TunnelBear review 2021: Enticing free version and paid plans, but is this VPN worth it?
TunnelBear is a popular Canadian-based VPN service. Its branding team has done a great job, and it is hard not to recognize the VPN. But is it genuinely an excellent VPN service? We’ll find that out in this detailed TunnelBear review.
One of TunnelBear’s most popular offerings is the free plan, although it comes with limitations. However, you can easily upgrade to the paid plans to get the best out of the service. Besides, it uses advanced security features to safeguard your online connections and data. In this TunnelBear review, we’ll look at what the VPN offers and how it compares to other VPNs.
Short on time? Here are our TunnelBear key findings
These are some of the things we found out when conducting our unbiased review of TunnelBear:
- Robust security to protect your identity: TunnelBear uses military-grade encryption alongside other necessary security features like GhostBear, VigilantBear, TCP override, etc.
- Unblocks streaming sites: The VPN bypasses restrictions of primary streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and more. However, it is unable to unblock Disney+ and ESPN.
- Good speed: Local or nearby servers offer incredible speeds to handle any task, including browsing, streaming, and torrenting. Connecting to international servers will reduce your speed to a crawl to stream or download torrents.
- Easy to use apps: The installation process is simple, while the apps are straightforward to use.
TunnelBear pros and cons
Before delving into the details of this TunnelBear VPN service review, let us first look at its pros and cons quickly.
What we like
- Free version – TunnelBear offers a free plan, although it is constrained.
- It does not keep logs – Many VPNs claim to have a zero-logs policy to lure customers. However, TunnelBear’s logging practices are audited annually by a reputable firm.
- Excellent rating across the web – Many TunnelBear reviews out there give the provider an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
What we don’t like
- Jurisdiction – TunnelBear is based in Canada, a member of the 14-Eye countries.
- Unreliable customer support – If you encounter an issue with the VPN, it can be a hassle to get help.
TunnelBear background information
TunnelBear is headquartered in Toronto, Canada, which is not an ideal place to run a VPN company. That is because it is a member of the 14-Eyes Alliance, a group of countries that share intelligence information. Furthermore, government agencies in these countries force companies to retain and hand over users’ data. Don’t disregard TunnelBear yet, as it follows a strict no-logging policy, as we have discussed below.
Currently, it boasts servers in 25 countries worldwide. The speed you get will depend on the distance between you and the server, with nearby servers providing better speeds. TunnelBear is a great tool to protect your privacy, hide your IP address, and bypass internet censorship.
TunnelBear main features
|Servers||2,600 servers in 34 countries|
|Encryption||AES 256-bit encryption|
|Simultaneous connections||5 devices|
|Leak protection||Kill switch, DNS/IPv6|
|Money-back guarantee||Case-by-case basis|
Essentially, TunnelBear works like other VPNs by creating encrypted channels to protect your internet traffic. As a result, your internet service provider (ISP) and other third parties will not see what you are doing. Besides, it will mask your IP address so no one can track your location.
The VPN provides great speeds but only if you connect to the correct servers. We performed several tests to see whether the server distance affects the speed. Our test involved three main metrics:
- Ping/latency – This is the time it takes to get a response from the website or app you are visiting. Low ping is desirable, especially for online gaming.
- Download speed – Indicates the time it takes to download files from the internet to the device you are using.
- Upload speed – This shows the speed you need to send files from your device to the internet, such as images, messages, and video files.
TunnelBear will provide you with fast and consistent speed if you connect to local or nearby servers. We started by connecting to the server manually, where we got download speeds of 30.43 Mbps, 29.37Mbps upload speeds, and ping of 26m/s.
For the second test, we used its Fastest Tunnel feature to connect to the best server available as per the system. Our download and upload speeds dropped slightly while the ping rate improved significantly. We were able to stream videos, play games, and load websites without any issues.
|Download speed||Upload speed||Ping|
|Average speed before connecting TunnelBear||36.84 Mbps||35.67 Mbps||9m/s|
|Speeds after connecting to a nearby server manually||30.43 Mbps||29.37 Mbps||15/s|
|Speeds when using the Fastest Tunnel feature||28.57 Mbps||27.05 Mbps||5m/s|
As you can see, local servers provide more steady speeds. It is normal for your internet speed to reduce when using a VPN. This is because your connection is encrypted and routed through remote servers. However, the drop in your speed will be barely noticeable with local servers.
Servers far from your location are slow because your traffic has to travel a longer distance. This makes it almost impossible to do data-intensive activities like streaming, torrenting, and gaming. We tried with a US server where download speeds dropped to only 3Mbps, and ping increased to 112m/s.
|Download speed||Upload speed||Ping|
|Speed without a VPN||36.84 Mbps||35.67 Mbps||9m/s|
|Speeds when connected to US servers||2.01 Mbps (95% drop)||11.95 Mbps||158ms|
The drop in our speed was unbelievable, an indication that distance affects this VPN’s speed more than some others like ExpressVPN and Surfshark. With 2.01 Mbps, even loading web pages was difficult. We tried changing the protocol, but the speed couldn’t improve.
We used German servers for the second test, which is relatively close to our UK location. The download and upload speeds also dropped to 12.34Mbps and 15.50 Mbps, respectively. On the other hand, the ping dropped to 45m/s. Albeit a lot of buffering and lagging, we managed to watch videos online.
|Download speed||Upload speed||Ping|
|Speed when connected to UK servers||30.43Mbps||29.37Mbps||15m/s|
|Speed when connected to German servers||12.34Mbps||15.50Mbps||45m/s|
While local servers provide speedy and constant speeds, the international ones are slow with a high ping rate. This means you cannot stream, let alone surf the internet. The significant drop in speed with remote servers means TunnelBear may not be the ideal option to stream abroad content.
TunnelBear VPN streaming capabilities
Does TunnelBear work with Netflix? Yes, somewhat (not all its server work with Netflix). The VPN allows unblocking Netflix alongside other popular streaming platforms such as HBO Max, Oxygen TV, Hulu, etc. It uses the GhostBear feature (stealth mode) to bypass geo-restrictions easily. However, because it adds an extra encryption layer, it may slow down your connection. As a result, your streaming experience maybe not that good.
We ran several tests to see whether TunnelBear is an ideal streaming option. We started with US servers on our first test, where Peacock TV and HBO Max are the only streaming services we could unblock. Other popular streaming services such as Netflix, and ESPN+, and Disney+ identified our connection and blocked our access.
For the second test, we activated the GhostBear feature to mask our VPN activities. Services that had previously blocked our connection, such as Disney+, worked flawlessly. However, the speed was terrible, and we couldn’t stream anything. All in all, it’s not a suitable VPN for streaming.
Does TunnelBear allow torrenting?
TunnelBear supports P2P sharing on all its servers. Unlike its close competitors like CyberGhost, the service does not offer specialized torrenting servers. We used the quick connect feature to get the fastest server that can sustain torrenting activities. The speed was superb, and we successfully downloaded multiple torrent files during our tests.
We also tried torrenting with US and Germany servers. Although they support torrenting, the speeds were too slow to download even a single file. This is an indication that TunnelBear is a VPN suitable for torrenting only when using local servers.
TunnelBear server network
The VPN provider has a relatively decent network with 2600 servers in over 33 countries. Even though the server network is relatively small compared to top brands like NordVPN, it is safe and secure. The provider has committed to conducting annual audits since 2017 to maintain transparency.
Closet tunnel feature
Closet Tunnel is TunnelBear’s Quick Connect version that will connect you to the fastest server. It will pop up at the beginning when you open the server list. You will only need to tap on it to connect to a server automatically. Before you start browsing the internet, ensure the VPN connection is secured.
This feature allows you to instruct the VPN to connect to particular networks that you trust. Alternatively, you can make TunnelBear connect to all networks. There is also an option to list the networks that the VPN shouldn’t connect to.
The Trusted Networks is a valuable security feature that will ensure your connections are safe whenever you go. It will encrypt your traffic on every network you list as unsafe, hence safeguarding your data.
Is TunnelBear safe? It provides impressive security features to keep you safe online. We tested the DNS/IP leak protection and killed the switch, and analyzed connection protocols and encryption. Even though the list may not be expansive like with other VPNs, TunnelBear is still secure.
TunnelBear calls its kill switch ‘VigilantBear,’ and like other VPNs, it will protect your traffic if the VPN connection gets compromised. This will ensure your data won’t fall into the wrong hands.
Given the fact that hackers keep getting smarter every day, anything can happen even with the best VPN service. Without a kill switch, a momentary outage could potentially expose your data and identity to all and sundry. However, you will be safe all the time provided the VigilantBear feature is active.
