Antivirus Software Review: Panda Security
Generally, pandas are seen as one of the calmest mammals, however, in the digital world, one antivirus developer is trying to turn this reputation on its head: Panda Security wants to slash, claw, and maul malware using big data and artificial intelligence. In contrast to the traditional cybersecurity approach, which is often reactive and defensive, Panda Security wants to go on the attack, taking the fight to malware and viruses. Below, we'll let you know how successful this 'panda offensive' is.
What Is Panda Security?
Panda Security is a Spanish IT security company (founded in Bilbao in 1990) that caters to both private and business users. Since 2020, Panda belongs to the Seattle-based cybersecurity conglomerate, WatchGuard Technologies.
Panda offers a free antivirus solution (Panda Security Free) as well as a premium package (Panda Dome Premium), both of which provide security, privacy, and performance optimization for Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS users.
We tested Panda Security on a Windows PC and Android smartphone.
Pros and Cons
Good test lab results
Free basic protection
Lots of features
Too many paywalls owing to the large number of subscription options
Installation & Usage
Panda Security Free can be downloaded from the provider's website (through a CNET link) without creating an account. Premium customers will need to first input their payment method and information, after which they can download Panda Dome, even without creating a Panda account. Since you will need this to manage your subscription payments, an account will automatically be created for you after the installation of Panda Dome is complete.
With a Panda account, you can manage your programs and download new ones.
Downloading and installing the 3 MB file only takes a few minutes. In contrast to most other antivirus programs, Panda Dome has a certain nimbleness and gives the impression of using only a limited amount of your PC's resources.
The program's interface is optically pleasing, and serves as the central panda hub for all of the software's features, ranging from antivirus protection to a VPN, to parental controls. On the home screen, you'll see your security status, basically, whether your PC is protected, the number of scanned files, and five icons representing the program's most critical components. By clicking on the button under status you can switch to a general overview.
At the bottom of the interface, you'll see a news ticker, which you can turn off in settings.
You can access all of Panda Security's different features via the buttons in the dashboard.
Panda Dome's other features can be accessed by either scrolling through additional icons (23 in the Premium subscription) or by clicking on the hamburger menu in the top left. Some of the items found in the menu are included here again, such as "My Products", "My Devices", or "Support".
This questionable redundancy is not the program's only usability issue, unfortunately. The icons, of which too many were included, appear to have been arranged haphazardly, and, especially in the feature-filled premium version, this makes the interface look extremely cluttered. In addition, it's also necessary to hover your mouse above an icon to see what features it entails, since not everything is self-explanatory.
Further underlining the problem, how the icons are organized does not seem to follow any particular logic. For example, when clicking on the "Scans" icon, we expected to be able to configure when scans are scheduled, however, this is (inexplicably) done instead in the "Antivirus" area.
You can access settings, review your devices, and manage your subscription through the menu bar on the left.
Panda Security is just the odd aesthetic/organizational change away from attaining a much better score in its user-friendliness. With some practice, it did become easier to find the desired features. We'll explore these in greater detail below.
Score: 3.3 / 5
As is common among antivirus programs, Panda Security protects your computer with both scans and real-time monitoring. This basic level of protection is provided free of charge with Panda Security Free, albeit only for Windows users.
Manual scans: Critical, full, or custom
Scans are divided into three types: "Critical Areas" searches for active viruses and only takes a few minutes, while "Full Scan" requires considerably longer to secure your computer against threats. Finally, you can also perform a "Custom Scan", wherein you specify which files, folders, or partitions will be checked.
In the "Antivirus" sub-menu, you can set scans to be performed daily, weekly, or monthly, and configure which areas they should focus their attention on.
External storage and USB devices can only be scanned starting with the "Essential" subscription.
You can scan specific areas or your entire PC.
Firewall protection for paying customers
A firewall with which you can monitor your incoming and outgoing data traffic, and prevent unauthorized access, is only offered to paying Panda Security subscribers. If you're one of these, you'll be able to specify whether you are connected to a home, work, or public network, adjust its settings, and set rules and exceptions for each program you have installed.
Panda Security's firewall keeps out unwanted intruders.
Real-time protection: Pay more, get more
Real-time protection in Panda Security Free only provides the bare necessities. For example, "WiFi Protection", which patrols your network for uninvited guests, such as hackers, is only included with the Essential subscription package and above.
Panda Security's WiFi protection makes sure that your WLAN remains free of threats or dangers.
Web protection for securely surfing, shopping, or banking is likewise only offered to Advanced subscribers. This package also includes ransomware protection, which defends you against so-called extortion Trojans that encrypt sensitive files on your computer, demanding a ransom to decrypt them. Parental controls are also made available, making it safer for your children to use the Internet.
More with pricier subscriptions
The service's most extravagant features are unlocked with a Complete subscription package. This includes total protection (encryption) of all sensitive data and the ability to endow specific apps, files, or folders with additional layers of security. The optimization tool boosts your computer's performance.
A password manager is also included. In the past, Panda licensed a version of Password Depot, however, this has been replaced by an in-house solution, Panda Dome Passwords, created by SaferPass. We have not conducted a comprehensive assessment of this software, however, it appears to offer all features sought after in a password manager, while remaining relatively straightforward to use.
To use Panda Security's password manager, you'll need to create an account and a master password.
Premium subscription with VPN power
Premium subscribers can take full advantage of Panda Security's integrated VPN: While free users can make use of this feature, they're restricted to 150 MB of data per day. Not so for Premium subscribers, as they receive unlimited VPN traffic. Like the password manager, Panda VPN is also based on third-party software, namely, Hotspot Shield, which received average scores in our VPN evaluation, mostly based on our concerns about its data security and commitment to privacy.
Panda Security's VPN is powered by Hotspot Shield.
Be warned though, you won't find webcam protection, which guards your webcam (and by extension, computer) against prying eyes.
The mobile (Android and iOS) versions of the Panda Security app come with anti-theft measures, as well as several other features. In addition to real-time protection and scans, these include Privacy Auditor, which lists the permissions you've granted to apps installed on your device. This can provide a very useful overview of which apps can track your location or access your media and messages.
You can also scan your smartphone with Panda Security.
Should your smartphone fall into the wrong hands, the app's anti-theft tools can save the day. These allow you to remotely delete sensitive data, lock your device, or, should you still have some hope of recovery, locate it using GPS.
In addition, Premium subscribers can prevent unauthorized access to selected apps using App Lock, which adds extra protection to your apps, in the form of a PIN or fingerprint scan.
Panda Security's mobile version includes smart anti-theft tools.
In sum, Panda Security provides all of the most important features and some nice extras as well. The number of different subscriptions and packages makes things somewhat confusing, while the third-party add-ons aren't the best solutions available. As one example, we'd rather pay for a stand-alone VPN than cough up extra for Panda Security's VPN.
Score: 4 / 5
Security & Performance
In order to provide a representative and objective picture of all solutions from our sample that we assessed, we consulted AV-Test and AV-Comparatives, each of which regularly awards a range of antivirus programs with separate scores for performance and security. Panda Security's programs often feature in the assessments of both.
Unfortunately, the most recent review of the software conducted by AV-Test dates from December 2018. In this, Panda Dome was awarded maximum points for security, and 5 from 6 points in performance. In the year preceding this assessment, the program's free version was consistently awarded very good scores in security, but did drop points on performance more than once.
During AV-Comparatives' real-world protection test (February-May 2021) Panda received 2 out of 3 stars, with the deduction attributed to the slightly above-average number of false positives, whereby the program had no difficulty in identifying compromised files. In terms of performance, Panda took full points (3 out of 3). You might experience minimum lag when first starting a program during a scan, however, this won't be repeated.
Although the scores from the test labs aren't perfect, they are consistently solid. It is unfortunate that Panda Security has not featured in AV-Test's assessment for nearly 3 years.
Fast complete system scans
To fully scan our system (967,773 objects), Panda Security required 80 minutes. We didn't notice any differences in our computer's performance during the scan and we could continue working as normal. As such, our experience overlaps with that of AV-Comparatives.
We didn't notice any performance issues while Panda was scanning our system.
Panda Security fared well with the test labs and in our own evaluation. In the latter, it didn't inhibit our system's performance during scanning, lending additional credence to AV-Comparatives' conclusions. Thankfully, we also weren't able to ascertain any worrying security or data malpractices with the developer.
Score: 4.3 / 5
Panda Dome features an in-app support hub with two links: The first leads to a support forum (albeit, not a particularly active one), and another to the FAQs, which could be sorted better, for example, based on language.
Should you want to directly contact a 'support panda', there are several possibilities for doing so, including a hotline (Monday-Friday, nine hours per day), support tickets (with answers promised within 24 hours), and a live chat.
During our test, we received an answer to our support ticket within two hours. In the live chat, we were put in touch with a helpful staffer within a matter of minutes.
Premium subscribers can take advantage of "Total Care" support, which can also be purchased separately by non-subscribers. This includes 24/7 hotline support and the ability to remotely connect by desktop.
The FAQs could do with some tender loving care (TLC), however, the variety of ways in which support can be contacted puts Panda Security near the top of the heap. Our questions were answered quickly, competently, and to our satisfaction.
Score: 4.3 / 5
As its name suggests, Panda Security Free won't cost you a dime. There are, however, four paid Panda Dome subscriptions (Essential, Advanced, Complete, and Premium), each of which provides more features as its price increases. These can be booked either on a monthly or yearly basis (the latter comes with a discount).
An overview of all of Panda Security's subscriptions and the features they offer is provided below:
|Price per year||$0.00||from $71.98||from $85.48|
|Contract period (months)||0||12||12|
|Max. Number of devices||unlimited||10||10|
|Special Protection Features|
Generally speaking, Panda Dome is not the most expensive, nor is it the most affordable provider we examined, however, its various premium packages offer a great deal of flexibility, specifically with regards to what sort of extra features you might want to have access to.
Since subscription packages and features for each program from our sample vary, the table below compares each provider's offering on the basis of a sample, noting the subscription which most closely matches this:
Panda Security offers, without question, solid antivirus protection and a variety of features, suffering only from the odd blemish here and there. The interface is clumsily arranged, the third-party features (VPN and password manager) aren't anything to write home about, and the security and performance testing lab results are "only" good, albeit, not too far off the best.
With that said, Panda Security does a lot of things right. Thanks to its different subscription packages, you can individually configure how you want your antivirus to function; despite its problems, the dashboard is relatively user-friendly; and the program provides good security, without holding your computer back. On top of all that, basic protection is offered free of charge, and, if you're on the fence about paying for the service, you can test it for one month, likewise, at no cost.
The customer reviews that we evaluated showed that most users were satisfied with Panda Security, with many commending the program's user-friendliness and effectiveness. In contrast, as seems to be typical among antivirus software, criticism derided the provider's support and noted billing irregularities.
Alternatives to Panda Security
Should you want more features, we recommend giving Kaspersky, Avira, or ESET a look. Overall, at nearly the same price, we found Bitdefender to be much more impressive, owing to its excellent user interface and impressive testing lab results. A list of popular alternatives to Panda Security can be found in the table below:
- Trend Micro
- G Data
- 360 Total Security
- Internet Security
- Virus Protection
- Free Antivirus
- Android Antivirus
- Avast vs. Avira