Of the dozens of virtual private networks we’ve tested, ExpressVPN has proven itself to be one of the most reliable options. It offers solid features combined with a sleek client and high speeds, which you can read more about in our full ExpressVPN review. Since we started doing our matchup articles it has beaten every opponent it has taken on.
In this face-off, it’s up against TunnelBear, which is one of the better known VPNs. In our TunnelBear review, we found the VPN’s speeds lackluster, but the client was nice and the generous free plan made it a tempting option for some users.
Rather than look at individual providers, we’re going to compare them to see which is better and offers the best value for your money.
03/21/2023 Facts checked
TunnelBear changed its free data amount to 2GB per month, up from 500MB per month.
08/08/2023 Facts checked
Removed reference to TunnelBear’s discontinued Twitter/X promotion.
Setting Up a Fight: ExpressVPN vs. TunnelBear
If you’ve browsed our best VPN article, you know that we break them into nine sections. In our matchups, though, we reduce the number to five and consolidate some of the sections into others.
For example, in the dedicated reviews, security and privacy each get their own section, while here they’re combined into one. That’s to ensure that each section and point is weighted evenly.
The five rounds we cover are features, pricing, ease of use, speed and security. In every round, we’ll give a brief overview of what we’re looking for, take a look at each provider, then finish by giving our conclusion for how the competitors did and declare a winner. The VPN with the most rounds won at the end will receive our recommendation.
First, we want to address which features ExpressVPN and TunnelBear provide. In this section, we’ll inspect which operating systems and platforms each VPN covers, then delve into the goodies that are built in to their clients.
The most important things we look for are a kill switch and the ability to automatically connect on startup. We look for those because they have a significant effect on the security of the VPN.
Aside from those, everything else is just icing on the cake, so let’s dive in.
In terms of features, ExpressVPN is the most robust VPN provider we’ve seen. It supports almost every device you can think of, ranging from the obvious, such as iOS, macOS, Windows and Android, to the obscure, such as Nintendo Switch and NVIDIA Shield. It can also be set up on routers, making it easy to protect all your devices in one go.
The desktop client offers several protocol options, including OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP. There are also options to launch the client on start-up and to connect automatically when the client is launched.
A kill switch is built into the client for security, as well as a nice split tunneling feature. The latter allows users to define which programs on their computer they want to use the protected VPN connection and which programs they want to use the faster, unprotected connection. Few VPNs offer this feature, check out our StrongVPN review for another.
ExpressVPN also has its own DNS servers and allows you to configure the client to use them exclusively when connected to the VPN. We’ll look at what that means when we get to the “security and privacy” section, but in short, it ensures a greater level of security and prevents your information from slipping through the cracks online.
Delving into the settings in the TunnelBear client shows that it covers the most important features we mentioned. There’s a kill switch that’s labeled “VigilantBear.” It has the additional advantage of automatically reconnecting if your connection is lost.
TunnelBear provides an option to launch the client on start-up and can be configured to connect to the VPN automatically when not on a trusted network. The latter feature can be used to make the VPN tunnel through a secure connection when you’re on public WiFi but stay on the faster, unprotected connection when you’re using your home WiFi.
TunnelBear doesn’t give you many options when it comes to protocols, which we’ll look at in more depth in the “security and privacy” section. The only setting you can change related to protocols is a TCP override, which uses a different version of OpenVPN to offer a more stable connection.
Aside from the kill switch and trusted networks, there isn’t much in terms of bells and whistles coming from TunnelBear. What’s worse, though, is that in our testing it didn’t work on a single streaming service. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer turned us down when we tried watching anything.
Round One Thoughts
TunnelBear covers the most important features that we look for, but it stops there. It simply can’t compete with a powerhouse like ExpressVPN when it comes to features.
ExpressVPN offers split tunneling, private DNS servers and more protocols. It also covers more operating systems than any VPN we’ve seen. It secures the point for this round.
Point for ExpressVPN
Pricing is one of the most important things to look at when shopping for anything. When it comes to VPNs, though, a fair price alone isn’t enough to be competitive. We also look at whether the provider offers a free trial, its refund policy and which payment methods are accepted.
One of the first things many people notice about ExpressVPN is its steep price compared to many providers. The monthly price is one of the highest we’ve seen, and the six-month pricing offers a slight discount. The longest period you can sign up for is 15 months, which brings the price down to within a range that’s more on par with other VPNs.
