To make up for lost time, McAfee has built one of the most feature-rich, user-friendly anti-malware apps currently on the market. However, at $29.99 per year for just one Android device, McAfee Mobile Security costs twice as much as competing apps from Avast, Kaspersky and Bitdefender.
Setup and Interface
Compared to other Android antivirus apps, McAfee's setup process is unnecessarily convoluted. You can't simply download the free version of the application and enter your license key to unlock the full version. Instead, you have to open www.mcafee.com/mobilesecurity/retailcard in a browser window and then enter your product key.
Once you've entered the key, McAfee prompts you to log in with your McAfee username and password. (You'll have to create a McAfee account if you don't already have one.) The website then provides an activation code — you'll need to copy it or write it down, as it's different from the product key — to use when you install the app. Next, click on the link at the bottom of the page to go to Google Play and download McAfee Mobile Security.
Once you've opened the app, tap on the Activate Now button at the bottom of the home screen and then paste the activation code that you copied in the previous step. Finally, in the next window, choose and enter a six-digit PIN that you'll use to unlock the device. (You have to enter one, and it must be exactly six digits — which is annoying, since I've always used a four-digit PIN.)
On the positive side, McAfee's intuitive interface helps make its comprehensive feature set feel much more manageable.
A Notifications button at the top of the home screen displays the number of unread notifications; tapping on the button opens a drop-down notifications drawer from which you can address specific issues, such as "set your security questions" or "add a buddy."
Just to the right of the Notifications button is the Profile button, which opens a new window that displays your subscription information. On the far right is a button with three vertical dots, which opens a drop-down menu with buttons for Settings, Subscription Info, Activity Report, Uninstall and Help. There's also a tutorial button, which is a handy feature that few other Android antivirus apps provide.
The main portion of the home screen is divided among five buttons: Security Scan, Privacy, Web Security, Backup and Find Device. Each button has a status indicator that lets you know if the feature is enabled (green) or disabled (orange). In addition, the Security Scan and Privacy buttons both let you know if any issues were found in the previous scan.
Tapping on each button opens a new window with additional information and tools. At the bottom of each window is a Settings button, which opens a different settings menu depending on the window you're currently viewing.
Tapping on the button in the Security Scan window, for instance, opens the Scan Settings menu, with options to toggle real-time scanning, scheduled scanning and auto updates, as well as other additional scan options.
Each menu also features a Help button at the bottom of the screen, which lets you know what each feature does, how to set it up and how to toggle the various settings. I haven't seen such helpful, in-depth tutorials in any other Android anti-malware app.
My only complaint is that there's a bit of unused screen real estate at the bottom of the home screen between the Find Device button and Android's virtual buttons. However, this is a minor quibble given the app's well-thought-out user interface.
Detection and Performance
Unlike AVG and Kaspersky, which offer three different degrees of scanning, McAfee Mobile Security provides just one scanning option but offers a number of toggles for in-depth scanning. You can set the suite to scan all apps, scan for potentially unwanted programs that access your private data without your knowledge, scan all text and multimedia messages, or scan all files in your internal and external storage.
You can set up a scheduled scan to run either every day at a specific time, or weekly. McAfee also offers a Smart Scheduler, which chooses the best time to scan your device (presumably, when you're not using it). The suite automatically scans new apps when they are installed.
To assess McAfee's security performance, we turned to the researchers at the respected AV-TEST independent lab in Germany. According to their November 2014 malware-detection tests, McAfee detected 99.5 percent of 2,928 malware samples.
That beats the industry average of 97.6 percent as well as AVG Antivirus Free (95.0 percent), but fell behind Norton Mobile Security (99.7 percent) and Avast Mobile Security (99.9 percent). Kaspersky Internet Security for Android and Bitdefender Mobile Security achieved a perfect detection rate. (AV-TEST did not evaluate Lookout Mobile Security in its latest round.)
I measured McAfee's impact on system performance by running a scan at the same time as the Geekbench 3 Android benchmark on my Huawei Ascend Mate 2 running Android 4.3. Before I installed the app, the phone notched a score of 1,519. After the app was installed, the Ascend Mate 2 achieved a score of 1,516. When I ran a full scan with McAfee at the same time, the score dropped to 1,455.
This was better than the full-scan score of AVG AntiVirus Pro (1,415), but it fell behind those of Norton Mobile Security (1,456), Avast Mobile Security (1,460), Kaspersky Internet Security for Android (1,464), Lookout Security and Antivirus (1,467) and Bitdefender Mobile Security (1,496). Still, these scores are close enough that most users won't notice any difference in performance.
