TunnelBear is a Toronto, Canada-based VPN service with a strong emphasis on ease of use and bear-related humor. (The former does get priority over the bear puns, fortunately, though sometimes it’s a close-run thing.) This all comes together to make TunnelBear a great choice for a new VPN user, or a family member with limited computer knowledge.
While TunnelBear remains based in Canada, it was acquired by cybersecurity giant McAfee in 2018. Having the parent company based in the US does raise some additional concerns on the data privacy front, although the fact that the firm undergoes a voluntary, annual security audit should go a long way to reassuring users. TunnelBear also has another bear-themed offering, RememBear, which is a bear themed password manager.
TunnelBear has a range of plans to suit most needs. There’s no free trial offered, but there is a data capped free tier so this VPN service can be fully tried out risk-free.
The starter tier, dubbed ‘Little,’ is the free offering. Unlike some competitor’s free tiers, TunnelBear’s data cap is among the lowest, and is limited to a meager 500MB for each month. Such a low monthly data allowance is not really viable for a full time VPN user’s needs, but this at least enough to test out the service, prior to committing to a paid plan.
TunnelBear’s standard plan, designated as ‘Giant,’ is an unlimited plan for a fairly standard $9.99 (about £8) per month. Above this is the ‘Grizzly’ plan, which is actually just the ‘Giant’ plan, but paid annually in a lump sum. For the greater annual commitment, the savings are 50%, with a $59.99 (about £46) up-front payment, which works out to a quite reasonable $5.00 (about £4) per month when calculated on an annual basis.
For commercial use, there is also a ‘TunnelBear for Teams’ plan. This has a simple price structure, namely $69 (about £53) per person paid annually for the full 12 months of service.
Payment options at TunnelBear are more limited than some other VPN services. It accepts the usual major credit cards: Visa, MasterCard and American Express. However, the only other option is Bitcoin, and while the cutesy ‘jars of honey’ are tempting, following the bear theme, it leaves TunnelBear without a more anonymous payment option that more privacy seeking users will prefer.
This focus on simplicity means there’s not too much here for demanding users. TunnelBear only offers 20 locations, for instance, which is quite a bit fewer than most of their rivals. Valuing simplicity over controllability, there are also very few low-level tweaks or settings – you don’t even get the ability to change the encryption protocol.
But if you’re happy with the basics, there’s plenty to like here, such as support for 5 devices on each account. TunnelBear has apps for the Windows and Mac desktop platforms, as well as the popular iOS and Android mobile platforms, which includes convenient ‘Siri shortcuts’ in iOS 12. Browser extensions are also available for the popular Chrome, Firefox and Opera web browsers.
However, there is no support for Linux other than through the browser extensions, and if you want to manually set up the service on a router, games console or anything else, the feeble support website isn’t much help.
TunnelBear scores additional points for privacy. Too many VPNs confuse you with a ton of small print, leaving you wondering how private they really are. In TunnelBear’s case, the company hired independent specialists to provide a higher level of transparency and assurance that user data will remain private. If only other providers were that brave!
In fact, the company has done this not just once, but twice, having recently held its “2nd Annual Independent Security Audit.” Furthermore, while a few security issues were found, TunnelBear proudly claims that they were all promptly fixed.
TunnelBear also boasts some smart features, such as allowing the VPN software to be set to automatically start when the system initially boots, giving you protection by default. You also get the ability to connect to the closest server automatically, along with an internet kill switch. The latter stops the transfer of data on those occasions when the VPN connection drops, although TunnelBear calls this ‘Vigilant Mode,’ which might annoy advanced users who have to research that feature to figure out what it really is.
Performance was another highlight, with speedy UK and European servers, solid results from the US, and even the slowest Asian locations managed a very acceptable 20Mbps.
In terms of real-world usage, we got connected easily, and had no problems using the service, including when downloading torrents. However, there were mixed results when streaming video – we were able to access US Netflix, although the UK BBC iPlayer remained out-of-bounds.
Verdict and Conclusion
If you have been hesitant to try a VPN because you’re worried that it will complicate your computing life, TunnelBear is definitely the provider to turn to. The free tier only has a paltry 500MB monthly data allowance, but it’s a good option for giving the service a try. Moving up to a paid plan gives you unlimited data, and their subscriptions can be had for a reasonable price.
Client software platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions
Supported protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec
No. of servers: About 1,500
No. of countries: About 22
Country of registration: Canada, but under U.S. ownership
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: 5
Customer support: Email