Though ExpressVPN doesn’t offer a free trial, it has a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is more than IPVanish (read our ExpressVPN vs. IPVanish piece). As for payment methods, ExpressVPN accepts all the major forms, including credit card, PayPal and bitcoin. Bitcoin is a great option for those who want to remain as anonymous as possible when using a VPN and minimize the paper trail left behind.
ExpressVPN also accepts nearly a half dozen less prominent payment methods, including things like Sofort, Mint and UnionPay.
TunnelBear offers a decent free plan that gives users 2GB per month of bandwidth. That can be shared between up to five devices, but the meager amount of data won’t go far when spread out. If you’re interested in a more generous free plan, check out our free VPN roundup.
- Unlimited GB, five devices, priority customer service
- Unlimited GB
- Unlimited GB, five devices per user, centralized billing, account manager, price per user per month
- Unlimited GB
Moving to the paid subscription, you get unlimited bandwidth, but you’re still limited to five devices. The monthly pricing is competitive, and the annual option gives a solid discount that makes it cheaper than ExpressVPN but not quite as affordable as Windscribe, which you can read more about in our Windscribe review. Take a look at our Windscribe vs. TunnelBear piece, too.
It’s worth noting that annual and monthly are the only two options offered by TunnelBear. There’s no six-month option like ExpressVPN offers and no multi-year options like you get with Windscribe.
When it comes time to pay for your subscription TunnelBear accepts two methods. You can pay with a credit card or, if you want to be as anonymous and untraceable as possible, use bitcoin.
Finally, TunnelBear also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for those who change their minds after using the service.
Round Two Thoughts
This part of matchups is often a great example of the adage “you get what you pay for.” ExpressVPN is more expensive than TunnelBear, but as you’ll see in the rest of this article, the cost is justified.
That said, this section is about pricing, and TunnelBear beats ExpressVPN in that regard. Both providers offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, but only TunnelBear offers a free plan for users to try. Additionally, both accept bitcoin for maximum user anonymity.
Point for TunnelBear
3. Ease of Use
In this round, we’ll look at ease of use. We’ll check in to everything from the website to the client to get a good idea of what kind of user experience ExpressVPN and TunnelBear offer. This is the most subjective round, but we’re going to do our best to give a clear idea of what it’s like to use each VPN.
When it comes to user-friendliness ExpressVPN uses the same general model that a large portion of VPN providers use. The website directs people to the page they need to be on to set up their account in a streamlined way. It’s laid out well and makes it easy to get help or find downloads.
Once the account is set up and the application is running, you’ll be greeted with a minimal screen. There’s a large power button toward the top of the page that connects you to the VPN.
Below it is a line of text that indicates whether you’re connected to the VPN. Further down is a box that shows your selected server. By clicking it, you can open the list of available locations. The list of servers can be searched using a search bar at the top and is sorted by continent, which makes it easy to browse, as well.
In the top left, there’s an icon with three horizontal lines that opens the more in-depth menus and settings. Putting a simple and minimal client up front and hiding the more robust features in deeper menus is a great way to give users who want something more straightforward a simple interface while still offering power users tons of options.
That’s a style more VPN providers are adopting, and ExpressVPN has achieved the balance well. The client is easy to use while still packing a lot of features.
Like most VPN providers, TunnelBear has a sleek website that offers an easy way to set up your subscription by placing several large “get TunnelBear now” buttons around the website.
After you set up your account and download the client, things continue to go smoothly. The client has an unusual layout that shows a map with Mario-style pipes coming out of the ground in locations around the world.
Clicking a pipe lets you connect to that location. While the VPN connects, it shows an animation of a bear digging into the ground at your location and emerging from the pipe you chose.
Alternatively, if all the bear-themed flair is a bit much, you can choose your location from a drop-down menu at the top of the window and flip the on/off switch to connect. The list of servers doesn’t have a way to search for your desired location, isn’t alphabetized and doesn’t show flags next to each location, which makes it hard to browse the options.
The client has an unusual and cutesy flair to it and feels pleasant to use, but ultimately, that flair leads to more of a troublesome experience for those who are looking for a VPN with raw practicality.
Round Three Thoughts
While TunnelBear’s client is attractive and unusual, it comes with drawbacks. The quaint bear-on-a-map look adds likeable character to the client, but it’s less streamlined than ExpressVPN’s client.
ExpressVPN puts its best foot forward with a sleek and easy-to-use interface that gets rid of the clutter. Then, for those who want to go deeper with configuration and customization, the options are tucked away in well-organized menus that are easy to get to.
