Astrill offer a comprehensive selection of VPN options, ranging from personal VPN services, on which we concentrate in this review, to dedicated VPN routers and business VPN solutions.
Astrill clearly take their service seriously. Everything here oozes quality, and there’s functionality available that we’ve seen from no other provider. Support and documentation is great too, so this service could suit novices and enthusiasts alike. Performance is stellar too, so there’s plenty to recommend about Astrill VPN.
It’s rare to find a service that could be equally appealing to technophobes and techies, but Astrill VPN have managed to find a perfect balance between functionality and usability. That said, novices with basic requirements may be distracted by features they don’t personally need.
For all other users, Astrill VPN should be on the shortlist. Performance is great, and the generous seven-day trial means anyone can give it a go with no risk. Highly recommended.
Packages & Pricing
Although Astrill also offer VPN routers and business packages, here we concentrate on their personal VPN services.
All of the packages on offer provide unlimited bandwidth and data transfer.
As with most VPN services, a range of commitment periods is on offer, with the monthly price getting cheaper based on how long you sign up for.
Astrill does differ from most of its competitors in a couple of key ways: First, there are a number of add-on options that can add to the cost, including the “home plan,” VPN sharing, and router capabilities.
Secondly, it’s notable that the minimum commitment period is three months. This is often one month with other providers. However, there is a seven-day free trial available, though you are not told of this until you reach the sign-up stage.
A full year’s subscription at $69.95 is pretty good value, certainly in the average range for services of this nature. However, the add-on costs could be a factor depending on exactly what you need.
We checked with the support department regarding a guarantee, but no money-back deal is available.
Worthy of a particular mention at this point is that Astrill permit their VPN service to be used for P2P and Bittorrent use, which many providers disallow.
Astrill offer a live chat option across all the pages of their website, which is always a reassuring sign.
We asked a couple of questions to test out the support department and received good answers and an instant response.
Further exploration of the Astrill website revealed a plethora of additional support options:
As well as the live chat support, there are support telephone numbers, a support email address and a Skype account. Skype and telephone support options are rare indeed, so we were very impressed with the support options available. There was also a contact form on the “Contact Us” page and the promise of “remote assistance.”
Security and Privacy
Astrill provide very thorough information on their service, so it was easy for us to ascertain technical details about how the service works.
First off, Astrill offers one of the widest selections of VPN protocols we have ever seen from a single provider:
As well as the usual selection of OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP, Astrill offer OpenWeb, SSTP and Cisco IPSec.
Encryption is up to 256-bit SSL.
We spoke to the support department to clarify the situation on how subscriber’s use of the service is logged:
Astrill confirmed that they do not maintain any logs – welcome news to those with privacy concerns.
We decided to sign up to the free seven-day trial to test out the service.
First, we clicked one of the “sign up now” buttons on the “Pricing” page.
We were then taken to another screen where we could choose a commitment package, including the seven-day trial option:
After selecting the free trial, we had to fill out a fairly detailed registration form, which required both address and mobile phone details (more on that later).
We were then told that a verification code would be sent to the phone number we provided.
The code arrived instantly on our mobile phone. We entered it into the relevant field, and then were finally requested to accept the provider’s terms of service:
We then received an email containing our trial logon and password, and were automatically logged into the client Astrill client area. We were impressed that we were able to activate our trial without providing payment details up front, something many providers insist on.
We did, however, note that Astrill offer a significant range of payment methods, as shown below:
Installation and Configuration
With our sign-up for the trial complete, we proceeded to our testing, using a MacBook Pro running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.
Our welcome email led us to a download page, which detected we were using a Mac.
We proceeded to download the file, a standard Mac (.dmg) installer. Opening the file prompted us to CTRL and click to continue with the installation.
We then ran through the steps of a standard Mac installation process:
The installation was quick and easy, and afterwards an Astrill icon appeared in our “Applications” folder. When we ran the file, we saw a message about the installation of a Firefox addon.
Having cleared this message by pressing “OK” we were presented with the VPN client window which requested our email and password. At this point, the program also triggered our Chrome browser to open a link to a tutorial video.
We really like little touches like this – it shows that serious thought has gone into ease-of-use and customer experience. This video itself, at nearly five minutes long, was well produced and informative, although it did concentrate specifically on the Windows version of the Astrill software.
Next, we entered our username and password into the client software:
We found that we were instantly connected to Astrill’s Los Angeles server via the OpenWeb protocol, and an IP address lookup revealed an we now had a US IP address.
Next, we spent a short while investigating the settings available to us. It’s fair to say that Astrill’s VPN client is as richly featured as any we’ve seen. The country menu provided a vast list of servers from which to choose:
In addition, the “Settings” menu led to many advanced submenus and extra functionality such as ad-blocking and media recording.
