Exploring Strato’s plans is tricky, as they vary considerably between different countries. However, we decided to focus on the UK website for the purpose of this review.
Strato has four main web hosting plans. All are based on a 12-month contract which is charged in advance when you register.
The 'Basic Web' plan starts at just £4 ($5.20) per month paid annually. It includes one domain, free domain transfer, 2GB of web space, unlimited traffic, 1,000 email accounts, 2GB of space per email account, two FTP accounts, five subdomains, domain redirection, DNS management, an auto-responder, aliases, central control panel, Strato Blog, web statistics, newsletter tool, free support via email, plus a FAQ database. You also get a 30-day money-back guarantee.
The 'Power Web' tier is £6 ($7.80) per month paid annually. This comes with all the basic plan has to offer plus two domains, 6GB of web space, WordPress, Piwik, PhpBB, Gallery, Serendipity, Mediawiki, Coppermine (photo manager), 2,000 email accounts, five FTP accounts, 50 subdomains, three MySQL databases, PHP 5, Perl, Python, Ruby, and more.
The 'Advanced Web' package weighs in at £10 ($12.99) per month, when paid annually. It includes all the above plus three domains, 20GB of web space, Joomla, Drupal, TYPO3, SugarCRM, 4,000 email accounts, 10 FTP accounts, 500 subdomains, graphical representations of web statistics, 10 MySQL databases and Cron Jobs.
The 'Enterprise Web' plan is £15 ($19.50) per month paid annually. Extras included are five domains, 50GB of web space, 6,000 email accounts, 1,000 subdomains and 20 MySQL databases.
Strato’s website looks good at first, but start exploring and you'll quickly spot issues. The shared hosting page is crammed with information and not very well organised, so expect to spend some time scrolling up and down.
On the plus side, if you like to see the low-level specs of a plan – how many subdomains are supported, how many email aliases – you'll appreciate Strato's detailed table. It's good to see a company make pricing details clear upfront, too, rather than hiding the figures until you reach the payment page.
We made our product choice and were asked to choose a domain. You can register a new domain for free, or transfer one you own already, but there's no option to leave the domain with its current manager. That's unusually inflexible, and could be a real problem for some.
Continuing with our chosen plan was straightforward enough. Strato’s cart page listed our choice of products clearly, and gave us precise details on what we'd be paying now, and the renewal fees. The company gave us the option of manual repayments, too, which is handy if you want complete control over when – and if – you pay for renewal.
We made our choice and the payment was processed as usual. There's no instant activation, unfortunately, but the website gave us an order reference number and explained we'd be getting an email soon with more instructions.
Creating a site
Most hosts activate your account within a few minutes of payment. It took close to two hours before we had a welcome email from Strato, but as the site only says accounts will be activated within 24 hours, we should probably be grateful.
The company handles security well. You're given a customer number as a username, making it much more difficult to guess (other hosts often use your email or domain name). Passwords are entered separately from the purchase process, an accurate ‘strength’ meter shows you how secure they are, and they're never emailed to you.
Login took us to Strato’s hosting panel. The company's shared Linux hosting doesn't use cPanel, vDeck or anything standard, instead opting for its own custom creation. In our experience that's never good news, and Strato did nothing to change our mind.
The panel design looks good at first glance, being clean and largely text-based, but it's poorly organised. For example, when we accessed the console it highlighted six areas at the top of the page, but these either related to products we didn't have, or functions we'd only use occasionally. If you're looking for something important, like the file manager, you'll have to browse to Databases and WebSpace in the sidebar, and recognise that WebFTP is a type of file manager.
Support options are well hidden, too. There's no ‘Search for features’ box, no prominent Help menu or anything similar. Instead you have to scroll to the very bottom of the page, click the Support link to open the support site in a new tab, and finally search for advice.
There's no template-based Site Builder in the standard shared hosting packages. You do get speedy install of WordPress and some other applications via the company's AppWizard. This doesn't support as many apps as the best of the competition, but it'll set them up without difficulty, and if you just need a WordPress site at speed it'll do the job as well as anyone else.
Manual site management is also possible via FTP or a simple WebFTP file manager. Again, this isn't as straightforward or capable as the cPanel equivalents you'll get elsewhere, but it gets the main tasks done; and if your site is basic you probably won't use these modules much anyway.
We like to spend plenty of time testing a host's support services, but Strato doesn't have much to try out. There’s no live chat (not even sales), no formal support tickets, but there is a Help Center link on the firm’s website, which includes a web knowledgebase.
This offers a straightforward and familiar interface, with buttons to access help articles on particular topics (Email, Databases, Server). Clicking any of these displays a tree of subtopics and some direct links to popular articles, and there's also a search box to look for keywords directly.
One obvious problem is that the site doesn't have much content. Browsing to the Databases category showed us six articles; searching for MySQL gave us 14 references in total. The individual content wasn't bad, but it's mostly about setup and management. There's very little to help you with identifying or solving problems, so for example running a search on the keyword Permissions gave us no hits at all.
We tried other searches with equally unimpressive results. ‘Import WordPress’ gave us one article on installing WordPress using Strato’s SiteWizard. Apache returned a single minor hit, whereas searching for PHP gave us some useful articles, but others just highlighted the basic control panel. The ‘How can I check the PHP and/or MySQL version?’ article suggests creating a PHP file, uploading it via FTP and opening it from your browser, for instance (cPanel usually displays it in a sidebar).
Note that customers who buy from www.strato-hosting.co.uk get access to an 0800 phone number, but phone support is only available from 7am to 7pm on weekdays. Email support is available but it does not specify any opening hours, so we can only assume that it’s the same as the phone support hours. There appears to be no support provided over the weekend.
When it came to our server performance tests, Strato performed well. Our allocated server was in Berlin, had good response times from the UK, was even better with US connections, and a little above average overall. Whatever Strato is doing to cut costs, it doesn't seem to involve the hardware or network, which is always good to know.
Strato offers a cheap way to get a basic site online, but try to do anything more advanced and you'll pay a price in terms of the poor support, underpowered hosting panel and more.
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