Tablets and phones are meant to be personal devices but they rarely stay that way. They get handed around to show off photos, to watch videos, or to play games. With AppLock (free), you can take a little of stress out of parting with your Android by keeping certain apps locked up and others freely accessible. It should be a slam dunk, but this app is held up by some odd quirks.
Using AppLock is pretty straightforward. The main page is a list of all the apps on your device which can be locked with a toggle slider to the right. AppLock also lets you lock out certain actions like calls, installing or uninstalling apps, access to settings, and accessing the Google Play store. Buttons at the bottom let you search your apps or toggle everything on or off.
From the hidden right tray, you can access the Unlock Settings menu to change your PIN or switch to a pattern lock. I found the pattern lock to be much faster and easier when using my Nexus 7 .
When you attempt to perform a locked action or access a locked app, a screen appears prompting you to login. The screen doesn’t fully lock your device—you can easily navigate back to the homescreen or access the navigation tray—but it does effectively keep people out of your apps.
You can adjust which apps you want locked on the fly, or create a profile to quickly secure your device. Supporting profiles is nice a feature, especially if you have kids who want to play on your device. When they want a shot at Color Sheep, just flip the profile that locks them out of everything but a few games.
The app provides basic functionality for free, which includes locking apps and one profile. For 99 cents a month or $2.99 a year, you can unlock deeper features like time locks, a randomized keyboard, location-based locks, and other options. Unfortunately, I was unable to successfully purchase a premium upgrade on either my tablet or the Samsung Galaxy S III I also used in testing, so those features will have to remain untested, for now.
My main complaint with AppLock wasn’t that it didn’t perform as advertised—in fact, it did pretty well—but that it wasn’t clear about what it was doing. During set up, the app prompted me to upgrade for “advanced protection” without any explanation as to what that involved. It turned out that this simply added email recovery for my PIN, which is a worthy feature, but to get it I had to let the app download and install an extra module and grant both the module and the app Device Admin access.
Throughout this process, the app displayed several dialog windows which should have explained what exactly was going on, but were left troublingly blank.
Creating a good impression during setup is essential, particularly for a security app and especially for an app that wants administrator access. Security is all about trust, and AppLock still hasn’t quite made me trust it. It’s not just the weird start-up procedures, or the vague—frequently awkward—language used in the app, or the fact that I was unable to purchase an upgrade and unlock the premium features, it’s all of those things taken together.
I don’t think there’s anything malicious about AppLock; it passed muster on three different security apps and both Bitdefender’s Clueful Privacy Advisor and Lookout Mobile Security indicate that it’s not connected to ad networks. But the fact that I felt compelled to check gives me pause.
Out of the box, AppLock solves a very common problem: how to share your device without making it totally public. It’s a useful tool for people with grabby roommates, or kids who love to play with your Android. It can also add a second layer of protection behind your device passcode, to keep your most important apps secured.
I often say that Android apps lack polish, but this one especially needs work before it can gain my trust. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but I’m on the lookout for a slicker, more transparent app that won’t make me second-guess myself.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc