5th May 2015
Today I reviewed TunnelBear VPN, a service that offers awesome security at a great price.
- low monthly rates
- great security
- unlimited bandwidth
- user-friendly software
- unreliable customer service
Overall Score: 78/100
This score is much lower than the 97/100 scored by our top rated VPN – Express VPN.
TunnelBear turned out to be a great deal, with plenty of features, and even an affiliate program where customers can earn amazing commission rates.
To sign up with TunnelBear VPN, go here: TunnelBear VPN
VPNs are no doubt one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect your privacy online, as well as allow you to get access to regionally blocked content.
Global server locations and IP address blocking work to get you access to anything you want, regardless of where you’re actually logging in from.
That plus military-grade encryption protects your information, and keeps even government agencies from knowing where you’re accessing from or what you’re doing online.
As identity theft rates continue to rise, and concern mounts even in America about government internet surveillance, many people are turning to VPNs to protect their privacy.
With so many of them out there to choose from though, it can be pretty difficult for a beginner to know where to start.
Here I’ve reviewed one, TunnelBear VPN, to give you an idea of how to shop smart for a VPN, and show how this one compares to some of the competition out there.
I’ll break down all of the features VPNs have to offer, what to look for in terms of security, and give their customer service a workout.
Will TunnelBear Work on My Operating System?
With any VPN, the very first question you want to ask yourself is will their software work with my devices.
Keep in mind that you can often connect one VPN account to more than one device, so make sure it’s going to work with everything from your laptop to your iPhone.
TunnelBear is compatible with just about everything, including Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows. They have mobile apps for your phones and tablets, and a great software platform for computers.
The only operating system they aren’t compatible with is Linux.
Rating: 4/5 – Works with everything but Linux
What Kind of Features Does TunnelBear Have?
Now let’s dig into the features. This is a pretty big category, so I’ve broken it down into some smaller parts so that we can take a look at all of the details in a VPN’s service plan.
The more of these they have to offer, the better, so pay close attention to the ones that matter most to you, like bandwidth or multiple connections.
Feature #1: Multiple Connections
This refers to the number of devices a VPN provider will let you have on a single account.
It’s great for people with families that need to protect more than one connection, or even just people that use a couple mobile devices in addition to their home computer.
TunnelBear allows up to three simultaneous connections per account, which makes them perfect for households.
With their service, you can use their software or app on any three gadgets, without paying additional service fees.
Rating: 5/5 – Up to 3 connections
Feature #2: Money Back Guarantee
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about VPN services, it’s that you really won’t know if you like it until you try it out yourself.
That being said, if they don’t offer a free trial, make especially sure that they have a money back guarantee of some kind, that way you’re not out your money if things don’t work out.
The wording in TunnelBear’s terms of service isn’t super definitive, just stating that they don’t offer partial refunds for service cancelled in the middle of the month.
It looks like they don’t have any kind of money back guarantee though, and after talking to someone from support about it, they really just handle it on a case by case basis.
Rating: 2.5/5 – No definitive money back guarantee
Feature #3: Number of Servers
This category is important, because the more servers a VPN provider has to choose from, the more likely it is that there will be one in your corner of the world.
This means you can choose the one that’s going to give you the fastest connection. TunnelBear doesn’t have a ton of servers – only 14 total.
While this may be enough to get you access to any content you want, you may also experience sluggish connections if a lot of their customers wind up online at the same time.
However, according to TunnelBear, they also expand their server network when they see a lot of activity starting to bog things down.
Apparently they have access to hundreds, and tap into them on an as-needed basis. This isn’t something I’ve ever heard of a VPN provider doing, but it makes good sense.
Rating: 4/5 – Limited server locations, but potential to expand
Feature #4: Referral Program
Many VPNs out there have seized on the massive marketing potential that is word of mouth recommendations with referral programs.
These will often give you free or discounted service for sending new customers their way, so be sure to check with the companies you’re looking into to see if this is something they offer.
Referral programs are not the most common feature in my experience, but TunnelBear does have something similar, though it’s more of an affiliate program.
They offer bloggers and website owners the opportunity to make up to 100% commission on customers they send their way!
