There has been a lot of noise in the past about malware threats on the Android OS. A recent study by F-Secure shows that 79% of all smartphone malware is written for Android. Of course, this is mostly because Android is the largest mobile OS, and therefore the most worthwhile target for nefarious hackers, and because of its open-source design and the number of partners Google works with.
Whether you need anti-virus on your phone, or not, really comes down to how you use it. Do you save and download attachments in emails and SMS messages from unknown senders? Do you side-load applications from websites, or do you only install them from the Google Play store?
Trend Micro is one of well-known names in PC security software now lending its expertise to mobile computing. Mobile Security & Antivirus (MSA) isn't a particularly inspiring product name, but it definitely sums up what you can expect from the download.
Generously, Trend gives most of the important functionality in this package away for free. Without paying a cent, you get a virus scanner, a privacy scanner for Facebook (via an extra app download) and 50MB of online storage to save back up files.
An annual fee of AU$29.95 adds a few other strings to your anti-virus bow. Remote wipe and lock functionality is probably the most important of these, with the ability to find your phone using Google Maps via Trend Micro's website.
It also has a Scream button on the site, which sounds an alarm from the phone. This could be handy if the phone is stolen, but will more often be used when the phone is lodged between the cushions of the sofa.
The subscription also buys web browser virus scanning, design to scan the pages you read for threats to your phone. There is also a parental control feature which, among the obvious protections, recommended we delete bookmarks to site like Flickr, Gmail and a number of our favourite tech and gaming blogs.
Does it work?
For a tech reviewer, testing anti-virus software is like testing home and contents insurance. You can either install it and wait to be attacked, or you can burn your house down and see what happens. With time a factor, we went with the latter option and installed a bunch of known Android malware on the first Android phone we put our hands on.
Happily, our tests were a success. Trend's MSA detected the malware in the APK files (Android installation files) without us having to execute the files and infect the phone.
This is the way the software operates in unison with the Play store too. When you choose a new app to install, MSA will check the file before it installs and gives you a notification that it is all clear, or otherwise.
You can also manually run a scan of the files on your phone, and the app will search for known baddies and for apps you've installed that might pose a privacy risk. Annoyingly, you can't tell the app that you are happy to continue using these apps after a privacy risk notice, and for it to not continue to remind you to uninstall them. Instead you get the same pop-up messages after each system scan.
A key anti-virus feature missing from this package is a schedule for automatic scanning. You can't suggest a weekly once-over of the files on your system, but instead have to open the app and manually begin a scan. We're guessing this might be a power-saving concern, but still it'd be nice to have the option.
The app's design is clean and easy to navigate. It doesn't follow Google's Holo design language, but it works well on an Android phone all the same.
Our main beef with the app is the lack of customisation on offer. The settings menu is dedicated almost exclusively to registration details, and there is no way to change simple things, like whether you want a constant notification reminder that you have the app installed, or when you want the app to tell you that it has performed a check.
If we had our way, the Trend MSA app would disappear from view. The only notifcations we want are the ones that tell us that something is wrong and how we can fix this. The Android notifications panel can get pretty cluttered without Trend Micro giving itself the top position in this space.
Importantly, it does what it says it does. We attempted to infect our phone with malware and the anti-virus app detected the threat. Bravo, Trend Micro.
We have to wonder why you would pay AU$29.95 a year for an upgrade from the free version, when the most important features are available without a subscription. To draw on a crass comparison, why would you buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?
The 'find my phone' feature is nice, and for some people it will be well worth the money, but it is essentially an insurance policy and not a must-have smartphone feature.
Ultimately, this decision is yours to make based on how you use your phone. If you're someone who regularly strolls along the shadier side of the internet, this package could be for you.