Encryption and protocols
The provider uses military-grade AES 256-bit encryption to protect your data and connections. It reinforces the encryption with SHA-256 authentication that sends cryptographic keys over public networks. This is the same technology many governments use to secure their data.
When it comes to protocol, TunnelBear provides:
- OpenVPN – This is the most common protocol in the industry. It is open-source, so developers are improving it continuously to make it safe and reliable. The protocol hides in plain sight, making it impossible to detect it, unlike other available protocols. Moreover, it can use any port on UDP or TCP connections, enabling you to bypass firewalls easily.
- IKEv2 – Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) takes care of request-and-response actions. It is useful when switching between mobile data and Wi-Fi. However, TunnelBear offers it only on iOS and Windows devices.
Some VPNs such as NordVPN allow you to choose the most optimal protocol depending on your connection. However, TunnelBear selects the protocol automatically, and there is no way you can switch between the protocols. Note that macOS and Android devices only have the OpenVPN option.
GhostBear functions similarly to the Stealth Mode to hide your VPN traffic. This will enable you to get past firewalls, including the Chinese Great Firewall. However, when we activated the feature, our connection slowed slightly. Nonetheless, this is normal as the obfuscation process takes time.
TunnelBear offers the feature on Android, macOS, and Windows apps. You can activate it in the security settings to circumvent restrictions in your school, workplace, or when you travel abroad. Sadly, it is not available on the iOS app since it only uses the IKEv2 protocol.
TunnelBear dubs its split tunneling feature as ‘SplitBear’. It is only available on the Android app and will allow you to run traffic through an encrypted tunnel and an ISP server simultaneously. For example, you can stream Netflix on the local network and surf the web with a VPN. Go to your options menu to activate it and select the apps you’d like to encrypt.
TCP override is another incredible TunnelBear security feature. If your connection becomes unstable, it will force your traffic to route through OpenVPN TCP rather than UDP connection. Although the TCP option is a bit slower, it is more secure.
DNS/IPv6 leak protection
TunnelBear provides DNS and IPv6 leak protection on all its apps. Even when the VPN is functioning perfectly, your DNS request can mistakenly route through your ISP servers. This can easily reveal your activities and IP address.
TunnelBear uses DNS servers and cuts IPv6 traffic to prevent this from happening. Fortunately, these options by default, so you’ll remain safe all the time. We tested several servers and didn’t encounter any leaks.
TunnelBear is a truly no-logs policy VPN. It does not retain data while the ad blocker and Always–on feature work efficiently.
TunnelBear is registered in Toronto, Canada, which cooperates with other countries to share intelligence data. Worsening the matter more, McAfee bought it in 2018, so technically the company is also under US jurisdiction.
The good news is that the provider only keeps logs of basic information and not anything that can identify you. So, even it is forced to hand over your data, there isn’t much to share except your email address. This cannot be used to track your location or trace your online activities.
- General account information – When opening a TunnelBear account, you will be required to provide an email account. The provider keeps the email and uses it to send account confirmation, news, promotional material, product receipts, etc. It is not an isolated case, as many VPNs keep this data.
- Diagnostic data – TunnelBear saves data such as usage, activity status, OS, and client version when you connect to the network. The provider uses the information to improve its services and products and to run the network more efficiently. This data is unidentifiable and is pretty standard in the industry.
- Payment information – If you purchase TunnelBear plans with a credit card, it will keep information such as the last four digits of the card, name on the card, and date used. Again, this is common and helps to prevent fraud.
During our extensive TunnelBear review, we found the provider seems to be not infringing your privacy by retaining any data. The information it keeps is standard practice with many VPN services today. Besides, as we have mentioned above, it does not keep any identifiable information. What’s more, logging practices are audited annually by Cure53, a reputable Cybersecurity firm.
Many VPNs have ad blockers that are either inferior or don’t function at all. However, TunnelBear’s ad blocker is very effective. We tested it on sites usually filled with ads like YouTube, Bloomberg, Forbes, among many others — and it blocked all of the popups.
This is a remarkable TunnelBear privacy feature. It allows you to set the VPN to launch automatically. Turn it on from the general settings, and the VPN connection will establish every time you start using your device. The feature is beneficial if you use public Wi-Fi hotspots frequently. However, sometimes it failed to launch during our testing. So, you have to check it to be sure it is activated if you want to maintain your privacy.
Will TunnelBear work in China?
TunnelBear is in the elite class of VPNs that can dodge the Great Firewall of China. Its GhostBear feature uses obfuscation technology to obscure VPN connections, making it look like regular HTTPS traffic.
That means the internet service provider (ISP) won’t see that you are using a VPN. However, you have to download the TunnelBear app before getting into China. Unfortunately, TunnelBear reviews on Reddit claim it does not work efficiently in the country.
TunnelBear device compatibility
The VPN provides native apps for all major operating systems, including Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. Besides, it allows you to connect five simultaneous connections under a single subscription.
You’ll also get Firefox, Opera, and Chrome browser extensions. On the downside, it is not compatible with routers. This means you won’t be able to protect devices that don’t work with VPNs like PS4 consoles and smart TVs.
A VPN with user-friendly apps is appealing. TunneBear’s Android and iOS apps are effortless to use and navigate. For example, connecting to the servers is a click away. Just tap on the honey jar on the map, and it will connect you instantly.
Likewise, macOS and Windows apps are also easy to use. They come with useful features such as VigilantBear, GhostBear, Always-On, Closest Tunnel, Trusted Networks, TCP override, and more. However, the SplitBear feature (split tunneling) is missing as it is only available on the Android app.
You will have to open and click on a location on the map to connect to a server. This is incredibly easy compared to other VPNs. Sometimes the VPN connection may fail to initiate, so be on the lookout before connecting to the internet.
Apart from the desktop and mobile apps, TunnelBear also boasts browser extensions for Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. They only encrypt the browser traffic leaving apps traffic on the local network. Launch the extension and connect a server to protect your traffic. Remarkably, they are safe and don’t have DNS leaks.
TunnelBear setup and installation
Getting started with TunnelBear is a simple procedure and you’ll only take less than 5 minutes to complete the whole process.
Below you go with three easy steps on how to install TunnelBear:
- Head to TunnelBear’s official website to create an account. Choose your desired plan and pay.
- Download and install the app appropriate to the device you are using.
- On the dashboard, connect to a server from any location you like (connecting to a nearby server gives the best possible speed).
The pricing system is forthright. It starts with a free plan that is highly limited to encourage you to upgrade to the paid plans. For example, it caps data to 500Mbs per month, which is not sufficient to stream even a movie. While on the free plan, the speeds are also horrible, and you will access only a few servers.
For the paid options, you can choose between the unlimited package at $3.33 or the Teams plan at $5.75. Unlike the free version, you will access more features such as unlimited secure browsing, 5 devices, and priority customer service. The Teams plan also includes a dedicated account manager and centralized team billing and management. It supports Visa, American Express, MasterCard credit cards, and Bitcoin payment methods.
TunnelBear has a unique money-back guarantee policy. If the service does not meet your needs for whatsoever reason, you can request a refund. However, according to the terms of service, it reviews all requests and issues refunds on a case-by-case basis, unlike industry leaders like ExpressVPN that offer a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.
TunnelBear customer support
The Help Center section contains categories such as announcements, getting to know your bear, accounts, and TunnelBear for Teams.
In particular, the troubleshooting category has quick solutions to common problems. We were disappointed to find out that it does not offer a live chat option like its competitors. The only way to get in touch with customer support is through email. Fortunately, we got our response within 24hours.
TunnelBear comparison: Does it perform better than its competitors?
The table below shows a comparison between TunnelBear and NordVPN, a well-established and popular VPN service.
|Our speed rating||#15||#2|
|Server network||2,600 servers in 33+ countries||5,500+ servers in 59 countries|
|Encryption||AES 256-bit||AES 256-bit|
|Streaming||Blocked by some streaming sites||Unblocks all streaming sites|
|Simultaneous connections||5 devices||6 devices|
|Money-back guarantee||Case-by-case basis||30 days|
|Split tunneling||For Android only||Both desktop and mobile apps|
|Kill switch||All apps||All apps except iOS|
Overall, in this TunnelBear extensive review, we can conclude it is a dependable VPN service considering the price being asked.
It offers all the essential VPN features to maintain your online security and privacy. Nearby servers provide incredible speeds, and the VPN can apparently bypass the Great Firewall of China. The VPN service provider has a few cons include the inability to unblock some streaming sites and slow speeds on international servers, though. Nonetheless, it offers a free version, and its plans are affordable as per the market.