A good VPN service for casual users who want to protect their data.
By Joel Tope – Last Updated: 26 Jun'17
As a relatively new VPN service provider, it’s only natural that there is some skepticism regarding TunnelBear. In this review we’ll pick apart this VPN service, bit by bit, to see how well it stacks up against the competition and hopefully take any worries away.
alternatives to TunnelBear
Before we talk about the service’s features, let’s first take a look at TunnelBear’s pricing model.
TunnelBear’s free option is one of my favorite things about the service. Few other VPN services provide a free version that can be used indefinitely, but that’s not to say TunnelBear’s free plan doesn’t have some serious drawbacks.
While the free version doesn’t impose bandwidth throttling, free users are limited to a measly 500MB of data per month. They also don’t have full access to all available servers. Limiting free users in this manne helps TunnelBear avoid overwhelming the paid users’ servers, a big benefit to them.
$ 9 99monthly
$ 59 88yearly
|Bandwidth||500 GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB|
Free users can, however, get an extra 1GB of data for free by tweeting about TunnelBear, a smart marketing tactic. Like many other providers, TunnelBear offers discounts on longer subscription terms. Users who opt for the annual subscription plan, for example, only pay $4.99 per month.
TunnelBear isn’t as rich in features as its competitors, but, considering it’s a relatively new service, it’s not too bad. For starters, note that TunnerlBear doesn’t have a server presence in nearly as many countries as the average VPN service does.
Most providers usually have servers in at least 30 to 40 different countries; PureVPN has servers in over 141 countries. TunnelBear, in contrast, only operates in 20 countries around the world. Though we expect TunnelBear to expand over time as demand for their service increases, right now the offering is a bit meager. On the other hand, servers are strategically placed in the most popular hosting sites, such as the U.S. and the UK.
|Operating Systems||Windows, Mac OSX, Android, iOS|
We were impressed by TunnelBear’s ability to simultaneously connect up to five devices. This is rather generous, especially considering competitors like ExpressVPN only permit a simultaneous connection between one computer and one handheld device.
As an extra security measure, TunnelBear comes with a VPN kill switch, enabled by default. A kill switch stops data from flowing through a network interface, in an unencrypted format, until the tunnel reconnects.
VPN kill-switches are most often associated with questionable P2P downloads that conflict with digital copyright enforcement laws. Unfortunately, TunnelBear doesn’t allow P2P traffic or BitTorrent downloads through their servers.
Last but not least, the software has a feature that automatically connects to the nearest server. The idea is to provide the fastest available connection, but since most people can choose the closest server on their own, the added value is debatable. And that’s really all there is to TunnelBear’s software.
If you’re the type of person that likes simple, easy-to-use software, without too many configuration options, TunnelBear is a good fit for you. We feel that TunnelBear’s software was a little too bland, but they still may make improvements as the company grows.
TunnelBear claims they don’t log any activity by their customers. That statement is a little misleading because TunnelBear definitely logs certain information, just not your your online activity and browsing history.
TunnelBear logs the following types of information:
- Operating system version
- Application version
- Overall lifetime connections, complete with time stamps
- Whether or not a user was active in any given month
- Total data usage
- User account information such as names and e-mail addresses
- Whether or not they’re a free or paying user
- Payment card data
- Billing address
Generally non-U.S.-based services are great because they keep you out of the NSA’s reach, making them more secure. TunnelBear, in our opinion, log too much information to be truly secure.
TunnelBear Security Concerns
It is common for providers to check when individual accounts connect to servers because it helps them plan for future capacity constraints. But why do they need to collect, store, and log all the other kinds of information? Generally, it’s not good when an application, server, or service knows things like operating system or app version. It’s become common today for web services to track these types of information, but it pays to be wary of browser fingerprinting methods.
As far as security is concerned, TunelBear’s client encrypts all traffic with AES-256-bit encryption. As stated on the website, weaker encryption isn’t even an option. That’s actually a disadvantage as advanced users typically will want a variety of connection options to tweak various settings.
For instance, even though PPTP is notoriously insecure, it does have uses: it carries less overhead, for example, making it ideal for gamers who want to connect with foreign multiplayer servers, without any overload.
TunnelBear performed admirably during the speed test, though it’s not among the fastest services we’ve ever tested. To test server performance, a raw throughput speed test was used. We then measured pings to Google’s servers after connecting.
The results are as follows:
Download bandwidth retention: 81% (4.05 Mb)
Upload bandwidth retention: 84% (0.84 Mb)
Ping to speed test server: 69ms
Ping to Google DNS server: 83ms
Overall, TunnelBear has fast servers, and we didn’t experience any bottleneck issues or overburdened servers. Latency was surprisingly small as well. YouTube videos streamed without any problems, and browsing the web didn’t feel noticeably slower than normal. Unfortunately, about 20 percent of total download bandwidth was lost, which was disheartening.
Who Should Use This Service?
TunnelBear focuses on average users who don’t want or need a high degree of control over background processes. This is backed up by the software client’s lack of advanced features and customizable settings. Because the software isn’t very feature rich, compared to other similar services, we recommend most people look for another service.
It’s easy to find cheaper providers with:
- More servers
- Better software clients
- More security options
For instance, IPVanish costs about the same but offers more value.
That said, it is relatively rare for a VPN provider to offer a free version of its service. For that reason alone, TunnelBear is ideal for people who need a short-term VPN tunnel. If you’re traveling for a short period of time and want to unblock content, circumvent censorship or just browse the web securely, TunnelBear’s free service is a great option.
But for long-term users, we recommend looking at another provider. Over time, they’ll mature and improve their service – but right now TunnelBear is still too young.
Overall, TunnelBear wasn’t too impressive. Since many other companies offer more servers and better features at comparable rates, TunnelBear isn’t great for long-term usage.
Their service wasn’t terrible by any means – far from it. The truth is, they have good software that’s easy to use and cheaply priced. The free version of their service is a great alternative for people with short-term VPN needs. We’re really hopeful and curious to see what becomes of TunnelBear over the next few years; every new competitor in the VPN industry naturally has barriers and challenges to overcome.
Expect them to improve the service by adding more capacity and global locations. If you’re unsure about whether or not TunnelBear is a good fit, I highly recommend taking advantage of the free plan. It’s the perfect opportunity to test drive their VPN tunnel.
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