Choosing a VPN can be tricky for new users. There are dozens of different providers, all claiming to be the best, and they often use technical terms that you likely won’t understand unless you have a background in computer networking.
To simplify things we compare two major VPNs side by side, NordVPN vs. TunnelBear. This way, you’ll be able to tell exactly what NordVPN and TunnelBear offer at a glance. We’ll also be cutting through the jargon and explaining in simple terms what each feature does so that you know exactly what you’re paying for. With that said, let’s begin:
Pricing and discounts
|Subscription periods||One month||One month|
|One year||One year|
|Two years||Two years|
|Special offer||75% discount on three-year plan||58% discount on two-year plan|
|Highest price per month||$11.95||$9.99|
|Lowest price per month||$2.99||$4.17|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||30 days|
As you can see, both of these services are reasonably priced, even if you subscribe month-to-month. TunnelBear is slightly less expensive in the short term but if you’re willing to commit for a longer period, NordVPN offers more significant savings. Its three-year plan costs just $107.55 USD which is only slightly more expensive than TunnelBear’s two-year subscription, which costs $99.99.
Of course, TunnelBear has one very attractive offering: a free version. This is less appealing than it seems, though, as free users are limited to 500MB of data every month. For context, this is enough to watch about half an hour of standard-definition video on Netflix (although if you’re only browsing the web, 500MB will last quite a bit longer).
Both NordVPN and TunnelBear offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. This enables you to try each service for a month and claim a refund if you’re unsatisfied. You don’t even have to provide a reason for canceling your subscription.
Best Deal for NordVPN:Cut the cost by 75% with NordVPN’s three-year subscription.
Best Deal for TunnelBear:Choose TunnelBear’s two-year plan to save 58%.
|Operating system apps||Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV/ Firestick||Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS|
|Manual install devices||Routers, set-top boxes||Linux (limited support), routers, set-top boxes|
|Split tunneling||No||Android only|
|Free extras||Ad-blocking, malware-scanning, automatic wifi protection, browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox||Automatic wifi protection, extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera|
At first glance, these services seem to offer similar features but in practice, there are a few important differences. Both VPNs offer apps for the most common platforms, although NordVPN is included in the Amazon app store and TunnelBear has to be manually installed on Linux. Additionally, TunnelBear only works with two specific distributions (Ubuntu 16+ and Fedora Workstation 25+).
On the other hand, TunnelBear has a browser extension for Opera, which NordVPN doesn’t. That said, the value of this is questionable since fewer than three percent of internet users rely on Opera. Further, it’s important to note that VPN browser extensions only secure traffic from your browser and not any of your other programs (P2P clients, messaging apps, and so on).
Then there are the more advanced options. Both VPNs include automatic wifi protection, but NordVPN also allows you to block ads and scan files for malware automatically, making it easier to browse safely. TunnelBear’s Android app, however, includes a split-tunneling feature, which lets you select specific programs to bypass the VPN.
|Netflix||Over a dozen libraries including Netflix US, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, Netherlands||No|
|Amazon Prime Video||US, UK||No|
TunnelBear has plenty of strengths but unblocking streaming platforms isn’t one of them. This VPN struggles to unblock any major streaming platforms (and notably, can’t unblock any Netflix libraries at all), although it does allow you to access some less popular services like ITV Hub from abroad.
In contrast, NordVPN excels in this area. It’s perfectly capable of unblocking services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer, and while it won’t let you stream ABC live, this is only because ABC has especially powerful region-locking features. It’s also worth mentioning that all of NordVPN’s servers unblock Netflix, although if NordVPN can’t connect to the Netflix library you’ve chosen, you’ll be redirected to Netflix US.
China’s internet restrictions are some of the strictest in the world, and perhaps unsurprisingly, most VPNs just won’t work. However, both NordVPN and TunnelBear work in China once they’ve been properly configured.
