WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
Another VPN from the Kape Technologies stable, ZenMate is a capable provider in terms of sheer power. They offer unlimited simultaneous connections, while speeds of up to 200 Mbps are quicker than much of the competition. However, there are some question marks relating to their ownership, who were forced to rebrand in 2018 following unethical business practices relating to adware/malware.
Three years on, is their software recommended from a privacy standpoint, or would you be better served with an audited alternative?
ZenMate is impressive in many ways. It’s much faster than the average provider, while it can be used to unblock the majority of online streaming services with ease. The VPN has a client app for almost every platform, and there’s a seven-day trial version, which I redeemed for the purposes of this review.
It’s worth mentioning that there were a number of flaws we’ll get into below, including a lack of privacy features and protocols, as well as their somewhat troublesome ownership.
Read on to find out exactly what we thought in our extensive ZenMate VPN review.
About ZenMate VPN
Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Berlin, ZenMate is a budget provider that aims to provide VPN coverage to the masses. Unfortunately, Germany isn’t the best location for a VPN despite its strong data laws, as it’s a part of the 14 Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.
Following early success, ZenMate was acquired by Kape Technologies on Oct 16, 2018, after the VPN had amassed more than 45 million users.
UK-based Kape Technologies also owns CyberGhost and Private Internet Access, making them a major player in the online privacy sector. It also gives them a lot of power, as well as heaps of user data to take care of.
Kape Technologies were previously known as Crossrider until they changed their name in 2018. The decision was made following a new business strategy, where they decided to move away from injecting unwanted adverts into browsers. They were called out by Google for their practices, despite it being legal to do so at the time.
Consider this CNET roundup of Crossrider’s owners, and ask yourself whether you’d trust them with your personal data;
“The UK-based company was co-founded by an ex-Israeli surveillance agent and a billionaire previously convicted of insider trading who was later named in the Panama Papers. It produced software which previously allowed third-party developers to hijack users’ browsers via malware injection, redirect traffic to advertisers and slurp up private data.”
It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, while ZenMate’s About Us page doesn’t mention the 2018 takeover. Instead, they have a couple of quotes from ZenMate cofounder Simon Specka, who seems interesting, judging from the answers he gave in a 2019 Q&A.
Pros & Cons
There are a variety of pros and cons to consider before choosing ZenMate as a VPN solution. Here are the main positives and negatives we encountered during the testing phase.
We appreciate a VPN that doesn’t compromise on performance, and ZenMate is one of those. In addition to their fast speeds, here are a few pros worth noting:
- 7-days free trial version with no limitations
- Unlimited simultaneous connections for one user
- Available on a range of devices
- Relatively affordable premium tiers
- Blisteringly fast speeds for the most part
- Large server network
As a freemium service, ZenMate isn’t without its own letdowns. We list disadvantages that shouldn’t be overlooked when shopping for a VPN:
- Couldn’t unblock BBC iPlayer
- Kape Technologies owns a stable of VPN providers, which isn’t apparent at first glance
- Lack of security features and protocol options
- Fewer servers in some regions
- Free browser version is extremely restricted in terms of speeds and servers
There aren’t many notable features included with ZenMate unless you factor in the basics, such as the ability to unblock streaming websites or to surf the web anonymously.
There’s a Kill Switch, which went off every time I switched to a new server within the app. (However, a Kill Switch is the least you should expect in 2021.)
Some providers prefer to focus on privacy and security features, while others choose to work on their speeds and server network. ZenMate is firmly in the latter camp, with a list of countries and servers which seem to increase with each passing week.
That does mean that the app itself is a little threadbare, especially if you were hoping for extra privacy features such as malware protection or a dedicated IP address.
One notable addition comes in the form of a free trial version, which is accessible for a week.
The trial is a great way to check out ZenMate for yourself. You’ll get the full range of servers, so it’s ideal if you’d like to test out speeds, or see whether your favorite streaming platforms will work.
Another plus is that you don’t need to hand over any payment information to sign up with the service, so you’re free to stop using it after the seven-day period with no danger of being charged unexpectedly.
Free Browser Version
Free to download, their browser versions work on Chrome, Firefox and Edge. However, you’ll only be able to connect with one device, and there’s a maximum speed of just 2 MB/s. The aim is to get you onto the paid Pro tier, which offers almost everything, aside from mobile and desktop apps.
