Saints Row is an identity crisis distilled into a piece of software. Though the playful charm of Volition’s third-person mayhem simulators is still alive and well in places, the 2022 iteration of the fan-favorite series struggles to get to grips with what exactly it’s supposed to be. However, if you believe you can perform the necessary mental gymnastics, you may well be able to get a great deal out of a visit to Vegas. Sorry – Santo Ileso.
For those who just got here, Saints Row is a third-person shooter and open-world GTA-alike where you play the role of an aspiring gang boss, tired of being unappreciated in their nine-to-five role as a rent-a-cop. The game attempts to marry madcap, over-the-top criminal antics with a grounded story about struggling Zellennials.
It's been seven years since the last entry in the series and a lot has changed since then. The gig economy has become more rampant, we're in the midst of a pandemic, and politics has become somehow even more caustic and vicious. Saints Row has a go at dragging the whimsical and chaotic formula of its predecessors into this new decade.
And this attempt to have its cake and eat it too really reveals the limitations of Saints Row. Sometimes, the more earnest moments of the narrative add a nice layer of seasoning to the adventure, rooting the antics of the Saints in a relatable world. But this contrast often creates as much dissonance as it does intrigue.
Saints Row price and release date
What is it? An open-world third-person shooter where you take on the role of an up-and-coming gang boss
You spend most of your time in Saints Row shooting at somebody. You turn up, do some crime, then shoot some people out of necessity. This is the core gameplay loop. At its best, it’s glorious. At its worst, it's tedious and overwrought. What you get out of Saints Row will be largely contingent on how much you enjoy this process.
Do not come to Saints Row expecting a precise, artisanal shooting experience. This is not Battlefield 2042 or Arma. Fortunately, Saints Row doesn't care that it's not Battlefield. It revels in this fact. The basic assault rifle feels like a firehose crossed with your kid brother's fully automatic, electric-powered Nerf gun. It is like aiming a harpoon while trapped inside a giant vat of treacle. This is a feature that makes the game better.
This is because combat in Saints Row is not a carefully curated military contest. Rather, it is an exercise in showboating. Despite the title's more grounded pretensions, your every action in combat amounts to gloating. Fight long enough, and your takedown meter fills. Approach an unfortunate enemy fighter, press the correct button, and your Boss will deftly execute a no-holds-barred takedown worthy of only the juiciest action movies or most bombastic WWE cage fights. They are luxurious.
Adding icing to the Layer Cake, we have the new Flow system, a welcome addition to the Saints Row combat experience. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock skills that you can use during combat to destructive effect. These range from mundane fare, like grenades and smoke bombs, to anime fire punches and vampiric, health-stealing buffs. These extra tools in your arsenal can be activated by spending Flow points, which you acquire as you inflict damage or take lives. Though they don’t make for a radical shift from the third-person shooter status quo, they do add another avenue through which Saints Row’s more over-the-top elements might manifest themselves.
The trifecta of abilities, takedowns, and overblown gunplay make you feel at least a little bit superhuman. It rarely feels like a fair fight. In fact, mowing down hordes of enemies in Saints Row often feels gratuitous. It is, at its core, a ludicrous power fantasy. I love it.
Unfortunately, Volition's latest doesn't always remember this crucial aspect of Saints Row's appeal. No more clearly is this neglect demonstrated than in the opening mission.
Here, our hero endures their first day at Marshall, an extremely morally dubious private military group. Contrary to the far more joyful atmosphere that pervades most of the rest of the title, the opening scene comes across as a near-parodic rendering of the very worst aspects of forgettable, gung-ho FPS games of the late '00s. Unfortunately, the action is played straight and doesn't veer into the parody that it seems to be craving for. It is bizarre that Volition refrains from putting a foot on the gas during this first segment.
This starkly contrasts with later missions, the majority of which are simple yet enjoyable romps through the city of Santo Ileso. One mission in particular, an homage to Fortnite and Elden Ring, maroons the player on a spooky island and forces them to collect weapons that drop from the sky. Victory is secured only when you're the last person standing. It is hard to believe that the tutorial mission and this melodramatic battle royale pastiche can be found in the same game. It is in this duality that we see the fundamental struggle threaded through almost every aspect of Saints Row.
Saints and sinners
Still, there is an impudent charm at the core of Saints Row that no amount of indecision can entirely quash. In its stronger moments, the dialogue sparkles.
During the early stages of the game, you and your cohort of downtrodden Zellenial friends, Eli, Neenah and Kevin, attempt to break out of economic deadlock with the judicious application of wanton criminality. The majority of the time, these characters are great fun to spend time with. They offer snappy and well-polished chatter. Unfortunately, they’re not free from the uneasy tonal ambiguity that besets the game. In more personal missions with each character, whiplash abounds.
