TunnelBear vs NordVPN: A Battle for the Crown in 2023
NordVPN has held the second spot in our VPN rankings for a while. As you can read in our NordVPN review, it offers excellent long-term pricing that gives users great value for the money. It also has a user-friendly interface with just enough features for the average user. Where it fell flattest, though, was speed.
TunnelBear, on the other hand, is ranked much lower than NordVPN, so this might seem like a mismatch at first glance. If you read our TunnelBear review, though, you’ll notice that it shares many of NordVPN’s strengths and weaknesses.
It offers good pricing, a generous free plan and a good-looking, user-friendly interface, but it proved lacking during our testing in the speed department. We thought this would be a good opportunity to match NordVPN against a provider that shares its same strengths and weaknesses to see the kind of value it really offers. Read on in our Tunnelbear vs NordVPN comparison to learn more.
03/21/2023 Facts checked
TunnelBear changed its free data amount to 2GB per month, up from 500MB per month.
Setting Up a Fight: TunnelBear vs NordVPN
To compare TunnelBear and NordVPN fairly, we designed a set of rules that would allow us to look at the most important aspects of each VPN. We’ve broken things into five rounds, which is less than the nine we use for full-fledged best VPN services.
Several sections in the dedicated VPN reviews are combined, such as privacy and security. The five categories we look at are features, pricing, ease of use, speed and security.
In each round, we’ll briefly outline what we look for and expect, then look at what each VPN has to offer in that field. After that, we bring everything together to compare the two options and choose a winner for the round. Winning a round is worth one point and the VPN with the most points at the end is the overall victor.
To start, we’re going to look at the features offered by TunnelBear and NordVPN. Features are a foundational part of what using a VPN is going to be like, and some are essential.
The features we consider essential include a kill switch and the ability to connect automatically on start-up. Those are the most critical things we look for in the features section because they also have a significant effect on the security of the client.
The features either VPN includes aside from those are just earning it extra points and making it more configurable. We also look at which streaming services each provider can access in this section to see which is the best VPN for Netflix.
In the settings in TunnelBear’s client, you’ll find the most important things we mentioned, including the kill switch and launching the client on start-up. As for connecting automatically, that’s handled in the “trusted networks” tab of the settings.
There, you can tell TunnelBear to connect automatically when you’re not on one of the trusted networks you define. That’s a great way to stay safe when connecting to public WiFi if you don’t plan to use the VPN while on your home network. Alternatively, you can just not add networks to your trusted list as a way to make the VPN always connect automatically.
OpenVPN is the only protocol available, but there’s a TCP override for getting a more stable connection. The TunnelBear kill switch also reconnects automatically if the connection is lost, which is convenient.
TunnelBear offers programs and apps for all major operating systems, including iOS, Android, macOS and Windows, as well as browser extensions.
Finally, in our testing, we weren’t able to get any of the major streaming services to work. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer detected we were using a VPN and locked us out. To learn about an excellent streaming VPN, check out our CyberGhost review.
The NordVPN settings menu is more populated with options than TunnelBear’s. For starters, there’s a kill switch and the option to run the client on start-up. You can also make your device invisible to other devices on the network, too, which is great for adding security on public networks.
There’s also an app kill switch that lets you set up a list of programs for NordVPN to terminate if your connection is lost. There’s a tab for auto-connect settings that lets you choose whether the VPN connects when it starts and where it connects to.
As with TunnelBear, OpenVPN is the only protocol available, but users are given the choice between UDP and TCP, which can help with troubleshooting a rough connection. That said, there’s a guide on NordVPN’s website on how to use IKEv2 for those interested in that protocol. There’s also a custom DNS option, which we’ll take a closer look at in the “security” section.
NordVPN recently added a new feature to its client, called CyberSec, that acts as a malware filter and blocks ads, suspicious files and phishing attempts. We didn’t notice much of a difference during our testing. Besides, we recommend that people concerned about those kinds of threats consider using a dedicated antivirus software instead of one built in to their VPN.
NordVPN covers the same operating systems as TunnelBear, including iOS, Android, macOS and Windows, but it also supports Linux and Android TV. NordVPN also beats TunnelBear in streaming performance because it was able to avoid detection on every streaming service we tried, which is why it earned a spot at the top of our best VPN for streaming list.
Round One Thoughts
TunnelBear and NordVPN are far from the most feature-rich VPNs we’ve seen, and neither comes close to offering the experience ExpressVPN offers, which you can read more about in our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN matchup.
That said, between the two, NordVPN takes the advantage thanks to its more robust kill switch and auto-connect options. It also includes a malware blocker and got into every streaming website we tried, while TunnelBear failed to do so.
