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Astra WordPress theme was developed and continues to be maintained by Brainstorm Force, a leading WordPress site development service that employs over 60 people. It is something we didn’t know before starting this Astra Theme Review. However impressive that might be, the really impressive feat is Astra’s WordPress theme integration with all leading page builders. Not only does it integrate so well but it also boasts of unique features like the Ultimate Addons for Beaver Builder as well as Ultimate Addons for Elementor page builder, it also uses WordPress customizer for those who don’t want to use a page builder. That allows you to enjoy a host of advanced features and customization options while still keeping things relatively simple.
The free Astra team is also behind sites plugin like Convert Pro a leading, lead generation plugin, in addition to a Schema markup plugin called Schema Pro, as well as WP Portfolio a well-known portfolio plugin.
The wide praise Astra receives from everyone is what led us to try out this theme. If anything this review is our exploration of the Astra theme. However, we will reveal by the end of this review, if it is worth your time and money!
Astra WordPress Theme Overview
Astra is similar to OceanWP and Generatepress in the sense that it is one of the most popular free themes available from WordPress.org. Astra has over 700,000 active installs, that means over 700,000 sites and counting are using it. Furthermore, an impressive 5-star rating, which makes it the highest-rated WordPress theme site that at least we know of as of this writing. However, we were even more impressed by the fact when we learnt that the theme was launched in April 2017, so it’s only been around for 3 years.
Now unlike OceanWP of which there is only one version, and that’s free, there is a ‘Free’ and a paid or ‘Pro’ version of the Astra theme. The ‘Pro’ version can only be found on Astra’s official website. Getting it will require name email and your credit card information which is pretty standard stuff.
So, now that you know why we are all so stoked about using Astra it’s time to see what Brainstorm Force has to offer and can it stand up to our rigorous WordPress themes testing system.
One of the exciting things about Astra is the fact that it has dozens of features which makes covering each element very difficult and in some cases, we believe pointless. So, instead of talking about every sub-feature, of which Astra has many, we’ll cover all the primary features so that you know how the sub-features work too.
Theme Settings Features
Not many years ago creating websites was something best left to web designers, and we’d have to hire developers to add functionality to the website. However, the online business industry has changed this entirely, and themes like Astra are proof of it. Astra’s theme settings allow anyone to customize the way their theme looks in more ways than a few dozen! What’s more, you don’t need to be a coder, programmer, or even a tech nerd to do it.
Astra’s various sub-features allow anyone to customize their website to exactly the way they want it. Numerous header options, layout options and external site plugin round off what is an otherwise easy to customize theme.
Astra Pro has this layouts feature, which allows users to choose from different layouts like padded, full width, boxed, max-width and fluid layout. The spacing can easily be adjusted across every layout, in addition to padding and margins across every element. All you need to do is to head on over to Appearance > Customize > Global > Container > Site Layout.
Header and Footer Customization
The Pro WordPress site version allows you to customize header and footer options easily. We’ll go into customizing these site options below.
We found this extended header option to be only available on the Pro site version, and it is interesting, to say the least. Take for instance; you can change the way the header works like making it transparent, having a separate header for mobile devices and a sticky header, which is in addition to many other options like adding a box for name email. We spent hours playing around with these options, changing the way our header appeared and we’re pretty sure you will too. However, the header features are limited in some ways if you’re not using a page building tool like Elementor.
Most people will want to change the typography and fonts on their website, and if it is easy, then that’s even better. Fortunately, Astra gave us full control over what fonts we could choose across the entire site. We didn’t count exactly how many fonts they were, but because we know that Google fonts are 700+, that’s how many fonts you can use. The customization option is integrated into the Custom Fonts plugin, which is 100% free with the sites plugin. Furthermore, typography size and color can easily be changed using the Text Transformation feature, which will usually work with fonts you want to stand out like on the header. During our time playing around with the fonts, we noticed a bit of stuttering. Also, it takes a while to load the fonts, and a real-time preview of them are hit or miss.
Customize Background and Colors
Customizing the colors, i.e. changing them and the background is done directly via Astra’s customization panel, just like everything else like archives, pages, sidebars and footers etc. It is the most important of all site features. That said some minor tweaks are only available in the ‘Pro’ version of the theme.
Now if you are planning a site that will also have blogs or some form of content marketing, you will want to configure the look and feel of those posts. Here too Astra makes this type of customization easy with its blog layout features. All the prebuilt layouts are available with Astra Pro which include date box, masonry, grid, etc. We also tried out Infinite scrolling a feature we always wanted to play around with and were not disappointed. Plus the site post pagination features are also baked into the theme, so there is no need to add another plugin.
Global Design Feature
Now this feature or option as it is called offers a lot of flexibility. You can, for instance, align a brand’s logo to the left, centre or the right. You also have a myriad of choices for the footer. Plus, you can customize the headers, footers and layout for mobile devices. So, you can have a custom layout for mobile devices that looks better and is easier to use. Once you set up the global design option, and everything looks good, there is no further tweaking required.