Tragically, Saints Row often seems ashamed of itself. Though the game flirts with a refreshingly skeptical line on the excesses of capitalism, it rarely commits to a political statement for long. The main characters, all of them hard-pressed gig economy laborers, will often offer exactly the kinds of acerbic and critical one-liners befitting their situation. However, in the next moment, they'll mock the idealism of others who share their skepticism. The lack of consistency is sometimes baffling. Why should a cast of characters who can steal cars and rob pawn shops on a whim feel tied to such mundane concerns as “rent” and “job security”?
In one mission, you help a character take revenge for the destruction of their car, a gift from their beloved, terminally-ill mother. Your heart-to-heart about a delicate and painful family situation is instantly followed up by a helicopter battle. Alone, both of these things are compelling, albeit in profoundly different ways. Together, they make for a strange cocktail.
In its more serious moments, Saints Row asks for you to pretend that you are not a superhuman killing machine in a world full of hapless NPCs. Though this attempt at sleight of hand is occasionally successful, the game never quite escapes the strain that this places upon the main story.
Be your own boss
Saints Row is keen to remind you that you are the figurehead of an up-and-coming street gang.
As well as taking a significant role in the lives of your friends, you will also find yourself helming the gang’s financial prospects through the Venture system. This system allows you to construct shady businesses and revenue sources across town. Each Venture then offers a series of side missions that improve the financial output of the business, and the passive income of the Saints as a whole. These Vice City-style side hustles do not disappoint. Ranging from insurance scams to a literal LARP fortress, each Criminal Enterprise is endearingly characterful.
When it comes to the Boss themselves, Saints Row doesn’t skimp on further opportunities to build character, quite literally. The character creator is lavish in its offering, bordering on the gratuitous. Dispensing with the Gender Slider from previous titles, the Boss Factory allows you to customize every facet of your physical appearance and gender presentation individually, allowing for a more complete spectrum of human beings to be represented. The game also offers a degree of representation for disabled people. For instance, you are able to create a Boss with prosthetic limbs. It’s refreshing to see, and emblematic of Saints Row’s pervasive generosity.
The majority of vehicles are also completely customizable, allowing you to mix and match with paint jobs, extra fittings and even hood ornaments should it strike your fancy. There are a wide range of distinct rides on offer as you make your way through Saints Row’s busy open world. Muscle cars, convertibles, and even jet bikes are readily available to those who go in search of them. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that the radio is back, too, allowing you to cruise down the highway accompanied by anything from Bach to KRS-One. Fans of bespoke open-world experiences are unlikely to be disappointed.
No rest for the wicked
Saints Row is, ultimately, an ambitious but flawed title. The game dips its feet in two contrasting tones, sometimes to its credit but often to its detriment. However, when it decides to tap into the shameless melodrama of its predecessors at the expense of a grittier, GTA 5-adjacent experience, it shines.
Some aspects of Saints Row will need to face the test of time before they can be assessed. Bugs are infrequent but present, and though none have been game-breaking as of yet, some have required the occasional mission restart. Though it seems likely that Volition will address these in time, I would be lying if I said they didn’t affect the play experience. On the other hand, the co-op campaign system, though promising, will require stress testing before anyone can possibly speak to its robustness or enjoyability.
If you play Saints Row, I guarantee that something about it will make you laugh. It might be a quip from one of the central cast that gets you. Or perhaps you will revel in the childlike joy that only comes from flipping a car full of police officers over with a dumper truck. Despite sometimes seeming ashamed of its own excesses, Volition packs in enough of them to amuse even the most stoic among us. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether that’s worth wearing a neck brace after all the tonal whiplash.
The ErgoTune Supreme V3 office chair looks like so many other cheap, no-brand, all-mesh alternatives on the market... and then you look a little more closely to quickly realize the quality on offer here.
While you need to assemble it yourself (at least in the US and Australia), outstanding instructions (with helpful tips about using boxes for support, plus ‘How To Build’ videos) make assembly simple. Everything fits together perfectly and you’re quickly facing a solid chair whose lines are both horizontal and vertical where they need to be.
Singapore-based parent company Northday has liaised with the enthusiastic community that has grown around the ErgoTune chair to identify areas of improvement for this third iteration of its Supreme model. Innovations include a three-axis adjustable neck rest, a wider, more adjustable lumbar support and improved height adjustment from the pneumatic base. These join existing features like highly adjustable arm rests (which move in-and-out, point inwards and outwards, and move up and down).
Despite the high-quality mesh fabric, it can feel rather stiff – especially in the first week of use. However, once I got used to the lumbar support, I stopped aching as much throughout the day. I did struggle with the (otherwise impressive) adjustable mesh seat, however. This reviewer’s big, Aussie backside was just too wide to be fully comfortable with it, being forced to sit on the solid slats that suspend the mesh. However, it’s worth noting that I had the same problem with Herman Miller’s largest Aeron (the industry’s ‘gold-standard’ mesh chair), which is considerably more expensive.
There was also a gripe concerning reclining. For a big guy, the settings are essentially fixed upright, loose, looser or very loose. I suspect that ErgoTune’s expansion out of Singapore, into Western markets, may require some updated average-person measurements.
Nonetheless, although these issues made this particular reviewer struggle to relax in the chair, working in it day in and day out saw him suffer far fewer aches when clocking off for the day. Not everyone will experience these problems – especially those with more dainty derrières.
Ultimately, it feels very high quality and is backed with an impressive 12-year warranty. You can certainly buy cheaper chairs, but the ErgoTune Supreme V3 ranks up there with some of the best office chairs on the market (which exist in much higher price brackets).
ErgoTune Supreme V3 review: Price and availability
ErgoTune Supreme V3 review: Price and availability
How much does it cost? AU$749 / SG$599
When is it out? Available to buy now
Where can you get it? Currently available in the US, Australia and Singapore direct from ErgoTune or parent brand NorthDay, as well as on Amazon
Having started life in Singapore, the ErgoTune Supreme V3 arrived in Australia in 2021 and then made its way to the US market early in 2023.
There are many cheaper alternatives, but none offer the quality or adjustability on offer here. Alternative high-quality mesh office chairs include the NeueChair ($729 / AU$1,229 / SG$1,169) and the classic Herman Miller Aeron ($1,535 / AU$2,095 / SG$2,679). The former’s mesh feels lower quality and its less adjustable. The Aeron can be more comfortable but offers less posture support – and is considerably more expensive. This means the ErgoTune Supreme V3 punches well above its weight and is great value.
Value: 4.5 / 5
ErgoTune Supreme V3 Office Chair review: Design and features
New adjustments for lumbar, neck and height
ErgoTune is based in Singapore and has developed an enthusiastic following. It’s good to know that the company has liaised with this group to design the innovations that make up this third iteration (V3) of the ErgoTune Supreme.
It offers a very solid, five-feet, wheeled base that feels fully planted (and yet very moveable) both on carpet and hard floors. This connects to the upper portion via a high-quality pneumatic stem. The V3 now comes with three options of this for different heights: Petite (140cm – 159cm), Standard (160cm – 179cm) and Tall (180cm – 210cm). When I was first sent the Supreme V3 for review, supply chain issues meant that I received the Tall stem later, by which time the default Standard stem was fully wedged and not coming out. Still, the standard stem suited my 189cm height just fine. The new Petite stem will suit shorter people who don’t like their legs dangling off the ground.
There are two levers just below the seat and both can be lifted to make serious movement adjustments or twisted into a number of positions to adjust tension and motion locks. The left lever allows the seat to move forward and back to a generous degree, so that everyone should be able to sit with their lower legs pointing straight down. Twisting the lever enables the back rest to recline or be locked in place. The right lever allows the pneumatic stem to raise or lower the seat, while twisting it changes the looseness of the backrest’s movement.
The adjustable lumbar support’s protrusion takes some getting used to as you can’t avoid it – even if on some occasions you might wish you could. It certainly can support your back better than most rivals, but it’s very stiff, and the rotating bars behind it only allow for adjustments that range through fixed, firm or medium tension. I know it’s doing me good, especially in the long run, but sometimes you need to slouch for a moment!
The seatback is simple to adjust to nine different height settings. I'm also a very big fan of the neck rest. While I was initially concerned that the latter’s three-axis adjustment might be a little loose, I learned that the tilt, height and depth settings made it simple to snuggle it into my neck for comfortable support without putting any forward pressure on my head.
The arm rests deserve a special mention. Not only do they rotate on the primary pivot, they can rotate on an additional pivot in front of that. This allows them to move in (towards your body) or further away from it, and also to have the rests point inwards or outwards. The latter movement is useful as the firmness can make for sore elbows after extended periods, but twisting them outwards alleviates this problem.
Design: 4.5 / 5
ErgoTune Supreme V3 Office Chair review: Comfort
It’s no La-Z-Boy comfy chair, but it’s better for you
If you can imagine what a very firm, mesh-based posture chair might feel like to sit in all day – ensuring that your back is well supported at all times – then you’ve got a good idea of the ErgoTune Supreme V3. It’s good for you in the same way that a probing, remedial massage is good for you, but it’s not the equivalent of a relaxing, oil-based, Thai full-body massage.
The mesh is a special product called DuraWeave (from Germany) and it’s impressively sag resistant. It’s just a shame that I found the seat a little narrow in that I was sitting on the solid, supporting slats rather than the looser mesh, but this won’t be an issue for everyone.
Nonetheless, the mesh ensures that you are kept cool and breathable all day – which is important in hot and humid climes. It’s also more hygienic over time due to the ‘pass-through ability’ concerning bodily emissions. In this sense, it’s very different to the epic (in terms of both comfort and price) Logitech x Herman Miller Embody chair, but only slightly different to its sibling Aeron, which is softer and a bit more comfortable but doesn’t have nearly as good posture support.
ErgoTune claims this is a chair to relax in – largely due to the recline mode – but this is where I struggled most. The recline feature was just too loose for my long, heavy body. However, this won’t be an issue for smaller, lighter people.
Ultimately, comfort is a relative thing. Sitting in a beanbag all day might seem comfortable until you get up. I’ve sat in enough dodgy, office chairs to respect that the ErgoTune Supreme V3 doles out some tough love, in that you can sit in it all day and get up and happily move around afterwards… in comfort! Not many other chairs (especially at this price) allow that.
Comfort: 4 / 5
Should you buy the ErgoTune Supreme V3?
Buy it if...
Don't buy it if...
Steelcase Series 2 Task Chair Though the optional extras can push the price up significantly, the base model of Steelcase's Task Chair is an excellent, highly-customisable office chair that offers a mesh back and cushioned seat. Check out our Steelcase Series 2 Task Chair review
We pride ourselves on our independence and our rigorous review-testing process, offering up long-term attention to the products we review and making sure our reviews are updated and maintained – regardless of when a device was released, if you can still buy it, it's on our radar.
This is the all-in-one roundup reviewing every Avast One consumer security solution for 2023. On this page, after the intro, you’ll find
(a) a full evaluation of the free Avast One Essential, along with reviews of the additional features incorporated with the rest of the range:
(b) Avast One Individual and Family offerings,
(c) the top-end package Avast One Premium
You can jump to the reviews of those individual products by clicking on the links in the bar at the top of this page, but bear in mind that this article is really designed to be read all the way through, as the features of Avast One Essential are also present in the higher-level security suites, of course.
While it's still the newest offering from Avast, Avast One has been around long enough for users to get a good feel of the program, and third-party test labs to see how consistent it is in stopping malware. In both instances, Avast One has proven it deserves to be one of the best antivirus software.
Some reasons Avast One is worth considering include the number of advanced security tools most of its subscription offerings have. For example, every paid subscription comes with access to a secured VPN, and a helpful system cleanup tool.
There are options to have webcam monitoring and parental controls included, but all Avast One apps feature anti-phishing, ransomware protection, password monitoring, and a simple but effective firewall. You also can protect multiple devices, and Avast One works on all the major platforms, Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.
You can take the free antivirus app, Avast One Essentials for a spin, though you will be quite limited in the tools you can use, and you can only protect a single Windows computer. But I'm sure once you see how well Avast works, and how easy the program is to use, you'll want to upgrade and take advantage of everything Avast has to offer.
Plans and pricing
For a free program, Avast One Essential has an impressive number of security tools. These include a firewall, system cleaner, and email protections that help keep phishing scams out of your inbox.
Essential has other tools, but they have limits. For example, you can use the password manager to look for any passwords that have been compromised, but this must be run manually. You also have to manually check for software updates and start the process of downloading and installing them yourself.
The secure VPN is available for Essential users, but it's limited to only 5GB each week, with a single server location available. This is enough data for more than a day of continuous music streaming, or 10 hours of watching Netflix.
Avast One Individual and Avast One Family are the same program with the only difference being the number of devices you can protect. For $4.19/mo ($50.28/yr) you can cover 5 devices at once. The Family plan covers 30 devices for $5.79/mo ($69.48/yr.)
This mid-tier subscription doesn't add much more in the way of security tools, but the password manager and software updates are automatic, so you don't need to worry about them. Also, you have unlimited VPN use and can connect to any server in over 50 locations worldwide.
The only tool added to Avast One Premium is identity monitoring. This is actually a good feature to have because it keeps tabs on your personal information notifying you if it is used illegally or sold on the black web, and will help you recover your identity after a breach. Premium protects 30 devices for $119.88 per year.
Compare Avast One subscriptions
Avast One Essential
Avast One's installer isn't as customizable so you don't get to pick and choose the tools you want to download. This makes the process rather simple. However, as with all Avast antivirus solutions, it will try and install the Avast Browser and make it your default. There is a place on the install where you can unclick this option, but you have to look for it because it is in pretty small print.
After it was installed, I tested Avast One's impact on system performance by running top benchmark PCMark Professional before and after installation. Previously Avast software slowed me down a little more than average, but this time I found no measurable difference at all. Absolutely nothing.
That's based on Avast One Essentials and without using any of Avast's speedup tools, either. There are too many variables to make any guarantees, but it's at least possible that installing and setting up Avast One could leave your system faster than it was before.
There was more good news in my self-protection tests, where I launched a number of attacks on Avast One to see if malware could disable it. These involve attempting to delete files, change Registry settings, stop or disable services, close processes, unload drivers, and more. None of them made the tiniest difference to the package, which continued to protect me as usual.
Avast One interface has a light and airy look, with friendly graphics and speedy access to all of One's core features.
Looking to run a scan, connect to the VPN, or accelerate your system, for instance? No need to go browsing through various tabs, then try to remember wherever everything is. Just scroll down and there are shortcuts to scans, the VPN, and others, and you can run them all in a couple of clicks.
Clicking the Explore button displays a full list of Avast One's features, which does look a little more complicated. But it's easier to understand what's on offer when you can see everything in one place, rather than browsing around a number of tabs. And if you don't understand something - what is 'File Shield', exactly? - clicking the option gets you a simple explanation (the File Shield allows Avast to scan every file you access to make sure it's safe.)
Several options aren't available in the free Avast One Essentials (Webcam Protection, Web Hijack Guard, Driver Updater, and more.) Some free apps don't mark these, so you're forever clicking buttons and being told 'Can't have that until you upgrade, you freeloader.' Avast highlights options you can't use with a padlock, a smarter approach that makes One Essential much more comfortable to use.
Overall, Avast One's dashboard looks great, and is easy for beginners to use, but also makes it simple to discover and access the suite's more advanced features.
Avast One's antivirus features begin with the Smart Scan. Launch this with a click and it runs a 10-15 second Quick Scan for malware, combined with checks for dubious browser add-ons and PC performance issues. (It doesn't look for missing software patches, unlike the previous Avast Antivirus, although you can still do this manually.)
The Smart Scan and Avast's real-time protection should spot most threats, but the package has plenty of other options. There's a Deep Scan (previously called a Full Scan) to check your entire system; a Targeted Scan which examines specific files or folders, and a Boot-Time Scan to check for threats before Windows fully starts. And, if that's not enough, you can create custom scan types to do whatever you like.
There are plenty of configuration options, too. You're able to define what to scan (all hard drives, the system drive only, removable drives, archives, and more), how to treat any threats, set scan priority to optimize performance, and more.
The engine supports running on-demand scans in parallel, a level of flexibility you won't always see elsewhere. If you're running a lengthy full system scan, for instance, you're able to run a separate targeted scan on a removable drive you've just connected, and maybe check some recent downloads, all at the same time.
This didn't always work smoothly. Although My normal on-demand scans ended with a reassuring 'we didn't find anything' message, the Scan History page warned that 'your Explorer Scan was unable to scan all files', and 'we suggest scanning again.'
Could that be a problem? I needed to see which files had been missed to decide. But, no - although I think that's really important information, the Scan History page doesn't make it available.
Scan speeds were average, with Avast Essentials taking 32 minutes to scan 50GB of executable files. That's fractionally slower than Avira (28 minutes), but well ahead of Bitdefender (39 minutes.)
I scanned the same test data a second time to find out whether an antivirus uses any optimizations. Avast's time dropped fractionally to 27 minutes, similar to Avira's second scan of 24:41. But some apps only scan files if they're new or change, and that makes a huge difference. Bitdefender's second scan of my test data took 27 seconds, and Kaspersky managed 170 seconds.
Avast has little room for antivirus improvements, but on balance, it's a likable product, easy to use, powerful, and configurable, with something for every level of user.
AV-Comparatives regularly check top antivirus products against the very latest malware. In its latest round of testing, it looked at 16 different antivirus software and how well they stopped malware.
The latest March 2023 summary report places Avast in the top spot with an impressive 99.97% online detection rate. It dipped a little in offline detection and did wrongly tag two files as malicious when they weren't. But compared to the competition, Avast is clearly the program to beat.
AV-Test's Home Windows from February 2023 also places Avast in its top antivirus software group. This lab looked at 18 different antivirus software and rated them in three different areas. Avast was one of 14 that earned a perfect 6/6 for protection. However, it was only one of 6 that earned perfect scores in all three areas.
