TunnelBear Review

Tunnelbear Review
TunnelBear Review

Tunnelbear small logo

Product Name: TunnelBear

Brand: TunnelBear

Offer price: 3.33

Currency: USD

Availability: OnlineOnly

Overall
3.4









  • Price









  • Service









  • Apps









  • Speed









  • Policy









Summary

.

Pros

  • Nicely designed easy-to-use apps.
  • Strong encryption.
  • Easy to understand policies.
  • 5 concurrent connections.

Cons

  • Still retain too much customer information.
  • No money-back guarantee.
  • Fairly small server network.

Not too long ago, Tunnelbear was seen as a bit of a fun VPN. It had a funny cartoon bear logo and its app showed the bear tunnelling from one country to another and eating jars of honey.

It was all very cute and funny but didn't necessarily give out the aura of a high-end and serious VPN provider.

But now Tunnelbear is wanted to be taken seriously, so that's what this Tunnelbear review will seek to do.

In this Tunnelbear VPN review, we will look past the cartoon bear and quirky graphics of jars of honey to scrutinise the VPN behind the fun exterior and see where they are offering a top-notch VPN service and where there is still room for improvement.

Let's tunnel right in.

Service

Speeds

Download speed

To run a speed test on TunnelBear, we have been using it on a regular household internet connection in the UK for several weeks. Exactly the same sort of connection as you would be using.

Our overall conclusion was that, for the most part, speeds were acceptable without being spectacular.

However, there were a few occasions when we saw speeds drop in our speed test for no obvious reason. This happened on various different servers located both in the UK and overseas throughout the speed tests we conducted. These irregular slow speeds were both unpredictable and quite frustrating

Apart from these occasions, we found speed test results to be perfectly OK for everyday online activities like checking emails, streaming videos, and downloading. Upload speeds were overall good too.

To try and establish some definitive speeds in our speed test, we downloaded a test file from different TunnelBear servers around the world.

Our regular connection speed with no VPN connection was 467.2 Mbps. TunnelBear's connection speeds were as follows:

  • UK – 111.7 Mbps
  • Netherlands – 107.1 Mbps
  • Switzerland – 105.4 Mbps
  • Sweden – 95.94 Mbps
  • France – 114.7 Mbps
  • New York, US – 111.9 Mbps
  • Australia – 89.21 Mbps

These speed test results are not exceptional but neither are they the worst we have seen either in speed tests performed on other VPNs.

For everyday tasks, you should find TunnelBear more than sufficient, unless you encounter the same unexpected drop-offs that we did.

Logging

TunnelBear is adamant that it doesn't collect any data about what you get up to online, or details of either your real IP Address or the IP Address of the server you connect to.

But the Tunnelbear logging policy also makes it clear that they cannot be defined as a no user logs VPN either.

Their logging policy also highlights some data that they do retain. This includes your credit card details (although it's common elsewhere), email address, the amount of data you use, and how many times you connect to their service.

They are at least upfront about this practice in the logging policy which is to their credit. There is also no suggestion that they are going to log details about what you are doing online.

But we would much prefer it if they didn't keep this data at all and there is no reason for a privacy-friendly VPN to harvest any of this data in this day and age.

The bear can do much better on this one.

Simultaneous Connections

TunnelBear allows up to five simultaneous connections with each subscription package. This is still unchanged from last year.

For a long time, this was the industry standard, but with some providers now stretching this figure into double figures and even unlimited simultaneous connections, its beginning to look a little stingy to us.

More people have multiple devices to go online with and people also tend to share their VPN with family too. While I was road-testing Tunnelbear with my wife and two kids, we found five connections insufficient several times.

Ideally, TunnelBear will extend this number in the not too distant future. We have seen no sign of this over the past few years, but we live in hope.

Top Tip

Looking for a VPN that offers more? Surfshark offers unlimited connections.

Jurisdiction

Tunnelbear VPN is based in Canada which means it operates under Canadian privacy laws.

It clearly states in its terms and conditions that no data is stored in physical locations outside Canada. This could be worse, as Canadian privacy law is not the worst in the world by any means.

But Canada is still part of the 5-eyes surveillance alliance which means there is always a chance of your data being shared with law enforcement bodies in other members, such as the US, UK and Australia.