Anti-Theft and Data Protection
If your device is lost or stolen, you can activate McAfee Mobile Security's anti-theft tools remotely using SMS commands or the Web console. You can lock your device, locate it via GPS or wipe its data by sending an SMS message with the specific command followed by your PIN, or by logging in to the Web console at www.mcafeemobilesecurity.com and clicking on Locate, Lock or Wipe.
The Web console offers additional anti-theft commands. Alarm causes your device to emit a horribly lifelike "scream" to help you locate your device even if the ringer is muted. If you find the scream too jarring, you can set Alarm to use your device's default alarm clock sound or its default ringtone. The ability to choose the alarm sound is a small but thoughtful detail that I haven't seen on any other Android antivirus app.
CaptureCam sends a pop-up message to your device and secretly takes a picture with the front-facing camera when someone taps on the screen. McAfee then emails you the photo and the device's current location in Google Maps. You can also set up CaptureCam to take a photo if someone makes three, four or five unsuccessful attempts to unlock your device.
Finally, there's Factory Reset, Backup, Restore and Track SIM. This last option is not actually a command, but rather sends you an email with the new phone number and your device's current location if someone changes your SIM card.
McAfee offers additional anti-theft options not found in most Android antivirus apps. For example, you can set up a list of trusted friends. If someone changes your SIM card, those friends will be sent your phone's location. If you forget your PIN, those friends will be texted it.
You can also set up McAfee to automatically save your device's location when the battery is low (Lookout also does this), set off an alarm when you lock your device using SMS commands or the Web console, or automatically lock your device when it's set to Airplane mode.
McAfee's privacy tools are equally robust. A Check Data Exposure tool rates apps by comparing the amount of personal information that each app shares to other apps in the same category. (Categories include Social, Travel, Communication and Productivity.) You can tap on each app to see its permissions, such as "reads your text messages" and "knows your specific location."
The Lock Apps utility prevents anyone from opening selected applications unless they input your six-digit PIN. You can also create user profiles such as Office, Kids or Guest, and hide specified apps depending on the profile currently in use. To prevent users from accessing forbidden apps, McAfee requires you to input the PIN when you're switching among the profiles.
McAfee boasts a surprisingly deep call and text filter. The app includes both a whitelist (allowed phone numbers) and a blacklist (blocked numbers), as well as a keyword filter that lets you block text messages that contain specified words. A filter log displays blocked calls and text messages.
Like any good antivirus suite, McAfee Mobile Security provides Web protection that blocks access to dangerous or risky websites. Unfortunately, the protection only extends to the default Android browser, which limits its utility if you're using Chrome for Android or a third-party browser like Opera or Dolphin. (The "default" browser doesn't come with Android 4.4 KitKat or Android 5 Lollipop, which default to Chrome instead.)
The app also provides Wi-Fi protection, which alerts you if you're connected to an unsecured wireless network.
Lastly, the Backup utility saves your text messages, call log, contacts and media on McAfee's servers. You can set the utility to run automatically, and to perform backup, restore and upload functions only when connected to a Wi-Fi network. You'll receive a notification when automatic backup is running.
McAfee's Web console sports a clean, intuitive user interface. Tabs for the anti-theft commands are displayed in a column on the left, with specific information for each tab (such as pictures taken with CaptureCam) located on the right.
On the left, there are also tabs for data that you backed up using McAfee's backup utility, such as text messages, call logs and contacts. A Settings button at the top of the screen takes you to the Settings page, from which you can view your subscription info, change your PIN or remove your device from the account.
Premium vs. Lite
The premium version of McAfee Mobile Security costs $29.99 per year or $2.99 per month for one Android device — a relatively steep price, considering that rival apps from Avast, AVG Bitdefender and Kaspersky cost $14.95 per year. McAfee offers a free version of the app that includes malware scanning, the "data exposure" utility, a call and text filter, Web protection and Wi-Fi security. The App Lock, Backup and anti-theft features are only available in the premium version.
McAfee Mobile Security is one of the most feature-rich Android anti-malware apps currently on the market. It offers a bevy of anti-theft and privacy-protection tools, each of which can be customized to your liking. Moreover, McAfee's intuitive user interface and plentiful help buttons should make the app feel approachable for even the most technophobic users.
At $29.99 per year, however, McAfee Mobile Security is twice as expensive as competing apps like Bitdefender Mobile Security and Avast Mobile Security, the latter of which provides even more features. And while McAfee's malware-detection rate is nearly perfect at 99.5 percent, both Bitdefender and Kaspersky achieved a flawless detection rate of 100 percent, and Avast came close with a 99.9 percent detection rate.
Overall, we prefer Avast Mobile Security for its top-notch malware protection, extensive feature set and affordable price. However, if you're looking for extensive call and text filters, or anti-theft protections that involve your friends and family, McAfee Mobile Security may be the app for you.