Think about how much of our lives are lived in digital spaces. We do most of our work, commerce, banking, and communication online. Doesn’t it make sense that we’d want these activities to be as secure as possible? You wouldn’t walk down the street, flipping your credit cards into the air and shouting out your PIN codes and Social Security number, would you?
Okay, that’s a bit of an extreme example, but the comparison isn’t that far off. If you’re using unsecured internet connections, it’s not all that difficult for hackers, scammers, and other bad actors to gain access to your sensitive information. This can result in identity theft, fraud, or any number of other cybercrimes.
FYI: There were 4.8 million identity theft and credit card fraud reports to the Federal Trade Commission last year, resulting in $4.5 billion in losses.1
Simply put, it pays to protect yourself online. One of the best ways average folks can accomplish this is by utilizing a virtual private network, or VPN.
We’re not going to get into the technical ins and outs of how VPNs work — if you’re interested in that, we have a VPN guide just for you — but in very basic terms, they camouflage your activity online, and prevent onlookers from seeing what you’re doing. There’s a wide range of benefits to VPN use, from digital security to entertainment purposes. For more on that, check out our guide to the best VPNs for streaming Netflix.
With that in mind, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of VPNs available today. There are several that try to stand out in terms of speed or security or specialized features. Generally speaking, though, a handful of VPNs are excellent, a few are pretty good, and there are quite a few decent ones, but most aren’t even worth the download. There are even some that are actually counterproductive, opening your network up via known exploits to cybercriminals.2
So where does ZenMate fall into this spectrum? Keep reading and we’ll break everything down for you. But to give you a taste, here are the pros and cons.
So put that in your back pocket, and let’s get the ball rolling by discussing ZenMate’s pricing, subscription plans, and offerings.
The first thing you’re going to notice when you look at ZenMate is that there are two versions available. The first, Zenmate Pro, is a simple browser extension available for Firefox, Chrome, and Edge. It offers some basic features beyond typical VPN security like whitelist functionality and streaming-optimized servers. There are three subscription packages available, all at reasonable prices.
FYI: ZenMate also offers a free browser extension for Chrome, and Chrome only. It’s extremely limited in scope, though, so if you’re interested in ZenMate’s offerings, we’d recommend ponying up for the paid version. If you read our guide to the best free VPNs, you’ll see what we mean.
Then, you have ZenMate Ultimate. This is a platform-based VPN, which means you’ll need to download and set up the software locally on your computer. We always recommend going with platform-based VPNs rather than their browser-based cousins. They’re less likely to fall victim to exploits, and they usually offer more features. Plus, if you want to get really technical, browser-based “VPNs” aren’t really VPNs at all. Before we explain that, though, here’s how ZenMate’s plans and services break down:
|Plan||1 Month||6 Months||1 Year|
|Plan||1 Month||1 Year||3 Years|
At a glance, the two main differences between the two are that with Ultimate, you’ll be able to use the OpenVPN protocol, and it also gives you access to servers optimized for P2P file sharing. That said, Pro isn’t really a VPN. It’s a proxy.
You see, browsers don’t have the capacity for initiating VPN connections. A VPN works at the level of the operating system and encrypts all internet traffic for all the applications on your computer — your mail client, your file-sharing apps, your internet browser, your clock. A proxy, on the other hand, directs your browser traffic through a proxy server, obfuscating the data’s origin and effectively masking your IP address.3 The end result is mostly the same; your activity on the internet is anonymized but isn’t encrypted, and you’re only protecting the data that’s traveling from your browser.
Splitting hairs? Maybe, but it’s important to understand that if you’re using a browser-based “VPN,” you’re nowhere near as secure as you would be if you were running a full-blown program. Think of a proxy as a gate, and a VPN as a tunnel.
With that in mind, we went ahead and selected ZenMate Ultimate for our tests.
The purchasing process was pretty standard. We had to enter our personal information to create an account, and our credit card information to purchase the plan. No surprises here. Two things that immediately stood out, however:
Once we begrudgingly paid for our subscription, we were invited to download ZenMate on all of our devices. That’s a pretty nice perk, which quickly washed away any negativity we felt for overpaying. A lot of top VPNs on the market cap how many devices you can link to a single subscription. With ZenMate, the sky’s the limit.
