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TunnelBear review

Incredibly simple VPN that should serve beginners well

TunnelBear review
(Image: © TunnelBear)

Our Verdict

TunnelBear might not be the most advanced VPN in the world, but it’s a simple, fast option for inexperienced users. Its clear no-logging and privacy policies instil confidence, and its systems and security are independently audited every year. However, it's let down by poor streaming support and an imperfect support system.

For

  • Super simple to use
  • Annual independent privacy audits
  • Intuitive UI
  • Great connection speeds

Against

  • Relatively few servers
  • Too basic for advanced users

If you’re after a VPN that cuts through the jargon, makes it super simple to get going and, of course, has a cute mascot, then TunnelBear may already be on your radar. The McAfee-owned provider has positioned itself as a super easy-to-use VPN that gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t, with a focus on privacy.

With over 1,000 servers dotted around 33 countries, it doesn’t have the breadth and depth of locations bigger providers do, but for many these will be adequate. Plus, with fairly good streaming support alongside privacy credentials, it can certainly function as a do-it-all VPN.

If you’re looking to fiddle and tweak we’ll say right now that TunnelBear will not be the best VPN for you – but if you like an easy life and want the protection a VPN can provide, the ‘Bear may well have what you want on offer.

Fancy learning more about this no-frills VPN? Just keep scrolling to find out what we think of it.

TunnelBear review - TunnelBear homepage

(Image credit: TunnelBear)

Latest updates

TunnelBear has added a fair few new servers and locations since our last review, including Peru, South Korea, Cyprus, Portugal, Moldova, Colombia, Chile – and P2P is supported in every location.

A big plus for us in previous reviews was TunnelBear’s commitment to annual auditing – it was probably the best in the business. However, we still haven’t heard anything about 2020’s results. We can’t say why, but while three in a row in previous years is still stellar, this revelation is a big disappointment.

Streaming unblocking has improved since our last review.

Plans and Pricing

There are three versions of TunnelBear available. You can get a basic free-forever option, an Unlimited plan that starts at $3.33 per month, and a Teams subscription that costs from $5.75 per month.

The free plan is very limited. It includes all the features found in the full version, but is capped at 500 MB of data per month. To put that into perspective, that’s really only enough to test the program out, as it equates to roughly six hours of browsing or around half an hour of standard-definition video streaming. In its free form it’s certainly not a great torrenting VPN.

Fortunately, you can upgrade to an Unlimited plan for just $3.33 per month with a three-year subscription. An annual plan will up the price to $4.99 a month, while if you choose to truly pay monthly, it’ll be $9.99 a month. As suggested by the name, this plan includes unlimited data, along with priority support.

Those signing up to the three-year plan used to get the RememBear password manager thrown in for free, but sadly that promo is no more. You’ll have to shell out another $2.50 a month to use it.

If you’re looking for a VPN for your small business, the Teams plan costs $5.57 per user, per month (with a minimum of two users). It comes with a range of VPN management tools, including an integrated management dashboard and centralized billing.

It’s worth noting that there’s no money-back guarantee, so we’d recommend trialling TunnelBear’s free plan before committing to a paid plan. However, TunnelBear’s FAQ has a note on refunds, saying they may be offered on a case-by-case basis. We reckon that if you asked very nicely, did it sooner rather than later and had a good reason, the ‘friendly support bears’ might take pity and offer you a refund – but neither we nor TunnelBear make any promises.

Finally, for those that want to pay anonymously, Bitcoin payments are available with annual subscriptions.

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Privacy

There’s plenty to like about TunnelBear when it comes to privacy, and on-site there’s a whole host of info on what data it collect from its users and what it doesn’t – right down to the cookies used on the website.

TunnelBear does not collect the IP addresses of users visiting the site, any DNS data while users are connected, or any other identifying info. It does collect ‘operational data’, but there’s nothing here that could identify any user.

What’s more, TunnelBear has independent experts Cure53 undertake an annual audit of many of its systems. We really appreciate these audits as they put companies under immense scrutiny, and aren’t afraid of flagging up issues if any arise. Disappointingly, however, it does seem that TunnelBear has missed its 2020 audit, so we’re waiting with baited breath for the next iteration.

Overall, this is excellent, and while minor issues have been flagged every time, that means everyone at TunnelBear now knows of any vulnerabilities, and there’s scope for fixing them. Also, multiple audits are great to see – we’re just waiting on the next one.

TunnelBear review - TunnelBear features

(Image credit: TunnelBear)

Performance

We tested TunnelBear’s speeds on a 1Gbps lines in the UK and US, using a number of speed testing tools.

In the UK, OpenVPN speeds reached 290-370Mbps, which is above average and one of the best results we’ve seen from any provider. In the US speeds were slightly down, but by no means appalling at 250-260Mbps.

Unfortunately, though, TunnelBear has not implemented any next-gen protocol like WireGuard yet, meaning that it simply can’t compete with the incredible speeds we saw from ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

It’s worth noting, though, that this all depends on the base speed of your connection. If you’ve only got 75Mbps to play with, you won’t be able to get more than that, no matter which VPN you use.

Streaming and torrenting

Beyond staying private and secure online, one of their biggest selling points is a VPN’s ability to unblock geo-restricted streaming services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer.

