McAfee Mobile Security review

McAfee Mobile Security is now a sleeker and more streamlined Android antivirus app

McAfee Mobile Security logo
(Image: © McAfee)

Tom's Guide Verdict

After trimming away a slew of features, a sleeker, more muscular McAfee Mobile Security combines malware scanning, web protection with dark web scanning and inexpensive access to a VPN.

Pros

  • +

    Simple streamlined app

  • +

    Top version includes VPN

  • +

    Overall Protection Score

  • +

    Inexpensive

Cons

  • -

    No comparative malware effectiveness data

  • -

    Some major features discontinued from last version

  • -

    Can’t set destination on VPN

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McAfee Mobile Security: Specs

URL protection: Yes
PUA and malware scanning: Yes
Ad blocking: No
Remote data wipe: No
SIM card lock: No
VPN Unlimited use: Yes
Anti-theft: No
Lost phone locator: No
PW manager: No
Wi-Fi Scanner: Yes
Call blocking: No
Text blocking: No
Guest mode: No
App advisor for app stores: No
App locking: No
Photo vault for sensitive images: No
Compatibility: Android version/Chromebooks/WearOS: Version 7+ (Nougat)/No/No
Free version/Cost: No/$30/$60 with VPN

Depending on your outlook, either McAfee trimmed away the fat for a leaner Mobile Security app that can better protect users, or hollowed out useful features that others have.

Either way, Mobile Security simplifies protection with an app that includes malware defenses, privacy features and identity monitoring. While the Secure VPN is unlimited, it doesn’t allow you to pick countries, making it a non-starter for watching geo-blocked content. Sorry to say, McAfee doesn’t participate in third party malware tests for its Mobile Security app, making effectiveness comparisons tricky.

Still, it’s well priced at $60 with the VPN and competes with the $100 Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy plan. Our McAfee Mobile Security review will help you decide if this is the right Android antivirus app for your smartphone or tablet. Take a look at our McAfee promo codes for the latest discounts and ways to save on your order.

McAfee Mobile Security review: Costs and what’s covered

Like many competitors, McAfee Mobile Security doesn’t have a free version but you can try the full app on up to five devices for 30-days. 

There are two versions of McAfee Mobile Security, starting with the Basic plan at $30 a year ($3 a month) for a single device with malware scanning, email and basic online identity monitoring. The next step up, McAfee Total Protection, adds a VPN and can cover up to five devices for $60 a year ($6 a month).

There are two cross-platform subscriptions that cover Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. Both include VPN access, but the Plus plan costs $110 and covers up to five systems while the $130 Premium plan adds parental controls and ups the coverage to 10 devices. Only five can use the VPN at once, though. 

Not enough? The McAfee Ultimate subscription starts with the Premium plan and adds identity protection services and $1 million of insurance and restoration. It costs $160, although the ID protection is only for one person. 

The Android app works with phones and tablets that have Android version 7 (Nougat) or higher. However, it lacks compatibility with WearOS devices and Chromebooks. For iPhones and iPads, the Mobile Security app needs version 13 of iOS or newer and generally matches the Android app’s features. Due to Apple restrictions, it can’t scan a system for malware. The iOS app compensates with the addition of a System Scan to ensure the device has the latest updates. 

McAfee Mobile Security review: Malware protection

There may not be a free version of McAfee Mobile Security, but it’s easy to try out the program for 30-days; it can be loaded on five systems. McAfee aims at personal online protection to thwart attacks starting with local virus scanning. It can identify and stop a wide assortment of exploits and phishing attempts. 

The app’s Safe Browsing URL scanner is front and center for protecting online journeys. It keeps an eye out for websites known to distribute malware and those that try to load unwanted apps. 

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Unlike its predecessor Web Advisor, Safe Browsing is now built into the app. That way, there’s nothing to load onto the phone and once turned on, its protection is automatic regardless of which browser you use. Like Lookout, this makes its protection more consistent and universal than security apps that rely on browser add-ons. It warned about the three nasty sites I visited.

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When out and about, the app’s Wi-Fi Scan can help by only connecting with safe networks; it replaces Safe Wi-Fi from previous versions.

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It analyzes available networks and warns when they don’t use encryption; it can be set to always scan but can’t protect against man-in-the-middle attacks. However, it does keep an eye out for networks that are being attacked.

McAfee Mobile Security review: Malware detection

While McAfee security products have done well over the years in third party evaluations, the company doesn’t currently participate in malware detection surveys for its Android app by AV-Test and AV Comparatives.

The last examination with AV-Test took place in December 2021, where McAfee scored an impressive 100 percent on both new and widespread threats. The scanning was also extremely accurate with no false positives. 

The most recent run with AV Comparatives dates back to July 2019, where the McAfee app scored an impressive 99.9 percent with no false positives. This put it in the same league as Avast and Bitdefender and way ahead of Google Play Protect. 

On the downside, without comparative data on effectiveness, McAfee Mobile Security’s ability to catch and stop rogue viruses is an open question.

McAfee Mobile Security review: Security features and tools

While McAfee has a lot to offer, several major features have disappeared since our last review. According to the company, these were items that weren’t popular with users or were covered by Android. All told, it feels like a major pull-back because Mobile Security now lacks an app lock and guest mode as well as its Memory Booster and Storage Cleaner utilities. 

