Tunnelbear Review 2017: A big bear or a little whimper?

Tunnelbear Review 2017
  • Price
  • Reliability
  • Speed
  • Policy
  • Support

Summary

TunnelBear is a simple, clean, and easy-to-use VPN which is ideal for most regular VPN users, although speeds can be an issue on long-distance connections, and it does lack a few of the bells and whistles advanced users are sometimes looking for.

Pros

  • Clean, simple and easy-to-use design.
  •  Good encryption.
  • Five simultaneous connections.
  • Wide range of international servers available.
  • Reasonably priced.

Cons

  •  Speeds for long distance connections can be slow.
  •  Limited connection logs retained for one month.
  •  Lack of additional features.
3.4

For a new arrival on the VPN market, TunnelBear has made a pretty big impact. Whilst some of this is down to their service, some can also be associated with their rather tongue-in-cheek approach to the service they offer. A sense of humour can sometimes get you a long way in any business!

The Packages:

TunnelBear offers three basic subscription packages for users to choose from:

  • Little: Their smallest package is actually free, but with a 500MB data limit per month, is next to useless for anything other than trialling their service to see if you like it.
  • Giant: This is their monthly subscription package and offers unlimited data for a monthly fee of $9.99.
  • Grizzly: Their annual subscription plan which is priced at $59.88 for a year, which breaks down to just $4.99 per month, again for unlimited data.

The free package can be viewed as little more than a free trial given the tiny data allowance permitted, but the other two packages are reasonably priced for the service TunnelBear offers and the Grizzly deal especially is very competitive when put up against other premium VPN providers.

Payment is accepted through all the usual methods, including BitCoin for those users who are particularly keen on protecting their anonymity. For some reason, PayPal payments are not available at the moment, but these are mentioned in the terms of service, so it’s possible they will return at a later date.

The payment process is straightforward to follow, but users should be aware that unlike many of their competitors, TunnelBear offers no refunds.

The Service:

TunnelBear is available for Mac and Windows PCs, as well as through apps for iOS and Android devices. There are also extensions available for Chrome and Opera browsers, but of course, these will only protect online activity which takes place through the browsers and not anything else on the device.

Every TunnelBear account, including the free one, allows users to connect up to 5 devices simultaneous, which is a great service. But with the free option, does mean you will burn through your data allowance even faster!

The installation process is easy and involves just a few clicks of the mouse and a little bit of waiting.

On entering you will have the chance to view a slightly humourous user guide before arriving at the home page which is a map allowing you to choose which country to want to connect to.

Tunnelbear software

Once you choose, another funny graphic will show you where your connection is being made and when it is established.

Features

Additional functions are few and far between. There is the choice to connect to TunnelBear on start-up. This means you don’t have to log in and manually connect each time you turn on your device, which for many users is a great option.

For those who don’t like it, the default setting for this is on, so you will need to go in and switch it off yourself.

Vigilant Bear is a nice little feature which automatically blocks any unsecured traffic should your internet or VPN connection go down or be disrupted for any reason.

Meanwhile, GhostBear is another clever little feature which makes your encrypted data look like regular internet data.

What this basically means is that they will scramble all your VPN communications in such a way that it becomes much harder for Governments, ISPs, and hackers, to detect and intercept them.

It is a great tool if you’re struggling to get TunnelBear to connect, especially if you live in a country which is prone to censorship and Government surveillance.

It does, however, slow the connection down a bit, so it is best not to make use of it unless absolutely necessary. It is also not currently available on their iOS app owing to the way that operating system is operated by Apple.

That’s pretty much it for features apart from a button on the homepage which allows you connect quickly and simply to the nearest VPN server.

Server Locations

At present, TunnelBear offers servers in 20 countries, but these are spread across the globe. Being a Canadian company, there are obviously plenty of server options in North America.

Europe is also well catered with servers in no fewer than 9 countries, but there are currently no servers in Africa and only Brazil is catered for in South America.

In Asia, servers can be found in India, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong (which in a slightly concerning nod to China is referred to on their map as Hong Kong SAR).

The number of servers available is low compared to more established rivals. But in TunnelBear’s defence, they are a fairly new player on the box and server selection does usually build up over time.

They do also have all the major markets catered for too, with most users looking to get around geo-restrictions keen to access services in the markets of the USA, and Europe.

The Speeds:

It is always advised with any VPN to connect to a server as close to your actual location as possible to maximise your connection speed. For many providers, the difference can be hard to spot for regular users, but with TunnelBear it is much more apparent.

I have used the service in Europe and Asia when trying to connect to servers in the USA, particularly from Asia, there was a noticeable drop in speed.

I was only really using the connection for browsing the internet and a little light streaming, but if you use a VPN for more data intensive pursuits, such as Torrenting, Kodi or Online Gaming, it is likely to have an adverse effect.

Having said that for connections to local servers, the speeds were both fast and consistent, while the connections were also reliable and I didn’t actually drop a single one throughout my trial, which is excellent.

The Encryption, Policies & Support:

TunnelBear’s encryption is excellent. They use AES 256-bit encryption by default, which is as good as it gets right now and on a par with market leaders such as ExpressVPN. As they brag on their website, “weaker encryption isn’t even an option.”

On privacy, they are a little less clear in what their policies are. Their website states that ‘TunnelBear does NOT log any activity of customers connected to our service. Period.’

That sounds pretty clear-cut, and confidence is further boosted by their claim to have an “award-winning” privacy policy, whatever that means.

The reality is that TunnelBear does keep some user data in the short term for a period of one month. They are required to do this under Canadian law which includes some pretty intrusive clauses.

The data they collect is principally metadata about your connection and they are at pains to stress that this data is not time stamped and so cannot be used by authorities to tie a user to a specified online act.

There are no usage and connection logs, which is good, but they do also keep user records, which includes names, emails, and payment details. They will, if legally required to do so, hand this information over to the Canadian authorities as well.

That situation is not ideal, but for many users will perhaps be acceptable. However, there are two other clauses in their service agreement which users should be aware of.

Firstly, it is clearly stated that users cannot “distribute copyright-protected materials through our servers”. This means torrenting and accessing copyrighted material is not permitted and there is no reason why your data wouldn’t be handed over if they suspect you are doing this.

Secondly, there is a clause which says “TunnelBear is not responsible for any failure to maintain confidentiality, security, accuracy, or quality of your data, messages, or pages whether or not related to interruptions or performance issues with the service.”

My reading of this is that they are saying we are not responsible for the privacy of your connection, which seems to go against the very purpose of a VPN. It is an odd and worrying clause and may well put off users who value their privacy.

Customer Support

Lastly, to the customer support features which again are pretty good. They offer a wide range of articles, which can be easily tracked down through a very helpful search facility.

If you need specific help, there is a simple web form which allows you to email in your problem with enough information that it can usually be resolved quickly. Sadly, there is not a live chat support feature, which has become the norm in more established providers and much faster and more desirable.

They claim to respond to all problems within 24 hours and, in my experience, they were true to their word. But 24 hours is still a long time if you cannot get their service to work properly.

The Verdict:

There is a lot to be said for TunnelBear and, as a fledgeling provider, it is definitely heading in the right direction.

Connections are reliable, consistent and, for the most part, quick. Encryption is strong, the server selection is adequate, and the apps themselves are simple and easy-to-use. What is more, all of this is available at a very reasonable price and delivered in a witty and entertaining style.

But long-distance connections are still slow, customer service provisions could be better, and there are real concerns about their privacy policies.

All of which means, whilst TunnelBear has got a great deal of potential, it does still have improvements to make before it is really challenging the established market leaders.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *