TunnelBear Review 2019

BEST FOR: Beginner VPN users looking for privacy and security

  • Automatic kill switch
  • Zero logs policy
  • Strong OpenVPN encryption
  • Easy-to-use software
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TunnelBear Overview

Joel Timothy

Last updated: 14 April 2019

Started in 2011, TunnelBear is a VPN service based in Toronto, Canada. In the 8 years of its existence, the provider has gained the trust of VPN users around the world, and we can say that TunnelBear does well at delivering its promise of “the fastest, simplest way to protect your online privacy.” The VPN is geared towards users who have little to no knowledge of VPNs and how to use them, which is why it only offers basic features. The TunnelBear brand has a quirky sense of humor that users will get a kick out of.

Pros

What we liked

  • Zero logs policy
  • Easy to use
  • Works with Netflix
  • Stealth technology
  • Kill switch
  • 5 simultaneous connections
  • Browser extension (Chrome, Firefox & Opera)

Cons

What can be improved

  • Poor customer support
  • No P2P
  • Based in Canada

Security & Privacy

Privacy

TunnelBear is located in Toronto, Canada. Canada is one of the “Five Eyes” countries, making it a bad location for a VPN service. The country has various laws that undermine user privacy, like the US, and digital privacy in Canada can’t be guaranteed unless a VPN service offers a strict zero logs policy.

TunnelBear states that they offer a “fierce no-logging policy.” We checked their privacy policy, and they say that they only keep “minimal logs.” The information that TunnelBear collects includes:

  • Account information
  • Operational data
  • Personal data collected at payment

They state that:

“TunnelBear explicitly does NOT collect, store or log the following data:

  • IP addresses visiting our website
  • IP addresses upon service connection
  • DNS Queries while connected
  • Any information about the applications, services or websites our users use while connected to our Service.”

Without collecting your IP address whenever you connect to the service, TunnelBear can’t identify who you are. They clearly state this in their privacy policy:

“TunnelBear does NOT store users originating IP addresses when connected to our service and thus cannot identify users when provided IP addresses of our servers. Additionally, we cannot disclose information about the applications, services or websites our users consume while connected to our Services; as TunnelBear does NOT store this information.”

This is a solid privacy policy. The fact that TunnelBear does not collect any VPN usage data or your IP address means that what you do using the VPN can’t be linked back to your account. However, for real privacy buffs, the Canadian location (one of the five eyes countries) will make it a non-starter.

Security

TunnelBear has implemented high-security standards to keep its users secure. The VPN service uses a robust 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption with SHA256 authentication. This encryption is used across all platforms apart from iOS 8 and earlier versions, which uses 128-bit AES encryption with SHA-1 for data authentication.

As for protocols, TunnelBear offers 3 options:

  • OpenVPN
  • IKEv2
  • IPSec

OpenVPN is used in the Windows, Mac OS X, and Android clients together with RSA-4096 handshake. iOS 9 and later uses IPSec/ IKEv2 with RSA-2048 handshake while iOS 8 and earlier use IPSec with RSA-1548 bit handshake. TunnelBear does not offer Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), which is an outdated encryption protocol and is currently considered quite insecure. Perfect Forward Secrecy is implemented through the Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange (DHE).

  • IKRv2
  • SSTP
  • OpenVPN

To assure users of their security when using TunnelBear, the VPN recently completed the first consumer VPN industry’s third party, public security audit. You see more details on their website.

Pricing & Payment

TunnelBear offers three plans:

  • Free
  • Monthly
  • Yearly

The free plan is a free vpn service that gives users up to 500 MB of free bandwidth every month. A tip we learned is that you can get an extra 1 GB of bandwidth by tweeting about the company.

Free Plan

$0.00

Per month

Free version to start out

most popular
Monthly Plan

Save
0%%

$9.99

$.

Per month

Year Plan

$5.00

Per month

*Although we make every effort to ensure all prices are accurate, we cannot guarantee thet they are always up to date

To remove the 500 MB limit, you can choose between the monthly and the yearly plan. The former costs $9.99 paid every month, while the former goes for $4.99 a month, paid $59.88 every 12 months.

 

Apart from the three basic plans for private users, TunnelBear has also “TunnelBear for teams.” This is a plan that is meant for groups or businesses that want to secure their team wherever they are. The plan costs $69 per person, billed annually.

