App Review: Norton App Lock for Android

Security should be one of the most important things you prioritize on your pocket computer. Every device lets you lock the entirety of your content with a pin, password, or biometric key. However, one of the problems plaguing both iOS and Android is the inability to safe keep specific content from prying eyes and hands.

If you want to lock a game from your child, bank account from your teenager, or messenger from your boss, you’ll have to rely on built-in fingerprint or PIN measures. Samsung and LG are a few companies that offer secret folders for hiding downloaded files like photos and PDFs, but no mobile operating system can customize access to apps or settings.

Norton App Lock is an Android app claiming to let you secure any application you desire. But can it fill your smartphone’s security void? We shall see.

Installation

First of all, if you’re on iOS, you’re sorry-outta-luck. Norton App Lock is incompatible with iPhones and iPads. Your best bet is the Restrictions option in Settings. For Android users (ideally those with a fingerprint sensor), you’ll want to head over to the Play Store and snag the app. It’s free, even though other services from Norton require subscriptions. The many required permissions are necessary to fully secure your sensitive contents. You’ll be prompted to send usage statistics to Norton; I opted not to, but that’s up to you.

Also, the push notifications are rather annoying, so you will want to disable those, especially since none of them are necessary.

Setup

Tap “Setup” and you should be redirected to your “Accessibility” settings.

 

Under “Downloaded services”, a popup will ask you to confirm that Norton will be reading your app content and interacting with your windows. This is necessary, so go ahead and tap “OK” and then switch the locker tick to the “on” position.

Set up a passcode via a pattern or fingerprint, and then you should be good to go. Your Gmail will be used as a backup in case you ever get locked out, so make sure you keep that Google password safe.

Select apps to lock

Next, you’ll be able to choose which apps you want to secure. You can opt between any native or downloaded apps, and even some settings. There’s a recommended list, but you’ll definitely want to scroll down and customize security on your own. Don’t worry, you can always add or remove selections later.

Note: On my Pixel 2 XL, somehow the Norton symbol disappeared and adopted the Pinterest logo. That was weird, but after scrolling around for a bit, the issue corrected itself.

Device administrator

For this app to work best, you’re going to want to grant administrative privileges. Even when sneaky kids try to disable it, this will ensure Norton always functions. To do so, simply tap the hamburger menu in the upper left corner and select “Activate Device Administrator.” You’ll be prompted to confirm and can then tap “Active this device admin app.”

How it works

The function is pretty simple: You try to access an app from the home screen or via the app store, and if it’s locked in Norton, it becomes inaccessible without the designated PIN or fingerprint. A window from Norton pops up, blocking the app in its entirety unless you grant it access. One of the nice things is that you don’t have to actively authorize Norton to run in the background or keep it open: it just opens automatically and does its one job.

Unfortunately, the app locker (depending on your device specs) lags. On my phone, it spawns almost instantly. However, for a split second, the user can see the app before Norton covers the screen with its yellow stop sign. If you’re trying to hide photos or account information, an unauthorized individual may be able to view or even navigate for a moment before Norton appears. On a slower device, I tested breaking into an app, and it took Norton a good two or three seconds to prevent user access. So the faster your phone is, the better the App Lock will perform.

Temporary disengage

After you choose apps to prevent snoops from accessing, you can also take advantage of the lock icon in the upper right corner of the main page.

This will temporarily unlock all apps (excluding itself) so you can navigate without any restrictions.

I chose to lock my financial apps (banks, Google Wallet, Android Pay, PayPal, etc), so I keep them always locked. But if you lock your photos or messaging apps, maybe this feature will be helpful.

Additional settings

You can choose the pattern for locking the screen and can also make the pattern visible, in case you can’t see which buttons you’re swiping. But I would use the fingerprint option so you don’t risk the pattern getting into the open.

Parental controls

In due diligence, I tested to see if I could recommend this to folks for parental control. First, I selected Android Pay on the “list page.” I then uninstalled the app via the Play Store.

After reinstalling Android Pay, I launched the app and although it took extra long, Norton did indeed recognize that it was on the block list.

That’s good and would help comfort parents who want to prevent browser access or other apps. But I absolutely recommend adding the Play Store to your list of blocked apps to stop sly children or teens. Block “Settings” too, while you’re at it (this won’t block widgets or notification shade settings, by the way).

You also cannot simply close Norton or disable it without first using your passcode or fingerprint, which is good. If you try to open an app, swipe off Norton from the Recent Apps menu, the target app will be rendered inoperable unless explicitly unlocked. This is helpful since some kids seem to know all the workarounds.

Things to be aware of

App lag, partial visibility, annoying and confusing notifications, and ratio issues (Galaxy S8 required Norton to be made full screen in display settings before coving any app fully). These issues make it not ideal for parental controls, but I would argue it’s still a lot better than no additional security at all. Most bank apps take a while to load anyway, so it does a good job of blocking those.

Conclusion

So, overall, you’ll have to decide if this app is right for you. I would definitely give it a download and try it out for a few days or weeks. You might find it does just what you need it to do, and you might simply get angry that you locked yourself out of several of your favorite apps. Everyone’s experience will vary, so try it out and let us know what you think.

Norton App Lock
Norton App Lock
Developer: NortonMobile
Price: Free

  • Karan Shah

    One of these days basic security features will be baked into android. MIUI is miles ahead in this regard, with app lock and parental controls already baked in. Other skins offer the same features as well. Interestingly, all of these free app locks harvest and sell user data, which sucks…