This is not ideal by any means.

Company ownership

Tunnelbear was initially a standalone company but was acquired by McAfee in 2018.

It continues to operate as an independent company but its ownership by an American company has raised concerns about whether its records could be subpoenaed by US courts. This has yet to be tested in reality though.

Customer Support

Customer support is one area where we really do expect more from Tunnelbear.

Firstly, there is no 24/7 live chat support available. Live chat support is the standard provision of most premium VPNs these days and if Tunnelbear aspires to a place at the top table, it needs to introduce this fast. But we said this last year too and there has been no change yet.

The website contains a help section which is, frankly, hard to navigate and populated with a limited number of very generic articles. My wife encountered a problem when using Tunnelbear so I challenged her to get customer support to help. She got nowhere and that's on Tunnelbear, not her.

Worse, there is no obvious route to submit ticketed email support requests either. When you do find it, Tunnelbear's email support is slow and vague.

Sadly, responses from Tunnelbear seem as though they're handled off-shore. Rather than take time to understand your query you'll sometimes get a generic response that doesn't answer or resolve your issue.

The impression given is that Tunnelbear wants your subscription but then expects you to get on with it on your own.

Definitely an area for improvement.

Server Locations

Server locations

TunnelBear's VPN server network offering is fairly modest compared to other VPNs in their price range.

They currently offer Tunnelbear server options in 50 different countries around the world. This is an increase compared to last year so there is clearly some infrastructure investment going on.

But even now the bulk of this Tunnelbear server network is in Europe, with a handful in North America, Asia, and an increase to four server locations in South America.

TunnelBear claims that its server network is growing all the time, but the increase in server locations is still taking place at a snail's pace and this is another area where Tunnelbear has lots of room for improvement.

Top Tip

Consider ExpressVPN which covers 94 countries globally.

Does Tunnelbear VPN use virtual servers?

It's difficult to ascertain whether Tunnelbear makes use of virtual server locations or not.

There is no information on their website to suggest they do. However, it has been known for providers to keep tight-lipped on such information.

We'll update this section should we discover more. Given the inconsistent speeds we experienced when testing Tunnelbear, let's just say we wouldn't be surprised if at least some of Tunnelbear's servers were virtual.

Yes, in theory, you can use Tunnelbear in China.

This is thanks to their obfuscation feature known as GhostBear. GhostBear works by protecting you against Deep Packet Inspection and is one of a number of different tools used by various VPNs to get their service working around China's Great Firewall.

The GhostBear feature only works on the Tunnelbear VPN client for Windows, Mac OS, and Android. So if you are using the Tunnelbear app for iOS devices, you are out of luck.

Customer reviews of the effectiveness of Ghostbear in making Tunnelbear functional in China are mixed. There is no doubt that there are more effective VPNs to unblock web browsers in China, but Tunnelbear certainly has a better chance than some.

No, Tunnelbear is a VPN that does not offer either a Dedicated IP Address or a Static IP Address service.

Instead, they use dynamic IP Addresses that will change each time you connect, reconnect, or change tunnels. There is a small possibility that if you connect to the same VPN server you could end up connected to the same IP Addresses as your previous session, but if so that would be more by luck than judgement.

Dynamic IP Addresses are actually a positive for privacy. But for sites that restrict VPN access, they are a problem.

For example, I had problems logging into my BT webmail account when connected to Tunnelbear precisely because they could see there were multiple users on the same IP address and this made them suspicious.

No. The VPN server network offered by Tunnelbear is already modest enough and unfortunately, they haven't yet found room for dedicated servers with additional security features such as Double-Hop VPN servers.

A double-hop server feature offers an extra level of security and if you are looking for that, we would recommend a VPN such as NordVPN for the job.

Security and Safety

Protocols & Encryption

Protocols and encryption

As we have mentioned above, TunnelBear defaults to the OpenVPN protocol for most clients, but their iOS app will use the IKEv2 / IPSec protocol.

OpenVPN is a standard VPN protocols for most VPN companies. It is an open-source VPN protocol and was for a long time the industry standard with IKEv2 / IPSec being widely used for iOS devices so this is nothing new.

However, our favourite VPN protocol these days is WireGuard. It's lightweight, fast, and secure, and when we run it on other VPN services, we have been blown away by the increased speeds.

It is not included by default on the Tunnelbear VPN client for any device and there are no configuration options to set it up manually either. This is a great shame and something Tunnelbear needs to put right fast.

All of the Tunnelbear encryption uses AES 256-bit encryption. AES 256-bit encryption is the industry standard and more than enough to secure Tunnelbear to keep your VPN traffic safe.

TunnelBear is one of the few VPNs to have carried out an independent audit of their online security. This audit was first carried out by Cure53 in 2017 and found a number of vulnerabilities which have now been fixed.

They looked again in 2018 and found a handful of new problems which have also been resolved. These independent security audits are now an annual occurrence and we always read them with interest.

The transparency of running such reports is very welcome but as with a lot of what Tunnelbear offers, there is still a sense that they can do more.

Policies

TunnelBear is rare among most VPN providers in that its Privacy Policy is easy to find and pretty clear to read which is great. It is detailed and transparent and offers frank explanations of what terms mean and how TunnelBear is behaving.

As we have noted above, TunnelBear does collect rather more data about its users than we would like to see. However, they are adamant they do not collect data about what you are doing online or IP Address details.

We have seen no reason to doubt them on this, but there is no doubt that TunnelBear could do more to make their privacy protections even more robust. If you want genuine private internet access, there are better VPNs to choose.

DNS Leak Testing

Tunnelbear is one of the few VPN providers that we have encountered that makes a big fuss about DNS leaks. It is something that many VPN providers try to gloss over.

But the Tunnelbear website contains a detailed page on the subject which explains in great detail what DNS queries are, why they matter, and what DNS leak protection they offer. They even invite you to run a DNS Leak test for yourself.

So, that's exactly what we did, using the three most popular DNS leak testing sites, DNSLeakTest.com, DNSLeak.com and IPX.ac.

The results from all three sites were unanimous, Tunnelbear is a VPN that definitely does not have a DNS leak problem. Its DNS leak protection appears to stand up to scrutiny.

This is important because DNS leaks are a major security issue and can compromise user security and privacy. If your DNS data can be accessed, someone (most likely your internet service provider or ISP) can see and keep a record of the websites you are visiting online.

This may not be a major problem if you spend the majority of your time on sites like Google, Facebook or Instagram, for instance. But if you are visiting more specialist and revealing sites, this information about you will be out there.

For example, you might be visiting sites containing certain sexual content you don't want other people to know about. If your DNS data leaks, that information could be out there.

The good news is that with Tunnelbear, its excellent DNS leak protection means that can't happen.

Are there any Tunnelbear VPN security issues?

Not as such, no.

We have mentioned the security audits which have been carried out and which now appear to be a regular occurrence. That's great and we encourage Tunnelbear to continue with these.

Vulnerabilities inevitably crop up in all software from time to time. The key is for the provider to spot them before the hackers do and Tunnelbear are following best practice on this.

We do note that Tunnelbear was also bought in 2018 by internet security company McAfee. It still strikes us as odd that there is no mention of this on their website and McAfee, while not insecure in itself, has had one or two controversies which may put some people off.

But on the face of it, we are happy to say that we are confident that Tunnelbear is a secure VPN.

There was a time when Tunnelbear blocked torrents. Those days have gone and Tunnelbear offers torrenting as a feature now.

We have torrented a fair bit using Tunnelbear and it does work. However, because download speeds are distinctly mixed (and that is being generous really) and upload speed is not much better, the torrenting experience we had when Tunnelbear connected to its servers was just generally OK.

When we ran our torrenting speed tests on both the Tunnelbear app for iOS and Android, the download speed were average and desktop apps and browser extensions fared little better.

Tunnelbear is capable of torrenting, but if we are honest, it is by no means the best.

TunnelBear still doesn't have too many privacy features or other bells and whistles which most users will see as a positive.

The focus is on providing a core service that is simple and effective so there is no password manager, and no split tunneling (and we are big fans of split tunneling). But there are a couple of extra things worth mentioning.

Their GhostBear feature which we have already mentioned is a neat little tool which helps you to access websites like US Netflix and the BBC iPlayer which try to block access to VPN users.

It also makes accessing censored content a great deal easier too as well as bypassing blocks in countries like Communist China.

GhostBear works well on the whole but it does slow down connection speeds a bit, so is best to use it only when needed rather than have it enabled all the time.

They also have a function called Vigilant Mode which blocks all unsecured traffic in the event that your VPN connection gets cut or disrupted.

This is in place of a kill switch and, if we are honest, it sounds like little more than a supped-up kill switch to us. It certainly seems to do the job but we would prefer the term kill switch just to make things a bit more user friendly. VPN users know what a kill switch is and avoiding the term kill switch is creating unnecessary confusion.

Their website does list other features which initially got us excited. But on closer inspection, we found that these were actually fairly standard features that were being packaged up to be something more than they are.

For example, their Closest Tunnel feature is actually just a Quick Connect button while Always On is simply a different way of saying connect automatically on startup.

Just about every VPN offers these so they are hardly special features. Nice try Bear!

Apps

Apps

Mobile Apps

TunnelBear's iOS and Android apps are a definite strong point of their service. They are also one of the few VPN providers to offer open source apps too.

They have well designed fun, and easy-to-use for both Apple iOS (think iPhone and iPad) and Android devices which both enable connection with a single click.

We tested Tunnelbear's iOS app and found it great for iOS users, even for beginners. The same is true of the Android app.

Their apps all centre on a world map and there is a theme of tunnels throughout. When you connect to a server, the map shows a bear tunnelling from where you are to where the server is.

Tunnelbear Android

It is a simple image, but if you prefer, you can also choose your location from a list of locations in a drop-down menu. The menu on the page also lets you access other features and settings including an option to set things up differently when using a Wi-Fi or 4G connection.

The Android app is much the same and it can even work with Windows Mobile Devices too.

Desktop Apps

TunnelBear also offers similar apps for Windows and Mac OS computers which are also open source. These have a similar appearance with a focus on the world map and a similar tunnel design.

Top Top

Check out our list of the Top 5 Windows VPNs

When you first download the app, it gives you three simple introductory screens to follow. The first tells you how to connect fast by simply choosing a country and clicking connect. It even recommends choosing ‘Auto' to let TunnelBear connect to the fastest available server.

Tunnelbear Windows app

The second reassures that once connected you can use all your apps and any browser with confidence, knowing that TunnelBear is protecting your data. The final screen reassures you that you will be protected at home, at work, or even on public Wi-Fi networks.

To be honest, these screens could offer some more practical information, but it is nonetheless a nice thought.

Accessing the additional features and settings was a little harder on the Mac app we tested as they were hidden away under the preferences section of the settings menu. We found this slightly easier with the Windows client.

Sadly on both the mobile and desktop apps it's impossible to resize the map for zooming in or out. This can lead to an issue of scrolling all over the globe to locate your required country. It's small user interface features like this which could vastly improve their apps.

However, generally speaking, we had few complaints.

Other Apps

If you want to use TunnelBear on other devices, then things get a bit trickier. TunnelBear offer very little else.

They do offer guidance to enable you to manually configure Tunnelbear on Linux, but if you want to use TunnelBear on Amazon devices, Smart TV's, or anything else, you are out of luck for now.

This is definitely one area where TunnelBear has a lot of work to do to catch up with its competitors.

Yes. There is a browser extension available for the Chrome and Firefox web browsers. These will help to protect your web traffic but only your web traffic.

Any internet data that runs through apps is not protected, so generally speaking, we don't tend to recommend browser extensions.

But if you do want them there are browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox and a Blocker tool for Chrome that claims to stop online tracking. Tunnelbear used to offer Chrome, Firefox, and Opera browser extensions. They appear to have dropped their Opera browser extension now though which is a shame.

No. Tunnelbear does not offer support for any VPN-enabled routers which is a big negative and something they need to improve.

Streaming

Streaming

Does Tunnelbear work with Netflix?

No. Tunnelbear is not able to unblock Netflix and any customer reviews you have read which suggest anything different are misleading you.

We tested them alongside a number of VPN services with US Netflix, UK Netflix and several other services. Tunnelbear was unable to unblock any of these Netflix services, no matter which server we tried which was kind of frustrating.