NordVPN has special servers designed for use in countries with strict internet censorship. However, you have to change a setting in order to use them. Once you enable this (Settings > Advanced > Obfuscated Servers), you’ll find suitable servers in the list on the left of the main screen. TunnelBear has a similar setting (Settings > Security > GhostBear), and data-cloaking can be used with any server.
While these VPNs work perfectly in China, their websites are blocked by the Great Firewall. As a result, you have to install your VPN before arriving in China.
Setup and interface
|Automatic setup wizard||Linux, Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android||Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS|
|Main location selection||Map-based/List-based||Map-based|
|Extra settings pages||Yes||Yes|
Both NordVPN and TunnelBear offer intuitive, user-friendly desktop apps. TunnelBear’s app walks you through the process of connecting to the VPN every time you log in, and the map on the main screen makes it easy to see which servers are available. Settings are on a separate page and broken up into three categories, so it’s relatively simple to find what you’re looking for.
NordVPN’s desktop app is split into two sections: a list of available servers on the left, and a map on the right. Users can connect to specialized servers (such as those designed for P2P file-sharing) right from the home screen, which is excellent. We also like that NordVPN allows you to zoom in and out of the map since, with servers in 60 countries, it can get pretty cluttered.
TunnelBear’s mobile apps are almost identical to the desktop ones, although most of the configuration options have been removed. You can still scramble your traffic, activate the kill switch, and use split tunneling (on Android), but these features are labeled “GhostBear,” “VigilantBear,” and “SplitBear,” respectively, which doesn’t really tell the user anything.
This isn’t the only instance of TunnelBear’s “form over function” approach: of the six available options in the mobile app, three (including “bear sounds” and one which “displays fluffy clouds on the map”) have no impact whatsoever on the VPN’s performance.
NordVPN’s mobile app is a shining example of what TunnelBear’s could have been. It retains most of the desktop app’s functionality, and simply rearranges the interface to better suit small screens. Some features have been removed, like the kill switch (on Android) and obfuscated servers, but overall, it remains versatile and easy to use.
Servers and performance
NordVPN’s network covers almost three times as many countries as TunnelBear’s and comprises 16 times more servers. However, it should be noted that NordVPN has more servers than any other major provider.
What bearing does this have on the user? Well, with more servers, NordVPN is better able to spread user load, meaning you’re more likely to obtain a high-speed connection even during peak times. Of course, the number of users is also a factor here.
TunnelBear lets users of its free service select any one of its 20+ locations. While this is great for those users (most free VPNs only offer a selection of a few locations), it could mean a lower quality service for paid users.
The table below shows where NordVPN and TunnelBear have servers:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||✔|
|United Arab Emirates||✔|
|VPN protocols||OpenVPN, IKEv2||OpenVPN, IKEv2, IPSec (iOS only)|
|OpenVPN data encryption||AES-256||AES-256|
|OpenVPN control channel encryption||RSA-4096||RSA-2048|
|App security||Kill switch (except on Android)||Kill switch (all platforms)|
|DNS status||Private DNS||Private DNS|
Both of these VPNs enable you to use OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols, although TunnelBear also uses IPSec on iOS devices. Interestingly, TunnelBear doesn’t actually let you change the protocol manually; instead, it starts two connections and uses whichever protocol connects the fastest.
NordVPN uses 4096-bit RSA keys to securely communicate with your device, whereas TunnelBear uses 2048-bit keys. Both are effectively uncrackable (as is the 256-bit encryption each of these VPNs use), although hypothetically, it would take even longer to compromise NordVPN’s RSA keys, Otherwise, NordVPN and TunnelBear have similar advanced features.
Both use Obfsproxy to reshape your traffic and hide the fact that you’re using a VPN, for instance. Additionally, each service owns its own DNS servers, meaning your data is never seen by any third parties. They each offer a kill switch too, although TunnelBear has a slight advantage here. Its kill switch, named VigilantBear, is available in every version of the app.
|User details for signup||Email address||Email address|
|Anonymous payment options||Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple||Bitcoin, jars of honey|
When it comes to privacy, NordVPN is one of the best. This service is based in Panama, a country with no mandatory data retention laws, for a start. It keeps no activity or connection logs, and allows you to pay with three of the most popular cryptocurrencies.
