Avast Free Antivirus is a suite of antimalware and personal data-security tools, ranging from the antivirus scanner to a password manager and a software update checker. Avast Software purchased its competitor AVG Technologies in October 2016. While the two brands remain separate, their respective antivirus suites now have some design language in common.
Informed installation process: If you choose the custom installation option, Avast Free Antivirus breaks itself into 15 different components, with an icon next to each that pops up a small text box explaining more. You can also choose from two presets. Recommended Protection is the default, which includes all 15 components, or you can go with Minimal, which includes only the active malware scanner and Web Shield. Web Shield is a browser add-on that monitors websites for suspicious activity, such as attempting to trick you into clicking something that downloads malware to your PC.
Relatively gentle upselling: Free antivirus apps use a variety of methods to encourage you to pay for a subscription. Avast puts a banner at the bottom of its main window that invites you to upgrade. At the time of this review, Avast offered an in-app price of $15 per year – very competitive for a paid antivirus suite – for Avast Pro Antivirus, which adds a secure browser and a file sandbox to your tool set. The sandbox is a kind of holding area for files where you can open them without damaging your operating system.
Elsewhere in the interface, you will find some features with padlocked icons, like the Data Shredder. When you click these, Avast informs you that these are for paid users and gives you a button to buy a subscription. We prefer this over being guided directly to a storefront within the app, a common tactic with other free antivirus suites.
Lots of behavior customization: Avast feels solid out of the box, but it provides lots of knobs to turn. If you decide that you don’t want the Recommended Installation after all, you can individually disable or completely uninstall the 15 components via the custom installation option. Each component has a description, and there’s a question mark icon in the upper right of the window that will take you to an online guide containing more detailed info about each.
Competent bundled password manager: Though it lacks LastPass’s, multifactor authentication, Avast’s password manager can sync your passwords across devices, and Avast doesn’t keep a copy of your account’s encryption keys. The downside of keeping the key to yourself is that Avast cannot give you a password reset or password reminder. The password manager is also available as a free standalone mobile app and desktop browser extension.
Historically above-average malware detection: Independent labs such as AV-Test and AV Comparatives run Avast and many other antivirus suites through their paces every year. This new version has not yet been tested, but historically Avast has performed better than you would expect for a free malware scanner.
Data sharing opt-out could be better: During the installation process, Avast is transparent about wanting to collect anonymized usage data, and it tells you that this component is enabled by default. But instead of letting you opt out right there, it tells you that you have to dig through the app’s settings to find the correct box to uncheck. (Click the Settings button in the lower left, scroll down, click Privacy, uncheck the two boxes that appear below.) This is not a user-friendly approach.
We also noted that the Avast Online Security browser add-on (provided by default) has data sharing on by default – even if you disable data sharing within Avast’s settings. And unlike the installer for Avast Free Antivirus, the add-on does not insert a notification that it has a data-sharing element, or that this element is enabled automatically.
Avast Free Antivirus isn’t pushy or tricky about converting you into a paying customer, which is refreshing. And its password manager is one of the better ones that we’ve seen bundled in an antivirus suite. However, we experienced mixed results with its data-sharing transparency.
What’s new in this version:
- Firewall: Fixed internet connectivity not working after update (until restart) on Win XP, Vista and 7 – should now always work immediately
- Wifi Inspector: Fixed incorrectly displayed vulnerabilities – vulnerability info is now correct
- Web Shield: Fixed SSL scanning issue on some sites – sites now load correctly
- Issues with login to roaming profile after update
- Passwords: Fixed issues with self-authorization and import from Easy Pass