It covers a range of platforms – which includes software for both computers and mobile devices – and boasts handy extensions for the most popular browsers, which even manages to bring in yet more features not part of the main program. But if there’s one thing that should convince you to consider ZenMate, then it’s the special promotion that Best Reviews readers can unlock to earn a big saving… which is certain to help you reach that Zen-like state.
One of the main characteristics of ZenMate is its device support, particularly the desktop apps and browser extensions, but this works both for the good and the bad of the service. It’s certainly a positive to have access to both of these options, but the two should at least converge in their comparative features, settings and whatnot, which is not the case with ZenMate
Desktop Apps & Browser Extensions
The desktop app is easy to use but feels empty when compared to the browser extensions. Apart from the list of countries and a connect button – that can get quite frustrating at times if EverSecure is active – the most important elements of the software is a couple of check boxes for useful features like the kill switch, DNS leak protection, EverSecure and more. Other than that, the client is filled with unnecessary things, such as a news tab that is always empty, a tab dedicated to purchasing more subscriptions, and another with information about the VPN session.
All of this could be replaced with some of the features that are available in the browser extensions. Smart location is one of the best of these, allowing to manually attribute a specific server to a specific website, teaching the VPN to always pick that particular location automatically whenever accessing the associated website. Other options include the activation of malware blocking, tracking protection, the so-called ZenMate Identity Shield – which notifies users when their email accounts are involved in data breaches – and more.
It’s true that the two apps look the same aesthetically and they do complement one another, but it feels as though the browser extensions are more useful than the desktop version. Still, both are missing the important option to change protocols or ports.
This feature is ZenMate’s variant of an ‘auto-reconnect’ tool, which is definitely useful but sometimes can become quite irritating. When enabled, all actions made within the desktop client will be followed by an attempt to establish a connection – even going back to the main interface after checking the settings, for instance – which can sometimes freeze the client for some time. However, if used alongside the kill switch then EverSecure demonstrates its biggest strength, as it will try to reconnect immediately after the kill switch takes place. In the case of mobile devices, if the VPN is not used for a while then it might automatically disconnect.
For a company of the size of ZenMate you might expect more from their VPN network, which provides only the most satisfactory of options. Fortunately, there are no restrictions affected by the choice of plan, meaning that customers are not required to pay more just to access particular countries. Overall, there are more than 3,000 shared IP addresses across 300 servers in 30 worldwide locations, though South Africa is the only country represented in the African continent.
When it comes to connection speed and reliability, ZenMate suffers in more than one aspect and this really makes it a contender for the lower end of the charts. Tests were conducted from Europe and though most IP addresses are attributed correctly, some connections were inaccurate, showing locations an ocean away from the selected countries. Also, when using browser extensions’ exclusive Smart Locations, some DNS leaks might happen and therefore using ZenMate’s VPN apps is preferable, since they have a feature to prevent such leaks.
However, the speeds themselves are not that bad, but the overall VPN performance is very inconsistent. Some servers have great speeds – even better than some bigger competitors – but they are never constant. Several tests were conducted in sequence using the same servers, but speeds never matched. Even download and upload speeds were sometimes very uneven, surprisingly the latter providing the stronger results.
In practical terms, this means that it’s very hard to predict a reliable connection. When watching a movie online, for instance, it’s impossible to know if the connection will struggle some of the way through or behave decently for its duration – and that’s just not good enough. Therefore different users will have different experiences even if they live in the same country and are using the same server.
ZenMate uses TLS 1.2, not the most common type of encryption. To quote the official website:
“AES 128 is preferred to AES 256. There have been discussions on whether AES 256 extra security was worth the cost, and the result is far from obvious. At the moment, AES 128 is preferred.”
This means that the protection is ‘only’ 128-bit strong. This is not usual since most VPN companies stick to the default AES 256, but ZenMate believes it is just as secure since this type of encryption is barely ever targeted. ZenMate can’t be criticized when it comes to protocols either, since despite the fact that users cannot choose between them, some of the most common options are supported, including L2TP/IPSec, PPTP, SSTP and the standard OpenVPN.
OS, Device Support
ZenMate has standard device support, but for each one (and more), you get your respective client software to use. This means that you can use the company’s services on Windows (beta client), Android, iOS and Mac OS X Yosemite. Additionally, you have browser add-ons for Opera, Mozilla Firefox and Chrome. The latter four however do not cover encryption-based protection for e-mails or torrenting, for example. Their regular VPN does of course, but if you simply seek a source of protection that does not reduce your connection speeds (browser add-ons), then keep in mind that you are not completely covered with ZenMate.
Fortunately, ZenMate does not restrict the service for any of the three plans it offers, so the only difference between them is the duration of the subscription. The company offers monthly, semiannual and annual plans for the general public, but Best Reviews readers can enjoy a special price for a unique 15-month plan that costs the same as the annual option.
Single monthly payments cost $8.99 and are always a good choice for those seeking a one-time only VPN, but using this special promotion allows for a saving of 56% when compared to paying $59.99 for the 15 months, which translates to $3.99 per month. It’s even possible to enjoy bigger discounts as the company often has special seasonal sales and other promotions that allow for big savings.
According to ZenMate’s website, all users can make use of a seven-day free trial of the full VPN by simply confirming their account via email, which will transition to a limited free version after the period ends without upgrading. However, we couldn’t confirm this in practical terms since the client never worked before the account update, even after email confirmation.
However, the money back guarantee can be relied on to try the program risk-free. Best Reviews readers can even use a special coupon that doubles the money back guarantee period to 30 days – instead of the default 14 days – for a whole month of risk-free use. Payment options include credit cards, direct debit and alternative methods like PayPal.
There are several different options for getting answers should a question arise. The first would be a quick visit to the FAQ section, which deserves a highlight because of how elegantly arranged it is and, more importantly, how it successfully answers some very specific questions, as well as providing some key information about the program. There is no live chat or phone line and because of that the only method available for more direct contact is through a ticket submission platform. Social media is also an option since ZenMate is active on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
ZenMate has potential and with some slight adjustments it could even become one of the best, but right now it is mostly attractive for those that just seek a casual VPN experience. However since this is what we said when we first reviewed the service, it makes us wonder if ZenMate is likely to ever improve or compete with some of the best services out there.
Pricing is fair and it’s certainly worth being positive about the smart location feature on browsers and the available security options, too, mainly because not all VPNs include options like a kill switch, an auto-reconnect tool, malware blocking and everything else offered by ZenMate. However, it feels unnecessarily scattered to use because of the difference between apps and browser extensions. Still, the major downside is the inconsistent performance of the VPN, which provides great speeds on certain servers but seems unable to hold them for very long. Likewise, it’s a disappointment to see such DNS leaks coming from an innovative feature that is meant to save people some time when visiting their favorite websites.
All this shows that ZenMate is for beginner users that simply want to unblock a service and remain anonymous online. And for these people, ZenMate is more than enough and appropriately priced.
- Nice browser extensions
- Good range of security features
- Attractive pricing
- Free account
- Inconsistent performance
- DNS leaks while using Smart Locations
- Desktop apps more limited than browser extensions