Bitdefender Mobile Security: The Best Android AV App

Bitdefender has been developing antivirus software since 2001, and the company currently boasts an installation base of more than 500 million devices worldwide. The company's primary Android offering, Bitdefender Mobile Security, has had more than 5 million downloads from Google Play, where it's listed as Bitdefender Mobile Security & Antivirus. For $14.95 a year, the app offers an evolving suite of features and an easy-to-use interface for smartphones, tablets and even Android Wear smartwatches.

The app lacks a call or text filter, which are commonly found on other Android security apps but can be inconsistent. But Bitdefender Mobile Security's consistently excellent malware-detection rate, coupled with solid execution on a limited feature set, is what sets it apart from the rest and makes it our top choice among Android antivirus apps, free or paid.

Costs and What's Covered

Bitdefender Mobile Security is one of the only Android antivirus products that goes with a single, straightforward price for the product instead of using the freemium model. Following a 14-day free trial for new users, you must pay either $1.49 a month or $14.95 a year per device.

If you are also looking for a Mac or PC antivirus solution, or an option for the whole family's devices, you might want to consider Bitdefender Total Security for $90 a year (covering up to five devices) or Bitdefender Family Pack for $120 a year (covering unlimited devices). Additional discounts for multiyear subscriptions are available, and first-time buyers get substantial discounts on their initial purchases.

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For users interested only in antivirus protection, Bitdefender does have a separate app called simply Bitdefender Antivirus Free that delivers the same excellent Android antivirus protection without any additional bells and whistles. There's also Bitdefender Mobile Security for iOS, which is also free, but it offers only anti-theft and breach-notification features, with no antivirus component.

Malware Protection

Bitdefender Mobile Security has some of the most consistently high-performing malware protection around, but this product also has perhaps the most bare-bones scanning functionality. Users can conduct manual scans of their entire devices; the only option to toggle is whether to include external storage (microSD cards) in the scan. For me, this process took about 30 seconds to complete.

While the lack of scheduled scans is a disappointment and an odd omission, it isn't a deal breaker by any means. New apps and updating apps are automatically scanned, and having to remember to run a manual scan occasionally isn't a significant hardship.

If you have a Bitdefender account, you can also start a scan from the Bitdefender Central web portal. Remote scans took approximately 40 seconds to complete, a marked improvement since last year, and displayed the resulting information only on the web portal. There was no indication on the device that a remote scan had taken place.

Bitdefender finished in fourth place for performance impact with just the app installed, but in first place for performance during a malware scan.

Bitdefender's web-security feature automatically blocks malicious sites and downloads based on a real-time connection to the Bitdefender Cloud Services database. Browser support for this feature has been broadly expanded since our last review. It now covers Chrome, Dolphin, Firefox, Opera, Opera Mini, the Samsung standard browser, the browser in the Facebook app and the browser in the Facebook Messenger app.

I deliberately visited a number of known phishing and malicious sites. In every case, the Bitdefender app warned me that the site was unsafe, with a brief description of the specific concern. It gave me two options: the prominent "Take me back to safety" and, in smaller text, "I understand the risks — take me there anyway."

Malware Performance

Bitdefender managed a perfect score in German independent lab AV-TEST's most recent evaluations of Android security products, conducted in September 2017. The app detected 100 percent of the 3,016 "real-time" malware threats used, as well as 100 percent of the 2,917 samples that had been collected in the previous four weeks.

These beat the average detection rates of 95.7 percent for real-time and 98.4 percent for recently discovered threats among the 21 Android security products that AV-TEST tested.

Among the four other Android antivirus apps we reviewed that were submitted to AV-TEST for evaluation, Norton Mobile Security and CM Security Master matched Bitdefender's 100/100 percent detection rate, followed by Avast Mobile Security (99.8/100 percent) and PSafe DFNDR (99.7/100 percent).

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Bitdefender's detection rates are remarkably consistent in AV-TEST's bimonthly Android evaluations. In addition, Bitdefender got 100/100 percent in July, May and March 2017, and in all six rounds in 2016; in January 2017, it detected 99.9/100 percent. Only Norton Mobile Security has maintained a similar level of consistent excellence.

