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Avast One review: The best free antivirus, now with a decent free VPN

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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
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The new-look Avast is better than ever, with superb protection and plenty of useful features, both free and paid-for

Pros 
Impeccable virus protection
Great set of free features
Generally user-friendly
Cons 
Slightly awkward interface
Paid-for version is questionable value
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Avast Free Antivirus, for a long time one of our favourite antivirus tools, has been replaced by a new edition called Avast One. The core security functions are still here, but the software sports a new interface and numerous upgraded features, including an enhanced and fully integrated VPN. Is it good enough to warrant switching from the free Windows Defender?

Avast One review: Price and platform support

The Avast One Essential package is completely free, and is available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. Features vary across the different editions, but all platforms get the core protections, plus access to a VPN service with a data limit of 5GB per week.

For the full Avast experience you’ll need to buy a premium licence. An individual subscription costs $50 per year (equivalent to around £38) and covers up to five devices, with unlimited VPN usage, plus various optional security components. There’s also a family subscription option, which has the same features but covers six user accounts across up to 30 devices for $69 per year, or around £52.

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Avast One review: What’s it like to use?

We tested the Windows edition of Avast One and found its interface quite attractive and accessible. It’s divided into a few clearly defined tabs, and the free edition doesn’t indulge too much in annoying bait-and-switch tricks: while premium features are shown in the Essential interface, they’re clearly indicated with a gold surround, so there’s no confusion over what’s included and what isn’t.

Navigation can be frustrating, however. The interface uses lots of white space and big buttons within a fixed-size window, so on some pages – notably the Home and VPN tabs – you have to tiresomely scroll up and down to access all the options. The Explore tab meanwhile feels simply overloaded, with its nested list of 19 different tools and modules.

Still, you won’t be interacting with the front-end on a day-to-day basis. During the few days we spent testing Avast One, it stayed entirely out of the way, hiding in the System Tray and only throwing up alerts when a threat was found. We were particularly pleased that it didn’t bug us with unprompted adverts; its security pop-ups do include an “Upgrade your protection” button, but that’s not too offensive.

Avast One review: Will it keep me safe from viruses?

Historically, Avast’s antivirus engine has done an excellent job of blocking malware – and that hasn’t changed in this new release. In the most recent report published by independent security lab AV-Test.org, Avast One Essential for Windows delivered perfect 100% protection against both widespread and unknown “zero-day” malware attacks.

That puts Avast on par with the best paid-for security suites, and slightly ahead of Windows’ built-in virus protection, which dipped down to a 99.9% rating in one of the tests. Avast also bested Microsoft in the latest tests from AV-Comparatives.org, with a 99.9% protection score versus Microsoft’s 99.7% – and it achieved perfect scores in AV-Test’s macOS and Android tests, too.

While there are no guarantees in the security software game, you can’t really ask for much more reassurance than this. We’d have no hesitation in trusting Avast to keep us safe from malware.

READ NEXT: Check out some of our favourite password managers

Avast One review: What’s the VPN like?

The free Avast One Essential package lets you use the integrated VPN to protect up to 5GB per week of traffic. That’s a pretty liberal allowance, and should be plenty for a spot of secure browsing or messaging. Avast even allows you to use it for peer-to-peer file-sharing if you wish.

There’s not much flexibility to the free VPN, though. You don’t get to choose a server location – the software automatically selects the fastest available one for you – and there’s no auto-connect option, although the package will optionally warn you when you connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi network.

Premium users get a much more versatile service. All traffic limits are lifted, and you can take your pick of servers in 37 countries worldwide. Choosing the virtual “Gotham City” server even allowed us to access the US Netflix library – although we weren’t able to get into Disney+ at all with the VPN enabled.

For added security, the auto-connect function is fully enabled, too, as is a kill-switch to automatically suspend all internet activity if the VPN goes down, ensuring nothing sensitive is exposed to your ISP.

Performance is variable, however. Our home broadband line normally gives us download speeds of around 210Mbits/sec without a VPN, and enabling the free Avast client caused this to drop only to 170Mbits/sec. That’s not bad at all, but when we logged in as a subscriber and switched to the New York server, speeds fell to a pretty dire 21Mbits/sec. Most dedicated VPN services we’ve tried have achieved at least four times that speed in the same test, and NordVPN and IPVanish each gave us 170Mbits/sec and upwards.

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Avast One review: What other features does it have?

Despite the name, Avast One Essential bundles in quite a broad spread of features. It can warn you away from dodgy web pages, and includes an entire secure custom browser for visiting banking or shopping sites. For maximum protection you can run the browser in “Bank Mode”, which opens a secure isolated desktop that other programs can’t spy on. (It’s so secure that we weren’t even able to take a screenshot of it.)

Perhaps our favourite features are the custom firewall and the ransomware-busting folder protection. Strictly speaking these modules both replicate functions that are already built into Windows, but the native OS tools are tedious and fiddly to configure. Avast’s software is much more user-friendly, with clear one-click “Block” and “Allow” options.

There’s also a tool for checking whether your passwords have been leaked, a privacy advisor to help keep your personal information safe online and a system speedup module that can kill processes that run needlessly in the background. This needs to be used thoughtfully, though: among other things, it offered to close down our OneDrive service, which would have meant our files no longer synchronised.

Premium users also get active breach monitoring, so you’ll be alerted as soon as your credentials are exposed, along with a sensitive data shield feature that blocks confidential data from being shared without your permission. There’s webcam protection, too, and a one-stop driver updater, to help you stay ahead of any exploits.

It’s worth reiterating that the feature set isn’t the same on all platforms. The Mac client lacks some of the antivirus and system tools that are included in the Windows edition, and the mobile apps are even simpler – the iOS client doesn’t even scan local files, owing to Apple’s strict security model, although it can still warn you away from malicious websites.

READ NEXT: These are the best VPN apps for Android devices

Avast One review: Should I install it?

Avast One Essential is an excellent free security package that beats Windows Security for virus protection, and adds web shields, great ransomware and firewall modules and other goodies besides. Yes, the free VPN is limited in features, but it’s generous with the data allowance and can achieve very good speeds, making it ideal for the occasional trip to the coffee shop.

The paid-for editions of Avast One are a tougher sell. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the premium features – it’s just hard to justify the outlay when the free product provides such broad and effective protection. Even the unlimited VPN doesn’t feel like great value; while it’s clearly more powerful than the free edition, our pick of the best VPNs includes plenty of options with better speeds, more servers and extra features such as split tunnelling, browser integration and router-level support.

Overall, though, there’s plenty to praise about Avast One – and the fact that so much of it can be had for free only sweetens the deal. If you’re looking for the best free security suite for Windows, this is the One.

Download Avast One now


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