Point for NordVPN
When it comes to VPNs, pricing isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. In this section, we not only look at which kinds of plans are offered and how much they cost, but we also investigate the refund policy each VPN offers, which payment methods they accept and whether there’s a free trial.
As you can read in our free VPN services roundup, TunnelBear offers a generous free plan. It gives users 2GB a month for free, which is a great way to try the service to see if it’s right for you. There’s also an option to earn an extra gigabyte of bandwidth by posting a TunnelBear-related tweet.
- 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
If you like what you get from the trial, you can move to a paid plan that’s priced competitively with other high-end VPNs. You can sign up for a month at a time or a full year, with the one-year option offering a significant discount. If you’re curious about more affordable VPNs, read our Windscribe review, and read our Windscribe vs. NordVPN or Windscribe vs. TunnelBear piece to see how they compare.
Regardless of the plan you use, your account is limited to five simultaneous connections, but the paid plans give you unlimited data. TunnelBear also gives users 30 days to get their money back if they aren’t happy for any reason.
For payment, TunnelBear accepts credit cards and bitcoin, but the latter is only for those who sign up for the annual plan.
NordVPN doesn’t offer a free plan or trial. It stands by the same 30-day refund period that TunnelBear offers, though, meaning there’s at least some way to ensure you like the service without losing money.
- Unlimited GB
- Unlimited GB
Unlike TunnelBear, NordVPN offers four time periods for sign-up. The first two are monthly and yearly and come in at slightly more than TunnelBear’s options for the same time frame. That said, NordVPN also offers two-year and three-year plans that bring the average monthly price down well below TunnelBear’s best offer.
Additionally, NordVPN’s plans allow for up to six simultaneous connections. It also accepts more forms of payment, including credit cards, Amazon Pay, UnionPay and cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, Alipay and others.
Round Two Thoughts
This round is hard to score because the differences between NordVPN and TunnelBear make each one an enticing option.
TunnelBear offers better short-term pricing and a limited-bandwidth free plan. NordVPN, on the other hand, provides excellent value in the multi-year time frame and more connections per account. It also accepts more forms of payment.
At the end of the day, the pricing model that works better for you comes down to how you plan to pay for and use your VPN. Because of that, we’re declaring this round a tie and assigning one point to each provider.
No clear winner, points for all
3. User Friendliness
User-friendliness can make the difference between a decent VPN and a great one. Poorly-designed clients can make software a hassle to use, while a refined application will give users what they want in a manner that’s easy to use and aesthetically pleasing.
In this round, we’ll take a close look at what it’s like to use TunnelBear and NordVPN to determine which offers a more user-friendly experience.
TunnelBear’s client is stylized to be brand-friendly, with tons of bears and tunnels spread across a map of the world. By clicking one of the tunnels, you can connect to a VPN server in that location.
Alternatively, you can use the drop-down menu at the top of the window to select your location, then connect by clicking the toggle switch that’s also at the top of the window. In fact, those who don’t care for the quaint bear theme can click the small arrows in the bottom left of the client to put the program into a minimalist mode that hides the map and other frills in the design.
Aside from the bear styling, the map could use work to make it more functional. For one, you can’t use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. Clicking and dragging your way across the map takes several swipes, and that can be compounded by the fact that the map doesn’t wrap around.
If you were in California and wanted to connect to Japan, you’d have to head East to reach it. You can’t scroll West past the Pacific coast of the Americas, meaning anyone living there has to take several long drags to the right to reach their destination.
Those are relatively small complaints that we only bring up because the TunnelBear client is functional, good-looking and user-friendly overall. The settings menus are laid out well and easy to navigate, as is the website.
As we saw in our NordVPN vs CyberGhost matchup NordVPN has a very well designed desktop application. NordVPN uses a similar layout on its desktop client to TunnelBear’s. Most of the right side of the screen is taken by a map, except NordVPN isn’t as stylized and on-brand.
There are small bubbles over many of the countries on the map that you can click to connect to that location (read our guide to why NordVPN is not connecting if you have trouble). The left side of the screen also shows a list of locations. There’s a search bar at the top to make it easy to find your desired location, too.
There are also specialized options in the server list, such as “onion over VPN,” but we’ll look at them in the “security” section. The bottom of the map has a white bar with text that indicates whether you’re connected to the VPN.
The NordVPN map lets you scroll in and out, which makes scrolling your way to distant locations much easier and helps with clicking on the right location because some bubbles are densely packed in Europe.
NordVPN’s settings menus are better laid out and the options are worded more clearly than they are in TunnelBear’s client. That said, NordVPN’s website follows the template that TunnelBear and most other VPN providers use.
