Symantec is a powerhouse in the world of PC security, and the company's Norton Mobile Security for Android is no slouch, with more than 10 million installs from Google Play. The Norton app doesn't offer the most features of any Android security app, but has excellent malware detection and a couple of unique, useful tools.
Norton Mobile Security goes for a clean, accessible look, but its system-performance impact is heavy and its premium features are expensive. Norton also has stand-alone apps for those users looking for a little more — in this case, an app locker and a password manager, both of which are free. When combined with those, Norton Mobile Security is a recommended product, especially for users with more than one Android device to protect.
Costs and What's Covered
Like many Android security products, Norton Mobile Security is a freemium app, offering basic features at no cost and more advanced protection for a yearly fee. Premium features are activated for a user's initial 30 days.
The premium license is $30 a year, discounted to $20 for a user's first year. The list price is twice as much as that of most paid Android antivirus products, but it covers 10 total devices whereas most of the others cover just one. It's ideal for a family of Android users.
If you're considering buying a Mac or Windows antivirus product as well as an Android one, Norton Security Deluxe covers up to five devices on all three platforms for $80, and Norton Security Premium covers 10 devices for $90. Both were half off at the Norton website at the time of this review.
Norton is fairly generous with the free version of the app. It includes the core antivirus features, the anti-theft functionality, the web protection and call blocking. But it doesn't include the App Advisor privacy feature, which was one of my favorite components.
Two companion apps, Norton App Lock and Norton Identity Safe Password, which we discuss in the following review, are free — and very good. You don't need to install Norton Mobile Security to use them, but they integrate well with the core app.
Norton Mobile Security offers a straightforward set of anti-malware features. You can scan manually or set scans (quick or full) to run daily, weekly or monthly. The app is always monitoring installations and updates for malware.
Web protection will block sites with malicious content, such as phishing sites, as long as you're using a supported browser. Norton supports Chrome, Firefox, Opera, the native Android browser and Samsung's own browser. Support for the latter is uncommon among Android antivirus apps.
I tried visiting known phishing sites using both Chrome and Firefox, and in both cases, the app warned me before I could proceed. If you choose to ignore the app's advice, you can just hit Continue and it you won't get a warning about that site again for 30 minutes.
Norton Mobile Security got a perfect record in German independent lab AV-TEST's most recent evaluations of Android security products, conducted in July 2016. The app detected 100 percent of the 3,459 "real-time" malware threats used, as well as 100 percent of the 3,367 samples that had been collected in the previous four weeks.
These best the average detection rates of 99.5 of real-time, and 99.7 percent of recently discovered, threats among the 26 Android security products AV-TEST tested. Among the six Android antivirus apps we reviewed, only Bitdefender Mobile Security matched the 100/100 percent detection rate, followed by Kaspersky Internet Security (99.9/100 percent), ESET Mobile Security (99.9/99.9 percent), CM Security (99.7/100 percent) and Avast Mobile Security (99.5/99.7 percent).
Some Android antivirus apps' scores fluctuate in AV-TEST's bimonthly evaluations, but not Norton. It never detected less than 99.9 percent of the toughest new malware in the past year.
Security Features and Tools
Norton Mobile Security doesn't have the most feature-packed anti-theft tool, but it handles the important jobs, responding to both web and SMS remote commands. You'll need to create a Norton account to enable Anti-Theft. The web portal is at mobilesecurity.norton.com, and most features are accessible there. The one feature you toggle on the device itself is the SIM Card Lock.
For SMS commands, you set a passcode that becomes part of every command, allowing you to send commands to your device from any cellphone. SMS commands include lock, locate, scream and wipe. I didn't conduct a full wipe, but the rest of the SMS functions worked exactly as expected. (Norton representatives told us SMS commands can't be hidden in Android 4.0.3 or later. The user should first send the Lock command to stop anyone else from seeing the SMS passcode.)
The Norton website adds some anti-theft options. Lock, for example, adds the ability to customize a message to send to the individual who has found your device. If you don't choose this option, it will ping your device's location every 5 minutes and take a "Sneak Peek" photo every 10 minutes.
You can also trigger a Sneak Peek photo anytime you want from the web portal. The portal stores the last 10 images, which you can download in full resolution. You can also view a map and recent locations on the web portal.
Commands given through the web portal took between 5 and 10 seconds to register on my device, and it was another 20 seconds before the success message appeared on the website. The Locate and Sneak Peek functions did not display in any way on the device as they were happening.
While the user web portal is perfectly serviceable, Norton should consider bringing some of the Material Design aesthetic from its Android app over to the portal, which looks a bit dated.
There are two pieces to the App Advisor functionality in Norton Mobile Security: App Advisor and App Advisor for Google Play.
App Advisor sorts your apps into different risk categories (High/Medium/No) based on four criteria: sharing of personal data, use of display ads, potential for background data usage and background battery usage. My favorite podcast app was flagged as "High Risk"; it had no ability to share personal data, no ads and no background battery usage, but it did have high background data use. I found Norton's rankings a little heavy-handed, but ultimately, you need to click Trust on the app only once, and Norton Mobile Security won't warn you about it again.
