TunnelBear has an attractive user interface that focuses on a map of the world dotted with various bear holes and honey pots. When you connect, the sheep icon promptly turns into a bear who then burrows into the ground before popping up in a honey pot or secure server somewhere else in the world. Unfortunately, with the free app, you can only use the auto connect feature so you won’t be able to select server location but, if you opt for a paid subscription, you can choose from 22 different countries as the whim takes you.
Intuitive interfaces and user-friendly graphics certainly make TunnelBear a pleasure to use while the settings menu gives you a fair amount of control and the ability to tweak certain tools to create the VPN service you want. If you choose to, you can turn on notifications that will alert you if you attempt to connect via an unsecured network or customize it, so you’re protected as soon as you start up your device.
Accessing more advanced features is also so simple a bear could do it and from the security settings menu, users can activate the VigilantBear blocker and enjoy an ad-free browsing experience or change the nature of their encrypted tunnel by initiating GhostBear mode. Although these more advanced menus are easy enough to navigate, they lack the attractive graphic design of the main interface and there aren’t many bears about either which we found rather disappointing.
For those, like me, who can’t resist a bear in any form, be it cartoon or cuddly, using TunnelBear isn’t just simple – it brings a smile to our faces – but is that enough? Let’s take a look at some of the other crucial aspects of any VPN service and see how our TunnelBear measures up.
With just 22 servers, we would expect a certain amount of lag from TunnelBear, especially when using its free VPN service. Even in South Africa, however, where some of the best VPNs struggle to produce usable speeds, TunnelBear didn’t do too bad a job. The upload speed was pretty awful but otherwise, it was stable and fast enough to be workable.
Testing a VPN in South Africa isn’t a fair representation of its abilities, however, and like most other VPNs, TunnelBear is capable of producing much faster connections elsewhere in the world.
Of course, speed isn’t everything and if TunnelBear pulls up its fuzzy socks when it comes to security and features, its speeds are perfectly workable. Furthermore, seeing as TunnelBear neither works with Netflix nor allows torrenting, the need for super-fast speeds isn’t so vital. Having said that, if you’re looking for a VPN to protect you while gaming, TunnelBear probably isn’t up to the task.
The introduction of a law that would require all ISPs to “retain records that will allow the identity of the person to whom the electronic location belongs to be determined, and do so for six months…” gave many cybersecurity experts the heebie-jeebies but it seems this legislation didn’t extend as far as VPNs and TunnelBear remains a proudly no-logging VPN. At least, that’s what it says anyway.
Unfortunately, even this isn’t enough to compensate for its contradictory logging claims. While it’s clear that TunnelBear doesn’t collect any activity logs, it does gather and retain some information, as do many VPNs. These operational logs don’t really impact on user privacy but, nevertheless, the more transparent a VPN service is, the more we’re inclined to trust it.
TunnelBear has gone to great lengths to assure its users and critics of its diligence, performing independent audits as well as participating in the CDT’s Signals of a Trustworthy VPN and, by doing so, has put themselves up there with the best. While there may be a few tweaks required here and there, we’re confident that TunnelBear protects its users with the same ferocity as a mother bear protects her cubs.
When you connect using TunnelBear VPN, you’ll be covered in a luxurious coat of invisibility while the VigilantBear feature will have its claws out making sure everything remains secure even in the event of a lost VPN connection. TunnelBear also has its GhostBear feature which works in a similar manner to NordVPN’s obfuscated servers. By making your traffic behave in a manner that disguises its encrypted status, GhostBear can make it harder to block and more difficult for cybercriminals, ISPs, and government spies to detect. Unfortunately, this handy feature isn’t available on iOS but there is, like a baby bear, on TunnelBear’s other apps.
TunnelBear allows users to connect up to five devices at the same time which is higher than the industry average but not quite as generous as CyberGhost’s six simultaneous connections or Surfshark’s with whom you can connect as many devices as you like at any one time.
