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Review: BlockBear brings a friendly, furry face to ad-blocking

But how does BlockBear fare against its high-profile rivals?

Price: $0.99/79p
Size: 5.0 MB
Version: 1.0.1
Developer: TunnelBear, Inc.

Download BlockBear

Apple’s not big on customization but it is big on privacy and user experience. And if there’s one thing that can be said about modern websites, it’s that too many of them don’t really care for privacy and UX. Many are packed full of ads and trackers; both slow down sites and increase bloat, and the latter means you’re effectively ‘followed’ around the web by advertisers. As of iOS 9, Apple decided to enable developers to do something about this, by installing/activating blocking software.

At start-up, BlockBear provides concise instructions.

At start-up, BlockBear provides concise instructions.

BlockBear arrives into what’s already a somewhat crowded market, and its main differentiator appears to be humanizing (or, perhaps, ‘bearizing’) complex technology. The company managed this trick very nicely with VPN client TunnelBear, and the set-up for BlockBear is similarly friendly. After launching the app, you’re asked to activate BlockBear within Settings > Safari > Content Blockers. On returning, you toggle BlockBear by using a switch at the top of the screen.

There's some granularity in BlockBear, but rivals offer more.

There’s some granularity in BlockBear, but rivals offer more.

There’s a modicum of granularity, too. Rather than being a ‘block everything’ solution, BlockBear gives you switches to separately turn on and off adverts, social media buttons and tracking. There’s a whitelist, too, for exempting specific sites from BlockBear. For the first three of those options, the app wisely adds info buttons. This is in a sense BlockBear’s best feature — some plain-English text outlining precisely what you’re activating and the impact these things may have, rather than assuming the user already knows what everything does.

BlockBear helpfully details the impact of your choices.

BlockBear helpfully details the impact of your choices.

Beyond this, BlockBear proves somewhat middling. It noticeably increases the performance of websites, and tests show it dramatically decreases how much content you download — great if you’re on a limited cellular connection. But it’s not as fast as rivals such as Purify, nor does it offer the kind of extremely granular control offered by 1Blocker. Its whitelist is ‘all or nothing’, too, and so you cannot, for example, disable tracking but retain ads on favorite websites you want to support.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot. BlockBear is cheap, friendly and broadly effective; it also caused pleasingly few problems with the sites we tested on. Additionally, given its pedigree, it will likely be around for the long-haul, whereas smaller indie efforts may wither and die. Just be aware that if you’re prepared to stump up a bit more cash, there are better options out there, even if they’re not wearing a friendly furry face.