The bottom line: Trend Micro Mobile Security for Android introduces its sharp Smart Protection browsing protection to Android users, and the parental controls are good if you've got children. But is it worth the price tag?
Trend Micro has brought its recently revamped cloud security network to Android devices, and the result is a well-designed security application with a strong set of features that anticipate explosive Android growth.
Trend Micro Mobile Security responds to a threatscape that hasn't fully materialized yet, although malware has been proven to infect the Android OS when specific settings have been tweaked. As with other Android security apps, Trend Micro has built out the app's features to include security tools that go beyond safeguarding the operating system.
Note that this review is based on using Trend Micro Mobile Security on a Motorola Cliq 2 running Android 2.2 Froyo.
The app requires registration before you can use it, although this is standard operating procedure for security apps. It installs on your phone as Mobile Security. Once registered, however, the app will ask you "activate" it every time that you fire up the interface, including immediately after registration. The terminology is confusing, since the app runs fine for 30 days without "activation."
Unlike some of the other big names that have jumped into the Android security pool, Mobile Security does not have a free version with a paid upgrade. Instead, like Trend Micro's Windows desktop software, the app comes with a full 30-day trial, after which you must pay $3.99 for a one-year license.
Mobile Security version 1.2 takes up 1.68MB on your phone and has permission rights to your personal information, services that cost you money, messages, network communication, storage, phone calls, hardware controls, and system tools.
Mobile Security's interface is well-organized and presents the broad range of tools in a clean, bright format that stands out on Android. The white text in the foreground pops against the subdued maroon background, at least on the Cliq 2's LCD screen.
The first screen you'll see in the app is a security summary, including your most-recent scans and updates, and a brief summary of settings for key features. An Enter button at the bottom will take you to the main landing screen, which shows six icons used to access the app's features, and tapping each icon reveals tools associated with each feature. The feature-specific panels are divided up by tabs, with arrows above them to facilitate top-level navigation. Swiping left and right would be a more intuitive way to navigate, but that's not available. Your phone's dedicated hardware back button is the only way to jump all the way back to the landing screen.
It's a little bit odd in the mobile world to have two separate screens for access to the features and their global summaries. It would work better, and cut out an extra tap, if they were all on the same page.
It's interesting to note that Trend Micro has chosen not to include a status bar icon. Other security apps generally do because it makes it easy to tell if the app is running, and it makes the app easier to access.
Features and support
Trend Micro's approach to phone security involves four components. The Anti Malware feature specifically addresses app security, checking your apps to ensure that they're not malicious. There's a toggle to enable real-time scans when you install new apps, which is on by default, or you can manually run a scan of all installed apps. Likewise, Mobile Security supports automatic pattern file version updates, which can be toggled, and updates can be set to run every 1, 2, 4, 15, or 30 days.
Since malicious apps are barely a blip on the radar for most Android users, Trend Micro has included other features. The Web Security tool applies Trend Micro's Smart Protection Network to the default Android browser. The part of Smart Protection that's relevant here is that it uses reputation to evaluate Web sites for safety, and will warn users when attempting to resolve URLs at sites known to host or distribute malware.
In the Mobile Security app, Smart Protection offers three levels of security, or can be turned off entirely. Its default is on, which we like because it puts the device immediately in a more secure state. You can always deactivate features at will.
The second tab under Web Security introduces some parental controls to the device that go beyond the brute-force security technique of yanking the phone out of a child's hands. To activate them, though, you'll have to go back to the main screen, choose Secure Password, and enter a secondary password to prevent child protection settings from being altered without permission. The extra step is tedious and could easily be avoided. However, once you've created your password and password hint, the hint appears in gray in the text box for entering the password, a clever, always-on yet unobtrusive use of the old hint concept.
The parental controls offer three settings. Low blocks only violent, pornographic, and malicious sites. Normal prevents those plus Web sites that Trend Micro has determined are unsuitable for teenagers and children, and High includes all of the above plus sites inappropriate for children under age 13.
The next tab is for Approved Lists, a whitelisting feature with two components, one for Web Reputation--that's the Smart Protection network--and one for Parental Controls. With the parental controls active, you'll get a list of recommended sites when you jump into the Parental Controls list.
Mobile Security also adds some fairly hefty Call and Message Filtering features to your phone. Both call and message filtering can be set to use a blocked list, use an approved list, or be turned off entirely. You're also given several options for when a blocked number dials or texts in. You can set the phone's response to reject the call or message, silence the phone, or reject the call or message and automatically send a message in response.
The filter provides what it calls "annoying call protection," which it defines as a call received from an unknown number that hangs up within 3 seconds. Unfortunately, it does not block telemarketers, debt collectors, or in-laws.
One nice extra in the app is the detailed log screens, which make it easy to see the app's behavior. Locally stored help is also available via the hardware Menu button in all of Mobile Security's screens.
As noted earlier, Mobile Security's performance is hard to gauge on a purely antivirus-based scale because there just aren't that many threats out there, although they do exist. What we did look at is how the phone start-up times are affected by the app.
When looking at "cold booting" the phone, in which the phone is completely shut off, started, and then timed until the 3G connection has been established, the Cliq 2 we tested without the app averaged 52.27 seconds to boot over three attempts. With Mobile Security installed, the phone averaged 54.15 seconds to boot over three attempts. The less-than-2-second impact on start-up time is not large, and in terms of the hard-to-quantify "feel," the phone boot-up felt no slower with Mobile Security installed versus without it.
Overall, Mobile Security appears to not have a major effect on the phone's performance.
The parental controls are a useful feature for people with children, although we did miss two of better phone-centered features from competitor Lookout that have broad appeal: the missing-phone locator and the app permissions analyzer. The $4 price is also a bit steep for a security app with free competitors. That being said, Trend Micro Mobile Security should provide Android users with some peace of mind when it comes to app security and Web browsing in the default browser.