ExpressVPN vs Astrill: Two Pricey Pretenders Face Off in 2023
ExpressVPN has been on a long win streak in our head-to-head matchups, and there are good reasons for that. If you read our ExpressVPN review, you’ll see that it offers a user-friendly experience that’s easy for anyone to pick up and use but still packs in tons of features. It’s our favorite VPN and has proven itself worthy of that position.
Astrill, on the other hand, is generally geared toward those who want a VPN with maximum functionality. That comes at a cost in terms of price and the ease of use, though, as you can read in our Astrill review.
In this article, we’re going to match them up to see which one scores better overall, though we’ll be paying close attention to specific categories for specific people, too.
Setting Up a Fight: ExpressVPN vs Astrill
As with any competition, rules need to be established so that the competitors can engage each other on a level field. We combined some of the sections that appear in our best VPN article to ensure that each point carries roughly the same weight. That took the number of rounds from nine to five.
The five rounds we’ll be looking at are features, pricing, ease of use, speed and security. In each round, we’ll give an overview of what we’re looking for, dive into each provider’s performance in that field, draw a conclusion and assign points.
When it comes to VPN features, there are some that are essential and others that are more of a cherry on top. The ones we consider mandatory for good VPNs are a kill switch and the ability to connect automatically.
Those two features are critical for security, and any VPN will be less secure without them. Aside from those, features such as split tunneling and trusted networks are nice to see, giving users a lot of control over how and when the VPN connects.
Finally, many VPNs offer settings that block DNS leaks and let you choose from several protocols. We’ll look at those in more detail in the “security and privacy” section.
ExpressVPN is feature-rich and can be hard to beat in this category, but as we saw in our ExpressVPN vs. CyberGhost matchup, it’s possible to challenge the reigning king. ExpressVPN hides its depth of features well behind a simple interface.
It offers clients for a lot of devices. All the major platforms are covered, including Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, as well as applications for things like PlayStations and Roku boxes, making it easy to protect all the devices in your home.
When it comes to the desktop client, there are settings for launching the client automatically when your computer starts and connecting without user input. There’s also a kill switch, as well as an easy-to-use split tunneling option that lets you choose which programs use the VPN connection and which use an unprotected connection.
ExpressVPN also lets users choose from several protocols, which we’ll look at more in the “security and privacy” section. Finally, it allows users to access its DNS servers, which is a nice feature that we’ll also address in more detail shortly.
Though Astrill doesn’t cover quite as many devices as ExpressVPN, it does a respectable job. It offers clients for Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux and routers. That said, though it may not offer clients for devices such as PlayStations and streaming machines, it does offer users a way to protect those devices with its VPN sharing feature.
VPN sharing allows Astrill to let all devices on your network use your computer’s secure VPN connection. There are downsides to that, and it’s not as good as having dedicated applications on those devices, but it offers users a good way to keep all their devices secure.
Astrill also gives users a robust split tunneling feature that lets you filter which programs use the VPN connection and specific websites. Plus, Astrill offers impressive levels of customization on the kill switch, allowing you to keep certain programs running but kill others if the VPN connection is lost.
Like ExpressVPN, Astrill gives users a choice of protocols, but it also lets you choose from several encryption options. Additionally, you can use Astrill’s DNS servers or set up your own DNS.
Round One Thoughts
Astrill doesn’t offer dedicated clients for as many devices as ExpressVPN, but it gives users options for how to keep those devices protected. Though ExpressVPN has Astrill beat in that regard, almost everything else swings in Astrill’s favor.
It has the same features as ExpressVPN, such as split tunneling and private DNS servers, but gives the user more control over how they’re configured. Not only does it let users filter by program for its split tunneling, but it also lets them filter their connection by what website they’re going to.
Additionally, it offers its own private DNS servers and lets users set up the DNS they want to use. Overall, it offers more customization over how the VPN runs, taking the edge in the first round over ExpressVPN.
Point for Astrill
Nobody wants to overpay for anything, and that includes a VPN. That’s why we cover each VPN’s pricing. In this section, we also look at what kind of free trial each VPN offers, if any, as well as their refund periods and which methods of payment they accept.
ExpressVPN is one of the most expensive providers on the market, as you can see in our VyprVPN vs ExpressVPN matchup. Its monthly pricing is steep but not necessarily overpriced for what you get.
Signing up for the longest time period, 15 months, gets you a 50 percent discount compared to monthly, while the six-month term offers a few bucks off. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee, but ExpressVPN doesn’t offer a free trial or plan.
It accepts many payment options, including credit cards, PayPal and bitcoin. The latter is a great option for those who want to maximize their online anonymity because cryptocurrency leaves effectively no paper trail. ExpressVPN also accepts nearly a dozen other payment methods including Sofort, Mint and UnionPay, which is way more than IPVanish (read our ExpressVPN vs IPVanish piece).
For the price, ExpressVPN gives you five connections with unlimited bandwidth, and it doesn’t offer a way to increase that number without setting up a second account.
Surprisingly, Astrill has even higher prices than ExpressVPN. The one-month plan is one of the costliest on the market, and as with ExpressVPN, signing up for the longest term, 12 months in this case, gets you a 50 percent drop in price. There’s also a six-month plan that offers a slight discount over the monthly rate.
- Unlimited GB
- Unlimited GB
- Unlimited GB
Astrill also offers a few other add-ons and upgrades, including a VIP plan that supposedly provides faster speeds and gives your connection first priority on the VPN servers. It almost doubles the cost of the monthly plan.
There is an option to get a private IP address, too, and you can buy a preconfigured router to protect all your home’s devices easily. Unlike ExpressVPN, Astrill doesn’t limit your connections, and in addition to letting you use as many devices as you like, it gives you unlimited bandwidth.
It offers users a free one-week trial, which is nice for getting a feel for the service before paying, but it isn’t as generous as offering a free VPN plan. The free trial is the only chance you’ll get to make up your mind, though. All sales are final.
Astrill covers the major forms of payment, including credit card, PayPal and bitcoin. Like ExpressVPN, it also accepts methods such as UnionPay and Alipay.
Round Two Thoughts
Though Astrill does offer a one-week free trial, it’d be better to see a money-back guarantee like ExpressVPN’s 30-day policy. Both providers accept bitcoin, which is great for the security-conscious.
Ultimately, though neither provider is as affordable as, say, NordVPN, which you can read about in our NordVPN review, Astrill takes its pricing to the extreme. The already-high prices are made even worse with add-ons, making it one of the most expensive VPNs on the market, which means this point is going to ExpressVPN (read our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison).
Point for ExpressVPN
3. Ease of Use
Every VPN seems to have its own take on how to offer a visually appealing and easy to use software while still keeping it packed with features. In this round, we’ll look at how each of our competitors approaches the problem.
We’ll assess how each client looks and how easy it is to use. We’ll also briefly visit each website to make sure it is easy to get where you need to be on the site. The provider that offers a better user experience overall will win the point for this round.
ExpressVPN does an excellent job of balancing features with a clean and sleek-looking client. When you open the application, you’re presented with a minimalist screen that has a large power button at the center that connects and disconnects the VPN.
Below that is text that indicates whether you’re connected and beneath that is a box that displays where you’ll be tunneling to. The server list is organized and easy to browse. There’s a search function for the server list, as well as the option to sort by continent, which is useful.
That portion of the client is all most people will need and presents the most essential parts of a VPN in a streamlined manner. By clicking the three lines at the top left of the screen, you can open the menus, which are also laid out well.
The settings menus are easy to navigate and the wording gives a clear description of what each setting does. As for the site, it follows a standard format for VPN websites. There are multiple red buttons that help you get started with your purchase and setting up an account is easy.
Astrill’s website has a similar overall layout to ExpressVPN’s. The most eye-catching elements of the website are buttons that take you to set up for the free trial. It’s easy to find where to set up a paid account once the trial is over and the downloads are also easy to get to.
Once the client is set up on your computer, the first thing you’ll notice is how small it is. It’s about a third of the size of ExpressVPN’s client and features a less refined layout and look.
At the top is a huge toggle switch that takes about half of the small window and lets you connect or disconnect the VPN. Below that is a drop-down menu that displays your selected country and lets you choose where you’d like to connect. There’s also a graph that shows your VPN connection speeds on the first screen.
Though there’s a search function for the server list, Astrill’s isn’t as well organized for browsing as ExpressVPN’s and ends up feeling cramped because of the small size of the client. To the top right, there’s a drop-down menu for selecting your protocol, and at the top left is a three-line icon that opens up the menus.
The settings menus in Astrill aren’t quite as elegantly laid out as they are in ExpressVPN, and finding what you’re looking for in them can be a matter of trial and error until you dedicate where everything is to memory.
Though Astrill packs in a ton of robust features, it does so at a cost. It’s priced and designed as a VPN for power users who want granular control over how their VPN runs and behaves, even if it makes for a less pleasant user experience.
Round Three Thoughts
ExpressVPN has a very sleek client that looks nice and performs just as well. It strikes a great balance between offering a fire-and-forget VPN for those who simply want to set things up and giving power users plenty of configuration options.
Astrill, on the other hand, offers a very feature-rich experience that’s geared toward those who want to get the most out of their VPN. The interface is smaller and the menus are more cluttered. It lacks a lot of the polish that ExpressVPN has, meaning the point here goes to ExpressVPN.
Point for ExpressVPN
As with all the sections in our matchups, speed is a cornerstone of any good VPN. Without decent speeds, VPNs will feel sluggish and unresponsive, while a VPN with good speeds will make web browsing and streaming easy and enjoyable.
To keep things fair, we set each of the VPNs we’re looking at to use the same protocol, OpenVPN, and the same encryption, AES 256-bit. We also tested the same five locations, then compared the speeds we saw on paper.
ExpressVPN is the most consistent VPN we’ve tested when it comes to speeds from one location to another.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Smart location-Kansas City||44||105.49||7.94|
Ping time increased from one server to another, but that’s unavoidable. Latency was never high enough to be bad for the distance being covered. ExpressVPN often takes time to establish its connection, sometimes 10 seconds or more.
Once the connection is established, it works well, though. There have been many times where our VPN has been on and we didn’t even notice because websites, and even videos, load without noticeable delays.
In our testing, every server was reliably fast and offered nice performance. We never had a website take a long time to load or had a video buffer, even at high resolutions. ExpressVPN routinely ranks toward the top of our fastest VPN lists, and for good reason.
Astrill establishes its connection quickly and they never gave us issues in terms of reliability. Ping times were also low, giving it solid potential as a VPN for gaming.
That said, performance from one location to another was shaky. The Brazilian and Japanese servers returned much slower speeds than some locations that typically get more attention, like the U.S. and UK.
|Location:||Ping (ms):||Download (Mbps):||Upload (Mbps):|
|Los Angeles, CA||65||65.95||10.30|
Overall, sustained download and upload speeds were solid, but the slow servers lose Astrill big points when it comes to reliable speeds. Even so, browsing was solid, and only an extra half-second or so of lag was noticeable on the more sluggish servers.
Videos loaded well, and once a video started playing, there was never an issue with buffering, even while streaming at 1080p and 60 frames per second.
Round Four Thoughts
Though Astrill can establish a solid connection quickly and has low ping times, it isn’t as consistent from server to server as ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN has comparable ping times but sports faster and more reliable speeds on all of its locations around the world.
Additionally, when it came to browsing, the ping advantage wasn’t noticeable for Astrill. In fact, it was slower to load webpages and videos. Because of that, ExpressVPN takes the point for speed.
Point for ExpressVPN
5. Security and Privacy
Finally, we’re going to look at the main reason many people get a VPN: security and privacy. We’ll analyze the security offered by each VPN by looking at which protocols and encryption types are available, as well as testing for DNS leaks.
ExpressVPN lets users choose from a few common protocols including OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP. Out of those, the one we’re looking for and recommend using is OpenVPN because it’s a secure, open-source protocol that offers solid performance.
If you’re interested in learning more about protocols, check out our VPN protocol breakdown.
As for encryption, ExpressVPN doesn’t give you options, but rather locks users into AES-256. It’s practically impossible to break even with a supercomputer. The combination of OpenVPN and AES 256-bit is a best case scenario for security (if you’re planning on visiting the Middle Kingdom, find out how to use ExpressVPN in China).
We couldn’t find DNS leaks in ExpressVPN’s connection, further attesting to the secure nature of the protocol and encryption.
On top of that, it’s based in the British Virgin Islands, which has some of the best privacy laws in the world, further ensuring user privacy.
Astrill offers tons of options for protocols and encryption, ranging from standards such as OpenVPN to custom options, including StealthVPN and OpenWeb. Though it’s nice to have specialized options, as we mentioned, OpenVPN and AES 256-bit are what we look for, and Astrill offers them.
We found that Astrill was free from DNS leaks and other kinds of data leaks.
The logged information consists of data from the last 20 connections, including the country connected to, the duration of the connection and the device used. That information is used to service the VPN and ensure that things are working well, and it’d be difficult to tie it back to the user, but it’s still information that’s being logged and held, even if only for a short while.
Round Five Thoughts
Both VPNs offer options when it comes to protocols, including what we consider the gold standard, which is OpenVPN paired with AES 256-bit encryption. Both providers were also free of DNS and IP address leaks during our testing.
Point for ExpressVPN
6. Final Thoughts
Though Astrill was able to take an early lead with its point from the “features” section, that ended up being its only point, with the final score resting at four to one in favor of ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN offers solid features, even though it doesn’t quite match the power-user experience that Astrill offers. It excels in its user-friendly design, comparably fair pricing, reliable speeds and excellent privacy and security.
If you have experience with ExpressVPN or Astrill, we’d love to hear how it compares to ours in the comments below. Take a look at our ExpressVPN vs PIA piece, too. As always, thanks for reading.