20 Android security apps tested

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20 Android security apps tested
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Which security apps will actually protect your Android device? These in-depth antivirus tests reveal all.

Our smartphones are now a crucial part of our daily lives. Managing our bank accounts, communicating with our loved ones and managing business tasks are all done via our mobile devices – so why not give them the same protection you’d give your PC?

Android devices in particular are notoriously exploitable, so to help you protect your phone or tablet, we’re providing detailed results from the latest independent tests of 20 Android security apps by AV-Test.org.

But first, here are in-depth reviews of five of the better known and performing apps. 

Avast Mobile Security

Price: Free or $7.99 per year for premium subscription

Avast’s desktop offering is a favourite of PC users and for good reason. Its protection rating is excellent and the company's mobile offering is no different. According to AV-Test, Avast Mobile Security got 99.9% for general malware protection, and 99.5% in real-time defence.

It’s offered as a free version, which is more bare-bones than some other examples. Automatic scans can only be set up to run once a day, and PIN protection is limited to your settings, the Google Play store and one app of your choosing.

It’s also crammed with ads, both for third-party services and for Avast's other products, most of which are not included in the free tier. These can get obnoxious and the Avast ads are often hard to distinguish from features included in the app by default.

These can be removed with a pro subscription – along with the one-app PIN protection limit – but it's a little disheartening to see Avast gate off something that many antivirus services offer free as standard.

One feature worth noting is the custom firewall setting, allowing you to block certain apps from using the internet, or set them to only use Wi-Fi connections rather than mobile data. However, this feature requires a rooted device.

Bitdefender Mobile Security

Price: $19.99 per year

This is one of the few mobile security apps that doesn't offer a free tier and while that may immediately turn some users off, BitDefender Mobile Security has some great features for those who are willing to shell out a bit.

Web protection and PIN-locking for apps are both present and correct, but a couple of interesting touches help the latter to stand out. You can automatically disable PIN-locks for apps when connected to home Wi-Fi networks, and it will even let you snap a picture of anyone who tries to guess the PIN for any locked apps.

Bitdefender's anti-theft tools have some unique attributes, too. Your device can be tracked and controlled via SMS, and there's even the option to silently call it so you can listen in to any potential thieves.

Privacy modules will scan your installed apps, to make sure there's no sneaky software claiming more permissions than it should be and Android Wear integration alerts you any time your phone loses connection, helping prevent any accidental losses.

In terms of protection, Bitdefender’s software achieved perfect scores in both of AV-Test's key tests. It's a great choice if you're willing to part with some cash in exchange for peace of mind, and there's even a 14-day free trial to help you make your mind up.

Kaspersky Internet Security for Android

Price: free or $14.95 per year for premium subscription

Kaspersky has a strong reputation in enterprise security, so we expected excellent protection from its Android app. Sure enough, it got a 99.8% score in AV-Test’s real-time protection and 99.9% in general malware defence.

Unfortunately, its free version is somewhat hobbled by a lack of features. There’s no automatic scheduling for scans, which must be manually triggered and it won’t automatically scan downloaded apps, either. There are anti-theft features which let you take remote photos though and it will alert you of the phone’s new number if the SIM card is changed.

The paid subscription, on the other hand, is a different story. This unlocks a full suite of scheduling options for malware scans, as well as real-time protection, browser defence and even a feature that protects against SMS-based phishing scams.

Calls and texts from specific numbers can be blocked too, and you can hide certain contacts from appearing in your address book.

McAfee Mobile Security

Price: free or $29.95 per year for premium subscription

As with most other smartphone-based antivirus software, McAfee Mobile Security offers a free tier (which is ad supported) with the option to upgrade to a premium subscription.

Fortunately, the free version has some excellent security features. It offers the expected suite tools for browser protection and anti-theft tracking, as well as the ability to remotely take a photo of a thief or set up a notification to let you know when a new SIM has been inserted.

You’re also able to PIN-protect as many apps as you like, and set up profiles that block specific apps from appearing. There are also Android Wear integrations, including the option to automatically lock the device if the watch goes out of range.

McAfee’s security software scored 99.9% for real-time protection and 100% for general malware defence. That's an excellent score, and you can count on it for protection that is above the industry average.

The paid tier offers a few extras, including removal of ads, cloud-based back up storage for media files (though only up to 2GB), and phone support.

Norton Mobile Security

Price: free or $29.99 for premium subscription

Norton's Mobile Security is a very well-rounded package, racking up perfect scores in both of AV-Test's key tests, but its most useful feature is probably the App Advisor. This scans your installed software looking for untoward behaviour and while other security products do offer this, Norton goes into much more depth.

Not only does it look for unnecessary permissions, it also examines location tracking, ad display, automatic updates and excessive power and data use. It even integrates with Google Play, letting you know whether or not an app is safe before you download it.

Sadly, this feature's only available with a paid subscription - which at $30 per year is significantly steeper than most of its rivals. On the bright side, this does cover unlimited mobile devices, so if you're looking to manage the security of an entire team it could work out cheaper in the long run.

The free version isn't too bad, either. Although you won't get access to the App Advisor, free users will be able to schedule daily, weekly and monthly scans, with a standard suite of anti-theft measures and a SafeSearch tool that flags results as trustworthy or untrustworthy.

App-locking isn't included at all, but since Norton offers a separate, free app for this purpose, we're not going to deduct any points for not bundling it.

These reviews are based on an article that originally appeared at IT Pro

Next: Detailed AV-Test results of 20 Android security apps.

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