WordPress’s Astra Theme: Our Honest Review

Astra theme demos

You can find our in-depth Astra theme review below, but if you’re looking for a TL;DR version, here it is:

A Feature-Rich and Solid WordPress Theme

Astra Theme

Astra is doing a lot right. Feature-packed, easy to use, and also solidly coded and developer-friendly, Astra presents an attractive package in a WordPress theme that simply wasn’t available until recently.

Astra comes in a freely available basic version, as well as a Pro version. We suggest you play around with either version and get a sense how Astra can fit into your WordPress projects.

It wasn’t so long ago that the most popular WordPress themes were the ones that offered everything but the kitchen sink in their theme options. Now, with the rise of page builder plugins and Gutenberg itself, the pendulum has swung the other way. Minimalism is now the order of the day.

It’s definitely better for themes to outsource functionality to plugins, but it’s just as important that themes don’t hinder the way that plugins work. No one wants a site that’s slow, buggy, or difficult to tweak.

So what does a theme like Astra have to offer in the current WordPress ecosystem?

Astra theme on WordPress.org

I decided to examine the following features that I think are important to have in a theme:

  • Quick load speed
  • Well-coded
  • Good documentation
  • Starter sites
  • Easy theme customization
  • Plugin integrations

Furthermore, I checked out what you get with Astra Pro, looked at what kind of sites you can build with Astra, and weighed up how Astra compares with three of its rival themes, GeneratePress, OceanWP, and the Beaver Builder theme.

Astra has a free version that’s simple to set up and start playing with, as well as a full-featured pro version, so if you’re the hands-on type, get Astra now and start experimenting with it while you read our review.

With that, let’s get started with this Astra theme review!

Astra and Page Speed

Astra theme on a vanilla install of WordPress

Astra theme on a vanilla install of WordPress

Astra claims to be very lean, with a load time of 0.5s.

One reason that Astra loads fast is that it doesn’t use jQuery. It also calls under 50Kb of additional resources, compared to 300Kb for some other themes.

In a WP Rocket speed test of ten themes, Astra was second-fastest of the themes they tested, with a load time of 1.599 seconds.

Obviously, the speed of your finished site will depend on other factors like your choice of hosting and the plugins you use.

Astra’s Code Quality

Even if you plan to use a page builder to build the majority of your site, it makes sense to use a well-coded theme as the backbone.

Astra is based on the Underscores theme from Automattic, which is the basis for the recent default WordPress themes. That means the theme is set out in a logical and tidy way.

Astra theme folder and file structure

Because it derives from Underscores, Astra has most of the features of an accessibility-ready theme, but unfortunately not all. Two things Astra lacks are a visible skip navigation link when the keyboard is used, and underlined links in the main content. On the plus side, submenus are keyboard accessible and you can turn on breadcrumbs for easier navigation.

Astra does have many theme hooks, which benefit developers wanting to add their own content. And it supports schema markup, which helps your site’s SEO.

If you want to contribute to the theme, Astra is available publicly on GitHub.

Astra Documentation

There’s nothing more frustrating than starting out with a new theme and then finding that you struggle to set it up because the documentation is poor.

Fortunately, that’s not the case with Astra’s knowledge base: it is fully comprehensive. Many articles have annotated screenshots, and some have video tutorials. This is both an important and helpful highlight to touch on for our Astra theme review.

If you need further help to get Astra looking the way you want, there’s a whole section on custom code snippets that you can add to your site.

Documentation on Astra Custom Code Snippets

Astra Starter Sites

One way that Astra scores is that it has a large library of pre-built templates using different page builders: Beaver Builder, Elementor, Gutenberg or Brizy. Read our review of the best WordPress Page Builders here.

4 Astra Starter Templates for Beaver Builder

Four Astra Starter Templates for Beaver Builder

Starting a site with Astra starter sites saves you puzzling over creating complex layouts. Naturally, you’ll need to change the images and demo content, but even so, you can build a professional looking website in a short time.

Imports are smooth and quick, with any required plugins installed and activated automatically. A feature I like is that you can import a whole site at a time as opposed to an individual page—which can save you tons of time in WordPress.

As a bonus, when you install a starter site (via the Starter Templates plugin), you get access to the complete Pixabay image library from within your Media Library, saving you time finding stock images.

Free Images From Pixabay tab in the Media Library

Astra Customization

Astra’s Customizer offers a host of options. For starters, you can change the major theme colors, use Google Fonts and change layout of posts and pages. There are header, sidebar and footer widget areas.

Many themes just let you upload a logo and that’s it. Not Astra! You can add a logo to the left or right of the main menu, or center it above the menu. You can also change the logo width and upload different versions for retina displays or mobile.

Astra primary header with centered logo and site title

Another irksome problem with some themes is they make it hard to customize the footer. With Astra’s Footer Bar settings, you can have one or two footer bar sections. Each can contain text, a widget or the footer menu. Wisely, Astra’s makers have included a shortcode for the current year. (I’m still astonished that the Divi theme doesn’t offer this!)

Customizing the Footer Bar in Astra theme

Astra offers transparent headers as a free feature, so you can have a background image stretch into the header area. You can apply a color and transparency to the header as well.

Astra Transparent Header customizer settings

The mobile menu is a basic hamburger icon, but you can change this. For example, I changed the breakpoint at which the mobile menu appears, added the word ‘Menu’ to the icon and also gave it an outline with rounded corners.

Astra Mobile Menu Customizer

Customized Astra mobile menu on the front end

Astra Plugin Integrations

The makers of Astra have worked hard to make it compatible with popular plugins. As mentioned, Astra works very well with page builders. The theme has a right sidebar by default, but you can turn that off to make full width layouts on pages and other content types, or across the whole site.

If you’re building an ecommerce site, Astra is a fine choice to use for a WooCommerce shop. The Astra theme builds on the WooCommerce default options to give you more control over the look of your shop and product pages. If you only have downloadable products, Astra supports the Easy Digital Downloads plugin as well.

Astra Organic Store built with Elementor

Astra Organic Store built with Elementor

Working in the e-learning space? Then you’ll find that Astra integrates seamlessly with the LearnDash and Lifter LMS plugins.

Is Astra Pro Worth It?

I couldn’t write our Astra WordPress theme review without assessing it purely from a cost/value standpoint. While the Astra theme from WordPress.org is free, some of its most powerful elements are included in its paid upgrades.

There are three upgrade tiers: Astra Pro, Astra Mini Agency Bundle and Astra Agency Bundle.

With Astra Pro, you get access to more starter site templates, though some of the best ones are reserved for Agency Bundle subscribers.

But for most people, the main reason for buying Astra Pro is the Pro features. So, what do you get?

Astra Pro Modules

There are 18 modules in Astra Pro which you can toggle on for extra customization options. Four of these require having the appropriate plugins.

  1. Colors & Background
  2. Typography
  3. Spacing
  4. Blog Pro
  5. Mobile Header
  6. Header Sections
  7. Nav Menu
  8. Sticky Header
  9. Page Headers
  10. Custom Layouts
  11. Site Layouts
  12. Footer Widgets
  13. Scroll To Top
  14. WooCommerce
  15. Easy Digital Downloads
  16. LearnDash
  17. LifterLMS
  18. White Label

While you could do things like change colors or add a Back to Top link yourself, using Astra Pro is faster and easier.

The Astra Pro features that caught my eye were these ones:

Blog Pro

Astra’s blog page is quite basic, so it’s nice to smarten it up a bit. Using Astra Pro I added a masonry layout for posts and a date in a circle for each one.

Astra Pro two column post grid masonry layout with circular date box

Custom Layouts

With Custom Layouts you can inject content just about anywhere within your Astra site. This feature is probably worth the price of Astra Pro alone.

What’s really nice is that you can add content to a Custom Layout using your favorite page builder. Here is a 404 page I built with Astra Pro and Beaver Builder:

Astra Pro 404 page Custom Layout

Using Custom Layouts with Hooks

Custom Layouts make it easy to take advantage of Astra’s numerous theme hooks. Astra’s Visual Hook Guide will help you find the right spot for your new content.

I used a custom layout with hooks to add a special offer for users who had logged in to an online shop.

