Don’t get TunnelBear if you plan on using it while torrenting, because they have a strict no torrenting and P2P file sharing policy. If you need a VPN for torrenting, we recommend NordVPN
TunnelBear has been on the market for 7 years now. But has it stood the test of time because of good service, or is it just all the adorable bears?
Formed in 2011 by Ryan Dochuk (Corporate Bear) and Daniel Kaldor (Quantum Bear) and based in Toronto, Canada, TunnelBear has built a pretty solid base as a reliable VPN.
TunnelBear includes a kill-switch, called VigilantBear, which is constantly being checked, tested, and upgraded. Another handy feature, GhostBear, can allow you to disguise your connection. This can help to bypass walls so you can watch US Netflix or BBC iPlayer, however these don’t always work.
With all that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the features and options offered by TunnelBear VPN.
We ran speed tests multiple times during our use of TunnelBear, and they generally came out similar to our normal download speeds. However, sometimes when connected to the US server, the speed test demonstrated very low speeds, which was very frustratimg when watching YouTube videos and even general browsing.
If you find your connection is a little choppy at the best of times (even without using a VPN), you can try turning on the TCP override, which can improve the stability of your connection. We found that this worked quite well, but didn’t always improve the speed of our connection.
Speed determines how fast content uploads, so if you're torrenting or streaming, you want the speed to be somewhat identical to your regular internet speed. Since a VPN encrypts your data, it usually takes a bit longer to send your data back and forth, which can slow down your connection. However, if your ISP deliberately slows down your connection (also known as throttling) a VPN might increase your internet speed. Testing a VPN is somewhat pointless because new servers pop up and affect speed. Your speed can also differ according to your location, so your speed test might not match ours. Having said that, we tested the speed in numerous locations to provide you with the average.
As mentioned above, TunnelBear runs in over 20 countries around the globe. When you first connect, TunnelBear will automatically connect you to your closest server, which for us was Hong Kong (apparently Singapore didn’t feel like playing that day). You can easily toggle this to connect to your required country by either going to the server you want and clicking on the tunnel there to connect, or by selecting it in the drop down at the top of the screen. This makes it really easy to change to the country you need for streaming.
Another benefit is that TunnelBear offers connections on up to five devices, including desktop PC (both Mac and Windows), laptop, and both Android and iOS smartphones/tablets. So you can reasonably be connected to servers on all of your devices at once.
As you can see, TunnelBear has servers in both the US and the UK, so you can access popular streaming services such as the ever-elusive US Netflix, or BBC iPlayer. However, during our use of TunnelBear, we found that accessing BBC iPlayer was virtually impossible due to BBC cracking down more on connections that even slightly resemble a VPN. We did manage to access US Netflix, though, so that’s a big tick in the pro column.
GhostBear – TunnelBear’s obfuscation technology – is definitely an option to try and make your connection look more like a regular internet connection, acting as a kind of “stealth mode”. It can slow your connection speed a bit, though. It’s important to note that you’re still protected without GhostBear switched on – it just adds another layer to try and help you access those streaming services you so crave. We didn’t find that it helped us get past the BBC issues, though.
It’s important also to note that P2P downloads and torrenting are not permitted using TunnelBear VPN, so those looking for a VPN that could enable this should look elsewhere.
TunnelBear also offers VigilantBear, which acts like a kill-switch and will protect your data until you have a more secure connection. For anyone that values privacy in their VPN usage, this is a feature to keep in mind. The TunnelBear team have also been known to post on their blog about improvements they have made to the VigilantBear system, so your privacy is definitely a going concern.
TunnelBear is so easy to use and ideal for first-time VPN-users. The download is quick, easy, and adorable (not many VPNs can claim that last one).
The interface is set up like a map of the world, with different pipes in each of the 20 countries offered.
You can simply scroll to the one of your choice and tap/click to connect. Or, on the desktop PC interface, you can select ‘Auto’ in the drop-down, and TunnelBear will tunnel to the closest or quickest server available. As you can see, though, both interfaces are extremely easy to use and understand. The graphics for connection are charming, and the bear will roar on the phone app once it has connected to the server.
The menu items in the interface are generally very easy to understand and, where they might be a little more complex, TunnelBear has provided links to explain what the feature is for.
OpenVPN is implemented by TunnelBear for Windows, Mac, and Android devices – something to keep in mind for those who have a different, preferred protocol. For iOS devices they use either Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) or Internet Protocol Security (IPsec).
When it comes to bypassing the Netflix VPN block, TunnelBear is not consistent. On a good day they will get you access to the US Netflix, but we don’t recommend using TunnelBear if Netflix is a priority for you.
TunnelBear does offer Customer Support, but only through a ticket/email system, where you fill out a contact form on the website itself. The FAQs section is extensive, though, and does offer a lot of answers, often with strategies to implement to help fix basic problems.
We personally tried out the contact form to see how quickly and efficiently TunnelBear support would get back to us, and the results were good. We decided to ask about the issues we were having connecting to BBC iPlayer, and we received a response in less than 24 hours. The answer was helpful, if not capable of solving our problem. However, it did come across as a little like a template to copy-paste and, without access to a live chat feature, it is hard to test whether the ‘Support Bear’ in question was actually responding, or just sending a rote response.
However, you will notice that the offer of a refund was made, despite TunnelBear mentioning in its Terms and Conditions that it doesn’t offer them. Perhaps TunnelBear is experiencing difficulties because of the increased vigilance of services like US Netflix and BBC iPlayer, and so a refund for ‘unused tunnelling time’ has become more acceptable?
After this, we requested a refund as offered and it was actioned within 24 hours – a cancellation of our paid service, as well as a refund of our most recent payment. The impression we get is that TunnelBear will try to fix your problem as best they can, but will also acknowledge when it is just the streaming service you are trying to access getting tougher security.
While the support didn’t have a live chat feature, the support is quick and also friendly, and the efficiency with which they gave us the refund and made everything simple for us.
We personally test the customer support team of every VPN we review. This means asking technical question through the live chat feature (where applicable) and measuring the response time for email questions. Whether you need to connect to a specific server, change your security protocol, or configure a VPN on your router, finding a VPN with quality customer support should be important to you.
While TunnelBear do not offer a money-back guarantee, they do offer a free version of their VPN. This plan, called ‘Little Bear’, involves 500mB of data per month (which goes up to unlimited with a paid plan), and all of TunnelBear’s servers are available. However, a little birdie (ie. Twitter) has indicated that you can get an extra gigabyte of free data added to your account if you tweet about TunnelBear.
The two paid TunnelBear packages are called Giant, and Grizzly.
The Giant option is a monthly payment, which you pay at the same time each month, while the Grizzly version is a yearly payment and you can use this coupon to save 50% of the price of the Giant option, but you have to pay up front for the entire year.
The payment options are pretty slim – TunnelBear has removed Paypal as an option in recent times, so they mostly accept Credit Card or Bitcoin, if you’d like to remain anonymous.
In general, TunnelBear is a fairly solid VPN, offering servers in multiple countries, helping to grant access to streaming services as best they can, and putting customer’s privacy at a high priority. We recommend it for those new to using VPNs, and those who are partial to bears who like to tunnel.
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