Free Trial

Instead of offering a free trial, TunnelBear opted to provide a limited but useful free version for private users. However, TunnelBear for teams provides a 7-day free trial period.

Money-back Guarantee

Since TunnelBear allows you to use a fully featured free version of the VPN, they do not offer a money back guarantee. If you want to commit to a subscription, you should make sure that you a have thoroughly tested the VPN service using the free version.

TunnelBear only allows two forms of payment, credit cards, and Bitcoin. Unfortunately, you can’t pay using jars of honey!

Credit cards
Crypto Currency

Performance

The TunnelBear clients are quite reliable, although we initially had some connection issues with the Windows client after installation. We didn’t experience any disconnections after establishing a VPN connection.

The Windows client takes long to connect (sometimes more than 20 seconds), especially when compared to the Android app that takes only 5 seconds.

Speed Test

To give you an idea how TunnelBear VPN affects your speeds, we did a few speed tests. The first speed test was done without any VPN connection, and it’s only meant to give us a benchmark for the other tests.

TunnelBear

For the first TunnelBear speed test, we connected the VPN to a server near us. Here are our speed test results.

TunnelBear

We then connected to a server far away (Canada) and got the following results.

As you can see, there’s a significant decrease in speeds, especially with the distant server. This is due to the encryption and distance involved, though there are faster VPNs than TunnelBear. However, servers in other countries did perform better in our other tests, and perhaps it was just that the Canada servers were saturated at that time. With the vast user base that the VPN has, increasing the number of servers could help improve the speeds that users get.

This speed test was recently conducted on April 20, 2019.

Servers & Location

TunnelBear has a network of 350+ VPN servers that are spread across 20 countries around the globe. This is a relatively small network compared to most top VPNs.

Though there are few, these servers are well distributed so you can access all major regions. A Premium TunnelBear account can be used across 5 devices simultaneously, and server switches are unlimited. TunnelBear bandwidth is also unlimited with a paid plan. All servers use shared IP addresses.

Features

TunnelBear has a number of features that are meant to boost your privacy and security as well as give you a better VPN experience.

VigilantBear (Kill Switch)

VigilantBear is the VPN’s Kill Switch. It is a vital tool, as it ensures that your data doesn’t leak back to the ISP in case your VPN connection drops. This prevents your identity from being exposed to the ISP and other snooping parties.

GhostBear

This is an obfuscation technology, also referred to as “stealth mode.” It is used by TunnelBear to disguise OpenVPN traffic as normal HTTPS traffic to help you get around firewalls like the Great Firewall of China. GhostBear does this by implementing offproxy. This makes the VPN traffic less detectable by institutions, governments, ISPs, and businesses.

Theoretically, GhostBear can slow down your internet traffic. It is, therefore, recommended that you only use this feature if you actually need it. Otherwise, you can use the regular OpenVPN User Datagram Protocol (UDP) that provides the fastest and secure internet traffic speeds.

Features
Smart DNS
Bypass Netflix
Onion Tow Web Address
Split Tunneling
Stealth Technology/Servers
Allow Torrenting
Automatic Kill Switch
ipv6
Open Ports

Multi-Platform

TunnelBear offers VPN clients for Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac OS X. You can download the official TunnelBear software for these devices before creating an account. In addition to the mentioned platforms, you can use your TunnelBear VPN account on streaming TV boxes and Linux. TunnelBear also offers extensions for both Chrome and Opera.

P2P (File Sharing)

Unfortunately for torrent users, TunnelBear doesn’t support P2P file sharing. This is because it is based in Canada, which has a strict policy against torrenting. If you were looking for a VPN to use for torrenting, you might need to look further than TunnelBear.

TunnelBear Setup & User Interface

The Website

TunnelBear VPN Review

TunnelBear VPN has a well-crafted website that is pretty simple to navigate. Their homepage features just a few things, making it easier and less confusing for non-technical VPN users.

At the bottom of the homepage, you’ll find links that direct you to other crucial areas of the website including the Help section.

Getting Started with TunnelBear

TunnelBear is one of the easiest VPNs to sign up for.

At the homepage of the TunnelBear website is a very obvious Get Started, It’s Free button. When you click this button, the site automatically identifies your operating system and downloads the client.

You can quickly install the TunnelBear client. Installation takes about 2 minutes to complete.

TunnelBear VPN Review

You can then create your free account within the app.

