While it doesn't boast the massive Google Play installation numbers of some of its competitors, Bitdefender Mobile Security is an exclusively paid Android security app. The fact that it has more than 5 million paid downloads may be more meaningful than the massively larger installation numbers of some of its free and freemium competitors.
Bitdefender Mobile Security maintains a 4.6 out of 5 rating in Google Play and has consistently performed well in third-party testing of antivirus apps. It slipped a bit in our system-impact rankings this year, but it remains near the top and still represents a compelling value for those willing to pay for their mobile antivirus solution.
Norton Mobile Security remains its strongest competitor, but because Norton costs twice as much as Bitdefender after the first year, it's hard to justify looking beyond Bitdefender Mobile Security when considering the best Android antivirus apps.
Bitdefender Mobile Security: Costs and what's covered
Bitdefender remains one of the lone antivirus apps that hasn't gone freemium. New users are able to take advantage of a 14-day free trial to see whether Bitdefender is right for them, but after the trial is up, it's $14.99 a year.
While the main app doesn't have a free tier, Bitdefender does offer a free Android solution called Bitdefender Antivirus Free. It uses the same antivirus technology as the paid app, but has an older user interface and lacks the extra features I'll cover later in this review.
Bitdefender has a couple of options for anyone also looking to secure one or more computers, a great deal because Bitdefender also makes some of the best Mac antivirus software and best antivirus software overall.
Bitdefender Total Security offers protection for up to 10 devices across Windows, macOS, Android and iOS devices, starting at $89.99 per year. Bitdefender Family Pack 2019 bumps that up to 15 devices for $119.99. Discounts of up to 50% per year are often available for new subscribers.
If you have a late-model Netgear Nighthawk or Orbi router, you can get Bitdefender Total Security for an unlimited number of devices, along with Bitdefender's smart-home-defense router firmware, as part of Netgear's Armor system for $70 per year.
Bitdefender Mobile Security: Malware protection
Bitdefender had one of the slowest full scans, at approximately 1 minute, of any of the eight Android antivirus apps that I tested in early 2019. Fortunately, as we'll cover later, it had one of the smallest impacts on system performance during a full scan. You can't schedule a scan, but the app performs one every time anything on the phone is updated or installed, and you can also trigger a scan manually.
Bitdefender's web protection blocks malicious pages from reaching most widely used Android browsers, including Chrome, Dolphin, Firefox, Opera and Opera Mini. I tried to navigate to a test site known to be malicious using each of the supported browsers, but that always triggered a warning from Bitdefender to avoid the page, with the option to go there anyway if I wanted to.
Bitdefender Mobile Security: Malware detection
Bitdefender Mobile Security has had perfect scores in all of German independent lab AV-TEST's evaluations of Android security products for the past year.
In the most recent test, conducted in March 2020, the app detected 100% of the 3,102 "real-time" malware threats used, and 100% of the 3,086 "widespread" malware samples that were collected in the previous four weeks.
This was well ahead of the scores among the 16 Android antivirus apps tested in March, in which real-time threats were detected an average of 98.5% of the time, and widespread threats 96.7% of the time. Even if you discount Google Play Protect's terrible scores, Bitdefender still came out ahead.
Of the seven other Android antivirus apps I most recently reviewed, five others were submitted to AV-TEST for this round. Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus and Norton Mobile Security also got 100/100 percent detection rates. Right behind them was Avast Mobile Security, which got 100% of real-time and 99.9% of widespread malware.
A bit further back was McAfee Mobile Security, which scored 99.6% on real-time malware even as it aced the widespread test.
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Bringing up the rear was Google Play Protect, which had the lowest scores on both metrics among all apps in the tests at 77.4%/47.8%. That's pretty terrible, but in the January 2020 tests, it scored only 37.0%/33.1%, the worst Google Play Protect has done since AV-TEST added it in September 2017.
Since the beginning of 2017, Bitdefender has fallen short of a perfect score against real-time malware only three times in AV-TEST's bimonthly Android antivirus tests, and it has always detected 100% of widespread malware.
Norton Mobile Security is the only app among all those AV-TEST has evaluated that can boast better performance, with 100/100 on every test in 2017, 2018, 2019 and so far in 2020.
In a limited but in-depth evaluation of 11 Android antivirus apps conducted by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives in July 2019, Bitdefender Mobile Security stopped 99.9% of real-time malware, the same as Avast, Kaspersky and McAfee. Google Play Protect stopped 83.2%.
Bitdefender Mobile Security: Security features and tools
You might already be using one of the best password managers, but if not, Bitdefender's Account Privacy feature might inspire you to do so. When you first activate it, you will need to enter and validate your email addresses, and from then on, you will be notified of any security breaches involving services that you used your email addresses to sign up for.
