16 smartphone AV products that get a thumbs up

Reports showing double-digit growth in the number of Android malware are easy to find. Unbiased research explaining options for protecting personal data is harder to come by. Security software tester AV-Comparatives is tackling the latter with an extensive review of 16 anti-virus products for Android smartphones.

Nothing is perfect

If you are looking for perfection in an AV product, then you should stop here. AV-Comparatives says no such software exists. However, some security apps are better than others, and the reviewer tries to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Nearly all the products tested had theft-protection features. One of the most important is the lock that prevents someone from opening the phone without the password. Others include remote wiping of data and the ability to get the phone's location after it is lost or stolen. In the case of the latter, it's best to let the police hunt down the thief.

Like their PC cousins, anti-virus on smartphones scan for malicious apps and can quarantine or delete them. Of course, malware signatures must be up to date for maximum effectiveness, so people traveling in other countries should be careful not to get suckered into paying roaming costs.

AV-Comparatives chose Android for testing because of its nearly 75% market share. The nonprofit tested 16 products in July using a Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini running Android 4.1.2.

Surprisingly, security software is less of a battery hog than people may think. The tests showed that the effect of security software on battery life can be "more or less ignored," if several precautions are taken.

If you decide to buy a product, than be sure it is configurable. You want to save backups, updates and malware scans for when the device is being charged.

A-OK AV products

The testing company gave its Approved Award to all the products it tested. Here are 12 of them and what AV-Comparatives believes are their standout features. I left out the four products only available in Chinese, Baidu, Kingsoft, Qihoo 360 and Tencent:

avcomparativeslab.jpg

AV-Comparatives Labs

Is AV needed?

So how great is the risk of infection on an Android smartphone? The answer depends on a number of factors.

If you live in a Western country and only use the official Android app store, such as Google Play, then the risk is low. This is particularly true if you do not root your phone. Rooting is the process of removing all limitations for accessing the operating system, enabling advanced users to do whatever they want with their phones.

If you live in an Asian country, particularly China, then the risk of infection is much higher. That's because people in those countries use rooted phones more often and visit many unofficial app stores. In addition, they often use their phones for online banking, making them a profitable target for successful crooks.

Nevertheless, low risk doesn't mean no risk and the evolution of mobile malware is moving quickly. So having a highly rated AV suite is a wise precaution.

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