WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
A hyper-fast VPN with a decent server network and streaming capabilities, Astrill has a lot to offer compared to other premium VPNs. Yet, it still left me questioning a few of their business decisions while I tested their service.
For example, it can bypass Chinese censorship and most online restrictions without breaking a sweat, but there’s no sign of a third-party audit of the software, and they don’t offer any refunds.
Despite a few flaws, Astrill’s VPN is a usable piece of software, and could be one of the best in class with a couple of minor alterations.
The capable free seven-day trial version of Astrill VPN was used for the purposes of this review.
I was somewhat conflicted while thinking about how to approach this Astrill VPN review.
There’s no denying that it’s recommendable for a host of reasons that we’ll get into below, but the service does come with a number of important caveats.
Of course, no VPN provider is going to be perfect, but do the pros outweigh the cons when weighing up what Astrill has to offer?
About Astrill VPN
Founded back in 2009, Astrill VPN was released ‘as a response to increasing demand for personal VPN services by home users and travelers.’
Over the next decade, they added servers in the US, EU, Middle-East and Asian markets, including offering their services to bypass the Great Firewall in China.
Astrill’s HQ is found in Oliaji Trade Centre, 1st Fl, Victoria, English River, Seychelles. The address is also named in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database, which ‘contains information on more than 785,000 offshore entities that are part of the Panama Papers, the Offshore Leaks, the Bahamas Leaks, and the Paradise Papers investigations.’
Owned by Astrill Systems Corp, being situated in Seychelles is a major bonus, as data laws are especially lax in the region. This means that they’re under no obligation to share data or logs with relevant authorities, while it is safer than a Five Eyes option.
Despite their time in the market, it hasn’t been downloaded often, while some users have encountered problems if you take the time to read individual reviews.
It’s not the most transparent company by any means, with little information about the owners that can be found online. If they extend half of that privacy to the user, it’ll be one of the more secure VPN services on the market.
Pros & Cons
Astrill has a range of interesting pros and cons when compared to the average VPN.
Below are the features we found promising when testing Astrill:
- Supports anonymous payment options such as Bitcoin
- Seven-day free trial of the software, although you will need to verify with a phone number
- Torrent-friendly servers
- Amazing speeds, capping with my fibre optic connection at 340 Mbps
- Additional security features and protocol options such as WireGuard and Dedicated IP
- Streaming capabilities
Astrill has impressive speeds, but nevertheless, there is more to consider with your VPN. Here are a few cons worth noting upon further inspection:
- Exceptionally expensive compared to other premium options
- No refunds available
- No money-back guarantee
- Some locations such as Korea, Switzerland, and Portugal were greyed out
- Advertises the ability to use unlimited devices, although it is actually capped to five simultaneous connections
- No browser extensions
If you’re hoping for extra features, Astrill VPN has proprietary tech to go along with traditional options such as a Kill Switch, a site filter, and adblocking.
We’ve listed some of the more notable extras below, discussing whether they’re worth your time and attention.
StealthVPN is a proprietary protocol developed by Astrill.
They say that it was ‘inspired by OpenVPN and performs an additional obfuscation of traffic which makes it undetectable for automated firewall systems. StealthVPN is very stable and it can work with both UDP and TCP modes.’
Ideal for users who face serious online restrictions, it’s available on every platform and device supported by Astrill.
Another privacy feature that is designed to bypass restrictions for Chinese users and any others who are potentially affected by censorship, Smart Mode makes it much harder to detect if you are using a VPN service in the first place.
As they explain; ‘Basically, Smart Mode allows you to use the VPN service without leaving any signs or clues that you are using a VPN for websites controlled by your government.’
A feature available on Windows, macOS and Linux, VPN Sharing allows the user to share the VPN connection from their computer over an entire network giving protection to every device.
An alternative method would be to use a compatible router to secure your entire home network.
Astrill VPN Free Trial
Astrill offers a free seven-day trial for users which I decided to redeem for the purposes of this review. You don’t have to input any payment information, so it seemed fairly non-invasive at first glance.
One thing they don’t tell you until the final step is that you have to verify your phone number in order to be able to redeem the free trial.
As for why, perhaps it’s to stop people from abusing the service with multiple accounts. Regardless, it’s a step beyond the average freemium tier or trial, and they have no real need to know your phone number.
- 1 Month: $20.00/mo.
- 6 Months: $15.00/mo.
- 12 Months: $10.00/mo.
Pricing is where we find the biggest hurdle with Astrill. Keep in mind that we do offer deals on Astrill as they come through.
For example, their basic plan is priced at an eye-watering $20.00 per month, which is far more than the average premium service. (Take NordVPN, which comes in at $11.95.)
This drops to $15.00 per month for six months and $10.00 per month if you’re willing to stick around for a year.
Savings of 50% do sound good, but it’s still considerably more expensive than many of the best VPNs on the market.
Then there’s the fact that they flatly refuse to issue refunds. Take their FAQ page:
“We are pretty much confident you will be satisfied with our service. Before purchasing, you can try a free 7-day trial. All sales are final and no refunds are possible. If you have any issues with Astrill VPN, please contact customer support, which is available 24/7 via chat and email.”
With no refunds, there’s also no sign of a money-back guarantee.
Compatible payment methods include:
- Major credit card carriers
- Major debit card carriers
- Bank Wire Transfer
- Perfect Money
- WeChat Pay
As a specialized service, they have every right to charge as much as they think it’s worth. However, the trial is the only opportunity to test it, and you’ll be out of luck if it stops working suddenly and you want a refund after handing over the money.
“We keep the last 20 connection records which include: connection time, connection duration, country, device type, and Astrill client application version number. This information is only used by our customer support to identify potential issues with VPN connection and provide adequate support.”
They go on to say:
“This information contains no personally identifiable information (for example, we don’t keep IP addresses or your physical location). This information is automatically removed in case of no activity in the past 30 days.”
However, it’s still a lot of information to be collecting and keeping on their servers, and includes connection logs.
Astrill also hasn’t taken part in a third-party audit of their software or systems, which is a growing trend in the VPN sector. Others like NordVPN have employed the likes of Cure53 to verify their security/logging claims.
Server speeds are important for any premium VPN provider. After all, the faster the connection, the quicker almost any task will be while you’re online.
With a high asking price, and dedicated physical servers, I was hoping Astrill VPN would be able to come up with the goods when it came to the testing phase.
Firstly, I recorded my baseline stats with no VPN connected. Results can be seen below.
At roughly 335 Mbps it was pretty typical, so I connected to the recommended Astrill server found in Los Angeles.
A download speed of just over 290 Mbps is an exceptional result considering I was connecting to a server located in a different continent. It’s clear that Astrill has some serious power under the hood.
As I’m based in the U.K., their London server was up next.
Once again, they deserve nothing less than top marks when looking at the raw connection speeds. 307 Mbps was close to my baseline, which is commendable considering it’s a fiber-optic connection that costs a decent amount per month. Ping was healthy, and upload speeds were actually slightly improved.
Lastly, I tested Germany as they’re a large secondary market for streaming VPNs.
The download speeds were faster than the baseline, which means that they could potentially exceed the 340 Mbps result seen above. The same is true for upload speeds, while ping was decent considering I was connecting to Europe from the U.K.
Every VPN provider claims to have the speediest servers around, but few can match the numbers seen above.
Once again, the price may be prohibitive, but they do offer speeds that are unheard of. In this category, Astrill knocks it out of the park.
Server Locations & Network
Astrill has access to a reasonably robust server network, containing many key locations across the globe.
Their current server network is as follows;
- Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, United States
- Middle East & Asia: Taiwan, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, India, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey
- Europe: Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina Belgium, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Moldova, Macedonia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Russia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, Ukraine, United Kingdom
- Africa: Egypt, South Africa
- Oceania: Australia, New Zealand
It’s a decent showing, although just 300+ servers can make it difficult to access streaming sites in popular locations.
One key difference between Astrill and a typical VPN provider is the amount of coverage they offer in Asia. The region is often dismissed in favor of more popular markets, but Astrill has done enough to corner the market by offering physical servers in a number of countries across the continent.
Streaming & Torrenting
Streaming was a mixed bag, as it depends on which IP address is assigned to a user, as well as which server you connect to.
For example, BBC iPlayer was blocked, but I was able to access U.S. Netflix after trying out a few different servers. Given their smaller network, it might be worth checking out their Dedicated IP service for streaming purposes. However, it’s priced at an extra $5 per month.
Luckily, Astrill is a reliable VPN for torrenting, as they do not set limits:
“Many VPN providers do not allow torrenting because they cannot deal with copyright infringement trolls. The majority of our servers (marked with a star in our application) allow you to torrent without limits. These servers enable port forwarding on both shared and dedicated IPs.”
