I installed Avast Free Antivirus on my laptop a few weeks ago, and here is an overview of its features.
Why isn’t this a review? Well, in my opinion an antivirus review should include serious malware tests and the detection rate, false positives, etc. Usually, those are done in virtual machines and on powerful computers.
Since I tested Avast Free Antivirus on my not-so-powerful laptop, I didn’t/couldn’t test real malware samples. It did block the EICAR test file, a few adware and malicious virus test web pages which I tested in Sandboxie instantly though.
I also felt that real world usage is better anyway since I could get a first-hand experience of the program’s resource usage when I’m browsing, working, watching movies, etc. That’s also useful, instead of wondering whether the system is running slow because of the Antivirus or because the VM is using more RAM.
Avast Free Antivirus has a user-friendly GUI with large icons which are properly labeled. The home screen. which is called Status, tells you whether the program’s modules are running fine. You can also run a “Smart Scan” from this screen.
The side-bar on the left is home to 3 more tabs: Protection, Privacy, and Performance.
The Protection tab has the following options
- Virus Scans
- Real Shield
- Ransomware Shield
- Core Shields
- Virus Chest
Out of these, only 3 (Virus Scans, Core Shields, Virus Chest) can be used in the free version, i.e., the rest are locked behind a paywall.
You can run a full virus scan, a targeted scan (only scans selected folders/drives), boot time scan and custom scans. The custom scan has 2 predefined options: a quick scan and smart scan.
You can customize the settings of each scan type to your liking: these options include scanning for potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), follow links during a scan, test whole files, scan archives, and more.
You can set scans to run automatically at a time and date that you select using the built-in task scheduler. You can find more advanced options in the settings screen in Avast Free Antivirus.
There are 4 shields in Avast Free Antivirus.
- File Shield scans any file that you access.
- Behavior Shield monitors applications for suspicious activity and blocks malicious ones.
- Web Shield blocks web attacks and downloads that could be malware.
- Mail Shield scans your email attachments for malware, and blocks them. Use the Avast Free Antivirus settings menu to customize how the shields work.
This is the quarantine in Avast Free Antivirus. You can delete detected items or exclude them from being flagged again.
This is where the good stuff basically ends.
Privacy and Performance
Both these tabs are completely unnecessary for the program to work. I’ll explain why.
The Privacy tab has options for –
- Avast SecureLine VPN
- Webcam Shield
- AntiTracking Premium
- Sensitive Data Shield
- Data Shredder
Of these, only SecureLine VPN can be used for free and it installs the company’s VPN client. The others are premium features. Unless I’m mistaken, SecureLine VPN does not support a free tier. The website of the product highlights a 7-day free trial but there are only paid options available.
This has a Driver Updater. You know what that means: stay away from it. There is a Do Not Disturb Mode which some may find useful but I prefer to be alerted when something is blocked.
Avast Free Antivirus – An overview of its pros and cons
The antivirus’ interface is bloated for sure but still manages to be user friendly. I didn’t have any trouble locating specific features.
The color scheme and the large icons are perhaps what gives it a ‘”heavy look”. I ran scans when using the computer, and I’m happy to say that the scans were mostly fast. I did not notice any major impact on the system resources even during scans.
Despite the browser extension being disabled, Avast instantly detected and blocked malicious web pages which I visited on purpose. So, it does perform well as expected.
This might take a while. The freemium experience in Avast Free Antivirus is really in-your-face. Avast wants your money and it isn’t shy to ask for it.
There is a large banner on the main screen which says “Thanks for joining Avast”. Here’s a welcome gift to boost your computer’s security. Unwrap it. Clicking unwrap opens a pop-up which shows discounted prices for the premium versions of the program; there is no way to disable this banner.
The Scan results are displayed in 2 sections: Viruses and malware, which shows the actual result, and Advanced issues.
There were 3 advanced issues that Avast detected:
- 3 primary folders are vulnerable to advanced ransomware
- You have only a basic firewall
- You’re vulnerable to fake websites
The resolve all option shows the “fix”. You are asked to buy a commercial version of Avast software to fix these issues on your device.
The method is used by scareware applications to get users to pay for software to fix issues but it is not as bad as those as Avast does not display fake or useless findings to get users to pay for an upgrade.
You do have an option to skip for now. But clicking that displays a pop-up with privacy risks.
It shows some information such as your IP address and your location, and recommends using Avast’s VPN to protect your personal information. A “Start your free trial” pop-up also appears, giving you an option to try the premium features for free.
Bizarre Webcam Shield Test
Once, I got a pop-up from Avast Free Antivirus telling me that my webcam could be at risk. It asked me to allow the program to access the camera and after I did, it told me this is what a hacker can see. Hey, that’s a cool trick Avast, asking permission to use the webcam and telling me its vulnerable.
In case you missed it earlier, the Webcam shield test is one of the premium features. These deceptive methods to trick the user into buying a product, is what we refer to scareware tactics, something which is often used by rogue antivirus programs.
These are by far the most annoying issues in Avast. In the first few days of usage, a pop-up told me “We have a gift for you to unwrap”. Another one said “We added “MPV” to do not disturb, enjoy. This happened when I was watching a movie on MPV. When I was chatting on Telegram, it told me it had been added to do not disturb. You get it, right?
Silence is golden, Avast. Sshhh!
You may have read my previous article about this. This “feature” can be disabled.
This article may sound like a rant, but it isn’t. I’m merely describing my experience with the antivirus. I just wanted to tell users who haven’t used Avast what they can expect from it.
As an Avast fan who used it many years ago, I went in expecting a nostalgic experience and it was anything but. That being said, if Avast can clean up the interface and the pop-ups to let the user actually use it for free, instead of pushing the paid versions, I will gladly recommend it to everyone.
Will I recommend Avast Free Antivirus to users?
It depends. If you can tolerate all the cons I mentioned, you will find that underneath the deceptive web spun by corporate greed a good antivirus does exist. Just make sure to avoid all the extra stuff the antivirus tries to throw in during the installation, i.e., the browser extension or software updater.
Though the freemium experience is annoying, the majority of these are noticeable only when you open the Avast interface. That can easily be avoided. The pop-ups happen occasionally and I haven’t noticed any for the past few days. So, maybe it quiets down after a while?
Personally, I’m going back to Kaspersky Free Antivirus on my laptop, which I had been using since it was launched (until I installed Avast two weeks ago). If you have Windows 10, you can stick to Windows Defender, it is very good. I have heard good things about Bitdefender Free Antivirus as well, if you need another alternative. Use whatever antivirus you want, but regardless of what you choose, add a reliable ad-blocker, browser, and a secondary scanner to the mix. I prefer Firefox + uBlock Origin, Malwarebytes, Emsisoft Emergency Kit and Glasswire.
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