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Hands on: Vodafone's McAfee Security for Android

Vodafone and McAfee announced a new app for Android smartphone users last week, offering remote lock, wipe and back-up features for nearly all Android phones in the Vodafone range. But when the same functionality is offered for free by most Android smartphone manufacturers, should Voda customers have to sign up for this service at AU$3 per month?

Vodafone and McAfee announced a new app for Android smartphone users last week, offering remote lock, wipe and back-up features for nearly all Android phones in the Vodafone range. But when the same functionality is offered for free by most Android smartphone manufacturers, should Voda customers have to sign up for this service at AU$3 per month?

The main user interface of the app.(Screenshot by CBSi)

Features and requirements

For your money, the McAfee app offers a full range of security features. It has PC-like security, including web-page scanning while you're browsing, and virus checking when you download new apps. The McAfee app also remotely protects your phone, with remote wipe, lock and alarm features to help you out when you've misplaced your handset.

The service also incorporates a back-up element, allowing users to back up contacts, call logs, messages and multimedia to a remote server so that you can easily restore your data to a new phone in the event that your old phone is unrecoverable. Impressively, there is no storage limit for subscribers of this service, meaning that you can back up all of the photos and videos stored on your phone to the security servers, and view them online via the McAfee web portal.

To use this service, you must have an Android phone or tablet running versions 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3.0, 3.1 or 3.2. Fans of Android will notice that this list excludes the new 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich version of the platform, so those who recently bought a Galaxy Nexus through Vodafone will have to look elsewhere for security for the time being.

Is it worth your money?

After playing around with the service for a few days, it certainly appears to work as advertised. We did have some trouble with registering our phone initially, but, once the process was finally completed, it has been smooth sailing ever since. Back-up up data was a seamless (if slow) experience, and remote locking our phone worked well, although it did take about five minutes for the command to be received by the handset. Tracking our phone was also reasonably accurate, with the map reference on the McAfee site showing a location only about 100 metres from where our phone actually was.

A section of the McAfee web portal showing the tracking interface. (Screenshot by CBSi)

The question of value for money isn't so much about whether this service works well, but rather whether you are entitled to similar functionality for free. Android smartphone owners with a Samsung, an HTC or a Motorola phone already have access to "find my phone"-like services through their phone's manufacturer. Using either Samsung Dive, HTC Sense or Motorola MotoBlur, these users can track a lost phone, send out alarms and remotely wipe data off their device.

For backing up, you could choose one of the many cloud storage services with Android apps, like Dropbox or Box. These services tend to offer a couple of gigabytes of free storage to new users, and although this pales in comparison to the unlimited storage of the McAfee service, it should be sufficient for most users.

Using a cloud storage service will take more manual input to back up your data than the McAfee service, and you will need another app to export SMS messages and call logs before you can back them up. These extra steps may prove to many that AU$3 per month is money well spent, and we'd probably agree.

If you're a Vodafone customer and want to try out the new app, you can download it for free from the Android Market, and take advantage of a free trial to the service as well.