If you want to watch Netflix, there are plenty of better VPN services than Tunnelbear.

Does Tunnelbear work with BBC iPlayer?

Again, no. This VPN service cannot unblock the BBC iPlayer using any of their UK-based servers.

We have read some user reviews to the contrary, but that is not our experience.

Does Tunnelbear work with Disney+?

No, as with the other streaming services, Tunnelbear is unable to unblock Disney+.

Does Tunnelbear work with Amazon Prime video?

No. Once again, as with the other streaming services, Tunnelbear is unable to unblock Amazon Prime video.

Does Tunnelbear work with other streaming services?

This VPN provider does work with some streaming services such as ITV Hub or All 4. But these are the streaming sites that make no effort to block a VPN from accessing them.

If you read a user review that says differently, all we can say is that their reviews and their experience are obviously very different from ours or outdated.

Prices and Plans

Prices and Plans

TunnelBear offers a slightly different pricing model than other VPNs. They offer an unnecessarily complex range of monthly and annual packages, but you can also get Tunnelbear free, albeit in a rather limited way.

This Tunnelbear free version comes with a 500MB data limit. We generally warn users away from a free VPN and have cautioned against using the likes of Hotspot Shield many times.

That remains the case and unlike dedicated free VPN providers like Hotspot Shield, Tunnelbear does allow access to a proper secure VPN infrastructure. The problem is the data limit.

500MB is pretty small and means you aren't going to be streaming any movies. It is the equivalent of streaming an hour of content on Netflix in low quality or visiting a few hundred websites.

We gave the free version of Tunnelbear a go and used the internet as usual. It didn't last a morning for us before we had exhausted the data limit

With other providers like PrivadoVPN offering a 10GB free limit, this trial is now nothing to shout about.

But even a 500MB limit will give you the opportunity to put the Bear through its paces which is no bad thing.

Free trials are a rare enough thing in the VPN world these days so we are grateful for that at least.

The standard TunnelBear VPN price plan is known as Unlimited and is priced as follows:

  • 1 Month – $9.99 (~£7.22)
  • 1 Year – $4.99 a month (~£3.61)
  • 3 Years – $3.33 a month (~£2.40)

Tunnelbear pricing

These prices are competitive without being exceptional and, as is so often the case, the Bear's 3-year package offers the best value for money. While there is a free trial, there is still no money-back guarantee at all which is both unusual and disappointing.

A money back guarantee is industry standard and even with a free version we are amazed that the money back guarantee is missing.

Payment can be made by all the usual credit cards and they also accept Bitcoin payment which is great for privacy-conscious users.

TunnelBear's terms and conditions make clear that they do not offer any refunds, apart from exceptional circumstances at all. As we have said, this makes their free package the only chance to try TunnelBear out before committing your money.

Verdict

Verdict

As this Tunnelbear review has probably revealed, we have very mixed feelings about Tunnelbear VPN.

It has some good things. The apps are well designed and user-friendly for the customer. The 256-bit AES encryption is great and the OpenVPN protocol provision is good (although we would like to see WireGuard in there too).

We like that it covered important features such as split tunneling but disappointed that it lacks offerings such as the OpenVPN configuration files for advanced users.

It sometimes works in China too which is great and your DNS requests are secure.

But there are too many areas where the Bear lets you down. Their logging policy is unnecessarily intrusive. The security features are basic… why no split tunneling or a proper kill switch? Speeds are average, streaming provisions are terrible, customer support is woefully insufficient, and the small server network doesn't match up to rivals.

Why are they not expanding the number of VPN clients they offer? Why such a shoddy customer service provision? There is a sense throughout that the customer is not the top priority and that is all wrong.

The free trial will win them some users but prices after that are mid-market and the Bear is frankly not anywhere near that level yet. The absence of a money back guarantee is a mistake.

There are aspects of this service to praise. But there are also many areas where there can be major improvements too and it would be great if our next Tunnelbear VPN review can get some of these issues resolved.

For now, it is our informed option that users will definitely get better value for money elsewhere. Having tested Tunnelbear, it is hard to describe them as a good VPN or even a mixed one. Lots of work to do.

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Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 5 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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