They also scoop up an alarming amount of user data:
You’ll have to pay significantly more for their premium plans, which we’ll discuss in detail below.
- One month: $10.99 per month
- 12 months: $4.49 per month
- 36 months: $1.64 per month
It’s $10.99 for one month of ZenMate, reducing in price drastically if you decide to opt for one of their longer deals. For example, 12 months lower it down to $4.49 per month, while three years is priced at $1.64 per month. (Of course, you will have to pay for the entire contract upfront.)
As well as the price plans mentioned above, there’s also a free trial that we’ve discussed in the Features section.
You’ll be able to use one account across an unlimited number of devices, which is generous compared to the industry standard of 5-10 simultaneous connections. However, it goes against the terms of service to ‘allow third parties to use ZenMate via your account’, so you’re technically not allowed to share it with others.
One drawback is the length of their money-back guarantee. They do offer the standard 30 days, but for recurring subscriptions, they note: “Once the initial subscription fee has been charged, you have 14 days from this time to cancel your subscription to be eligible for a refund. If you do not cancel within this time period, you cannot request a refund.”
In terms of payment methods, you can choose between credit card or PayPal, with no anonymous forms available. It’s a shame and something that they could definitely improve in the future.
A VPN is only as good as their logging policy, which seems simple enough if you take their claims at face value;
“At ZenMate VPN we have a strict zero-logs policy, which means we never keep any records of our users’ activity and all their information remains private from the moment they connect to one of our servers.”
“We may further collect and possibly share your Personal Data to enforce the Terms of Service. This may be done to prevent a crime or violation of our Terms of Service or to help solve a transgression that has been committed.”
“We also reserve the right to disclose your Personal Data as required by law and when we believe that disclosure is necessary to protect our rights and/or comply with a judicial proceeding, court order, or legal process served on our website.”
Given Kape Technologies’ proclivity for providing malware in a past life, it’s a shame that ZenMate’s VPN hasn’t been independently audited to ensure that their logging policy is being adhered to.
At this moment in time, you’ll have to take their word for it, which isn’t great from a privacy standpoint.
As a budget provider with a decently sized server network, speeds could have been an area in which ZenMate decided to scrimp ever so slightly. However, it was actually pretty fast, outmatching many of the bigger names on the market.
Firstly, I checked out speeds with no VPN connected, as you’ll be able to see below. (I was using Wi-Fi, so it’s a little slower than usual but fast enough to see what ZenMate has to offer.)
I decided to try the recommended location first, which happens to be their UK-based London servers. Results were particularly impressive, and not too far away from my normal download/ upload speeds.
Next, I loaded up their Netflix U.S.-specific servers. I figured most users want to access online content, and it’s hard to beat the streaming giant. Unfortunately, speeds took a significant hit as they went down to roughly 70 Mbps, while the ping went off the charts.
I checked out the normal US servers next and saw speeds that were vastly improved. 150 Mbps is more than enough to handle most tasks, while ping had been reduced by almost 50%.
Lastly, I decided to see if their European servers were as fast as the ‘big two’. Germany is a large market for VPN services, and ZenMate has a number of high-speed servers in the region where they are based. Again, 195 Mbps isn’t too far from my speeds without a VPN connected, so it’s a great result for the provider.
It’s not often that a VPN can offer great speeds at such a low price, and they’ve certainly improved massively compared to past results. It was slower when connecting to servers used specifically for streaming, but it was still quick enough to handle most tasks effectively.
Server Locations & Network
With over 3,000 servers in 79 countries at the current time of writing, ZenMate continues to add to their growing list of regions with coverage:
- Asia – Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Macau, Mongolia, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, Vietnam
- Europe – Albania, Austria, Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Greenland, Hungary, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom
- North America – Bahamas, Canada, Panama, United States
- Oceania – Australia
- South America – Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela
- Africa – Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria
As you can see, there’s an emphasis on Europe, while the US, the UK, and Germany account for roughly 725 of its 3,000 servers. There’s actually a decent spread, although some regions (such as Spain with only 10 servers) are underrepresented compared to their large populations.
You’ll be able to find a full list of the ZenMate VPN servers here. Many of the countries only have a virtual location for their servers, meaning they’re actually based in a different country entirely. For instance, ZenMate has no physical servers in Russia despite allowing users to connect to the region.
Unlike many others, they clearly note which are physical or virtual, although you won’t be able to see which country you’re actually connecting to with the VPN.
