TunnelBear VPN full review

This is a VPN like no other we've reviewed. We like bears, so a simple, bear-themed VPN really piqued our attention. The theme of our ursine friends runs through the software, the website, and the attentive support effort, but thanks to a fast, easy-to-use product, the joke never wears thin. Digital privacy doesn't have to be technical and dull, and TunnelBear may even encourage children to take their online security a little more seriously.

Most other VPN products (many of which you'll find in our round-up of the best VPN services) focus on providing plenty of options and complete control over where in the world you choose to anonymously pop up. In comparison, TunnelBear is almost simplistic in its approach.

After installation (which includes steps such as “Unboxing the Bear”, “Brushing fur”, “Cleaning paws” and “Greasing the Tunnels”), the main interface is friendly, featuring as it does a bright, colourful world map showing the countries to which you can connect.

There are 22 countries (including the UK) in total, but no choice of server. This may not be enough for serious privacy advocates, though the destinations do stretch from Brazil to New Zealand. 

Connections are very quickly established each time, with an animation of the tunnel and a bear popping out of the end of the pipe when established. We suffered no drops in connection at all during testing, and the connection is fast enough to watch HD video without any glitches. On the mobile version, you also get a “roar!” when you connect.

The big question for any VPN for home users is always Netflix. Getting around geolocking technologies is a major use for VPNs, and we're happy to report that at the time of writing, Netflix US content is indeed accessible to UK subscribers using TunnelBear. Simply select the US server and connect.

TunnelBear's head office is located in Canada, which is in the top tier of “5-eyes” countries that share signals intelligence. However, this is a VPN firmly dedicated to securing family browsing, not dissident traffic.

The online privacy policy says that the company collects information about you for the purposes of logging you in, billing and so on, but unless forced to do so in law, will not share your information with any third party.

There's also an explicit statement declaring that it does not log your originating IP address, the IP address emerging from the other end of the VPN, DNS traffic, or the apps, sites, or services you access while connected. There's also a claim that TunnelBear is the only VPN that publishes an independent security audit of its service.

Under the hood lurk two further Bears. Kill switch functionality is handled by VigilantBear, which blocks all traffic while the VPN connects, or while it re-connects if the connection drops for some reason.

GhostBear makes your VPN traffic look less like VPN traffic by scrambling it to make it less detectable by your ISP, businesses that might want to detect your VPN use, and hostile governments. These two tools are off by default, but it's well worth engaging them if you get problems when streaming foreign content.

Versions of TunnelBear are available for Windows Mac, iOS and Android. The Android version is fully-featured, and has the added touch of fluffy clouds floating over the map. It contains VigilantBear and GhostBear, and also SplitBear. This third module enables you to decide which of your apps should not use the VPN when engaged. Finally, when you connect, there's that confirmation roar!

There are three pricing tiers to TunnelBear. The lowest is free, and gets you 500MB per month. This is fine for use when travelling. The monthly plan is £7.35/US$9.99 for unlimited data, and the yearly plan is just £3.67/$4.99 per month for unlimited data, placing it at the low end of the VPN price range.

You can sign up for any of those plans on TunnelBear's website here.