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Avast One Essential review: A great free antivirus solution with some tempting extra features

If Microsoft Defender isn’t doing it for you, Avast has you covered with strong protection in a user-friendly package

IT Pro Recommended
A screenshot of Avast One Essential's main dashboard
  • Excellent malware protection
  • Likeable firewall and anti-ransomware modules
  • Free VPN
  • Busy interface

This popular security suite has recently received a new name and a new look, but the price hasn’t changed: Avast One Essential is free forever, across Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS devices.

Naturally, there’s a paid option too. The full Avast One package costs £40 a year for up to five devices, or £55 for up to 30 devices. This is sold as a family licence, however, and doesn’t include corporate-friendly management options. Note too that these prices only cover the first year of service, after which the cost doubles.

Still, the free edition is useful enough. Job one, of course, is virus protection, and here Avast One is hard to criticise. In the most recent tests by independent security lab AV-Comparatives.org, the Avast engine provided excellent 99.8% protection when connected to the internet – a fraction above Microsoft Defender’s 99.6%. AV-Test.org achieved even better results, reporting a 100% score for Avast against both unknown zero-day threats and prevalent malware during the first two months of 2022.

The Windows edition of Avast One also includes a nifty custom firewall, and a ransomware protection feature that blocks untrusted processes from writing to your personal folders. While similar capabilities are already built into Windows, Avast’s implementations have a friendlier interface, making it less of a chore to check and configure these security settings.

Something Windows definitely can’t match is a free VPN. Avast One can protect your privacy by routing all your internet traffic through a private server, with a pretty generous transfer limit of up to 5GB a week. The catch is that you don’t get to pick your server location – Avast selects the fastest one for you. If you want a free choice of all available servers, across 37 countries, you’ll need a paid subscription.

A screenshot of Avast One Essential's ransomware protection module

Other free features include password protection, which checks whether your credentials have leaked online, and a speedup module that identifies potentially unwanted programs running in the background. A secure custom browser is included too, to help protect you against snoopers.

We do have some reservations about Avast. The interface feels a bit overloaded, with a proliferation of panes, scrollable lists and buttons – some of them acting as advertisements for features that aren’t actually included in the free edition. Most perplexingly, the shortcut buttons to launch a quick scan or activate the VPN are hidden off the bottom of the home page, so you have to scroll down to find them.

Then again, the number of controls reflects the breadth of features on offer, and how configurable they all are, while premium-only features are all clearly marked as such – an example we wish more free software would follow.

Another possible point of concern is false positives: AV-Comparatives noted that, during its tests, Avast One incorrectly gave warnings about 10 legitimate files. Still, that’s out of more than 10,000 test cases, and it’s a lot better than Panda’s free solution, which wrongly intercepted a shocking 96 items.

In all, Avast One Essential is an effective and likeable option for those seeking a free antivirus solution. It’s not as manageable as Microsoft Defender, but it has a good spread of features that add some worthwhile extra layers of protection.

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