We kept to the main options to keep things simple. We decided to change to protocol to OpenVPN and try connecting to a server in the UK.
The connection process took almost a minute to complete, but once we were connected, we were able to confirm our UK-based IP address and perform a speed test.
We continued to experiment with switching countries, and between OpenWeb and OpenVPN. We had no problem with any connections and only our initial connection to the UK took as long as a minute. The only slight hitch we experienced was the occasional need to restart our browser between connections, but this cannot be blamed on the software.
During our time with Astrill’s custom software, we noticed that there was no option to switch to older protocols, such as PPTP and L2TP. We had a look at the knowledge base and found instructions to configure these manually via the Mac’s built in client. We didn’t do this for the purposes of the review, but did note that the instructions were of good quality and contained good screenshots.
The ever-present offer of chat support while we were on the Astrill website was reassuring too.
Connection Speeds and reliability
We performed various performance tests while our Mac was connected to a selection of Astrill VPN’s servers. First, however, we performed a test whilst disconnected in order to obtain a benchmark download speed for our connection:
This performance result, a download speed just below 7Mbps, was exactly as expected.
Next, we connected to our geographically-closest server, one in France, via OpenVPN, and performed a second speed test:
This was a superb performance, with the download speed barely affected by our VPN connection.
Then, we connected to Astrill’s UK server and performed another test, again using the OpenVPN protocol:
This result was almost as good and still extremely impressive.
Finally, we decided to connect to the USA, choosing a server in New York. This time, we switched to using the OpenWeb protocol:
As you can see, this was an amazing result, actually reporting a download speed 0.01Mbps faster that our benchmark. While this is likely due to purely environmental factors, it effectively proves that Astrill’s OpenWeb connections have little (if any) detrimental effect on download speeds. OpenWeb works similar to a proxy connection, so is best for Web browsing and streaming media (as opposed to file sharing and other activities). However, the VPN client’s simple ability to switch between OpenWeb and OpenVPN is a great feature.
Overall, we were extremely impressed by this set of performance figures.
Astrill VPN’s compatibility list is very substantial, and there are good quality setup guides available for all the main operating systems, mobile platforms, routers and set-top boxes.
Worthy of a special mention is the fact that Astrill have taken the time to develop a custom VPN client for Linux, as well as Windows and Mac OS X, something that’s very unusual to see.
We decided to test out the mobile capabilities of Astrill’s VPN solution using an iPhone.
Astrill VPN on iPhone
Astrill offer several options for configuring their VPN service on the iPhone. As well as instructions for manually configuring either PPTP, L2TP or Cisco IPSec, you have the option of connecting to the Astrill website via the iPhone’s browser, and downloading configuration profiles.
As our earlier Mac testing had focussed on OpenVPN and OpenWeb, we decided to manually configure an L2TP connection to test out performance via a different protocol.
As with all of Astrill’s setup guides, the L2TP guide for iOS was detailed and thorough, with good screenshots for beginners.
We followed the instructions, which basically required us to connect a new L2TP connection via the iPhone’s “Settings” menus. We decided to create a connection to the server in the UK.
As we had already tested our speed via WiFi, we decided to test the speed of our L2TP connection via 3G. We deactivated our iPhone’s WiFi and ran a speedtest whilst disconnected from the VPN to obtain a benchmark:
Then, we connected to Astrill’s UK server via L2TP and performed a second test:
As you can see from the screenshots, we did experience a performance drop of around 2Mbps, which is rather average. It’s a shame that the L2TP performance didn’t match that of OpenVPN and OpenWeb, however, L2TP is an older technology, which explains some of the difference.
Astrill VPN’s members’ area is comprehensive in nature and up to the high standard of the rest of the service:
Here you can access detailed configuration guides, server lists and certificates, There is also an invoicing section and the functionality to change your stored personal details.
- Very professional, and very comprehensive service
- Superb performance results on our test Mac
- Great documentation
- Superb range of support options
- Generous, unrestricted free trial
- Custom client for Linux
- Wide compatibility
We weren’t so sure about
- Add-on costs for extra features
- L2TP performance lacking compared to OpenVPN / OpenWeb
- Wealth of features may overwhelm novices
Astrill VPN is a true high-quality service, and it’s clear that plenty of work has gone into every aspect of it, from the documentation to the client software. The latter boasts all manner of “finishing touches” such as “daily tips” each time you start the program, that only serve to add to the quality feel.
All this is complemented by the superb performance we experienced during our Mac tests, leaving us with no doubt about giving this solution a strong recommendation.
We have only a couple of small caveats: The solution is packed with features and, as such, novices with only very basic requirements may prefer to choose another quality provider with fewer distracting bells and whistles. Also, mobile L2TP performance was OK, but not great, so those wanting a solution for primarily mobile use may also find a better option elsewhere. For everyone else, however, Astrill VPN is well worth serious consideration.