- 100% forever free mode limited only by monthly bandwidth usage
- Intuitive, easy to use yet software and apps
- Very consistent and reliable speeds worldwide
- Transparent privacy and logging policies
- The cartoon bear thing is cute and fun
- Highest encryption standards in the VPN market
- Records very minimal user logs (not enough to trace individual activity)
- VigiliantBear kill switch ensures the VPN is also there while online
- GhostBear "stealth" mode bypasses restrictions such as the Great Firewall of China
- Great tutorials and library of "how to" resources
- Located in Canada who shares data with US/UK
- Doesn't allow P2P torrenting
- Rarely works with Netflix
- Servers in only 20 countries
- The cartoon bear thing is a little too cute and fun
- Support answers are typically canned and unhelpful
TunnelBear offers the best free trial of anyone we've reviewed in the VPN industry. There's no duration and no limit to the service's functionality. The only restriction is the 500MB monthly bandwidth cap. Users who are impressed with the company's privacy, security, transparency, and speed reliability will undoubtedly want to upgrade to the reasonably priced paid plan. Not everything is perfect though as server locations are limited, P2P is prohibited, and customer service can be slow.
The user interface and general user experience are top notch. With the free account being so easy to set up, it's really worth trying for almost anyone to see if it's what they want. Risk free commitment is hard to pass up.
Privacy and Security
TunnelBear also offers a few really nice privacy and security features. "VigilantBear" AKA a kill switch prevents unencrypted data from leaking out if the VPN connection should drop. This is pretty key for maintaining protection so it's great to see. Another bear mode called "GhostBear" is the equivalent of other VPN's stealth modes (like TorGuard's). It obfuscates your OpenVPN connection to get around firewalls and avoid common VPN detection methods. In turn, this makes the traffic appear "normal" to the servers. This enables access to content that might otherwise be blocked, such as bypassing the Great Firewall of China.
The Canadian company says they maintain a minimal amount of connection logs. What this means for you is that bandwidth and the number of connections may be on file for up to a month. However, unlike other VPNs that record connection logs, your IP is never recorded nor are the connections time-stamped.
The lack of true anonymity might seem to be a deal breaker. For most users it won't be a problem though, because it's not really enough data to tie anyone to any particular activity. We assume the policy is in place to catch people using TunnelBear for torrenting (which is prohibited). The worst part about TunnelBear is that their based in Canada who regularly shares data with the US and UK and adds an additional level of privacy risk.
TunnelBear isn't the fastest service around. Speeds rarely peaked past 40Mbps, making it slower than powerhouses like IPVanish and PureVPN. The latency proved rather pedestrian as well so gamers will want to look elsewhere.
Still, the overall speeds were respectable and actually did impress in one other area: reliability. After testing multiple locations, I never once saw a drop below 20Mbps. This makes TunnelBear a really great choice for HD streaming, especially when combined with GhostBear mode to bypass VPN blocks.
With locations in only 20 countries, TunnelBear is hardly a marvel for worldly travelers. PureVPN is a much better choice for that given their server locations in 140 countries. It's also unclear how many servers TunnelBear currently operates since they can't be individual selected.
TunnelBear does make the best with what they've got at least. Servers in Hong Kong, Brazil, India, Australia, and Japan add some key global locations to the primarily North American and European locations. As mentioned before, server speeds are very reliable across the planet.
Ease and Usability
Whether TunnelBear is a cute, silly, and fun VPN or a gimmicky tool is really up to the user. Whereas most companies use adjectives like private, safer, express, etc. in their name, TunnelBear distinguishes themselves with a cartoon bear. Cartoons typically make one think of children so we were hoping this spoke of a friendly user interface. Luckily, we weren't disappointed.
Everything from changing locations to enabling and understanding advanced features is as clear as night and day. In addition to the aforementioned VigilantBear and GhostBear, other options such as Wifi protection and support are easy to find. The Chrome browser extension is a great add-on for users who just want to encrypt their browser data and nothing else. Power users will like all of the options and less tech savvy VPN users will have no trouble using the desktop software or mobile app.
There are some downsides though. Linux is supported only unofficially (which makes the Chrome extension extra handy). TunnelBear also maintains a strict no P2P policy so torrenters will want to look elsewhere. That's extra disappointing because the policy disrupts the fun bear theme with a very parental-esque stance.
For a company that's all about fun, they really don't seem to take support all that seriously. This is a big missed opportunity and one that may fairly concern prospective customers. For one thing, email is the only way to contact TunnelBear. The response times are usually satisfactory, taking well under 24 hours on average. However, responses feel pretty generic and it may take a while to actually solve the problem. The company does try to make up for their less than stellar support with some fantastic tutorials and guides. Whether that's enough for you is simply an individual judgment call.
There aren't many VPN services that offer a truly free version. TunnelBear's free account allows a very reasonable 500MB per month in bandwidth. It's enough to test out the service and maintain privacy for key activities. Users who find TunnelBear to be what they're seeking can pay $9.99 monthly or prepay for a year to bring the cost down to $4.99/month. This puts TunnelBear's pricing squarely in the average category.
TunnelBear is free to try, the pricing isn't unfair, and the software is very user friendly. This makes it a great VPN to get started with. We definitely recommend it for any browser based activities. Streaming quality is great but streaming functionality can be very hit or miss with services like Netflix and Hulu. Ultimately, if the company's silly bear logo, free account, security features, and company transparency hasn't sold you by now then I'd recommend looking for a different VPN.