My own tests began with some simple behavior monitoring checks, where a custom executable uses common scripting tricks to download a malicious file.
Results were mixed, with Avast quarantining the test app immediately for some actions while allowing others to continue and only detecting an issue when the file hit the hard drive. Bitdefender is more consistent, blocking all tests, but others have done much worse (Adaware missed all the suspicious behavior, although it did detect the files), and Avast was acceptable overall.
The second, more advanced test used a simple ransomware simulator I developed myself. As Avast hadn't seen this before, it wouldn't be able to detect it from a file signature alone, making this a useful test of behavior monitoring.
I launched the simulator and Avast One realized this was something new, and announced that it was being scanned for threats. A positive start? Maybe, but around 15 seconds later Avast told me the simulator was safe, then did nothing at all as it encrypted thousands of user files.
Some antivirus apps perform much better on this test. Bitdefender and Kaspersky not only killed the simulator within a fraction of a second, but they also recovered the handful of files it managed to encrypt (five to ten.)
My simulator isn't real malware, though, so while I treat successful detections as a plus, I don't significantly penalize apps that fail to detect it.
What's more, this isn't Avast's only ransomware defense. There's another more effective layer available.
Install Avast One and it automatically detects folders with user documents, then adds them to Avast's Ransomware Shield Protect list. Untrusted apps aren't allowed to modify the contents of anything in these folders without permission.
Sounds good, and sure enough, Avast correctly added the main user folders to its Protected list. It wasn't so smart at detecting others, though, missing folders containing thousands of documents.
That's a problem, especially as there's no sign of any issue. Avast One doesn't tell you it's running this document search, and unless you happen to click the Ransomware Shield option, choose 'View protected folders' and browse the list, you might never realize Avast has missed something.
If you happen to find the option, though, it's easy enough to understand. I spotted the problem and added my extra data folders manually in just a few seconds.
Shield fully activated; I ran my ransomware simulator again. This time Avast One raised an alert as soon as it accessed a file, I chose the Block option, and it wasn't able to touch anything on my system.
Once I did, Avast raised an alert as soon as my ransomware simulator or other untrusted apps attempted to access the files, and they weren't able to do so until I gave permission.
This isn't a substitute for correctly recognizing malware in the first place (my test ransomware wasn't able to encrypt any documents, but Avast didn't recognize it as a serious threat and allowed it to continue running.) Still, it's a useful extra layer of protection that could work with even the very latest threats. Just keep in mind that it's not a paid feature - you can get it for nothing in Avast One Essential.
Blocking malicious sites
Avast One doesn't just do a good job of detecting malware: it detects and blocks access to malicious websites, reducing the chance you'll get infected in the first place.
This isn't an area where Avast has always excelled in the past, but the company looks to have upped its game. Just to make sure, I assembled a collection of box-fresh phishing URLs to run my own tests, comparing Avast One with Bitdefender. That delivered a positive result, with Avast detecting 67% of threats compared to Bitdefender's 41%.
Avast One doesn't include the Avast browser extensions anymore, which means users miss out on one or two useful web-related extras (there's no highlighting of malicious links in your search results, for instance.) I think that apps messing with my browser setup are generally a bad idea, though, and Avast Online Security can still be installed separately if you need it.
On balance it's a great web protection package, especially as you don't have to buy Avast One Individual to get it: all this web filtering power comes for free in Avast One Essentials.
Avast One Essential includes a simple firewall that monitors your network traffic and aims to prevent hackers from penetrating your system and malware from phoning home.
You can also view a list of apps using your connection, the amount of data they've transferred so far, and manually decide to block them.
Upgrading to the paid Avast Individual apparently gets you more shielding of your system and detection and user alerts for port scans and ARP spoofing attacks (an exploit that may allow hackers to infiltrate your network.)
Although this sounds reasonable, I'm not sure how much functionality it adds to the regular Windows firewall. I'm not convinced by all the talk of interaction with the user, either. Norton and Bitdefender's firewalls are still my network favorites, not because they raise alerts and have plenty of tweaks and settings, but because they don't need all that: they do a great job of intelligently managing your network connection all on their own, no manual intervention required.
I noticed that Avast One's Windows app has dropped Wi-Fi Inspector, a handy tool that previously allowed you to view connected devices and highlight vulnerabilities. The Android One Essentials app has a similar Wi-Fi Scanner feature, so the feature hasn't disappeared entirely, but it's a pity it's now Android-only.
Avast SecureLine VPN
Installing the free Avast One Essential gets you a restricted (but still very useable) version of Avast's HideMyAss!-powered SecureLine VPN.
The major restriction is there's no support for choosing a location: the app just automatically connects to your nearest server, wherever it might be. So, you can forget about unblocking streaming platforms in other countries. It's not going to happen.
There's a data limit, too, although that looks relatively generous at 5GB a week. Avira's Phantom VPN gives you a miserly 500MB a month, Bitdefender's VPN offers 200MB a day (6GB a month), and even Windscribe's excellent free plan stops at 10GB a month. Proton VPN's unlimited data plan is still top of the free VPN list, but Avast is way better than most.
Speeds were much more ordinary. My local server managed only 45Mbps, well below average, though enough for browsing and occasional use.
Avast's Windows app has a capable kill switch which correctly blocked my internet access whenever the VPN dropped. I used some very drastic techniques to simulate various problems - turning the router off and on again, crashing the OpenVPN executable - but the app just blocked my internet, displayed an alert, and got me reconnected as soon as possible.
SecureLine can automatically connect whenever you access insecure Wi-Fi. That's handy, but there's a very unusual extra: it can also warn you to connect whenever you visit a banking site, a web store, a 'sensitive' site (adult, gambling, violence, more), or any website login screen. This could save you a lot of trouble if you regularly forget to connect. Bitdefender Premium VPN does something similar with even more site categories and app types (file sharing, P2P), but I've not seen this functionality from anyone else.
Upgrading to Avast One Individual gives you unlimited data and 54 locations to choose from. Download speeds are still below average in my tests, but I've had some unblocking success in previous reviews, including the ability to unblock US Netflix.
The VPN is a great addition to Avast One Essentials, and the 5GB a week data allowance tramples over most of the competition. It's not such a clear picture when comparing paid products, though. Bitdefender's commercial VPN in particular is significantly faster than Avast and did a little better at unblocking in my last round of testing.
Avast One doesn't include a password manager, but you do get a couple of extra protective layers designed to keep your credentials private.
All versions of Avast One have the option to scan a database of data breaches (provided by dark web monitoring experts SpyCloud) to find out if their account details have been exposed.
Avast One's paid products add breach monitoring, where the app automatically checks new breaches and warns you if your credentials are included.
The paid editions also include Browser Protection, a feature that limits access to passwords stored in your browser. I tried using a couple of NirSoft tools to access Chrome and Firefox passwords and Browser Protection worked perfectly, spotting the attempt, and blocking access until I approved it.
These features are genuinely useful, but they don't add a great deal of value to the suite. You can already scan data breaches for your details at Have I Been Pwned, and optionally get a notification if they turn up in a new breach. And the most secure way to handle passwords isn't to control how they're accessed in the browser, but not to store them in the browser in the first place. You're far safer with a quality password manager such as Dashlane.
Avast One Essential's Software Updater scans your apps, detecting and listing missing updates. It'll install them, too, although you must manually click an Update button for every app you'd like patched.
Upgrade to Avast One Individual and you get the ability to automatically update all your apps. I tried this, and Software Updater found six available updates, downloaded the patches in parallel, then silently installed them, all in a very few seconds.
This looks good and performs reasonably well, especially the free version. Avira's free Software Updater tells you about missing updates but won't do anything to install them until you upgrade.
Avast One only supports updating 50 common apps, though, compared to 150 for Avira, and hundreds for some of the free patch management competition. Still, it's a useful tool and I'm glad to see it included in the suite.
All Avast One users (free and paid) get access to a Clear Browsing Data feature, where you can quickly clear away your browsing history, cache, cookies, and more. This works much like every other web cleanup tool you've ever used, but Avast does deserve credit for its wide app support: the module cleaned Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Opera, Brave, and even Thunderbird on my test system.
While testing Avast One I downloaded the program to my Android phone. Part of this review was to see how easy it is to install, set up and use. Overall the process had the same layers of permissions that needed to be given for all the security tools to work, so there wasn't anything unique or surprising for this app.
The antivirus program itself ran great and I found the interface easier to understand and use compared to Norton and McAfee, two programs commonly included with a new phone purchase or cellular contract. But there was a concern that I experienced.
Every time I opened Avast to run scans or check notifications more closely, my phone quickly became really, really hot. Because of this, and the potential damage that level of heat can have on your mobile device, I don't recommend it for this purpose.
There's a reason why Avast is considered one of the most popular antivirus software in the world, and why its Essential program is a stellar free app. The number of security tools is impressive for a free offering, and it continues the Avast protection legacy of earning top scores in both malware detection and zxero-day threat blocking.
I don't recommend using Avast One for mobile because of the heat issue, but don't have any qualms about recommending it for Windows or Mac computer protection.