The free 500MB of TunnelBear protection available each month is a definite perk and makes it ideal for those who simply want a VPN now and again. For example, if you want to make your online banking more secure or you want to hit the online mall for a spot of remote shopping, 500MB per month is more than ample. What’s more, you can check out the bear and make sure the two of you are compatible before you start feeding him with your subscription fees.
Paying users can select any of TunnelBear’s servers to connect to or simply plump for the Closest Tunnel option which should give you the nearest and fastest connection. Obviously, with just 22 servers, TunnelBear is somewhat restricted and one of the leading VPNs with a larger server network, like NordVPN for example, is better if you’re traveling the world and want VPN connection everywhere you go.
While not as feature-rich as some of its rivals, TunnelBear’s got pretty much everything you need in a VPN, especially since the recent introduction of the Split Bear feature which allows users to select which traffic enters the encrypted tunnel and which is reliable enough to circumvent it. An ad-blocker would be a welcome addition, but otherwise, it’s a well-rounded bear equipped with all the essential features and a few more to boot.
RememBear is a slightly different beast to TunnelBear but shares its dedication to privacy. The RememBear password manager is another free gift from TunnelBear’s owners, McAfee, which will keep your passwords safe and secure while simultaneously making them accessible across all your devices.
Overall, TunnelBear’s not exactly jam-packed with features but it also gives you a lot more than just the bear essentials.
There are two tiers of paid subscriptions available and those that are unwilling to make a long-term commitment to their bear can opt for the monthly subscription of $9.99 per month. While not cheap, this is more economical than many of the alternatives, with ExpressVPN clocking in at a hefty $12.95 and CyberGhost even more at $12.99 per month.
Although it took a while, TunnelBear recently introduced a 30-day money-back guarantee. Presumably, in the past TunnelBear felt that, as users could take advantage of the free version, a refund policy wasn’t so crucial. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome addition and means users can try out the full extent of TunnelBear’s powers without taking a financial gamble.
The most cost-effective way of enjoying TunnelBear, after its free version, is its one-year subscription option which will see your bear happily ensconced in your digital world for a full 12 months. At $4.99 per month, it’s not the cheapest but it is pretty competitive. Nevertheless, the option of a multi-year subscription that sees the price drop below $3 per month would be an attractive addition to the TunnelBear huddle.
Another negative about TunnelBear’s customer support system is the lack of a live chat service which is becoming standard for international cybersecurity companies. If you have a problem that can’t be answered by the online help section, you can submit an email online and await a response. It’s far from the immediacy you can enjoy with ExpressVPN’s live chat representatives, but a lot faster than the likes of HideMan VPN.
The features section adds a little more depth to the information available online with some great articles on how each of its main features works and why you would want to activate them. While this is a nice touch, it doesn’t go far enough to compensate for its other failings.
While TunnelBear’s customer support is by no means the worst in the world of VPNs, it’s not the best either, bumbling along in the middle of the road so to speak. The lack of a telephone contact option is also a little frustrating and TunnelBear, for all its user-friendliness and cute design really needs to pull its socks up if it’s going to compete with the best.
In this day and age, a VPN without live chat is like a bear with no fur, and we hope to see TunnelBear make a bigger commitment to customer support in the near future.
Despite its user-friendly design and powerful features, TunnelBear struggles to compete with the big guns in cybersecurity, failing to provide consistent speeds and battling to access sites like Netflix and Hulu. Furthermore, TunnelBear needs to take a closer look at its social habits, stop doing questionable things in the woods and bring in a live chat customer support service.
With all the ferocity of a grizzly and the friendliness of a teddy bear, TunnelBear has plenty to offer and its free service is perfect for those who feel ill at ease in the digital world and want a big friendly bear to hold their paw for them. The free service is limited but good enough for occasional use, while the paid version offers comprehensive protection and greater customization for those who need a bit more power.
In the future, we ‘d like to see TunnelBear complement their user-friendly tools with faster speeds and a bigger server network but, in the meantime, it still offers good value for money.