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Norton Mobile Security Review

Norton Mobile Security Review
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As mobile devices inexorably overtake PCs as consumers' computers of choice, the amount of malware targeting phones and tablets has exploded at a commensurate rate. As a result, antivirus companies such as Norton now offer protection for mobile devices, either bundled with their PC antivirus suites or — if you don't want to purchase antivirus protection for your PC — sold separately.

Retailing for $29.99 per year, or as part of the multiplatform Norton Security suite for $79.99, Norton Mobile Security provides flawless malware protection and good anti-theft tools for Android devices, but lacks some of the functionality found in competing suites. For example, Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus costs half as much but offers twice the features.

MORE: Best Android Antivirus Software

Setup and Interface

The 2015 edition of Norton Mobile Security proved much simpler to set up than last year's app. I simply searched for Norton Mobile Security in Google Play, clicked install and then entered my Norton Account username and password. You'll need to create a Norton Account to use Norton Mobile Security; you can do so for free by visiting Norton's website and then clicking on Sign In at the top of the page.

Norton downloaded and installed in just seconds over my home Wi-Fi network, which was running at 49.07 Mbps. You can also download the app via the Web by visiting Norton's website, which will eventually take you to Google Play.

Norton Mobile Security 2015's user interface looks nearly identical to that of its previous iteration, with one minor exception. The home screen is divided into six buttons: Anti-Malware, Anti-Theft, Backup, Call Blocking, Web Protection and App Advisor (this last button replaces Norton Apps from Norton Mobile Security 2014).

Tapping on each button opens a corresponding menu; you can also cycle through the menus by swiping to the left or right. A button with three vertical dots at the top right corner of the home screen opens a drop-down options menu with buttons for Scan, Settings, Activity Log, Share, Help, About and Other Norton Apps.

In the Settings menu, you can toggle push notifications and enable or disable Norton Community Watch, which automatically transmits your security information to Symantec. You can also set up a scheduled scan (daily, weekly or monthly), toggle SD card scanning and update the software.

Confusingly, some anti-theft features are located in the Settings menu rather than in the Anti-Theft menu. These include a Security Lock that replaces the default Android lock screen (more on that below), a Security Wipe that deletes all of your data after 10 failed unlock attempts, and a SIM Card Lock that locks the device if the SIM card is removed or changed.

MORE: Best PC Antivirus Software

Unfortunately, Norton Mobile Security's interface still feels unfinished compared with other Android antivirus apps. I found it annoying that I had to open the Settings menu to run a scan or activate some of the anti-theft features, and the gap of unused screen space at the bottom of the home screen feels like wasted real estate.

Detection and Performance

To assess the security performance of Norton Mobile Security, we turned to the folks at the AV-TEST independent lab in Germany. According to the lab's most recent tests in November 2014, Norton Mobile Security version 3.8, running on Android 4.4, detected 99.7 percent of 2,186 malware samples. This beats the industry average of 97.6 percent, as well as AVG Antivirus Free (95.0 percent) and McAfee Mobile Security (99.5 percent). But it was behind Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus, which scored 99.9 percent, and Bitdefender Mobile Security and Kaspersky Internet Security, both of which detected all of the samples.

To measure Norton Mobile Security's impact on system performance, we ran the Geekbench 3 Android benchmark on our Huawei Ascend Mate 2 running Android 4.3. Before we installed Norton Mobile Security, the phone notched a score of 1,519. After installation, the Ascend Mate 2 achieved a score of 1,487, and a score of 1,456 during a scan.

While this bested the scan scores of AVG AntiVirus Pro (1,415) and McAfee Mobile Security (1,455), it fell behind those of Avast Mobile Security (1,460), Kaspersky Internet Security for Android (1,464), Lookout Mobile Security (1,467) and Bitdefender Mobile Security (1,496). Still, these scores are close enough that most users won't notice any difference in performance.

Anti-Theft and Data Protection

Besides user-initiated scanning, Norton Mobile Security 2015 offers fairly robust real-time malware protection.

The program automatically scans downloaded apps and app updates, and removes detected threats. Norton also performs a sweep whenever SD cards are plugged into your device.

A new addition to Norton Mobile Security is the App Advisor, which lets you know if you have any apps installed on your device that exhibit suspicious behavior or have high battery or data usage. Any problems are displayed as a push notification in your notification drawer. Somewhat ironically, Norton Mobile Security frequently listed itself as a battery-draining application.

