The Norton Mobile Utilities beta for Android is a useful but somewhat buggy suite of free tools that any self-respecting Android geek will want to download and test. To a certain extent, it's a proof of concept, because Symantec has not yet decided whether the app will ever become a full-blown product and, if it does, whether it will be free or for pay. Still, it's well worth the download.
Norton Mobile Utilities, as currently constructed, has four modules: Apps, Usage, Device and Installer. The Apps module shows all of the apps you've installed, indicates which are running and offers details about each app, such as the version number, location on your Android device, total installed size, permissions that you've granted it and what percentage of battery power it's currently using.
Norton also lets you close currently running apps that you'd like to shut down. You can shut down an entire group of apps at once, or close them individually by clicking the X that appears to the right of each. Doing this may be somewhat controversial, because some people believe that Android does a good job itself closing apps that it believes no longer need to remain opened. However, closing them certainly does no harm. In my case, this feature didn't work perfectly; for example, it was unable to shut down the Fring call/chat app I have on my device.
Many of the features in the Apps module are already available on Android's built-in "Manage applications" applet if you dig deeply enough. (From the main screen or pane, press the Menu button, then choose Settings --> Applications --> Manage applications.) The notable exceptions are closing groups of apps and showing the battery use for each app, which I found very useful. Android's "Manage applications" applet also includes some features that Norton doesn't, such as the ability to move apps from your phone storage to its SD card and back.
The next module, Usage, may well be the most useful of the four. It gives you information on current phone use, SMS use, data use and available storage on your SD card, all nicely laid out in easy-to-read graphs. It will be especially welcomed by anyone whose data plan or SMS plan includes limits, because you can see how much data or how many text messages you've already used during the current month and how much you've used in past months. Also helpful is a feature that will issue alerts when you're approaching your monthly limit.
The Device module will be geek heaven for Android owners. Want to see your CPU use or how much RAM is currently being used by your device? It's there, in a very nice graphical format. You'll also see your network use, broken down by uploads and downloads. This is also the place to turn if you absolutely, positively must know your current battery temperature.
At first, I found the final module, Installer, to be baffling, because on my device at least, it simply didn't work. There's a Sort arrow that you can tap so that you can sort by name, date modified or size. And there's a Search box so that you can search. But what are you sorting and searching for? On my device, there was no way to know, because no matter how much sorting and searching I did, no results ever showed.
I had to contact Symantec to find out that the module is meant to help you install apps (in the form of .APK files) from outside the Android Market -- either transferred from your computer or downloaded directly to your smartphone. Once the .APK file has been saved to your device's SD card, the Installer will list the app and let you install it by tapping on the name. The Installer will also delete the .APK file if you tell it to, leaving the app itself installed.
This can be handy -- using .APK files to install apps is normally a very awkward process -- but Symantec should have been clearer about the purpose of the module.
Overall, the Norton Mobile Utilities beta is a nifty tool for those who live to know exactly what's going on inside their Android device. However, as it stands, I can't imagine that it will have nearly the same sales or industry impact as the original Norton Utilities for DOS, which launched nearly three decades ago, in 1982.
The original Norton Utilities had a slew of useful utilities such as FileFix, which could repair damaged files. But the real reason for its phenomenal success was Undelete, which resurrected deleted files from the dead, something that could not be done using DOS alone.
In Android, if you drag anything into the trash, it's lost forever, in the same way that deleting something in DOS apparently made it vanish. If Symantec could develop Undelete for Android, it could well have a winner on its hands.
I have no idea if such a thing is possible ... but an Android fan can dream, can't he?
Gralla is a contributing editor at Computerworld US and the author of books on IT security