VPN providers use a lot of jargon when trying to get you to choose their service. However, unless you have a solid understanding of networking concepts, most of this probably won’t mean much to you. Additionally, some of the features they mention might not be relevant to you or they may not be available on the device you intend to use.
To help clarify things, we’ve created an easy-to-read, side-by-side comparison of ZenMate vs ExpressVPN. This makes it as simple as possible to tell which features each one offers, but we’re not stopping there. We’ll also explain what each of these features does and discuss topics that aren’t always clear in VPN provider literature.
Pricing and discounts
These aren’t the cheapest VPNs on the market if you intend to pay monthly. In fact, ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive services, at $12.95 USD and ZenMate isn’t far off, at $9.99 per month. However, both VPNs offer drastic price reductions if you’re willing to commit to a longer subscription.
ZenMate is the lower-cost option here, no matter how you look at it. ExpressVPN seems to be targeting medium-term subscribers, given that its longest subscription period is one year (which costs $99.95). Conversely, ZenMate gives users the option to pay for three years’ coverage upfront. This plan only costs a few dollars more than an annual subscription ($59 vs $53.88), so there’s really no reason not to go for it. This brings ZenMate’s monthly price to just $1.64, whereas ExpressVPN customers would pay $6.67 per month for the same coverage period.
Both ZenMate and ExpressVPN include a 30-day money-back guarantee. This means you can test each service out and claim a refund, no questions asked, if they fail to meet your expectations. ZenMate also offers a seven-day free trial, and there’s no need to provide any payment information. That said, it’s not made very clear on the website how to access this; you have to create an account directly through the app, not the website.
|Operating system apps||Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android||Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS, select routers|
|Manual install devices||Linux, internet routers||Select routers|
|Split tunneling||No||Windows, MacOS, and Android only|
|Free extras||Browser extensions for Chrome, Opera, and Firefox||Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox|
Both of these services let you connect up to five devices at once. However, while ZenMate has apps for all of the major operating systems, ExpressVPN also offers a simple, command line-based Linux app. In fact, ExpressVPN even includes custom firmware that makes installing the service on a router as simple as possible. In contrast, ZenMate must be manually installed on Linux systems and routers.
Browser extensions are available for Chrome and Firefox, regardless of which service you choose. However, ZenMate also includes an Opera extension. Further, it allows you to use any of these, free of charge, albeit with a limited server selection and capped speeds. You should note that VPN browser extensions only encrypt browser traffic, and do not allow you to anonymously torrent or chat via any of your other applications.
ExpressVPN provides split tunneling functionality on its Windows, iOS, and Android apps. This lets you bypass the VPN using certain applications. This is helpful, for instance, if you’re on vacation and want to access streaming services from back home without being locked out of websites from the country you’re currently in.
|Netflix||Netflix US, UK, France, Germany||10+ libraries including Netflix US, UK, Japan, France, and Australia|
|Amazon Prime Video||US, UK||US, UK|
As you might expect from a low-cost VPN, ZenMate struggles to unblock some region-locked streaming services. Credit where it’s due, though: this VPN does let you use major platforms like Netflix US and BBC iPlayer from anywhere in the world.
On the other hand, ExpressVPN excels at unblocking geo-restricted services. Nothing we threw at it posed any real problems, and this VPN unblocked regional Netflix and Hulu libraries that ZenMate couldn’t.
Another significant difference between these two VPNs is that only ExpressVPN works in China. Users connecting in China don’t have to do anything differently since this service bypasses the Great Firewall by default. The ExpressVPN website is blocked in China, though, so you’ll have to install the app before you arrive. We also recommend saving a copy of the manual setup instructions for your device, just in case something goes wrong.
ZenMate enables users in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Turkey to browse the web freely, but even the company itself advises against paying for a subscription if you’re in China, since it’s very unlikely to work.
Setup and interface
|Automatic setup wizard||Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS||Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux, some routers|
|Main location selection||List-based||List-based|
|Extra settings pages||Yes||Yes|
At first glance, ZenMate’s desktop app appears about as simple as they come, with a large quick-connect button on the main screen, and a clean, well-organized settings menu. However, the server selection screen offers plenty of options, with streaming and P2P-optimized servers, and the ability to search by country, distance, or current load.
ExpressVPN’s desktop apps allow you to connect in a single click. Interestingly, the main page features a customizable quick-access panel with links to commonly-used sites like Google and Wikipedia. The settings menu is neatly divided into categories, and if you’d like, you can contact support right from the app. Choosing a server is easy, with a list of commonly-used locations to choose from, and a search bar in case you’d like to connect to somewhere different.
ZenMate’s mobile apps are very well-designed. The server selection menu has been simplified, with general-use and streaming servers separated into different lists, and there’s an entire tab for your favorited servers. Unfortunately, the settings menu is particularly sparse, with many options including a kill switch and automatic connection missing. Further, unless you hide notifications, this app displays a permanent “ZenMate is not connected” icon in the taskbar.
The ExpressVPN mobile apps look very similar to the desktop apps, but they have two of your most recent locations available on the home screen so you can reconnect quickly. A few options are missing (notably the kill switch) but users can still use split tunneling (on Android), connect automatically, or turn the VPN on any time they connect to an unsecured network.
