TunnelBear VPN: It's Just Right
PC Magazine|February 2021
REVIEWS / SOFTWARE
MAX EDDY

Too many security products have for too long relied on a hacker-esque “edginess” in their designs: Think neon-green text on a black background. TunnelBear VPN heads in the opposite direction, with bright colors, excellent design, and a cadre of cute but powerful bears. It’s bursting with charm, yet it also delivers excellent security tools at a good price. It’s a VPN that you’ll actually enjoy using and an Editors’ Choice winner, too.

What is a VPN? When your VPN is active, your web traffic travels through an encrypted tunnel to a server managed by the VPN service. That keeps your information safe from data thieves and other ne’er-do-wells lurking on public networks. It also helps protect against ISPs selling anonymized metadata about your web habits. When your traffic exits to the web through the VPN server, you appear to have an IP address at that server’s location. This protects your real identity as you browse the web.

TUNNELBEAR PRICING AND FEATURES

TunnelBear is one of the few providers we’ve reviewed that offers a truly free VPN service. However, the free TunnelBear tier restricts you to only 500MB of data per month. You can earn more data by Tweeting about the company, which can raise your limit to a total of 1GB for one month. The free version of HotSpot Shield limits you to 500MB per day, while the ProtonVPN free subscription has no data limit.

If you decide to pay for TunnelBear, it won’t break the bank. You can snag the Unlimited plan for $9.99 per month. That’s slightly below average $10.21 per month for a VPN, and the quality of service makes it an even better value. Hotspot Shield, by comparison, costs $12.99 per month, while Mullvad is a mere $5.54 per month. TunnelBear also has longer term subscriptions, starting at $59.88 per year or $120 every three years. That’s significantly less than the industry average of $71.87 per year.

While TunnelBear is an excellent value, we highly recommend starting with the company’s free or monthly plans, so you can test out TunnelBear for yourself and make sure it will work for you. TunnelBear limits free users to 500MB of data per month, which is quite restrictive. ProtonVPN, notably, places no limit on the data of its free VPN subscriptions.

There is an added cost to that low price tag: TunnelBear doesn’t offer much beyond VPN protection. Editors’ Choice winners IVPN, NordVPN and ProtonVPN are among the few VPNs that offer multihop connections, which use a second VPN server for extra security. Several offer split tunneling, which allows you to designate which apps’ traffic travels inside or outside the VPN connection. TunnelBear has none of these.

TunnelBear VPN

PROS Affordable. Excellent privacy policies. Annual independent audits. Friendly, approachable design. Browser extensions, including stand-alone ad blocker. Good speed test results. Bears.

CONS Lack of geographic diversity in server locations. Few advanced features.

BOTTOM LINE If you’re tired of edgy security products, let the strong-but-cute bears of TunnelBear VPN defend your web traffic. Easy to use and easily affordable, it’s an Editors’ Choice winner.

While TunnelBear is an excellent value, we highly recommend starting with the company’s free or monthly plan.

You can pay for TunnelBear using major credit cards. Bitcoin is an option, but only for the one-year plan. Other VPN services such as Editors’ Choice winner Mullvad go further by accepting numerous payments, including cash.

With either a free or a paid account, you can use up to five devices on a single TunnelBear account. That’s average for VPNs, but many services offer more. Some services, such as TorGuard, will let you purchase additional device connections using a sliding scale. Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight, IPVanish VPN, Surfshark VPN, and Windscribe VPN place no limit on the number of devices you can use simultaneously. (Note that IPVanish and Encrypt.me are owned by j2 Global, the parent company of PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)

Previously, TunnelBear forbade the use of its services for P2P file sharing or BitTorrenting. Thankfully, those days are gone. You can now use it to torrent over VPN to your heart’s content.

VPN PROTOCOLS

TunnelBear secures your connection with the OpenVPN protocol for Android, macOS, and Windows. This is our preferred protocol, as it is newer, faster, more secure, and open source.

The TunnelBear iPhone app, meanwhile, uses the IKEv2 protocol, which is a good option for that platform. IKEv2 is also available for the Windows and macOS clients. You can’t change which protocol TunnelBear uses in its app, but that’s fine for most users.

Some VPNs, including NordVPN and Mullvad, have begun deploying the next-generation WireGuard VPN protocol. While also open source, this super-fast VPN protocol is still very new. The fact that TunnelBear doesn’t offer it isn’t a problem. Yet.

SERVERS AND SERVER LOCATIONS

The more server locations a service has, the more options you have for spoofing your location. A lot of geographic diversity also means you are more likely to find a close-by server when traveling abroad, which will likely be faster and more resilient than a distant one would be.

TunnelBear offers servers in 26 locations. This collection covers the essentials, and recently expanded to encompass more of South America, but is still on the low side. TunnelBear’s offering completely ignores Africa and the Middle East, an omission that is, sadly, not unusual for VPN companies. ExpressVPN covers 94 countries and CyberGhost comes close behind with servers in 90 countries.

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