If you have an Android smartphone or tablet, you’ve probably wondered whether or not antivirus for Android is essential.
If you’re not yet convinced it’s a good idea, here are two things to think about:
1. Android is the leading mobile operating system in terms of market share, and this is a trend which shows no sign of changing. As such, it is obvious that cyber criminals will target it.
2. Recent reports confirm that Android threats are on the increase. An August 2013 study from Trend Micro indicated an increase in the number of threats and malicious apps, against a backdrop of a growing user base that’s rather complacent about security.
With this in mind, if you’re concerned about security, it’s fair to say that you shouldn’t ignore the need for an antivirus app on your Android device.
Luckily, there’s plenty to choose from.
The interesting thing about Android antivirus is that most of the packages out there are really rather good. Most obtain an average ranking of four or more stars in the Google App Store, and some of them are completely free. In this “top five” roundup, we’ve chosen our favourites, based largely on functionality, expert reviews and user feedback.
On the subject of functionality, it’s important to point out that a typical Android antivirus product does far more than protect against malicious files. Most programs also include some form of anti-theft element to help you to protect your data if your phone or tablet is lost or stolen. Some products even offer functionality akin to Apple’s “Find my iPhone” feature, which helps you to track where your device is currently located.
Most Android antivirus products also include some form of Web browsing protection to alert you to phishing sites or compromised pages. With many people using their devices for shopping and Internet banking, these are very valuable features.
Winner – AVG AntiVirus Security
Positives: Great user feedback, Google Maps integration
Negatives: Very best features kept back for chargeable version
AVG is a very well-known name in PC antivirus, so it’s little surprise that their Android product has enjoyed such popularity. At the time of writing, Google’s App Store stated that there had been between 100 and 500 million installs of the product.
AVG’s Android product is richly featured and well thought of, enjoying an average 4.6 star rating from nearly 700,000 store reviews.
Worthy of particular mention are the software’s anti-theft features. You can use Google Maps to track your device, and even make it ring despite being in silent mode if you’ve lost it down the back of the couch. There are also more advanced features such as “Camera Trap,” which emails you a photo of anyone who keeps trying to unlock your phone with the wrong code.
Sadly the last feature is only available as part of the commercial product, but the majority of this effective app’s functionality is available completely free. You can also trial the commercial features for 14-days before having to pay for them.
2. Kaspersky Mobile Security
Positives: Fast scans, innovative functions not seen elsewhere
Negatives: Free version light on features
Kaspersky are another vendor who offer a free (Lite) version of their Android product alongside a more fully featured commercial option. However, it’s fair to say that Kaspersky cripple their “Lite” product rather more than AVG do. That’s not to say it’s a poor product, but it doesn’t have as much basic antivirus functionality, essentially being restricted to identifying malicious apps.
So, it’s the commercial version we recommend here, which has more advanced antivirus to protect you when browsing the Web, and enhanced anti-theft and privacy features. Kaspersky’s Anti-Theft can even block a phone after its SIM card had been removed.
Also worth a mention is the fact that many reviewers complement how quickly Kaspersky completes a virus scan, making for a fast and effective overall package.
3. TrustGo Mobile Security
Positives: All features completely free
Negatives: Some users complain about resource usage, anti-theft not perfect
TrustGo differ from the other vendors here as they specialise in mobile security when the others also produce products for desktop computers. Subjectively speaking, this means they should excel in this field!
In most respects they do: This is a well thought out product, and one that is well regarded, with an average 4.7 star review in Google’s store.
There are plenty of features here including protection from malicious apps, phishing detection, and an anti-theft module called “Find My Phone,” which can integrate with a device camera. However, it’s reasonable to comment that other apps handle this functionality better. TrustGo doesn’t inform you when a SIM card is removed, nor does it give you any ability to take photos “on the fly” – it just takes them automatically when the incorrect PIN is entered repeatedly.
Even so, these are minor criticisms, and the software is completely free – so you have nothing at all to lose by giving it a go.
4. Bitdefender Mobile Security
Positives: Innovative “Privacy Advisor” feature
Negatives: Requires (inexpensive) annual subscription
Bitdefender also provide a free antivirus solution for Android, but we didn’t feel it worthy of a place in this top five because it’s rather too light on features. Other free products mentioned here at least provide some basic anti-theft protection, even if you don’t hand over any money.
Bitdefender Mobile Security, on the other hand, is a great product that’s full of features, and well worth the small annual subscription for those really concerned about Android security.
What really stood out for us about this program were some innovative features we hadn’t seen elsewhere, including an app privacy advisor, which tells you exactly what your apps are doing with your information.
The anti-theft here is really strong too, and has the ability to sound alarms, notify you when a SIM card is removed, and even listen in on a stolen device.
Yes, there are free solutions that do nearly everything Bitdefender does, but if you really want the full package, you’ll certainly find it here.
5. avast! Mobile Security
Positives: Great user reviews
Negatives: Some users won’t like the “freemium” model
avast! Mobile Security has a great reputation in Google’s store, with an average rating of 4.6 stars from nearly half a million user reviews.
avast! Mobile Security is technically a “free” product, but the vendor has actually chosen a “freemium” model, where certain features are locked down unless you pay an automatically renewing monthly or annual subscription.
Some individuals dislike this model, but it’s important to point out that all the functionality most people will need is, in fact, covered by the free version. This includes anti-theft, browsing protection, and an antivirus engine that scans devices and memory cards.
The kind of features you can add on by paying for a premium upgrade include “geo-fencing” (the ability to sound alarms if a device is taken outside a certain area), and more advanced anti-theft functions (such as photograph functionality). Still, there’s enough for most people in the free version, and the premium price (GBP £2 per month) is hardly daylight robbery!