If you’ve listened to a podcast or visited YouTube over the past 5 years, you’ve likely seen a TunnelBear VPN ad. Naturally, you may think that the frequency of this exposure should correlate with the product’s quality.
This is a statement that requires further investigation. So, in this TunnelBear review, I’m going to evaluate the strength of their security, subscription benefits, connection speeds, and the quality of their support bears.
|Support:||knowledge base, FAQs, support tickets|
TunnelBear pros & cons
- Free plan
- Good for streaming
- Strong security features
- Clear Terms of Service
- Fun theme
- Easy to set up
- Occasionally unstable connections
- No live chat support
- Can be slow
- Somewhat expensive
Is TunnelBear secure?
VPN users should care more about the service’s security features than brand recognition. It’s hard to argue otherwise – you’re sending your personal data through an intermediary, so it’s crucial to make sure it’s trustworthy. Here’s what TunnelBear has under the hood.
In terms of encryption, the TunnelBear setup doesn’t stand out among competitors. They use standard AES-256 encryption with an SHA-256 hash for authentication. Even the US government has greenlighted the use of this algorithm for classified information. What this means to you as a user is that your connection will be safe, and no one will be able to check up on your online activities easily.
The connection between your device and the VPN server is made possible by tunneling protocols. On Windows and iOS, the protocols used are OpenVPN (TCP/UDP) and IKEv2. On Android and macOS, there’s only OpenVPN (TCP/UDP). Even on apps that have both tunneling protocols, you can only pick between OpenVPN (TCP) and IKEv2/OpenVPN (UDP). This is doable only by forcing the TCP override setting.
As they say in their blog, when you pick a country, the protocols “race each to see who’ll connect first.” The less tech-savvy users may appreciate this automation, but it’s strange to remove the option to pick between them manually. Especially considering that IKEv2 and OpenVPN (UDP) get shoved into one category when these are very different types of protocols, useful in different scenarios.
TunnelBear takes a playful approach even when they’re naming their security features. Their kill switch is called VigilantBear. Its main function is to protect your privacy during those brief moments when the connection between your device and VPN server gets disrupted.
VigilantBear then puts your internet connection on hold while it waits for the VPN server to respond. If it does, data is allowed to pass, enabling you to do whatever you were doing before the interruption. This feature protects you from unwanted IP address or location exposure.
Currently, the support for this feature is included only on Windows, macOS, and Android apps. The iOS version doesn’t have it, so keep this in mind if you plan to use TunnelBear on your iPhone or iPad.
Keep in mind that disconnection and disruption notification alerts are toggled off by default. So, in cases when VigilantBear is triggered, you won’t get any notifications. If it gets activated while the connection is trying to resolve itself, you may start troubleshooting other network components that may be working perfectly fine.
TunnelBear don’t monitor or log your activity. In simple terms, it means they don’t collect information on what you’re doing online while using the service:
However, the service does collect some personal data via their website and some non-personal data via the app.
For example, TunnelBear knows:
- Your email address
- Twitter ID (if you opted-in for their special promo)
- OS version
- Total data used this month
- Cardholder’s last name
Also, they can access the data stored by their third party payment processors Stripe and PayPal. This may include your card billing address.
All in all, this is a decently privacy-friendly approach, but for true anonymity you should pay in crypto and take other precautions. TunnelBear is also based in Canada, which is a member of the UKUSA (Five Eyes) alliance – a group of countries known for their mass surveilance efforts and powerful intelligence agencies. This probably shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for regular users, but others might want to take notice.
For three years in a row, TunnelBear has submitted their apps for independent security audits. Cure53 – a trusted German cybersecurity agency – looked for critical code, server, or client app flaws that hackers could exploit. For example, the last audit found 2 critical, 4 high, and 1 medium issues, which were then immediately patched up.
When compared to other VPN service providers, TunnelBear put themselves through more audits in a few years than some competitors did in a decade.
Encrypted Server Name Indicator
Their Android apps have an exclusive feature that helps users living in heavily censored countries. When the government decides to block VPN services, they may take different approaches to do so. One such approach is DNS-level blocking.
DNS blocking essentially involves setting DNS server to blacklist VPN brand names. For example, a TunnelBear server may have the address us1.tunnelbear.com. By blacklisting the term “tunnelbear” at the DNS level, the government would prevent you from connecting to this server.
For this reason, TunnelBear Android apps have a built-in feature to connect to server names in encrypted form. That way, restrictive governments cannot interfere with your ability to use a VPN client as easily.
TunnelBear has its own browser extensions. However, Blocker is an entirely separate tool installable on Chrome browsers only. You don’t even need an account to use it. Once added, it will display how many trackers it stopped.
This feature blocks ads, Flash scripts, pixel tracking, microphone access, social media buttons, and WebRTC. You can also include additional blocklists that include known Malware websites. This is a handy addition if you’re browsing with a VPN and are worried about being exposed to WebRTC leaks (leaking your IP address via the browser’s WebRTC function). With this add-on, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
As I’ve said previously, some countries are always on the lookout to curb VPN usage. In some cases, they can identify you’re using a VPN from your traffic patterns.
