Free Android antivirus apps are common, but usually they come from obscure developers, and you might often be left wondering whether they're safe to use.
Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner is a simple free Android antivirus app with more than 50 million installs and a reassuringly high 4.5 rating on Google Play. Must be worth an install, right?
If you're the sceptical type, you might want to find out more about the developer. But as is often the case with free antivirus apps, that's surprisingly difficult. The app's Google Play page say it's NQ Security Lab, but the linked website hasn't been in active use since 2017. Earlier versions suggest this was for a company called NQ Mobile Security, but that's now become Link Motion Inc, which is mostly focused on smart car services and software. It looks like Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner was the product of a big company, at least initially, but no-one's making much effort to maintain or market it any more.
- Want to try Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner? Check out the website here
Still, as the app is available in a free ad-sponsored version, you may not care very much. Its malware-hunting effectiveness is what really matters.
If you find Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner works for you, you can upgrade to the commercial edition to remove the ads. Prices are higher than we would like, at $1.99 a month billed monthly, dropping to an effective $1 if you pay three months up-front, and $0.83 on the annual plan. That's not a lot of money, but keep in mind that Bitdefender's high-end Total Security 2019 suite costs just $44.99 to cover up to 5 devices (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) for a year, an effective $0.75 per device-month for considerably more protection.
After a speedy installation, Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner ran its first scan. This took longer than the Google Play page suggested (it mentioned a couple of seconds, our test took 20), but was still relatively speedy. It appears to check only running apps and the most likely infection points. though, and found nothing on our test system.
Once we'd reviewed the results, ads began prompting us to install other apps. An 'anti-eavesdropping' feature would protect us from snoopers, apparently. How? It forgot to explain. Another app promised to extend our battery life, while for some reason it also suggested we install another antivirus app, 'Power Security - Antivirus & Phone Cleaner.'
Ads eventually dismissed, we ran a 'deep scan', which checked files across all our storage. This picked up some simple test files, but didn't always identify them properly, for example describing a harmless EICAR-based test file as the 'Spiteful Spread' virus, which 'might send malware... via wireless channels' or 'send out... messages... embedded with malicious links.'
Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner claims to offer web protection, which should in theory stop you accessing malicious sites. We tried this with a small number of test pages, though, and found it didn't spot any of them. Although the app picks up EICAR-based files as threats in its deep scans, we also found it missed these in downloads, suggesting that they're not being fully checked.
These aren't necessarily fatal errors. We didn't test enough malicious websites to properly understand how much web protection Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner offers, and even if the answer is 'none at all', that's not the end of the story. Downloads should still be checked by the real-time engine as they're accessed, giving the app another chance to detect and block any threats.
Still, other apps and antivirus engines have done much better in previous reviews. We would expect the top desktop antivirus packages to have spotted all our test threats, and some Android apps - Lookout Security and Antivirus, for instance - have done the same.
Free antivirus apps often throw in a few additional security or privacy features to help them stand out from the crowd, but that's not the case here. There's nothing beyond its real-time and on demand malware-protection.
This simplicity does at least keep the app easy to use, though, and that has undeniable appeal. There's little swiping or scrolling here, and no complicated settings to think about: at a minimum, you can simply tap one button to scan for threats, another to remove them, and Antivirus Free - Virus
Our small-scale tests gave us a basic idea of Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner's abilities, but for an in-depth view we always look for reports from the big testing labs.
Despite its large number of installs, Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner hasn't been recently benchmarked by AV-Test, AV-Comparatives or the other major labs. The closest match we could find was a reference to NQ Mobile Security, a product from the same developer, in AV-Comparative's massive 2019 Android tests (a benchmark of 250 Android antivirus apps.)
The results were, well, poor, with NQ Mobile Security blocking only 45% of threats, putting it in 80th place. That's bad, even by the standards of a free ad-sponsored app-- Lookout Security and Antivirus can also be used for free, but it blocked 99.6% of threats, putting it in 30th place.
As this isn't the same package, we can't be sure that NQ Mobile Security's results accurately reflect what you would see from Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner. But as Antivirus Free seems to have references to the same engine, has less features than NQ Mobile Security, and also didn't perform well in our own tests, we think it's safe to say that Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner isn't going to deliver the malware protection you need.
Antivirus Free - Virus Cleaner doesn't seem to offer much virus protection, and has none of the bonus cleanup and optimization features you'll get with many Android security apps. Don't waste your time, you'll be safer with something else.
- We've also highlighted the best Android antivirus