Prey (for Android) review

Prey brings basic anti-theft tools to your Android (and just about any other device) for free, but is hampered by its awkward interface.
Photo of Prey (for Android)
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Theft and loss are the biggest threats to your Android device and all the precious data contained on it. But for as many sticky-fingered thieves as there are, there are almost as many apps to help keep your phone secure no matter who might be holding it. Prey (free) is one such app, and while its price is unbeatable, it lacks important features and is awkward to use.

The biggest selling point of Prey is that you can secure any device—your laptop, your iPhone, your Android tablet, whatever—with different security features for each platform. Prey offers free accounts limited to three devices with fewer features, but that should be enough to cover just about anything the average Android user requires. Pro accounts start at $5 per month for three devices, which doesn’t seem like a great value. For $15 a month you get enhanced Pro features and support for up to 10 devices, and so on up to $399 a month for 500 devices.

Prey Project
You control the anti-theft features of Prey primarily through the Prey Project website, at which you can track your phone’s location, capture its IP address, activate its camera, sound an alarm, message the device, and lock the device. Prey will not let you remotely wipe your Android, however, which means that your precious data is stuck in the hands of a thief.

While these are all standard features for anti-theft applications, Prey takes a very different approach to securing your device. Instead of having individual actions like locking your phone or tracking it, Prey lets you select from a menu of actions and then carries out those actions all at once.

Prey is controlled from a website, which shows two columns of options, one labeled “Information to gather” and “Actions to perform.” Capturing an IP address is under Information, and remote lock is under Actions, for instance. You choose what you want to happen, and then press Save changes. A toggle at the top of the screen indicates whether your device is OK or MISSING. Once activated—either by SMS or clicking MISSING—it immediately performs whatever actions you have designated.

If this sounds confusing that’s because it is. The approach is very different from that of other security apps, which generally have you activate features one at a time. One thing the website has going for it, however, are the great question mark buttons which provide clear explanations.

Prey’s approach is advantageous, however, in that since you can do several things at once, making use of the precious time before a thief has a chance to switch out your SIM card or prevent you from communicating with your lost device. But it does mean that if you just want to sound the alarm to find a lost phone, you have to login, change your settings, switch to Missing, press Run Prey, and then change all your settings back once you find your phone.

In future versions, I’d like Prey to enable multiple profiles for different scenarios. One profile could just sound your phone’s alarm for when you’ve lost it in a messy room, and another could activate all the features for when your phone’s been stolen.

Anti-Theft Tools
Prey presents much of the information it gathers from your phone in Reports, which are collected at intervals you define and stored on the Prey Web portal. Depending on your settings, these can include Google Maps (and link to Google Maps) showing your device’s location, the IP address assigned to your device, and an image from the device’s front-facing camera.

Most anti-theft and security apps only capture images when someone is attempting to enter a passcode into the device, but Prey simply photographs whatever happens to be in front of the device at the time. In my testing this meant a lot of pictures of the ceiling.

Messages are delivered to the device, but are easily dismissable. Locking the device, I’m happy to report, uses the Android lockscreen and as such is very secure. I was also pleased to note that the alarm uses a rendition of a police siren and is piercingly loud even through headphones.

Prey also lets you activate or deactivate the anti-theft tools you define via an SMS command. This makes good use of Prey’s all-at-once approach, giving you more control without an Internet connection, or a computer. It pales in comparison to Editors’ Choice award winners avast! Mobile Security & Antivirus and Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus extensive SMS commands, however.

If you have an Android phone, you can also nominate a trusted person, which Prey calls a “Hero,” to receive an SMS warning when the SIM card is removed from your phone.  In my testing, I replaced the SIM card in my Samsung Galaxy S III and a warning message arrived on my iPhone within seconds. A feature unique to Prey is a camouflage mode for your device, which replaces the Prey login screen with what appears to be a game login, the idea being that a would-be thief who nabs your device will simply ignore Prey instead of trying to uninstall or deactivate it. This feature is a nice touch, though hardly a deal-maker.

Let Us Prey
What’s most impressive about Prey is that it has tools for just about every kind of device—Android, iOS, laptops, whatever. It also lets you secure three devices for free, which should suit just about everybody fine.

For Android users, Prey provides a few more options than the baseline supplied by the Android Device Manager. But its awkward activation system and lack of remote wipe is disappointing. If you’re looking for a free anti-theft option, you’re probably better off installing avast! on your Android and getting malware protection to boot.


Verdict
Prey brings basic anti-theft tools to your Android (and just about any other device) for free, but is hampered by its awkward interface.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc