Technology

TunnelBear VPN review: The overpriced ursine has trouble living up to the hype

Like

  • Strong transparency
  • Ease of use
  • Dancing bears

Do not Like

  • Would not unblock Netflix
  • Cannot choose servers by metropolis
  • Costs aren’t aggressive

TunnelBear’s gotten loads of hype within the final couple of years. It was touted by Wirecutter because the New York Instances’ high virtual private network decide for several months by way of 2020, US Information and World Report ranked it 6th for the yr, and PC Magazine and TechRadar preferred it too. However after I take a look at TunnelBear after a yr spent under the hoods of its VPN rivals, I simply do not get the joy. 

Certain, TunnelBear’s speeds are affordable. And sure, like a few of its rivals, it affords yearly transparency experiences and has been audited independently. Nevertheless it’s additionally a Canadian enterprise owned by US-based McAfee, so in case you’re on the lookout for subpoena-proof worldwide privacy, you’re playing with fire. It holds a paltry 23 server places from which you’ll’t manually select your server or perhaps a metropolis. It would not provide Tor-over-VPN, it solely affords cut up tunneling on Android, and it could possibly’t even unblock Netflix. 

Learn extra: The best VPN service of 2020

Why do folks like this VPN a lot? What am I lacking? Is it the cutesy little bear animation that you just see whenever you click on the connection button? Is that what’s acquired everybody excited? No judgment. I simply need to know. 

I do know it could possibly’t be the price that makes it so interesting. The TunnelBear plan with one of the best worth is $120 for a three-year subscription with a restrict of 5 related gadgets. In the meantime, competitor Surfshark prices half as a lot at $60 for a two-year subscription, outperforms TunnelBear on each privateness and have entrance, has likewise been independently audited, and permits limitless related gadgets.

By each measurement I’ve acquired, TunnelBear is only a barely overpriced but middling providing inside a privacy-averse jurisdiction, and has all of the configuration choices and visible attraction of Child’s First VPN by PlaySkool. 

Pace

  • Common velocity loss: 63% 
  • Variety of servers: 1,800 
  • Variety of server places: 23
  • Variety of IP addresses: Unknown

I ran velocity exams utilizing TunnelBear over three days with dynamic IP addresses, in two places, utilizing each wi-fi and ethernet connections. Web speeds in the US vary by state and supplier. And with any velocity check, outcomes are going to depend on your native infrastructure. Hyperfast web service will yield greater check velocity outcomes. 

That is one motive I am extra considering testing the quantity of velocity misplaced (which for many VPNs is often half or extra) throughout each high-speed and slower connection sorts, and in utilizing instruments resembling speedtest.net to even out the enjoying discipline. Within the case of TunnelBear, practically 63% of common web velocity was misplaced. That common contains each the superfast speeds recorded for close by servers, and the sluggish speeds recorded for the extra distant servers. 

Learn extra: All the VPN terms you need to know

Speeds I recorded for TunnelBear positioned it close to the center of the VPN pack. It struggled to catch as much as the favored NordVPN‘s general 32% velocity loss, and catching as much as different speed-intensive VPNs resembling Surfshark and ExpressVPN (which in earlier exams skilled general losses of simply 27% and fewer than 2%, respectively) may very well be an excellent greater drawback. TunnelBear’s speeds have steadily improved over time as measured by different evaluation and testing websites, although, and the US scores I recorded noticed a velocity lack of solely 54%. 

In my exams, US servers delivered the height velocity of 176Mbps, with a median of 112Mbps. That is greater than quick sufficient to torrent, recreation, or browse. Non-VPN speeds in the identical spherical averaged about 244Mbps. UK speeds got here in second place, averaging 104Mbps. Australia adopted in third place, with a median 100Mbps. 

Speeds bottomed out in Singapore, although, with a low of 4.95Mbps and a median velocity of 68Mbps. TunnelBear’s connections routinely faltered when testing within the area. The bottom averages have been present in Europe, at 65Mbps general. As has been the case for each VPN I’ve examined, German servers underperformed in comparison with French. 

Safety and privateness

  • Jurisdiction: Canada, with US dad or mum firm
  • Encryption: AES-256
  • Leaks: None detected
  • Consists of kill swap

You need to unblock Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or one other streaming service? TunnelBear is not the only option. You need to torrent? Sure, TunnelBear affords P2P torrenting on all of its servers however its house jurisdiction of Canada — a member of the Five Eyes worldwide mass surveillance and intelligence-sharing settlement — is thought to come back down onerous on copyright violations once they’re caught. As is the US, the place its dad or mum firm McAfee is headquartered. 

Notably, TunnelBear is not making the identical “no logs” promise that many different VPNs make. It’s open about accumulating what would usually be thought-about very restricted connection logs — versus utilization logs — which embody information in your bandwidth use and whether or not you have used TunnelBear in any given month, and which model of the app you have put in on which OS. 

I want a VPN preserve no logs, particularly a VPN situated inside a rustic that is a part of a global intelligence-sharing ring. However TunnelBear is holding its personal within the transparency competitors amongst VPNs by publishing the outcomes of its impartial safety audits and annual transparency reports which are offered in plain, simply understood language. These experiences inform us that from September 2018 to September 2019, TunnelBear obtained 10 authorities or authorized requests for person data. 


