If you’re living outside of the United States, here’s a familiar scenario for you. You’re reading your favorite tech blog, and suddenly see a post about the latest and greatest in web services. Maybe it’s a new way to stream music or watch TV, maybe it’s an awesome new bookstore. Excited, you click through to try it out – only to find out that it’s limited to US customers only, and that the original post didn’t even bother mentioning this, because the writer simply assumed everybody lives in the US.
TunnelBear is a slick VPN (Virtual Private Network) service that can help solve a part of that problem, by making it seem like you’re surfing from within the US. It’s not a new idea, and there are other free services that do this (most famously, Hotspot Shield). But TunnelBear is slick and simple to use. Maybe it’s what you’ve been looking for all along.
What You’ll Be Getting
Before I even get into TunnelBear itself, I wanted to show you what you’ll be getting. TunnelBear is not perfect. Not all websites play nice with it, and I think you should know a bit about the end result before reading about how to install it. The screenshot above comes from Hulu, and I took it while I was connected to TunnelBear. Other services (Pandora, for example) had no problem working with TunnelBear – but Hulu just flat-out refused to work, insisting that I’m still outside the US.
Another thing you should know right off the bat. The free version of TunnelBear supports up to 500MB of data per month, and you can get an extra 1GB for free if you tweet about them. To get unlimited data, you need to pay $5/month – not an expensive subscription compared to most VPN providers, and the TunnelBear client is far slicker than most VPN clients I’ve seen. 500MB is enough for a few hours of music, or lots and lots of books.
Next there’s the matter of speed:
This is the result of a SpeedTest test I ran while connected to TunnelBear. The downstream was 1.25Mbps. This may seem slow by broadband standards, but it is actually more than adequate for streaming high-quality music without stuttering or long silent periods of buffering:
TunnelBear can fake your location, but can’t set you up with an American credit card and billing address.
So, to sum up what you’ll be getting – 500MB for free (up to 1.5GB if you tweet), most music services work very well, Hulu doesn’t work, and Google Books works fine until you try buying something. If you’re mainly after music, that’s a pretty good deal.
Setting Up TunnelBear, Step By Step
TunnelBear setup is actually very easy. First, you need to go to the TunnelBear homepage and click the huge Download TunnelBear button. Next, install it and start the wizard, where you will be asked to log in or open an account:
You need to provide the basic account information like everywhere else, not too invasive (and no credit card needed):
Provide your Twitter ID if you want to tweet about TunnelBear and get that extra 1 gig for free. They even say you can get more than 1GB for free if you get extra-creative with your tweet.
Next is a little screen showing the plans:
We’ll be going with Little TunnelBear for now. When you click Next, TunnelBear will send you a confirmation email containing a link you must click. Once that’s done, TunnelBear will install an OpenVPN driver on your computer:
….and that’s about it, you’re ready to roll! This is what the TunnelBear client looks like when you’re not connected:
Pretty elegant. Wood is a bit of a cliché but I think it works here. You can clearly see how much data you still have on your free plan; you can flick the right-hand switch to choose if you want to connect via the US or the UK, and then click the left button to flip it on and connect:
This is what TunnelBear looks like when it’s connected. You can see the speed meter, as well as the spikes caused whenever Pandora switches to a new song (the song buffers, and then the line is quiet).
Using this simple next-next-next procedure you can find yourself with a fully functional VPN connection in a matter of minutes. If you’re living outside the US, give it a shot and tell me what you think!