Astrill is a Seychelles-based company which has been providing VPN services since 2009.
The product specs look good, at least initially: 300+ servers, many with P2P support, in almost 50 countries. There’s vast protocol support, it works just about anywhere, and if you’re unsure, the company offers a 7-day free trial which gives you time to find out for yourself.
It’s a little expensive, not least because there’s no single month plan. The minimum purchase is 3 months, which runs to $9.98 (£8.30, AU$13.40) a month, although paying for a full year in advance sees this drop to $5.83 (£4.80, AU$7.80).
There are a lot of optional add-ons. The standard plan only allows two simultaneous connections (one of which is a mobile device, one a desktop/laptop), but the Home Plan gets you 5-device support for – gulp – $5 (£4.15, AU$6.70) a month.
Other add-ons include a firewall, stealth connection, improved encryption, VPN sharing, connections to super-speedy VIP servers, there’s even a dedicated IP. None are essential, though, and most are overpriced, so we decided to focus on the standard plan.
Astrill’s small-print is a nightmarish 4,400+ words which is a mess of densely packed clauses, carefully written in detailed legal-speak. But because we’re dedicated to the process of ‘finding stuff out’, we read it anyway.
While checking the usage clauses we noticed that Astrill doesn’t just prohibit obviously dodgy actions like spamming or launching DDoS attacks, it specifically forbids use of any kind of automated web tools, even web crawlers or SEO apps.
The refund policy is strict, too. If you’ve used the trial, you won’t get a refund. If you haven’t used the trial, you’ll only qualify if “Astrill doesn’t work on your computer due to technical reasons” and they can’t fix it within 7 days. Essentially, if you can connect some of the time it’s most unlikely that you’ll get your money back.
Signing up for Astrill – even just the free trial – involves handing over your name, email address, physical address, even your mobile number. A pin number is sent to your phone to verify it, too. Not what you’d expect from a service offering ‘privacy’ and ‘anonymity’.
The Windows client has its problems. By default it uses the proxy-like OpenWeb rather than OpenVPN, only protecting your browsers – let’s hope all users realise that. And there are way too many configuration options for the tiny interface, so clicking Settings displays 11 menu items, each of which leads to a separate dialog with yet more lists and checkboxes.
If you need this configurability there’s also a lot to like. Astrill has options to exclude some websites or applications from tunnelling, to block certain apps if the VPN is off, and to address DNS and WebRTC leaks. You can also apply low-level OpenVPN tweaks, enable port forwarding, and more.
Our testing* experience was mixed. It seemed almost impossible to connect to some servers, particularly if they support P2P. And one server appeared to be in New York, not Los Angeles as Astrill claimed, though figuring out the truth about that is sometimes harder than you’d think. But when we did get online our download speeds were generally around 15-20Mbps, considerably better than a lot of the competition, and very acceptable for most applications.
Astrill’s configurability will appeal to experienced users, and speeds are above average. But we’re much less enthusiastic about handing over our mobile number, and the difficulty we had connecting to some servers. Try it if you need the tweaks, but be sure to take the full 7-day trial.
*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we’ve reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.