TunnelBear Review 2015: Has it got the roar factor?

TunnelBear Review 2015
  • Price
  • Reliability
  • Speed
  • Policy
  • Support

Summary

TunnelBear would be suitable for the novice and expert alike. Extremely easy to use and fast enough to use daily.

Pros

  •  Extremely user-friendly.
  • Competitively priced.
  •  Fast distance servers.

Cons

  •  Slow speeds on Swiss server.
  •  Ticket support rather slow.
3.8

TunnelBear is a VPN provider that you’re likely to of heard of. While most VPN providers target their services at a range of abilities TunnelBear are what could be considered the major player in the entry level of VPN providers.

In fact, they’re so beginner friendly that they don’t actually market their service as a VPN service per se but instead opt to remove most of the technical jargon and concentrate on putting the user at ease.

Behind the fluffy bear cartoons and slick user interface the serious business of protecting user privacy is at hand and I’ve been testing their service over the past few weeks to see if it’s actually any good. See what I discovered in this TunnelBear Review 2015.

The Packages:

TunnelBear keeps it simple when it comes to packages and has three offerings.

Their first is a free service that will be suitable for only the lightest users. TunnelBear Little is free yet limited to a paltry 500mb of data transfer per month. It isn’t actually a bad deal as users get access to the majority of the full service but for desktop use even the lightest user couldn’t scrape by on such an amount.

The account is essentially aimed at users wishing to test the TunnelBear service and not intended to be a permanent arrangement, however, the 500mb limit does reset each month so if you have very limited need it could be ideal. If you’re planning on watching geo-restricted content or browsing the internet in a normal manner then it certainly won’t be enough.

The two main packages, the TunnelBear Giant and TunnelBear Grizzly are the same in what they offer only differing in length of subscription.

TunnelBear Giant is a monthly package costing US$6.99 per month (Approx £4.60) with TunnelBear Grizzly being a yearly package costing US$49.99 (Approx £32.30).

The pricing is actually rather competitive and at the lower end of the scale for VPN providers.

The Service:

TunnelBear is available for PC, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. Their service is definitely aimed at the beginner end of the market who want to connect to a VPN provider either to protect their privacy or access content and forget about it.

If you’re interested in delving behind the scenes and setting the service up yourself using configuration files, tinkering under the hood and generally breaking it til you make it then TunnelBear probably isn’t the service for you.

However, if you’re new to the whole privacy gig, you just want to watch some TV services that are otherwise blocked and you generally don’t care about the cogs that make then service work then TunnelBear could definitely be the service for you.

Custom Software & Apps

TunnelBear offers no configuration file area so unlike other providers they don’t provide server configuration files or other set-up guides. TunnelBear is aimed directly at letting you use their colourful custom software and making the process of getting connected and secure as easy as possible.

Both their Windows, Mac and mobile apps are cheerfully pleasant and easy to follow. No complicated options, no advanced settings and nothing to confuse the user. Simply download, install, run and connect.

Privacy needs players like TunnelBear in the market who focus on the everyday user that just wants a pain free and simple way to achieve relative privacy and their custom software certainly fits the bill.

TunnelBear Windows Client

TunnelBear Windows Client

No fancy bells and whistles here as the PC and Mac software is simply “click and connect”. Select the country you wish to connect to, flick the dial and after a few seconds connecting you’re ready to go.

The software does have a few “advanced” options but they’re thin on the ground and relate mostly around such things like launching on start up and auto connect with a few other features such as forcing a TCP connection or using their “Vigilant” mode that aims to stop insecure connections while you’re reconnecting to their service.

The desktop clients also allow the blocking of trackers such as analytics used by websites to analyse visitor statistics and adverts which is a nice addition if you don’t already have a browser add-on installed to do this.

The mobile apps for Android and iOS devices are similar in function to the big brother desktop clients in that they’re extremely easy to use. Again no complicated set-up and a pleasant interface to ease even the most novice user through the process.

While the cutesy graphics and sometimes childlike simplicity won’t appeal to more advanced users TunnelBear really knows how to corner the wider market and mass appeal will certainly be appeased here.

TunnelBeat Android App

Android App – Colourful and simple.

Server Locations

TunnelBear has a good selection of server locations that includes no less than 20 across the world.

The most sort after locations such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia are catered for. This is great news for those who wish to watch content from overseas. While TunnelBear works fine with UK services like BBC iPlayer, ITV, Sky Go and more plus US services like Netflix and Fox, unfortunately, it is one of the services affected by a Hulu block. So if you intend to watch Hulu outside the US then unfortunately TunnelBear isn’t suitable.

As well as servers located in entertainment areas TunnelBear also offer servers in locations like Switzerland, Netherlands, Norway and Hong Kong which are often preferred to those who like strong privacy laws.

The list is finished off with servers in Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Sweden, Ireland, Spain, Singapore, Denmark, Brazil, Mexico, and India.

With a vast array of server locations it makes the TunnelBear service suitable for nearly every continent bar Africa so if you’re interested in using their service to protect your privacy or access geo-restricted content then they have most needs covered.

General Observations

The paid for subscription service TunnelBear offer includes the ability to use the service on 5 devices concurrently. There has definitely been a shift to offering more devices from many providers, but 5 is still at the upper limit of what many providers offer.

Allowing you to use one service across 5 devices gives you a lot of scope for home and mobile protection across multiple family members so is definitely a bonus of the service.

TunnelBear has addressed both the issue of DNS leaks by providing their own secure DNS servers and IPv6 by causing automatic disabling of this via their software meaning both should not be an issue for users.

