McAfee Total Protection 2020 full review
McAfee is one of the biggest names in antivirus and has had some pretty big ups and downs over the years. Mostly downs in recent memory, but it has long since split from Intel and has put performance woes of the last couple of years well and truly behind it.
These days McAfee is up there with the best in terms of effectiveness against viruses and other malware, with minimal impact on your device’s performance.
Like its rivals it offers a range of products from basic antivirus right up to the Total Protection (with VPN) package we’re reviewing here. And this is what you get:
- Cryptojacking protection
- Web browsing protection
- Password manager
- Parental controls
- System optimisation tools
- File vault (encrypted storage)
- VPN, if you buy the absolute top package
McAfee Total Protection 2020: Price & availability
As with many other antivirus vendors, it pays to check McAfee’s website for deals. At the time of writing, you can get a 10-device subscription for half price – less than what you’d pay for a single device licence.
Total Security for 10 devices (without the VPN service) costs £44.99/$44.99 but in line with rivals - and many broadband deals - the discount is only for the first 12 months of the subscription. If you want to renew, it rises to the full amount in your second year: £89.99/$89.99.
Even so, if you have multiple devices that need protecting it does represent good value. If you’re convinced, you can take a look and sign up here.
If you want Total Security with VPN, that costs significantly more at £137.99 and really isn’t worth it (as you’ll see if you read on).
McAfee Total Protection features
The list of features is long, but a couple you’ll find in rival packages are missing. One is identity theft protection, which would monitor the web (and dark web) for any email addresses or other details exposed in hacks or found for sale.
It does offer that kind of service in the US, but not for UK users.
The other feature you can get elsewhere but which is not included in Total Protection is cloud storage, as you get with Norton 360.
However, for the 2020 version McAfee has introduced Cryptojacking protection. It says that coin miner malware increased by 4000% from 2017 to 2018 as cybercriminals realise it’s far less work to secretly use your laptop or PC to run so-called mining software in the background rather than trying to get people to pay a ransom after their files are encrypted.
And so Total Protection now detects over 150 variants of cryptojacking scripts and blocks websites that are infected with these scripts.
As in previous years, McAfee makes its Virus Protection Pledge. If your PC gets infected in such a way that the product can't clean it up, a McAfee engineer will remotely access your machine and remove it. If this proves impossible, you will receive a full refund.
This deal applies only if you are enrolled in the auto-renewal service which means you pay automatically for subsequent years' cover.
The interface remained largely the same as the 2019 version, which means it shows very little. A green tick reassures you that your device is secure and appears to be designed for users that don’t want to know anything beyond that fact.
The other options prompt you to set up other aspects such as the VPN or parental controls (both of which are actually separate apps) or use the optimisation tools to speed up apps or update them.
However, if you click the settings cog icon, the menu gives you access not only to the settings for a long list of tools, but also the tools themselves.
The Vulnerability Scanner, for example, regularly searches out vulnerable software and downloads the latest versions for installation, including Windows updates.
Unfortunately, as with the 2019 version, the default scan time of 5am every second Tuesday virtually guarantees your computer will be switched off.
It’s a similar deal with the Quick Clean tool, which clears cookies and clears space used by temporary internet files. That is also scheduled to run at 4am. You can set your own schedule, but unless you dig into the settings you wouldn’t know that the defaults are unlikely to work for you.
The main components of Total Protection are still the antivirus scanner and web/email protection. The scanner is billed as award-winning and is certainly up there with the best of them. It has consistently scored top marks or thereabouts for the last two years, so you can trust it will keep your laptops and PCs as safe as it’s possible to be.
Nowadays, most major threats come not from hackers directly infiltrating your network, but from your own unwise web surfing leading to drive-by infections, and from opening malicious email attachments.
Because of this, the WebAdvisor tool scans downloads for malicious payloads, and identifies any suspicious URLs as you click them. The current list of supported browsers includes Internet Explorer 10 upwards, Firefox, Chrome and Safari (on Mac and iPhone). Microsoft's Edge browser is also now supported. It’s worth knowing that anyone can add WebAdvisor to those browsers for free: it’s not tied to a Total Protection subscription.