App Advisor for Google Play is unique. It offers the same categorizations as above, but presents them before you install an app. As you browse Google Play, a banner slides in across the bottom of the screen indicating the risk level of the app being browsed. If you tap on the risk level, you will see a pop-up with the full rating breakdown, just as you would for installed apps.
This feature is a great addition by Norton. It renders the App Advisor feature considerably more useful to me, as it saves me the time of installing an app that I would otherwise go on to find out had invasive advertising or a heavy battery drain.
Most Android users probably let Google handle the backup of their contacts, but there's nothing wrong with redundancy in backups. Norton Mobile Security was able to back up all 1,311 contacts on my device in just over 10 seconds, and I was then able to view and download my full contact list as a csv file. Not many Android antivirus apps include this as part of their core features.
Norton Mobile Security has a minimal call-blocking feature. It's just a block list and block history, plus the ability to block all unknown callers, specific numbers from your call log, a number from your contacts or any phone number. This isn't as flexible as some of the other Android security apps, but what Norton's call blocker lacks in options, it makes up for in effectiveness. I didn't have a single blocked call come through in my testing.
Norton App Lock is a free stand-alone app and is not integrated into Norton Mobile Security, but it mirrors the look and feel of the main app. It's just a list of your installed apps with a lock icon next to them. You can either tap them individually or, if you want Norton's advice, you can click the menu icon in the upper-right corner to have it lock all recommended apps.
Unfortunately, Norton App Lock lets you use only a pattern or four-digit PIN to lock your apps — there's no fingerprint support yet. Also, I would often see the contents of a locked app for a few seconds after tapping on it, before the app lock was overlaid. You can't interact with the app, but the brief window is long enough to see what might be private content.
Like App Lock, Norton Identity Safe is a free standalone app that functions as a password manager. It provides you with a secure space for an unlimited number of passwords, credit card numbers, addresses and notes. It syncs with any other version of Norton Identity Safe you have installed on a Windows PC, a Mac or an Android or iOS device.
You sign in using the same Norton login you have already created, but then you need to create a separate secure password and four-digit PIN for your vault. (Norton representatives said that unlike App Lock, Identity Safe does support fingerprint logins.)
In order to make the most of Identity Safe on Android, you need to use the built-in Norton browser. This is similar to the CM Security browser-based feature also referred to as the Vault, although I preferred CM Security's implementation because of its added functionality and superior user interface.
To evaluate the impact of running Norton Mobile Security, I ran multiple tests using the Geekbench 3 Android benchmarking tool on my Nexus 6P running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Following installation of the app, the phone's performance scored 1.6 percent higher than its baseline average on the Geekbench 3 test. During a full scan, it scored 19.1 percent below its baseline performance.
These results placed Norton Mobile Security in second-to-last place for performance impact among the six Android antivirus products we tested. The only app that performed worse was Avast Mobile Security. Both finished well behind the rest of the apps in both categories.
Setup and Support
Downloading Norton Mobile Security from Google Play went smoothly. The initial setup was quick, even with a scan at the end, for a total installation time of around 2 minutes. From there. I had to create a Norton account, go to mobilesecurity.norton.com, click Register a Purchase, sign in and enter the product key. I would have preferred that the entire process happened in-app. But given that you'll have to familiarize yourself with the web portal for the anti-theft features anyway, this seems like a reasonable procedure.
Norton support is largely built around the Norton Community site at community.norton.com, which has active forums and a blog to help answer your questions. If you have a specific question, there is also an online chat feature that you will find a link to in the upper-right corner of the community home page. If all else fails, Norton offers 24/7 telephone support, but you'll have to fill out an online form describing your issue before receiving the number to call.
Norton Mobile Security had a pretty minimal user interface when we reviewed it last year, but its designers have managed to, if anything, get even more minimal, leaning into Google's flat, brightly colored Material Design aesthetic. The result is a significant visual improvement from the wall-of-large-buttons approach that Norton Mobile Security previously used.
Almost everything you'd want to access is in one of the five tabs on the home screen. That's incredibly convenient compared to the ducking and weaving you have to do to find your way in some other Android antivirus apps.
The only other area you need to be aware of is App Settings, which is found by tapping the menu button in the upper-left corner. Here, you can turn on a few settings that you will set and forget about, including scheduled malware scanning and the option to scan external storage.
Norton Mobile Security has consistently offered solid malware detection, yet the app hasn't been one of our favorite options in years past. That's changed. Thanks to the overall Material Design makeover for the app, and the addition of the truly unique App Advisor for Google Play, this is far and away the most useful implementation of a privacy advisor that we saw in our testing this year.
The biggest criticism I have with the app is its premium pricing. A cost of $19.99 for the first year is already pricey, but $29.99 each year thereafter feels like a lot to ask, unless you have several Android devices to protect. The rest of the premium antivirus market has gravitated to around $15 a year, and many others have moved to completely free.
With that said, I'm glad some antivirus apps are sticking to a paid model. If you want a clean and simple antivirus app with pleasing visuals and a reliable feature set, Norton Mobile Security is one of the best options on the market today.