With this in mind, I’ve decided to take look at the current state of one of most popular security apps for Android phones, Lookout Mobile Security. A free version of Lookout can be downloaded from the Android Market.
Lookout provides several pieces of security functionality. It can scan installed Android apps for malware or spyware, and it also will scan new apps before they are downloaded and installed. Lookout also has basic backup of contact information, and the app can be used to locate a missing or stolen smartphone.
The premium version of Lookout (for $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year) offers photo and call history backup and, most importantly, can be used to lock or wipe a stolen smartphone.
For this review I decided to just test the free version, which is the most commonly used. One of the first things you notice when installing Lookout on your Android device is how many rights and controls it asks over your smartphone. It can seem a bit like of an over-reach compared to other mobile apps, but a security app does need to have pretty deep integration into any device it is protecting.
After installation, Lookout launches a getting-started screen that steps users through initial setup, making it possible to turn off features such as security scanning, backup, and remote locate. These features also can be configured from the settings menu.
When Lookout first ran, it scanned all of my installed Android apps to look for malware and spyware. Luckily, my system was clean.
At the time of my testing, all of the known malware had been removed from the Android store. To see how Lookout treats malware, I tried to install a security test app--Lookout flagged it as potential malware.
When using Lookout, users also set-up a browser-based management dashboard at mylookout.com that lets them view device status, initiate backups, and use the remote locate features. While the basic version of Lookout lacks remote wipe and lock, the basic version still has some nice features for finding lost phones.
The remote locate feature will use the smartphone GPS or cell tracking capabilities to try to pinpoint the missing device on a Google Map. This worked well in tests with my GPS enabled smartphone.
It also was possible to trigger a remote scream that would make the smartphone initiate a loud siren noise, which would either cause a thief to give up the stolen device or aid in finding a lost phone.
Of all of the features in the basic free version of Lookout, the backup of contacts seemed to be of the least value. Most Android users typically link their device to a Gmail account in order to get the most out of the phone and this synching already provides good contacts backup.
Lookout wasn’t the lightest app on my smartphone, but it didn’t seem to slow down performance. It did add a few seconds on startup, but I rarely turn my phone all the way off.
I was able to force a shutdown of Lookout in my Android settings, making it possible to stop the app from running. That could be a security risk since a thief could turn the app off. But it is also an option for those who only want Lookout to run while they browse for new apps.