Many VPNs sell themselves on their features. The largest number of protocols; the strongest possible encryption; more complex technical parameters than anyone in the business. You know how it works.
On the other hand, TunnelBear is all about simplicity with its free VPN plan, simply providing the basic features you need and making them available to everyone, with the minimum of fuss.
Make your choice of VPN protocol. Other apps may offer you a selection and give you low-level network settings for each. TunnelBear's software supports the best and most secure protocols, WireGuard and OpenVPN, but handles all the decisions about what to use and when.
- Windscribe subscription options:
- 1 month plan – €9 per month (total cost €9) (Opens in a new tab)
The app also has a handful of other cool features. It can automatically connect when you access an untrusted Wi-Fi network, for example. A kill switch prevents your traffic from being exposed if the VPN goes down, and a stealth feature can help you connect in countries or networks where VPNs are often blocked.
TunnelBear Free VPN also has significant limitations. It only supports one simultaneous connection, so you can only use it on one device at a time. Even then, you won't be using it for long, as the free plan comes bundled with a terribly limited monthly data allowance of 500MB, enough for only very occasional use.
TunnelBear is second to none among VPNs when it comes to auditing your systems (Image Credit: TunnelBear)
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Privacy and registration
The TunnelBear website has a lot of reassuring things to say about how it handles its traffic: “TunnelBear does NOT record any activity from customers who log into our service. Spot. Your privacy is paramount.
Most marketers say something very similar, of course, but that's not just a marketing ploy. TunnelBear goes above and beyond to verify its promises and now undergoes some of the most intensive independent VPN audits.
The company doesn't just have experts reviewing its apps, for example. It also puts your servers under surveillance, as well as your website and back-end infrastructure. TunnelBear publishes the audit report in its entirety, rather than quoting a few carefully selected paragraphs. And then it repeats the process every year (as of this writing, it has had four full-service audits). No other VPN provider comes close to this level of transparency, and TunnelBear deserves a lot of credit for making it possible.
TunnelBear's desktop clients are simple and well-designed (Image credit: TunnelBear)
Windows and Mac apps
TunnelBear's Windows and Mac apps feature an attractive interface that displays business locations on a world map. You can click and drag to move around the map, then click on your favorite city to connect. Alternatively, you can choose your city from a dropdown list, or simply click the "On" button and watch the app connect to the nearest location.
We found that connection times could be surprisingly long, sometimes 20 seconds or more. Many VPNs (especially when using WireGuard) connect in seconds and some are even faster than that.
We also noticed connection issues, with the VPN dropping occasionally. It's not clear why, and we can't rule out the possibility of a temporary network or other local issue. But we tested all the VPNs in the same environment, and TunnelBear's connection seemed less stable than most.
There are very few settings to play with, but the ones that are there are useful (Image credit: TunnelBear)
Apps only have the most essential settings: notifications, the ability to enable (or disable) the kill switch, etc. These have reasonable defaults, so you may never have to explore them. But if you do, you'll find generally straightforward descriptions of what each setting does, with links to the support site for anything a bit more complicated.
Our tests revealed that the kill switch didn't always fully protect us in the most extreme situations, like an app crashing. It's useful to know, because the best apps protect us everywhere, but it's not a major risk either. It's highly unlikely that you'll see an app crash in real life, and we found that TunnelBear's kill switch had no problem protecting us from common situations that might more realistically be encountered.
The mobile apps are based on the same principle as the desktop versions (Image credit: TunnelBear)
Apps for Android and iOS
TunnelBear's mobile apps pretty much share the same interface as the desktop editions, and it works for us. You can choose locations from the map, a dropdown list, or have the app automatically connect to the closest location with just a tap.
We quickly noticed a surprising difference: a roaring bear sound every time the app connects or disconnects. Charming? Annoying? We're not sure, but the audio has practical value, making it very clear when you're protected and when you're not. (And if you don't need it, no problem: there's a "Bear Sounds" checkbox in the settings where you can turn off the sound.)
It's not just about the cuteness factor. The Android app also has TunnelBear's VigilantBear kill switch, the GhostBear feature to bypass VPN blocking, and even a split tunnel feature (called, you guessed it, SplitBear) to route your specific app's traffic out of the VPN. .
TunnelBear's iOS app is relatively limited, with no VigilantBear or GhostBear. You still get split tunneling, but it applies to websites instead of apps. If a site doesn't let you in when you're using the VPN, the app lets you route that traffic over your regular connection. This isn't an ideal solution, as it means the VPN can't protect you, but if the website doesn't cover anything private or important, it might be a good option.
TunnelBear worked well for a free VPN in our performance tests (Image Credit: nPerf)
TunnelBear may not have the most powerful apps, but does it deliver speed? We tested the app from a UK data center with a 1 Gbps connection and the results weren't bad at all, with TunnelBear averaging 300 Mbps.
We've seen faster free VPNs: Atlas VPN, PrivadoVPN, and Proton VPN hit 320-380 Mbps in their latest tests. However, TunnelBear outperformed Hide.me, Hotspot Shield, Speedify, and Windscribe in our tests, and 300 Mbps is a very strong result for a free product.
It was a similar story with unlocking. TunnelBear gave us access to US Netflix, a great achievement that beats some paid VPNs. But the good news started and ended there, with TunnelBear failing to unblock Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, or BBC iPlayer.
TunnelBear's support isn't the fastest, but it does provide a solid enough level of help if you get stuck (Image credit: TunnelBear)
If you have any problems with the service, you can contact support. There's no live chat, so you have to create a ticket on the website, but TunnelBear's immediate response, "we'll do our best to respond to all inquiries within 48 hours," didn't bother or impress us. “Our best effort”, so it could last even more than two days?
However, it turned out to be a bit pessimistic, and we actually got a useful response in about 24 hours. It can't compete with the live chat support of a paid VPN plan, where you can get a first response in 24 seconds. But that's not bad for free: Hotspot Shield's free plan, for example, isn't supported, and it's nice to know there's help ready if you ever need it. .
TunnelBear Free VPN is a decent service at heart, fast and very easy to use. But unfortunately, the stingy 500MB per month data allowance means this is more of a demo for the paid plan than something you could run long-term. Only for very occasional users.
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