Despite the recent entry into the WordPress theme market, Astra has succeeded in setting its position as one of the best multi-purpose themes available today.
Are you a fan of page builder, but still strive for faster page speeds?
Then you will probably want to try Astra because page builder compatibility and performance are the main highlights of this theme.
But that’s not the only reason. In this Astra theme review, you will get an in-depth analysis of its different features, pros, and cons.
After reading it, you will be able to answer the following questions:
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Astra?
- When to buy the pro version? Is free sufficient?
- How fast is Astra?
- How easy is it to use?
Before that, let us look at the highlights:
- Launched in: 2017
- Creators: Brainstorm Force
- Installations: 500k+
- WordPress Directory Rating: 5/5
As you can see, very few themes have rating of 5 on WordPress directory, Astra being one of them. So, let us dive in.
6 Reasons to Use Astra
Every theme has a specific focus point that makes it stand apart.
And in the case of Astra, its creators – Brainstorm Force – aimed to create a lightweight theme that can form the base for any WordPress website.
In its default installation on a vanilla WordPress site, Astra is less than 50kb gzipped – amazing!
Astra core doesn’t depend on any heavy libraries like jQuery.
2. Clean & Developer-friendly Code
After spending some time to go through the code, I can say that Astra is one of the best in terms of code quality. There is no unwanted bloat.
If you are a developer, Astra has a ton of hooks sprinkled throughout the theme. It makes it easy for you to hook your functionalities wherever you want.
The theme is based on the Underscores base theme, which gives it a strong foundation and structure. Everything is neatly arranged and well-documented.
Moreover, the theme also follows proper Schema markups throughout the templates. So you can expect that Google will easily recognize your site.
Astra has 170+ actions and 250+ filters, making modifications easy for a developer.
3. Beautiful Ready-made Demo Sites
Astra addresses the pain developers like you, and I feel when it is time to design a website from scratch in a short timeframe.
So they offer 110+ ready-to-import demo websites from various niches. Out of these, almost fifty demos are available for free.
Generally, most multi-purpose theme makers provide some sort of pre-built websites to kick-start your project. However, I think Astra has more diversity.
Their library is developing too. You can even suggest new ideas if you couldn’t find the category you need.
Astra gives 110+ starter sites, nearly half of them is free.
4. Compatible with Popular Page Builders
These demo websites are compatible with page builders like Elementor, Beaver & Brizy. So making customizations is easy and intuitive.
By default, page builders support only the content area. With Astra’s demo sites, you can easily edit parts of your website like hero sections and overlays.
Astra works well with Elementor, Beaver, Brizy, and Gutenberg editors.
5. Highly Flexible
Apart from being compatible with page builders, Astra Pro also gives tons of customization options. Using the WordPress Customizer, you can tweak almost any part of your website.
However, the free version is quite restrictive as it contains only the necessary options.
The focus on the performance itself is giving Astra an edge in terms of SEO. In addition to that, the theme includes Schema markup at appropriate places. If you don’t know, Schema helps search engines like Google to get a better understanding of your web pages.
However, whether you need schema integration inside a theme is a different story. If you use plugins like Yoast, it can add the latest schema code (JSON-LD) to each post.
How to Set Up
Now let us get our feet wet by setting up a sample website with Astra. Overall, the experience is smooth and does not cause any confusion, even for a novice.
The first thing we are doing is to install the free Astra theme from your dashboard.
Once you have installed the theme, you get a new sub-menu Astra Options under Appearance. The options page is one of the simplest out there. It contains a few links to the customizer pages, links to the features available in the pro version, and optional free plugins.
The options page does not include any complicated settings. Instead, you can do everything from the customizer. It gives the feeling of a neat and uncluttered arrangement.
Installing a demo site
On the right sidebar of the options page, you can see a link to install the Importer Plugin. Click on it, and the plugin installs.
These starter sites suite well when you are building a new website. If you are just switching themes on your existing website, there is no need to import a demo site.
Now you will see another sub-menu Astra Sites from where you can browse the demo sites.
For this example, we will select the Outdoor Adventure site. It was also the site I used for a client who needed a birdwatching website. With the help of Elementor builder and Astra’s Customizer options, I could finish the site in a few hours.
Like other importers, Astra’s importer page also shows a list of required plugins. The first step is to install those plugins.
Now you can begin importing the website. You get an alert when you click the Import button. Confirm it and continue. The import process does not delete any of your existing posts, pages, or content. However, it will be better if you install it on a fresh WordPress installation.
