AVG AntiVirus Free
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AVG Antivirus Free is an antimalware security suite that includes an active file and email scanner, plus Web browsing protection. Avast Software (AVG’s main competitor) bought AVG Technologies in October 2016, but the two brands and product lines remain separate.
Highly customizable behavior: It doesn’t look like it at first glance, but AVG Antivirus Free offers a variety of sliders and checkboxes to let you tweak its scanning behavior. Click the Menu button and select Settings to see all your options. They are categorized and nested intuitively, and you can create backups of your settings (it would also be nice to have an option to reset everything to defaults).
Helpful explanations of jargon: A lot of settings have an “i” icon you can put your mouse pointer on to display a small pop-up window with more information. If that’s not enough, there’s a context-sensitive ? button in the upper right that will take you to an AVG webpage with more detailed information about what the setting does. Ideally, this extra layer of info would be available offline, but such a feature is unfortunately rare among antivirus apps.
Historically above-average malware detection: According to the tests performed in the past by independent labs such as AV-Test and AV Comparatives, AVG has performed moderately better than one would expect from a free malware scanner.
Upsell-oriented interface: Antivirus companies prefer paying customers, and they are sometimes more aggressive about converting free users than we’d like. When you double-click the AVG icon in the Windows system tray, it doesn’t take you to the antivirus interface. Instead, it displays AVG Zen, which advertises three tools not included in the AVG Antivirus Free package: PC Tuneup, HMA Pro VPN, and Web Tuneup. There’s a button on the far left to access your antivirus, but the following window divides your tools into Basic Protection and Full Protection, the latter of which is not included. Then there’s a section below with more product offers.
Full Protection includes a software firewall, file encryption, and a mechanism to detect when an imposter website is trying to trick you into giving it your credit card info; that package costs $70 per year. It does not include the VPN (virtual private network) or the tuneup tools; those are bundled with AVG Ultimate, which costs $100 per year. Alternatively, you can get the PC Tuneup tool separately for $50 per year, the VPN for $100 per year, and the Web Tuneup tool for free.
These are all substantially higher prices than you’ll see for Norton, McAfee, and other competing security suites, which makes the upsells that much more disagreeable. Not to mention that PC Tuneup’s functionality is largely replicated by CCleaner (Windows, Mac), which you can get for free.
AVG offers a fine degree of control and competently explains its various functions, but user appeal is diminished by a sales-driven interface.
[Correction: A previous version of this review stated that Avast’s malware scanner produced a false positive, which turned out to be incorrect upon further investigation. This changes the review score from 3 stars to 3.5 stars.]