It’s a fair point, as the average provider does tend to distance themselves from any overt illegality while using their services.
No matter their reasons, Astrill positions itself as the best VPN service for BitTorrent, uTorrent, LimeWire, and other popular torrenting sites.
Seen as a reliable option for Chinese users who want to bypass the Great Firewall, Astrill does deserve kudos for their enhanced privacy/security features. It’s reflected in the asking price, but there’s no denying that it’s handy for users who have no other way to access the internet.
On the other hand, their FAQ page states:
“We do not offer a free trial in China. Astrill service works well in China, unlike any other VPN providers who often have problems there.”
Coupled with the high prices and lack of a refund, it’s not a great look in terms of being anti-censorship. However, with few VPN services able to successfully bypass the Great Firewall, it’s worth considering in this instance.
Platforms & Devices
Astrill VPN has a range of dedicated client apps for the platforms listed below. It’s enough to ensure that most devices are covered, including router support for selected DD-WRT, Tomato and ASUS Merlin models.
- VPN Routers
The app isn’t flashy, but it doesn’t take long to get used to and is simple to install. (That is, as long as you’ve handed over your personal information to gain access when prompted for either an address or a phone number during sign-up.)
Despite the basic look, it’s easy to switch between protocols and servers or to access the in-built speed test to find the fastest location or the lowest ping.
In fact, there are lots of customization options that go beyond what a typical provider tends to offer. It might be slightly overwhelming for new users, but it’s great if you prefer to mess around with the settings before connecting to a server.
It’s also a decent choice if you’re looking for a VPN for mobile, as the same amount of care has gone into building their iOS/Android apps.
As creators of proprietary protocol tech, it’s no surprise to see that Astrill VPN has a host of usable client apps for every major platform. However, they don’t offer any extensions for popular browsers such as VPN Chrome extensions.
While they claim to offer unlimited simultaneous connections, their website states:
“Every personal VPN plan allows you to connect up to 5 devices in your household simultaneously to any servers from our vast VPN network.”
Encryption & Security
One aspect in which Astrill definitely doesn’t scrimp is encryption.
In terms of protocols, most users will probably stick with OpenWeb. The proprietary protocol was developed by Astrill back in 2009 and allows for seamless switching between servers. (It also helps to explain the great speeds I saw during testing.)
As for how it works:
“It encapsulates TCP requests into an additional layer, encrypts data with AES-256 encryption and to an outside observer, such as ISP or government, the traffic looks like an indecipherable regular HTTPS.”
However, they’ve kept up with the times, allowing users to switch to the popular OpenVPN protocol or their newer StealthVPN proprietary protocol discussed in the Features section.
In February 2019, they were one of the first providers to add the experimental WireGuard protocol to their service. It’s as simple as selecting it from the dropdown menu seen in the image above.
With a choice of protocols that offer differing levels of speed and security, you’ll have the opportunity to select the option which provides the right amount of balance between the two.
Security is another section in which Astrill scores highly. They’ve added numerous features to allow users to browse anonymously over the years, including the ability to clear cookies each time the VPN is turned off.
Their attempts to bypass the likes of China are commendable, and a step beyond what the average VPN can achieve. This is tempered by the lack of a third-party audit, but there’s no denying that it works.
It seems harsh to give Astrill an average score for privacy and trust, but it’s tough to give them the all-clear as there’s currently no audit of their service at present. However, they do offer additional security and privacy features which go beyond the normal levels of protection that bump it up in our book.
The app is insanely customizable, especially if you’re on the market for extensive security features or the ability to bypass government restrictions easily. It’s not flashy, but it gets the job done very effectively.
Then there’s the price. Sure, you get a lot of bang for your buck, but there are no refunds, and it can only be used on five devices simultaneously. With Astrill VPN, it’s not like you’re getting scammed, but it is expensive, even when compared to similar premium providers. If you’re looking for more affordable options, check out all the VPN deals available today from leading providers.
Speeds help to separate it from the chasing pack, with their German servers able to reach my ISPs hard cap of roughly 350 Mbps. The others weren’t far behind, making for an average speed which is the fastest I’ve ever seen while testing VPNs. It helps to justify the significant asking price, if only to a degree.
Astrill offers amazing speeds, a large server network, and lots of interesting features. The trade-off is found in the lack of a refund policy, as well as no audit to confirm their logging policy claims.
You don’t have to be located in China to benefit from Astrill VPN, and it’s a solid option for those focused on performance bar-none.