Users can cancel their service at any time, but refunds aren’t offered. Instead, TunnelBear offers a free service that should be used as a trial to see if it’s suitable for your needs.

The TunnelBear service appeared robust and reliable throughout the length of my testing period. I put it to good use streaming content from the likes of BBC iPlayer and even using the HD option at peak times it suffered no buffering or stuttering.

Everyday browsing and internet tasks worked fine across both my Windows desktop and Android mobile and overall the service seemed stable and reliable for medium to heavy use.

The Speeds:

TunnelBear is on the cheaper end of the scale when it comes to price especially when taking their yearly package. Often when you think of cheap then you would consider them overloading servers which would result in slower speeds. Surprisingly this isn’t the case with TunnelBear and while not the fastest provider I’ve seen they did perform extremely well.

Some surprising results were noted in my speed tests especially when it comes to servers that are rather far away from my location such as their Hong Kong and Indian servers that produced some of the fastest speeds I’ve seen from any provider at distance.

All of their European servers local to myself performed well and while not breaking any barriers in terms of speeds they would all be suitable for daily use, streaming and downloading content. Their Swiss server at the time of testing produced an unexpected poor speed compared to the rest of the offerings but overall a good speed showing from TunnelBear.

Following our standard testing procedure I downloaded a 10GB test file from the United Kingdom using a selection of servers available from TunnelBear. A download manager was used to open concurrent connections on Windows 10 using the TunnelBear custom software with 256 bit encryption, OpenVPN, and the UDP protocol.

My connection speed without VPN at the time of testing was 163.82 Mbps.

TunnelBear Download Speeds

The servers tested in order were as follows.

  • France – 91.50 Mbps
  • Hong Kong – 57.17 Mbps
  • India – 43.65 Mbps
  • Netherlands – 57.15 Mbps
  • Sweden – 68.82 Mbps
  • Switzerland – 11.81 Mbps
  • UK – 85.2 Mbps
  • USA – 60.23 Mbps

The Encryption & Policies:

As TunnelBear differs to many other providers in that they are aimed at the everyday user there is not a great deal of public information regarding encryption. The idea of the service is install and go with very little in the way of configuration.

While some more experienced users want to delve into what encryption is being used there are another portion of users who when starting to mention such terms will be put off and possibly even give up on the whole VPN thing, it is this market which TunnelBear target.

For those interested in what’s under the hood of TunnelBear, the following information is available.

The TunnelBear PC, Mac, and Android software makes use of OpenVPN with AES 256-bit encryption. iOS makes use of L2TP/IP sec.

Authentication is taken care of using a 4096 bit RSA key which is at the higher end of the scale for VPN providers and very impressive.

The custom PC and Mac software makes use of ports 443 and 7011 which are impossible to change but should cause no issues for most and actually be of benefit to some by making use of the HTTPS (secure) port.

TunnelBear has a rather lengthy and clear Privacy Policy. The first thing to note is their company is based in Canada so by using their service you agree to be bound to any laws that they may need to comply with for Canadian regulations.

They state they collect only minimal information required to run the service and can not identify users from their server IPs as they do not log or retain your home IP when connecting to their servers.

For account purposes, only your first name is required but when paying by credit card you will be required to supply your full name. TunnelBear accepts Bitcoin which can help avoid supplying your full name for payment and no details of Bitcoin transactions are stored.

Overall their privacy policy looks clear, concise and in line with many other good VPN providers. It appears they store as few details as possible and most importantly they log none of the details of websites you visit or actions you carry out.

The Support:

Failing that the FAQ support section doesn’t answer your initial query support from TunnelBear is offered by way of Support ticket only.

Unfortunately, Support was one area that let the TunnelBear service down. 24 hours after contacting them and receiving an automated acknowledgement email I had yet to hear back. Attempting to chase the ticket up I fired off another email and as of 8 hours later I’d still heard nothing back. So after a total 32 hours there had still been no response to my ticket.

Having a ticket only system is never my favourite method of contact but if fast responses are received it isn’t too bad, however, TunnelBear failed to provide on this occasion.

The Verdict:

TunnelBear is an extremely well known VPN provider that attempt to offer their service in a friendly manner that will appeal mainly to the general public but also be suitable for users of all abilities. Through my testing, I’m happy to report that what it appears they aim to do they do extremely well.

Often providers who concentrate too much on ease of service to attract novice users often alienate those who could be considered more advanced users and while TunnelBear don’t provide access to configuration files and the like which would be a nice addition they do appear to have given great thought to both their encryption standards and privacy policy to compete with other quality offerings in the VPN market.

If you’re a user who wants a service that you can install, run and forget about then TunnelBear definitely fits this bill, while this may be most attractive to everyday users the service will still appeal to a more advanced crowd too who don’t want to be messing around with configuration files.

The pricing of the service is highly competitive and a good selection of servers on a medium scale comparative to many other offerings out there is available. Their software is a breeze to operate and while it may not allow the ability to enable or disable some of the advanced options that control DNS servers and IPv6 it does allow for an install, run and forget about usage scenario.

Speeds are between medium to high in comparison to other services and while not in the peak category they are more than good enough for everyday use. Browsing, entertainment use and downloading are not a problem and the service offers a robust solution. I’d have no hesitation to recommend that they could be used on a constant and daily basis. In fact, some of their servers located at distance from my location offered the best speeds I’ve seen.

TunnelBear may not be everyone’s ideal solution and the cutesy and often cheesy bear related puns may give your father’s “dad jokes” a run for their money but behind the corny jokes and loveable bear there is a rather decent service to be found and is definitely worth considering should their server locations et al. be suitable for your needs.

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