TunnelBear has received a lot of hype in recent years; Wirecutter was named the best virtual private network by 2020 by the New York Times, was ranked No. 6 by U.S. News & World Report earlier this year, and was also favored by PC Magazine and TechRadar. But after spending a year under the hood of a VPN competitor, I’m not excited to take another look at TunnelBear.
TunnelBear speed is reasonable. Yes, like some of its competitors, it offers annual transparency reports and is independently audited. But it’s also a Canadian company owned by McAfee in the US. So if you’re looking for that cited international data protection, you’re playing with fire. It maintains just 23 server locations, from which you can’t even manually select a server or city. It offers no Tor-over-VPN, only split tunnels on Android, and it can’t even unblock Netflix.
I know it can’t be the price that makes it so attractive. The least expensive TunnelBear package costs $120 for a three-year subscription for five connected devices. Meanwhile, competitor Surfshark costs half as much, is $60 for a two-year subscription, is better than TunnelBear in every way, including privacy and features, is also independently audited and allows unlimited connected devices.
TunnelBear has some great features, such as
- Anonymous IP
- Kill switch (warning bear)
- 5 simultaneous connections
Some websites block traffic that appears to be coming from a VPN. This is annoying and a constant battle for supremacy between VPN providers and these sites.
For example, I have found that TunnelBear’s GhostBear feature does its best to hide the fact that you are using a VPN. This has fooled some companies and governments, but not all.
Before using GhostBear, you should check if you can connect to the website you want via a normal TunnelBear connection. If that doesn’t work, you can try GhostBeart. Hiding the use of a VPN slows down the connection a bit, so I wouldn’t recommend leaving it on all the time.
Speed and Stability Test
Speeds are abysmal, barely exceeding what might be considered a minimum for broadband speeds (U.S. speeds are consistently around 25 Mbps, and international servers are slow and unstable — servers in the U.K. and Hong Kong don’t even pass beta.speedtest.net or fast.com security tests. (All tests were done with AES-256 UDP). I was not very impressed. Since I was using a “free” account, I double-checked in the account portal that this was not simply caused by running out of free data from other speed tests. (This is not the case, the data is still available in the trial version). Please note that I had problems with the UK and Hong Kong servers, as most tests stopped working.
Speed Test – TunnelBear
TunnelBear accepts a limited number of payment methods, including credit and debit cards, Bitcoin, and BitCash.
The option to pay with anonymous cryptocurrency is nice. However, you can’t pay with PayPal, which is unusual for VPN providers. You also can’t use other international methods, such as AliPay or UnionPay.
If you opt for a paid subscription, there is no refund or money-back guarantee. Instead, users are instructed to use the free version to try out the software before purchasing.
Overall, TunnelBear is reasonably priced for a basic VPN Service. Given the lack of features, it is a bit expensive compared to the competition and the payment system could be improved.
The more server locations a service has, the greater the chances of faking your location, and multiple locations also means that if you’re traveling abroad, you’re more likely to find a server nearby that can be faster and more reliable than a remote server.
TunnelBear only offers servers in 27 countries, which is about half the average of the VPNs we tested. The collection covers the basics and has been expanded to include more parts of South America, but it could be improved. TunnelBear’s offering completely ignores Africa and the Middle East – an omission that is not uncommon for VPN companies. The company has no presence in regions with repressive Internet policies and has moved its servers out of Hong Kong.
At last count, TunnelBear had about 3,000 servers worldwide. It’s a powerful product and a dramatic expansion from the company’s humble beginnings. Currently, CyberGhost leads the pack with over 6,500 servers. More servers means you’re more likely to find a server that meets your needs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean better performance.
Not all servers are created equal. Virtual servers are software-defined servers, which means that a single physical server can run multiple virtual servers. A virtual site is a server configured to appear in a different location than its physical site. Neither is problematic in and of itself, as a server can be in a secure location while providing coverage for nearby non-secure locations. Where it becomes problematic is when companies are not transparent about where the data is going.
TunnelBear says it has dedicated servers at all of its sites and uses only virtual servers to handle unexpected demands. The company says less than 20 percent of its servers are virtual. Importantly, those virtual servers are located in the countries they claim to be. By using TunnelBear, you can ensure that your data is where it needs to be.
TunnelBear for Android, iOS, Chrome
The Android version is the most powerful. In addition to the capabilities offered on Windows and Mac, the Android app has the SplitBear function (Split tunneling), which enables you to decide which apps should not be tunneled.
TunnelBear has also passed a rigorous real-world security test.
TunnelBear for Android is really simple to use.
The software is excellent for free usage and offers adequate features in its premium edition.
It does not support Netflix or Hulu, and its speed is variable and might be poor, much as its counterparts for the other platforms. Another disadvantage is that you cannot select servers inside a nation.
TunnelBear for iOS
The iOS version, on the other hand, is the most basic. It does not even support OpenVPN.
TunnelBear for iPhone and iPad features include:
- Native IKEv2 protocol support for iOS
- There are 23 sites in 23 nations
- There is no kill switch
- There are no VPN connection settings
To put it simply, TunnelBear for iOS is a simple VPN with a basic tunneling protocol and a limited selection of countries.
It is available for download through the Apple App Store.
TunnelBear for Chrome
TunnelBear also provides browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, in addition to VPN applications.
These proxy extensions provide extremely basic functionality. They are not significantly different from the overwhelming majority of other VPN addons. The only significant difference is that these ones lack a WebRTC block setting.
TunnelBear for Chrome allows you to access websites via proxy servers in 23 different locations.
TunnelBear can be used on various platforms
Unfortunately, TunnelBear does not support routers, gaming consoles, televisions, Kodi, or other platforms.
In general, a VPN service that employs OpenVPN without providing manual settings for this protocol is of medium or bad quality.
TunnelBear might be considered a top-tier VPN, but in our opinion, it is a product that prioritizes marketing over technology. As a result, it does not support less common platforms like Linux.
Torrent and VOD
While many VPN services allow access to popular streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, or Amazon Prime Video, TunnelBear does not seem to. In fact, not only are these features not mentioned on the website, but our own tests confirmed this. The only geo-restricted content we were able to view with TunnelBear was on the US-only YouTube channel.
While P2P is only mentioned once on the entire site, TunnelBear supports torrenting on all of its servers. Some sites are better than others, and you can ask the always-friendly customer support for recommendations.
TunnelBear is very easy to use and perfect for VPN beginners. Downloads are fast, easy, and cute (not many VPNs can claim the latter).
You simply scroll to the one you choose and click/tap to connect. Alternatively, in the desktop interface, you can select “Auto” from the drop-down list and TunnelBear tunnels to the nearest or fastest available server. As you can see, both interfaces are very easy to use and understand. The connection graphics are charming, and in the mobile app, Bear buzzes as soon as it connects to the server.
OpenVPN is also implemented by TunnelBear for Windows, Mac and Android devices – a note of caution for those using other preferred protocols. For iOS devices, use Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) or Internet Protocol Security (IPsec).
TunnelBear is not consistent in bypassing Netflix VPN blocking. On a good day, you can access Netflix in the US, but if Netflix is your priority, we don’t recommend using TunnelBear.
DNS Leakage Test
IP and DNS leaks were tested with ipleak.net. Fortunately, we were able to confirm that no leaks were found with TunnelBear. Even better, we did not find any IP leaks for either IPv4 or IPv6.
However, we did find WebRTC leaks when using IPv6 on Windows and Mac. This means that if you want to use this VPN safely, you need to disable WebRTC in your browser (or use the WebRTC blocking extension). Alternatively, you can disable IPv6 connectivity on the device.
TunnelBear offers email support, but there is no live chat or phone support. When you send a help request via email, TunnelBear asks a series of questions to help manage the information, and you usually receive a response within 24 hours.
Self-service resources include a knowledge base with information on initial setup, troubleshooting, billing and payments. TunnelBear’s blog frequently posts about various product features, tutorials, and general anti-censorship news.
Installation and Usage
TunnelBear has apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. There are also browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. It can also be configured on other platforms, including routers and Linux.
The app is very easy to use. If you are a VPN beginner, you should be happy with the app. The user interface is friendly and graphically appealing. The speed is sufficient for streaming video content and games.
If you don’t want to install the app, you can use a browser extension instead. Note, however, that when you use a browser extension, your entire session is not protected. The extension only covers pages that are accessed through the browser.
TunnelBear will not be able to unlock Netflix. It will also not be able to use torrent, as it does not allow P2P. So, if you are a movie or TV fan, this VPN probably won’t give you many options.
But the good news is that it can bypass China’s geographical restrictions, something that not many VPN providers can do.
Security and Protocol
One of the most important considerations when choosing a VPN company is security. This TunnelBear review investigates the VPN’s security and protocols to evaluate whether or not it is sufficiently secure.
TunnelBear encrypts data with 256-bit AES and authenticates it with SHA256. Let us take a deeper look at its safety:
The VPN employs a powerful AES algorithm (Advanced Encryption Standard). The best encryption is 256-bit AES. It is safe, quick, and does not require a lot of processing resources. AES-256 is even utilized by government organizations, proving that TunnelBear encryption is the finest available from a VPN.
SHA (Secure Hash Algorithm) creates a “hash” of unique characters that may be compared in order to validate keys and passwords. To improve privacy and security, this is done instead of sending sensitive data in plain text.
The combination of 256-bit AES and SHA256 provides enough protection for people to access the internet without jeopardizing their privacy or security.
Let us now discuss internet protocols. The level of security provided by a VPN is determined on the protocol it employs. TunnelBear employs KEv2/IPSec on iOS, OpenVPN on Android and Mac, and KEv2/OpenVPN on Windows, suggesting that TunnelBear security is extremely efficient.
OpenVPN is an open-source technology that is used to encrypt internet traffic tunnels. It is also recognized as the gold standard for VPN protocols since it provides an excellent mix of security and speed.
