Bitdefender Mobile Security review

Bitdefender Mobile Security remains the best overall choice for securing your Android devices

Bitdefender Mobile Security logo
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Bitdefender)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Get it if you can spend $15 per year. Bitdefender Mobile Security is the best all-around Android antivirus app, and its inexpensive price almost makes it a no-brainer.

Pros

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    Top malware protection

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    Affordable premium version

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    Many useful features

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    Small system impact

Cons

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    Expensive unlimited VPN option

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Bitdefender Mobile Security: Specs

URL protection: Yes
PUA and malware scanning: Yes
Ad blocking: Yes
Remote data wipe: Yes
SIM card lock: No
VPN/Unlimited use: Yes w/Premium Security plan
Anti-theft: Yes
Lost phone locator: Yes
PW manager: No
Wi-Fi Scanner: Yes
Call blocking: No
Text blocking: No
Guest mode: No
App advisor for app stores: No
App locking: Yes
Photo vault for sensitive images: No
Compatibility: Android version/Chromebooks/WearOS Version 5+/Y/Y
Free version/Cost: $15 per year

With everything from web browser warnings to some of the most effective malware scanning around, Bitdefender Mobile Security tops off its Android defenses with extra privacy protection, scam protections and guards against unwanted apps being installed. It may not be the fastest at scanning but Bitdefender Mobile Security can stay half a step ahead of hackers by using a mix of local and cloud-based analysis to find and fix a wide variety of threats while maintaining a minimal effect on the phone’s performance. 

With more than 10 million downloads, it’s not as popular as apps from Norton and McAfee. Still, it garnered a 4.7 rating on the Google Play Store. While you can’t get unlimited access to Bitdefender’s VPN by getting just the Mobile Security app, it provides nothing short of the best protection at one of the best values in Android security today. 

Bitdefender Mobile Security review: Costs and what’s covered

Bitdefender’s Android products start with its Antivirus Free for Android app, which can provide basic protection for a phone or tablet. It relies primarily on cloud scanning for its malware protection and has been designed to have a minimal impact on performance and battery life. 

If that’s not enough, Bitdefender offers a 14-day trial of its full Mobile Security app. After the trial, it costs $15 a year, making it one of the least expensive ways to guard an Android device. Using Bitdefender Mobile Security adds website analysis and blocking, Scam Alerts and Account Privacy for seeing if your personal information has shown up on the dark web. On the other hand, access to the company’s VPN is limited to 200MB per day; unlimited use costs an extra $30 a year. 

There are other ways to get the Android Mobile Security app, starting with Bitdefender’s cross-platform packages: the $100 Total Security plan covers 10 systems (PCs, Macs, Androids and iPhones and iPads) and the $120 Family Pack covers up to 15 systems; VPN access is limited to 200MB per day. The Premium Security plan takes this a step further with protection for 10 users and unlimited VPN access for up to five users at a time. It costs $160 per year.

There’s one more possibility: get a Netgear router that includes the company’s Armor security software. In addition to software residing on the router, Armor includes an unlimited license for Bitdefender Total Security. After the initial trial period, it costs $100 a year to renew Armor, making it one of the best deals in security software.

All of Bitdefender’s subscriptions lack one thing: full identity packages that Norton offers with its LifeLock add-ons. Bitdefender’s Digital Identity Protection plan is a step in the right direction and costs an extra $80. It can search the dark web for your personal information but lacks ID insurance and lost funds restoration.

The Mobile Security app needs Android version 5 (aka Lollipop) or newer and can protect many but not all Chromebooks as if they were Android systems. Bitdefender Mobile Security is the rare Android security app that focuses on WearOS watches with WearON which in addition to malware protection can sound an alarm if the phone and watch are separated by more than 25 feet.

Bitdefender’s Mobile Security for iOS is more rudimentary than the Android version, particularly because of Apple’s restrictions on malware scanning; the app does keep an eye on data flowing to and from a device for threats. It includes website protection, limited VPN access and costs the same $15 a year. 

Bitdefender Mobile Security review: Malware protection

With everything from Web site protection to defenses against phishing and malware, Bitdefender Mobile Security is a one-stop Android safety center. Based on its AutoPilot technology, all major details are left to the app to tune the phone’s security stance, often reacting faster than any person could to new threats. By pushing much of the analysis and recognition of malware into the cloud, the scanner can track the latest threats while keeping the app slim with low overhead. 