I deliberately visited a number of known phishing and malicious sites. In every case, the Bitdefender app warned me that the site was unsafe, with a brief description of the specific concern.

By contrast, just since January, CM Security Master's detection rates have peaked at 100 percent and dipped to 99.0 percent; PSafe DFNDR's have fluctuated even more, from 100 percent to 96.3 percent. Avast Mobile Security's rates have shown less variation, from 100 to 99.5 percent.

Lookout Security & Antivirus is the lone antivirus app we tested whose maker no longer submits it to AV-TEST evaluations.

Security Features and Tools

Account Privacy
A new feature since our last review of Bitdefender Mobile Security is Account Privacy. It has you enter and confirm ownership of an email address, and then performs a scan of known security breaches of services that you have signed up for using that email address.

Interestingly enough, this scan recurs daily, unlike the malware scans, and indicates that it will update you with any news. My only complaint with this feature is that there is no option to dismiss notifications once you've read them. I was already aware of the data breaches that Account Privacy flagged, and by all appearances, I will continue to be warned about each of them every time I open that section.

Anti-Theft
Bitdefender Mobile Security already had one of the more extensive anti-theft feature sets, so while there is nothing new to speak of this year, that isn't really a criticism.

Users can control the anti-theft features either from the web portal, which is central.bitdefender.com, or via SMS. The features accessible from both are Locate, Scream, Lock and Wipe. I tested each feature, with the exception of the full device wipe, from both the web portal and SMS, and was impressed with the speed of response. Each action was triggered in less than 2 seconds on my device.

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One anti-theft feature that isn't triggered by any action from the owner is Snap Photo. This captures an image from the front camera any time someone makes three consecutive unsuccessful attempts to unlock the device. The image is sent to Bitdefender Central.

Somewhat unusually, there are actually more features available via SMS than through the web portal. One such feature is texting the CALLME command to your phone. This makes your device call you back silently, allowing you to listen in on the thief in "stealth mode" without notifying them.

Bitdefender managed a perfect score in AV-TEST's most recent evaluations of Android security products.

The final feature offered by Bitdefender Anti-Theft is the SIM Change setting. During setup, you identify a trusted mobile number, such as that of a close friend. In the event that your SIM card is swapped out at any point, the trusted mobile number will receive a text message with the new mobile number associated with your phone's new SIM card to help in the search for your missing device.

The trusted mobile number is also the only number that is allowed to issue the wipe command via SMS. This is an uncommon feature, but seems like a nice safety precaution.

App Lock
If you still haven't started locking your device (please start doing so) or you find yourself sharing your device frequently, then App Lock is a tremendously helpful feature. It lets you set a PIN code for specified apps. When you first set the feature up, you need to enter a four- to eight-digit PIN that will apply to all locked apps, but if your device has a fingerprint reader, your fingerprint can be used to unlock the selected apps, with the PIN as a fallback.

Just as with the Anti-Theft feature, App Lock will take a photo of the user if three incorrect app PINs (or fingerprint scans) are entered. You can choose to geo-unlock apps by designating certain Wi-Fi networks as trusted; when the device is connected to any of them, all apps will be unlocked, so you don't have to be subjected to unlocking your apps while at home.

Privacy Advisor
Privacy Advisor gives you an overall privacy score from zero to 100 and a rating (Low, Medium or High) based on your currently installed apps and the permissions granted to them. Apps are sorted by risk and color: green for no risk, orange for medium risk and red for high risk.

You can filter the list of apps according to different metrics, such as "Can cost you money" and "Sends your private data to strangers." Tap on an app, and you get a breakdown of the permissions it has, again rated red, orange or green.

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One of our complaints regarding Privacy Advisor last year was that it offered only the option to uninstall an app that had problematic permissions. But in Android 6.0 Marshmallow and later, Android users can  grant permissions more granularly, and it's possible to toggle off specific permissions.

App Lock is a tremendously helpful feature. It lets you set a PIN code for specified apps.

