TunnelBear vs. Private Internet Access (PIA)
Comparison & Test Results 2018
Users in search of a low-priced VPN will be appreciative of TunnelBear’s service. The provider even offers a free, if quite limited, tier of service.
While TunnelBear is reasonably priced, you can easily see where the provider cuts corners to deliver the low pricing - global server coverage and device support being the most obvious.
Private Internet Access (PIA) will be a particularly attractive option for VPN shoppers looking for a bargain.
In addition to budget-minded pricing, the company also offers surprisingly fast connection speeds, top-notch privacy protections and peer-to-peer file sharing support.
Family or small business users will appreciate the number of simultaneous connections that this provider allows, as well as its support for the major device platforms. Its limited global server coverage could be a turn-off for some users.
How to Choose a VPN
In this virtual one-on-one, Private Internet Access (PIA) will be going head-to-head with fellow budget VPN provider TunnelBear.
In this article, I’ll offer a look at the top 10 most important categories to consider when assessing VPN providers.
I’ll explain why each category is important and share how well each provider performs in that category. Whichever performs the best will be declared the victor and will win 1 point. (Since the connection speed category is made up of two separate tests, domestic and international, each will be worth 0.5 points.)
At the end of the article, I will tally the points, and whichever VPN has the most points will be named the head-to-head champion.
By that point, you should have enough information available to make a knowledgeable decision as to which VPN provider is the best fit for your needs.
I would venture to say that a large number of the electronic devices you have in your home or office are connected to the internet. Whether you’re watching Netflix on your iPad or downloading a file from work, connection speed is important to the quality of your online life.
When I test a VPN provider’s connection speeds, I do the following: I connect to each VPN provider and test their connection speeds by using Speedtest.net. I test both providers during the same time of day, one after the other, to ensure a consistent speed measurement.
Note: I am connected to the internet via a gigabit fiber connection, so your raw speeds may differ.
Domestic Connection Speeds (U.S.)
My testing of “domestic” connection speeds is designed to offer a reasonable example of the types of speeds you can expect from each VPN provider’s servers located in your country of residence. (I use a U.S.-based server for my testing.)
International Connection Speeds (U.S. to U.K.)
“International” speed testing is intended to indicate the type of connection performance a provider offers while connected to a VPN server located in another country. (For testing, I use a server located in the U.K.)
It’s safe to say that if your computer or other connected device is on the internet, someone is monitoring it. Whether it’s your ISP recording your online activities to sell to the highest bidder or hackers looking to steal your banking and credit card information, someone is watching you.
When considering a VPN provider’s privacy protections, ask the following questions:
Although Private Internet Access is located in the United States, where ISPs and VPN providers can legally collect logs of their users’ online activities, PIA chooses to keep no records of their users’ online activities. PIA also accepts cryptocurrencies as payment for subscriptions.
TunnelBear’s base of operations is located in Canada. The government there already requires ISPs to keep logs of their users’ online activities, and there are rumblings that VPNs might be next. But, for the moment, TunnelBear is still sans user logs. The provider accepts both Bitcoin and even honey (yum!) as anonymous payment options.
Both of the providers in this head-to-head challenge offer their services for a reasonable price, ranking in at the low end of the pricing column among the VPN providers I have tested.
In this faceoff, I’ll be ranking the competitors according to the annual subscription pricing - the lowest price wins.
Private Internet Access charges $3.33 per month (payable at $39.95 per year) to users who go for their annual plan. Users who opt for the month-to-month option will pay a still-reasonable $6.95 per month. Users willing to commit to a 2 year subscription will pay a mere $2.91 per month through a bi-annual payment of $69.95.
Private Internet Access offers a 7-day money-back guarantee.
TunnelBear’s month-to-month subscription option comes in at $9.99. The tariff takes a steep dip down to $5.00 per month ($59.99 per year) if you decide to go the annual subscription route. (TunnelBear’s USD-to-Honey exchange rate can vary by the day, so you’ll need to contact them to find out the current exchange rate.)
