Antivirus Software Review: Panda Security
In real life, Pandas are seen as one of the most placid mammals, however, in the digital world, one antivirus developer is trying to turn this reputation on its head: Panda Security wants to slash, maul, and claw 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. Our review below will show just 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 corporate users. Panda offers a completely free program ("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.
Pros and Cons
Good test lab results
Free basic protection
Lots of features
Mediocre third-party features
Installation & Usage
"Panda Security Free" can be downloaded from the provider's website (through a CNET link) without creating an account. Premium customers need to first input their payment method and information, after which they can download "Panda Dome", even without creating a Panda account. To administer your payment profile with the company, however, it is advised to create an account.
Downloading and installing the 2 MB file takes only 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 "base" for all of the software's features, ranging from antivirus protection, to a VPN, to parental controls. The main window displays your security status, basically, whether your PC is protected, the number of scanned files, and five icons representing the program's most important features. By clicking on the button under status you can switch to a general overview.
At the bottom end of the interface, you'll see a news ticker, which you can turn off in settings.
You can access "Panda Dome's" other functions either by scrolling down past additional icons (16 in the "Advanced" subscription) or by clicking on the hamburger menu in the top left. In part, some of the menu items are included here as well as among the program's icons.
This questionable redundancy is not the program's only usability issue, unfortunately. The icons appear to have been arranged haphazardly, and, especially in the feature-filled premium version, this makes the interface appear extremely cluttered. Panda Security could overcome this issue relatively easily by grouping their features together into several categories.
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 in "Antivirus".
Panda Security is just the odd aesthetic/organizational change away from attaining a much better score in its user-friendliness. With some practice, it does become easier to find the desired features. We'll explore these in greater detail below.
Score: 3.7 / 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.
Scans are divided into three categories: "Critical Areas" searches for active viruses and only takes a few minutes, while "Full Scan" takes several hours to secure your computer against threats. Finally, you can also perform a "Custom Scan", wherein you set which files, folders, or partitions will be checked.
In the "Antivirus" sub-menu, you can set scans, to either be performed daily, weekly, or monthly, and further configure which areas they should check.
External storage and USB devices can only be scanned starting with the "Essential" subscription.
A firewall with which you can monitor your incoming and outgoing data traffic, preventing unauthorized access, is also included in "Panda Security Free", making it free for Windows users. Using this, you can select if you are connected to a home, work, or public network. You can also configure your firewall in settings and set rules for each program you have installed.
Real-time protection in "Panda Security Free" only provides the bare necessities. For example, "WiFi Protection" guards your network from unwanted visitors, such as hackers, and is included starting with the "Essential" subscription package.
Web protection for online security when surfing, shopping, or banking is likewise only offered to "Advanced" users. This subscription 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 included, which make it safer for your children to use the Internet.
More extravagant features can be unlocked with the "Complete" package. This includes total protection (encryption) of all sensitive data and the ability to add additional security to specific apps, files, or folders. The optimization tool boosts your computer's performance. A password manager, "Password Depot", is also included.
With the "Premium" subscription, you unlock the full VPN power of Panda Security: While free users can make use of the VPN feature, they're restricted to a daily volume of 150 MB. Premium subscribers, on the other hand, can surf unlimited using the VPN. Like the password manager, Panda VPN is also based on third-party software, namely, Hotspot Shield, which received average scores during our VPN evaluation, mostly based on our concerns about its data security and commitment to privacy.
Completely missing are dedicated email protection (to check messages and their attachments for threats) as well as webcam protection, which guards your webcam (and by extension, computer) against uninvited visitors.
The mobile (Android and iOS) versions of the Panda Security app include anti-theft measures, as well as several other features. Alongside real-time protection and scans, these include "Privacy Auditor", which lists the permissions granted to apps you have installed. This can provide a very useful overview of which apps can track your location or access your media and messages.
Should your smartphone fall into the wrong hands, the app's anti-theft features 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.
With "Premium", you can prevent unauthorized access to selected apps using "App Lock", by adding additional protection, such as a PIN or fingerprint scan.
In sum, Panda Security provides all of the most important features and some nice extras as well, even though its third-party software aren't of the highest quality.
Score: 4 / 5
Security & Performance
In the most recent AV-Test from December 2018, "Panda Dome" received maximum points for security, and 5 from 6 points in performance. Over the last few years years, the program's free version was consistently awarded very good scores in terms of security, but dropped points on performance more than once.
During AV Comparatives' real-world protection test (October 2019) 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 issue with compromised files. With regards to performance, Panda received 83 out of 100 points.
Although the scores from the test labs aren't perfect, they are consistently solid.
Score: 4 / 5
"Panda Dome" offers an in-app support hub with two links: One 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), or through filing a support ticket (with answers promised within 24 hours). During our test, we received an answer to our support ticket within 18 hours. Unfortunately, this wasn't a personalized response, but a generic form email which only answered one of our four questions.
For "Premium" subscribers, "Total Care" support is offered, 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 near the top of the heap. That is, until we think about the quality of the response we received, specifically the noticeable lack of relevance to our question(s). As a result, we have to deduct points.
Score: 3.7 / 5
As its name suggests, "Panda Security Free" is free of charge. There are, however, four pay-based "Panda Dome" subscriptions ("Essential", "Advanced", "Complete", and "Premium"), each of which provides more features as its price increases. These can be paid monthly or yearly (the latter with a discount).
|Price per year||$0.00||from $44.24||from $53.24|
|Max. Number of devices||unlimited||10||10|
|Special Protection Features|
Generally speaking, "Panda Dome" is not the most expensive, nor is it the cheapest provider we examined, however, its various premium packages offer a great deal of flexibility, specifically with regards to which extra features are worth paying for.
Since subscription packages and features for each program vary, the table below compares each provider's offering on the basis of a sample, with similar conditions:
Panda Security offers, without question, solid antivirus programs that provide a variety of features, suffering only from the odd blemish. The interface doesn't make much sense, the third-party features (VPN and password manager) aren't anything to write home about, and the security and performance test lab results are "only" good, or slightly above average.
With that said, Panda Security does a lot of things right: With 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 completely free, and, if you're on the fence about paying for the service, you can test it for one month, free of charge.
The customer reviews that we evaluated showed that most users were satisfied with Panda Security. Many reviews commend the program's user-friendliness and effectiveness. In contrast, as seems to be typical among antivirus programs, criticism was leveled against the provider's support and billing issues.
Alternatives to Panda Security
Should you want more features, we recommend giving Kaspersky, Avira, or ESET a look. Overall, for a similar price, we found Bitdefender to be much more impressive, owing to its excellent user interface and test lab results. A list of popular alternatives to Panda Security can be found in the table below: