Restricting access to certain apps is possible in two ways – using Android’s native features (for newer OS versions) or resorting to third-party applications. Both methods have their pros and cons, though. For example, the native Android options might be unavailable for the older OS versions, but the third-party apps require users take a leap of faith in the developer to grant the app the permissions and access it needs to perform its tasks, which in this case are quite extensive.
We have compiled a short list of the five free apps for Android that let you lock individual apps, and in some cases do a lot more than just that. In the end, they make for a relatively safe coat of protection over your sensitive information, or let you limit the use of Angry Birds 2 by your kids.
Developer: Cheetah Mobile (AppLock & AntiVirus) Tools
Download from Google Play, free
Clean Master is an established brand in the niche of optimization and security on Android. When we talk about resource management, Clean Master is the first app that comes to mind, but Cheetah Mobile has quite a few tools up its sleeve, and CM Security Antivirus AppLock is one such thingie you might want to try. Mainly, the devs like to boast their apps continuously ranks first in the AV-Test, and has a high rating on Google Play. And when it comes to locking individual apps, it is very easy-to-use. Basically, you set a PIN and add the programs you would like to be locked. From then on, you will have to enter that PIN when you launch a protected app. Remember, though, that the app gets locked when your device is on standby, i.e. when you lock it. Re-booting a device does not override the PIN protection for individual apps, unlike some other nifty apps of the kind.
Beside locking individual apps, the suite offers quite a robust antivirus solution for mobile – intruder selfie is one of our favorite. Whenever someone enters the wrong password twice, the app snaps a shot of his/her bewildered face. The list of supported apps is huge and probably covers all your needs – you can lock WhatsApp, Contacts, whatever messaging app you have. Moreover, you can lock Settings, files, photos and gallery. You can also lock Wi-Fi enabling.
It scans your apps regularly, and upon install. It offers a one-button RAM, space and battery boost, cleans cache and junk files, stops the running background processes, and lets you disable the auto-run on boot apps and games. A robust anti-theft and yell to find features are a plus, as well as call blocking and safe browsing (the app blocks malicious URLs).
Oh, and it has lock themes and looks modern and sleek, if that’s important to you.
Developer: DoMobile Lab
Download from Google Play, freemium
AppLock is also a go-to tool to lock individual apps, and it’s more specific and narrow in functionality than CM, so if locking individual apps is all you need – try this one. Specialized nature of AppLock does not mean it’s limited in functionality – quite the opposite, the app is a robust tool to lock apps, individual settings, videos, files, and such.
You can lock SMS, email, FB, contacts, market, settings, calls, selected videos, selected photos and the abundance of apps and game son your device with a PIN or a pattern. Moreover, you can hide the AppLock icon, so whoever decides to override your protection will have to figure out which app is doing that. It lets you set the scheduled auto-lock or the auto-lock at a given location – enter the home, lock that Tinder, cheater! Jokes aside, the fake cover, media vaults, profiles, random keyboard (a very good feature that does not let your snoopers guess the passcode by your finger tap patterns), the widgets, lock switch, short exit (when you know you don’t need to lock the app for now) and a moderate resource consumption make it a worthwhile check. Also, you can’t kill the app from the task killer. And yes, it has skins and themes, as well as three types of accounts – basic, ad and premium.
Developer: Liquidum Limited
Price: freemium, $1 removes ads
Download from Google Play
Hexlock is worth mentioning because lots of users have the love for it. It takes a slightly different style on locking apps, offering users the opportunity to create up to six lists/profiles of locked apps – Cafe, Party, Work, Parental, Home, School. You can rename them, of course, and set the auto-lock function for a Profile to be activated when you leave a certain Wi-Fi area. For example, you need a Work profile activated automatically when you leave home for work. It can also remind you to add new apps to the existing lists. You can use a PIN or a pattern to lock the apps, and the apps seems to be quite a functional solution for the times when you want to have some piece of mind at a family party, when you know the kids will be playing Lara Croft GO on your device. Hexlock lets you protect messaging apps, gallery, settings, Wi-Fi, mail and sms – the usual tale. When one of the profiles is activated, the Notifications will display the current status – which profile is activated. You can not hide the app, and you can only disable notifications from Hexlock from the device’s Settings.
The app is ad-supported, so you will be seeing some banners (not fullscreen videos, thankfully), but if you wish to disable those you can opt for a $1 IAP. The app has a Disable Uninstall feature, which when enabled, grants it the Admin privileges. One word of advice – when locking Gallery, do not forget to clock the file manager, too. In other words, Hexlock is rather family-focused, and I would not use it in a shark tank full of Android nerds, but it’s a great solution for those who need a simple, good-looking lock app and who enjoy the location or time dependent profiles rather than locking all apps they deem private.
One robust app locker is App Protector that comes in freemium ad-supported and premium version that is available at roughly $2.80 for life or $1.80 a year. The app does not seem to have an image or video vault per se, but it does lock photos and videos and it boasts of an impressive list of other crucial features. For starters, it snaps a shot of an intruder when he or she tries to unlock a protected app and send the image straight to your email. Of course, your device needs to have a front camera to enjoy the feature. I am saying this because all my devices have the front cameras duck-taped with non-transparent sticky tape (I am more paranoid about G profiling me than my girlfriend snooping on my Alphabear progress).
Lock options include PIN, pattern and gesture methods, and the pattern can be of different sizes from 1×1 to 18×18, and a passcode, so the 4-digit PIN woes legit for other apps are elegantly solved here. To prevent someone from force closing the lock from the task manager, you should install another app Helper, also free of charge.
You can also lock or unlock your phone remotely by sending an SMS “lock” or “unlock” to your phone from any number (a great idea that can nonetheless be abused by someone who knows which app you are using to lock your apps and device). That is why, App Protector hides itself from the launcher and lets you use a Fake Force Close pop-up window when someone tries to access a locked app. Moreover, you can protect apps with multiple passwords.
The app locks sms, email, phone calls (!), chat apps, games, photos, videos, Wi-Fi, settings, install/uninstall options, Play store, 3G, 4G, Bluetooth, and even the status bar in the home screen. It also supports a whitelist option and scheduled lock times.
Perfect App Lock has something others aren’t offering – USB lock, in addition to the apps lock, settings, Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, sync, outgoing and incoming calls, install/uninstall and the apps and games lock respectively. It also supports timed locks and Wi-Fi-based locking methods, and lets you unlock the apps using PIN, password, gesture pattern. It also lets you activate the service remotely by sending an sms command and feeds your snoopers to a fake pop-up window as they try to open a locked app. Should they fail to run it three times, the app activates a front camera and snaps the intruder’s mug. It also lets you control screen brightness of individual apps and prevents unwanted screen rotation. The app also has a stealth mode that hides the app from the launcher and prevents forced uninstall by adding itself to device admins.
The devs must have quite an imagination and your intruders will suffer a few mock obstacles that will get on their nerves – besides the error pop-ups, there is a fake fingerprint scanner request to unlock an app. Oh, and this particular app supports OS versions as old as 4.0.
Native Solutions (no third-party apps)
Android 5.0 Lollipop users may not need a third-party app to lock individual apps. The current OS has a feature that is called “pinning” specific apps to your device’s screen. What this feature does is quite simple – say, you pin Angry Birds 2 (or some educational app) and let your kids play with it, but they will not be able to leave it and launch another app without your PIN or pattern. We have a detailed guide on how to pin apps to your screen in Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Again, Lollipop users have slightly more options than the rest of the Android crowd. See our detailed guide on how to set up parental controls on Lollipop 5.0 here. Lollipop lets you create multiple user accounts on phones and tablets, but restricted profiles remain the tablet prerogative. In brief, you need to go to the settings → security → advanced → activate screen pinning. Don’t forget to enable PIN or unlock pattern request to unpin an app.
Starting with Android 4.2, however, tablet users were able to create restricted profiles, that lets you give access only to specific apps to your kids, or a guest. To set up a restricted profile on your tablet, head to settings → users → add user → restricted profile. The restricted and the main profiles will be accessible from the lock screen. Launching the main profile, as well as switching from the restricted to the main will require your PIN, or pattern.
The app lock apps are abundant on Google Play, and we aimed to cover only a set number of them, so if you have a worthy app in mind, you are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below!