Norton Mobile Security 2015 retains all of the anti-theft features of the 2014 edition, although it doesn't add anything new. When you open Norton for the first time on your phone or tablet, the app assigns you a four-digit passcode you can use to remotely lock your device, locate your device via GPS, back up your contacts, wipe your personal data or remotely take a picture with the front-facing camera (called Sneak Peek by Norton).

You can also use the passcode to cause your device to emit a "scream" — a loud, siren-like sound that can help locate your device.

You can activate any of these features from mobilesecurity.norton.com, or by sending your device an SMS message with specific commands such as "lock" or "locate" followed by your passcode. (Sneak Peek can be activated only via the Web.) Norton Mobile Security only displays this passcode once; if you forget it, you'll have to log in to the Norton Mobile Security webpage, where your passcode will be displayed at the top right corner of the screen.

When you remotely lock the device, Norton Mobile Security automatically tracks and reports its location every 5 minutes, and takes a Sneak Peek photo every 10 minutes. (The Locate and Sneak Peek buttons are disabled when your device is locked, as these actions happen automatically.)

As helpful as these features are, I noticed a few issues that limit their utility. First, the Web console occasionally had trouble communicating with my Huawei Ascend Mate 2, causing a minutes-long delay after I clicked on buttons for Lock Device or Take Photo.

Furthermore, although the Sneak Peek feature allows you to take pictures using the front-facing camera, you have no way of knowing when the person who stole your device is looking at the screen — and Norton only stores the 10 latest pictures, which means that if the program is automatically taking pictures every 10 minutes, you may miss a crucial photo because it's been deleted.

As mentioned earlier, additional anti-theft features are located in the settings menu. You can set your device to automatically wipe after 10 failed unlock attempts, or to lock itself if the SIM card is removed or changed. Then there's Security Lock, which provides Norton Mobile Security with administrator rights to prevent it from being uninstalled by malware. Security Lock also lets you set password rules for the lock screen, although I couldn't get this aspect to work.

In addition to anti-theft features, Norton Mobile Security offers a number of data-protection tools. The Backup feature allows you to save your contacts to Norton's servers, or restore the contacts to a fresh device. You can also schedule a backup to run daily, weekly or monthly. Unfortunately, Backup doesn't save any other data.

As expected, Call Blocking lets you create a list of numbers that Norton will automatically block. While a "block list" is useful, I would have appreciated the ability to set the program to perform specific actions depending on the caller, such as a text auto-reply.

Norton Mobile Security also features a Web Protection feature, which blocks potentially malicious websites in Chrome, Chrome Beta and the Android browser. If you think the site is safe, you can ignore the warning and continue; the site will remain unblocked for 30 minutes, at which point Norton will prevent the page from loading again.

Web Console

Norton Mobile Security's Web console is accessible at mobilesecurity.norton.com. From there, you can lock your device, view its location using GPS, cause your device to emit a Remote Scream, take a Sneak Peek photo using the device's front-facing camera, wipe the device, or back up your contacts.

You can also see the number of days remaining in your subscription, edit your device's name or delete the device. Finally, your device's four-digit passcode is displayed at the top right corner of the page.

Premium vs. Lite

The premium version of Norton Mobile Security 2015 costs $29.99 per year, and can be unlocked by purchasing a subscription and then logging into the free version of the app (downloadable via Google Play) using your Norton Account credentials.

The free version includes the app's full antivirus capability and remote anti-theft features (lock, locate, wipe, Sneak Peek and Remote Scream, most of which are also available through Google's own Android Device Manager), but the App Advisor, Backup, Call Blocking and Web Protection features are unavailable after the 30-day trial ends.

Bottom Line

Norton Mobile Security has changed little from 2014 to 2015. The latest version retains everything we liked about last year's iteration — excellent malware protection and the ability to lock your phone via the Web or SMS — but fails to add any compelling new features. While the new App Advisor tool is helpful, the program's data-protection features are woefully lacking compared with those offered by other Android antivirus suites.

Overall, we prefer Avast Mobile Security and Antivirus, which offers far more features and customization options than Norton Mobile Security, including Web protection for third-party browsers such as Amazon Silk and Dolphin; a backup tool that saves contacts, files, SMS messages, and apps; and the ability to prevent anyone else from installing new apps on your device.

Still, if protecting your phone or tablet from malware is your top concern, or you've already purchased Norton Security for your computers, Norton Mobile Security 2015 won't disappoint. The app boasts flawless detection results, and offers a number of truly helpful anti-theft features besides.

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Follow David Eitelbach on Google+. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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