The import completes within seconds, and now you are ready to modify the site according to your requirements. For this, you have three things to do:
- Customize the site options from WordPress Customizer
- Edit the imported contents (pages & posts) using Elementor.
- Add new content
According to their website, Astra claims to load in less than 0.5s and weighs under 50KB.
Also, the core theme has no dependencies like jQuery.
To get a complete idea, I conducted speed tests on three different sites:
- Default WordPress Installation with no extra content
- Using one of the demo sites from Astra
- With some test content (resembles a real blog – 10 posts on the home page with featured images)
Remember that I had not used page caching or any other type of optimizations except gzip compression.
1. Default WordPress Installation
It was just a blank website running WordPress 5.3. The test helped to get a baseline performance of Astra.
WP Query Monitor Results
With Pingdom, the site loaded in only 220ms while the load time on GTmetrix was 800ms. Despite the difference, Astra stood up to the expectations.
The total page size also stood below the 50kb mark, 42kb to be precise.
The total requests were only nine, out of which two belonged to Astra – one CSS file and a JS file. No, JQuery was not in the list of requests – good job!
Load Time – 220ms
No. of requests – 9
Page Size – 42KB
So, default performance – Excellent.
2. Using a Demo Site
Next, I checked the speed after importing one of the demo starter sites – Outdoor Adventure.
It helped me know how Astra performs when coupled with a page builder like Elementor.
WP Query Monitor Results
The story was a bit different after importing the demo site. The page size climbed to 1.5MB while the number of requests stood at 36.
Since it was an page builder site, the importer also installed the Elementor plugin along with other content. So, most of the page weight has to do with Elementor and images.
The load time was ~800ms with Pingdom while GTmetrix showed 1.3s.
What does that mean?
While it is true that Astra is lightweight, your page speed mainly depends on your content (especially images), and the plugins you use.
If you do not bother to trade-off some speed for ease of use, it won’t be a problem. Otherwise, using the barebones Astra with the native Gutenberg Editor will be the best way to utilize all the performance benefits that Astra offers.
Load Time – 847
No. of requests – 36
Page size – 1.5
3. WP with Test Content
In the third test, I used some sample content from wptest.io to resemble a real blog. The site contains some sample posts with featured images on the home page.
For example, when you have an existing blog or website, then there is no need import a demo site. Instead, you can just switch from your old theme to Astra and start using it with the default WordPress editor.
WP Query Monitor Results
Now, the performance stood somewhere in between the first two tests. Once again, the page loaded in less than 500ms.
When to buy the Pro Version
The free version is enough if you are quickly set up a website from one of the free demos. Also, it is useful if you want only minimal adjustments.
Otherwise, free Astra is quite limiting in terms of flexibility. Most of the features are locked behind the premium version.
For example, if you want a grid layout for your blog or WooCommerce store, you will need the premium license. The same is the case with a custom header or pagination.
Pricing & Plans
Astra Premium comes in three plans, starting at $59 for the Pro. The Mini Agency license gives access to additional demo sites while the Agency Bundle gives you other plugins like Schema Pro and Convert Pro.
Unlike some other premium themes like OceanWP, Astra Pro allows you to use it on unlimited sites with a single license. It is highly economical if you designer or developer who plans to use the same theme on multiple websites.
2 Cons of Astra
Overall, my experience with Astra has been great so far. Before concluding, I would like to mention a few downsides as well, although there aren’t many.
Pricing is a bit expensive
When you compare Astra with its alternatives like GeneratePress or OceanWP, you might feel that it is a bit pricier. The starting price is ~$59, almost $10 more than GeneratePress.
Also, the starter plan does not give access to all the demo sites either. For that, you’ll need at least the Mini Agency Bundle Licence, which costs $135.
No Dedicated Support Forum
When you are in trouble, Astra offers help mainly through support tickets. They have comprehensive documentation as well. A dedicated support forum is lacking, though.
In my experience, a forum would have been great value as it helps to learn more about how to deal with several use cases. It allows you to browse through issues faced by other users, apart from posting your questions.
Wrapping it Up
We have looked at the highlight features of Astra and how well it deals with web performance. Also, we have seen the different ways to use the theme – with or without page builders. Then we explored how page builders can slow down our site.
Will it be the right choice for the next website? Absolutely yes. My experience with this theme has been great so far. What is your opinion?
In another post, we will be looking at how Astra compares against other multi-purpose themes like GeneratePress.