F-Secure SAFE review: A mediocre suite with no killer features

It’s nice to look at and not too expensive, but SAFE is neither particularly fast nor particularly effective

Panda Free Antivirus doesn’t bundle in a custom browser, parental controls or anything fancy like that. The focus is squarely on the important job of malware detection – and, as you would hope, it does it rather well, achieving a 99.6% protection rate in AV-Comparatives’ most recent report. That lab did find that the software also flagged up 12 false positives, which might confound less experienced users, but that’s way ahead of Windows Defender, and even beats some paid-for contenders.

A few secondary tools are included as well. The Rescue Kit lets you create a bootable flash drive for disinfecting compromised systems, while the Process Monitor works like a simple manual firewall: you can view all running processes, or only those accessing the internet, inspect their connections, view a risk rating assigned by Panda and optionally block any items you deem dodgy.

The package is rounded off by a basic VPN with servers in 23 countries, including the US, Russia and Brazil. Free users get 150MB of traffic a day – obviously this won’t get you very far on Netflix, but it might suffice if you simply need to check a secure server from time to time. If you want to move up to unlimited data, prices start at a steep £10 on a monthly contract, but then fall to a much more reasonable £2.16 a month if you sign up for three years.

One grey mark against Panda Free Antivirus is that, by default, it installs a browser plugin called Smart Shopping, which highlights online deals while you’re surfing. It’s easy to remove this – or if you’re sharp-eyed you can untick the box during the installation process – but the very idea of sneaking an extension into your browser feels inappropriate from a security provider.

The software also pops up occasional adverts to let you know what splendid value Panda’s paid-for security products are – but we’re happy to report that these can easily be silenced by unflicking a switch in the settings.

Lastly, note that Panda isn’t the fastest security tool out there, receiving a not-quite-stellar 92.2% performance rating from AV-Comparatives. Once again, though, it’s comfortably ahead of Windows Defender, so if you’re looking for a straightforward virus scanner that won’t nag you or fill your computer with unwanted bloat, Panda makes a very tempting option.


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