Avast! Mobile Security for Android Review

Avast may not be the first name that comes to mind when many shoppers think of mobile security, but for users craving complete control over their Android phones, the company's Android antivirus app is peerless. For $14.99 per year, Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus offers an unparalleled level of user control, excellent malware protection and a truly staggering number of anti-theft and privacy-protection features.

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Setup and Interface

Installing Avast on my Huawei Ascend Mate 2 phablet took just a few minutes. I simply downloaded the app from the Google Play store, and entered my email address and a password to create an Avast account. I then clicked on the link in the confirmation email to finalize the setup process.

Trying to enter my license key to upgrade to Premium proved much more confusing. I tapped on the Go Premium button at the top-right corner of the home screen to open the Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus Premium subscription page. However, when I tapped on the button labeled Already Have a License? at the bottom of the page, the window to enter the license key didn't open.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to tap on Go Premium and then on a button labeled Use Voucher at the top-right corner of the screen. However, the difference between a voucher and a license key wasn't made clear, which made the upgrade process needlessly difficult.

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Another frustrating aspect of the setup process is the fact that Avast's anti-theft and backup capabilities are broken out into separate apps. To use the suite's full functionality, you have to download Avast Anti-Theft and Avast Mobile Backup and Restore. (Both are free in the Google Play store) Although the apps integrate seamlessly with Avast's user interface after installation, I found it annoying that these features weren't baked into the feature set from the get-go.

Thankfully, Avast Mobile Security sports a clean interface that's easy to navigate. A status indicator at the top of the home screen lets you see at a glance if all of the suite's protective features are enabled (green), if some are disabled (orange), or if all are disabled (red).

Tapping on the indicator opens a drop-down menu with buttons for App Shield, Web Shield, File Shield and Message Shield. Tapping button each opens a submenu with additional options.

Below the status indicator are buttons for Virus Scanner, Anti-Theft, Mobile Scanner, App Locking and More Tools. Tapping on More Tools opens a pop-up window with additional buttons for Privacy Advisor, App Management, SMS and Call Filter, Firewall and Network Meter. Each button opens a submenu with additional tools and options.

An event log at the bottom of the screen displays your recent activity. Tapping on the Show Activity button opens a new window with extra details, such as apps that were scanned, app permissions that were granted and protective features that were enabled or disabled.

Tapping on a button with three vertical dots at the top-right corner of the home screen opens a drop-down options menu with buttons for Updates, Settings, Account and Rate Us. (This last button opens the Google Play page for Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus.)

In the Settings menu, you can change your Avast PIN, manage automatic updates and enable additional features, such as PUP (potentially unwanted program) detection and CPU Wakelock, which keeps the CPU running while Avast is scanning for viruses even when the device is in sleep mode.

Detection and Performance

Tapping on Run Scan in the Virus Scanner menu launches a manual scan that examines installed apps for suspicious behavior. You can also set Avast to examine all downloaded files or selected folders. If you'd rather take a hands-off approach, you can set up scheduled scanning to run on certain days of the week at the time of your choice.

In terms of real-time protection, Avast boasts an App Shield that automatically scans apps when they're installed and whenever they're launched. There's also a File Shield that scans files when they're read and when you write to them, a Message Shield that examines incoming text messages and a Web Shield that scans URLs for viruses and malicious behavior. The Web Shield works with the default Android browser (called just Browser), Google Chrome, Amazon Silk, Boat Browser and Boat Browser Mini. (Avast also offers experimental support for Dolphin Browser Mini.)

To assess Avast's security performance, we used the latest test results from the AV-TEST independent security lab in Germany. According to the lab's November 2014 malware-detection tests, the app detected 99.9 percent of 2,928 malware samples.

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That beats the industry average of 97.6 percent, as well as AVG AntiVirus Pro (95.0 percent), McAfee Mobile Security (99.5 percent) and Norton Mobile Security (99.7 percent). Only Kaspersky Internet Security for Android and Bitdefender Mobile Security outperformed Avast, with detection rates of 100 percent.

To measure Avast's impact on system performance, I ran a scan at the same time as the Geekbench 3 Android benchmark on my Huawei Ascend Mate 2 phablet running Android 4.3. Before I installed the app, the phone notched a score of 1,519. After the installation, the Ascend Mate 2 notched a score of 1,502, and a score of 1,460 during a scan.

This was better than the scan scores of AVG AntiVirus Pro (1,415), McAfee Mobile Security (1,455) and Norton Mobile Security (1,456), but behind Kaspersky Internet Security for Android (1,464), Lookout Security and Antivirus (1,467) and Bitdefender Mobile Security (1,496). Still, these scores are close enough that most users won't notice any difference in performance.

For users who want to squeeze out every bit of processing power from their mobile devices, Avast offers an app manager that lists running applications in alphabetical order. Clicking on any application displays its permissions and the system resources it consumes , and allows you to force-close the application. (You can do this from the Android Settings menu as well.)

A unique feature of Avast's app manager is Ad Detector, which lists the types of advertisements the selected app can display. The New York Timesapp, for instance, uses Google's AdMob add-on, which can collect information about your location and your device, as well as show in-app banner and full-screen ads.

Anti-Theft and Data Protection

Like many Android antivirus apps, Avast lets you activate anti-theft commands via text message or the Web if your device is lost or stolen. The huge number of actions that you can perform, however, puts other apps to shame. As with other apps, you can lock your device, locate it via GPS, wipe its data or cause it to emit a loud siren-like alarm that announces, "This phone has been lost or stolen."

Avast offers a bevy of additional commands that I haven't seen in any other Android antivirus app. You can cause your lost device to reboot, display a popup message of your choice, secretly initiate a phone call to the number from which you texted, forward all text messages and calls to another phone, turn off mobile data or retrieve your calls and text messages.

You can activate these commands by sending an SMS message to your device with your PIN (chosen when you first install the app) followed by the specific command such as "lock" or "locate." To prevent accidental lockouts, Avast provides the option to respond only to SMS commands from trusted numbers.

Alternatively, you can send commands to your device from the Avast Web console at my.avast.com. From the console, you can cause your device to perform a few additional actions, such as take a picture with the front-facing camera, record several minutes of audio using the microphone or send an SMS message from your device to a number of your choice.

My Ascend Mate 2 responded quickly to commands sent via both SMS message and the Web console. The phone locked within seconds of sending the lock command, for instance, and Avast located the device with pinpoint accuracy when I sent the "locate" command.

The only problem I experienced was when I tried to locate the pictures and audio recordings I had captured using the Web console; I eventually discovered that Avast saves them in a folder on Google Drive, although this was not immediately apparent.

You can also specify actions that will activate automatically if the SIM card is changed or the device is marked as lost. You can cause the phone to lock itself, turn on the siren, send you its location data or deny access to the Android program manager and to all Android phone settings.

If Avast was installed with root access (performed either when you first install the app, or by using the Avast Anti-Theft Advanced setup program, available on Google Play), you can also prevent USB debugging (which could be used to bypass security protection) or force the data connection to remain on (which would make the phone always traceable).

If someone enters your lock-screen password incorrectly more than three times, Avast will mark the device as lost, triggering all of the associated behavior (locking the device, turning on the siren and broadcasting the device's location). You can also have the app send an SMS message to a trusted number, or take a picture using the front-facing camera.

One of Avast's most helpful anti-theft features is geofencing, which automatically marks your device as lost if it moves beyond a certain range. This feature is very handy if you plan to spend a long time in a public place such as a coffee shop, as it will automatically lock the device and cause it to emit an alarm if it moves even a short distance from your current location.

In the event that your device isstolen, Avast's backup utility can help prevent the loss of all of your data. Using the utility, you can save your contacts, text messages, pictures, audio files, videos and apps to Google Drive. This is much more robust than the backup utility offered by Lookout Security and Antivirus, which only saves your contacts, call history and photos.

You can schedule automatic backups to run on certain days of the week at a specific time. Avast also lets you choose events that will automatically trigger a backup, including incoming or outgoing calls, incoming SMS messages, app installations, when the device has been started, when the power has been connected or when the device has been connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Avast's privacy-protection toolset is equally comprehensive. An app locker prevents anyone from using selected apps without first entering the PIN. You can set the locker to turn on automatically at a specific day and time, which will prove handy if children are likely to use the device during that time period. Avast's app locker is the only one I've seen that offers this level of customization.

Likewise, the call and text filter is the best I've seen in an Android antivirus app. Avast lets you create filter groups that block incoming SMS messages or calls, outgoing calls, or any combination of the three. The app also lets you specify certain hours and days of the week when the filter should be active.

My only complaint is that Avast doesn't let you create a whitelist of allowed numbers; this would make it much simpler, for instance, to create a filter group that blocks calls from everyone except for loved ones during the night.

Finally, there's a privacy adviser that displays the number of apps on your device that collect information about your location, device and user behavior, and that show in-app advertisements. Tapping on the individual apps displays the specific ad-network add-ons each app uses, as well as the app's permissions.

Web Console

You can access Avast's Web console at my.avast.com, and from there, you can manage your subscriptions across all devices. Your available devices are listed on the top-right corner of the dashboard; clicking on one of the devices opens a new window with information about the device on the right side of the screen, a protection status indicator on the left, and a list of anti-theft commands at the bottom. Clicking on the "Info" button at the top-right corner of the window lets you access any pictures or audio captured using Avast's anti-theft commands.

Premium vs. Lite

To upgrade to the Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus Premium, you can purchase either a one-year subscription on Google Play for $14.99 or a monthly subscription for $1.99.

The free version of the app offers most of the features of Premium, except for Ad Detector, geofencing and backup of video, audio and apps. Also unavailable in the free version are the abilities to remotely send text messages from the phone, retrieve data from the phone, and take pictures using the front-facing camera.

Bottom Line

Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus is the perfect Android app for users who crave complete control over their mobile devices. It offers a huge array of anti-theft and privacy-protection features, and each tool is fully customizable down to the specific day and time that it should run. What's more, most of these features, as well as the app's excellent malware protection, are available for free — though, at $14.99 per year, Avast Premium is one of the more affordable Android antivirus apps available in Google Play.

The sheer number of options may prove staggering to neophytes, which makes the lack of documentation for some features frustrating. I was also annoyed that two crucial features — anti-theft and backup — are broken into separate apps. Still, those are minor quibbles compared to the outstanding malware-protection, anti-theft and privacy-protection tools offered by Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus.

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