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These experiences additionally inform us one thing arguably extra essential: When TunnelBear is alerted to a big service or safety situation, the corporate addresses and fixes it. When it contracted Remedy53 for its third impartial safety audit (released in January), TunnelBear set about fixing points post-haste. Whereas TunnelBear is not the one VPN with routine audits and transparency experiences, that is the type of routine transparency we must always all anticipate from each VPN available on the market. 

No IP handle, DNS or different probably user-identifying information leaks have been detected throughout our testing, however prior to now TunnelBear was noticed to have been leaking WebRTC information on at the very least two occasions. TunnelBear’s encryption is commonplace AES-256, and it helps Excellent Ahead Secrecy, which implies it regularly modifications encryption keys to keep away from safety compromises. 

I might wish to see TunnelBear provide the most recent VPN protocol WireGuard, however for now it affords solely OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols. The software program features a kill swap, which prevents community information from leaking exterior of their safe VPN tunnel within the occasion the VPN connection fails. TunnelBear would not provide a multi-hop choice nor Tor-over-VPN, nevertheless it does provide restricted split-tunneling in its Android shopper so you may decide which of your laptop’s connections you need to encrypt. Nevertheless, split-tunneling isn’t obtainable on every other OS.

In a current launch, TunnelBear claims to have efficiently circumvented a nationwide VPN block in Iran, whereas providing 10GB value of free VPN utilization to people contained in the nation. Maybe extra attention-grabbing, although, is that TunnelBear seems to have turn out to be the second app to have constructed assist for a notably efficient anti-censorship extension into its Android utility. These strikes towards expanded privateness underneath encroaching web restriction counsel promising developments in TunnelBear’s safety priorities. 

Value 

  • Usability: Practically unattainable to get incorrect, at instances oversimple
  • Platforms: Home windows, Android, MacOS, iOS, (restricted) Linux
  • Value: $3.33 per thirty days, or $120, for a three-year plan
  • Variety of simultaneous connections: 5

I do not often dig into the aesthetics of VPN software program exterior of how simply they could permit a newcomer to get the dangle of a product, or how intuitively organized and accessible the software program’s configuration choices are. However practically each evaluation of TunnelBear finally ends up noting the unavoidable cuteness of its design as a standout function, and it is value stating why it really works and the way it may assist customers within the longer run. 

My common distaste for cutesy-tech apart, I get it: In a world filled with wanna-be edgy VPN software program aesthetics, a cartoon bear doing foolish issues is an inviting visible queue of person friendliness. VPNs appear difficult and web surveillance is horrifying; a teddy bear is reassuring and easy. The selection of a bear as a advertising and marketing mascot is all of the extra intelligent for its twin symbolism: The place different VPNs depend on summary brand design (or on much less cuddly animals like vipers or sharks), a bear mascot stands out from the group by suggesting highly effective safety of the person. In some design components, TunnelBear’s mascot is a cub. In others, it is a large grizzly utilizing its laser eyes to assault fighter jets. 

If you’re spending greater than it is best to for a product with much less options than its rivals, nonetheless, the cuteness stops being cute and turns into infantilizing, insulting even. It is extra irritating than useful to be offered with an interactive map for selecting your required nation when there’s just one “tunnel” per nation. 

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TunnelBear has cute, accessible branding and design, however its options are missing.


TunnelBear

However I am not suggesting TunnelBear develop up and polish its playground look. The mascot technique is good, and the branding too robust to let go. What’s extra, the cartoonish aesthetic gives TunnelBear a greater alternative at creating VPN energy customers than maybe every other VPN available on the market. If Joe Camel may persuade children to mild up a cigarette, TunnelBear’s grizzly can persuade VPN newcomers to grasp encryption and internet censorship

To reap the benefits of this chance, TunnelBear ought to put some elbow grease into creating a stronger suite of options. Why not introduce WireGuard and let customers experiment with totally different safety protocols by permitting them to decide on what sort of armor the bear wears (the lighter the armor, the quicker he tunnels however the much less protected he’s)? Why not give the bear multiple cartoon tunnel per nation and illustrate the variations in server load by displaying the variety of different bears queuing by way of every tunnel?

Extra playfulness in design is required throughout privateness tech as its first-time customers flee more and more invasive home surveillance and try to safe their searching throughout an usually too-steep studying curve. I do not assume we must always kill TunnelBear’s cutesy-tech mascot, however for the cash he calls for, we must always at the very least put him to work. 

On a per-month breakdown, the least costly TunnelBear plan is its $120, three-year plan. Given the volatility of the aggressive VPN discipline, although, three years is a very long time to decide to a VPN supplier, particularly one like TunnelBear — one with a 48-hour wait time on its troubleshooting ticketing system as an alternative of 24/7 dwell chat assist, one which “could provide refunds on a case-by-case foundation,” and one whose trial interval is simply obtainable for its free model (which has restricted use and options). You are able to do higher. So can TunnelBear. 

You can too go month to month for $10, or pay $60 upfront for a single yr. If you are going to spend $60 on a VPN, although, you may as properly spend it on Surfshark’s two-year plan, fairly than TunnelBear’s one-year. Both approach, TunnelBear accepts cost by way of bank card and Bitcoin. Not like different VPNs, it would not take PayPal. Additionally not like different VPNs, it would not assist Amazon Fireplace Stick or Android TV

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Author

Rae Hodge