For this reason, Tunnelbear has obfuscated GhostBear servers that use special algorithms to make your traffic look as if it were regular non-VPN traffic. It helps you bypass blocks and get unrestricted internet access.
You can enable the feature by turning on the GhostBear toggle in Settings. Sadly, it’s unavailable for iOS users.
Plans & pricing
TunnelBear pricing plans come in 3 main species: Free, Unlimited, and Teams. Naturally, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, the Free plan is for you. If you need a standard subscription, you should go with Unlimited, whereas the Teams plan is reserved for business users. The pricing options couldn’t be more straightforward.
One of the things that are also worth mentioning is that TunnelBear doesn’t officially have a money-back guarantee. On their page, they say that each request has to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. We did manage to get a refund successfully, but others may not be so lucky.
The outcome may even depend on the generosity of the customer support agent that gets assigned your request. If you just want to try the service and don’t want to risk being charged, better stick with the free edition.
|TunnelBear Free||5 VPN connections, servers in 26 countries, 500 MB monthly cap||$0.00|
|Tunnelbear Unlimited||5 VPN connections, servers in 26 countries,||$9.99/month|
|TunnelBear Teams||minimum three TunnelBear accounts with same features as Unlimited, account management dashboard||$17.25/month|
Although this version is truly free, it comes with pretty significant restrictions. Yes, you may choose from 26 countries and connect to any of them. The problem is that you’re given a 500 MB monthly cap.
Even if you don’t plan to watch HD videos, this will hardly be enough. I exceeded this cap after just an hour of web browsing, so if you expect to stretch this for a month, you can calm down. It’s just not possible.
It seems that the option is intended to get a taste of what their Unlimited subscription will feel like. In other words, it’s a free trial limited not by time, but by data usage.
Their Unlimited plan removes the monthly data cap and adds five simultaneous device connections. That means you can set up TunnelBear on five separate devices and use all of them simultaneously. This should be enough for families or small groups of friends.
You also get to choose between different subscription durations with steeper discounts for longer terms. One month of TunnelBear will cost $9.99, which is on the pricier side and has no discount because of the short duration.
To qualify for a discount, you have to pick at least a yearly plan, which costs $59.88 a year or $4.99 if you spread it over 12 months. They claim that their 3-year offering is the best deal. It costs $120.00 for three years, which converts into a $3.33 monthly price. Keep in mind that this will tie you to this service for three years. If after a year you realize that you’d instead switch to another service provider, you won’t get a refund for the months that you haven’t yet used.
One of the Teams version’s particularities is that you can try it for free for seven days. Differently from the Unlimited plan, this option features a separate account management dashboard. In it, you can add users, view invoices, and even remove unused users to get credit returns for the remaining subscription time.
The pricing is flexible. If you only have three users, which the minimum, the price will be $207.00 a year (or $17.25 a month). This is the lowest amount. However, if you have 200 or more users, the price can quickly climb up to $13731.00 a year (or around $6 per user per month). Looking at the numbers makes you wonder whether the service is worth it, even with the mechanisms to get credit returns for unused accounts.
Is the free version of TunnelBear worth it?
Depending on your usage, you may find other providers with free versions that could be more useful as a day-to-day VPN. For example, ProtonVPN has no data caps, AtlasVPN also has no data caps and is completely free. Others like Windscribe set the cap at 10 GB a month. That said, it means that if you get an unlimited data cap, you’re being restricted in other ways.
The only advantage of TunnelBear’s free plan is that you can connect to all the countries and use all the features. For example, if you want to connect to Argentina, it would be pretty difficult to pull off with Free ProtonVPN, which only has three countries. So, in short, there are use cases with TunnelBear’s free version, but they are rare.
Speed performance: How fast is TunnelBear?
Baseline: 1ms/300mbps download/300mbps upload
|Location||OpenVPN (TCP)||Automatic (UDP/IKEv2)|
TunnelBear speeds aren’t brilliant. When using OpenVPN (TCP), you can expect pretty severe speed drops. When connecting to the other European countries, the baseline download speed can be reduced by as much as 80%, up to 90% when connecting to the Americas, and up to 99% when connecting to the furthest Asian countries.
TCP is generally slower and the situation is better with other tunneling protocols. The worst download speed reduction in Europe was up to 54%, North America had even better speeds with a 47% reduction (South America, as you would expect, had it worse with a 89% reduction). Finally, connections to the Oceanic region had reductions going up as much as 75%.
With that said, TunnelBear makes no distinction between OpenVPN (UDP) and IKEv2. You’ll get assigned one or the other automatically. Unless you’re running a port scan to verify which tunneling protocol you’re using, you won’t know which it is.
The only thing that was consistently terrible is upload speeds. The best upload speed using OpenVPN (TCP) is in the Netherlands, and it reduced the baseline upload speed by 94%. Meanwhile, the best OpenVPN (UDP)/IKEv2 result was a 86% reduction. Considering that both speeds are in Europe, which is where I’m located, uploading data while connected to other continents will test your patience.
