21
Feb
unnamed
Last Updated: February 23rd, 2012

I'll admit it, I'm anal about CPU and RAM usage. I'm the kind of person that goes into MSConfig every 6 months to scrape useless startup processes like barnacles off the hull of a ship to keep boot times down and squeeze every last possible increment of free RAM and CPU that I can (insert "Then you should use Linux" joke here) out of my system. If you're like me, then you probably avoid heavy, suite-ized security solutions like the bubonic plague crossed with bird flu. There's nothing worse than turning on a new Windows laptop and discovering Norton is installed. I get chills just thinking about it.

As a result, I'm also pretty protective and watchful about what I let run on my Android device. I won't even use live wallpapers because the FPS drop annoys me. Security apps are something I tend to avoid using as well, because experience tells me that I can expect a resource hog, and a far more noticeable performance impact given the limited computing power of a smartphone or tablet compared to a PC.

But Bitdefender Mobile Security has, in theory, won me over with their approach to an Android security and antitheft app. It's simple, easy, and (most importantly) lightweight. It has the basic features I want, and makes using them straightforward and (relatively) hassle-free.

It's All About The Flow: Initial Setup And Scanning Features

Setting up a security app can be a bit of an annoyance on a mobile device. Creating an account, password, a PIN, arranging default settings. Bitdefender gives you the option to avoid a lot of this by using your Google account to authenticate instead of a BD account. Now, if you already have a BD account, you can use this as well. But if you don't, signing in through Google automatically is one less step to go through. This also means your Google account can be used to log in to Bitdefender's web dashboard at my.bitdefender.com - no additional password or account names to remember, or rather, forget.

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Next step, definition file update, right? WRONG! Actually, Bitdefender checks scan results against definitions in the cloud on BD's servers, meaning you'll never have to update your virus definitions. If BD's main database is up to date, so are you. The cloud scanning engine is also a pretty advanced technology in its own right - Bitdefender couldn't talk to us about how it works specifically for reasons of confidentiality, but the speed of the scanning process for something checking against a remote server is very impressive.

Using Bitdefender's Malware Scanner feature is pretty simple - you run it once on install, and then thereafter whenever you choose. It scans automatically when a new app is installed or when some files are saved to the SD card, and that's it. Bitdefender claims they've designed Mobile Security to be as low impact as humanly possible on battery life, and that's certainly a philosophy I can get behind.

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One complaint I have is that SD scanning is enabled by default, and unfortunately will initiate a scan whenever some apps like Screenshot ER save a file to the SD card and provide a notification upon the start and completion of the scan. This seems a bit wasteful - opening and closing a connection as well as initiating the scan for each file, so I have this option turned off. It did not seem like BD engaged in this behavior when I was using the default camera app, though, so perhaps it only occurs with "untrusted" applications.

Additionally, the system lets you know (and leaves a notification to clear) whenever it scans a newly installed application. This might be a nuisance for some, particularly because there's no option to turn this feature off.

Antitheft

What about the antitheft features? Surely that's going to require a few more steps to set up. Yes, it does, actually, and I find it a bit odd that an antitheft setup wizard wasn't part of the first run procedures. By default, the antitheft is set up only to allow remote geolocation, but not remote wiping or locking. While the Anti-Theft menu makes enabling these features very simple, in my mind antitheft is feature #1 of any Android security app, and is going to be the thing most users are interested in actually utilizing.

 WUI

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As you can see, the Anti-Theft features are basic, but give you the three big tools you need: locate, lock, and wipe. There's also a messaging feature, so you can taunt your phone's captor, or provide a good Samaritan return instructions. I did notice that in order to actually get these features to work, I had to reboot my phone after they had been enabled (your results may vary). Once I did that, though, everything seemed to run smoothly.

The web UI isn't the prettiest thing I've ever seen, but it gets the job done (if slowly, sometimes), and if you have other BD products or backup services, this dashboard provides central access to all of them. Admittedly, Bitdefender's antitheft feature-set is lacking at this point (eg, the ability to fall back on SMS commands), so I'm hoping to see them expand on it in the future.

Another feature the app lacks is any kind of removal protection. It doesn't in any way obfuscate the app or make removing it at all difficult. I'm generally of the opinion that the average thief probably isn't clever enough to try to uninstall an antitheft app in the first place, but it seems prudent that it be at least a little bit of a nuisance to remove.

Other Features

Lastly, Bitdefender contains a couple of other odds and ends, in the form of Web Security and Application Audit. Web Security is just what it says it is - it protects you while you browse (as long as you're using the stock Android browser) against phishing attacks and sites hosting potential malware. Web Security, like the Malware Scanner, checks itself against a database in the cloud, avoiding the need for updates.

Application Audit is a tool that displays the permissions required of all downloaded apps installed on your device (eg, non-system apps) in a more digestible format than simple permission names. You'll see one of three icons - internet permissions, account or contact info permissions, and phone call or SMS/MMS permissions. You can also filter the list based on these three items, which is handy, I suppose.

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Concluding Remarks

Your last question is undoubtedly, "OK, so how much?" For everything? $9.99. Per year. Compared to similar premium solutions like those from Lookout or Norton, this isn't a bad deal. And there's a free edition, as well. But, if you opt for that version, you lose out on most of the antitheft features (except Geolocation) as well as the web browsing protection. However, you can try out the premium version for two full weeks before you have to upgrade. The real question is: are those few extra features worth $10 to you?

Bitdefender is also happy to let you know that you're running on the trial version of the app with notifications, which I think is a bit tacky. Just let people know at install they're getting a 14 day trial, and put a countdown timer somewhere in the app's homescreen - unsolicited notifications are annoying for everyone.

Overall, though, Bitdefender Mobile Security is a great lightweight security solution for your Android device. It's pretty no-frills, but I kind of like that, as opposed to wading through a sea of options and submenus. It stays out of the way (except for those upgrade notifications), doesn't require extensive setup, and does what you expect of a security app without the gimmicks or the bloat. It gets the job done, and it doesn't make me feel like I've sacrificed performance or battery life in order to protect my device. You can't ask for much more than that.

But it all comes back to money - if you're going to pay for a mobile security solution, you're probably going to pick one and stick it out for the term of the subscription. So, you'll have to ask yourself if Bitdefender gives you everything you need in order to justify parting with those ten dollars. And I think the answer to that question really depends on who you are.

For those who want a "set and forget" solution, Bitdefender Mobile Security may strike the perfect balance of key features, ease of use, and non-intrusiveness. For those who like to tweak, customize, and prepare their device for every possible security contingency, it will likely fall short. So, while it may not be the best choice for everyone, it is definitely a legitimate and worthwhile contender in the growing mobile security market, and it's certainly worth checking out.

Full Disclosure: This review comes to you thanks to Bitdefender Antivirus, which is very generously sponsoring Android Police's attendance of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, so that we can bring you original content and up-to-the-minute news from the show. This in no way influences the content of our review, but we're providing this information to you, our readers, in the interest of transparency.

Bitdefender Mobile Security is available in the Android Market now.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • kos

    Too bad there is no way to ignore threats - for example it marks DroidSheep as threat (which I installed on purpose).

  • sriracha

    it seems to be missing a key feature: firewalls for calls/sms and apps. other than that, i really wish my security suite had a web UI, ugly or otherwise. like all other android apps, there is always one thing missing from each. BD still doesn't have the ability to draw me from avast.

    thanks for reviewing another viable option.

  • R Edwards

    Am I being really stupid? If your phone is stolen, whats to stop the thief getting into the app to disable the anti-theft features? It seems you can just open the app and turn them off?

    • Joshua

      Yeah, this is mentioned:

      >Another feature the app lacks is any kind of removal protection. It doesn't in any way obfuscate the app or make removing it at all difficult. I'm generally of the opinion that the average thief probably isn't clever enough to try to uninstall an antitheft app in the first place, but it seems prudent that it be at least a little bit of a nuisance to remove.

      I use Cerberus, and although it isn't a full AV suite (which I feel I don't need), it hides itself from the app drawer, it is set as a device admin, and it can (optionally, with root) be installed as a system application and be protected from factory wipes. Far more extensive theft coverage.

  • Luly

    I use Avast! It comes with firewall and hides its anti theft app from app drawer and if you are rooted, you can make it hard reset proof too.

    All that for free.