TunnelBear’s overall performance is consistently good. It’s not the fastest VPN around by any means, but a good choice if you want to connect to Europe via an encrypted tunnel from the UK. Its free tier is modest but useful. However, TunnelBear has done little to innovate in recent years. It’s worth noting that it explicitly does not go out of its way to avoid detection by streaming media sites and doesn’t allow its users to torrent.
- Free version available
- Clear no-logging policy
- Wide range of privacy and security features
- Poor streaming performance
- No torrenting
- Review Price: £48.52
- Connect up to five devices
- Supports OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec
- 500MB/month free account available
- UK pricing: £8.10 per month, £48.52 per year
- US pricing: $9.99 per month, $59.88 per year
- Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Opera, Chrome
- Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients
TunnelBear has been owned by McAfee since 2018 and little has changed in that time. The Canada-based service is perhaps best known for its free VPN, which still gives you 500GB of data every month to use as you please on the service’s wide range of supported platforms.
While it used to feel very generous, that free allowance is rather overshadowed by rivals such as Windscribe and ProtonVPN’s free services. TunnelBear also has an endearing ursine mascot and reasonably priced paid-for subscriptions.
Related: Best VPN 2020
TunnelBear provides both free and paid-for VPN services across a wide variety of platforms, with clients for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, browser plugins for Opera and Chrome, and OpenVPN profiles available for Linux users.
Its Windows client opens on a world map that you can use to select an endpoint in the country of your choice, while a pull-down menu at the top of the window lets you select an endpoint location from a list if you prefer, and a button lets you quickly connect and disconnect from your VPN.
A settings tab lets you configure the client’s behaviour, with options for users who want extra security including VigilantBear, a kill switch that temporarily halts all your internet traffic if you become disconnected from the VPN, and GhostBear, an experimental feature that attempts to hide the fact you’re using an encrypted VPN connection at all – useful if you’re visiting a country or even just an office building where VPNs are forbidden. You can also configure TunnelBear to activate automatically on any Wi-Fi network that you haven’t added to a trusted list.
Related: What is a VPN?
TunnelBear – Performance
As a comparison, the average HTTP download speeds for the January 2020 VPN group test, measured from a test system in the UK with a high-speed fibre connection, were 81.41Mbps from UK endpoints, 89.42Mbps for the Netherlands and 43.02Mbps from the US.
TunnelBear has proved the consistency of its data transfer speeds in the years I’ve been testing it. It’s never very fast when it comes to UK to US connections, but that’s relative – it still does well enough for almost everything short of ultra-high-resolution game streaming on my reference fibre connection.
What it is good at is more local VPN routing. If you’re connecting to a UK or European endpoint to maximise speed while retaining privacy, TunnelBear’s a good bet, safely exceeding the 81Mbps UK group average and 89Mbps Netherlands average during testing.
Although its speeds might be up to the job, TunnelBear isn’t a good choice if you’re looking for a region-shifting VPN to watch overseas streaming media. If a streaming service puts any effort into spotting proxies and VPNs, as you’ll find with Netflix, BBC iPlayer and All 4, you can be fairly confident that it’ll spot a connection from one of TunnelBear’s endpoints.
But while Tunnelbear isn’t usually much cop when it comes to streaming, Disney+ is currently a notable exception: I was able to stream it flawlessly.
Should you buy TunnelBear?
TunnelBear’s free account isn’t as appealing as it used to be, as 500MB a month doesn’t compare well to Windscribe’s free 10GB or ProtonVPN’s unlimited free tier. Free users can get an extra 1GB per month, achieving a total of 1.5GB, by tweeting about TunnelBear, assuming they have a public account and enough followers.
If you need more than that, TunnelBear costs around £8.10 for a monthly subscription or £48.52 per year, with the annual fee working out to a middling £4.04 a month. The company accepts payment in bitcoin if you want to add an extra layer of privacy.
TunnelBear has an explicit no-logging policy and is independently audited for security, which will reassure the privacy-conscious, although the audit doesn’t specifically focus on logging.
It blocks standard BitTorrent ports, citing “a high volume of complaints from content providers” so that it wasn’t put in the position of having to log user activity in accordance with Canadian copyright law. This means that, no matter how legitimate your torrent activity might be, you can’t use TunnelBear for it.
TunnelBear’s overall performance is consistently decent, despite unremarkable US transfer speeds, and its free tier is still useful enough. However, although it’s capable and reasonably priced, TunnelBear doesn’t really stand out in a crowded market right now.
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