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Astrill VPN review

An ultra-configurable VPN with some hidden hassles

New Hero
(Image: © Astrill)

Our Verdict

It's fast. It's powerful. But it has some usability and other issues, and the price - twice the competition, and more - is way too high. For geeks with deep pockets only (and maybe not even them.)

For

  • Speedy WireGuard connections
  • Extremely configurable
  • Unblocks US Netflix, Disney+
  • Clear privacy policy

Against

  • Requires mobile phone number on signup
  • Difficulties connecting to a few servers
  • Can be awkward to use
  • Potential software conflicts with Windows client

Astrill is a Seychelles-based company which has been providing VPN services since 2009.

The product specs look good, at least initially: dedicated servers (not underpowered VPS) in 113 cities across 64 countries, many P2P-friendly, with Onion over VPN support for extra privacy. There are apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux and routers, and the option to pay via Bitcoin helps to preserve your anonymity.

There are some unusual protocol options, with Astrill supporting WireGuard, a special StealthVPN option to bypass VPN blocking, and its own connectionless OpenWeb, as well the more standard OpenVPN.

The Astrill website also boasts that the service allows you to 'connect unlimited devices', but that didn't mean quite what we thought. You can set up Astrill VPN on as many devices as you like, but the service only supports connecting five of them simultaneously, much like almost everybody else.

Prices have always been high, and they're up again since out last review. Astrill's one-month plan is an eye-watering $20, paying six months up-front cuts this to $15, and it falls to a still-costly $10 on the annual plan

In terms of totals, that means, for example, you'll pay $90 to Astrill for the privilege of 6 months protection. But Private Internet Access asks only $39.95 to cover you for 12 months, and paying just $47.76 to Surfshark enables protecting unlimited devices for two years. You shouldn't choose a critical service like a VPN solely on price, but Astrill clearly needs to work very hard to justify charges like these.

Privacy

Astrill keeps no logs on its users and its privacy policy gives a clear picture of the information it does store  (Image credit: Astrill)

Privacy and logging

VPN privacy policies are often poorly written, uninformative, with little useful information, but Astrill does a much better job.

The document is sensibly laid out. Clear headings make it easy to find the areas you need - cookie use, information collected, how it's shared - and section are straightforward and jargon-free.

The 'Strict no-logs policy' section doesn't just include a bland, generic 'we don't keep any logs' statement, like many competitors. Instead, Astrill takes the time to describe its procedures and what it really does.

For instance, Astrill says: 

"Our system keeps track of active sessions - connection time, IP address, device type and Astrill VPN application version during the duration of your VPN session. Once you disconnect from VPN this information is removed permanently from our system."

Astrill holds some information to manage current connections, but doesn’t keep it long-term.

The document explains that Astrill keeps the "last 20 connection records which include: connection time, connection duration, country, device type and Astrill client application version number" in order to "identify potential issues with VPN connection[s] and provide adequate support." 

While that is a persistent log, the company explains that it doesn't keep IP addresses, so won't be able to tie these sessions to any internet action.

Good news on logging, then, but there is another issue here. The policy explains that when you sign up, the company doesn't just collect your email and name, but "depending on your payment method, we may require your phone number and address."

We confirmed this during previous reviews, too, when the website asked for a verifiable mobile number before it would sign us up for the trial.

We can understand protecting freeloaders from abusing a trial, but if we're handing over $20 for only a month of service, we don't expect to be asked for our mobile number and physical address, too. 

Astrill gets a general thumbs up for most of its privacy policy, then, but unlike some of the competition, it's not verified this by putting its systems through a privacy or security audit. However reassuring the policy, these are still only words on a website, and right now, potential customers are left to take them on trust.

Mobile Apps

Astrill provides VPN clients for most major platforms (Image credit: Astrill)

Apps

As we've mentioned above, signing up for Astrill takes a little more work than usual. Sign up for the trial and you're asked to verify your phone number by entering a PIN sent via SMS; we paid by PayPal and were asked to enter our real-world address, too. 

Life gets easier post-payment, fortunately. A web console pointed us to Astrill's downloads, we grabbed the Windows installer, and it set itself up within seconds.

Speedtest

Astrill's Windows client even includes a Speed Test feature (Image credit: Astrill)

The Windows client has a tiny interface, which initially seems little more than an On/ Off button, the name of the current location, and a scrolling chart of recent network activity. But there's more to the app than you might think.

A simple location picker displays a list of servers, with a search box (type LON to list the London servers), a Recommended tab listing the servers you're most likely to need, and a second tab to store your favorites.