OpenVPN uses the OpenSSL library to provide 256-bit AES encryption, as well as additional capabilities that may be set using other protocols such as SSTP, IPSec/IKEv2, L2TP, PPTP, and others.
One of the most widely used VPN protocols is IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange version 2). It aids in the automated re-establishment of the VPN connection after you disconnect. It comes in handy while moving between mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi connections.
IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) is a collection of protocols used to securely transmit data over the internet. These protocols are capable of encrypting and authenticating data packets while they are sent. In addition, IPSec is utilized in a variety of algorithms and ciphers.
Dedicated gamers know how important a fast and stable connection is when they play online – unreliable or slow connections can cause terrible lag that can ruin the gaming experience.
While this service can reach speeds that make gaming reliable, it can significantly increase ping, which can cause problems – but when we tested Tunnelbear, we were able to play some games without any major issues.
How to Cancel TunnelBear
The step-by-step instructions for canceling depend on how you pay for your VPN service. Note that with many mobile app stores, subscriptions usually renew automatically if you don’t cancel them directly in the app store. Unlike most VPN services in our comparison, TunnelBear does not have a money-back guarantee, but will consider refunds if you contact customer support.
- Here’s how to cancel if you paid with a credit card: Log in to TunnelBear, click on your account and select the Overview tab, where you have the option to change or cancel your subscription. Once you complete the cancellation steps, you will receive a confirmation email.
- To cancel via iTunes: Open the Settings app on your device, click your name, and then click Subscriptions. Tap the subscription you want to manage, and then tap Cancel Subscriptions.
- Cancel via GooglePlay: Go to the Google Play Store and make sure you’re signed in with the correct Google account. Click My Subscriptions and select the subscription you want to cancel.
- What do you need to know about refunds? If you would like to request a refund, please contact customer service directly.
If you like TunnelBear, it is the right VPN for you
- No data logging: TunnelBear is one of the few VPNs that has been audited by a third party.
- Free version: You can get 500 MB per month to try TunnelBear and see if you like it.
- Excellent app rating: With an average rating of 4.5 stars, TunnelBear should do well on mobile devices.
However, if any of the following is a dealbreaker, you should avoid it
- Five Eyes countries: Canada or other Five Eyes partner countries may force TunnelBear to hand over your data (although this doesn’t matter due to TunnelBear’s no-logging policy)
- Netflix: Don’t expect TunnelBear to be able to get around Netflix’s geographic restrictions
- Lack of customer support: No phone or live chat support
Frequently Asked Questions
Does TunnelBear VPN work well?
I think TunnelBear is a good VPN, but there are some drawbacks as it does not work with Netflix and it is based in Canada, a country that is part of the Five Eyes International Surveillance Consortium. You can try TunnelBear for yourself and get 500MB per month for free.
What can TunnelBear VPN be used for?
TunnelBear allows you to protect your privacy and encrypt your web traffic and torrent files. Unfortunately, TunnelBear does not work with Netflix.
How does TunnelBear VPN compare to similar services?
TunnelBear VPN is a simple VPN product that is affordable and easy to use, but not as feature-rich as some of its competitors.
What kind of support can I expect?
TunnelBear offers email support, but no live chat or phone support. The knowledge base is the main self-service resource, and TunnelBear’s blog has articles on the latest product news and tutorials.
Does TunnelBear VPN allow torrenting?
Yes, TunnelBear VPN allows torrenting, as the VPN supports P2P connections, which protects your device from unwanted threats. So, with TunnelBear VPN, you can easily torrent without having to accept any restrictions. If you are looking for a VPN software for torrenting, this is the right choice for you.
Can TunnelBear Unblock Netflix?
There are many people who want to access Netflix and other streaming sites via a VPN. And if you are one of them, TunnelBear is not a good option because VPN cannot unblock Netflix. You will face several issues while unlocking Netflix and any other streaming site. It can only unlock HBO GO. If you ask me, I don’t think this is the right choice for streaming. So if you want a VPN that streams best, then this is not the right choice.
Pros and Cons
- Protect 1 device with a monthly allotment of 500Mb + earn extra data
- 51Mbs download speeds throughout our tests
- Connect to one of 23 global server locations
- A kill switch, DNS leak prevention, and 256-bit AES encryption are all included
- Torrenting is allowed on all VPN servers
- No credit card or payment information is required to join up
- The monthly allotment of 500Mb is quite low when compared to other providers
- Does not function with Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Disney+
- There is no live chat assistance
If you’re new to the VPN world, TunnelBear is a great place to start. It’s intuitive, simple, and mostly reliable. It’s definitely in the affordable category, and the free plan is a great, no-obligation way to test out the service. Privacy policies are transparent, and security is watertight with OpenVPN and 256-bit encryption. However, the speed is highly dependent on the distance to the server, but a free trial can help clear any doubts. Hopefully they can fix the DNS leak problem, as it is a serious issue if you need anonymity.