Here’s our take on two options you should consider if you’re on a budget.

Overview

When comparing TunnelBear vs Private Internet Access (PIA), you should note that they are both run-of-the-mill VPN services, but they do have their unique attributes. Both are very popular.

TunnelBear has millions of users due to their free version and great brand. Otherwise, its selling proposition revolves around the technology they use to provide security and anonymity, as well as the fact that they are running their own servers.

TunnelBear offers an easy-to-use interface that makes it a breeze for beginners. If you are wondering whether TunnelBear can give you the privacy you want, then yes, you have it, provided that you don’t indulge in scandalous activities. The ownership of TunnelBear recently changed hands, and today it is owned by McAfee, which is renowned in the area of cybersecurity. The other thing this means, however, is that the VPN is under the jurisdiction of the Five-Eyes intelligence alliance.

TunnelBear claims to have zero-log practice, but there is potentially more to this than meets the eye. Being owned by the Santa Clara, California, based company leaves a lot of questions unanswered as to whether TunnelBear will keep its promise of ensuring complete data protection. TunnelBear can be used in China and it can help you access censored content and some geo-restricted sites. It gives users the option to use the gold standard in data tunneling, which is OpenVPN and other relatively strong protocols, like IKEv2. In addition, Tunnelbear has a kill switch, which will protect your anonymity should your VPN connection drop. TunnelBear may state that they have fast speeds, but these service providers never say that their server speeds are slow. All in all, it’s a decently fast network despite operating in only 20 countries or so.

Private Internet Access (PIA), on the other hand, is a controversial VPN with its own ups and downs. The VPN comes with changeable data encryption levels, various handshakes, and authenticators. For most users, these are more than sufficient. A network kill switch cements the security and privacy features. Because PIA has their own DNS, it makes leaks less likely to occur.

A big thumbs up for this VPN is that it’s cheap. PIA has many more servers compared to TunnelBear and it covers more countries, though still not many – only about 30. If jurisdiction is a concern to you, then PIA isn’t your choice. It is a US-based company, meaning your online privacy isn’t wholly protected. Using PIA allows you to torrent safely, and you can use it with Kodi, but you won’t be able to watch Netflix.

Generally speaking, Private Internet Access isn’t the most reliable for bypassing geo-blocked content. Their shorter subscriptions are very cheap, with the 1-month plan costing $6.95. Its number of servers is very high, but they are not spread out over many locations. The connection speeds are average, but some locations tend to have bad connections. PIA doesn’t have support over live chat and you can only reach them via email.

Security features

TunnelBear encodes users’ traffic using the well-reputed AES-256 encryption. It supports tunneling protocols such as IKEv2 and OpenVPN.

PIA uses AES-128 and AES-256. Using AES-128 encryption means more speed but less security. PIA doesn’t have IKEv2, which works better on mobile devices than OpenVPN. A network kill switch is a great addition for both VPNs. PIA doesn’t have DNS leaks, but it has had issues with WebRTC leaks.

It’s 1-1 in the TunnelBear vs Private Internet Access fight.

Issues with legal jurisdiction

TunnelBear, while now owned by an American company, is based in Canada. Unfortunately, this isn’t any better since Canada is also a member of the 5-Eyes intelligence alliance. This means that Canada shares intelligence data with countries like the UK and the US.

PIA is based in the United States, which is known to be notorious in infringing online privacy. The VPN may have a zero-logs policy, but there may be data security situations they cannot have control over considering the aggressive nature of US intelligence agencies.

Seems like no one wins this TunnelBear vs Private Internet Access round.

Speed & Performance

Determining the speed of a VPN isn’t easy as many factors come into play, ranging from the hardware that is being used to the distance from the server that is being connected to. PIA has many servers, but they are located only within certain regions. They are mostly in Europe and North America, so users in those areas may have fast speeds. Users in other locations like Asia, South America, and Africa may have low speeds. Simply said, PIA connectivity speeds are just average.

TunnelBear is quite fast, but depending on server locations, the speeds may vary. For instance, users in the United States, Europe, and Canada can enjoy fast speeds. With an internet speed benchmark of 100Mbs, even in areas that experience drops of up to 50 percent, users may still stream content online. However, if you use a server that’s thousands of miles away from your location, the slow connection can really be a headache.

PIA wins ever-so-slightly.

Ease of Use

TunnelBear is easy to use and actually quite fun for the users. It has a cartoonish theme that makes it entertaining. In the UI, there are tabs like “General”, “Security”, “Account”, and “Trusted Networks.” You can launch and connect TunnelBear by tapping the General tab. The Security tab allows you to turn GhostBear and VigilantBear features on and off. VigilantBear is the kill switch for the TunnelBear network. The Trusted Network tab allows you to add networks you trust so that you can connect to them easily in the future.

PIA Windows client has an elegant and simple UI. In the Settings menu, you can manage the list of countries and regions to auto-connect to. You also enable and disable desktop notifications and auto-connections. In the Advanced Settings menu, you can select the protocol to use with OpenVPN, for example, UDP or TCP. A user can use the PIA Mac client to enable and disable anti-tracker, ad-blocker, and anti-malware features.

While neither client is bad, we favor TunnelBear.

Access to torrenting and P2P servers

PIA allows torrenting, but you should be careful if you use port forwarding, it can make you vulnerable. TunnelBear blocks all P2P traffic, which makes it unusable for torrenting.

Access to entertainment platforms

TunnelBear can be used to watch Netflix, but it cannot stream shows on BBC iPlayer. Keep in mind that the free version only gives you 500MB data per month which won’t get you anywhere with streaming content. Private Internet Access can’t seem to bypass geo-blocked sites like Netflix, and it also doesn’t work with BBC iPlayer.

Use in China

PIA has issues with the Great Firewall, it tells its users to switch to L2TP/IPSec protocol instead of using OpenVPN, but this isn’t as secure. You also have to set it up manually. TunnelBear has servers in Hong Kong, and you can use it to bypass the Great Firewall. The VPN uses a tool they call GhostBear that makes your VPN traffic appear as regular internet traffic, preventing the firewall from detecting you.

Apps & Extensions

TunnelBear has custom clients for Mac OS, Windows, iOS, and Android. It also supports browsers like Opera and Chrome. Private Internet Access has clients for Windows, Android, iOS, Linux, and Mac OS. It supports browser extensions like Firefox and Chrome. The mobile client for Private Internet Access bears the same features as those of desktop. There is also a kill switch.

Pricing

TunnelBear

  • Free version – limited to 500mb/month
  • 1 month – $9.99
  • 1 year – $59.99 ($5/month)
  • No money-back guarantee

Private Internet Access

  • 1 month – $6.95
  • 1 year – $39.95 ($3.33/month)
  • 2 years – $69.95 ($2.91/month)
  • 7-day money-back guarantee

Private Internet Access vs TunnelBear: Which is better?

TunnelBear vs PIA battle has come to an end. Both of them are good VPNs because at least they offer the privacy and encryption you need. However, they are both registered in Five Eyes countries. With PIA, you cannot get around geo-blocks, so you will not be able to access Netflix or BBC iPlayer. However, TunnelBear doesn’t allow torrenting. All in all, these tools are pretty close to each other, so the choice is all about preference.

TunnelBear Review

PIA Review