An Astra Pro custom layout using a header hook to display a message to logged in users

An Astra Pro custom layout using a header hook to display a message to logged in users

Here’s how I did it:

1. Add a new Custom Layout and use the Enable Code Editor button.Astra Pro custom layout - enable code editor

2. Add the following code to the box headed <!-- Add your snippet here. -->:

<?php
 $current_user = wp_get_current_user();   
printf('<div class="welcome">Welcome, %s!<br>', esc_html( $current_user->user_firstname )); 
print('Save an extra 10% on your order with the coupon code <strong>SAVE10</strong></div>');   
?>

3. Select Hooks from the Layout dropdown of Custom Layout Settings and set the following options:
Action: header_after
Display On: Entire Website
User Roles: Logged InAstra Custom Layout Settings
I’m using a hook rather than the Header layout, because if I chose the Header, the content I added would replace the entire header.

4. Add the following CSS:

.welcome {

background: rgb(96, 43, 183);

color: #fff;

text-align: center;

padding: 5px 0px;

}

With the Display On setting you can add content that’s targeted to show only on particular pages. With the ability to combine display rules and add exclusion rules (Do Not Display On) you have a very powerful tool at your disposal.

The Astra Hooks plugin does a similar job, but you would need to add the conditional code yourself.

Header Sections

Header Sections are useful for adding content above or below the header menu which shows on every page, such as a secondary menu.

The Astra website includes an example of an Above Header Menu.

Astra Above Header Menu

White Label

If you build a client site and don’t want your client to know that you’re using Astra, you can rename the theme to whatever you want. This doesn’t change the theme code, so you or your client will still see updates when they are available.

WooCommerce

With Astra Pro, you can optimize the WooCommerce checkout page to prevent cart abandonment by enabling these options:

  1. Two Step Checkout: breaks the checkout process into two steps to stop overwhelm and make it easier to complete the purchase.
  2. Distraction Free Checkout: removes the header menu so the focus is on buying the product.
  3. Persistent Checkout Form Data: keeps form data if the page is reloaded.

Astra Theme Examples

A WordPress Astra theme review wouldn’t be complete without a showcase of theme examples. It’s worth knowing that Astra is used by some of the most trusted names in the WordPress space, such as Chris Lema, GoWP and WP Elevation.

Most sites that use Astra use a page builder. Here are some examples showing the wide variety of websites you can build.

Astra theme examples using Beaver Builder

Gardening: 1001 Gardens

1001 Gardens

Ecommerce: Crazy Love Bath

Crazy Love Bath

Education: Des Moines University Medicine & Health Sciences

Des Moines University Medicine & Health Sciences

Photography: Tisha Landrum

Tisha Landrum

Astra theme examples using Elementor

Ourdoors: Achill Surf

Achill Surf

Ecommerce: Modo Payments

Modo Payments

Legal: 36 ADR

36ADR

Sport: Jamaica Sidekicks Taekwondo

Jamaica Sidekicks Taekwondo

Astra vs. GeneratePress

The last part of our honest Astra theme review is going to focus on ways it ponies up to similar themes that developers choose between when considering Astra.

Let’s turn to how Astra fares alongside other similar themes. First up is GeneratePress.

For Astra vs. GeneratePress, how do they compare?

In WP Rocket’s speed test, GeneratePress was top of all the themes tested. The default theme install is under 30Kb.

Like Astra and Ocean WP, GeneratePress has many theme hooks. The theme is also based on Underscores. Again it’s really close to having the accessibility-ready tag, but doesn’t quite make it.

GeneratePress’ documentation is really clear and easy to follow, with good use of images.

One downside of GeneratePress is that you need the paid GP Premium plugin to install starter sites. There’s also a smaller number of sites compared to Astra, and some of them require paid versions of Beaver Builder or Elementor.

GeneratePress Elementor Free sites

GeneratePress is quite easy to customize. There are some useful features baked into the free theme, like the ability to add search to the main navigation, multiple content/sidebar layouts and CSS caching. But the options are limited compared to free Astra.

Perhaps because its development began earlier, GeneratePress isn’t quite as flexible as Astra at integrating with plugins. It does work fine with Beaver Builder and Elementor. GeneratePress also has a WooCommerce module, but that requires the paid GP Premium.

On the plus side, GP Premium is cheaper than Astra Pro. It can also be used on unlimited sites.

