An easy, secure VPN that offers a completely free (but limited) plan; TunnelBear VPN Review
If you’re new to using a VPN and looking for something that doesn’t require a computing degree to get started with, TunnelBear might be the right choice. With a super simple set up, VPN servers in 22 countries, including China and Japan, and highly-rated security, TunnelBear offers good options for basic VPN usage.
What We Like
- Browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera
- Responsive support
- Annual independent security audits
- Stand-alone privacy blocker
- Excellent speed
- No data mining, retargeting, or sales of personal data to 3rd parties for marketing purposes
- Extremely user-friendly
What We Don’t Like
- Based in Canada (A Five-Eyes country)
- Some data logging (non-identifying information)
- No refund policy for cancelation
- Limited number of servers in 22 countries
- No Netflix, Amazon Prime, or BBC iPlayer access
We tested TunnelBear to see how it stands up to the competition. Among other things, we looked at how easy it was to set up and use, speed, capabilities, security, and cost to determine if it is worth the monthly or yearly subscription fee. The answer is: It’s good for some, and not so much for others (if you want to stream Netflix a lot or stay 100 percent, truly anonymous).
Setup Process: Blissfully simple
The set-up process is super simple; there are two steps. Download the TunnelBear software. Install the TunnelBear software. It’s that easy. Along the way, there’s a cutesy graphic that shows you the installation process, and once you’ve installed it, all you need to do is turn it on. The whole interface for TunnelBear is intuitive and easy to use, especially for users that are new to using a VPN.
While TunnelBear does have applications for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, it only offers limited support for Linux. To balance that out, there are browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Unfortunately, that’s where TunnelBear’s support ends. There is no support for routers, gaming consoles, Apaple or Android TVs, any kind of e-readers, or Windows mobile devices.
Design: Almost too cute
TunnelBear’s (visual) claim to fame is the bear motif the company uses to illustrate how the application is working. Despite the almost-too-cute nature of the application, though, it’s one of the easiest to use that we’ve encountered. You open the application, turn it on, and choose the server you want to connect to. It’s that simple.
That said, there are some features that are decidedly missing from the TunnelBear VPN design. It’s easy enough to see server locations in the graphical interface, but there’s no way to see what kind of load those servers are working under, what the speed for the connection is, or any additional information about the connect. On the plus side, changing servers is as quick as selecting a new location.
Performance: Surprisingly superb for the most part
Given the child-like design of the user interface, TunnelBear VPN will really surprise you when it comes to performance. The VPN connection process is lightning fast, download speeds are above average, and the VPN remained stable no matter which server we used to connect.
The one place we experienced problems was occasionally when switching from one server location to another. In some cases, the VPN would not connect and we needed to completely shut it down and open it back up before it would connect again. Once you opened a new instance of TunnelBear VPN, though, the connection, even to distant servers, took only seconds to make.
Streaming: It works, but…
Because the connection speeds using TunnelBear are so fast, streaming is a pleasant experience. Mostly. Where most users will find frustration is in what you can stream.
Noticeably on the list of streaming services that won’t work are Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime. If you’re looking for a VPN that allows you to stream geo-protected content, you’re probably going to be very unhappy if these are the main services that you use. You can still get YouTube content that’s geo-protected, but for many users that just won’t be enough.
- IP addresses for site visits or service connections
- DNS queries while connected through TunnelBear VPN
- Information about the applications, services, or websites visited by users.
TunnelBear does, however, collect what it calls “account data” and “operational data” which includes an e-mail address, OS platforms and versions, app version information, an indicator of whether or not a user has been active during a given month, total data used, and operational events such as creating an account or making a payment.
For users who are concerned about their identity remaining truly anonymous while using a VPN, this might not be the right service. Users that just need a VPN for moving data and communications probably have nothing to worry about.
TunnelBear allows annual independent security audits and posts the results of those audits for the public to review.
Security Features: Impressive
If you’re looking for a VPN that has great security while connected, TunnelBear is a good choice. The TunnelBear VPN Review service uses OpenVPN, IPSEC4, and IKEv2, depending on what platform you’re connecting through. There is also additional EAS 256-bit encryption that ensures your data is protected while you’re using TunnelBear.
There are also a couple of other features that make using the TunnelBear VPN Review a little safer. First, there is the VigilantBear option, which is the equivalent of a kill switch. Your data is protected if the connection is interrupted for any reason, which provides VPN leak protection. The downside of the VigilantBear option is that it only works with Windows, Mac, and Android 5.0 or later.