WireGuard

Astrill supports a number of protocols including OpenVPN, StealthVPN and WireGuard (Image credit: Astrill)

Protocol support includes OpenVPN, StealthVPN to get online in China and other countries which try to block VPN use, WireGuard, and Astrill's own connectionless OpenWeb. (There's not much information on this, but its biggest plus point is its proxy-like fast connection times, giving you almost instant server switching.)

An array of settings covers everything you would expect, and a great deal that you wouldn't.

The client doesn't just enable choosing OpenVPN UDP or TCP settings, for instance. You're also able to define the encryption method (AES 128, 192, 256), the port, even the MTU setting. And you can configure the port and MTU values for Astrill's other protocols, too.

Capable split tunneling features allow you to decide which applications and sites will use the VPN, and which will use your regular connection. You could set up the system to protect your Torrent client and the Netflix and BBC iPlayer sites, for instance, but leave other traffic connecting as usual.

Astrill's Privacy settings don't stop with a kill switch. It also has DNS, IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection, and even bonus privacy options to delete regular and Flash cookies.

By default, Astrill connections use the company's own DNS servers. The client doesn't just allow you to manually specify an alternative, though - you can also choose popular services from a list (Google, OpenDNS, Cloudflare, Comodo, Level3, more), or decide not to change DNS at all. 

There's plenty more, but we'll stop at Astrill's user interface options. By default, the interface stays on top of other applications, for instance. But if you don't like that, you can turn this off with a click, then define a hotkey to launch the app on demand.

Overall, Astrill VPN's Windows app offers more features and configuration options than just about anything else we've ever seen, and experienced users could spend a very long time happily exploring what's on offer here. But less technical types may not find it easy to use, and there could be more complicated issues, too.

The client sometimes warned us that its firewall initialization had failed, for instance, suggesting maybe some other application was interfering with it. That seemed unlikely, though, as the error only happened intermittently, and our review systems are intentionally set up to have no other low-level networking or security software (there's no antivirus beyond Windows Defender, for instance.)

We have some usability concerns, too. We like to see notifications to alert users when they're protected and when they're not, for instance, and this really shouldn't be difficult to implement. But Astrill began by displaying a 'Connected' box which wouldn't disappear until we clicked it, and then it displayed no further connect/ disconnect notifications at all.

On balance, Astrill's Windows client isn't the best choice for beginners, then. But if you're an experienced user, familiar with Windows and VPNs, and power is the top of your priority list, it's well worth taking Astrill's trial to see how the client works for you.

New Speedtest Image

We use several different speed tests to determine the performance of each VPN we review (Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

Astrill's Windows client doesn't display an alert if the VPN drops, and if you don't have the kill switch enabled, that could leave you unprotected without realizing it.

Enable the kill switch, though, and our tests showed it worked well, instantly blocking internet access, showing a warning, and requiring that we click a button to restore access.

Error

Connecting to Astrill VPN too many times in a row caused the following error message to appear (Image credit: Astrill)

As a part of this testing we repeatedly drop the VPN and watch as the client reconnects. No other VPN provider or client has ever complained about that, but Astrill is different: 'Error #895: You are connecting too frequently', it warned, sternly.

Sorry, uh, what? The client was reconnecting to establish a lost connection. Does Astrill have some limit on that? Why does it even care? Yes, it was reconnecting frequently, but we were only using one device; if we had five up and running, in normal use, frequent reconnections might be common. And really, so what? Sure, negotiating each new connection must involve using some server resources, but when Astrill's monthly rate is 10x that of Surfshark's two-year plan, we'll reconnect as often as we like, thanks very much.

Astrill doesn't make as much of a noise about its website unblocking abilities as it used too, but our tests showed it's still a fair performer. Okay, it couldn't get us into BBC iPlayer or Amazon Prime Video, but there was success with both US Netflix and even Disney+, a platform which defeats many other VPNs.

Our final speed tests started on a positive note, too, with downloads reaching 66-68Mbps from our fastest local UK server on a 75Mbps test connection.

Switching to a European data center capable of 300Mbps, Astrill's OpenVPN connections managed 'only' 110Mbps. Switching to WireGuard got us anything from 150-275Mbps, though, depending how and when we tested, a solid performance which tramples all over many competitors.

Final verdict

Its WireGuard connections are seriously fast, and there's no doubt that Astrill VPN comes stuffed with high-end and hugely configurable features, but there are some issues, too, and we're unsure whether it's worth the very high price. If you're interested take the full 7-day trial before you hand over any cash - or just go straight to a better service like ExpressVPN, which still comes with a 30 day money back guarantee.