The 9 Best Vault Apps of 2018

Hide your photos, videos, calls, and texts from prying eyes

Empty bank vault with safety deposit boxes
Hide your photos, videos, calls, and texts. ColorBlind / Getty Images

A vault app is one that can keep your private photos, videos, and messages safe from prying eyes. To access the trove, the user must input a password. In some cases, these apps are disguised as other types of apps, such as a calculator or calendar, to make it harder to detect. Other apps have a fake cover page that looks like an empty folder or an error message, for example. Vault apps often don't show up in your recent apps and you can block some from automatically adding an icon to your home screen.

These apps are often used for securing photos, such as nude pictures or other sensitive subjects, and hiding or disguising the app makes it harder to know where to look should someone get their hands on your unlocked phone. Here are the nine best vault apps for keeping your personal photos and other data between the sender and recipient — and no one else.

Screenshots of Lock Photos Photo Secret Vault for iOS

Lock Photos Photo Secret Vault for iOS has an app icon that's labeled Disk as a sort of disguise. When you launch the app, you create a password, which you can't reset. You can have it emailed to you, so you don't forget it, but the message comes from your email address, and doesn't mention the app. In addition to photos and videos, you can also store audio and other files, such as PDFs in the vault app. You can even set up a decoy password that sends users to decoy data to fool anyone who might be watching. Finally, you can also lock folders with a separate password for extra protection. The premium version has a 3-day trial and includes break-in alerts, cloud back up, and takes away ads.

What We Like

  • App icon is labeled Disk
  • Can set up decoy password

What We Don't Like

  • Free version is ad-supported, which can get annoying
AppLock by DoMobile — For Locking Up Apps

AppLock lets you password-protect apps, including social media, messaging, and gallery apps as well as incoming calls. Extra protections include an option to hide the icon from any home screens or add a cover to the app, such as an error message that says "Unfortunately, AppLock has stopped." You can also enable a random keyboard when entering your password so onlookers can't easily guess it. Applock is free, with no premium upgrades.

What We Like

  • Can disguise the app with a blank screen or error message
  • Locks your favorite photo and messaging apps

What We Don't Like

  • No passcode requirement; we were able to use our screen unlock code
Screenshots of Best Secret Folder app for iOS

The Best Secret Folder app icon even fooled us since it says BestSF and looks like a travel app. (We initially thought it was bloatware on our spare iPhone.) Once we realized our mistake, we chose an unlock option (pattern, PIN, password, or fingerprint) and entered the app. The interface, which looks like a bank vault, is fun, if not subtle, and you can add a cover that looks like an empty folder if someone launches it. (We almost fell for that too.)

Other features include Snoop Stopper, which snaps a photo when someone inputs the wrong code, and the option to shut the app down when the phone is face down. You can send yourself the passcode for safekeeping, but the email mentions the app, which doesn't feel secure. A pro plan ($1.99) takes away ads and includes compatibility with Google Drive, Dropbox, and Apple AirPlay.

What We Like

  • Captures photos of anyone who tries to break in and record their location (if enabled)
  • Can't reset password
  • Icon looks like a travel app

What We Don't Like

  • You can have password sent to you by email with app name the body
  • Free version is ad-supported, which can be distracting
Screenshots of Gallery Lock (Hide Pictures) Android app

As its name spells out, Gallery Lock hides your pictures from would-be snoops. A stealth mode hides the app icon, and the camera will take a shot of anyone who inputs the wrong password three times in a row. Gallery Lock is free, so features like break-in attempt tracking and stealth mode don't require an upgrade to a premium plan.

What We Like

  • Stealth Mode hides launch icon
  • The front-facing camera takes a photo after the third failed password attempt

What We Don't Like

  • No passcode requirement; we were able to use a 4-digit code of the same number
Screenshot of Keepsafe website

Keepsafe, a company known for its mobile VPN and other security products, hides your photos and videos and also has a folder to store snapshots of your credit cards, ID cards, and passport for safekeeping. It also has break-in alerts, password-protected folders, and the ability to create a fake PIN that leads users to a decoy Keepsafe. A feature called Secret Door App disguises Keepsafe as a virus scanner or calculator. The app is available for iOS and Android.

The basic plan includes 200 photos, while the premium plan ($149.99 for life, $23.99 per year, or $9.99 per month) includes 5,000 photos, break-in attempt tracking, and the ability to restore deleted files. All users get a free trial for premium, but your plan reverts to basic if you don't choose to upgrade.

What We Like

  • Doesn't show up on recently used apps list
  • Can take photos from the app
  • Uses military-grade encryption

What We Don't Like

  • Automatically enrolls you in a free trial for the premium service.
Screenshots of Vault-Hide SMS,Pics & Videos,App Lock,Cloud backup Android app

Like many other apps discussed here, Vault (Android-only) won't show up in your recent app list and blow your cover. You can also set up two locks: a pattern followed by a pin code. Vault can hide photos, videos, and texts and calls. The premium version ($29.99 per year or $3.99 per month) has a stealth mode which hides the app icon, a camouflage app lock that hides apps in the vault, and a decoy vault to fool snoopers.

What We Like

  • Hides texts and calls in addition to photos

What We Don't Like

  • Lots of premium-only features
  • Let us use sample pin code listed in app
Screenshots of Apple's Hidden Folder Feature for iOS

Phones running iOS 8 and later can hide photos from their Moments, Years, and Collections view. Hiding sensitive photos prevents friends from accidentally (or not so accidentally) swiping past the photos you want them to see and stumbling upon that awkward selfie that's for your eyes only. However, it's not as secure as third-party vault apps, since hidden photos land in an album that's labeled hidden and isn't password protected.

What We Like

  • Easy way to hide photos and videos from your main albums

What We Don't Like

  • The Hidden folder is still accessible when the phone is unlocked

To hide photos:

  • Open the Photos app.
  • Select the photo or video that you'd like to hide.
  • Tap the action icon, represented by a square with an arrow pointing up
  • Tap Hide
  • Confirm that you want to hide the photo or video.
  • To see your hidden photos, go to Albums > Hidden
Screenshots of Google Photos Archive Option in Android App

On Android, Google Photos has a similar feature. You can archive photos you'd like to keep private and access them in a hidden folder. Again, this moves private photos out of your regular stream but doesn't prevent someone from opening the archives when the phone is unlocked.

What We Like

  • Simple way to hide photos from your regular albums

What We Don't Like

  • Photo archive is easy to find

To archive photos:

  • Open Google Photos app
  • Press and hold the photo you'd like to hide
  • Hit the menu icon, represented by three dots
  • Tap Archive

To view the archived photos, tap the hamburger menu on the top and select Archives.

Screenshots of Samsung's Private Mode feature

Samsung has a more secure option, called Private Mode, which enables you to hide photos and password protect them.

What We Like

  • Private Mode and Secure Folder are password protected

What We Don't Like

  • Not available on all Androids

To make photos private:

  • Open the Gallery app
  • Find and tap on the photo you want to hide
  • Tap More
  • Choose Move to Private

To unhide photos, follow the first three steps above, choosing the photo you'd like to unhide and then tap More > Remove from Private, and select a folder.

To view private photos you have to turn on Private mode by going to Settings > Privacy And Emergency > Private mode and toggle the switch to on. You'll then be asked to set up or input a passcode or use your fingerprint. A padlock icon will appear at the top of your screen when Private mode is on.

There's also an option on the Private mode settings page called Auto-off, which automatically disables Private mode when your screen turns off.

Newer Samsung Galaxy phones (S8 and up) have a feature called a Secure Folder, which uses the Samsung Knox security platform. To open a Secure Folder requires your Samsung account password, and you can also add extra layers of protection with a fingerprint or iris scan, or a pattern, PIN, or password unlock.

If your Samsung has this feature, you can find it in Settings > Lock Screen And Security > Secure Folder. You can then add files and apps to the folder. From the Gallery app, choose the image you want to move and tap More > Move to Secure Folder.