AVG was the first company to offer free anti-virus protection on Windows PCs and laptops and has extended this with a free AVG PC TuneUp product. Both are also available in premium, subscription versions.
The company's newest product, Zen, is built into the latest versions of both, and as a standalone product on Android smartphone and Android tablet, bringing these products together across a wide range of devices.
The visual interface is very like a dashboard, showing the devices available on your 'Zen network' at the top, with the relevant tools below. The service is free of charge and all you need to start your Zen account is an email address and password.
PCs are easy to add, but Android devices take a bit more effort; you have to send them an email and follow a three-stage installation, before the device is added.
Once installed, you can populate the functions within the program as you need. The four areas reported on are Protection, Performance, Privacy & Identity, and Support.
When you click on any of these buttons, you get to see status from the applications you have installed in those areas
Which is all great and good, but why would you want to control your PC security settings from your smartphone? Or control tablet security from a laptop? The second of these is obvious perhaps – if somebody steals one.
AVG's Android app includes Anti-Theft, Camera Trap and Device Lock, so it's quite thorough in what it can do. Camera Trap takes a picture of anybody trying to unlock a device unsuccessfully and mails it to a specified address. The answer to the first question is that it can't actually control your PC from your phone.
While AVG calls Zen an administration console, we see it more as a status tool. We expected to be able to initiate AV scans, start tune-up tools and run other parts of AVG's suites remotely using the software. But instead it only displays the current state of security and performance and you need to visit the PC or device you're viewing to make any changes.
In our book, this gives it limited use. If it acted like a cheap and cheerful network manager, where you could, with permission, change settings and run AVG utilities, it would have a lot more value. It might be vaguely useful to see the status of a firewall on a remote machine or that a device hasn't been scanned for a while, but if you can't fix these things remotely, you're not much further forward.
There's still a mix of free and paid-for applications in AVG's suites, with free basic anti-virus and PC tuning. The Pro products, which are downloaded by default, are only there on 30-day trials.
There's a definite marketing angle to Zen, too. It only works with AVG products, so to get full benefit from it, you have to commit to the company throughout your PC and device base.
This is true of rival company's products and their account schemes, too, of course, but if you like to mix and match, with different software on PCs and portable devices, for example, you won't find much use from Zen.