Point for NordVPN
Unlike the last section, speed is an objective matter that’s easy to measure and test. There are a few things that we keep in mind while doing our testing, though.
We test each VPN using the OpenVPN protocol and the same five locations from around the world. In addition to testing the speed, we use the VPN to see how it does while browsing the web and streaming videos.
TunnelBear was inconsistent in our testing with regards to speed, and the numbers on paper were only the beginning. We saw solid performance on three of the five servers we tested, but Switzerland and Japan didn’t fare well.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Unprotected (Virginia, United States)||16||72.02||5.82|
Aside from the underperforming locations, the time it took to establish a connection could range from a couple of seconds to 30 seconds. Then, once the client said you were connected, the immediate quality and stability of the connection were often questionable.
Often, websites that we went to within the first minute of the connection being established would time out while trying to load or load with elements of the page missing. Though we’ve tested TunnelBear in the past, things weren’t quite as bad as they were this time.
Once the connection smoothed out, the browsing experience was decent on the servers where we saw good performance and frustratingly slow on the Japanese and Swiss servers, as the numbers we saw on paper suggested it would be.
The difference on paper between NordVPN and TunnelBear is noticeable right away. NordVPN is much more reliable from one location to another. Though the ping times between the two providers were comparable, the download and upload speeds we saw from NordVPN were more consistent and faster, much like in our NordVPN vs IPVanish piece.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|United Kingdom #201||153||34.78||6.06|
|Double VPN (U.S. to Canada #4)||79||20.48||8.64|
NordVPN also fared better when it came to establishing a connection and browsing. It took about 10 seconds for the VPN to connect, and the connection was immediately stable. Websites loaded correctly and web browsing felt responsive.
Watching videos also worked well, and we were able to stream them at 1080p without lag or buffering.
Round Four Thoughts
NordVPN was not only better on paper in terms of speed, but it was also able to provide a more responsive experience. TunnelBear performed inconsistently and at times failed to get a stable connection going right away.
NordVPN, on the other hand, was able to reliably get a solid connection with good speeds and responsive web surfing, no matter where in the world we wanted to connect to. While NordVPN wasn’t fast enough to win against ExpressVPN in our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN matchup it is still fast enough to beat TunnelBear.
Point for NordVPN
5. Security and Privacy
Finally, we’ll examine the security and privacy offered by TunnelBear and NordVPN. Security and privacy are what motivate most people to start using a VPN, so we take care when testing them. When it comes to critiquing security, we look at which protocols are offered, which encryption algorithm is used and test for DNS leaks.
While it doesn’t offer many choices in terms of protocols, the ones that are used are solid. By default, Windows, macOS and Android clients will use OpenVPN. iPhone users will be using IPSec, though. Those are safe protocols, but OpenVPN is the better of the two.
Despite the difference in protocols, TunnelBear clients on all devices use AES 256-bit encryption, which is secure and will protect your data from cybercriminals and government agencies alike. If you’re interested in learning more about encryption, check out our encryption breakdown.
What’s collected includes certain operational data, such as which operating system you’re using and how much data you’ve used. That information is used to help TunnelBear maintain its server infrastructure in an efficient manner.
Like TunnelBear, NordVPN offers limited protocol options. It’ll only install OpenVPN on its own, but it’s possible to set it up to use IKEv2, as well. Those are top-of-the-line protocols, as you can read in our VPN protocol breakdown, but OpenVPN is what we look for and suggest most people stick with.
Encryption is also good, with AES 256-bit being the only option.
NordVPN collects and logs the absolute minimum amount of information about users. To get an account all you need to give is an email address and payment method, and that can be handled with bitcoin and a throwaway email address.
Round Five Thoughts
TunnelBear and NordVPN offer comparable levels of security with the golden pairing of OpenVPN and AES 256-bit. Additionally, they have concise and clear privacy policies that give users a good idea of what’s happening with their information behind the scenes.
That said, TunnelBear collects more operational information, including data usage and operating system. Because NordVPN doesn’t collect that kind of information, it narrowly wins this final point.
Point for NordVPN
6. Final Thoughts
TunnelBear has competitive pricing but limits users when it comes to sign-up options. NordVPN offers more time frames for subscriptions, as well as deep discounts to those who are looking for a VPN to use for years to come.
Though TunnelBear was able to take a point from a tie in the pricing section thanks to its short-term pricing and free plan, it was outperformed by NordVPN in every other category, giving NordVPN a final score of five points. NordVPN offered more reliable speeds, a more refined interface and more features.
If you’ve used TunnelBear or NordVPN, let us know about your experience in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.