Based out of Toronto, Canada (which certainly gives context to the name ‘TunnelBear’), this VPN service provides one of the most attractive, sleek programs for a great price with fast speeds.
TunnelBear has servers in 20 countries, which includes Australia, Hong Kong, Mexico, Japan, Sweden, Singapore, India, Ireland, Brazil and Norway.
It is a little disappointing not to see more servers in areas of SE Asia and the Middle East, but TunnelBear’s international presence may increase as the company grows in popularity, which it is undoubtedly doing.
Feature wise they offer some cracking stuff: firstly the essential Kill Switch, but best of all a Chrome blocker, which integrates with your VPN and blocks ads and illegal tracking of your activities by websites.
Security is tight too, using the strong AES 256-bit encryption by default. I expect nothing less.
Let’s talk customer service. Sometimes you just need an answer right away, hence the appeal of the Live Chat function- which TunnelBear does not have.
What they do offer is an extensive help page that has articles on Getting Started, Browser Extensions and Mobile App Help. TunnelBear customer service is accessible through a website contact form. After you complete it, they’ll respond within 24 hours- which they do!
Not that you’ll need it, as in my eyes TB software is one of the most user-friendly around.
One potential barrier is that TunnelBear will not offer refunds. Of any kind. Ever. No refunds. But wait…
They do, however, offer their most basic plan for free, which is sort of a trade off. They have tons of peeps using their free mobile apps, but it is limited by data so you may be needing that upgrade soonish.
So you could argue that the free plan is essentially an indefinite free trial.
In a valiant attempt to stick with their bear motif, TunnelBear offers three plans, aptly named “Little,” “Giant” and “Grizzly.”
- Little Plan is free and offers 500 MB of data each month.
- Giant Plan is $9.99 per month and includes unlimited data.
- Grizzly Plan is $4.99 per month, but is billed at $59.88 annually and includes unlimited data.
I dig the simplicity of these plans. See what I did there, ha!
Oh, and if you’ve used up your free 500MB, you can always tweet to the company and get an extra 1GB. Sounds like a brilliant marketing plan to me!
All plans include all of TunnelBear’s features:
- Vigilant Mode (a kind moniker for the ‘kill switch’)
- GhostBear, which defeats VPN blocking
- Blocker for Chrome (prevent data tracking and stop intrusive ads)
- Automatic launch at startup
- Servers across 20 countries
- AES 256-bit encryption
- 5 device coverage
The TunnelBear Chrome blocker is a nice addition that I haven’t seen from other providers.
In addition, TunnelBear offers a version of my favorite feature (‘the kill switch’), except they use the much more peaceful name- ‘Vigilant Mode.’ This sounds much more tranquil and I love it.
Basically, if you’re unfamiliar, the function of the kill switch/vigilant mode is to freeze your connection if your VPN drops, protecting you from any vulnerabilities that crop up when you’re not covered by a VPN. If you’re using unsecured public networks, this is a must-have feature.
TunnelBear also offers GhostBear, which is available on all clients except iOS, which is unfortunate but I can use it on my Mac.
I like GhostBear because it makes the use of a VPN almost invisible. As a result, it’s almost impossible to detect your use of a VPN, though unfortunately, you run the risk of a slower connection.
Just a note to those whose mobiles use iOS (myself included): TunnelBear does not use the same VPN protocols across all devices.
Windows, Mac OSX and Android phones will use OpenVPN, but users with iPhones (iOS) will find themselves secured under IPSec/IKEVv2.
Fortunately, all platforms are protected by 256-bit AES encryption (with an SHA 256 handshake authentication ), so you really have no need to work about security and privacy.
Pre iOS 8 is on IP Sec. I recommend you upgrade your iOS. Don’t be lazy!
It has to be said that there’s a reason TunnelBear has been so successful on mobile; not least because the free plan lets users jump straight in and start tunneling.
The visual aspect of connecting is very cool. The bear literally tunnels from one country to another, as you watch. I use TB on my iPhone, sometimes just to watch the cute little bear do his thing.
I’m a girly girl at heart, what can I say? Bite me!
Security & Privacy
Unfortunately, Canada is not the most ‘hands off’ in terms of internet privacy. If you weren’t aware: Canada is part of the Five Eyes Alliance and has definitely been implicated in internet spying. For the uber privacy aware, this may be an issue.
TunnelBear is logless, which I have come to expect from all “proper” VPN companies – though it is always worth reading the small print.
They will store your email address and the personal details associated with you payment, but TunnelBear does NOT collect, store or log the following data:
- IP addresses visiting our website
- IP addresses upon service connection
- Any information about the applications, services or websites our users use while connected to our service
Sounds good to me. The thing is about this type of policy is that it’s anonymous enough for the average person, but probably not for those living on the darker sides of society and doing horrible things.
Speed & Performance
Speeds with TunnelBear were actually great and didn’t seem to suffer more than a byte or two in terms of uploads and downloads.
I was pleased to find that streaming and file sharing was minimally impacted by TunnelBear’s presence.
I certainly feel the need for speed as I’m a movie streaming junkie and I even found TunnelBear’s service to be pretty fast when using GhostBear. Goodbye China firewall — ha!
Both the mobile and desktop clients are simple and slick, cool and easy to use. Even my mom could use TunnelBear – and she still uses a VHS player!
As previously mentioned, I would love for TunnelBear to have 24/7 customer service, but they do not. They offer an extensive and nicely laid out Help Page that will assist users with questions, but for more in depth issues, users must contact the company through an email contact system.
TunnelBear will respond within 24 hours. Not the fastest, but they’re true to their word and 24 hours it is.
TunnelBear does not offer refunds, which is kind of surprising to me. To make up for this they offer a free service called ‘Little TunnelBear,’ whereby you receive 500 MB of free data each month. Hey, better than nothing!
Signing Up & Getting Started
With TunnelBear, signing up is so easy. All you have to do is enter an email address and a preferred password and you’ve got yourself a link to download.
Once you determine which program download is best for you, a setup wizard will guide you through the rest. You’ll also receive a confirmation email.
On mobile, just browse the App/Play store and search for the app. Download and away you go.
TunnelBear allows you to pay with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Bitcoin and Jars of Honey. No. I am not joking. See for yourself.
The TB client is hands-down my favorite of any I’ve ever tried. Pictures of pots of honey represent servers and you can see which are available on a large animated map (it’s not childish, though).
The bear then literally tunnels from your current destination to your desired VPN country.
The drop-down menus are well organized and have excellent notification options. You can add trusted networks from here and activate the kill switch, as needed. It’s a very intuitive and- dare I say- beautiful desktop client.
TunnelBear Review Conclusion
TunnelBear offered good speeds and solid security protocols. The client is slick, the theme is cool, and it’s easy as pie to use.
The monthly price is at the higher end of the scale but at least you have the option to pay per month and don’t have to fork out the fee annually. They also have a free plan for occasional users (500 MB).
However, for the price, 5 simultaneous connections is a good deal. I use 3, but this is great for big families.
The features such as the Kill Switch, Blocker and GhostBear are very welcome additions, and somewhat make up for being based in the privacy-curious Canada.
- Great speeds
- Free basic plan (500MB)
- 5 simultaneous connections
- Kill Switch
- Chrome blocker (blocks ads and tracking software)
- Good security protocols
- Intuitive and sleek client
- Only 20 countries with servers
- iOS mobile users have to use the IPSec/IKEVv2 security protocol and not Open VPN. (not a big deal)
- Canadian based. Not keen on the government’s Five Eyes Alliance membership.
- iOS 8 and below users have to use the IP Sec security protocol