Sadly, TunnelBear does not offer a money-back guarantee of any kind.
TunnelBear also offers a free level of service that provides a somewhat underwhelming 512MB of data per month. However, users can get an additional 1GB of data each month if they tweet about TunnelBear’s service.
Money-Back Guarantee Period
Global Server Coverage
Top-notch global server coverage is an important consideration for any VPN user who is looking to access content and services that might normally be inaccessible from the user’s current location.
Private Internet Access currently has 3,402+ servers in 33 countries around the globe.
Sadly, TunnelBear “bearly” has you covered when it comes to global server coverage, with servers in only 20 countries.
While I can’t speak for all of my readers, I know that multi-platform support is an important consideration when I’m shopping for the right VPN. I want to make sure all of my connected devices are protected.
Private Internet Access offers native apps for the Windows, iOS, macOS, Linux and Android device platforms. Router support is also available, adding up to 8 supported platforms overall. In addition, browser extensions are available for use on the Opera, Firefox and Google Chrome platforms.
TunnelBear’s device support is a bit more limited than PIA’s, with apps available only for the iOS, Android, macOS and Windows platforms, equaling only 4 supported platforms. The provider does offer extensions for the Chrome and Opera browser platforms, though.
Even the most avid world traveler still appreciates a taste of home now and then - whether it’s a McDonald’s hamburger, or their favorite movie or television show on Netflix.
Unfortunately, neither Private Internet Access nor TunnelBear offer access to Netflix content located in the U.S. or other countries.
Users who place a high priority on Netflix access will need to drop both of these providers from their list of VPNs to consider.
Netflix Access Winner: No Winners Here
Customer support is something that no one ever wants to have to use, but they’re darned glad it’s there when they do need it. (Like Pepto Bismol.)
Private Internet Access hits most of the marks when it comes to customer support, offering an informative knowledge base, a trouble ticket system and a “Guides” section to walk customers through installing and customizing their PIA VPN connection. The only thing missing is live support chat.
TunnelBear also lacks live support chat. However, it does offer an email support form and a searchable knowledge base.
Perhaps the most important feature of a VPN is the layer of encryption it encases the user’s connection in, keeping said user’s online activities under wraps.
Private Internet Access uses AES-256 encryption to protect their customers’ connections via the OpenVPN, L2TP+PSK and PPTP protocols.
TunnelBear also offers AES-256 encryption via OpenVPN with IKEv2 and IPSec/IKEv2 protocols.
Encryption Winner: It’s a Tie!
AES-256 encryption, using OpenVPN, L2TP+PSK and PPTP
AES-256 encryption, using OpenVPN, IKEv2 and IPSec/IKEv2
Users who own a small business or head a large family will appreciate a VPN provider that allows a large number of simultaneous VPN connections using the same login.
Private Internet Access and TunnelBear both allow up to 5 simultaneous connections.
Sharing files among a large number of users via peer-to-peer connections is arguably one of the most widespread activities on the internet today. While sharing non-copyrighted files this way is legal in most countries, the sharing of copyrighted files such as movies and music has led to ISPs blocking this activity on their networks.
Private Internet Access allows BitTorrent traffic on all of its servers in all 33 countries.
TunnelBear does not allow BitTorrent/P2P activities on their VPN network.
Winner: Private Internet Access!
The Private Internet Access versus TunnelBear competition quickly turned into a bit of a rout, with PIA scoring a total win in nearly every category.
Private Internet Access scored highest in the domestic and international connection speed, privacy, pricing, global server coverage, multi-platform support, customer support and BitTorrent categories.
TunnelBear failed to score a win in any category, but did manage a tie with PIA in the Netflix, encryption and simultaneous connections arenas.
Private Internet Access turned out to be the best-performing VPN provider in this head-to-head competition. The provider is an excellent choice for bargain hunters who don’t want to sacrifice connection speed, privacy and BitTorrent access simply for a low price.