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TunnelBear review: A charming VPN with some significant compromises

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
8.30
per month

TunnelBear is a pleasure to use but plenty of rivals now offer more

Pros 
Fun and friendly interface
Decent speeds
Reasonable pricing
Cons 
Doesn't unblock all streaming services
Limited platform support
Customer support isn't great
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While some VPNs offer low prices or advanced security, TunnelBear’s USP has always been its charm. The interface is littered with silly bear-themed language and imagery, and there's a sense of playfulness and fun to the whole experience – not something you can say for many VPNs.

TunnelBear also makes itself likeable by offering a free service that might fulfil your needs without a penny being spent. However, in the highly competitive VPN market there are plenty of other options, so it’s worth considering carefully whether TunnelBear is the right choice for you.

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TunnelBear VPN review: What you need to know

TunnelBear operates servers in 48 countries around the world. That’s not a huge range by VPN standards, but it’s enough to give you multiple options on every continent.

Apps are provided for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, and you can connect from up to five devices at once. There are no apps for Linux or smart TV devices, however, nor does TunnelBear allow you to configure the VPN on your router.

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TunnelBear VPN review: Pricing

TunnelBear costs a fairly pricey £8.30 per month (billed as $9.99 in US dollars) for a rolling subscription; as with most VPNs you can save money by committing to a longer period up front. An annual subscription comes to £49.78, equivalent to £4.15 per month, while the best deal is a three-year subscription for £99.75 ($120), or just £2.77 a month.

While these prices aren’t hugely out of line with the competition, there are certainly cheaper long-term deals out there: for example, Private Internet Access costs £65 for a 39-month package, while CyberGhost costs £68.25 for 40 months.

For those on the tightest budgets, the free subscription option allows you to use the full range of servers, but it’s restricted to 500MB of data per month. You can get an extra 1GB by Tweeting about TunnelBear, but it’s still a long way short of the 10GB you get for free each month with Windscribe.

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TunnelBear VPN review: User interface

The TunnelBear Windows app is very easy to use. It opens with a map view, and a little pop-up prompt, inviting you to click to enable the VPN. Doing so (or flicking the switch in the upper left corner) connects you directly to the fastest available server.

If you want to connect to more distant locations, you can click and drag around the map, then click on the pipe icon in whatever country you want to connect to. You can’t narrow your server choice down to individual cities or regions in this way, but TunnelBear’s approach keeps things appealingly simple.

You can also click the drop-down arrow next to the main switch to see a list of available server locations. This is easier than dragging around the map – but not by much, as you can’t search or filter the list, nor mark particular locations as favourites. It does however let you choose locations a bit more precisely, with 13 cities in the USA to choose from, and three in Canada.

A few additional features are hidden in the Settings menu. Alongside the usual options to launch the VPN on start-up, you can tell the VPN to launch automatically when you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot that isn’t on your list of trusted networks. There’s also a kill switch option (rather clunkily dubbed “VigilantBear”) and a feature called GhostBear that’s designed to make encrypted traffic look more like regular Internet data.

The Android app is quite similar. Actually, it opens with a prettier and more detailed map interface, and swiping around it with a finger feels more natural than using a mouse. Tap to expand the full list of locations and you get a full-screen list that’s quicker and easier to browse than the desktop equivalent.

TunnelBear's moble app also has a feature that the desktop clients lack, namely “SplitBear”, which lets you route certain apps over your regular ISP connection at full speed, while the rest get the protection of the VPN. Disappointingly though, the option to automatically activate the VPN when connecting to an untrusted network is missing.

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TunnelBear VPN review: Privacy and security

TunnelBear is based in Canada, and arguably this isn’t a great place to situate a VPN as it’s part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing group along with the UK and the US. However, TunnelBear doesn’t log any information that could be used to track your activities online, and you can optionally pay for the service in Bitcoin, in which case the only information stored about you is your email address and the IP address you connect from.

The company also has an admirably clear privacy policy, which details exactly what information is collected, how it’s stored and more – and annual independent security audits are carried out to confirm that nothing’s slipping through the cracks.

TunnelBear VPN review: Performance

We tested TunnelBear’s performance on a Windows 11 laptop connected to a Virgin Media home broadband line. With the VPN disconnected, the Google Speed Test tool reported an average download speed of 214Mbits/sec; after we’d connected to a TunnelBear server in the UK, this fell to 148Mbits/sec. That’s a comparatively big drop, but it still leaves plenty of bandwidth for web browsing, streaming and so forth.

Perhaps because TunnelBear is headquartered in North America, switching to a server in the US actually delivered higher speeds. This time the average download rate was 178Mbits/sec – well above average for a Windows VPN.

We also tested performance on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 tablet running Android 12. This time we got much better speeds from the UK server, averaging 194MBits/sec, but the US connection was far slower, at 83.5Mbits/sec. Most Android VPNs we’ve tested have managed over 100Mbits/sec in this test.

Overall TunnelBear is fast enough for everyday use, but if you’re looking for the fastest possible connection, it doesn’t distinguish itself. It doesn’t help that, as we’ve noted, the split tunnelling feature isn’t available on desktop clients – either everything goes over the VPN, or nothing does.

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TunnelBear VPN review: Torrenting and streaming

You can freely run BitTorrent over the TunnelBear network, and the website even recommends particular servers for file sharing (namely Canada, US, UK, Romania, Netherlands, Germany, or Sweden). However, downloading copyrighted material is illegal in Canada, even for personal use; if that’s what you plan to do then you might be more comfortable with a VPN located in a more laissez-faire jurisdiction, such as NordVPN in Panama or ProtonVPN in Switzerland.

If you’re more interested in unblocking region-restricted streaming services then, based on our tests, we’d have to say that TunnelBear is a poor choice. Connecting to a US server did allow us to access the US Netflix library, but we weren’t able to get into Disney+ or Hulu – nor were we able to watch content from BBC iPlayer, BritBox or Now TV when using a server in the UK.

Moving onto our Android tablet didn’t help. Again, the British streaming services were all blocked, and the Disney+ and Hulu apps refused to open. Even Netflix wouldn’t play ball this time: the Android app insisted on showing us the UK library, even with the TunnelBear client connected to a server in the US.

TunnelBear VPN review: Customer support

Most VPNs offer a live chat service, where you can get quick answers to any questions or concerns. TunnelBear doesn’t have this: although there is an interactive help service offered on the website, it’s just a robot that scans your messages and tries to point you towards relevant pages in the online help archive. There’s some decent practical guidance in there, but we’d far rather communicate with a human.

To be fair, you can also log support enquiries through the TunnelBear website, and wait for a reply by email. There’s no guaranteed response time, however, merely a promise that support agents “will do our best to respond to all inquiries within 72 hours”. It’s also disappointing that, while almost every other VPN offers a no-quibble money-back guarantee, TunnelBear makes no such promise, stating only that it will consider refund requests on a case-by-case basis. Then again, you can of course use a free subscription to try out the service for as long as you like before you buy.

TunnelBear VPN review: Verdict

TunnelBear is undeniably a likeable VPN. It’s simple, easy to use, reasonably fast and packed with personality.

Unfortunately it loses out to the competition in several areas. The five-device limit feels restrictive when other services allow ten, twelve or even unlimited connections, and it’s annoying that the software only runs on a limited selection of platforms. TunnelBear also doesn’t work with most streaming services, support is disappointingly hands-off, and the price is good rather than great.

While TunnelBear is a fine choice for basic online security, therefore, most people will be better off with a different VPN. Rivals such as NordVPN or Hotspot Shield may not be as charming, but they’re considerably more versatile.

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