Servers and Performance
While each of these services has a similar number of servers, they’ve clearly taken different approaches to their networks. ZenMate has attempted to spread its servers fairly evenly, aside from a few large clusters in high-demand areas like the US, the UK, and Germany. ExpressVPN, on the other hand, has spread its network wide, and currently has physical servers in more countries than any other major provider.
ExpressVPN also provides much higher speeds, averaging around 106 Mbps, while the average ZenMate connection offers roughly 31Mbps. This isn’t a bad speed by any margin, and it’s more than fast enough for HD streaming, but ultimately, ExpressVPN is better suited for 4K streaming and other bandwidth-intensive tasks.
Below, you’ll find an at-a-glance guide to where each of these VPNs has servers:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||✔|
|Isle of Man||✔|
As the table above shows, ExpressVPN has servers in a far greater number of countries than ZenMate. However, ZenMate offers access to Russian servers, which ExpressVPN (and in fact, most major providers) does not.
The reason for this is simple: Russian legislation requires VPN companies to allow the government access to their servers, which could compromise user privacy. On the other hand, ZenMate has a no-logs policy, so there’s no personally identifiable information for the Russian government to find.
|VPN protocols||OpenVPN, IKEv2||OpenVPN, IKEv2, PPTP, L2TP|
|OpenVPN data encryption||AES-256||AES-256|
|OpenVPN control channel encryption||RSA-4096||RSA-4096|
|Cloaking technology||Random port connection||Cipher block chaining|
|App security||Kill switch (desktop only)||Kill switch (desktop and routers only)|
|DNS status||Private DNS||Private DNS|
Both ZenMate and ExpressVPN allow users to connect via the OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols. However, ExpressVPN’s apps also support L2TP connections, and you can manually configure the service to use PPTP if you’d prefer (although given this protocol’s security issues, we advise against it).
These services both offer 256-bit AES encryption (which is effectively uncrackable) and 4096-bit RSA keys. They also each have a kill switch, which stops your internet connection immediately any time you lose connection to the VPN. However, neither has this feature built into their mobile apps. ExpressVPN does extend it to routers though.
ZenMate and ExpressVPN cloak your traffic in different ways. Instead of sending data via the standard HTTPS port, ZenMate allows you to use a random port. As such, you’ll be able to use networks that would usually block VPN traffic outright. ExpressVPN, on the other hand, ensures that you can’t decrypt any packet of data without access to the one that came before it. This feature, combined with 256-bit encryption, makes it near-impossible for an attacker to spy on your activities.
|HQ base||Germany||British Virgin Islands|
|User details for signup||Email address||Email address|
|Anonymous payment options||None||Bitcoin|
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, a location with no mandatory logging laws. It does collect certain information, such as the date you connect and which server you use, but none of this can be directly tied to you. You can pay in Bitcoin for even greater privacy, which is an option that ZenMate users don’t have.
|Dedicated IP address possible||No||No|
Both ZenMate and ExpressVPN use shared IP address allocation systems. This means that every user who connects to a specific server shares the same IP address. This helps to keep everyone’s activities private since it’s effectively impossible to tell who accessed a specific website.
ZenMate offers a NAT firewall, while ExpressVPN doesn’t. So what does this mean? Essentially, a NAT firewall filters out malicious or suspicious data packets, protecting you from hackers. ExpressVPN blocks all incoming requests automatically, and as such, has no need for a firewall.
|Live chat||Yes||Yes (outsourced)|
|Average email response time||6 hours, 48 minutes||9 hours, 58 minutes|
|Searchable knowledge base||Yes||Yes|
Whichever service you choose, it’s easy to get help when you need it. They each offer an expansive, searchable knowledge base with solutions to the most common problems. There are also video tutorials available on each VPN’s respective YouTube channel. For more advanced problems, you can reach support directly via email or live chat. Note: although ZenMate claims its live chat service operates 24/7, it seems to go offline over the weekend.
With this in mind, we decided to see how quickly these providers replied to email queries. We sent ZenMate and ExpressVPN three questions each and recorded their response times. Read on for the full results:
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|How would I install this VPN on a Linux system?||13 hours, 15 minutes||1||Yes|
|What kind of logs do you keep?||1 hour, 23 minutes||1||Yes|
|Can I use this VPN in the UAE?||5 hours, 49 minutes||1||Yes|
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|How would I install this VPN on a Linux system?||8 hours 30 minutes||1||Yes|
|What kind of logs do you keep?||15 hours, 42 minutes||1||Yes|
|Can I use this VPN in the UAE?||5 hours, 45 minutes||1||Yes|
In this instance, ZenMate’s average response time was around three hours shorter than ExpressVPN’s. However, in their replies, ExpressVPN support did mention that they were facing a higher volume of questions than usual, so this could have skewed the results somewhat. Nonetheless, both services provided brief but informative answers to our questions and encouraged us to reply to their messages if we needed further assistance.
To its credit, ZenMate does a lot of things right. It keeps no logs, unblocks some of the most popular streaming platforms, and provides solid speeds. Most impressive of all, it offers all of these features at a very affordable price. If you’re working with a very limited budget, you could do far worse than ZenMate for everyday usage.
Ultimately, though, we believe ExpressVPN is the better service for most people. It’s much faster, unblocks a greater range of services, and has servers in more countries than any other major VPN. With powerful security features, a no-logs policy, and the ability to bypass China’s Great Firewall, this is a highly versatile service that can handle almost anything you throw at it.