This makes for a very positive experience and does well for the company since it makes users more curious to try it, even if just to see how it all works. For that purpose TunnelBear offers an unlimited time free version of the service that can easily be upgraded to eliminate any bandwidth restrictions enforced in the demo program, though everything else – such as the entire server network, support for computers and mobile, and the rest of the program’s features – are available with the free version, which is very generous.
TunnelBear’s client is creatively designed to resemble a colorful cartoonish version of the world map with tunnel exits positioned in the countries where the company hosts its VPN servers. When disconnected, users will become an ‘internet sheep’ because their traffic is not protected, with an actual sheep appearing in their real physical location to illustrate the fact.
But it’s not all fun and games, since TunnelBear is still a heavyweight in the features department by providing all of the most basic tools that customers will demand. In the app’s settings, for instance, it’s possible to toggle on VigilantBear and GhostBear. These are no more than a kill switch and a function to disguise encrypted traffic as regular internet data, but their humorous names highlight just how much the company fully embraces its theme in every regard. Another good example of this is RememBear, the company’s separate password management tool that debuted in late 2017.
The Vigilant feature though is a good addition: it is essentially a DNS leak protection device that can be enabled or disabled. And by the way, we also like how even some of the functions’ names – like Vigilant – are similarly presented in a themed manner. Next, the TCP override function recognizes throttles and lags in your connection and stabilizes it. We must also mention the auto-connect on unsecure Wi-Fi feature. Basically, once your client starts (and it can be enabled to start with your computer), it will pay attention to any unsafe connections you may encounter and can initiate a VPN network by itself to protect your furry back. And lastly, The IntelliBear windows helps you in filtering which URLs (and only those) should be included, or excluded from your VPN connection.
Browser Extensions and Ad Blockers
On top of desktop clients and apps for mobile devices, TunnelBear also offers browser extensions for Google Chrome and Opera. Though these are naturally much more limited when it comes to their features, they look similar to the standard versions – albeit with the cartoonish world map on such a small scale that it is impossible for the bears to dig their tunnels. Instead, users are given a list of countries and the furry little animals will relocate to the desired location.
In addition, there’s also a blocking tool for Chrome, which doesn’t only block annoying ads but also prevents any other privacy invading techniques such as website fingerprinting, Flash Player menaces and more.
The server selection of the Canadian company is just a bit slim, but it’s still better than the bear minimum. There are 20 different countries available which is enough to provide a worldwide coverage. Except for Africa, all continents have at least one location and there are even some less common countries available, too, like India or Hong Kong, for instance.
Several tests conducted on the network revealed that while connections were set up relatively quickly, their respective speeds took some time to build up. Nevertheless, when these connections stabilized they managed to achieve pretty good speeds, even in some of the most distant countries. For example, ours tests were conducted from Europe and the closer servers naturally had the clear victory due to the low ping, but even so farther locations such as Mexico and India still showed positive, consistent results.
Moreover, all connections proved to be reliably secure, too, since IP addresses were always attributed correctly and there were no DNS leaks whatsoever. This confirms that TunnelBear can grant the best level of anonymity and protection on each VPN connection, but those thinking of using it for P2P should consider resorting to other alternatives as the company doesn’t support this.
The official TunnelBear website goes into great detail to explain exactly what kind of information is collected and stored. Generally, the company’s aim is to work with the least amount of data required and other than time stamps and the amount of data used per month, no other VPN data is logged.
In terms of encryption and security protocols, TunnelBear uses 256-bit AES OpenVPN connections with SSL support, the most common choice nowadays. Other than this, IKEv2 and IPSec protocols are also available, though it’s unfortunate that users can’t choose to alter between them. Instead, they are automatically selected by the VPN according to the device in use – IPSec and IKEv2 for iOS smartphones and tablets, and OpenVPN for all others.
OS, Device Support
And when it comes to TunnelBear’s device support, in truth it is not the most extensive since it only covers the most basic devices. Computer operating systems include Windows 7 and above and macOS 10.10 or later, while only Android and iOS users can install the apps. The Chrome and Opera extensions shouldn’t be forgotten either and support for Linux is still basic, but that wraps up the support that is focused on the most popular devices. To some extent this is understandable as the company is not exactly the largest bear in the woods just yet, so over time the hope is that it is likely that TunnelBear will at least add manual router configurations to eliminate the maximum number of simultaneous connections – which is currently set to five – and perhaps even reach new devices and platforms.
TunnelBear follows the standard three-plan scheme that most VPN providers utilize, naturally each of them suitably named in accordance with the bears theme once again. The so-called Little version is the free option, which comes with a bandwidth limit of 500MBs per month. This is the plan’s only restriction, however, since all the available countries and additional features are available, though this data cap can easily be extended to 1GB simply by spreading the word about the company on Twitter.
When it comes to the paid subscriptions, first there’s the Giant package, a basic monthly plan that costs $9.99, which is a rather high price. To achieve TunnelBear’s goal of getting customers to subscribe to its Grizzly plan – the annual subscription and the company’s most popular option – it cuts the monthly price in half to $5 per month, costing a total of $59.99 billed each year. This is a much nicer price but it’s unfortunate that there are no fixed durations to choose from in between. A semiannual or quarterly subscription would be a good addition since it would give customers more options than just an overpriced monthly plan or the only well-valued option that locks the customer in for an entire year. Still, it’s worth pointing that the only difference between Giant and Grizzly is their duration; they are otherwise identical.
Sadly, though, with TunnelBear there are no refunds or money-back guarantees, so once a subscription is bought there’s no turning back. This is unfortunate considering the length of the longer plan, yet also understandable given the limited yet forever free version.
Payment options include the usual array of credit cards, PayPal and Bitcoin, but the company continues to bring the humor with this section, too, by genuinely allowing payments in jars of honey, as its Twitter page often demonstrates.
This is unfortunately one of the weaker spots with TunnelBear. The main reason for this is the fact that there is only one method of contacting a ‘support bear’, which is via a ticket submission platform that is only available for registered clients. Other than that, the company provides most of its assistance via their FAQ page, which is limited to the most general questions covering payment details, overall VPN usage, or more technical support for personal and business users.
Nonetheless, there’s also a blog and a particularly strong presence on social media. Facebook and Twitter is where most of the relevant news, software updates and information related to company is posted, often in the same playful way that characterizes TunnelBear. The staff also replies to questions there and is very friendly to anyone who has a honey-sweet word to share or is just seeking information.
TunnelBear is a truly unique VPN provider. The humorous attitude towards its business and the dozens of bear-related wordplays is clearly something that plays in its favor as it makes users want to try it out, even if it’s just to see how far the company takes these jokes. This brings many new subscribers into the cheerful bear cave where they’ll find a fun VPN that doesn’t owe much to bigger rivals. Yes, the server network is not very large, the device support also has much space for improvement, and it would be good to be able to change VPN protocols whenever necessary, but few VPNs can maintain the same level of good, consistent speeds in even the most distant servers while ensuring full DNS leak protection.
TunnelBear also provides some extra tools to fine-tune the VPN experience, even letting people use the software for free forever. This means it’s possible to say that the service is suitable for both beginner and advanced users that don’t need any superfluous programs and are in need for nothing more than a trustworthy VPN for unblocking content and maintaining full anonymity on the internet.
- Very easy and fun to use
- Kill switch and traffic obfuscato
- Browser extensions and Chrome blocker
- Good speeds
- DNS leak protection
- Free account forever
- No P2P allowed
- Limited server network
- Poor customer service options