Astrill VPN review

An ultra-configurable VPN with some hidden hassles

Astrill
Image credit: Astrill

Our Verdict

Casual users won't like the price or the complex apps, but Astrill VPN has more features than just about anyone else. If power is a top priority, Astrill needs to be on your shortlist.

For

  • Extremely configurable
  • WireGuard protocol support
  • Good performance
  • Unblocks Netflix

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: servers in 115 cities across 64 countries, many with P2P support, with Onion over VPN 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.

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 are high. Astrill's one-month plan is an eye-watering $15.90, paying six months up-front cuts this to $11.65, and it falls to a still-costly $8.33 on the annual plan. That's more expensive than even premium providers like ExpressVPN, and if you're willing to subscribe for two or three years, companies like CyberGhost and NordVPN can charge less than $3 a month.

Still, there is a lot to like here, and if you're interested, a free trial gives you 7 days to check out the service, no credit card details required.

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)

(Image credit: Image credit: Astrill)

Privacy and logging

When we last reviewed Astrill, its privacy policy was a lengthy and near unreadable mess of dense legalese. We pointed this out, and it seems like the company was listening, because the current version is a huge improvement.

The document is now much shorter, and more sensible laid out. Clear headings make it easy to find the areas you need - cookie use, information collected, how it's shared - and sections are now 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 our review, too, when the website asked for a verifiable mobile number before it would sign us up for the trial.

We're not happy with that, but we also understand that Astrill is most likely only doing this to reduce the number of people abusing the trial period. If taking phone numbers means they can keep offering a trial while others have given up, that's a plus. And if you don't want to hand over your number, you can avoid that by paying via Bitcoin.

Apps 1

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

(Image credit: Image credit: Astrill)

Apps

Signing up for Astrill took one step more than usual, as we had to verify our phone number by entering a PIN sent via SMS. The trial doesn't require entering any payment details, though, and within a moment or two we were viewing Astrill's web console and the available apps.

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.

Clicking the location displays a list of servers, for instance. Although this is presented in the most compact of forms, it still crams in loads of functionality, including 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.

Apps 2

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

(Image credit: Image credit: Astrill)

Impressive protocol support includes OpenVPN, StealthVPN to get online in China and other countries which try to block VPN use, and even the latest WireGuard.

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 connection, and even the option 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.

Apps 3

Disabling Astrill's LSP can help clear up any issues with Steam or other apps (Image credit: Astrill)

(Image credit: Image credit: Astrill)

After installing the client, for instance, Steam's client began complaining that there was an incompatible ASPProxy.dll running inside its process. You can avoid this by removing Astrill's LSP (a layered service provider, a means of filtering web traffic), but it's unclear what the consequences might be, and we're unsure why Astrill is using LSPs in the first place (they still work, but Microsoft has provided better solutions since Windows 8.)

It's easy to see how Astrill's low-level Windows setup might interfere with other apps, and if (unlike Steam) they're not smart enough to warn you of the problem, you could be in for trouble. We immediately found one possible candidate in a graphics editor which frequently crashed when Astrill was running, but worked just fine when it closed. Maybe we were unlucky, perhaps the typical user won't see anything similar, but these issues are a concern that we've not seen with other VPN providers.

On balance, Astrill's Windows client isn't a good 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.

Performance

We test the performance of every VPN we review using OpenSpeedTest (Image credit: OpenSpeedTest)

Performance

It's not easy for a VPN to unblock Netflix, which is why most providers make vague claims about how they help you 'bypass web censorship', but never actually mention the sites where this works.

Astrill isn't quite so modest, dedicating a whole page on its website to the claim that it's 'the most reliable VPN for Netflix', complete with graphics of the Netflix website and app.

We can't test reliability in a short-term review, but we can say that the service worked just fine during our review, allowing us to stream US-only content from each of our test servers. We moved to US YouTube and BBC iPlayer, and the service worked there, too.

We began our performance testing by using an automated process to connect to 98 Astrill locations, measure the connection time, check the server was in the promised location, and measure latency via some ping checks.

Disappointingly, two of Astrill's servers failed to connect, even on multiple retries. Connection times were mostly acceptable at 3 to 6 seconds, but in some cases could be as long as 12 seconds. There were no issues with latencies, but geolocation checks suggested several servers weren't in the countries claimed by Astrill. Geolocation isn't an exact science and it's possible these were false alarms, but there are still more of these than usual.

Turning to the clients, we still had occasional problems connecting to some servers. Performance was very acceptable, though, at 60-65Mbs in the UK and 40-50Mbps in the US. Some of the more distant locations struggled to reach 10Mbps (Pakistan, Vietnam), but Australia, Japan and others were more typical, averaging a very usable 25Mbps.

Final verdict

It's seriously expensive, and we're not enthusiastic about handing over our mobile number, but experienced users will love Astrill VPN's lengthy feature set, wide protocol support (including WireGuard) and vast configurability. Try it if you need that power, but take the full 7-day trial before you hand over any cash.