Pro Tip: Before you click purchase, roll your cursor up as if you were going to close the window. Depending on which product and package you decided to go with, you’ll likely be met with a pop-up offering an immediate 10 percent off your purchase price.
We use Mac products pretty much exclusively, so keep that in mind as you read on. If you’re using ZenMate on a Windows machine or an Android device, your mileage may vary slightly. With that said, let’s talk about the installation and day-to-day use of ZenMate.
Downloading ZenMate was no problem at all. Once we selected the proper platform and downloaded the app, we were prompted to execute a .dmg file, just like any other software installed on a Mac.
Once that was done, though, we ran into a bit of a headache. We created an account, but when we tried to log in, it kept telling us we had to agree to the terms of service. The only problem was, there was nowhere to do so.
After a few minutes of fiddling around, we tried the old IT crowd trick of turning it off and on again. Once that was done, we were able to connect with no problem. That little glitch didn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, but thanks anyway to Roy and Moss for the solution.
Once we were in, we found the desktop version of ZenMate was pretty simple to navigate. On the left-hand side, you have your different lists of servers — your favorites, those optimized for file sharing, others optimized for streaming, and the full list of them all. In the middle, you’ll select from those sub-lists, and on the right, you have your connection switch, which location you’re connecting through, and your masked IP address.
At the surface level, that’s about all there is to ZenMate. It’s a simple interface and there aren’t a whole lot of buttons and knobs to fiddle with; plus, it does exactly what it says it’ll do. But what fun would it be if we left it at that? Let’s take a look at what we liked about ZenMate, and where we think they missed the mark.
One neat thing that immediately stuck out about ZenMate is that they show you the physical distance to the servers you can connect to, as well as the capacity they’re currently running at. For the best speeds, you’ll want a server that’s close to you that’s running at a low load, so being able to see the exact numbers takes a little bit of guesswork out of the equation.
Another thing we really liked was the optimizations for both streaming and P2P file sharing. On the streaming side of the house, ZenMate has their servers tuned for specific services in specific countries. Want to watch Japanese Amazon Prime from the comfort of your home office in Wisconsin? You can do just that with the click of a button.
Honestly, the only other time we’ve seen this level of specificity with streaming optimizations is when we reviewed Cyberghost, our favorite service for streaming. So good on ZenMate there.
And the last thing that we really liked about ZenMate is its overall design and ease of use. Sure, there are other “simple” VPNs out there — check out our IPVanish review for another user-friendly option — but ZenMate’s design really made this VPN experience stand out.
Over our test period of a few days, we noticed ZenMate was a little … sluggish. At times the user interface was non-responsive, and we had to restart the program a couple of times for it to work properly. It just doesn’t feel as polished as it should be, which led to a bit of frustration. Definitely nothing that was deal-breaking, but sometimes it felt like trying to cut steak with a spoon.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for polish, check out our ProtonVPN analysis. They have one of the slickest user interfaces we’ve encountered, and we’ve used a lot of VPNs.
Another thing we didn’t really like too much is the lack of customizability, especially on a Mac. Honestly, we felt a little bait-and-switched here. When we signed up for ZenMate, we were told we’d have access to the most widely used, most secure protocol available right now — OpenVPN.
If you actually dig deeper into their resources, you’ll find out that’s only available on Windows machines. Whoops.
There are no other protocols supported on a Mac other than IKEv2, which is fine. But it would have been nice if we had known that upfront. Is it a fireable offense? No, not really. But you might consider adding an asterisk to that promise, ZenMate.
One tick in the positive category in this regard, though, is that they’re headquartered in Germany, which has some of the strictest data privacy policies on the planet. However, we’re still unclear (and a tad bit uneasy) about under what circumstances ZenMate would collect our data.
Pro Tip: If you want top-of-the-line security and privacy, look for a VPN that utilizes RAM-only servers. Since RAM requires power to store data, every time a server is reset, it’s wiped completely clean. Services with RAM-only servers can’t log your data even if they wanted to.