Rating: 4/5 – Affiliate program for bloggers
Feature #5: Data Logging
For VPN customers, privacy and anonymity is almost the whole point of using the network. If a company is engaged in any kind of activity logging or monitoring, kick them to the curb.
Rating: 5/5 – No data logging
Feature #6: Bandwidth
If you use streaming services a lot, or download movies and music from the internet, pay extra close attention to this feature, because you are a bandwidth black hole my friend.
Bandwidth refers to the data capacity a connection has, and the more you get, the more fun you can have.
Though there is a cap with TunnelBear’s free service, their paid packages both offer completely unlimited bandwidth, so you can stream all you want without having to worry about hitting a cap.
Rating: 5/5 – Unlimited bandwidth
How Secure Is It?
When you’re using a VPN, security is tantamount to everything else.
Sure, you want to stream Netflix and Skype with your buds, but in the end, if your connection isn’t secure, you’re paying high dollar for a glorified proxy.
State of the art encryption and multiple security protocols are what you want to look for here, with 128 bit or 256 bit encryption (the latter being the stronger of the two).
With the OpenVPN protocol that’s used on Windows, Android, and OSX platforms, you get military-grade 256 bit encryption.
Their Giant Bear software has a couple of nice features to ensure your information stays well protected. One is a setting called Vigilant, which by default is turned on.
This is a setting that ensures your information is protected in those brief seconds while you connect to the VPN.
In addition, TunnelBear has a feature called TCP Override. In a nutshell, this setting optimizes your internet connection for reliability.
A lot of time ISPs will block some of your UDP traffic in an effort to save some bandwidth on their servers.
The TCP Override opens that connection up for smoother streaming and a more reliable connection all around.
Rating: 5/5 – Some unique features to choose from
What’s the Set Up Process Like?
Since so many people out there are still pretty new to the concept of VPNs, the whole idea of setting up this private connection can seem a little daunting.
Well, it shouldn’t. This software is very easy to use, and set up should be just as simple. With TunnelBear, they’ve made the process a no-brainer.
Just download the software that’s compatible with your device from their website or the App Store.
Then run the installation wizard, which may also install some device driver software for you on your device. That’s it – no settings to configure, no connections to set up.
Rating: 5/5 – Very simple set up
Is it Easy to Use?
Once you get your VPN software installed and the connection set up, you need to make sure that you can connect and disconnect with ease.
Having to sort through a bunch of features and windows just to secure your connection is going to really frustrate you, and complicated software dashboards can make the process maddening.
Let me just say that TunnelBear has some of the simplest and best software design I’ve seen yet with a VPN.
First of all, after you complete installation, it automatically walks you through a quick little tutorial on how to use it (which you can skip if you don’t need it).
After that, the very straightforward design is impossible to get turned around in – just click the ON switch to connect, and you’re in business.
Rating: 5/5 – Very easy to use
Another thing I love about TunnelBear is that you only log in during the initial set up process – after that you can start and restart the software without having to punch in your credentials.
Changing servers is a breeze too.
You’re automatically connected to the closest available server, but if you want to switch to a different location, it’s as simple as choosing a new one from the drop down menu.
The only thing I wish was different was that there were real time displays on the internet traffic on the servers.
What If I Need Help?
Since VPNs are a service that is rendered completely digitally, it’s important that these companies be accountable to their customers.
If you can’t get in touch with a real human being when you need help, then there’s a problem.
Since people all over the world in varying time zones use VPNs, the most important thing about their customer service is that it is 24/7.
If you’re having problems at midnight on a Friday, you shouldn’t have to wait until noon on Monday to get service.
Unfortunately, it looks like TunnelBear doesn’t have 24/7 support, just based on my experience with them.
It would seem from my wait times when I contacted them myself that they’re not available weekends, or after typical business hours.
Rating: 0/5 – Limited support availability
The next thing you need to look at are the ways you can get in touch with support.
Most VPNs offer at least e-mail support, with some offering live chat on their website, and a rare few that do phone support.
Either way, ideally you want a VPN provider that has at least e-mail and a live chat feature.
