TunnelBear has for a long time been a go-to VPN service for new users. TunnelBear offers a small set of decent applications, but it does suffer in speeds, and compared to many other VPN providers, they have a relatively small network.
One thing to company odes different to other VPN’s as they have third-party security audits, so if there are any weaknesses, these will quickly be spotted.
Although they seem to do many things right on paper, does this quirky VPN still have enough to compete against the bigger boys in the world of VPN’s? This TunnelBear review will very quickly find out.
- Overall VPN Rank:# 29th Out Of 74
- Ease of Use: 4/5
- Logging Policy: No Logging (Contradictory)
- Server Locations: 350+ VPN Server Locations covering 22 Countries
- Support: Ticket system – in house support
- Torrenting: Supported
- Netflix: Not Working
- Encryption & Protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec & Ikev2 with 256-bit AES encryption
- Jurisdiction: Canada – inside 5-eyes
- Money Back Guarantee: No Refund
- Free Version available
- Speeds: Below Average
Privacy and Security
The TunnelBear VPN is based in Canada, this, unfortunately, is based inside the 5-eyes jurisdiction, so it is not deemed to be a secure location.
Tunnel Bear is owned by McAfee which is one of the world’s top antivirus and computer security product developers.
But this doesn’t make it any less likely to be questioned by the NSA if they wish to do so.
With this in mind, it is worth mentioning their view on logging. They do have one of the most thorough Privacy Policies out of all VPN services tested.
The policy does claim the company doesn’t log any of the following:
- IP addresses which visit the website
- IP addresses as they connect to the service
- DNS queries when connected
- Applications, services or websites users use or visit
TunnelBear claims they are unable to link any users to a specific IP address. But, they do record ‘operational data’ which includes:
OS Version, TunnelBear app version, activity in the current month and the bandwidth consumed.
As per Canadian law, if they have anything from the above, they may hand it over if requested.
Vigilant Bear is what the service calls their Kill Switch. This blocks any traffic should you lose a VPN connection.
Although not enabled by default (can catch new users out), it can easily be activated. This is quickly done as the user interface is straightforward to use and navigate.
As a side note, during testing, there were no DNS or WebRTC leaks found.
One other feature worth mentioning is the GhostBear. This obfuscates a user’s location so it can hide the fact, you are using a VPN.
The services use the same military-grade encryption as many other VPN’s on Windows, Mac OS and on Android (256-bit AES & OpenVPN). However, because of the limitations of iOS, it uses the IKEv2 cipher.
While not as good as a full VPN, you can quickly add a browser extension, these are available for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.
The company explains why it is worth using these add-ons as well as the full VPN client.
Encryption can be layered. To carry out this extra privacy feature, you connect to one server with the TunnelBear app, and then another VPN server via the browser. This delivers double the protection.
Here are what the company claims are the benefits of using these extensions in your browsers:
- Reduce the ability for websites, advertisers and ISP’s to track your browsing
- Secure your browser on public Wi-Fi
- Get around blocked websites
- Connect to a lightning fast private network with connections to 20 countries
Is TunnelBear safe?
Yes, as far as security goes, this VPN is as safe to use as many other market leaders. The encryption is classed as unbreakable, so users need not worry that both their identity or connection will be seen by any other entity, this includes the NSA and ISP’s.
Multiple speed tests were conducted around a number of different servers. These were run at different times of the day to be sure we didn’t hit any congestion.
Although connection times to servers were quick, it wasn’t so good for their download speeds. While the majority of servers are around European countries and the US, it makes sense to test in these areas.
It was seen very quickly that Australia was going to suffer because as soon as we went outside the central regions, the speeds dropped off quite considerably.
With a base speed of 100Mbps, here are the results for the TunnelBear download speeds:
New York Server:
- Download speed: 33.39 Mbps
- Upload speed: 7.12 Mbps
- Download speed: 50.10 Mbps
- Upload speed: 2.63 Mbps
- Download speed: 52.26 Mbps
- Upload speed: 27.20 Mbps
Once we tried server speeds in far off distances, the speeds quickly dropped.
Hong Kong Server
- Download speed: 7.54 Mbps
- Upload speed: 2.63 Mbps
Australia and New Zealand was a hit and miss affair. Speeds ranged from 5 Mbps download up to 15 Mbps, so there was quite a variation in reliability. All through the tests, it was seen there was very little consistency in their VPN connection.
TunnelBear only supports a handful of platforms. While it has client apps for Windows, Mac Android, and iOS, it does support Linux. This will take manual setup so it could bamboozle new users who use this platform.
Routers are still unsupported, and there is not even an option to download OpenVPN configuration files to install this on a router, or for them to be used with any third-party VPN apps.
In previous reviews, the customer service was seen as mediocre at the very best. They have somewhat improved but there is still no Live chat, and users only have the ticket-based system.
Although this isn’t the best form of communication, it seems they have renewed how they handle customer support, and they are much quicker than previously. Answers were sufficient, but there is nothing better than speaking to a real person.
Many VPN’s will help users in times of difficulty when they are attempting to connect to streaming services which have geo-restrictions on them.
Unfortunately, this ticket-based system is too slow for this, and anyone wishing to stream videos from US Netflix will be sorely disappointed.
Is TunnelBear a good VPN for streaming? Not at all, they don’t support Netflix which is a significant downside.
To make matters worse, in testing, the BBC iPlayer was also blocked. For any streaming, it isn’t a VPN that suffices, and if it did, the speeds might be too slow to deliver a good viewing experience.
One area where the company has taken a turnaround is their view on torrenting. This is now allowed, but users could find these speeds dreadfully slow, especially in the Australia region.
Unlike a lot of other VPN’s, there is a free VPN version. Although this can be handy, it comes with a very poor 500 MB data cap per month.
This allows you to upgrade at any point to a paid plan, and it is only intended for users to get a feel for the service.
Plans available are as follows:
- Monthly plan: $9.99 per month
- Yearly plan: $4.99 per month and billed as $59.88 every 12 months.
One thing to note for any user who signs up, there are no money back guarantees. If you didn’t use the TunnelBear free option and don’t find the service suitable, then you will have lost out.
When it comes to payment options, there is also limited options, and you have a choice of credit card, or they now accept Bitcoin, and the latter being the only option for anonymous sign-up.
If there was a redeeming feature of their free services, it is because you have access to all of the features, albeit with the bandwidth cap.
If users are only looking for privacy, then users can make full use of this service. It is affordable for 12-months, but some limiting factors need consideration.
- Slow speeds – no good for torrenting or streaming
- No Netflix or BBC iPlayer – two of the main streaming sites users wish to visit
- Limited device support – no router or Smart TV support
- Small network – only 22 locations and mainly around Europe or USA
- Lack of features
When you look at this VPN, it asks a top VPN service price for their monthly option, while it doesn’t deliver anywhere near the number of features top VPN’s offer.
It is geared more to users who are not sure what they need, and with the lack of support in certain areas, users can find themselves disappointed.
While the company is growing, but very slowly, it still isn’t such a viable option to sign up for either package.
While new users may find it a good choice because of its simplicity, this basically carries through all it offers. It is a very simple VPN.
Is it the best free VPN? Sadly, even this isn’t the case, because you still have restrictions, and with the data cap, you will very quickly find, you can’t do much apart from browse and email.