So there you have it: what works well and what falls short. Now, how did ZenMate hold up under objective scrutiny where it counts?
In other words, how fast and secure is it?
Let’s start with how quickly ZenMate gets us from point A to point B. We didn’t have a whole lot of faith that they’d offer blazing-fast speeds, given their limited network size, but we were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
For this test, our baseline (meaning our speeds when the VPN was switched off) was established at 58.6 Mbps down, and 67 Mbps up. A little slow for us, but this was during the middle of the day when a lot of work-from-homers were on the network.
When we switched ZenMate on, our speeds took a bit of a hit.
Upload speeds remained about the same, but our download speeds were cut in half. Ouch!
Now to be fair, some degradation is expected when running a VPN. That’s just their nature. But this did confirm our anecdotal evidence gathered over our testing period — that we were running a little slow when we had ZenMate VPN on in the background.
So the speeds were good, not great. Definitely serviceable, though. But what about security? Honestly, that’s where it really counts. If your VPN isn’t secure, it’s better to file it away in the ol’ digital trash can.
One of the best tools to see if your VPN is working properly is a DNS leak test. Without getting into a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, these tests indicate whether or not your data is traveling through the secure “tunnel” the VPN provides, or if it’s “leaking” out at points along its journey. The good news is, ZenMate passed with flying colors.
Is it a speed demon? Not exactly, but is it secure? Quite.
So that just leaves us with one last thing to discuss before we make our final verdict, and it’s an important aspect of any VPN service — how is ZenMate’s mobile client?
We give Zenmate’s mobile app a resounding … eh.
It’s well designed. It’s intuitive. It’s even pretty. But it had the same glitchy issues as its desktop counterpart. If we disconnected and tried to reconnect, it would interfere with our wireless connection, which we then had to toggle off and on again ad nauseum to coax the service into functionality.
We even had to delete the app and reinstall it a few times to get it to work over the course of our testing. Now to be fair, this is the experience of one reviewer during one test period using a specific iPhone with a specific operating system connected to a specific network. Your experience might differ, but we’ve certainly seen better apps out there.
This is disappointing. Where you really want VPN protection is when you’re out and about, connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks. You never know who you’re sharing that connection at the coffee shop with, or what their intentions are.
So that’s about all there is to say about ZenMate. So what’s the final call on this one? Is it worth it or not?
In our opinion, ZenMate is an okay VPN. It does what it says it’s going to do. However, it’s lacking the polish and the power that would bump it up into the “good” category, and “great” seems out of this service’s reach without some significant overhauls and upgrades.
What ZenMate does have going for it is its simplicity and its long-term subscription pricing. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense VPN to run in the background of your day-to-day browsing, and want to purchase that service long term, ZenMate could be a good choice. Just stay away from the month-to-month payment. Eleven dollars is way too much to spend on such a basic service. Unfortunately, ZenMate only really becomes appealing when you extend it out to “pocket-change-per-month-for-three-years” territory.
Have we seen better? Certainly. Have we seen worse? Oh yes, so much worse. At the end of the day, ZenMate will get the job done, but not much else.
Schulte, Taylor. (2021, July 15). Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud Statistics 2021. Define Financial.
Waldman, Arielle. (2021, Apr 26). Hackers targeting VPN vulnerabilities in ongoing attacks. Tech Target. https://www.techtarget.com/searchsecurity/news/252499817/Hackers-targeting-VPN-vulnerabilities-in-ongoing-attacks
Petters, Jeff. (2020, Sep 28). What’s The Difference Between a Proxy and a VPN? Varonis.
With a decade of experience as a journalist, Derek Prall has been covering cybersecurity for seven years. He has spent more than 1,000 hours researching digital privacy and has covered almost 100 topics related to VPN and identity theft protection. Previously, Derek has covered tech issues at American City & County magazine, where he won numerous national awards for his cybersecurity coverage. His areas of expertise included network security, big data analytics, and AI applications in public safety. Derek graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in English and Communications from Furman University and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and two cats.