September 04, 2013, 4:13 PM — Smartphones are a treasure trove of personal information and it doesn't take much for people who would mean you harm to get at all that sensitive data. While putting a PIN lock on your phone helps deter physical threats, you still have to keep an eye out for sneaky apps that want your private info. Lookout Security & Antivirus is a security app that helps defend your phone against all kinds of evildoers, but you'll have to pay if you want comprehensive protection.
Lookout is available for free from the Google Play Store and offers both free and premium account levels. Signing up for a free account gives you access to all the basic tools, like a virus scanner and the ability to locate your phone remotely.
If you decide to pay $3 a month, you'll get access to a privacy advisor that breaks down what information each app has access to. It's basically a simplified version of Google's permissions warning that pops up whenever you install an app, but Lookout presents the information in a way that's easier to digest. Lookout Premium also gives you a safe browsing tool that warns you if you're going to a known malicious website in your phone's browser.
Lookout's virus scanner automatically runs whenever you install a new app, and you can set it to scan your entire phone during certain times or initiate scans manually. According to data provided by AV-Test, a well-respected antivirus testing outfit, Lookout has a malware detection rate of 99%. The app compares favorably to other Android security apps and is ranked as the fourth best security app by AV-Test. In all the years I've used Lookout, I've never actually had the app alert me that it had detected malware, though--you're more likely to find a legit app that violates your privacy instead of one that carries a trojan.
A major downside to having Lookout run whenever you install an app is that it can slow down your phone--especially if you are installing multiple apps at once and aren't using a high-end phone like the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4. Having the virus scanner run in the background doesn't seem to adversely affect battery life, but if you're really worried about it you can set it so it doesn't activate each and every time you download an app.
Even if you don't decide to sign-up for Lookout Premium, the app is worth installing for its ability to remotely locate your phone. By logging into Lookout.com, you can see your phone's location on a map and even make it "scream" to make it easier to locate. The scream is helpful if you misplaced your phone at home, but it's disappointing that the two more useful options (remote lock and remote wipe) require you to have a premium account. The app can also send up a "flare" and email you its last registered location if the battery is starting to run low or the phone dies. Again, it's a helpful tool if your sofa ate your phone, but it isn't much use if some thief snatched it from your hands.
The free version of Lookout only offers basic protection, but it's a solid app that provide some piece of mind as you navigate the murky waters of the Google Play Store. Other security apps like TrustGo Mobile Security offer many of the same features that Lookout locks behind its premium service for free, making them better for individual users worried about their phone's safety. Lookout is a better choice for families, however, as you can use a single Lookout account to manage and track multiple devices at once. Just make sure to put a PIN lock on your phone if you choose against paying for a subscription.