Detailed Expert Review
I spent 30 days testing ESET’s antivirus packages to see how they compare to other top antivirus packages on the market today.
Overall, ESET provides a powerful anti-malware scanner, several additional security features, and an intuitive user interface for Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux users.
ESET’s malware scanner is really advanced. It uses heuristics and machine learning to identify malware, and its cloud-based scanning barely slowed down my computer, even during full system scans.
ESET also offers some decent extra features, like device encryption, advanced diagnostic tools, and anti-theft protection. Some of these extras are pretty good, but competitors like Norton and McAfee have antivirus packages with more useful tools (virtual private networks (VPNs), identity theft protections, and better parental controls).
There are a wide range of ESET packages to choose from, and they all offer the same simple and intuitive antivirus engine, with good customer support and a few really good features. While I think there are better antivirus packages out there, ESET is not a bad choice, especially if you just need a high-powered antivirus engine.
ESET Security Features
- Anti-malware engine
- Secure browser + web protections
- Advanced diagnostics
- Password manager
- Anti-theft protections
- Parental controls
- Device encryption
ESET’s anti-malware scanner is one of the best on the market today — it caught 100% of the malware in my testing, including ransomware, trojans, spyware, and rootkits. ESET’s scanner uses an extensive malware database to detect known malware files, as well as advanced heuristics and machine learning to catch zero-day threats that aren’t yet on a database.
ESET offers three different options for virus scans:
- System Scan. Scan every single file on your computer, including running processes, program files, system files, and cached files.
- Custom Scan. Drag and drop suspicious files, or choose to examine a specific folder.
- Removable Device Scan. Scan thumb drives, external hard drives, phones, or any other removable device.
ESET’s system scan took almost 6 hours on my computer for its first scan, which is incredibly slow. It’s supposed to memorize safe files and run extremely fast after the first scan, but it still took 3 hours for subsequent system scans. By contrast, system scans from Norton take an average of 2 hours.
Most antiviruses offer a quick scan option for temporary files, downloads, and registries where malware is typically found, and I wish that ESET would offer this kind of rapid scanning option.
Fortunately, ESET’s scanner has one of the lowest CPU loads of any antivirus I’ve tested. This is because it uses a cloud-based malware database to offload most of the scanning to ESET’s secure servers. I didn’t experience any slowdown on my computer during these system scans, which is pretty impressive when compared to competitors like BullGuard, which can cause significant computer slowdown during scans.
ESET also includes a “Host-Intruder Prevention System (HIPS)” to detect suspicious behavior from saved files. HIPS blocks threats like ransomware and rootkits before they can make changes to your system.
ESET’s HIPS was really effective in my testing — it detected every ransomware and rootkit test file before those files had a chance to make changes on my PC. Some behavior blocking tools are way too vigilant, often flagging genuine programs, but ESET’s HIPS barely had any false positives in my testing. HIPS also offers custom settings so advanced users can manage permissions and exclusions and then decide what to do with flagged suspicious programs.
ESET’s antivirus engine also includes a gaming mode. The gaming mode suspends scans and notifications so you can use your computer with zero interruptions. ESET automatically enters gaming mode when any program enters full screen, and you can also toggle gaming mode ‘on’ or ‘off’ when you want. While I think there are better antiviruses for gaming, ESET’s gaming mode performed well, with a low CPU load and no impact on my PC’s framerate.
Secure Browser + Web Protection
ESET also protects users online with several internet security features, such as:
- Firewall. Protects network ports from hackers and gives notifications about suspicious activity.
- Secure browser. Encrypts all keystrokes entered in the browser window, so you can securely enter payment information without worrying about keyloggers stealing your data.
- Webcam protection. Blocks malware and suspicious sites from accessing your webcam without your permission.
- Spam filter. Blocks suspicious emails for computers with the Microsoft Outlook app.
- Connected home monitor. Identifies every device in your network and flags unsafe activity.
ESET’s anti-phishing feature successfully caught almost every site in my testing, including newer sites that Chrome’s built-in phishing protections missed. The firewall also worked really well, blocking my test files from establishing connections with unsafe proxy servers.
The Connected Home Monitor is a useful tool which shows every device logged into your home Wi-Fi network. I’ve had issues with people stealing my Wi-Fi in the past, so I appreciate being able to see which devices are on my network at any given time.
However, the rest of ESET’s internet security features didn’t impress me much. The secure browser supposedly encrypts your keystrokes, but that doesn’t provide protection from screen loggers — and many keylogging programs can steal your data straight from your keyboard before it gets encrypted in the browser. And the spam filter seems unnecessary to me — it only works for Microsoft Outlook, which already has a good spam filter — and also, Outlook is far from the most popular email service. The webcam protection didn’t do very well in my testing either, allowing me to enable my webcam on several sites without ESET giving me any notifications.
ESET’s anti-phishing and network protections are great, but the rest of their web protections are just okay. I would love to see ESET enhance their web protections by offering something like a VPN, which competitors like Norton currently include in their antivirus packages.
But if you’re only looking for basic online security, ESET’s firewall, anti-phishing features, and Wi-Fi monitoring are good enough.
ESET’s advanced diagnostic tools are really impressive.
I really like the Running Processes feature — it helped me identify and clear out some old drivers that had been running on my system for years.
Running Processes is basically an enhanced version of Windows Task Manager. It offers the same information about CPU and RAM usage as Task Manager does, along with reputation rankings for each process, so you can see if any suspicious files are running on your system. ESET also shares the download date and developer information for third-party processes, so you can more easily figure out what’s running on your system.
ESET also offers a bunch of other diagnostic features, but the SysInspector is my favorite. ESET’s SysInspector basically makes a full report on your entire system, and it did not disappoint.
It detailed every single file, driver, scheduled task, network connection, and registry entry on my computer in a matter of minutes. Having this report on hand is extremely useful — anytime I have system issues or malware breaches in the future, I can refer to this full system report to figure out what’s going wrong with my system. If you’re not an advanced user, it’s still a valuable resource if you ever need an IT professional to inspect your system.
ESET’s advanced diagnostic tools are some of the best on the market — they help users easily identify issues on their computer, schedule malware scans, and analyze suspicious files. They’re great for advanced users or anybody looking to get a closer look at their computer’s inner workings.
ESET’s password manager comes bundled with the premium version of the product. It’s pretty good, but it’s not as good as many other third-party password managers.
ESET uses 256-bit AES secure encryption to protect your logins on encrypted servers, and it can sync passwords between all of your devices, as long as those devices have ESET installed on them.
ESET’s password manager uses a browser extension that installs in Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. The browser extension worked perfectly in my testing, auto-saving and auto-filling logins without any errors or confusion.
Unfortunately, I do have some complaints with ESET’s password manager. While ESET allows users to import password vaults from Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, it only imports passwords from 5 different third-party password managers. I was recently testing Bitwarden and RememBear, which are both popular password managers, but ESET couldn’t import my passwords from either of those programs. This is a pretty big downside for anybody transitioning to ESET from an unsupported password manager.
ESET’s password manager just isn’t as useful as most third-party products. Password managers like Dashlane and Keeper offer helpful additional features like password vault auditing, breach monitoring, password sharing between users, and emergency access. ESET’s password manager doesn’t provide any of these.
ESET’s password manager is decent, but I’d recommend most users avoid ESET’s password manager and get a third-party password manager that includes more useful features.
ESET’s anti-theft protections are pretty good. ESET’s online anti-theft dashboard offers a variety of tools to help users track and secure their lost or stolen devices. Here’s what you can do with ESET’s anti-theft tools:
- Remote screen capture and camera access. Allows users to see what’s happening on their lost or stolen device, and even get an image of the person using their device.
- Phantom account. This fake account lets thieves log into your device without a password, while keeping them from accessing any of your sensitive files.
- Browsing history and IP address. Figure out what thieves are searching for and track your device’s location based on their IP address. This is helpful for laptops that don’t use GPS location sharing.
These anti-theft protections are very useful for both laptops and mobile devices — some iOS and Android antiviruses include theft protections, but most antivirus competitors don’t include anti-theft features for computers.
ESET’s parental controls are pretty basic. There’s a simple content filter, which is supposed to automatically screen specific content online based on your child’s age. The content filter didn’t work very well on my computer. I used my daughter’s account (she’s 9) and I was still able to look up keywords like “drugs”, “sex”, and “violence” on YouTube — and the content filter prevented me from accessing a Google search for the word “cats” because of advertisements.
Parental controls from companies like Norton and Bitdefender include app limitations, scheduled usage, geo-fencing, and many other useful features to keep kids safe on their devices. ESET doesn’t provide any of these parental control features, and their content filter feels like a poorly tacked-on extra.
If you’re looking for an antivirus with good parental controls, look elsewhere.
ESET includes device encryption, which allows users to encrypt data on either their hard drive or an external drive. This prevents hackers from reading your data, even if they have physical access to your device.
I had no problem setting up an encrypted drive on my PC, which I used to securely store tax paperwork, medical forms, and the emergency access info for my password manager.
ESET’s Device Encryption is a useful feature, but many Windows 10 machines already have device encryption features that work just as well. However, if you’re a Mac or Linux user looking for a convenient encryption feature that’s bundled with your antivirus, ESET’s device encryption is worth checking out.
ESET Plans and Pricing
ESET offers three different pricing plans: ESET NOD32 Antivirus is the cheapest, but it doesn’t have many features, while I think ESET’s top-tier Smart Security Premium plan is too expensive. However, ESET’s Internet Security plan provides the best balance of security features and value.
All of ESET’s plans cover a single device, with a small added fee for each additional device. This makes ESET a pretty bad option for large groups or families that are looking to share an internet security plan. But users with 2 or 3 devices can still get affordable antivirus coverage.
NOD32 Antivirus isn’t the catchiest name for an antivirus package, but the origin story is pretty interesting — it’s a Slovakian acronym for “Hospital at the End of the Disk”, which is a pun based on a popular Czechoslovakian TV show that aired in the early 90s.
NOD32 Antivirus is ESET’s most basic antivirus package, offering anti-malware scanning, ransomware detection, anti-phishing protections, and a gaming mode. It works for Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux devices.
NOD32 Antivirus is good for individual users looking for a very simple, low-cost antivirus, but there are competitors that provide more in their basic packages, like Avira.
But if you’re looking for a lightweight antivirus scanner that will provide 100% protection for your device without slowing your system down, NOD32 Antivirus is a great choice. And it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it for yourself and decide if it’s right for you.
ESET’s Internet Security is my favorite plan. It offers a good variety of features for a good value.
ESET Internet Security includes:
- Anti-malware engine.
- Web protection.
- Secure browser.
- Webcam protection.
- Network security tools.
- Parental controls.
Some of the features in ESET Internet Security are not that good — in my opinion, the parental controls and secure browser aren’t really worth setting up. But the web protection, network security tools, and anti-theft features all make this a high-quality, low-cost antivirus program. It doesn’t have the VPN, identity theft protections, or robust parental controls of competitors like Norton 360, but ESET is quite a bit cheaper than many other full-suite antiviruses.
Internet Security is the best value of any ESET plan and should provide enough protection for most users.
ESET Smart Security Premium offers everything included in the Internet Security package, plus a couple of extra features — a password manager and device encryption.
The password manager is decent — it accurately performs password recall and auto-fills stored logins. However, it doesn’t have the vault auditing tools, password sharing, or breach monitoring that the best standalone password managers offer.
Device encryption is ESET’s other premium feature — but, like the password manager, it isn’t a good value when compared to other products on the market. Most Windows 10 PCs nowadays come bundled with data encryption which works just as well as ESET’s encryption feature.
However, if you’re not especially tech-savvy, Smart Security Premium makes it easy to access all of these security features in one location.
ESET Ease of Use and Setup
ESET’s user interface is laid out simply, with features listed in a menu on the left. Whichever feature you select is then displayed in the middle of the dashboard. The layout is bright and simple, with a lot of easily accessible options, and it also features this highly advanced-looking robot in the Home screen which warns away potential hackers!
ESET’s malware scanner is set up to run automatically for most users, although there are a ton of options for customization.
I went into the Computer Protection window to make sure the real-time scanner was running to my specifications.
The real-time scanner has a lot of options! Advanced users will really appreciate being able to adjust these settings — but average users will just be happy to know that ESET is scanning their whole system in real time.
I didn’t end up adjusting the real-time scanner at all, but I like knowing that I can easily troubleshoot any problems.
I found ESET to be a simple and intuitive product. Advanced users will have no problem accessing the diagnostic tools and custom settings which are important for high-level security protection, while less tech-savvy people can just install ESET and rely on its default settings.
ESET Mobile App
ESET’s mobile app is really good, but it’s only available for Android users. It offers a lot of the key features that I expect to see in an Android antivirus app, such as:
- Anti-theft protection. Detect location, check browsing history and IP address, and take screenshots from your device to discover what it’s being used for.
- Malware scanning. Block Android-specific malware, ransomware, and spyware using a system scanner and real-time malware protections.
- Wi-Fi security. Scan Wi-Fi networks to make sure you aren’t logging into unsecured or malicious public Wi-Fi designed to steal your data.
- App monitoring. Make sure apps aren’t tracking your location, accessing your contacts, or using your camera without your permission.
In my testing, the malware scanner was able to detect and block all of the malware I threw at it, including ransomware and spyware. I was also able to log into the online anti-theft dashboard and figure out my phone’s location in a matter of minutes.
The app also flagged suspicious apps that I had gotten from the Google Play Store, and identified public Wi-Fi networks where my data was vulnerable.
ESET’s mobile app is pretty good, but it doesn’t have a couple of the features that make apps from competitors like TotalAV and Norton a better choice. I’d like to see ESET offer a VPN to keep my Android’s internet access totally secure, and I’d like to see the anti-theft dashboard include a way to sound an alarm or wipe data in case of theft.
Still, ESET’s mobile app is a low-cost option that provides protection for Android devices. It’s included with ESET Internet Security for a single device, and you can add more users for a small fee.
ESET Customer Support
ESET offers phone support for billing and sales inquiries, as well as live chat for tech support from 6am-5pm PST. ESET also offers 24/7 email support, but I didn’t get most of my email inquiries answered until USA business hours.
My email inquiry was met with a reply that was clearly copy-pasted, and it didn’t quite answer my question. I sent it after business hours and received my reply early the next morning. This is a pretty good response time, but I would have liked my email to get a more personal response.
I had a good experience with the live chat team. I was able to ask several questions and learn a lot about the software by talking with an agent at ESET’s facility in San Diego, California.
ESET’s customer service is pretty good. They offer live chat and email support in 3 languages, and I found their representatives to be well-informed (although a little bit prone to typos). I’d like it if ESET offered phone support for technical issues, like most other antiviruses, but I was still impressed with ESET’s response times and technical expertise.
Is ESET Worth the Price in 2021?
ESET performed really well in my antivirus tests — scoring a perfect 100% protection rating against all types of malware. Its antivirus engine uses advanced heuristics, machine learning, and cloud-based scanning to effectively detect and eliminate the latest malware threats without slowing down your computer.
The extra features that come bundled with ESET’s premium packages are ‘hit or miss’. The anti-theft protections, advanced diagnostics, firewall, and device encryption tools are all really well-made and easy to use, but I wasn’t impressed with the secure browser, password manager, or parental controls.
ESET is already really well known in the IT community for its advanced diagnostic and scanning tools, which allow users to analyze every aspect of their system. However, less tech-savvy users won’t get a lot out of these tools. I’d recommend users who are looking for a simple antivirus with good extra features to go with something like Norton 360 or Avira Prime.
All that said, with a responsive tech support team, attractive interface, and some decent internet security tools, ESET is a good choice for anybody that needs quality antivirus protection on a budget. ESET Internet Security, the middle-tier plan, provides a decent variety of security features for a good value, especially for users only looking to cover 2 or 3 devices.
ESET — Frequently Asked Questions
- Is ESET safe?
- Is ESET free?
- What makes ESET different from other antivirus programs?
- Which ESET plan is best for me?
Is ESET safe?
Yes. ESET is one of the best anti-malware engines on the market today, offering a variety of powerful antivirus tools to keep users from getting hacked.
The virus scanner uses advanced heuristics and machine learning to detect encrypted malware and zero-day threats, and ESET also includes a “Host-Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS)”, which blocks files based on suspicious behavior.
ESET has been protecting computers since 1992 — it’s been on the market longer than most competitors, and there are millions of users worldwide who rely on ESET’s security protections. It performed well in my testing, with a malware detection rate of 100%.
Is ESET free?
No. ESET doesn’t offer a free version — and there honestly aren’t very many free antivirus programs that I would recommend. When it comes to protecting essential devices like phones and computers, it makes sense to invest a little bit of cash to get the best protection possible.
That said, ESET does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so there’s no risk in trying it out.
What makes ESET different from other antivirus suites?
ESET is pretty similar to most other antivirus programs on the market, although it’s lacking a few
I really love ESET’s advanced diagnostic tools, which are useful for IT professionals or other tech-savvy users. The SysInspector offers a complete snapshot of every single process, file, network connection, and driver on your computer. And the Running Processes feature works like a better Windows Task Manager, showing disk usage and CPU load for every process on your system, as well as cloud-based reputation ratings and developer information to help you figure out if you have anything suspicious running on your system.
Which ESET plan is best for me?
Each ESET plan offers unique benefits, so it really depends on what you’re looking for from your antivirus software.
I think that ESET Internet Security is the best plan for most users. This middle-tier option includes a good variety of features for a pretty low price, including network protections and anti-theft controls.
ESET NOD32 Antivirus is the cheapest plan — it only includes the anti-malware engine, which makes it a good choice for anybody that only wants a secure antivirus scanner at a good price.
ESET’s top tier plan, Smart Security Premium, doesn’t offer enough extras to warrant an upgrade for most users. I like the device encryption feature, but the password manager doesn’t offer the password auditing, biometric login, breach monitoring, or password sharing options that make third-party password managers like Dashlane a better choice.