Most if not all, e-commerce websites require WooCommerce integration because without it selling online via WordPress isn’t exactly easy. Fortunately, Astra, while integrating with Elementor Beaver Builder, also plays well with WooCommerce. Astra Pro offers everything from grid layout for products to an off-canvas sidebar, product previews, drop-down shopping cart functionality etc. Most of all, once our website was set up, setting up WooCommerce with a bunch of dummy stuff to sell took only 30 minutes.
Apart from WooCommerce, Astra also integrates with many other WordPress plugins like Learn Dash, LifterLMS, has built-in support for Schema, and is optimized for SEO at least at the code level.
The Astra theme or template, in our opinion, speeds up the process involved in setting up a WordPress website. One reason that’s the case is that you are not presented with a blank slate. There is a default theme that you can decide to customize slightly if there is a lack of time or choose another template. The main menu is baked into it, and the styling is good enough for most websites.
Speaking of prebuilt templates or websites, there are now quite a few built into Astra Pro. When you’re initially installing Astra, those pre built templates are being installed too. Astra labels these templates’ Starter Sites’ or ‘Starter Templates’ and happens to be complete sites for each type of niche. There are websites for restaurants, fitness businesses, agencies, pets, online stores, courses, freelancers, photographers and artists.
Unlike the competition where you only get a handful of prebuilt templates, Astra provides you with over a hundred starter sites. Plus, there are various of these themes for Gutenberg, Elementor, Brizy and Beaver’s WordPress page builder.
One thing we noticed while trying out these templates or starter sites, is that some of them are exclusive to specific WordPress builders, others are exclusive to various premium packages or Astra Pro. However, once you make the required purchases (if they are paid), the website can be easily imported into your new site with a couple of clicks. Then just customize it with your logo, slogan and content!
Page Builder Integration
As of late we’ve seen the popularity of drag and drop page builders skyrocket. However, the reason behind them becoming so popular is because they make designing a WordPress website so easy. Traditionally, you’d have to know how to code and design, but now you just have to know what you want.
Astra, fortunately, integrates directly and works seamlessly with many WordPress builders like Beaver Builder, Elementor, Gutenberg, and Brizy. We were able to customize the starter templates with the WordPress builders that were used to build them, and the process was pretty straight forward. However, they should work just as easily if you’re using another page builder too owing to the way, Astra is designed.
Our personal experience with page builder integration is that it works better with some page builders like Elementor and Beaver Builder as compared to Thrive Architect. However, to be fair nowhere in Astra’s documentation do they say that we can edit the team with Thrive Architect, but it is certainly one of the top WordPress builders for which there should be official support.
- Astra is amongst the fastest themes we’ve tested on par with OceanWP and others.
- Loads of layout options and customizing them is fairly easy.
- Lots of starter sites or free demo sites as they are called which should get most people started ASAP.
- Mega Menu feature that’s highly customizable and flexible.
- Support for LearnDash.
- Support for WooCommerce.
- We don’t like the fact that there are limited header style options, i.e. only 3 of them.
- The archive page styling is very basic at best.
- Style of blog commenting is basic too.
- We weren’t too impressed with support’s slow response time compared to the competition.
You can get the Astra theme in two versions. The first is the ‘Free’ version which can be downloaded from WP.org aka WordPress repository to get started. However, while it is free it is also severely limited in how much the theme can be customized. That’s why we wouldn’t recommend the ‘Free’ version to anyone.
The Pro site version comes with all the bells and whistles that should allow most people to customize the theme to their heart’s content. The Pro site version is available in three bundles:
- Astra Pro ($59)
- Mini Agency Bundle ($169)
- Agency Bundle ($249
You can also opt for an annual subscription or a Lifetime package for the Pro theme. The Lifetime version is a one-off purchase.
Astra Free vs Pro Edition
Many people would ask as to why we recommend paying for the Pro site version and not just sticking with the Free version? The simple answer to that is similar to what we stated above, i.e. the Free theme is limited in the way it can be customized. There is a comparison table that outlines how the Free version isn’t as good as the Pro site version on Astra’s website. However, below is our experience using both versions.
Pro Site Version Has More Header Options
Most people reading this may have already figured out that headers mean a lot to us. While the free alternative only has the option to turn on ‘Transparent header’ that isn’t going to be enough to customize most websites. The Pro site version, on the other hand, supports sticky headers, mobile headers, page headers and the mega menu [we’ll discuss the mega menu in a bit more detail below].
If there is one reason to pay for the Pro site version, we’d have to say Mega Menus. It is one of the best features that Astra has to offer baked into the Nav Menu. Using this feature, we were able to transform a regular, old, boring menu into an impressive, sophisticated menu complete with pictures and a map.
Items can be displayed in columns, and you can use a background image, colors, labels etc. If anything these additional features give you a leg up over anyone using boring old menus which are the hallmark of the Free theme.
Different Styles of Layouts
The free theme of Astra only comes with the default layout, and you’re pretty much stuck with it. As someone who designs their own websites, that single, fixed-width layout isn’t going to work for most of our ideas.