The items that users are likely to miss most though are the anti-theft tools but Android’s Find My Device features are a good replacement. 

What it does have is tightly focused on three tasks: security, identity protection and privacy. While the Privacy Check has been dropped from McAfee Mobile Security with no replacement, the company’s Secure VPN can raise your security profile in public. It can be set to be always on or only on Wi-Fi connections though you can also turn it on manually. When the VPN is active, it shows a key logo in the Android status bar and puts a small icon in Mobile Security’s home screen. 

McAfee Mobile Security app screengrab

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The company has been beefing up its VPN’s presence and now has servers in 50 countries; 14 in the U.S. and 3 in Canada. Unfortunately, it doesn’t let you pick the place where the communications stream will emerge. This makes it useless for streaming geo-blocked content and puts the focus on securing communications.

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Using my Note 20, the app got online in 1.8 seconds and delivered 131 Mbps from my 200 Mbps connection. This puts it at a slight disadvantage to more efficient VPNs, like from Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy.

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McAfee Mobile Security can continually check your online profile with its Dark Web Monitoring. It looks for 60 different personal identifiers, like bank and credit card accounts, email addresses and identification numbers. If it detects a breach, Dark Web Monitoring shows guided steps to fix the problem. The Ultimate plan augments this with $1 million of insurance for recovering stolen funds and getting new documents.

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It all comes together in the app’s Protection Score. Prominently shown on the home screen, the score takes in all aspects of an online presence that the app can monitor or control.

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My score rose from 400 on installation to 698 after I started using the app’s tools. Be warned, it can become addictive to try to raise the score.

McAfee Mobile Security review: System impact

To gauge how much of the phone’s performance the app and its scanning engine use, I set up a series of tests using my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 running Android 12. With the phone plugged in and before the McAfee Mobile Security app was loaded, I ran the GeekBench 5 Compute benchmark to provide a performance baseline of 3,673. 

After I loaded the app, the score fell to 3,606, representing a 1.8 percent drop in the phone’s ability to perform tasks. It’s similar to the performance drop experienced by Google Play Protect and Lookout Mobile Security but better than Avast Mobile Security’s 3.2 percent. 

It was fast, taking 8.2 seconds for the system to look at 482 apps and 313 files, but only after two runs. The first scan took 2 minutes and 19 seconds and looked at 482 apps and 8,048 files. Like the slower Malwarebytes app, the software learns what to examine and what to ignore over time. 

While scanning the system for rogue code, the app’s performance decline was a modest 1.7 percent, the same as Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy and in the middle of the pack. It was lighter than Norton 360: Mobile Security but heavier than both Google Play Protect and Avast Mobile Security.

McAfee Mobile Security review: Setup and support

Protecting a device with the McAfee Mobile Security app started with a 53MB download that began the automated installation process. After I accepted the license agreement, the app checked the system for incompatibilities.

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There’s a choice between the 30-day trial and paying for the product. If you stick with the free version, be ready for upgrade offers. If not, McAfee accepts credit cards and PayPal. Start to finish, it took 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

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In addition to phone and chat support for resolving problems, McAfee has a link from the app to search its database or contact its technicians directly. They’re available 24/7.

McAfee Mobile Security review: Interface

The look and feel of McAfee Mobile Security is all new with an emphasis on providing simple real-world protection. There are also explanations and cartoon characters to help ease anxiety. 

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The app runs in portrait mode and its home page has the Protection Score next to a Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good or Excellent appraisal. Tap the arrow to see the score’s criteria and appraisal range along with tips on how to raise the score. There’s a general warning that you’re never totally safe, no matter what your score might be.

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After setup, the app provided a base Protection Score of 400 out of 1,000. I spent the next week raising it by using the app and making changes. By giving the app permission to nose around my files, my Protection Score rose to 439 – not bad for less than a minute’s work. I ended up with a score of 698.

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Below are scrollable general interest topics, like privacy, Wi-Fi and protecting other devices. Unlike the articles that others provide, these have real-world suggestions that can be carried out by tapping on the section’s link. These include adding protection to other devices and turning on the VPN.

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Along the bottom are three icons for the home page, Services (aka security features) and Settings. The Services cover all the app’s major tasks and some have their own icons. The app’s duties include scanning, identity protection, VPN, Wi-Fi scan and Safe Browsing.

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The Gear logo on the far right leads to a list of the app’s major functions. There, I found it easy to check on my McAfee account, add other devices to the protection circle and notifications, although this only had a link for setting up push alerts for the Wi-Fi scanner.

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My favorite is the Troubleshooting section. Here, I was able to collect data from the app’s logs to send to McAfee to help figure out a problem.

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Unfortunately, gone are the small question mark icons from the previous version that led to explanations.

McAfee Mobile Security review: Bottom line

It may appear a little skimpy compared to previous versions and the best mobile security apps, but McAfee Mobile Security is a full security app aimed at those who care more about protection than having every last feature. Besides defending a device against malware, it can shield your privacy with a VPN and monitor your identity for online breaches. While there’s little recent comparative data on its effectiveness, Mobile Security is a bargain at $60 to cover five systems with VPN access.

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.