TunnelBear’s streaming VPN performance this time round was a big improvement on our last results. First up is Netflix, and TunnelBear had no issues getting us access to US Netflix from the UK. BBC iPlayer can often prove challenging for even the most specialized streaming VPN services, but TunnelBear got us watching without a hitch. Amazon Prime? Again, excellent performance.

The only problem we did have was accessing Disney+ – strange, because this was the only service we were able to unblock last time.

Still though, three out of four is excellent, and we can now say that TunnelBear could be a good option for those looking to stream their favorites abroad, or go on a silver screen globetrot.

TunnelBear kept up the good work when it came to torrenting, as well. While it doesn’t say much at all on the site about its torrenting VPN abilities – understandable given the current crackdown on copyright infringements and VPNs – it’s actually very capable, with all servers P2P supported.

After chatting to the team on live chat – more on that below – we were told that if anything did go awry, we should try using servers in either Canada, US, UK, Romania, Netherlands, Germany, or Sweden. We’re not entirely sure why, but in our tests it proved good advice, and a number of those servers delivered good speeds on our legal test torrents.

TunnelBear review - TunnelBear VPN app

(Image credit: TunnelBear)

How good are the TunnelBear apps?

TunnelBear is aimed at those with limited tech knowledge, and its user interface reflects this. It’s simple, intuitive, and available on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. Firefox, Chrome, and Opera extensions are also available, and there’s also documentation to help you install it on Linux devices. 

However, TunnelBear only offers 'limited support' for Linux, and does not support Kindle/eReaders, Windows mobile devices, Apple/Android TV, gaming systems, or routers and modems. While the majority of people won't be using a VPN with their Xbox, it's a little disappointing to see this lack of support for niche systems – especially when many other VPNs can be used to protect pretty much every device you own.

The desktop interface shows a world map highlighting the available VPN servers – but you can also view these as a list, which for usability is probably a better bet. To connect, simply select the location you want to use and click the On button. The Android and iOS interfaces are very similar to the desktop app, so once you’ve got used to one, you’ll be able to get going on all of them.

TunnelBear supports OpenVPN and IKEv2 – but you won’t get to choose which. The app does this for you, and if, for instance, you had told it to use UDP rather than TCP OpenVPN connections, when it connects using IKEv2 your settings will mean nothing.

GhostBear is a neat tool that can make your traffic look less VPN-like, which will be useful in areas like China which attempt to detect and block VPN usage entirely.

Now we come to the kill switch – called VigilantBear. Should your connection ever fail, a kill switch is designed to stop any and all traffic from leaving your computer until your secure connection is restored.

In our testing with OpenVPN, we force-closed the connections and VigilantBear cut our traffic immediately – no leaks of our true IP. However, when the client was using an IKEv2 connection (again, there’s no way to select this yourself), when we closed the connection traffic continued to flow freely. The VPN was restored in a matter of seconds, but no matter how short the leak was, the kill switch did fail to protect us.

Finally, the three browser extensions offer a fast, simple way to protect your data and internet browsing activity. However, these are limited, and basically only include a list of locations and an on/off switch. Note, also, that they only protect browser traffic, unlike the desktop and mobile apps.

Overall, TunnelBear is very easy to use, and the lack of options does make it incredibly plug-and-play. However, there’s plenty to be improved upon – especially the kill switch – and for anyone beyond an absolute beginner, the lack of features could prove restrictive.

Support

TunnelBear users have access to email support and a beginner-oriented self-help knowledge base. For starters, you can reach out to the support team via the Contact page on the provider website. In general, the team replies within hours and provides simple, accurate responses, but we’d really like to see live chat – the very best VPNs all provide excellent 24/7 support, and we’d love to see TunnelBear follow suit.

If you have a more general issue or need help setting your TunnelBear account up, there’s plenty of information in the knowledge base. Resources include articles answering common questions like ‘does TunnelBear keep logs?’, quick-start guides, and links to the company’s Twitter account, where maintenance and system outage information is posted.

The competition

TunnelBear is a great choice if you want a simple VPN, but there are numerous more advanced options on the market if you need something a little more powerful. For example, ExpressVPN ($6.67/month over 12 months) has over 3,000 servers in 160 locations and 94 countries. It runs on near any platform, is backed by powerful encryption tools, has excellent live-chat support and, importantly, can unblock just about any streaming service.

If you’re looking for a cheap and fully functional VPN, at just $1.99 per month Surfshark is another great alternative that offers more customisation than TunnelBear alongside excellent streaming power.

TunnelBear: Final verdict

TunnelBear certainly isn’t the most powerful VPN in the world, but it’s a great option for beginners and those with limited tech knowledge. It’s well-known for its transparent independent security audits and is backed by a good range of advanced features. However, it’s let down by its inability to access geo-blocked streaming services, and its support is lackluster compared to the very best.

All things considered, though, for users just looking for a simple, easy-to-use and secure VPN, the no-frills TunnelBear is certainly a viable option.

Specs

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux (limited)
Supported protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2 (not user selectable)
No. of servers: 1,000+
No. of countries: 33
Country of registration: Canada
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin
Real name necessary? No
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited
Max. no. of simultaneously connected devices: Five
Customer support: Email
Privacy policy: No logging

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Daniel Blechynden

Daniel is a freelance copywriter with over six years experience writing for publications such as TechRadar, Tom’s Guide, and Hosting Review. He specializes in tech and finance, with a particular focus on website building, web hosting, and related fields.