Streaming & Torrenting
Given the speeds on display, ZenMate should be a great choice for streaming, as long as it’s able to get past geo-blocks in the first place. Results will vary, but it does work for the most part. US streaming services worked perfectly, including Netflix and Disney +.
On the other hand, services such as BBC iPlayer refused to load, as they recognized that I had connected via a VPN.
It’s to be expected from time to time with any provider aiming to access the biggest streaming platforms, but it’s disappointing for users who want to watch the UK’s most famous free content.
This was in spite of connecting to a server specifically labeled ‘BBC iPlayer’, found in the ‘For streaming’ tab of the app. (Despite my issues, having a list of all of the servers and platforms is handy, as it only takes a few clicks to get started.)
Censorship is difficult to gauge, but there are a number of positives I could glean. They offer servers in a range of restricted countries and regions, such as Russia and China. The use of virtual servers is understandable here, even if ZenMate is a ‘no-logs’ service.
On the other hand, it’s also worth remembering that they “reserve the right to disclose your Personal Data as required by law and when we believe that disclosure is necessary to protect our rights and/or comply with a judicial proceeding, court order, or legal process”.
They go so far as to state:
“We cannot guarantee that our VPN service will work in China, Iran & Saudi Arabia. Even if you can download the application, we strongly recommend that you do not purchase Premium VPN accounts. We are not responsible for a lack of service and are not able to provide refunds for those countries.”
If it’s against the law to use a VPN in your country, it’s probably safer to look elsewhere.
Platforms & Devices
ZenMate has native functionality on a range of devices;
- MacOS, Chrome, Edge, Apple TV, Windows, Opera, iOS, OpenVPN, Android, Linux, Firefox, Firestick TV, Smart TV
It’s a reasonably inclusive range of apps and services, and it’s difficult to find fault in terms of compatibility.
Most notable is Zenmate for Chrome and other browsers. Its free browser version attracts many users looking for a quick and easy setup.
Yet, in addition to being limited in terms of speeds and servers, the free browser versions do serve adverts, including those provided by third parties:
“When using ZenMate, we may display in the framework of our free services advertisements in your browser or smartphone which are generated by us or by third party providers. These advertisements may overlay other elements shown on your screen.”
The premium app itself is nice enough, but it’s a little barren due to a lack of additional features. However, it worked perfectly, and it’s extremely easy to use. It’s hard to find many faults overall.
Encryption & Security
ZenMate offers the following protocols, which differ depending on your device/OS:
iKEv2, L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN
On my MacOS computer, there was no way to switch between protocols or see which one was being used by the VPN. As always, it would be nice to have more support, including the experimental WireGuard protocol. Many experts think it’ll be used prominently in the future.
Their browser extensions use AES 128-bit encryption, while desktop & mobile clients use AES 256-bit. In terms of security, it’s a shame that there are no additional features aside from the Kill Switch, and there’s little to be found if you look at the settings.
Researchers reported IP leaking bugs in 2018, although it only affected the Chrome plugin.
The ability to protect an unlimited amount of devices is a nice touch, while they have apps for almost every OS.
Our ZenMate review presents the main perks and challenges users should consider before downloading.
ZenMate VPN would score highly, if not for Kape Technologies and the lack of an independent audit. Take the usability of their app, which allows you to stream content from around the world seamlessly. (Okay, BBC iPlayer didn’t work, but most people would prefer U.S. Netflix.)
Their high speeds also factor into account here, making it a great choice if you just want to watch the latest shows in high quality. Servers were great no matter where I connected to, and they continue to add new locations each month.
It’s also reasonably affordable, and you can’t argue with a price of $1.64 per month if you don’t mind getting a longer contract.
ZenMate is perfect if you want great speeds, or the lowest ping while connecting to a range of servers. However, the lack of an independent audit to verify their claims is always going to hold them back from achieving a higher grade, especially as it’s slowly becoming an industry standard.
Sure, ZenMate is fast and affordable, but it’s not a provider that I would personally trust to look after my data. Set the owners to one side for a second, because they very well may be on a redemption arc, having decided to become champions of online privacy after serving malware in the past. Even if that’s true, there’s no way to tell for certain at this moment in time.
What I do know is, ZenMate is a simple, powerful VPN that definitely has a lot to offer. You won’t need to hand over any payment information for the trial, so it’s worth testing out for yourself.