Norton Antivirus 2014 Review
Norton Antivirus has been through a series of “ups and downs” throughout its long history. Some years ago, it earned itself a poor reputation for being a slow and bloated piece of software, and removing a preinstalled copy would often be the first thing an IT expert would do to speed up a slow computer.
Symantec have since made significant improvements, and we were very happy with the 2013 version, which had a low footprint, worked quickly and efficiently, and managed with all of our test threats. Pleasingly, this latest version performs equally well, with a couple of sensible tweaks and easier access to support. Norton is definitely a product worthy of a place on your shortlist.
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 2014, 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 and, new for this year, Norton One, a monthly subscription based package for up to five devices (including Apple and Android).
The pricing for Norton Antivirus is a little inconsistent this year, and varies between countries. In the US, Norton 2014 is sold as a single PC package for a choice of one, two or three years, and ranges from $39.99 for one PC for one year to $114.99 for three years.
In Europe, subscriptions cover three PCs and cost €39.99 for one year or €64.99 for two years. Irritatingly for UK buyers, these prices are the same in Pounds sterling, which doesn’t seem very fair given the usual exchange rate.
Symantec do tend to offer various promotional prices at various points, but we would have preferred a rather more consistent pricing approach.
When we reviewed the previous version of Norton AntiVirus we commented that the features list was large to the point of mind-boggling.
This hasn’t changed – the screenshot below shows all the features listed online:
Upon examining the list, we found that not much has changed since last year’s version, although Symantec have renamed as couple of functions. We discuss the most significant features here:
“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.
Norton “Power Eraser”: This, apparently can remove “deeply embedded” infections that other programs struggle with. This feature has been renamed since the previous version.
Browser / Phishing Protection: Norton AntiVirus blocks websites that are suspected to download malicious code and alerts you to phishing sites.
Identity Safe: This is a free password management tool.
Silent Updates: This feature times downloads and installs updates when your computer is not in use.
“Norton 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 from cloud-based feedback 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.
Norton still love their buzzwords, and have even found some inventive new names for features that were, in fact, already there in the previous version. Still, this is an impressive features list, and one that made us keen to see how well the software performed.
Installation and Configuration
We used our normal 32-bit Windows 7 test machine to try out the software, and downloaded a free trial from Norton’s UK site.
The download file was 189MB, which we noted was a little larger than the installer for last year’s revision.
The install began with a tickbox request to join Norton’s crowd-sourced “Community Watch” program. We also noticed an “Install Options” button, but as always, we continued to install with the default settings.
The install then completed quickly, with no further options to choose. We liked the simplicity of the installation, and in just a couple of minutes the program started with no need for a reboot.
Next, we were taken to a product activation screen, where we had to input an email address to continue with our trial.
We then had to provide a few further details to set up a Norton account.
With this complete, we were left to begin to explore the program interface.
The GUI looked very similar to that of the previous year’s version of Norton Antivirus, albeit with a few icons moved to the bottom of the application window. Once again, CPU usage was displayed prominently – a sign that Symantec are still keen to remind people that Norton is no longer the resource-hog of old.
We had to click the “LiveUpdate” icon to trigger an update of definition files. It’s a shame the program doesn’t do this automatically when it is first run. The update proceeded smoothly, but did involve a 70MB download.
While we were waiting for the updates to install, we had a look back at our review of the previous version of Norton, and were pleased to notice that the initial update process was a little less laborious this time around.
Next, we set about our exploration of the program’s settings. Although we liked the interface in general, and the settings sliders, there is (once again) a lot here to get your head round. If anything, the GUI is slightly more intimidating for novices than it was last year. This isn’t a significant criticism, and techies will love the deep level of configurability, but once again we feel inclined to say that some technophobes could feel intimidated by the number of options to choose from.
With our look at the GUI complete, it was time to move onto our real life tests.
As always, we used an infected USB memory stick to introduce some viruses to our test PC. When we looked at last year’s product, it dealt well with all these threats, so we had high hopes for a repeat performance.
When we plugged in the stick, we saw the usual “Open folder to view files” option. But, we also quickly saw a Norton pop up near our system tray:
Next, we saw a large “threats detected” window, detailing the viruses Norton AntiVirus 2014 had found:
Once we had allowed Norton to “fix” all of the identified issues, the only threat remaining on our USB key was the simplest one of all, a dummy virus from the European Expert Group for IT Security.
We went back to the key’s folder listing and attempted to run the file. As you can see from the screenshot below, the software automatically detected and quarantined the file, meaning that Norton once again aced all of our real life tests.
To complete our testing, we ran a full system scan to look at system usage.
System utilisation was really pleasing: Norton’s scan only used up to 52MB of RAM (the same as the previous version), and though CPU use was high at times, it seemed to ease right down as soon as we tried to do anything else on our test PC.
We noticed while browsing this year’s features list that Norton advertise free 24/7 chat and phone support with AntiVirus 2014.
We were curious to see, with a company the size of Norton, just how easy this support was to access, and were pleased that the live chat option wasn’t that hard to find on the support section of the Norton website. However, you do need to provide full details of the problem before accessing an agent.
Finally, as one would expect, there are extensive “self help” options including forums and extensive FAQs.
- Modern interface
- Lots of extra tools and features
- Perfect results with test viruses
- Low performance impact
We weren’t so sure about
- Confusing options for novices
- Inconsistent global pricing
Norton AntiVirus hasn’t changed an awful lot between the 2013 and 2014 versions, but this is no bad thing as this is a good, fully-featured product that is leagues ahead of the much-slated Norton of old.
The few noticeable changes are largely good ones: initial setup was quicker, which gets a “thumbs up from us.” On the other hand, the menus are a little confusing, but this is balanced out by the fact that real-life support is a little easier to come by than it was when we last looked at Norton’s offering.
All-in-all then, we end up with exactly the same verdict as last year: Although this wouldn’t be our top choice for serious technophobes, it’s still in amongst our favourite antivirus programs. We just wish the pricing was a little more consistent between different countries.