UPDATED with most recent malware-detection test results. This review was originally published Oct. 10, 2019.
It has been a few years since I last reviewed Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus, also known as Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, and while there have been some changes since then, the overall package remains basically the same.
The app continues to offer great malware detection with minimal impact on your system, but the user interface gets confusing if you move below the surface level. The features Kaspersky offers work well, but the overall feature set simply isn't competitive with other comparably priced and similarly effective options on our list of best Android antivirus apps such as Bitdefender Mobile Security and Norton Mobile Security.
Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus costs and what's covered
As a freemium antivirus app, Kaspersky gives you the same antivirus engine and the same anti-theft functionality in both the free and premium versions of the app. Bumping up to premium gets you scheduled virus scanning, an app lock to protect certain areas of your device, anti-phishing features and filtering of malicious websites.
At $14.95 a year, Kaspersky hits near the low end of the Android antivirus pack on pricing for its premium tier, but it has a fairly meager set of features for free-version users.
If you also need a desktop antivirus solution, look to Kaspersky Internet Security, which covers three Windows, Mac or Android devices for $79.95 per year, or five devices for $99.95. Kaspersky Total Security adds more features for Windows, if not for Android, and covers up to 10 devices for $149.99 per year.
There are discounts for multiyear plans, and you can typically save about 50% as a new user. These add up to pretty compelling packages, because Kaspersky makes some of the best Mac antivirus software and best antivirus software overall.
Unlike most of its competitors in the Android antivirus market, Kaspersky clings to the concept of different malware-scanning levels. Tapping Scan prompts you to choose a Quick Scan, a Full Scan or a Folder Scan.
The free version won't automatically scan new apps. You have to tap to authorize such scanning each time. However, the software at least noticed when a new app was installed; several of Kaspersky's competitors didn't seen to.
Kaspersky's full scan was among the slowest options that I tested on my Google Pixel 3 phone, taking approximately 24 to 50 seconds.
Web protection is limited to the Chrome browser, which must be selected as the default browser to function properly with the Kaspersky Web Filter. Once this was done, everything worked well and the app reliably blocked the known malicious test sites that I visited.
You can also apply this protection to links opened in apps, but just be sure to toggle this option in the settings for Internet Protection.
Kaspersky was nearly perfect in German independent lab AV-TEST's July 2019 evaluations of Android security products, detecting 99.9% of 3,347 "real-time" Android malware samples encountered online. The program also detected 100% of 3,433 "widespread" Android malware samples collected by AV-TEST in the previous month.
This puts Kaspersky ahead of the averages among the 20 Android antivirus apps tested in July. It got the same scores in May 2019, and got perfect 100/100 scores in March 2019.
Of the eight other Android antivirus apps I reviewed in 2019, five others were submitted to AV-TEST in July 2019. Avast Mobile Security, Bitdefender Mobile Security and Norton Mobile Security each got 100/100 detection results on real-time/widespread samples.
After them came McAfee Mobile Security, matching Kaspersky with 99.9/100. At the distant rear was Google Play Protect, with by far the lowest scores among all apps tested, at 44.1% real-time detection and 54.7% widespread detection.
In each of the 12 bimonthly AV-TEST rounds in 2017 and 2018, Kaspersky fell short of 100% detection of either real-time malware, widespread malware or both. Real-time detection got as low as 99.6%; widespread detection was better, never dipping below 99.8%.
Over two and a half years of tests, this puts Kaspersky a bit ahead of Avast and McAfee, but behind Bitdefender, which scored a perfect 100/100 most of the time, and Norton, which always did.
The other two Android antivirus apps that I reviewed for this round, Qihoo 360 Security and Lookout Security & Antivirus, no longer regularly submit samples to AV-TEST for evaluation.
In in-depth evaluations conducted by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives in July 2019, Kaspersky Internet Security for Android detected 99.9% of real-time malware, matching the scores of Avast, Bitdefender and McAfee. Google Play Protect got 83.2%; Lookout, Norton and Qihoo 360 Security were not tested.
Free security features and tools
Kaspersky has one of the most complete sets of free anti-theft tools in this class, with the ability to remotely locate your device, lock it, wipe the device, trigger an alarm and even capture a photo from the front-facing camera. All these commands can be issued from the my.kaspersky.com web portal and were carried out within 2 to 3 seconds when I activated them.
Both the Lock & Locate and Alarm features let you include a brief message on the screen. The web portal also provides a brief status summary about your device. It's a simple site, but functional and quick.
Kaspersky also offers a SIM Watch feature that will lock your device and display a predetermined message if someone removes your phone's SIM card.
This is a fairly stripped-down feature. You can add a name, phone number and note for each individual you would like to filter. You can also select people from your contact list, but it would be much more useful to be able to select a number from the recent-call log, as presumably you wouldn't typically block an existing contact.
Blocked calls were routed instantly to voicemail, and a notification for the missed call showed up. But this feature does not block SMS or MMS messages from blocked numbers. However, it was the only call blocker among the Android antivirus apps I tested that actually worked.
Kaspersky supports triggering a few features on your phone from your Wear OS smartwatch; you can start a scan or update virus definitions. There is also a Find My Phone option that mirrors Wear OS's native Find My Phone functionality.
Premium security features and tools
This lets you lock specific apps if you need to share your device with a friend or child but don't want them accessing everything. You simply toggle the apps you would like to lock, which will put them behind the standard swipe, PIN or fingerprint lock you use for your device.
This provides consistent monitoring of your device, with automatic malware scans of new apps and new files as they are installed. By contrast, Kaspersky's free version notices that a new app or file has been installed but prompts to you authorize a manual scan instead of going ahead and doing so automatically. If you don't tap, it doesn't scan.
To evaluate the impact of running Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus on my device, I conducted multiple tests using the Geekbench 4 Android benchmarking tool on my Google Pixel 3 smartphone running Android 9.0 Pie.
I established a baseline performance with no third-party antivirus app installed, then ran additional tests following installation, and finally more tests during a full scan with the antivirus app.
Once I installed Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus, my phone actually performed 6.8% faster than its baseline average on Geekbench 4. It may be that the app took over certain functions from the Android OS itself and handled them more efficiently. However, during a full Kaspersky malware scan, the phone scored 7.78% below its baseline performance.
These results put Kaspersky easily in first place for system impact with the app running in the background. But Kaspersky is right in the middle of the pack during a full scan, coming in fourth among the eight apps that I tested.
Setup and support
Kaspersky does a solid job with training new users. You are guided through the activation of each feature, with instructions on which permissions you are granting and why. It took me approximately 4 minutes to get everything up and running.
Kaspersky has a complete complement of support options, with online chat and phone support available from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., Eastern Time, seven days a week, or the option to submit a support request and wait for a response. There's also a knowledge base and an active forum community if you prefer to find your own answers.
Kaspersky Internet Security has a clean look in its main screen, but things get a bit more muddled as you dig through the app. The overflow menu on the left is dark, while the rest of the app is light and entirely duplicates the menu found on the main screen.
Similarly, the user-interface paradigms seem to shift among the various features, sometimes reflecting Google's Material Design guidelines and at other times dropping into walls of text with non-obvious touch targets.
Most of the problematic screens have to do with settings, and you would not interact with them consistently. But the app could use an overhaul to bring it completely in line with current design standards.
As a pure antivirus solution, there is nothing wrong with Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus, but it's hard to recommend it over Bitdefender Mobile Security or Norton Mobile Security among best Android antivirus apps. Compared to those two, Kaspersky offers slightly lesser malware protection, fewer features overall and a less consistent user interface.