Apps & Software

Round-up: The best antivirus for Android phones

Written by techgoth

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, with Google’s OS regularly topping the list of most-vulnerable software. If you’ve got an Android-based smartphone or tablet, here’s the best antivirus you can use to make sure it stays safe.

McAfee Mobile Security

As with most other smartphone-based antivirus software, McAfee offers a free tier with the option to upgrade to a premium subscription. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of added features in the paid tier.

Subscribing does get you cloud-based backup storage for media files, but the 2GB limit is underwhelming compared to services like Dropbox or Google Drive. Phone support is arguably more useful, but it’s barely worth it.

Thankfully, the free version has some excellent security features that give it its place on this list. 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% in an AV-Test, for both real-time protection and general malware defence. That’s an excellent score, and you can count on it for protection that is above the industry average – just don’t bother paying for a subscription.

Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus

Bitdefender is one of the few security companies that doesn’t offer a free tier for users of its Android app and while that may immediately turn some users off, there are some great features here 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 WiFi 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 racked up a perfect score in both of AV-Test’s measurements. 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.

Avast Mobile Security

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 full marks for malware protection, and dropped by just 0.1% 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 particularly 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 that does go a long way towards making up for this, however, is the custom firewall setting. It requires a rooted device, but if you’ve already rooted your phone it will allow you to block certain apps from using the internet, or set them to only use WiFi connections rather than mobile data.

AVG AntiVirus Free

Another well-known name in the PC AV market, AVG’s mobile offering is something of a mixed bag. It’s another ad-supported app, but AVG’s implementation of ads is particularly offensive. Putting ads on the Android lock screen is an egregious misstep and although you can disable this, it should never have been there to begin with.

Protection was also somewhat lacklustre – while it detected 99.1% of previously-known malware, it only managed to pick up 96.2% in the real-time tests. While this might sound like an excellent result, it’s lagging slightly behind both the industry average and its nearest competitors.

Where it makes up for this, however, is in features. Apps are scanned on download, device scans can be scheduled on a daily or weekly basis and a basic WiFi scanner is bundled to analyse your network for vulnerabilities.

Web protection is also available, as is an anti-theft toolkit including remote lock and wipe functionality, location tracking and the ability to sound an alarm from your phone. If you have multiple devices, you can use AVG Zen to manage all of their antivirus settings remotely, too.

Along with getting rid of the ads, moving up to a pro subscription gives users some nice additional features, such as device and app locking and a Camera Trap, which snaps a picture of anyone attempting to unlock your phone and emails you a copy.

Kaspersky Internet Security for Android

Kaspersky has an excellent reputation in enterprise security, so you can be assured of excellent protection from its Android app. Sure enough, it got a 99.9% score in AV-Test’s protection benchmarks.

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. Be warned, though, as these features are only guaranteed to work on Android 4.4 KitKat and may not work on newer versions of Android.

Norton Security and Antivirus

While Norton’s mobile antivirus is a very well-rounded package, its most useful feature by far is 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.

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