TunnelBear only offers their customers e-mail support, so not only will you have to hope to need them during business hours, but you may end up waiting at least 24 hours for assistance.
Rating: 2/5 – Only e-mail support
Customer Support Test
All that being said, I decided the surest way to see just how good TunnelBear’s customer service was was by giving it a work out myself.
I made sure to send them e-mails at varying hours of the day, both during peak service hours and well outside the norm for business hours. Here’s what I found out.
E-mail Support Test #1 – Saturday/11:21 pm.
My first attempt to contact TunnelBear was later in the evening on a weekend.
I had a simple inquiry about establishing my connection, and was hoping since it was a technical issue that I would get a fast response.
However, it took almost two full days to get a response back. I loved that it was helpful and polite service, but the wait time was crazy long.
Result: 38 hours 41 minutes
Rating: 2/5 – Unresponsive customer service
E-mail Support Test #2 – Sunday/10:37 a.m.
My next attempt to contact customer service was during a much more reasonable time of the day.
Again, I made sure to make a tech support inquiry, so that my question would (in theory) receive a little more priority. But still, after over 24 hours, I never heard back from these guys.
Result: No response
Rating: 0/5 – Never heard back
It’s a shame that TunnelBear’s customer service wasn’t more prompt, because the time I did hear back from them it was clear to me that it was a real person.
As they continue to grow as a company, they hope to expand their customer service’s availability, but for the time being, expect some lengthy wait times.
Overall Support Rating: 2/10 – Long wait times
How Fast is TunnelBear?
It seems like every VPN provider out there claims to have a lightning fast connection, and let’s face it, they can’t all be right.
The speed of a connection is super important though, and is going to impact everything from streaming to basic browsing, so pay close attention to this one.
To see how fast TunnelBear’s connection was while using the closest available server, I ran two speed tests to compare my standard home connection to theirs.
As you can see, even with the OpenVPN protocol encrypting my connection, it was only marginally slower when using TunnelBear. I was totally impressed with the speed of this VPN!
Rating: 4.5/5 – Very fast connection, even with strongest encryption
How Much Does TunnelBear Cost?
Since there are so many VPNs out there to choose from, you can usually get the most competitive low prices around.
Everyone’s competing for your business, so don’t settle for anything less than the best.
TunnelBear is super-affordable, with a well below average monthly rate of less than $5. Plus, if you get their Grizzly package, you’ll pay even less than that by purchasing a whole year all at once!
Rating: 5/5 – Super low monthly rates
The X Factor
In the end, your purchase decision is going to have a lot to do with the impression you get from a company.
If their website is a mess and you can’t even see what you’re buying, or if their marketing makes grandiose blanket statements, stay away from those guys.
They’re selling hype, and that’s not what you’re shopping for.
The thing I really love about TunnelBear is the honesty of their marketing. They don’t just cater to the tech-savvy, and they don’t oversell their products.
If you look at the Terms of Service on their website, even that is broken down and summarized to explain it in a way that makes sense to you.
Their website and software design is very user-friendly and intuitive, and the overall tone of everything is very friendly, and downright cute. In my opinion, THIS is how you sell a VPN.
Rating:20/20 – Good old fashioned, honest advertising
So that was a lot of ground to cover there, but hopefully you have a better understanding now of how VPNs work, and what to look for when you start shopping around for one.
Let’s recap and see how TunnelBear did.
- works on most operating systems
- up to 3 connections
- unlimited bandwidth
- no data logging
- wide pool of servers to tap into
- affiliate program with great commissions
- refunds are available
- very easy to set up
- easy to use, with tutorial at first start up
- fast connection
- very secure, with multiple options and extras
- low monthly rates
- great marketing, user-friendly website
- not compatible with Linux
- customer service has limited availability
- only e-mail support available
Overall Score: 78/100
Overall, I was really impressed with TunnelBear. The only category where they really lost points was their customer service, and hopefully that improves as this company grows.
It’s a great VPN, and is incredibly easy to use, making it great for everyone.
To get TunnelBear, sign up here: TunnelBear VPN
To see the highest rated VPN that scored a 97/100, click here: Express VPN.