TunnelBear review: If you can stand the puns, TunnelBear is a speedy VPN
TunnelBear in brief:
P2P allowed: No
Business location: Canada
Number of servers: Unknown
Number of country locations: 20
Cost: $60 (billed annually)
Besides being a popular VPN, TunnelBear is known for two things: puns and skeumorphic design. The company has since given up one of those things, and it wasn’t the puns. For years, TunnelBear’s desktop program looked like an antique radio made out of wood. You selected your preferred country connection from a drop-down menu and flipped the switch to connect. That was pretty much it.
All that changed in late 2016, when TunnelBear overhauled its desktop program to something more modern but with that TunnelBear flair.
When you first open up TunnelBear you’re confronted with a world map with some extra detail. The trees, for example, change based on the continent or region you’re viewing (palm trees in the Middle East, Umbrella Thorns in Africa). Your pre-VPN connection location is signified on the map with a sheep, but once you turn on the VPN it turns into a bear.
Each available TunnelBear country location has an empty barrel (bear, bear-el, get it?) icon on it. Select the country icon you want, and the program will connect.
If you don’t like the map method there’s also a drop-down list at the top with the name of every country.
That’s the primary part of the desktop program. The left-hand panel also has a settings cog icon where you can activate TunnelBear’s extra features.
Features and services
On the whole, TunnelBear is a simple service without a lot of frills, but it does have a few key features worth checking out. Under Settings > General > Notifications, TunnelBear has a setting that will alert you when you connect to an insecure Wi-Fi access point. Many VPNs have a similar feature, but often that feature simply calls any Wi-Fi access point insecure unless you connect to that service’s VPN.
TunnelBear, by comparison, only alerts you to true weaknesses like basic WEP security or a Wi-Fi point that doesn’t have a password.
Moving on to Settings > Security, TunnelBear has a kill switch feature called VigilantBear that will block all internet traffic when you disconnect from the VPN. A second setting called GhostBear is an anti-censorship and restriction mechanism that works to make your encrypted VPN data appear like regular network traffic. For Americans, this can be useful if you’re on a network that throttles VPN traffic, for example.
Finally under Settings > Trusted Networks, TunnelBear lets you automatically activate TunnelBear on any Wi-Fi network that doesn’t appear in your Trusted Networks list. Adding a new network is as simple as connecting to it and clicking Add to Trusted Networks.
TunnelBear offers desktop programs and mobile apps for Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. There are also proxy browser extensions for Chrome and Opera. The service allows you to use up to five devices at once on a single account.
While most features are available on every platform (not including the browser extensions), the GhostBear feature is currently unavailable for iOS. TunnelBear says this is due to the limitations Apple puts on third-party providers.
TunnelBear’s speed scores were impressive. Nearly every download speed in the USA, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom scored double digits, with equally impressive upload speeds. Unfortunately, the base speed was rather high on the day of testing so TunnelBear’s speeds were only 36.43 percent of the base speed. That doesn’t reflect the fact, however, that TunnelBear’s individual country scores were consistently good.
As we said in our VPN primer, online speeds can vary wildly in pure Mbps tests from day to day and even hour to hour, which is why I don’t bother to publish specific measurements. Unfortunately, sometimes even a generic percentage score won’t tell the whole story of how well a VPN can perform.
The bottom line is that TunnelBear is fast with some of the best-performing speeds we’ve seen yet.
Privacy, anonymity, and trust
TunnelBear does not collect the IP address you use to connect to the VPN or visit TunnelBear’s website, nor is any of your online activity logged when using the VPN.
When you sign up for an account, TunnelBear only asks for an email address. However, it may also collect the Twitter account of users who use a promotion for a free gigabyte of data after tweeting a message about TunnelBear.
Payment options include Bitcoin, PayPal, and credit cards, meaning you can choose the amount of anonymity you’re comfortable with when paying for the VPN.
TunnelBear is also upfront about its team and the company’s address—all of which is available on the TunnelBear site. The company is located at 141 Bathurst Street, Suite 101 in Toronto, and its CEO is Ryan Dochuk. You can find a complete listing of the TunnelBear team on the company’s website.
As TunnelBear is located in Canada all personal information is handled according to Canadian law.
TunnelBear is a good VPN, and its speeds should meet the needs of most VPN users. However, the service won’t help if your primary goal is accessing Netflix USA from overseas. Privacy-minded users may not like that TunnelBear collects some data from users, but, again, it’s very generic information and doesn’t include browsing activity. If that still concerns you, TunnelBear says it recently concluded a third-party code audit for the company’s apps and servers that will be released in the coming months.