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TunnelBear for Android review: A user-friendly and affordable Android VPN

Stuart Andrews
15 May 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
9.49
per month (with free options)

An impressive Android VPN that’s strong on privacy and free for basic use

Pros 
User-friendly
Affordable
Good privacy protection
Cons 
Not the fastest
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TunnelBear is one of the simplest, most user-friendly desktop VPNs out there – and the Android app is just as likeable. The visual style is instantly recognisable, with its groovy cartoon style, bear-related punning and tunnelling imagery. And like the desktop version, the Android app offers a free service with limited monthly data, as well as paid-for monthly and annual plans.

READ NEXT: The best Android VPNs

If your requirements are fairly basic, the free 1,500MB plan is probably all you need. Otherwise, you’re looking at £9.49 per month or £56.99 per year for unlimited data across 5 PCs or mobile devices – or £4.79 per month and £38.49 per year if you only need your Android devices covered. Either way, it’s pretty competitive. If you stick to the free option, you can get more data by inviting a friend or tweeting about TunnelBear: each is good for an extra gigabyte.

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Setup and basic use

TunnelBear keeps things simple, and highly visual: you pick your VPN location by tapping on a cartoon map, to surface your connection through the tunnel of your choice. There’s a switch to connect and disconnect the VPN, plus a menu button for options and help, and you can also tap to upgrade to a paid-for plan or rate the app on the Google Play store. TunnelBear doesn’t nag you to do either, though; the thinking seems to be that if you like the service, you’ll be willing to pay to use it more. Food for thought for some other VPN providers, perhaps?

Server locations

The selection of exit nodes isn’t enormous, but you can tunnel to 22 locations covering Europe, North America, Mexico, Brazil, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand and Singapore. There’s also a UK presence if you’re concerned about privacy, rather than spoofing a particular location; your IP address is disguised and your traffic encrypted, but it’s a relatively short hop, so performance isn’t too badly impacted.

Performance

Inevitably, using a VPN slows down your connection. When tunnelling through one of TunnelBear’s UK servers, we saw download speeds drop from 26.8Mbits/sec to 15.2Mbits/sec, while uploads fell from 8.5Mbits/sec to 7.4Mbits/sec. Routing our traffic through the Netherlands saw speeds fall further, to 11.3Mbits/sec and 8.3Mbits/sec. That’s a big drop, but it’s still perfectly fast enough for everyday use – and it’s a lot better than you’ll see with, say, the Opera Free VPN or VPN Monster.

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Transatlantic speeds aren’t too bad either. Through a US server, we saw speeds of 12.3Mbits/sec downstream and 7.6Mbits/sec upstream. That’s more than fast enough for streaming video – although sadly, Netflix won’t work over a TunnelBear connection.

Privacy protection, meanwhile, appears rock-solid. The DoILeak.com tests suggested that we might be vulnerable to HTTP and WebRTC IP leaks, but we were able to confirm that, in fact, our true IP address wasn’t being revealed.

Other features

TunnelBear has some nice advanced features – and they’re not just reserved for premium customers. The “GhostBear” function scrambles VPN communications to make them look more like regular internet traffic, to fool deep packet inspection tools. “VigilantBear” is designed to keep your location private should TunnelBear momentarily disconnect. And “SplitBear” allows you to exclude selected apps from the VPN connection, so non-critical traffic isn’t slowed down and doesn’t eat into your data allowance. All of these options can be turned on or off with a tap.

Privacy and security

TunnelBear is based in Canada, which is part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – so any data the company has on you could be shared with the US or the UK. However, TunnelBear’s privacy policy makes clear that the company doesn’t record IP addresses or DNS queries while connected, nor any information about the applications, services and websites you use while connected to the VPN. Indeed, it explicitly affirms that disclosures to law-enforcement agencies are limited to the personal information collected when you join and pay for the service.

Verdict

There’s a lot to like about TunnelBear as a service, and the Android app is a pleasure to use. It’s fast enough for normal use, it doesn’t hassle you to upgrade – and if you do want to switch to a premium service, it’s pretty good value. If you’re looking to try an Android VPN with a view to buying, this one’s easy to recommend.

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