OceanWP vs Astra

Like Astra, OceanWP is a minimal and popular WordPress theme. So how good is OceanWP vs Astra?

OceanWP is also fast loading  – it came third in WP Rocket’s speed tests.

Like Astra and GeneratePress, OceanWP uses Underscores as its base, so is solidly coded. It has a large range of theme hooks.

OceanWP’s documentation could do a better job of explaining which are the free and premium extensions. I also found it confusing to read in places. For example, to make a new footer I was first instructed to create a new template in My Library. Then the next step said, “To add content in the footer template, there are some widgets available like Custom Links, MailChimp, About me, Contact info, Custom Menu, etc.” I didn’t have a clue what they meant.

Regarding starter sites, OceanWP comes off worse compared to Astra. First, there are only 13 demo sites you can import if you are using OceanWP’s free theme, a much more limited choice than Astra’s free starter sites. Also, some of the demos like the Store demo require you to buy OceanWP’s premium extensions to replicate the demo exactly, which I thought was a bit disingenuous.

OceanWP free demo sites

As far as customization goes, OceanWP gives you a few things for free that Astra doesn’t unless you pay. You get a customizable top bar above the logo and main menu, plus a Back to top link.

Like Astra, OceanWP has been built to suit page builders, particularly Elementor. It also offers many customization options for WooCommerce, though some of these require paid extensions.

OceanWP WooCommerce features to boost conversions

OceanWP WooCommerce features to boost conversions

One other point worth mentioning is that if you do decide to upgrade, Astra’s paid versions can be used on unlimited sites, whereas OceanWP’s pricing model permits a maximum of 25 sites if you subscribe to the Agency plan.

Astra vs Beaver Builder Theme

Another theme we like quite well, and have previously reviewed, is the Beaver Builder Theme. Coded by the same team who built the Beaver Builder page builder plugin (as well as another plugin called Beaver Themer), the Beaver Builder Theme brings, above all, exceptional reliability: it does exactly what it says it will do, and it brings no unwelcome surprises.

How does Astra compare to the Beaver Builder Theme? We’ve built websites we’re very happy with using both themes as a starting point. It comes down to the following tradeoff:

  • Astra is quite a bit more feature-rich. For example, the Beaver Builder theme doesn’t have nearly as rich a starting point as Astra’s starter sites.
  • Astra is just slightly more prone to bugs. For example, its handling of mobile breakpoints can be slightly inconsistent.

If we were building a site for a huge client, we’d be inclined to go with the Beaver Builder Theme to make sure there were absolutely no surprises or hidden corners. If we were building a site for ourselves or a small-to-medium client, we’d use Astra for the significant added convenience and time savings. 

Astra Theme Review–the Verdict

After deep analysis and consideration for our Astra theme review, we’re giving it the thumbs up. Astra has now reached over 800,000 active installs and more than 3,500 five-star reviews, so the theme’s makers must be doing something right!

I think the range of Astra starter sites and free theme customizations is a big draw. Astra’s integrations with popular plugins, especially page builders, have also been well thought out. Brainstorm Force have built several plugins to extend page builders, and it shows.

Astra Pro extends the capabilities of Astra quite considerably, and at a very reasonable cost compared to doing it yourself. My favorite feature is the Custom Layouts module, which grants you superhero theme manipulation powers.

If all that sounds good, try Astra today. You can start with their free version and explore from there, or just take the (small) plunge and start playing with the full-featured version.

And if you’re looking for a page builder to pair with Astra, we recommend Beaver Builder. And if you want to know how to build a WordPress site without coding, take a look at Fred’s tutorial which uses Astra Pro.


2 Responses

Comments

  • Anthony Lodge says:

    I am playing with both Astra and OceanWP at the moment, just started with both, but so far I prefer OceanWP and find it easier to get going with and create what I want. I think the learning curve on Astra is steeper, or maybe it is not as intuitive, but I hope I get to like it because I think it has a lot to offer.

  • I personally love Astra. I pay for Astra pro and use it with Elementor pro. After using it to build many sites, I have nothing but great things to say.

    While I also use the sage starter theme to build out custom coded, non page builder sites, if something needs to be propped up quickly or if a client budget is low, Astra is a great tool to have in the toolkit. 11/10 would recommend it!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *