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Raise your hand if you are here because of the bear. Okay, that’s what I thought. TunnelBear’s mascot may be the first thing you notice, but there is more to this story than just a pretty bear face. In this TunnelBear review, I’ll put this VPN through its paces and tell you what worked, what didn’t, and how TunnelBear measured up against the competition. So sit back, grab a fresh salmon, and get ready to hear the tale of one of the simplest VPNs you’ll ever see.
If you’ve ever used an overly complicated VPN service, you may feel a sense of dread when you think about downloading and configuring another such app. You are probably picturing dozens of settings, poorly-configured defaults, and hours spent on FAQs and forums trying to figure out how to get your VPN working. Well, good news! This isn’t that kind of story— because TunnelBear isn’t that kind of VPN.
I was able to go from visiting the TunnelBear site to being up and running with the TunnelBear VPN in under 10 minutes, with time to stop for coffee along the way. It really is that simple. Given my previous experience with VPNs — we've reviewed ExpressVPN, Encrypt.me, and everything in between — I’d assumed that this super-quick setup had just set me up with a default configuration that I would need to adjust. But I was surprised to find that the settings menu has only four tabs, each with just a handful of settings — most of which were about notifications and startup behavior rather than security.
Thanks to the quick setup, it wasn’t long before I had installed and tested TunnelBear on a macOS laptop, an iPhone, and a Windows laptop. I also tried out the TunnelBear browser extension (I tested it with the Chrome browser). Every single one of these apps and extensions was easy to install and use. The only one that offered any complication at all was the iOS app, which required me to click through a couple of extra screens to set up the VPN — and those extra steps were due to the iPhone itself rather than TunnelBear.
Simplicity is great, and TunnelBear does it well; it's a worthy competitor to other VPNs that put simplicity first, such as Cyberghost, which we reviewed recently as well. but I have things I want to get done with a VPN, and you probably do, too. If you are a cord cutter you probably want to stream some content. Unfortunately, not all streaming services tolerate VPNs — many detect VPN users and block them from streaming, because VPNs can allow streamers to circumvent content restrictions. If you don’t want to have to choose between your security and your entertainment, it’s important to know that a VPN will work with popular streaming services.
I tested TunnelBear with Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. Netflix and Disney+ allowed streaming with no issues — although I wasn’t able to get access to any non-US Netflix content, which is something you should keep in mind if you’re planning to use a VPN for something slightly more mischievous than data security. Amazon Prime Video would not let me stream while running the TunnelBear VPN. Experts on other sites have also found compatibility issues with Amazon Prime Video — and some have also suggested that Netflix may also not always work with TunnelBear, though that wasn’t my experience. (This could always change, of course — Netflix could identify new IP addresses to block, TunnelBear could switch servers, and so on. It’s also not an all-or-nothing thing, and it’s possible that Netflix could identify and block some TunnelBear servers while leaving others unchecked.)
A major limitation of TunnelBear is that it only has 23 geographic locations to choose from. Three of these are in North America, three are in Asia, and two are in Australia and New Zealand. The rest are in Europe. This limited pool of options is a primary reason that streaming services and anyone else looking to block VPN networks have such an easy time preventing TunnelBear access.
Another common reason for VPNs is torrenting. TunnelBear used to prevent all torrenting and other P2P file sharing. That changed just recently, and torrenting is now wholly supported by their service. You should have no issues torrenting with TunnelBear.
TunnelBear, as I mentioned before, doesn’t have much in the way of additional features. Split tunneling — the ability to have some apps connect through the VPN and not others — is only available for the Android app at this time of this writing. If you want to have just your browser connected to the VPN and keep your other apps on your standard network, though, you can use the plugin available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
TunnelBear uses the industry-standard OpenVPN protocol and a 256-bit AES encryption. I won’t get into the technical details of what this means, but you should know that it’s an excellent level of encryption and security. Incidentally, 256-bit AES is the same encryption that the United States uses for top-secret information.
In my view, privacy protection is a bit of a mixed bag with TunnelBear. On the one hand, they are audited annually by an independent security organization, making their no-logging policy one of the most believable in the industry. This means that they don’t keep most user data on file.
However, TunnelBear is located in Canada, one of the founding members of the Five Eyes international surveillance alliance. Five Eyes – aside from sounding like an organization from a dystopian novel – matters because Five Eyes countries can force VPNs to hand over user data upon request. When it comes to privacy concerns, I consider that a major red flag.
Speaking of security and privacy, one of the few customizations that TunnelBear does offer, VigliantBear, is one that I highly recommend activating. It provides a “kill switch” feature that prevents your computer from sending data across the network if TunnelBear disconnects for whatever reason. There’s nothing worse than thinking you are protected by a bear only to find that it is hibernating on the job. The only other setting in the security menu, Ghostbear, is intended only for certain restrictive networks, so you may not get much use out of it.
VPNs re-route your internet traffic, and taking the long route can really slow you down. To see how fast TunnelBear could be, I used Ookla’s Speedtest. I took measurements for both the server that TunnelBear chose as my fastest option (United States) and a randomly-chosen alternative (Romania). I found the results pretty mediocre. When connected to what TunnelBear said was the fastest server option, my download speeds dropped from my usual 70 Mbps to about 25 Mbps. This speed didn’t change much when I switched countries. My upload speeds dropped from 53 Mbps to 20 Mbps when using the fastest server. Surprisingly, the Romania VPN upload speeds were comparable to my non-VPN speed, which does call into question how good a job TunnelBear does at picking your fastest VPN option.
All VPNs will slow you down a little bit, and these speeds were not bad enough to stop me from using the VPN, but they were noticeably slow while streaming or browsing content-heavy sites.
TunnelBear supports all of the common mobile device platforms (iOS, Android) and as well as both PC and Mac desktop and laptop computers. Aside from their limited support of Linux, that is the end of the list. If you are looking for a VPN for your computer or phone, I think you’ll find that TunnelBear is all you need. However, if you want a VPN for your smart TV or streaming device, you’ll be disappointed.
With TunnelBear’s monthly plan, you’ll be paying $9.99 per month. That puts them on the cheaper end of the VPN pricing spectrum for monthly plans. However, their annual and multi-year pricing options – although certainly competitive – do not stand out above the crowd. The annual plan will cost you $59.88 per year ($4.99 per month), and the 3-year plan is $120 ($3.33 per month). These are decent discounts, but I’ve seen better from other leading VPN providers.
Each of TunnelBear’s pricing plans can secure up to five devices at once. This is reasonable, especially given their device coverage. Other VPN services offer to secure up to seven devices at once, so if you can’t count your devices on a single hand (or bear paw) that will limit the value of TunnelBear.
TunnelBear is all about the “bear” necessities. If you are a novice VPN user, the level of security that TunnelBear offers, combined with its ease of use, make it a very compelling option. But if you need more speed, more devices, and more features, TunnelBear can’t bear that responsibility. (It does bring the cutest mascot in the VPN world to the table, though — with apologies to the HMA donkey.)
I’d strongly recommend TunnelBear to anyone looking for a simple “set it and forget it” VPN. This is a great way to get a straightforward server that will keep you significantly safer online. Just about everyone can benefit from using a VPN, and TunnelBear makes it easy for anyone to do. If you’re a tech-savvy internet power user, however, I think you’ll be frustrated by TunnelBear’s lack of advanced features and settings.
If you aren’t sure whether TunnelBear is right for you, the free trial offers a great opportunity to try it out for yourself. With the Twitter deal to expand the free data to 1.5 GB per month, you’ll have just enough time to figure out whether TunnelBear provides the speed and features you need in a VPN.