Tunnelbear has been around long enough to know what they market wants. When they get things right, they are very good, but there are still a few critical areas in need of improvement.
- Nicely designed easy-to-use apps.
- Strong encryption.
- Easy to understand policies.
- 5 concurrent connections.
- Still retain too much customer information.
- No money-back guarantee.
- Fairly small server network.
In our previous Tunnelbear VPN review, we referred to Tunnelbear as a young, novice VPN and praised it for making such inroads so soon.
But the truth is that Tunnelbear has been on the market for some time now and deserves to compared with the more established VPNs on the market.
That's what this Tunnelbear VPN review will do.
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 head right in.
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 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 speed 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.
Apart from these occasions, we found speed test results to be perfectly ok for everyday online activities like checking emails, streaming video, and downloading.
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 40.91 Mbps. TunnelBear's connection speeds were as follows:
- UK – 34.83 Mbps
- Netherlands – 33.52 Mbps
- Switzerland – 32.95 Mbps
- Sweden – 32.72 Mbps
- France – 33.13 Mbps
- New York, US – 30.52 Mbps
- Australia – 28.84 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.
TunnelBear is adamant that it doesn't collect any data about what you get up to online, or details of either your own 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.
TunnelBear allows up to five simultaneous connections with each subscription package. This is 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 more people having multiple devices to go online with, hopefully, TunnelBear might extend this number in the not too distant future.
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.
Tunnelbear was initially a standalone company but was acquired by McAfee in 2018. It continues to operate as an independent company.
This is one area where we really did 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.
The website contains a help section which is, frankly, hard to navigate and populated with a limited number of very generic articles.
Worse, there is no obvious route to submit ticketed email support requests either. 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.
TunnelBear's VPN server network offering is fairly modest compared to other VPNs in their price range.
They currently offer servers in 26 different countries around the world. This is a small increase but the bulk of this VPN 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 their server network is growing all the time, but the increase in server locations is taking place at a snails pace.
The loss of their Hong Kong server is a great pity too.
Does Tunnelbear VPN use virtual servers?
It's difficult to ascertain as to weather 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.
Does Tunnelbear VPN work in China?
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.
Does Tunnelbear offer Dedicated IP Addresses?
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 Address as your previous session, but if so that would be more by luck than judgement.
Does Tunnelbear provide Double-Hop servers?
No. The VPN server network offered by Tunnelbear is already modest enough and unfortunately they haven't yet found room for 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
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 the standard VPN protocol for most VPN companies but IKEv2 / IPSec is widely used for iOS devices so this is nothing new.
Disappointingly, there is no WireGuard compatibility with Tunnelbear.
It is not included by default on their VPN client for any device and there are no configuration options to set it up manually either. This is a shame since WireGuard is faster, lighter, and more secure than OpenVPN and appears to be the future protocol for many VPNs.
All of the Tunnelbear encryption uses AES 256-bit encryption. AES 256-bit encryption is the industry standard and more than secure enough to keep your data 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. TunnelBear has been very open about the type of problems which were identified, however there hasn't been any more audits since its sale to McAfee.
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.
Other Notable Features
TunnelBear 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, 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 but it does slow down connection speeds a bit, so is best to use 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.
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 how they protect your DNS data. 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 leak.
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 you DNS data leaks, that information could be out there.
The good news is that with Tunnelbear, 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 are good. But we do note that it is now three years and counting since Tunnelbear last had one.
Doubtless vulnerabilities will have cropped up since then and having set the bar high, it is odd that they haven't continued with this very important habit. Let's hope there is a fresh one in 2021.
Tunnelbear was also bought in 2018 by internet security company McAfee. It is odd that there is no mention of this on their website and McAfee, while not insecure in itself, has had one of two controversies which may put some people off.
Is Tunnelbear VPN safe for torrenting?
Not brilliant. There was a time when Tunnelbear blocked torrents. Those days have gone and Tunnelbear offers torrenting as a feature now.
Download speeds are distinctly mixed and that is being generous really.
When we ran our torrenting speed tests on both the Tunnelbear app for iOS and Android, the download speed were desperately slow and desktop apps and browser extensions fared little better.
Tunnelbear is capable of torrenting, but it is by no means the best.
TunnelBear's Android and iOS 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 their iOS app and found it great to use, even for beginners.
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.
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 at the top of 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.
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.
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.
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.
But generally speaking, we had few complaints.
If you want to use TunnelBear on other devices, then things get a bit trickier. TunnelBear offer very little else.
They do offer guidance on setting things up manually for 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.
Does Tunnelbear VPN support browser extensions?
Yes. There is a browser extension available for a number of different 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, Firefox, and Opera, and a Blocker tool for Chrome that claims to stop online tracking.
Does Tunnelbear VPN support VPN routers?
No. Tunnelbear does not offer support for any VPN-enabled routers which is a big negative and something they need to improve.
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.
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.
Again, 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 All4. But these are the services 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
TunnelBear offers a slightly different pricing model to other VPNs. They offer the usual monthly and annual packages, but they also have a free plan too.
This free version does come with a 500MB data limit.
500MB is pretty small and means you aren't going to be streaming any movies. It is is the equivalent of streaming an hour of content on Netflix in low quality or visiting a few hundred websites.
With other providers like PrivadoVPN offering a 10GB free limit, it's now nothing to shout about.
But even a 500MB limit will give you the opportunity to put the Bear through its paces.
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)
These prices are competitive without being exception 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 no money-back guarantee at all which is both unusual and disappointing.
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.
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). It sometimes works in China on the whole too which is great.
But there are too many areas where the Bear lets you down. The logging policy is unnecessarily intrusive. The features are basic… why no split tunneling or a proper kill switch? Speeds are mixed, streaming provisions are terrible and the server network is too small.
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 at that level yet.
There are aspects of this service to praise. But there are also many areas where there can be major improvements too and users will definitely get better value for money elsewhere.
Ready to try Tunnelbear?