setup’, but it includes only three articles: ‘Getting started with ZenMate VPN for browsers’, ‘On which platforms can I use the VPN?’ and ‘Getting started with OpenVPN.’

The ‘platforms’ article sounded promising, and sure enough there were links to articles for Android, iOS and desktops. But clicking these opened a new browser tab at the support site, redirected to a login page and displayed a message: ‘An error occurred in the application and your page could not be served.’

You could try using the Search box to find the article you need, but that won’t always work. There’s a brief ‘How to use’ guide for Windows, for instance, but it doesn’t come up if you enter ‘Windows’ in the Search box.

When we did find substantial content, it could include potentially risky or sometimes unhelpful advice. If you can’t get the Windows client to work, for instance, the relevant article suggests you might play around in Device Manager, recreate your network adapters, turn off your firewall or antivirus, or create a new user account and install ZenMate there.

If you’re as unsure about this advice as we are, you’re able to contact the support team directly. There’s no live chat, and the company warns emails could take 48 hours to get a reply, although we had a helpful response in under two hours. That’s good news, but we’re unsure how typical it might be, and we’d still like a decent web support site to check out first.

Final verdict

ZenMate is a long way from being a great VPN, but if your needs are simple – maybe you’re looking for a low-cost Netflix unblocker – it just might be good enough. If you’re on a budget and easily pleased, take the 7-day trial for a spin.

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