If you want to cover a big family's Macs and PCs, but don't want to pay similarly large prices, Sophos Home Premium may be an intriguing option.
Although most paid antivirus services start at $40 to $60 per year for one user, Sophos Home Premium protects up to 10 machines for $60 per year. It also lets you remotely manage and scan the small fleet of systems it protects and offers a decent set of parental controls.
On the downside, though, Sophos' passive performance hit on Macs was the highest of any of the seven programs we recently reviewed (although it was still not that bad).
More significantly, its malware-detecting abilities have not been independently tested recently by any of the independent labs whose results we normally use. Because of that, we can't include it among the best Mac antivirus software -- but we hope to see that change in the future.
Sophos Home Premium costs and what's covered
Sophos Home Premium for Mac costs $60 per year, though it's often deeply discounted. It supports Macs running macOS 10.11 (OS X El Capitan) or later, with a minimum of 4GB of storage available and 4GB of memory. On PCs, it supports Windows 7 and later. We haven't recently reviewed its Windows capabilities, so we can't tell you if it should be included among the best antivirus software overall.
If you're short on cash, the Sophos Home Free program that kicks in after Sophos Home Premium's 30-day trial period retains the premium plan's parental web filtering and remote management, as well as the core antivirus protections.
But you'll be limited to three machines on a single Sophos account, and will lose tech support, webcam protection and some sophisticated anti-malware features such as dedicated anti-ransomware protection.
Sophos Home Premium keeps Macs free of malware using traditional signature-based detection by matching suspicious files to known malware. It uses its artificial-intelligence system and machine learning to apply lessons from its user base to recognize new malware strains.
Neither of the independent antivirus testing labs whose results we normally rely on, AV-Test (in Germany) and AV-Comparatives (in Austria), had tested Sophos' Mac malware detection in their most recent surveys of Mac antivirus software at the time of this review.
However, AV-Test did test Sophos twice in 2017. In the October-November round from that year, Sophos stopped 100% of Mac malware; in the April-May tests, it stopped 98.4%. Bitdefender, Kaspersky and Norton's Mac malware engines each got perfect 100% detection rates in both those rounds.
All three of those rival brands, plus Avast, also got 100% scores in both AV-Test's April-May 2019 Mac evaluations. Avast, Bitdefender and Kaspersky got 100% in AV-Comparatives' June 2019 Mac tests, in which Norton was not tested. (All those companies also make some of the best Android antivirus apps.)
Security and privacy features
Sophos Home is rich with bonus features. Chief among them is remote management from the Sophos Home web page, so you can check on your machine — and up to nine other Macs or PCs linked to your account — from the field.
The Sophos Home online account includes parental website filters. Not only can you block a user account from visiting entire categories of websites, but the software keeps records of each attempt to navigate to an unapproved page. Alternatively, users can be allowed to visit a page after being given a warning that Sophos will make a note of their visit in the parents' log if they proceed.
Sophos' competitors pack browser plugins to flag untrustworthy search-engine results. Sophos doesn't, but you can download such extensions for free from Avast, Bitdefender or Kaspersky.
Performance and system impact
Sophos Home Premium for Mac left a relatively high impact on our test system's performance during passive, background usage, but had a relatively low impact during active scans.
We assessed this by running our custom Excel VLOOKUP benchmark test, which matches 60,000 names and addresses on a spreadsheet. Our test machine was a 2017 MacBook Air with a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5 CPU and approximately 54GB of data stored on a 128GB SSD.
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With Sophos Home Premium installed on our MacBook, but without any active scans running, the VLOOKUP test finished in an average of 3 minutes and 44 seconds, 10 seconds longer than what we saw without any antivirus software installed.
That's a passive hit of 5%, which isn't bad, but that was much more than other macOS antivirus products' passive system impacts, which ranged from 2% to zero. That's the great overall news for Mac users: most of the time, you'll never notice that you've got antivirus software running.
You'd be slightly more likely to notice the performance hits created by Sophos' active scans. During full-system scans, the VLOOKUP test finished in an average of 3 minutes and 48 seconds, a performance dip of 7%.
That's the smallest slowdown we saw in that category, far less than McAfee AntiVirus Plus' 47% fall and close to half of the next-best score, the 13% hit created by Norton 360 Deluxe.
Sophos Home Premium's Quick Scan slowdown was slightly larger, as the machine finished that test in 3 minutes and 56 seconds, a hit of 10%. Still, that's the lowest score we saw in that category, below the 16% hit from Norton and well below Kaspersky's 53%.
Sophos Home Premium took seemingly forever to complete a systemwide scan, though, completing the task in 2 hours and 56 minutes, the longest of all seven programs, all of which were tested on the same Mac. On the other end of that scale was Malwarebytes' miraculous 16-second time; Kaspersky (41:20) and Norton (25:49) landed in the middle of the pack.
Installed on a Mac, Sophos Home Premium looks more like a menu-bar applet than a full-fledged app, as its full controls are kept in a web browser. Clicking the menu-bar icon shows your protection status and gives you a button that opens up a menu with options that include performing an on-demand scan and checking for updates. The interface has an overall minimalism that I can appreciate.
Over on Home.Sophos.com, you get a wider overview of the systems you're managing, and once you open a system's entry from the home page, you can click Scan to trigger a scan remotely. From here, you also see the system status and check system activity.
Under Protection, you'll find toggles for enabling and disabling real-time protection, the ability to whitelist files and folders and the newly added option for scheduled scans. That section also has a switch to enable ransomware protection and another option to block sites known to contain malware.
The next column over provides web-filtering parental controls, which can either block a user from opening a site or warn them that their attempts to open a page are being tracked. Finally,, under Privacy, you'll find options to alert the user if Sophos Home detects "unwanted" use of their webcam and/or microphone.
Installation and support
You need to install Sophos Home by first buying the license online and then logging in to the Sophos Home dashboard to download a folder, which contains the Sophos Installer. After opening the installer, it takes approximately 3 minutes for Sophos Home to be up and running, during which you'll be prompted to open System Preferences and grant system access under Security & Privacy, a standard step thanks to changes in macOS.
One of the major perks of paying for Sophos Home Premium instead of using the free version is live email and chat tech support, available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Mondays through Fridays. Nevertheless, that's a shorter window than the 24 hours, seven days a week tech support some companies, such as Bitdefender and Norton, provide.
Large families on a limited budget, or individuals with too many computers, have plenty of reasons to consider Sophos Home Premium. It covers a fleet of systems for the price most other brands charge to cover a single machine, and it includes limited parental controls plus ransomware protection.
Unfortunately, third-party antivirus testing firms no longer measure Sophos' efficacy at capturing macOS malware, so we're unable to recommend it completely. Also, every other macOS antivirus program, including Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac (our two top picks), create much smaller dips in system performance when running in the background.