In addition to stopping unwanted apps from being installed, Bitdefender Mobile Security scans for rogue code in real time. The app can’t schedule scans, but it can be set to manually examine a system for viruses and provides excellent feedback on its operations with a list of major malware categories and whether you’ve picked up any of those infections. The classifications range from malware, ransomware and potentially unwanted apps to adware, monitoring, banking and hidden malware. Each has a quick explanation of how the threat works.

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The app’s Web Protection can warn against unsafe websites based on a site’s reputation for sending malware. Able to block phishing, and crypto-mining scripts, it can’t stop ads and trackers, which can be thwarted by using the VPN.

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Still, it works from within the app providing compatibility with an excellent variety of browsers. In addition to Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari, it works with several more obscure ones like DuckDuckGo, Yandex, Dolphin, Huawei and Brave. It successfully blocked the three malicious sites I tried.

Bitdefender Mobile Security review: Malware detection

As is the case with its Windows security applications Bitdefender Mobile Security has an enviable streak of perfect results on AV-Test’s periodic surveys. Its results in the January - February examination were no different with Mobile Security acing with perfect 100 percent scores in the new and widespread malware categories, which used 2,896 and 2,964 malicious samples. 

Impressive, yes, but in that shoot-out, Avast, and Norton 360 also left with top scores. Only Google Play Protect missed the mark with a disappointing 80.7 percent score against the latest Android threats and a slightly better, though still unsatisfactory, 90.0 percent result on AV-Test’s popular and widespread malware. The good news is that none of the four Android security apps had any false positives.

This was followed up with the same perfect results on the July 2021 AV Comparatives test. It had no recorded false positives as well. None of the other three companies that participated in the AV Comparatives Android survey did this well, with Avast dropping to 99.6 percent (with one false positive) and Malwarebytes falling to 98.1 percent (1 false positive). Once again, Google Play Protect trailed by a wide margin with its 81.7 percent showing and 12 false positives.

Lookout and McAfee didn’t participate in any of the third party evaluations we use, while Norton 360 and McAfee didn’t take part in AV Comparatives examinations. This makes the comparisons a little tricky.

Bitdefender Mobile Security review: Security features and tools

In addition to the expected security features, Bitdefender Mobile Security has a slew of extras. While it has on-demand scanning for malware, the app’s Scam Alert can protect from fraudulent links in your texts and messages for deals that are too good to be true. If you subscribe to the VPN, ad and tracker blocking are thrown in.

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Based on artificial intelligence, Scam Alert tries to correlate data from a variety of sources to spot even obscure threats. It tries to reduce the chances that these fraudulent schemes are sent to others. A big help is at the bottom of the Scam Alert page, where there’s a series of hints and things to look for in existing scams. Several have images of the actual swindle, making recognition on your phone a snap.

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While others, like McAfee have ditched their anti-theft arsenal, Bitdefender includes the ability to find a lost or stolen phone’s last known location on a map. It can send a text to the missing device or have it ring very loudly. The shield extends to being able to lock or wipe the system and remotely shoot a selfie picture of the person holding it after too many incorrect PIN attempts. The owner can see the evidence in their Bitdefender Central account.

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While it can’t touch Norton 360’s LifeLock add-on identity protection plans, the Bitdefender Account Privacy is a nice incremental extra. It can alert you if your email has been involved in any recent data breaches and can help you change your password. The service can monitor up to 10 email accounts on the open and dark web but lacks the ability to check for phone numbers, bank accounts and other personal identifiers that McAfee Dark Web Monitoring can look for.

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Bitdefender Mobile Security lacks a password manager. The company’s recently revamped Password Manager can consolidate all your login credentials into a super secure password that’s automatically entered. It costs $30 a year.

The App Lock is for when you need to lend your phone to someone else to make or take calls. It’s an easy way to turn off access to any or all of its apps. It’s simple to set up App Lock and a PIN code or fingerprint is needed to reopen the software.

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That said, its VPN security is available for most free and paid plans but limited to 200MB per day, while the flagship Premium Security plan includes unlimited access. When the VPN is active, it includes adware and tracker blocking. With 1,300 servers in 30 countries, it has a wide reach for secure communications or watching geo-blocked content.

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It took 6.9 seconds to get online using the VPN and delivered 87.7 Mbps of my office’s 200 Mbps broadband connection.

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Finally, the app’s Reports section is a hidden gem for those curious about cybersecurity and Mobile Security’s actions. It sums up the app’s security activities in one place.

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The reports are compiled weekly and cover all major security aspects of the app. The daily bar graph of actions is also quite informative.

Bitdefender Mobile Security review: System impact

To gauge how much of the phone’s performance the app and its scanning engine took up, I set up a series of tests using my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 running Android 12. With the phone plugged in and before Bitdefender Mobile Security was loaded, I ran the GeekBench 5 Compute benchmark to provide a performance baseline of 3,682.

After the Mobile Security app was installed but before any scanning, that baseline dropped by 2.1 percent to 3,604. This passive decline in performance potential is a little lighter than Norton 360: Mobile Security’s 3.3 percent or Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy’s 2.6 percent. In the area, Google Play Protect’s 1.8 percent decline tied with McAfee Mobile Security for the least background overhead eaten up by the app.

During scanning, the Bitdefender Mobile Security dropped another 1 percent in the GeekBench 5 Compute benchmarks to 3,568. It’s not as good as Avast Mobile Security 0.4 percent decline or Google Play Protect’s 0.3 percent drop in performance. It is a lot better than Lookout Mobile Security’s 3.1 percent decline.

At 26.9 seconds to examine the phone, Bitdefender Mobile Security’s scan time was midway between the fastest (Google Play Protect at 5.2 seconds) and the slowest (Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy at 51 seconds). It’s important to note that the first scans by Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy and McAfee Mobile security took 4:41 and 2:19 before settling down to more reasonable times. For Bitdefender Mobile Security, its scans were at the same level from the start.

Bitdefender Mobile Security review: Setup and support

Bitdefender’s installation process was simple and quick, starting with a 54MB download. 

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After creating an account with Bitdefender, I needed to pay for and activate the product; Bitdefender takes credit cards and Paypal. I also had to give the app access to my phone and was offered an initial scan. It took four minutes to get and load the security app.

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In addition to 24/7 availability for phone calls and emails, Bitdefender support has a handy chat window for assistance.

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There’s an app link to the company’s list of support topics and access to a huge array of DIY tutorials. These items include FAQs, videos and troubleshooting help.

Bitdefender Mobile Security review: Interface

With a mild redesign since we last looked at it, Bitdefender Mobile Security is bright, colorful and can only be used in portrait mode. It’s also quick and easy to figure out how to get the most out of the app. 

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Its dashboard page sums up a lot and is easy to understand at a glance. At the top is a green shield with a checkmark to show everything is safe. If there was an attack underway or something needed updating, it would have turned to a red “X”.

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Below are three main sections for Anti-Theft for lost device location, locking and wiping the phone as well as App Lock for turning off access to specific apps. At the bottom is a section for the VPN and a come-on for a fresh installation to load the VPN app.

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Along the bottom are a row of four other icons for critical protection. In addition to the Malware scanner and the ability to start a scan, there’s a page for Web Protection that provides access to all the different browser add-ons available. Meanwhile, the Scam Alert can be started and shows what it’s found. Below are a good range of examples of rip-offs to keep an eye out for.

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The More section acts like a master settings section that provides an alternate route into the configuration details. It has links for everything from VPN, Anti-Theft and Account Privacy to App Lock, Reports and Support. There’s also a way to suggest Mobile Security to friends and relatives.

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One of the best online portals in the business, Bitdefender Central provides a place to oversee the company’s products.

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I could check how many licenses remain and use them on new systems. It also shows any recent malware threats.

Bitdefender Mobile Security review: Bottom line

It may not be the most popular Android protection app, but Bitdefender Mobile Security provides nothing short of the best protection available for a phone today. It not only leads in defenses against the worst the web has to offer but its interface is easy to use, and the new privacy and scam guards are ready for just about anything. It falls short by lacking an option to inexpensively add unlimited access to the company’s VPN and a full-fledged identity protection offering. 

Still, at $15 for a year, Bitdefender Mobile Security is the best protection money can buy and deserves to be on your phone. 

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in technology reporting and reviewing. He works out of the suburban New York City area and has covered topics from nuclear power plants and Wi-Fi routers to cars and tablets. The former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing and Communications, Nadel is the recipient of the TransPacific Writing Award.