VPN Review: TunnelBear
Ghosts, snakes, sharks, robots, moles: In the battle for the best VPN mascot, TunnelBear with its lovable, grizzly bear, rising out of a Super Mario-esque pipe, easily takes first place. Our test will show if the service has a bite, or if it's just an empty growl.
What is TunnelBear?
TunnelBear is a Canadian VPN service that belongs since 2018 to the US cybersecurity giant, McAfee. TunnelBear offers applications for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, in addition to browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. TunnelBear's chrome extension also includes the "Blocker" ad-blocking tool .
Pros and Cons
Solid app which possesses the most important features
Friendly customer support
Split tunneling is only available on the mobile apps
Small server network
Comparably slow performance
Installation and Features
TunnelBear's website lists all of its versions, enabling users, within minutes, to download and install the desktop and mobile apps, as well as the browser extension. Somewhat against the industry-wide trend of minimalism, TunnelBear's desktop client opens a colorful, full-screen window, featuring a world map. The map can be minimized, which very nearly causes the app to disappear.
Although design is a matter of taste, TunnelBear seems to go from one extreme to the other. At full steam, the desktop app features a huge world map, on which the tunnel bear is shown digging around, and server locations are marked with tunnels, whereas, the minimized version of the app is a small window that only features an on/off button, and a drop down server list. Something in between the two would be much better.
Users can select a server location from the drop down list, or click on one of the yellow tunnels on the world map, which causes the bear to start 'digging' to establish your VPN connection. TunnelBear doesn't provide any information about server performance, however, by selecting the "auto" option from the server list, you'll be connected to the fastest server available.
Under settings you can find a few options which allow you to tailor the app to your preferences. The kill switch is referred to as "VigilantBear" while the "GhostBear" function circumvents internet restrictions. TunnelBear can be configured to automatically start when you turn on your computer, however, this is for the program, and not a VPN connection. To do the latter, you can set up a "trustworthy connection" which will automatically be connected to when a non-listed network is being used.
Changing VPN protocols in TunnelBear is not possible. Even though the client comes pre-installed with OpenVPN and IKEv2, two of the best options on the market, those users who want to customize their protocols will be slightly disappointed.
The browser extension is a bare-bones version of the desktop app, featuring an on/off switch, and a server list. For reasons unknown, the "quick connect" feature is not included.
Unfortunately, TunnelBear was unable to claw us a way into Netflix or the BBC's iPlayer, failing this part of our test.
On the smart phone, where gamification is standard, the interface's design is a bit more at home. Here too, you can send the bear through tunnels around the world, or ask him to create an automatic connection. The settings that are available are by no means extensive, however, a more practical split tunneling option is included. "GhostBear" and "VigilantBear" make another appearance here too.
TunnelBear includes most of the features one looks for in a VPN provider, without making any big mistakes in the process. Split tunneling on the desktop version would be nice, however, its absence is (unfortunately) all-too-common among the providers we tested. The interface, which is meant to look like a classic video game from the 90s, is a matter of taste. We prefer more streamlined designs, particularly for desktop clients. The lack of information about server speeds or performance is also somewhat frustrating. In total, TunnelBear doesn't do more than is necessary, but we can't really fault it either.
Score 3.7 / 5
TunnelBear has 'dug' into 22 countries. Since no server information is presented, you also don't know precisely where the server you're using is located. When using TunnelBear's competitors, you can usually see the city that a server is located in, and select from different servers within a single country.
TunnelBear's network is rather modest, and outside of Europe and North America, pretty thin. Africa has no representation at all.
In comparison to other VPN providers, which have networks comprising thousands of servers spread across the globe, TunnelBear is toothless.
Score: 1 / 5
The speed of all VPNs which we tested was evaluated using a server in Europe with a 1 GB/s connection. We tested random TunnelBear servers at different times of the day to more accurately evaluate their performances. More information concerning our methodology can be found in our VPN speed test.
The table below shows the average results from the last 365 days, arranged in order of download and upload speed (descending):
In our speed test, TunnelBear secured a respectable seventh place, earning it in a spot in the upper half of our ranking.
The diagram below shows TunnelBear's average speeds over the past months.
Score: 4 / 5
Security and Privacy
As mentioned above, TunnelBear doesn't allow users any choice in selecting or configuring their VPN protocols. For Mac and Android, OpenVPN, the gold standard of protocols, comes pre-installed. On Windows and iOS, OpenVPN and IKEv2 alternate for each connection, depending on which is faster at that moment. User data is continuously protected with AES 256-bit encryption.
In 2018 TunnelBear agreed to a second security assessment by the independent auditor, Cure53. This was done in order to test its commitment to 'no logging'. Cure53 identified a total of 22 problems, two of which were classified as critical. Nevertheless, TunnelBear was deemed to be "fairly secure", having done much to correct the shortcomings identified in Cure53's earlier audit.
Through this process, TunnelBear gains itself a coveted place at the (lamentably) small table of VPN providers who have allowed themselves to be independently audited. In spire of these positives, we still need to call attention to the firm's headquartering in Canada, a country that is party to the Five-Eyes intelligence sharing agreement. Other VPN providers are based in countries where the privacy of users is more protected, somewhat reducing TunnelBear's security credentials, despite their commendable history of independent audits.
Score: 4.3 / 5
TunnelBear has a clearly-organized help center which offers users a number of FAQs and guides. To gain direct assistance, it is necessary to file a support ticket, since no live chat is available. TunnelBear still scores owing to the friendly responses we received from the support team, which had a real personal touch. As customers, we felt truly heard, which is always important.
The attentive "support bear" responded to us within 10 hours with a detailed response to our query, even throwing in some jokes for good measure.
Live chat would be a nice addition, as would support for queries in languages other than English. At the same time, TunnelBear won the Experte.com award for the most personable customer service.
Score: 4 / 5
TunnelBear belongs to the group of freemium VPN providers. The service can be used for free, however, with a monthly data cap of 500 MB. For unlimited data usage, and the connection of up to 5 devices simultaneously, a subscription is necessary. These can be either monthly, or yearly. The yearly subscription price is among the least expensive from those VPNs which we reviewed. A current price list can be found below:
|Free||3 Years||1 Year|
|Price per month||$0.00||$3.33||$4.99|
|Contract period (months)||0||36||12|
|Data volume||0.5 GB||unlimited||unlimited|
|Number of devices||1||5||5|
|Number of servers||-||-||-|
|Number of countries||22||22||22|
TunnelBear for Teams is available for corporations, and charges based on the number of users connected to the VPN.
For those without a good sense of humor, avoid TunnelBear: The most playful VPN provider tries to win your affection at every turn with puns, wordplay, and endearing graphics. To a certain extent, this strategy works: The apps are made-to-please, the most important features are included, a free version is available, and the provider's security has been authenticated twice by external audits.
In most fairy tales, bears are often well-meaning, but clumsy and sedated, both of which definitely apply to TunnelBear. In comparison to the other providers which we tested, the program's performance is sluggish, and its server network is better left unmentioned. Since speed and server network are important components of a good VPN, even puns can't save TunnelBear here. The friendly bear, and his friends, need to dig a bit further to 'see the light' at the end of the tunnel.
Among the customer reviews which we evaluated, TunnelBear was seen positively. A number of users praised its low price, and the user-friendliness of its applications. In terms of complaints, connection problems were the most frequently cited issues.