The GhostBear feature is TunnelBear’s version of obfuscation. Using this option can help you bypass content blocking or throttling and create a more stable connection. This is especially useful if you’re trying to access geofenced content because GhostBear can make it look like your traffic is coming from a regular ISP, rather than from a VPN. The downside of the service is that GhostBear can reduce your connection speeds, because of the technology that goes into keeping your traffic signals masked.
To prove how seriously it takes security, TunnelBear does something truly unique in the VPN industry. It allows annual independent security audits and posts the results of those audits for the public to review. It’s unprecedented but illustrates TunnelBear’s commitment to security.
Torrenting: Supported, but not advertised
Nowhere on the TunnelBear website will you find a reference to torrenting. There is nothing on the site that says it is or is not supported. To find out, you have to either try torrenting while using TunnelBear or ask the company. We asked the company, and they reluctantly (and somewhat vaguely) confirmed that torrenting is allowed while using TunnelBear, but it is suggested that specific tunnels are more successful for torrenting activities. Those include:
- United States
- United Kingdom
Ad Blocking: No built-in blocker
TunnelBear doesn’t include a built-in ad blocker, so you remain vulnerable to overzealous ad trackers and malware when using the service. There is a sister app available for iPhone called BlockBear, and a Chrome add-on called Blocker, but they aren’t a part of the core TunnelBear app.
Customer Service: Web chat
TunnelBear provides an extensive knowledge base that you can use for troubleshooting. If that isn’t enough, the help page also includes a large, easy to find contact us option. Clicking this option takes you to a form where you can initiate web chat. If agents aren’t available, they’ll get back to you via email as soon as possible.
Price: Affordable enough for casual users
Another thing that TunnelBear has going for it, and that makes the service pretty attractive to some users is the cost of the service. TunnelBear offers one of the best free services you’ll find, offering up to 500mb of data per month for users for free. That free plan doesn’t limit the services you can connect to, nor does it remove any of the other features of the TunnelBear service.
TunnelBear offers one of the best free services you’ll find, offering up to 500mb of data per month for users for free.
If you’re a heavy VPN user, 500mb of data won’t last you long. Both of the available TunnelBear paid plans allow for unlimited data, five connected devices, and priority customer service. The month-to-month plan will cost you $9.99 per month and the one year plan will cost you about half that at $4.99 per month (if you pay for the full year in advance at $59.88). Both paid plans also include a 30-day month back guarantee, so if you find within the first month that TunnelBear VPN isn’t meeting your needs, you can get a refund.
Competition: TunnelBear is a good mid-grade VPN
Despite the issue of not being able to stream Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Amazon Prime with TunnelBear, it still holds up amazingly well against even the toughest competition. The ease-of-use and security offered by TunnelBear are often enough for casual users who don’t need a VPN for streaming.
When streaming is a factor, however, ExpressVPN wins out over TunnelBear. ExpressVPN not only allows streaming from Netflix and other sites, but it also offers top-rated speeds, and high security. Where ExpressVPN loses out to TunnelBear is pricing, with both monthly and yearly prices coming in higher at ExpressVPN.
TunnelBear also beats out NordVPN in the pricing category but loses out to both NordVPN and ExpressVPN in the speed category. And like ExpressVPN, NordVPN offers better speeds and high security, though neither ExpressVPN or NordVPN have allowed an independent auditor to verify their security or made the audit results public. Both also lead in the number of torrenting servers available, as well as the number of countries from which users can Tunnel.
Our final verdict is that TunnelBear is a good VPN for new VPN users who need secure VPN protection for communications and file transfers. It’s also a great choice for users who need basic VPN on multiple devices. However, because TunnelBear has a limited number of server locations and no streaming capabilities for Netflix and other popular streaming services, it may not appeal to more advanced VPN users.
- Product Name: TunnelBear VPN
- Price: $9.99
- Speed (Fastest Observed): 154.54 Mbps (Tested on a 1Gbps connection)
- Operating Systems: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
- Devices: Five devices at a time
- Server Locations: 22 Countries
- Number of Servers: Unspecified
- Streaming: No (Tested and doesn’t work with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer)
- Torrenting: Yes
- Encryption: AES 256-bit OpenVPN, IPSEC, IKEv2
- Log Files: Limited to non-identifying data
- Jurisdiction: Canada (US Ownership)