Not only is Privacy Advisor still unable to take advantage of this no-longer-new Android feature, but it is also unaware of the permissions that you have manually toggled off. Instead, it flags an app based solely on the potential permissions that it could be granted.

Unless you have apps that fall into the red, high-risk category, it's hard to take the score offered by Privacy Advisor too seriously. Bitdefender needs to either update this feature to take better advantage of Android's permission settings or do something similar to what Norton has done with its App Advisor feature: shift the focus to calling out other bad behaviors, with only the worst privacy violations drawing attention.

Reports
Reports is simply a breakdown of the security activity that Bitdefender has noted during the current and previous weeks. It's a nice reminder of why you installed the app, but not something you are likely to spend a lot of time going over.

The Event Viewer is an even more granular breakdown of every single activity recorded by the app. Again, it's not something you are likely to consult regularly, but it might be interesting to look over if there is a security threat to your phone.

WearON
Bitdefender Mobile Security supports
Android Wear smartwatches. The watch app will notify you if you seem to be leaving your smartphone behind (triggered by loss of Bluetooth connectivity between the your phone and your watch) and also lets you find your phone by pulling up the app on your smartwatch and tapping Sound Alarm.

The latter isn't really necessary, because it duplicates the Find My Phone feature built into Android Wear. But the notification if you are forgetting your smartphone, or if someone is walking off with it, is potentially quite useful.

System Impact

To evaluate the impact of running Bitdefender Mobile Security, I ran multiple tests using the Geekbench 4 Android benchmarking tool on my Samsung Galaxy S8 running Android 7.0 Nougat. Following installation of the app, the phone's performance scored 1.68 percent lower than its baseline average on the Geekbench 4 test. During a full scan, it scored 0.92 percent below its baseline performance.

These results put Bitdefender in fourth place for performance impact with the app installed, and in first place for performance during a malware scan.

Setup and Support

Installing Bitdefender Mobile Securityfrom Google Play took just a few moments, and the full setup, including the upgrade to the premium plan, was complete within 3 minutes. If you have an activation code to enter, that is done by simply tapping the menu button in the upper-left and then Activation Code in the resulting menu.

Support for Bitdefender Mobile Security is excellent, with online-support documents or forums for those who would like to research the answer to their questions. There's also 24/7 online chat and live phone support available for those who just want to talk to someone and get an answer.

My only complaint is that this support information is a bit buried in the app. A user needs to tap About at the bottom of the main menu and then look for the Contact Us link at the bottom of the text on that page.

Interface

I doubt anyone will be buying Bitdefender Mobile Security for its outstanding design, but the spartan look and feel of the app certainly makes it dead simple to use, so perhaps this shouldn't be a concern. The app interface went through a significant redesign in 2015 to line up with Google's Material Design specifications, and it has remained completely static since then.

While I would like to see at least some updated graphics just to give some visual cues that the app is still in development, the reality is that the app's protections are regularly updated and the design, while boring, does exactly what it needs to do and allows users to get in and out quickly.

In short, if you like a little visual appeal in your apps, then perhaps take a look at the revamped CM Security Master. But for those who just want something that gets the job done without any fanfare, Bitdefender Mobile Security is a solid bet.

Bottom Line

Bitdefender Mobile Security continues to be the most effective malware scanner for Android, with an extremely minimal impact on performance. While it doesn't offer call or text blocking, the app executes well on core functionality such as malware scanning, web protection and anti-theft features, also offering a handy app lock.

At $14.95 a year per device, Bitdefender Mobile Security is priced competitively compared with other premium offerings on the market, and it's our Editor's Choice. For Android users who value device performance and protection over a lot of extra features, it will be worth the cost.

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  • Anonymous
    As my user name suggests I am not very technically minded. I found the article very easy to understand. Thanks very much.
    0
  • mountainwizard
    Hmm!

    I already pay less for Norton per year which includes my cell and several other devices. Then I would pay for this product for just my cell phone.

    Reads like a BitDefender ad rather than a true comparision.
    0
  • JoshRoss
    Fair point. Considering that mobile protection hasn't been proven that it is 100% accurate and some of the tests are questionable at best.
    1