TunnelBear has around 1800 servers in 26 countries. Let’s compare this to other VPN service providers, like ExpressVPN that has 3000 in 94 countries, or CyberGhost, with 6400 servers in 88 countries. TunnelBear seems on the low side and regions outside of America and Western Europe have less coverage.
Still, it’s worth mentioning that during last year they almost doubled their fleet. If they continue to move in this direction, they can catch up with market leaders. However, TunnelBear also needs to work on their total number of countries, especially since the most restrictive countries that are most in need of VPNs are generally further from their offered locations.
Streaming performance: does TunnelBear unblock Netflix?
Although the official stance of TunnelBear is that they do not condone streaming service unblocking, it seems to be working, and I was able to unblock most media platforms I tried.
I managed to unblock US Netflix on the first try, successfully loading a US exclusive, the first season of Twin Peaks. The speeds weren’t as bad as you would expect from the section on speed test benchmarks. The video didn’t cut off, and there were no disconnects.
Even more surprisingly, the DAZN streaming service, which most VPN providers fail to unblock, can be accessed using TunnelBear. So, if you need a reliable method to watch MMA or boxing fights, this is definitely an option.
TunnelBear also had no problems accessing geographically restricted YouTube videos. The only area where it failed was BBC iPlayer. It displayed an error saying that the service isn’t available in your country.
To sum up, if you’re looking for a good VPN for streaming, TunnelBear might just be it. Just keep in mind that (considering their official stance) you may not get help from their customer support if something fails.
Interface and ease of use
When we’re talking about TunnelBear desktop apps, this only concerns Windows and macOS. Linux doesn’t have a client and has only limited support. You’ll only get configuration files that you’ll have to add to your manual configuration. So, if you’re planning to use it on Linux, you should probably look elsewhere.
The Windows client download seemed huge for a VPN – 131 MB. Perhaps all the animations are the culprit. If you have a weaker machine, you should keep this in mind. It might not seem like much, but it can quickly add up to a heavy load. Even on idle, TunnelBear consumed 2-5% of my CPU resources.
On macOS, there aren’t any significant differences from the Windows version. The app feels a bit slicker, but it’s annoying that it can only be accessed from the tray. Depending on your preference, it takes system-wide dark or light themes.
Generally speaking, the most prominent quality of TunnelBear desktop apps is their design. It isn’t the most convenient, but betting on all the cute illustrations and bear jokes does distinguish the service from competitors. Whether it’s a selling point that redeems the lack of specialized servers, or the fact that you can’t manually select tunneling protocols is another question.
TunnelBear mobile apps
When it comes to mobile, the iOS version is just objectively much worse than the Android version. First of all, it doesn’t have a kill switch. So, in cases when your connection to a VPN server cuts off, you might unknowingly transition into direct browsing, leaving traces of your location and IP address.
The second edge that the Android version has over the rest of the apps is the Encrypted Server Name Indicator. This build-in feature uses encryption to bypass DNS-level VPN blocking.
Otherwise, both versions feel and work similarly. The app itself looks quite cluttered yet basic, with elements and menus being all over the place. They could use a revamp to use the screen more efficiently.
There are just as many animations as the desktop version has, so sometimes you have to stare at the half downloaded map before you can connect anywhere. It’s also pretty annoying that they have Bear sounds toggled on. So, on your first click to a VPN server, if you’re not careful, you will hear a load bear roar announcing to everyone around you that you’re using a bear-themed VPN.
Even though their customer support is in Canada, we managed to get a response in under 3 hours. This is pretty impressive, considering that TunnelBear has no live chat support. The only options are support tickets or their knowledge base.
If you dig searching for older threads in the forums, you’ll find that users were quite disappointed with the waiting times in the past. So, it’s nice to see that they turned this around, and despite having pretty limited contact options, they keep the waiting times low.
Is TunnelBear worth it?
TunnelBear is a VPN service that has a lot going for it visually while being a decent VPN service in terms of features and performance.
They have good security features and it’s nice to see that TunnelBear is capable of unblocking most streaming services. The sad part is only their longest duration subscriptions are more affordable, while their free version isn’t worth your time. At least, not with the current 500 MB cap.
TunnelBear does show the effort to compete with market leaders by increasing their server fleet or cutting down customer support waiting times. Yet, they still have a long way to go to be considered a top-tier VPN.
Is TunnelBear trustworthy?
Yes. TunnelBear sticks to the claim of being a no-activity-logs VPN service. Also, they have performed independent security audits three years in a row. This does put them among other trustworthy VPN service providers.
Does TunnelBear collect data?
TunnelBear does collect some data on its users. However, it doesn’t include the IP addresses, DNS queries, or other accessed content details. If you pay for the service anonymously, there’s little reason to worry.
How well does TunnelBear VPN work?
Decently well. However, during our tests, we did experience some random disconnects. It’s unclear whether it was a server or the larger infrastructure problem, but it does happen.
Does TunnelBear allow torrenting?
Yes. Although they have a strict stance against torrenting. On some servers, torrenting does indeed work. However, the speeds are heavily throttled. So, if you need a VPN for torrenting, you should look elsewhere.