AVG Protection Free (2016)

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The newest big thing in security is the cross-platform multi-device security suite. Instead of seeking out different products for your Windows, Mac, and mobile devices, you use the same multi-device subscription on all of them, and you can manage them from a central console. Some offer a specific number of licenses, others aren't limited. AVG Protection Free (2016) has the distinction of offering multi-device protection at no cost. However, that great price point can't outweigh the fact that the security protection it offers doesn't measure up to that of the top products in this field.

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AVG Protection Free helps you manage installations of AVG's free antivirus products for Windows, Mac OS, and Android (sorry, no iOS support). You can choose a 30-day trial of the non-free AVG Protection (2016). If you do so and then decide you want to keep the Pro features, you'll pay $59.99 per year for unlimited devices. McAfee LiveSafe (2016) lists for $89.99 per year, for unlimited devices, but it adds support for iOS and Blackberry, and its Mac support is a full suite, not just antivirus like AVG. For that same $89.99 you could also choose a 10-license subscription for Symantec Norton Security Deluxe, with 25GB of hosted online backup as a bonus. None of the competing services offer a free edition, though.

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Very Zen
As with the paid edition, installation of AVG Protection Free starts with AVG Zen, the management tool. You also need to create an online management account. This account is what links all your devices through Zen.

Like most of AVG's products, Zen uses color-coded circles to report your security status in various areas. Four panels represent Protection, Performance, Safe Surf, and Web Tuneup. A complete circle means you've got all available protection in the specified area; a partial circle means there's more you could add. When the circle is green, all's well with the world. If it's yellow or red, the specified component needs attention.

I installed AVG Protection on a Windows 8.1 test system, opting to go straight to the free edition rather than start a 30-day trial of the paid version. As soon as Zen was installed, it started a background installation of the free antivirus. Once that installation completed, I got a three-quarter green circle in the Protection panel. Completing that circle would require upgrading to the paid edition, so I left it alone.

Clicking the Web TuneUp panel smoothly installed that feature on my browsers, giving me a complete green circle in that panel. Web TuneUp warns when you're about to visit an iffy or dangerous site, actively prevents tracking of your Web surfing habits, and lets you clear your browser history with one click.

Safe Surf, AVG's VPN, is an extra cost, so that panel stayed blank. As for the Performance panel, clicking that one installed AVG PC TuneUp. Note, though, that this is a one-day free trial, so don't start it until you have some free time to exercise this tool's powerful performance enhancement features.

Extending protection to additional devices is a snap. You click a button to start the process, choose Windows, Mac OS, or Android, and send an email to an account used on the device in question. The email contains a link to download the appropriate app. Install Zen, install the antivirus, and link the installation to your account by logging in. That's it. The new device shows up in Zen's lineup across the top. You can check the status of any device by clicking it, and you can even remotely launch a scan or an update.

Protection for Windows
On your Windows devices, AVG Protection installs AVG AntiVirus Free (2016). Do please read that review for full details on the antivirus. I will summarize my findings here.

All five of the antivirus testing labs I follow include AVG in their evaluations. My aggregate lab test score calculation for AVG gives it 8.4 of 10 possible points. Kaspersky holds the best aggregate score, 9.7 points.

In my own hands-on testing, AVG earned 8.8 of 10 possible points, which is good, but not at the top. Top score among products tested with the same samples goes to Bitdefender Total Security 2016, with 9.3 points. Tested against a newer sample set, Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete (2016) managed a perfect 10.

In my malicious URL blocking test, AVG blocked 73 percent of the samples. Symantec Norton Security Premium blocked 91 percent of the malware downloads, and Avira Antivirus Pro 2016 fended off 99 percent. In my antiphishing test, AVG lagged 28 percentage points behind Norton.

This product's antivirus protection isn't quite as good as the very best commercial antivirus tools, but it's impressive for a free antivirus. AVG AntiVirus Free is an Editors' Choice for free antivirus, sharing that honor with Avast Free Antivirus 2016 and Panda Free Antivirus (2016).

Protection for Android
To get a feel for AVG's Android protection, I sent a link to a Nexus 9 that I use for testing. The user interface has changed since we reviewed AVG AntiVirus Security (for Android); no more color-coded circles! But the feature set remains effectively the same; refer to that review for additional details. Zen on the tablet retains those familiar circles, and works just as it does on Windows.

For a complete installation, you need enable Anti-Theft and make AVG a Device Administrator. You'll probably also want to click the link that installs the free AVG Cleaner for Android. As with AVG Protection itself, you can opt to get a 30-day trial of the paid edition. I chose not to do so, and therefore found myself viewing banner ads across the bottom of the app's display.

AVG scans your apps for malware and can optionally scan external storage. It also finds and flags problems with security settings, offering instructions for correcting configuration errors. The Safe Web Surfing feature steers your browser away from malicious and fraudulent URLs.

Performance features include a task killer, to save battery life by ending unnecessary tasks, as well as a battery power tracker with an option to automatically turn off power-hungry features when battery power gets low. AVG can also track your storage usage and monitor use of your data plan by apps.

There's probably a better chance your Android device will be lost or stolen than that it will suffer a malware attack. AVG offers a full-scale anti-theft component. You can use coded text messages or the online console to remotely locate, lock, or wipe the device, or trigger a noise to help you find a mislaid tablet. That's it for the free edition. The for-pay edition adds Camera Trap, which snap a thief's photo, and can also lock the device if a thief removes the SIM card. It can protect private data and user-specified apps with a PIN code. And it can back up your apps to an SD card.

The free app installed by AVG Protection Free includes antivirus and anti-theft, the pillars of an Android security product, but lacks a number of useful features from the paid app. Our Editors' Choice products for Android antivirus are Norton Security and Antivirus (for Android) and Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus (for Android). Like AVG, both of these offer a free edition with only the most necessary features.

Mac Protection
AVG AntiVirus (for Mac) is a free product. You could download and install it without any connection to AVG Protection, but then you'd miss out on the remote-control power of AVG Zen.

This free, simple product offers protection against viruses and other types of malware. It scans on demand and in real time. To make sure your other devices don't get infected by way of the Mac, it looks for PC and Android malware as well. And of course you'll find the user interface familiar. Keep those circles green!

Norton gives Mac users rather more in the way of features. It includes a firewall, a vulnerability scanner, and password protection for files, among other things. McAfee LiveSafe is somewhere between, with antivirus, firewall, Web reputation reporting, and password management.

Free Isn't Enough
I rated the paid AVG Protection three stars, meaning it's good, but not outstanding. For Windows devices, the paid edition installs AVG Internet Security, which doesn't rate as highly as the free antivirus because other components don't measure up. Android protection in the paid edition is good, but Macs just get a simple always-free antivirus. With AVG Protection Free, the Android app loses Pro-only features and PCs just get a free antivirus—a good one—rather than a full security suite. It's great that this product is free, and you still get the helpful remote management of AVG Zen, but competing (paid) cross-platform suites offer so much more. In this instance, you really do get what you pay for.

Symantec Norton Security Deluxe excels in just about every area and comes with 25GB of hosted online storage. It protects PCs and Macs with a full security suite, and its Android version is an Editors' Choice. Where Symantec lets you protect 10 devices, McAfee LiveSafe puts no limit on the number of Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS, and Blackberry devices you can connect. These two are our Editors' Choice cross-platform multi-device security suites.

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