Cord Cutting Guides, News, and Reviews
ExpressVPN vs TunnelBear
February 18, 2021
Picking a VPN service can sometimes feel like throwing darts blindfolded. The problem is, a lot of the feature sets VPN providers tout end up looking the same, at least at first glance. It’s all too easy to decide that there’s really no difference and that you should just choose at random — or based on something silly, like a company’s cute bear mascot.
Don’t do that! We love the bear mascot, too, but we promise you that there are more important things to keep in mind when deciding which VPN is right for you. Below, we’re comparing ExpressVPN vs. TunnelBear to see how they stack up and where each edges out the other. By the time we wrap up, you should have a good sense of which one will meet your needs the best.
VPN providers often talk about servers like banks talk about branches. Just like with bank branches, a larger number is always better: It means you’re more likely to find a location in a convenient place.
Another thing VPN providers sometimes like to talk about? Streaming. Look, Netflix may not like that you are using a VPN to watch U.S. content from another country (or another country’s content from the U.S.). But most VPN services know you’re likely to do that, and they know it’s a selling point. Whether you can use streaming video sites from a VPN or not is an important thing to know. It’s also an issue that’s closely related to server count, because companies like Netflix sometimes blacklist VPN servers. The more servers there are, the more shots you have at finding one that works.
ExpressVPN isn’t fooling around when it comes to servers. The company has roughly 3,000 servers planted inside 94 countries around the world. That isn’t as many servers as some competitors, but it’s a fair number all the same, and ExpressVPN really does well In terms of countries. ExpressVPN also plays nice with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and more. If you want to watch those through your ExpressVPN connection, you shouldn’t hit any snags.
TunnelBear is slightly less transparent when it comes to its server count. The company is happy to tell customers it has “20+ server locations” throughout the world. Unfortunately, It doesn’t delve into the details of how many total servers are online. TunnelBear isn’t exactly reliable when it comes to streaming video, either. In our TunnelBear review, we found that Netflix couldn’t display U.S. content from outside the country. On top of that, Amazon Prime Video just flat-out wouldn’t work. That could be a problem for you.
In servers and streaming, there’s a clear winner here: ExpressVPN.
Security is the name of the game for VPNs, so it is downright crucial they get it right. After all, what would a VPN be good for if it couldn’t keep you safe online? What purpose would it serve if you were just as exposed using a VPN as you are when you aren’t using one? Why would you pay for that?
ExpressVPN goes hard on the security side of things. It has a number of different protocols you can use, including OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, and SSTP. It also has a no-logs policy, and it operates from the British Virgin Islands, which means it won’t be subject to the types of data retention laws other countries and territories have on the books.
TunnelBear is a bit less flexible: Rather than give you a smorgasbord of security protocols to choose from, TunnelBear instead ushers you toward OpenVPN. That’s arguably a good thing, though, since OpenVPN is one of the more secure protocols around. We can knock TunnelBear for flexibility, but not for security.
TunnelBear is located in Canada. The country of Canada is a member of the “Five Eyes” alliance, which means it can demand information from a VPN service at any time and is likely to share that information with other countries in the alliance (including the United States). Even though TunnelBear has a no-logs policy, this may give some privacy-minded power users pause.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing a VPN is speed. Will a VPN sit invisibly in the background or slow your internet to a crawl? Will you be able to work as you normally do, or will you find that using the VPN actually disrupts your day a little bit? We’ve looked at both ExpressVPN and TunnelBear in this department, and one clearly performed better than the other.
ExpressVPN held up very well when we put it through its paces for our ExpressVPN review. In our tests, downloading some files and streaming some videos didn’t surface any noticeable issues. Speed tests revealed negligible drops of just a few megabits per second at the most. ExpressVPN is definitely the “sit silently in the background” type of VPN. You won’t really notice it hurting your internet speeds in a significant way.
TunnelBear was a little bit disappointing in this category. Our reviewer ran some speed tests with TunnelBear turned on and experienced drops of roughly 45 Mbps. That may not be a big deal if you’re on an ultra-fast connection. On something slower, though, TunnelBear performing at that level could potentially cripple your internet connection. If your work depends on fast internet, that could be a very bad thing.
In terms of features, we can actually be pretty short and sweet and hit both VPNs in one fell swoop. Both ExpressVPN and TunnelBear aren’t exactly showering you in extras. There are a handful of knobs and switches in both that are somewhat useful. Both have “kill-switch” type features to block your internet connection when the VPN is turned off. Tunnelbear alone has a feature called “GhostBear” that disguises encrypted traffic so it looks more like normal traffic, which could help you get through some anti-VPN filters. In short, both of these VPNs keep it relatively simple.
Where ease of use is concerned, both attempt to offer you a fairly streamlined experience on both desktop and mobile apps. It’s safe to say TunnelBear is definitely the VPN targeting VPN newbies, though. There’s a map in the app with locations you can tap or click on to connect to remote servers. When you do that, a little bear digs into the ground and pops out at the location you chose. If you are brand new to VPNs, you may find TunnelBear more friendly to use than ExpressVPN. If you know your way around a VPN app, though, it’s kind of a wash: ExpressVPN may take itself a bit more seriously, but it’s still very streamlined and user-friendly.
Finally, we need to talk about price. For a one-month subscription, TunnelBear undercuts ExpressVPN by charging $9.99 versus ExpressVPN’s $12.95. When you crank up that subscription and pay upfront for a longer package, TunnelBear again takes ExpressVPN to the cleaners. TunnelBear will charge you $59.88 per year when you pay all at once, which averages to around $4.99 per month. ExpressVPN, meanwhile, will charge you $98.44 to cover that same period. That averages out to roughly $8.32 per month. The price category is a big win for TunnelBear.
Truth be told, you may have your own priorities to consider when ultimately choosing who wins here: ExpressVPN or TunnelBear. You may want the cheapest option, for instance, or the one that offers the most simple user experience. In that case, TunnelBear could be the VPN for you. It checks those boxes for sure.
If you want your VPN to work with streaming video services, however, and you don’t want big hits on your internet speed, ExpressVPN is likely the safer bet. With it, you’ll have more security protocols at your fingertips, and more servers to choose from. It may cost a bit more for a month or a year of service. Sometimes, though, you get what you pay for, and paying more will get you something significantly better.
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