Point for ExpressVPN
Speed is one of the most straightforward sections in terms of how it’s measured and how we reach our conclusion. We test the speed of our unprotected internet connection, then compare it with the speed each VPN is able to reach while connected to five servers around the globe.
The locations used for each VPN are the same to keep results comparable. We also do some web browsing and streaming to ensure that things function as they should and the speeds we see on paper reflect the actual performance.
ExpressVPN is among the most consistent VPNs on the market when it comes to speed. From one server to the next, you can expect nearly the same performance, whether you’re connecting to a server that’s a hundred miles away or several thousand, unlike NordVPN (read our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN piece).
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Smart location-Kansas City||44||105.49||7.94|
The ping was never out of control, even when connecting to a distant location, such as Japan. While you might not want to game while connected to a distant server, the ping time was low enough that browsing websites and streaming content wasn’t affected much. Things felt quick to load and websites were responsive, which is why ExpressVPN ranks well on our fast VPN list.
The sustained download and upload speeds were impressive, regardless of which server we used, and at times, it was easy to forget we were connected to the VPN because surfing the web felt so quick.
From server to server, TunnelBear’s performance was inconsistent. Some servers, including the U.S. server, which was the closest to us, dropped well over three quarters of our unprotected download speed.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Unprotected (Virginia, United States)||16||72.02||5.82|
As you’d expect from those numbers, browsing often felt sluggish. Even the servers that showed comparable speed to ExpressVPN on paper were noticeably slower when loading websites or videos.
Oddly, distance didn’t seem to be much of a factor in determining which servers underperformed and which did well. The most distant server we tested, Japan, was one of the better ones, while the U.S. was one of the worst despite being the closest.
Round Four Thoughts
The winner here is clear. TunnelBear is inconsistent from server to server, with several locations underperforming. Location seemed to have no bearing on how each server would perform, which makes us think the inconsistency is a symptom of an over-trafficked network.
ExpressVPN, on the other hand, performed well, with impressive speeds and consistency across all servers. We’re giving the point to it this round.
Point for ExpressVPN
5. Security and Privacy
We’ve saved arguably the most important round for last: security and privacy. For security, we look at which protocols the VPNs offer and which encryption they use. We also look for DNS and IP address leaks to get a good idea of how easy it’d be for someone to track you around the web while you’re using the VPN.
ExpressVPN offers several protocols including OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP. For the most part, we suggest that users stick with OpenVPN because it’s secure and offers solid performance. If you’d like to know more about what all those acronyms mean, though, read our VPN protocol breakdown.
As for encryption, there are no options. You’re always set up with AES 256-bit. That’s a powerful encryption and offers practically unbreakable levels of security, even if someone was able to intercept your internet traffic.
When we tested for DNS leaks or IP address leaks, we weren’t able to find signs of information slipping through the cracks.
ExpressVPN’s system is designed around collecting as little information as possible about the user. If you use bitcoin for payment then all that’s needed from you is an email address, and nothing’s preventing you from using a throwaway.
It’s easy to effectively leave no traces behind when using ExpressVPN. Additionally, the company is based in the British Virgin Islands, which has some of the strongest data protection laws in the world, further ensuring that your data is secure and your privacy protected.
TunnelBear offers fewer protocol options than ExpressVPN, but covers OpenVPN, which is the best. It also matches ExpressVPN’s encryption with AES 256-bit. We weren’t able to find any DNS or IP address leaks in TunnelBear’s connection, either.
Round Five Thoughts
Both providers accept bitcoin and have similar no-logging policies. They also have what we consider the gold standard for protocol and encryption, which is the pairing of OpenVPN with AES 256-bit.
Though both VPNs have no-logging policies and respect their users’ privacy, TunnelBear collects more operational information than ExpressVPN, so we’re giving the final point to ExpressVPN.
Point for ExpressVPN
6. Final Thoughts
TunnelBear fought well in this matchup and several points were hard to decide. At the end of the day, though, ExpressVPN was able to hold a solid lead thanks to its fast performance, many features and user-friendly client.
Though TunnelBear was able to take the point for pricing, the final score comes in at four points for ExpressVPN and only the one for TunnelBear.
If you have experience with ExpressVPN or TunnelBear, we’d love to hear your take on things in the comments below. Check out our ExpressVPN vs CyberGhost and ExpressVPN vs PIA comparisons, too. We hope you enjoyed this piece, and as always, thanks for reading.