TunnelBear records some information including whether you’ve used the service in the last month and how much data you’ve transferred. It does not log any details of your activities, however. This VPN is based in Canada, a member of the Five Eyes intelligence partnership. This means your information could, in theory, be requested by one of the other member nations (the US, the UK, Australia, or New Zealand) and shared with all the others.
Like NordVPN, TunnelBear accepts Bitcoin. It also accepts jars of honey as payment, which is technically anonymous, provided you don’t include a return address. It’s worth bearing in mind that the cost of shipping a jar of honey to Canada is likely to be higher than the monthly subscription price, however.
|Dedicated IP address possible||Yes (in Germany, the US, the UK, the Netherlands)||No|
Both of these services use shared IP address allocation. This means that every user who’s connected to a particular server shares the same IP address, making it near-impossible to tell which person accessed a given site. If you’d prefer an IP address all to yourself, NordVPN lets you purchase one for an extra $70 per year.
Neither of these services offers anti-DDoS servers, although NordVPN used to. That being said, any VPN will protect you from DDoS attacks since their large networks are able to absorb and distribute the impact far more effectively than your home router.
NordVPN comes with a NAT firewall, while TunnelBear doesn’t. When you connect to a VPN, all of your traffic is encrypted, and your router can no longer see which device each packet is intended for. Your VPN’s NAT firewall simply reroutes your data where it needs to go and blocks any suspicious or unsolicited traffic.
|Live chat||Yes (in-house)||No|
|Average email response time||8 hours, 18 minutes||4 hours, 55 minutes|
|Searchable knowledge base||Yes||Yes|
TunnelBear’s support is decent, but it pales in comparison to NordVPN’s. There’s no live chat support, for instance, which means you often have to wait several hours for answers to relatively simple questions. TunnelBear does, however, include a solid knowledge base with answers that explain things in layman’s terms.
NordVPN offers 24/7 live chat-based support, and the staff usually respond to messages in a matter of seconds. There’s also a searchable knowledge base, or if you’d prefer, a selection of video guides on NordVPN’s YouTube channel.
To accurately compare the responsiveness of these services, we sent each three questions over email. TunnelBear should have a slight advantage here, as email is its primary customer support channel. Email response times will vary based on the time of day and the number of users experiencing problems. You can find the results of our tests below:
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|What kind of logs does NordVPN keep?||3 hours, 8 minutes||1||Yes|
|Can I install NordVPN on my Raspberry Pi?||12 hours, 1 minute||1||Yes|
|Can NordVPN automatically protect my wifi?||6 hours, 52 minutes||1||Yes|
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|What kind of logs does TunnelBear keep?||5 hours, 59 minutes||1||Yes|
|Can I install TunnelBear on my Raspberry Pi?||4 hours, 35 minutes||1||Yes|
|Can TunnelBear automatically protect my wifi?||4 hours, 14 minutes||1||Yes|
As expected, TunnelBear had a lower and more consistent average reply time. Both services tended to reply with pre-written responses, which is understandable given how common our questions were. However, TunnelBear’s replies were loaded with bear references, which isn’t exactly what you need when you’re looking for technical support.
TunnelBear is a better-than-average free VPN but it fails to live up to its more secure, more versatile paid rivals. It markets itself as a simple, easy-to-use service for beginners, but without 24/7 live chat, users could find themselves unable to browse safely for hours, awaiting a response from support. Due to this and several other factors, NordVPN is the better choice for the average user.
Not only does NordVPN provide higher speeds, but it also has far more servers and unblocks a far wider range of content. This service also puts major emphasis on your privacy and security, a must for any VPN that works in China. Best of all, NordVPN, while not free, is one of the most affordable VPNs on the market.