Bitdefender has been developing antivirus software since 2001, and the company currently boasts an installation base of more than 500 million devices worldwide. It has a solid pedigree in the antivirus industry, has won accolades for its products' efficacy, and its Windows malware-detection engine is licensed by more than two dozen rival antivirus makers.
The company's primary Android offering, Bitdefender Mobile Security, has had more than 5 million downloads from Google Play. For $14.95 a year, the app offers an evolving suite of features and an updated Material Design user interface for smartphones, tablets and even Android Wear smartwatches.
The app lacks a call or text filter, which is commonly found on other Android security apps. (A Bitdefender spokesman pointed out that the stock Android Marshmallow and Nougat have those filters built in.) But it includes Android Wear smartwatch integration, which is still rare.
Its malware-detection rate is consistently excellent, and its system impact is light even during full scans. Overall, we think Bitdefender Mobile Security is the best option for Android security software, free or paid.
Costs and What's Covered
Unlike similar offerings from other major antivirus companies, Bitdefender Mobile Security is not a "freemium" product with two tiers of service. All users get a 14-day free trial, but after that, you'll have to either pay up or move on.
The subscription fee, which is $1.49 per month or $15 a year, covers only one device — a detriment to those with many Android devices. There's no discount for additional devices.
If you happen to be looking for a Windows or Mac antivirus solution, consider the Bitdefender Total Security Multi-Device license bundle (up to five devices, $100 a year) or the Bitdefender Family Pack (unlimited devices, $120 a year). Both include Bitdefender Mobile Security, and at the time of this review, both were discounted by 50 percent on the Bitdefender website.
If you have a credit card on file with Google Play, you can activate the Bitdefender Mobile Security subscription by tapping the Upgrade button on the home screen. If you have an activation code directly from Bitdefender, tap the Menu button in the upper-left corner of the app and select Activation Code from the list. Tap Account Info for details regarding your subscription.
Need only antivirus protection for one or more Android devices? Take a look at Bitdefender Antivirus Free. It offers no anti-theft or app-locking features, but it has the exact same sterling malware protection. Bitdefender Mobile Security customers might want to consider the free option for secondary devices.
Bitdefender Mobile Security runs on Android 3.0 Honeycomb and later.
Bitdefender Mobile Security offers a manual scan of your entire device, including an optional scan of external storage (microSD cards). For me, the scan took about 40 seconds to complete.
You can also start a scan from the Bitdefender Central web portal. Those scans took just over a minute, 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 Mobile Security lacks the ability to perform scheduled scans, but the web-security feature automatically blocks malicious sites or downloads (when using the stock Android browser or Chrome) based on a real-time connection to the Bitdefender Cloud Services database.
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."
Bitdefender Mobile Security flawlessly detected all malware in German independent lab AV-TEST's most recent evaluations of Android mobile security products, conducted in July 2016. It stopped 100 percent of 3,459 samples of brand-new malware, and 100 percent of 3,367 samples of malware discovered in the previous four weeks. (Bitdefender also scored perfectly in AV-TEST's previous three evaluations.)
The July score bests the detection average of 99.6 percent of new threats, and 99.8 of recent threats, among 26 products tested. Among the Android antivirus apps we recently reviewed, only Norton Mobile Security matched the perfect detection rate. Following it were Kaspersky Internet Security (99.9/100 percent), ESET Mobile Security (99.9/99.9 percent), CM Security (99.7/100 percent) and Avast Mobile Security (99.5/99.7 percent).
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Security features and tools
As the name suggests, Privacy Advisor counsels you regarding the permissions granted to installed apps. Your device gets an overall privacy score from zero to 100 and a rating (Low, Medium or High) based on your currently installed apps. 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" or "Send 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.
Unfortunately, on a phone running Android 4.4 KitKat, the only solution offered for apps deemed a privacy risk was to "Uninstall app." Google gave Android 6.0 Marshmallow the ability to revoke specific permissions from any app, but Privacy Advisor didn't seem to know this.
Privacy Advisor's advice should also be taken with a grain of salt. It did not reveal anything about a single app that I couldn't get from the Android Apps settings. Unless you have apps that fall within the high-risk category, you are most likely safe.
The robust Theft Protection tool lets you locate, lock or wipe your device, or make it "scream," either from the Bitdefender Central website or via SMS. If someone tries to replace the SIM card, the app can also send an SMS to a "Trusted Number" — such as one belonging to a friend or family member — that you input during setup. It will also take a photo of anyone tampering with the phone and send the image to Bitdefender Central.
The Trusted Number can also send your device a wipe command via SMS. The final command available via SMS is CALLME, which makes your device call the Trusted Number in "stealth mode" so you can silently listen in on whomever has your device without their knowledge.
The Bitdefender Central website is pretty bare-bones, but logging in for the first time was quick and easy. The Anti-Theft tab is a large map with a blue dot depicting the last known location of the device; the Time, Address and Action buttons are in a floating box in the upper-right corner of the map. All functions worked as advertised when triggered from either the web portal or by SMS.
If you don't set a screen lock on your device (and you should), or you find yourself sharing your device frequently, then App Lock is a tremendously helpful feature that lets you set a PIN code for specified apps. The 4-to-8 digit PIN you select will apply to all locked apps.
Like Theft Protection, App Lock can also take a photo of the user — in this case, if three incorrect app PINs are entered. You can also 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.
I was disappointed that App Lock couldn't accept a fingerprint in place of a PIN. CM Security supports fingerprint readers in its own App Lock feature, and for anyone with a fingerprint-enabled device, it is frustrating to have to regress to PIN entry.
The Reports feature offers a quick view of security statistics from the past two weeks. Its Event Viewer shows a comprehensive listing of all actions the app has taken, but you can easily clear them.
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 devices) and also lets you find your phone by saying "Start where is my phone" into the watch and tapping "Sound alarm."
To evaluate the system impact of running Bitdefender Mobile Security, I ran multiple tests using the Geekbench 3 benchmarking tool on my Google Nexus 6P running Android 6.0.1. Following installation of the app, the phone scored 23.3 percent higher than its baseline average, indicating that Bitdefender Mobile Security sped it up substantially. (Installation of antivirus software often leads to better scores in Geekbench tests.) During a full scan, the phone scored 3.7 percent below the baseline performance, indicating a barely noticeable slowdown.
These were very good results, placing Bitdefender Mobile Security at the head of the six Android antivirus products we tested for its passive system impact. During full scans, Bitdefender was only a bit behind the top performer, Kaspersky Internet Security for Android.
Setup and support
Installation of Bitdefender Mobile Security from Google Play went smoothly and quickly. When you open the app, you will have to sign in with either a Google account or a Bitdefender account, the latter of which you can create within the app. Whichever you choose will be the account you use from then on to log into the Bitdefender web portal.
Bitdefender offers a variety of options for support, with forums, online chat, email and even 24-hour phone support in many countries at no additional charge to the registered user. According to the Bitdefender website, phone support may entail a wait of up to 10 minutes.
Bitdefender Mobile Security revised its user interface in 2015 to adhere more closely to the Material Design specifications laid out the previous year by Google, and the app seems to have achieved that goal. The interface relies on a slide-out left tray to jump between tools, and the primary dashboard screen puts the malware scanner front and center.
The design is certainly a bit utilitarian, but in truth, you should rarely find yourself within the app other than to perform a scan, as most of its functions are being performed in the background while you go about your normal usage.
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, as well as the 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.