5 free Android security apps: Keep your smartphone safe

Worried that your smartphone may be vulnerable to malware or thieves? We look at five apps that can help.

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NQ Mobile Security

NQ Mobile

Price: Free

Other versions: NQ Mobile Security Premium ($7.99/3 mos., $12.99/6 mos., $19.99/1 yr.) adds remote security features, anti-eavesdropping, financial data protection

NQ Mobile Security provides free anti-malware and browser protection, a firewall, cross-platform contact backup, and remote locating via Google Maps. It also offers a free privacy advisor that analyzes apps and their permissions, a traffic monitor that tracks data usage, and an app optimizer and manager.

NQ Mobile Security
NQ Mobile Security

SIM card change notifications are provided with the free version and can be set up to send to a specified mobile number -- say, of a friend. The premium service ($7.99 for 3 months, $12.99 for 6 months or $19.99 for 1 year) adds automatic virus updates and a remote alarm, along with remote locking and wiping. It also adds a malware scanner designed to scan banking apps, and anti-eavesdropping protection to help prevent phone tapping by any malicious apps.

Although the app installs on both phones and tablets, some features such as the remote functions won't work on tablets without SMS capability.

In addition to auto-scanning apps for malware when you download them, you can run full scans on apps manually (SD card files not included) or schedule a scan for every 7 or 15 days. Contacts can also be backed up manually (or automatically when you're connected via Wi-Fi).

The NQ icon sits on the notification bar and menu; it displays your status and data usage, and lets you quickly open the app. Once you open the app, you'll find a user-friendly and easy-to-navigate interface. The main screen displays your security status and shortcuts to each of the core features. Tapping the device's Menu key lets you access the settings, logs and other shortcuts.

The remote functions can be initiated via the Web or via SMS commands. The website lets you manage backed up contacts and view your security logs and status. It also offers a calendar feature that can sync across your devices and Google/Outlook calendar. Unfortunately, though, the site's interface isn't optimized for mobile access.

(Note: According to the website, NQ Mobile is the international brand of NetQin Mobile, and as a result, some parts of the app, help pages, etc. may carry the NetQin branding.)

Bottom line

Given that the free version of this app doesn't provide automatic virus updates or a remote alarm, locking or wiping, I would only recommend using the premium version, which comes at a recurring cost. Additionally, the premium version adds just two extra features (financial security and anti-eavesdropping) that other free apps don't usually provide.


Though there's certainly Android malware out there, your chances of becoming infected are still very low at the moment -- but they're even slimmer if you install an anti-malware app.

Incidentally, since failing batteries are the bane of many smartphone users, you might be wondering about the resource consumption of these security apps. During testing, all five of the apps consumed about the same amount of RAM on average when idle: 9.5MB to 11.5MB. And if you're concerned about how much space the app will take up, AVG had the lowest (0.71MB), followed by Avast and Lookout (both 1.81MB), Norton (3.83MB) and NQ (4.73MB).

If you're looking for a free security app, most of these have something to offer. AVG has a lot of features and an unbeatable price if you want to upgrade, but the app could use a facelift. Lookout doesn't offer as many features, but provides solid functionality and service.

NQ includes cross-platform backup support, but lacks free automatic virus updates, and while it provides free device locating, there's no alarm, which most of the others offer. Norton is the most basic free security app of the five, allowing only free remote locking in addition to its anti-malware features.

I was most impressed with Avast Mobile Security. Though it doesn't offer a Web interface or full tablet support, the free app includes some very useful features not found elsewhere, such as better uninstall protection, and is a must-have for rooted devices.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer who has become a Twitter follower to keep up with his writings. He's also the founder of NoWiresSecurity, a Wi-Fi network security firm.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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