However, the premium version, on the other hand, offers many different layout styles which include boxed, padded, full width, spacing control, fluid layout and padded. Each one is very easy to implement and changes the look of your website near instantly.
Typography Changes and Customization
Another limitation of the Free version is the fact that you’re stuck with how things look on the website. You can’t do much to change the sidebar, footer, primary header, buttons, content layout and even the blog section. Again, getting past this limitation isn’t easy, and fortunately, even if we were on a tight budget and had a lot of time on our hands, there was no way to bypass this limitation short of being pro coders.
The premium version allows you to customize and change every aspect of the blog section, footer, header, sidebar etc. You can change the fonts, colors, the content etc. Most of all, it is easy to do especially if you’re using it coupled with a page builder with drag and drop functionality.
Change the Colors and Background
We couldn’t change the colors and the background to the way we wanted using the Free version. There is no way to do it because it is a feature reserved for the Pro site version. While we were able to get by using some CSS coding techniques to change the color in some places of the website, for the most part, it is tedious and not recommended because you could break the site doing it.
The premium version makes changing aspects of the design like the color and background easy. A few clicks later, and your background should look exactly the way you want it.
Blog Layout Customization
The Free version of Astra only gives you a single blog content width layout. If you don’t like it, like we didn’t, then you’re stuck with it or pay to upgrade to Astra Pro. If you intend to have a blog section on your website, this alone is worth the price of admission.
The Pro version gives you many different blog layouts to choose from which include grid, list, masonry, Highlight first post, blog structure control, pagination, infinite loading etc. All of these options means that you can fine-tune your blog to perfection.
If you are serious about turning your website into an online store, then you’ll use WooCommerce, but it isn’t the best combo with the Free version of Astra. The Free version is limited to just a handful of features like grid settings, sale bubble style, product catalogue and a couple of others. However, it is missing important ones like checkout options, gallery options, off-canvas sidebar, etc. To get all of these features, you’ll need to upgrade to Astra Pro!
The Free version of Astra has limited integration capabilities with LearnDash, LifterLMS, and Easy Digital Downloads. By limited, we are implying that it does not work as it should. Many features and capabilities are disabled and hence makes for a neutered experience.
Full integration is only available with the paid Astra Pro variation. Astra Pro unleashes the true capabilities of these addons/plugins.
In addition to the above, there are many other reasons to upgrade to the Pro site version, which includes customer support via email instead of the forum which you get with the Free version. You also get custom layouts to further customize your WordPress site.
Should You Upgrade to Astra Pro?
Yes! You should anyone who is serious about using the Astra theme for any type of potential commercial activity should upgrade to Astra Pro. The Pro site version allows you to get the most out of the theme and plugins without limitations. Whether it is WooCommerce or full page builder support, we recommend using Astra Pro.
Astra: Popular Questions & Answers
Q. Is Astra a good theme?
Astra is considered one of the best themes for anyone who wants to start an ecommerce store, a service website or affiliate site where speed equates to better SEO. However, owing to the nature of the Astra theme it is important to bear in mind that the Pro theme alone may not cut it, and additional plugin-ins may be required for further customization. So, it would be worth considering Elementor builder or Beaver Builder to go with it. That said Astra theme could be used as a stand-alone for a website, but in that case, as mentioned above, it can’t be customized in many ways as it would with a WordPress site builder.
Q. What is Astra Pro?
Astra Pro is the complete version of the Astra Free theme. The ‘free’ version is severely crippled with limited customization options which can make running a business using the theme near impossible. It also isn’t fully compatible with many leading WordPress site page builders like Elementor. That’s why anyone who is serious about building out their website should consider Astra Pro. The ‘Pro’ version is fully customizable, plus features much of what we’ve discussed earlier on this review.
Astra Theme Review: Conclusion
Astra is one of the best free WordPress themes out there even if it is highly crippled in favor of motivating people into buying the ‘Pro’ version. What we personally liked and enjoyed about Astra both Pro and Free, is the fact that it looks great right out of the gate. People on a budget can easily get by with minor customization, but guys like us will still be able to tell that they are using a free Astra theme, which could bother some perfectionists like us.
That’s why if you are serious about how your business looks and building a great looking website, then Astra Pro is the way to go. The theme also allows you to import dozens of great-looking, niche-specific websites, as well as a selection of free plugins that extend the functionality of your WordPress website.
Plus, during our split testing, and something we mentioned above, is that Astra is blazing fast because of its small footprint. However, many people like us will not like all the options being contained within the WordPress customizer, which comes across as limited. Even Astra Pro has this limitation. The Brainstorm Force premium plugin does help us get over the fact that WordPress customizer is limited. That said we were not able to find any way to work around the limitations except for hoping that Astra will fix it with an update that comes out sooner than later.
So, the question we set out to answer in this Astra theme review is if it is worth it? Our answer to that is, Yes! But make sure that you have allocated a budget for the Astra Pro theme at the very least, and ideally for a WordPress page builder plugin like Elementor. Only then will you be able to wield the full power than Astra has to offer, which is totally worth it.