Avast One Personal and Family
Paying for Avast One Individual or family gets you a number of other interesting and unusual features.
The Sensitive Data Shield (SDS) automatically scans your drive for files that might contain sensitive data - names, addresses, passwords, financial details, and more - and prevents other users of your device from accessing them.
VIPRE's Privacy Shield does something similar, but both tools have the same issue: they're not great at identifying which documents are safe, and which aren't. SDS highlighted some files apparently just because they contained mine and a few other names, for instance, but ignored others containing my bank account details. You can opt to protect files manually, so Sensitive Data Shield is still a feature worth having, but it's not as smart as Avast thinks.
Web Hijack Guard protects browser traffic from DNS hijacking, a nasty exploit where hackers redirect your traffic to malicious websites. I don't have a test to evaluate this, but DNS attacks are a very real danger, and I'm glad to see Avast One is working to keep you safe by including this protection.
Avast's Webcam Protection controls webcam access to reduce the chance of malware accessing your device. By default, this allows trusted apps to access your webcam and blocks everything else until you give permission. But you can also up the protection level to Strict Mode (you're asked for permission whenever anything tries to access the webcam), and there's even an option to disable your webcam entirely.
It's a simple system, with well-chosen default settings, and worked perfectly for me. Avast One spotted my custom webcam hijacker when it tried to grab an image, asked if it had permission, and when I said no, prevented it from accessing my hardware.
Avast One's paid versions round off their feature set with a trio of PC maintenance tools.
Performance Boost lists apps running in the software and can selectively optimize them. This effectively freezes a process, preventing it from using any system resources. Avast restores the process when you open the app again and it should work as normal.
It's a clever idea and can work well. The problem is figuring out where to use it. The point of 'optimizing' an app is you stop it from running any background tasks, but are you really sure it's not doing something important? Syncing files? Checking for updates? Monitoring your system so it can raise notifications? Avast One gave clues for processes it recognized, but there weren't many, and it listed many processes which should really be left alone (the backup tool Backblaze, for instance.)
Driver Updater scans your system for missing driver updates and can download and install any patches in a couple of clicks.
It's easy to use, but also risky. Avast One recommended I update multiple Intel chipset drivers, for instance - a single mistake with any of these could break a PC to the point that it wouldn't boot, maybe even in Safe Mode. Unless your PC is seriously unstable, you're better off leaving the drivers alone.
Avast One does better with its final maintenance tool, Disk Cleaner. As you'll guess from the name, this scans your system for surplus and leftover files, potentially freeing up a significant amount of drive space.
Disk Cleaner did a reasonable job on my test system, finding 8.4GB of data I could safely delete. That beat Windows' own Disk Cleanup, which managed only 5GB, but the free CCleaner did a little better with 9GB.
Avast One's maintenance tools aren't bad and may help speed up your system. They can't match Avira's System Speedup for features or power, though, and you'll need some knowledge and expertise to get the most out of them.
All of Avast One's paid subscriptions give you access to the same secured VPN as its Essential offering. However, at this point, you are no longer limited in your usage. With unlimited data, you can connect and use the Avast VPN whenever you want for however long you need to.
What's more, you're not limited to a single server location. Instead, you can access any of Avast's VPN servers in more than 50 locations throughout the world. This gives you added security with more options to generate a new IP address every time you connect.
The jump in protection between the free Avast One and the paid subscriptions is impressive and worth the money. In fact, the unlimited VPN access alone is worth the annual cost.
Using the system cleaner and performance boost tools is worth extending the life of your devices, though some tools need to be used with care since tampering with the wrong files or drivers could have the opposite effect.
Avast One Premium
Both Avast One Essential and Individual have a useful password tool that looks to see if your online identity has been compromised. But Avast One Premium takes this further by including ID monitoring. This service will also keep an eye on the dark web for your personal identifying information, like bank accounts and credit card numbers, full names, birthdates, and social security numbers.
If any personal information is found. Avast will work with you to help contact appropriate agencies, change login credentials, and restore your identity to a pre-attack state. Not many identity theft monitoring services include this part of the deal, so knowing Avast has your back both before and after an ID theft is reassuring.
Overall, there are a lot of good antivirus platforms out there, but Avast One is clearly one of the leaders. It's not simply that there are so many useful protection tools in place, but also that these tools are powerful and do exactly what they need to do.
While there are competitors who can beat Avast One in individual areas, what Avast One really succeeds in doing is bundling a strong set of individual tools into a single suite where everything can work well together.
Even better, this is all available in the free version for home use (and it's one of the best free antivirus apps you'll find) with paid upgrades available for those who wish to have more extensive protections in place.