By default, it scans for news of new breaches daily and notifies you immediately in the event of a significant breach. Once you have taken whatever steps necessary to secure a breached account, you can go back into Account Privacy and tap on the breached service to mark the incident as Solved, as far as you're concerned.
Bitdefender has a solid collection of anti-theft features that are either triggered automatically or from the web portal at www.central.bitdefender.com. At one time, you could also use SMS commands to remotely trigger anti-theft features, but due to recent changes in Google Play store policy, this is no longer possible.
Using the web portal, you can locate your device on a map, trigger an alert (a message, a siren or both), lock the device with a code that you input at that moment and finally wipe the device completely. I tested all but the final option, and each worked within 2 to 3 seconds of issuing the command on the web portal.
The anti-theft user interface is pretty basic, with a full-screen map and then a small overlay with icons for each of the respective anti-theft options.
The one automated anti-theft feature is Snap Photo, which will capture an image using the front-facing camera after three failed attempts to unlock a protected app or three failed attempts to unlock the device.
App Lock This feature is convenient if you often find yourself handing over your phone to friends or children. It lets you use a PIN or your fingerprint to lock specific apps that you may not want someone else to access.
You simply check the box next to the app that you want to lock, and then you can choose to require an unlock every time, or anytime the screen has been off, or if you have been out of the app for at least 30 seconds. One nice touch here is the ability to add trusted Wi-Fi zones where these apps remain unlocked.
This is an overview of the security actions taken by Bitdefender. You can view it as a weekly report with just the highlights, or switch over to the activity log, which is virtually everything that the app has done. I can't imagine reviewing this content — obviously, the app puts any real problems front and center, so most of what you'll find here is going to be completely innocuous.
New since the last time I reviewed Bitdefender Mobile Security in mid-2017 is an integrated VPN client. Standard Bitdefender subscribers get 200MB of VPN data per day and can't choose the server to which they connect. This daily allocation is enough to cover light web usage or checking email, which is all that many users look for.
If you need more data or want to be able to choose your server location, prices get pretty steep at $6.99 a month or $39.99 per year. I strongly recommend looking at a stand-alone VPN service if you need more than Bitdefender's free allotment.
WearON If you own a Wear OS watch, you'll have a couple of extra security features to help you keep tabs on your phone. The first simply triggers an alert if you leave the Bluetooth range (generally 25 to 30 feet) of your phone while wearing your watch. The second is the Scream feature, which can trigger an audible alarm from your phone if you are having trouble finding it.
Bitdefender Mobile Security: System impact
To evaluate the impact of running Bitdefender Mobile Security, I conducted multiple tests using the Geekbench 4 Android benchmarking tool on my Google Pixel 3 running Android 9.0 Pie. I first established a baseline performance before Bitdefender was installed and then ran additional tests following installation and during full malware scans.
Following installation of Bitdefender Mobile Security on my phone, I saw a 0.5% decrease in performance from the baseline average in my Geekbench 4 results. A full scan dropped it below the baseline average by 4.42%.
While it didn't equal its No. 1 performance in both passive and active-scan categories from my 2017 tests, Bitdefender remains one of the least performance-sapping Android antivirus apps around, with a No. 2 finish on the post-installation test and a No. 3 placing during a full scan.
Bitdefender Mobile Security: Setup and support
Bitdefender had the most straightforward installation process of any app that I tested. It's got a simple guided process to turn on a few key features, a home screen with the remaining features and a button marked Activate that walks you through adding each of them.
Support options for Bitdefender remain some of the best, with 24/7 live chat or phone support in over a dozen languages. There's also a knowledge base covering a wide variety of topics and an active network of forums in a handful of languages.
These options are still bafflingly difficult to find in the app, however. You have to navigate to About in the main menu and then tap the Contact us link in small print at the bottom of that screen.
Bitdefender Mobile Security: Interface
Bitdefender has undergone another major redesign since I last reviewed it. The whole app now has a white interface. While it is a different look, the same general principles remain, with a clean and simple design. The primary features are accessible from a tabbed interface across the bottom of the app and an overflow menu at the bottom-right corner of the app gives you access to the rest.
If anything, the main screen is a bit too sparse, with nothing but white space and a "You are safe" message across the top with quick access to the VPN. If Bitdefender's design team would just enlarge the top badge and message to fill in the space better, that would be visually preferable.
Bitdefender Mobile Security review: Bottom line
Unless you are looking for a free antivirus solution or are particularly swayed by some of the unique features that Norton Mobile Security brings to the table, Bitdefender Mobile Security remains a phenomenal choice for its value, minimal system impact and consistently flawless performance in third-party malware evaluations. That makes it our Editor's Choice among best Android antivirus apps.
UPDATED with most recent malware-detection test results. This review was originally published Oct. 10, 2019.