TunnelBear VPN Review

To proceed, you need to verify that the email address is yours, and then the TunnelBear homepage will appear.

If you wish to sign up for TunnelBear Premium directly, you can click Pricing while at the homepage, and then Get Premium.

You will be prompted to log in or create an account. Once you login, you can pay for your desired plan.

TunnelBear VPN Review

Apart from credit cards, you can only pay for your VPN using Bitcoin. The latter is highly advised if you wish to remain anonymous.

TunnelBear Desktop Client

After logging into your desktop client, TunnelBear automatically identifies your VPN location and presents you with a map.

TunnelBear VPN Review

The client has an appealing aesthetic and super easy to use. You can also minimize it to display only the connection option.

TunnelBear VPN Review

To connect to a server, you can open the drop-down list on the top at the left hand side.

TunnelBear VPN Review

You can also identify your preferred country on the map. Unfortunately, this map can’t be zoomed in on, and so selecting a server may be a little cumbersome. The process of connecting is quite entertaining, as TunnelBear doesn’t do anything without a sense of humor behind.

Customizing Options

TunnelBear allows you to customize your VPN connection, though with limited options.

TunnelBear VPN Review

You can choose to launch TunnelBear at startup as well as turn on TCP Override, which improves stability on less reliable connections.

Under Security, you can turn on the Kill Switch as well as GhostBear. You can also add Trusted Networks under the next tab.

Connection time with the Windows client is about 20 seconds.

TunnelBear VPN Review

TunnelBear Smartphone Client

The TunnelBear Android client is quite attractive as well.. It’s also very easy to use, and even users without VPN experience won’t have any trouble using it.

TunnelBear VPN Review

You can select a server from the bottom side of the app, and then click Connect which is at the top.

TunnelBear VPN Review

To access the settings, click the Menu button on the top left side, and then select Options.

From there, you can customize the app, as well as activate any additional features such as GhostBear, VigilantBear, or SplitBear.

TunnelBear VPN Review

SplitBear lets you free some apps from being tunneled through the VPN secure network.

TunnelBear VPN Review

Compatibility

To determine whether TunnelBear works with various legal streaming services, we decided to do a few tests.

Netflix

Unfortunately, we found that TunnelBear no longer works with Netflix. Since you can’t choose a particular server, we tried connecting and disconnecting a number of times to see if we would get a working IP range, but of them worked.

BBC iPlayer

For BBC iPlayer, we connected to a server based in the UK, the only region where BBC iPlayer is available. We then tried streaming a random show, but BBC iPlayer blocks the VPN.

China

When it comes to a VPN working in China, it’s not easy to give a simple yes or no answer. TunnelBear has obfuscation technology that is meant to help users in China evade the Great Firewall of China. However, the service is not reliable, and sometimes it may not work. Thankfully, TunnelBear is free of charge, and you can always test it for yourself before purchasing the Premium VPN.

Devices

  • iOS
  • Android
  • Windows
  • Mac

Browsers

  • Chrome

Others

  • Android Boxes

Customer support

Unfortunately, TunnelBear doesn’t have a live chat system. The only way you can contact support is through the ticket system. To get to the support page, you can scroll to the bottom of the website and click Help. You can then click Contact Support. You will be required to select the type of assistance that you need, and then send your request to the support team. This feature is available for both free and premium users.

For this TunnelBear VPN review, we sent a ticket to test out the system. For more than 15 hours, we didn’t get a reply from the support team. From our perspective, the VPN is virtually non-existent in the customer support department. Considering that there’s no live chat, TunnelBear should definitely invest more in their support.

In their defense, their help page is filled with useful FAQs and troubleshooting guides that can help answer some of your queries or get assistance.

Conclusion

Overall, TunnelBear is a decent VPN service that meets the needs of most VPN users. However, the service won’t be of much help if your main purpose is using torrents, as TunnelBear doesn’t support P2P. Also, the fact that TunnelBear doesn’t work with major legal streaming sites means it might not be a match for some users. Regardless, TunnelBear VPN is good in what it does, offering solid privacy and security. Their free VPN service is also one of the best you can find in the industry, making the Bear worth a shot.

Written by: Joel Timothy

Joel is a tech writer and editor with a special interest in cyber security and internet freedom. He likes helping readers tackle tricky tech and internet issues, as well as maximize the boundless power of the internet.

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