“Made with love in Germany” is a touching and catchy slogan, albeit not a great one when it comes from a VPN company – as a VPN reviewer, my mind automatically shifted to surveillance issues. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; we’ll get to that in the privacy section of this review. For now, let’s start with the basics.
ZenMate is a Berlin-based VPN that hit the market in 2013. It is owned by internet security company called ZenGuard GmbH and claims to have over 43 million users.
But before we start, I should note that ZenMate offers 3 subscription packages, two paid – Premium and Ultimate – and one free. In this review, we will talk about all the available features, so be sure to refer back the chart below to figure out which features are available on each package.
Server Network, Server Switches, and Speed
ZenMate’s server network spans 30 countries. Its presence is mostly concentrated in Europe, its presence in Asia and Africa is weak, and the American continent is not very well covered either. But for the crushing majority of users, this should be enough.
- Americas: Brazil, Canada, and the United States
- Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy Latvia, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom
- Asia: Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore
- Oceania: Australia
- Africa: South Africa
The free version only offers access to 4 servers: US, Germany, Hong Kong, and Romania.
The service puts no caps on server switches for all plans. Speed, however, is limited in the 2 MB per sec for the free plan. Additionally, support for P2P and torrenting is only available for the paid plans.
Platforms & Simultaneous Connections
ZenMate is available on all the major platforms: MacOS and Windows, Android and iOS, in addition to browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. The native mobile and desktop apps are exclusive to the paid plans; the free plan is limited to only the browser extensions.
Both paid plans also allow for 5 simultaneous connections; the free plan is limited to one device.
Streaming Guarantee (Exclusive to the Ultimate Plan)
Basically, it promises compensation in the event where it fails to connect you to your favorite streaming service. Customers can nominate their preferred streaming service provider, after which ZenMate will monitor its network to make sure that access to that service is seamless. If the connection falters and ZenMate fails to fix it in time, it will offer a “generous discount against your next payment.”
The Chrome Extension
During my testing of ZenMate, I played around with the Chrome extension. First, we must note that the extensions are not VPNs, but proxies. They do offer some interesting features however:
Smart Locations: which allows you to customize ZenMate to automatically switch locations based on the website that you visit.
Malware Blocking: which blocks malicious sites and code snippets
Tracking Protection: which prevents 3rd party services from tracking and collecting information.
Smart Price: which shows users reviews and alternative offers to the product they’re searching for.
WebRTC Protect: which deactivates WebRTC, a technology intended for browser-to-browser communication but which also allows pages to send requests to the so-called ‘STUN servers’ that will return your local and your public IP addresses.
On April 19th, 2018 ZenMate announced that Andrei Mochola, former global VP-Level Executive at multinational cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab, will step into the role as CEO.
As you may have noticed in the packages above, OpenVPN is exclusive to the Ultimate – read: most expensive – plan. Excluding the most recommended VPN protocol from its packages, including a paid one, is quite off-putting to be sincere. What’s more, while the protocol is advertised on the website, upon further inspection, it seems that ZenMate for OpenVPN isn’t yet available.
ZenMate uses IPSec and IKEv2 for Mac users. That’s a solid combination; it is fast but vulnerable to firewalls.
Windows users can opt for IPSec and IKEv2 or L2TP/IPSec. Depending on your system, you’re probably better off sticking with IKEv2. L2TP/IPSec is slower and weaker but compatible with more devices.
When it comes to encryption, those protocols support the powerful AES (both 128 and 256 bit) encryption and HMAC SHA384 authentication.
Location & Logs
As we mentioned at the beginning of this review, a headquarters in Berlin is not the optimal location when it comes to VPNs.
Though Germany is a privacy-friendly country, it is part of the 5 Eyes surveillance alliance, which means that its own surveillance agency, BND, works with foreign governments, including the NSA.
If it’s any consolation, ZenMate says that the collection of data is only temporary. No word on how long they store it though.
Identity Shield (Exclusive to the Ultimate Plan)
ZenMate’s internet safety watchdog. The service says that it performs monthly security checks on websites and alerts the user if their email accounts are compromised in any data breach. The email in question here is the email you would use to register for ZenMate.
iOS will disconnect a VPN connection if there is no network use for a while or when the device enters ‘Sleep’ mode. With EverSecure enabled, the app overwrites this default behavior.
On Android devices, the EverSecure feature will reestablish the VPN connection after you kill the Zenmate app – swipe it from recently used apps that is.
ZenMate does not offer live support. Though it must be noted that the support form on their website is very well made. This is one of the rare instances where drop-down menus were well thought out, I didn’t struggle to pick an item in a single one. The response came about 6 hours later and was perfectly satisfactory.
ZenMate’s performance when it came to our speed tests was abysmal. Download speed was reduced by half – reductions of 45%, 78.5%, 51.6%, and 54.9% respectively for servers in the US, the UK, Germany, and France).
Upload speed fared a bit better, reduced by 53%, 54.1%, 27.4%, and 37.3% respectively. Though better than download, those numbers are still unacceptable.
Price & Verdict
The premium plan starts at $5.99 a month, while the ultimate plan starts at $7.99. To be honest, it’s hard to recommend ZenMate. Though the interface is a breeze to use, the service lacks in several respects, its speed performance was bad, the price is too high.
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