Norton Antivirus 2013 Review
Norton is probably the best-known name in Internet Security, but not always for good reason. Between approximately 2005 and 2010, Norton become widely despised by the technical community for being a very bloated product that was often the reason for poor performance on low-spec machines.
Since then, Norton have been keen to shake off their “bloatware” image, and although this product’s features list is suitably huge, it’s clear the vendor knew what they had to do to re-appeal to the enthusiasts. While the product isn’t quite perfect, it performed well in our tests and deserves a recommendation.
Norton is not a company that offers free security products, but it does offer 30-day free trials, which we took advantage of for the purposes of this review.
As we are an antivirus review site, we concentrated on Norton AntiVirus 2013, however Norton does also offer an Internet Security Product, which adds spam filtering and parental controls, amongst other features. There’s also Norton 360, which adds a number of additional utilities.
At the time of writing, the AntiVirus product costs £39.99 (approx $61- we used the UK site) for a one year subscription, however this covers up to three PCs, making the price quite competitive.
What makes it even more competitive is the offer we were provided with during activation, which halves the price – read on to find out more.
We reviewed Norton AntiVirus immediately after a competitor’s stripped-down free product, making the Norton feature list seem almost mind-boggling.
The screenshot below shows just half of the features list available online:
We discuss the most significant features here now:
“Sonar” Threat Monitoring: Essentially Norton’s real-time scanning engine, this “sonar” technology claims to identify threats based on software behaviour as well as via definition files.
Threat Removal Layer: This, apparently, can “scrub out” hard to clean infections that other programs struggle with.
Browser Protection: Norton AntiVirus blocks websites that are suspected to download malicious code.
Phishing Protection: This is intended to protect you from “fake” websites that try to trick you into revealing personal information.
Smart Scanning and Updating: This feature times updates and scans for when your computer is not in use so that the use of the software doesn’t affect performance.
Cloud-based Management: Norton’s cloud functionality allows you to download software to additional machines and manage the product from a Web-based portal.
Insight: This is claimed to cut down scanning time by identifying “safe” files and omitting them from scans.
Pulse Updates: The software updates every “5 to 15 minutes” in the background without interrupting workflow.
Facebook Scanning: The software can scan your Facebook wall and make sure no links containing malicious code are present.
WIth such a large list of features, and words like “pulse” and “sonar,” Norton are obviously keen to emphasise how cutting-edge their software is. We were therefore very keen to try it out and see if it lived up to the hype.
Installation and Configuration
As mentioned above, we decided to take advantage of the free trial and download Norton AntiVirus to our Windows 7 test machine.
As many security products now download a tiny installer file and download the remainder via the installer, we were quite surprised to find ourselves downloading a file of 162MB!
We proceeded to install the software, and were asked to participate in Norton’s “community watch,” where threat details are passed to them to “fight digital cybercrime.” A good many antivirus vendors operate similar schemes.
The software install was surprisingly quick, jumping straight to “less then a minute remaining.” Shortly after, we were told we were protected and invited to explore the software.
Before we could access the main program interface, we had to complete an activation procedure.
We had to provide an email address, then name, password and region details.
At the end of the activation procedure, we were provided with a special offer to buy a year’s subscription for £19.99 – half the advertised price. This is a great bargain, but one that doesn’t seem very fair on those that buy the software straight off without first using the trial.
While we were in Internet Explorer being shown our offer, we were prompted to activate two browser add-ons that had been added during the installation: an “Identity Safe” toolbar and “Norton Vulnerability Protection.”
We then went back to the program interface. We were particularly interested to see the prominence of the CPU Usage information for both Norton and the system as a whole, clearly illustrating Norton’s desire to prove that new generations of Norton AntiVirus are not the resource-hogs of old!
We noticed that the last “LiveUpdate” showed as 180-days ago, so we clicked the bold button to update the software. We were rather dismayed to see that an update file of over 150MB needed to be downloaded. We waited quite a while for the download to complete…
“Processing” of the updates took a while too, with 12 of them in total to install. However, they did install quite quickly. We then had to click an “apply now” button to apply a patch once the LiveUpdate was complete. This caused the software to restart.
Although none of this was difficult, it was time consuming, and a bit of a frustrating experience compared to other products that are “ready to go” significantly quicker. The “restarting applications” part alone took a couple of minutes.
We were finally able to re-access the program interface and have a quick look at the features. We rather liked the modern, slider-based approach to activating individual features, even though what each does may not be instantly apparent to a technophobe.
With the software up and running, we proceeded to throw some real life viruses at the Norton software.
We inserted a USB key containing our three usual test viruses. As soon as we opened the folder to view the files, a Norton box popped up to say that threats were being processed, but the software gave little away as to what exactly it had found:
After a minute or two, however, a further screen appeared detailing the software’s findings:
It turned out that Norton AntiVirus had identified our “scareware” fake antivirus program and offered to fix it. The software also found our malicious fake version of Google Chrome. This all happened without our trying to open the files.
Surprisingly, the software didn’t identify the test virus from the European Expert Group for IT Security. However, when we tried to run the file, the software instantly quarantined it.
This was a good set of results. None of our three test threats was allowed to cause any damage to our machine.
As Norton had successfully dealt with all the threats we threw at it, we had no need for a full system scan, but we ran one anyway to check out the memory and CPU footprint of the software during a scan.
While the memory footprint was rather average at 52MB, the CPU utilisation was quite high. However, we noticed this drop right down when we tried to perform other activities on our test machine, indicating that the “smart scanning” really does work to minimise performance impact. One thing we didn’t like, however, was the fact that we could only see the number of files that had been scanned and no real progress bar to give us an idea of the time remaining.
Norton’s customer support options are fairly extensive, and complemented with a range of online tutorials.
It is clear, however, from the support website, that Norton would rather customers resolve their own issues using the extensive FAQ section or use the program’s “auto fix” function. The “Contact us” link on the website is quite diminutive, and once you’ve clicked it, you then have to fill in a support ticket before getting near a real person.
Once you’ve provided your details, “live chat” with remote support is Norton’s preferred option, but there is a link to local phone numbers hidden away for the truly determined!
- Modern interface
- Several innovative features, such as Facebook wall scanning
- Perfect results with test viruses
- Minimal performance impact
We weren’t so sure about
- Almost too many options for novices
- Pricing not fair to those who commit to the software up-front
- Real-life support hidden rather deeply
- Slow initial updates
We were rather impressed with this iteration of Norton Antivirus, and the product is particularly good value if you have several PCs to protect. The results of our “real world” tests also give us confidence that this software will keep a PC well protected.
It’s also good that Norton have put serious work into minimising the footprint of the software; they’ve managed to maintain plenty of functionality whilst creating a product that doesn’t bog systems down like the Norton of old.
The product could still do with some refinement and simplification, but there’s nothing here that rings alarm bells – as such, it deserves room on your shortlist.