Backing this is the anti-spam module, designed to keep your inbox free of scams, and adverts. Like WebAdvisor, anti-spam does need to be set up before it will work, and you’ll need to have compatible email software to benefit. Fortunately, during configuration the installer will warn you of any email software it can’t work with.
The File Lock module offers protection for your most precious files. It will password-protect valuable information (or any files) against stealthy Trojans, ransomware, and simply prying eyes. Allied to this is the Data Shredder, which will ensure that the files you delete stay deleted with no hope of resurrection.
There are also options here to shred the contents of the Windows Recycle bin and your temporary internet files. You can also set the shredding level from Basic, which is fast, to Complete, which is slower but far more secure.
Also included is the TrueKey password manager. This allows you to use the multi-factor authentication, including fingerprint recognition if your laptop or phone supports it, and even facial recognition.
PC performance is covered by two modules. The first is App Boost. This boosts the priority of certain processes, such as web browsers, games and so on. Basically, whatever you use a lot gets a boost.
The other module is Web Boost. Once installed, this stops videos from auto-playing, thereby cutting mobile data use and saving your battery – if you’re using a laptop or phone.
Features in the McAfee Mobile Security apps vary between Android and iOS but both include the usual stuff, including web protection, anti-phishing and the ability to locate and wipe your device remotely. There’s also Thief Cam, which allows you to take pictures of whoever steals your mobile device.
Ransomware removal is there as well, and there’s access to the VPN service if that’s included in your subscription – you don’t have to use the separate Safe Connect app.
A nice touch is the ability to lock specific apps so they can only be used by those who know the passcode.
VPN: Safe Connect
If you opt for the top-end package you get McAfee’s VPN service bundled. Despite the fact that Total Protection covers 10 devices, the VPN (called Safe Connect) can only be used on five of them, so bear that in mind.
Last year McAfee bought Tunnelbear, a well-known VPN service, and has enhanced Safe Connect with a few new features.
One of these is available only in the Android app and is called App level protection. It means you can choose which apps use the VPN connection and which don’t.
Also, across the apps there’s auto-connect. This is useful as it will automatically connect to a server when your phone, laptop or other device connects to an untrusted Wi-Fi network. Often, you forget to manually start a VPN connection after connecting to public Wi-Fi because you’re in a hurry.
Safe Connect is a completely separate app, and the integration with the Total Protection dashboard in Windows is buggy. In the My Privacy tab, you can click on ‘Get Started’ or the Set Up button beneath ‘Browse safely with VPN’.
The first time we did this, a black window appeared and nothing else. A few minutes later Windows automatically restarted, but the Get Started and Set Up buttons remained. Clicking one of them a second time started the installation properly, following which a Safe Connect icon appeared on the desktop, but the Get Started and Set up buttons remained as they were in the Total Protection dashboard, instead of switching to a ‘launch app’ button or similar.
Upon launching Safe Connect it first asked to update itself, despite having only just been installed, and then asks you to subscribe: you have to click on the sign in link and enter your McAfee login details. All of which means you’re annoyed before you’ve even used the VPN.
When you do eventually jump through the hoops, you get 23 countries to choose between, or you can leave the menu set to ‘Fastest location’.
It’s very simple to use, but that’s normal for a VPN. What’s surprising is that there are very few settings, and there’s no kill switch at all. That means you won’t know if the VPN stops unexpectedly, leaving you unprotected.
Another issue is speed. Even on the ‘fastest’ connection, our broadband speed was about half what it normally is and when we connected to the USA, it dropped to below 10 percent of the regular speed for downloads (although uploads were around 50 percent as fast as our unprotected connection).
While McAfee doesn’t position the VPN as an unblocking tool for streaming video it was still disappointing to find we couldn’t watch US Netflix from the UK, or access iPlayer through the UK server.
Bottom line: choose a better VPN service and pay for it separately to Total Protection.
Total Protection 2020 offers good all-round protection for your devices. However, the overly simplistic interface could leave some users thinking they don’t need to do anything at all. In reality, you need to install extra apps and set up functions such as anti-spam as they’re not running by default.
There’s little point in paying extra for the VPN service as it doesn’t compare well with other services that cost only a few pounds or dollars per month.