Lookout has been a stalwart companion in the Android security space, providing protection from malware and anti-theft features all while keeping a down-to-Earth outlook on security. A sleek design, smart features, and good malware support mean it has all the pieces of a winning Android security app. However, some wrinkles in how those pieces work mean it will take a back seat to Bitdefender, our current Editors’ Choice for Mobile Security.
Free or Premium?
Lookout comes in free or Premium flavors. The free, ad-supported subscription gives you anti-malware protection, backup of contacts, and remote locate and scream. If you simply don’t want to pay for security, Lookout’s free version provides sufficient protection against current mobile malware threats.
For $2.99/month, or $29.99 annually, Lookout Premium adds four more features: 2GB of cloud storage to backup your photos and call history, a Safe Browser that blocks malicious links it detects in the stock browser, a privacy advisor for your apps, and remote lock and wipe. If you really can’t find your device, whether it was lost or stolen, the Premium remote wipe and lock features are far more important to have than remote locate and scream.
Your start screen now displays a dashboard with a live activity feed, and shortcuts to features underneath. The activity feed tells you things like when Lookout last scanned your device for malware, or whether that last app you downloaded was safe. I prefer this to what other antivirus products do, which is to send you constant push notifications every time it does something on your device. Lookout’s approach makes it clear that the app is working behind the scenes to keep your device safe.
Lookout also revamped its Web portal (www.lookout.com) from which you can manage all your remote controls, namely remote wipe/lock, backup/restore, remote locate/scream. Aesthetically the website looks the same, but now it’s powered by HTML5 and therefore feels a lot faster. It isn’t a revolutionary change that affects the app at all, but it does enhance the overall user experience a bit.
Recover a Lost or Stolen Device
These days every major Android security suite offers the same basket of recovery options, typically executed through a Web-based admin portal or text message-based command. Like Kaspersky Mobile Security ($14.95/year, $24.95/2 years), Bitdefender Mobile Security ($9.99/year), and Trend Micro Mobile Security ($29.99/year), Lookout lets you remotely lock, wipe, scream, or geolocate your device. Like TrustGo, Lookout allows you to remotely de-activate some of its security features as well.
One thing Lookout does not do is alert you when the SIM card has been removed—a glaring omission since this is usually the first thing a thief does. Also problematic is that Lookout’s lockscreen can be circumvented, with a little effort. On the Samsung Galaxy S III , it’s possible to access the task manager, view the homescreen, and access the Wi-Fi controls and messages in the notification center. It is not possible to deactivate Lookout, but it may be possible to activate apps from the homescreen. With access to GPS, WiFi, and mobile data controls, an attacker could prevent further security options from being activated on a device secured with Lookout.
Lookout is by no means alone with these issues. TrustGo and Trend Micro both allow you to access things you shouldn’t when locked, though the latter does a better job of resisting. Interestingly, the problem does not occur on the Nexus 7 running Lookout, suggesting that it’s dependent on the device you’re using.
Of course, if you secure your Android with a device passcode—and you should—this isn’t an issue. But for people who rely on security apps to keep their device entirely secure, Lookout’s implementation could be a real problem.
Lookout also backs up contact data on your phone, which you can restore on a new device. Premium users get a generous 2 GB to backup call history and photos. If you want a more comprehensive backup app, MyBackup (Free) backs up your apps, app settings, photos, contacts, browser bookmarks, music playlists, text and MMS messages, and system settings.
A basic requirement for executing any remote locate command mentioned above is that the device has to be turned on. If your battery’s dead, well, you’re out of luck.
Lookout has a novel feature that increases the chance of finding your device—Signal Flare. This automatically records your phone’s location right before its battery dies out. It’s not foolproof. For instance if your phone’s been stolen, chances are it’s not in the same place it was right before it ran out of juice. Or if the phone wasn’t connected, then the feature doesn’t work at all. Make sure you opt-in.
Solid Anti-Malware Detection
For now, PCMag relies on third-party testing agencies to rate malware detection on Android. Lookout has consistently performed extremely well in these tests, scoring 100 percent detection in AV-Test’s most recent report.
Lookout’s Safe Browsing feature blocks malicious links in your stock Android browser. This isn’t unusual, but TrustGo supports the default browser, Chrome, and Dolphin. Currently, we aren’t seeing many attackers go through the mobile Web to exploit devices, and other browsers like Google Chrome have security features built-in.
You can see why security applications aren’t the popular kids in school. We expect them to interfere with our device’s processing speeds and battery life, making them among the first to go when it’s time to clean out our app library. You won’t feel that need with Lookout, which is extremely lightweight.
On a cold boot up—I powered off the phone and timed how long it took to reboot, averaging three tests—the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with Android 4.1.1 took 40 seconds to restart with Lookout and 37 seconds without. Impressive. Lookout also claims that running its app for one day only consumes as much juice as a 30-second phone call.
Is Lookout Right For You?
Mobile security is an incredibly competitive space, but Lookout impresses me with each new release version. In the last year I’ve watched other vendors quickly copy features Lookout comes out with first, and I’m willing to bet that the new Signal Flare feature will be one of those.
Lookout brings a lot to the table with a pricing plan that scales to just about any pocketbook. The app and accompanying web interface are expertly designed, giving you the information you need when you need it. Lookout’s only drawback is how it works when locked remotely. Whatever they’re doing for the Nexus 7 seems to work great, and I’d like to see it pushed out to the other devices.
Both Bitdefender and Lookout have top-rated anti-malware, and both have strong suites of anti-theft tools. However, Bitdefender’s secure lockscreen and SMS commands give it an edge over the competition. That’s why it’s taking PCMag’s Editors’ Choice over Lookout for Android mobile security apps.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc