Avast Free Antivirus review: Capable but annoying

A feature-packed offering, but prepare to be peppered with prompts to upgrade

IT Pro Value
  • Great protection; Lightweight performance
  • Scans flag ‘performance issues’ as well as malware; Many features locked off in free version

For a free antivirus tool, Avast is pretty well decked out with features. Alongside the expected on-demand and real-time virus scan capabilities, it features web and email protection, plus a browser plugin that warns you away from potentially risky links. Dig into the settings and you'll find an optional "hardened mode" too, which -- similar to Kaspersky's Trusted Applications mode -- only allows programs on a known whitelist to run.

The package also includes a standalone secure browser, but this isn't as convenient as Kaspersky's since it doesn't open automatically when you visit a banking site. It does include a handy video downloader, however, which lets you grab copies of videos from YouTube and similar streaming sites (albeit not iPlayer or Netflix).

This latest release doesn't add anything major into the mix, but it does bring a new Do Not Disturb feature, which lets you specify which full-screen apps should silence notifications, and which should be treated just like any other application.

The catch with Avast has always been the relentless upsell. Happily, the annoying adverts that used to pop up every time the software updated itself are now gone. Indeed, the whole interface is much more straightforward than it used to be about what's actually included in the free suite, with premium features shown with a little orange padlock next to their icons. The fact that this applies to fully 50% of the icons in the interface feels a little pointed, though.

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We were also irritated to find that when you launch a scan, the software now doesn't just hunt for malware, but also reports back on dubious "performance issues" -- and invites you to shell out 20 a year for Avast's commercial clean-up software in order to remedy them. You can disable this behaviour from the settings page, but making it default in the first place is pretty obnoxious.

Still, when it comes to performance Avast has rarely disappointed, and the latest tests confirm that its malware detection abilities are still very much up to snuff. Its overall false positive rate is hard to beat, with only Bitdefender, ESET and Kaspersky faring better. And it's light on its feet too: AV-Comparatives found the package was "fast" when installing new applications and running them for the first time, and "very fast" for everything after that.

If you're looking for a trustworthy free antivirus product, therefore, Avast is certainly worth a look. Indeed, if you want a decent set of features to play with it's probably your best bet. Those who value a quiet life, however, may well be happier with Panda Free Antivirus.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a trustworthy free antivirus product, Avast is certainly worth a look. Indeed, if you want a decent set of features to play with it’s probably your best bet. Those who value a quiet life, however, may well be happier with another option.

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