How to Double Your Data Plan for Free With Onavo Extend

A 2 GB data cap isn’t enough. It never has been, and it never will be. You can toe the line but not without incurring the wrath of the throttled download. Tricks like “Turn off location services” are the best we have to offer when friends and family ask how they can get more out of their data plan. That ends now with Onavo Extend.

Onavo Extend is a freshly released app that increases your Android’s data plan by 80% with a few taps. Install the app, speed through the three step setup, and the app starts working its algorithmic magic, compressing data and slashing bills. For free.

If your “unlimited” data plan maxes out at 2 GB every month, installing Onavo can cut billed usage to less than 1 GB. This lets you switch to a cheaper plan or double your surfing. I know which one I’m picking!

Install and Activate

How to install and activate Onavo Extend on Android

Quick setup with a three step install process.

Setting up Onavo is a one time affair and a deceptively easy one at that. Download the app from the Play Store, tap “Enable Data Saving”, and wait for the customized profile for your phone to download. When prompted to, install the profile.

That is the end of your setup, there isn’t anything more to do!

There is a caveat, though; Onavo Extend uses APIs that are only available on phones running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwhich) and above. There have been attempts to get Extend to run on older, rooted devices but a simple solution is yet to surface. Thankfully, Onavo runs on ICS tablets as well.

The über functionality of the app is only exceeded by how little interaction is required beyond the setup. The app works by tweaking your device’s network settings and uses Amazon’s EC2 stack to do all the compression-optimization heavy lifting. This saves your phone from running processor-intensive compression algorithms in the background, saving you precious battery life.

The app works fabulously at home and abroad, saving a few hundred dollars in data roaming charges with ease. The compression makes EDGE/2.5G connections faster when it comes to loading picture heavy pages and apps, making it a must for the frequent flier.

Interface

Data Saving Reports for Onavo Extend for Android

Vanity metrics with purpose - Tracking how much data Onavo Extend has saved you.

The most common point of interaction that you’ll have with the app is the savings report which boasts of how many extra emails and YouTube videos you can indulge in thanks to Onavo Extend’s data compression. The savings log also shows data consumed by each app and how many MBs Onavo has saved for you.

Onavo Extend for Android shows off

The per app savings overview, where you realize you would pay for this app if it wasn't free.

The best interface is transparent to the user’s workflow, and Onavo Extend is a great example of that in my book. The core functionality of the app is invisible, enhancing your workflow with minimal effort on your part.

It would be great to have a widget or two to help keep tabs on how much data the app saves but it seems Onavo would rather everyone use Onavo Count (reviewed here) for weeding data hogging apps out.

Functionality

The Tao of the invisible interface – Onavo Extend works its magic in the background saving you bandwidth and $$$.

Like the interface, the core function of the app works well in most cases. There are no new gestures to learn and the “install it and forget it” nature of the app makes day-to-day use painless. The app functions amazingly well in the background, compressing images with no difference in perceived quality most of the time.

How Does It Work?

E-How-Onavo-Extend-works

How Onavo Extend works its data compression magic.

Onavo sets itself up as a network profile allowing incoming data to be routed through Onavo’s servers hosted on Amazon EC2. The server compresses data, crunching pictures and the like and then sending them back to your phone. The setup has some limitations, which makes addressing security a nuanced affair for corporate users.

Is Onavo Extend Safe to Use?

Regarding security, Onavo acts similarly to any router/operator on the internet which your data passes through. Only metadata (types of applications, etc…) of the traffic is stored for two purposes:

1. Showing the user of his usage and savings statistics
2. Generating aggregated data in order to improve the service

- Roi Tiger, CTO at Onavo

 roi tiger onavo cto

 Is My Data Safe?

To avoid any doubt, Onavo does not store any content of the data, and cannot read encrypted SSL traffic (one exception is exchange email traffic, which requires the user’s explicit approval, if he wants it compressed).

- Roi Tiger, CTO at Onavo

 roi tiger onavo cto

Using Onavo for personal use is safe, although you might want to check with your IT administrator to make sure that you aren’t running afoul of any company policies if you’re an enterprise user.

Performance

As with all things cellular, the performance that you get depends on the network signal strength and congestion level. Onavo performed consistently well with no perceptible lag in my experience.

Boston-Globe-Onavo-comparison

The difference between compressed and uncompressed pages is minute…

F-2-Fray-Onavo-comparison

...Unless you open a page with web-optimized images, which may result in compression artifacts.

What Can (And Can’t) Onavo Extend Compress?

The few things that Onavo can’t compress:

  1. Any SSL encrypted traffic – which includes email, Dropbox, and Facebook if you have ‘force https://’ turned on.
  2. Streaming video from any source.

Will It Slow Down My Browsing?

Since an extra node is added to the path your data takes before reaching your device, there is a lot of discussion about the delay or lag that the app might cause. In my crude tests, ping returns weren’t noticeable, though it might become a problem for someone on international roaming with a tenacious provider. However, with Amazon’s expanding EC2 stack as the app’s backbone, this is a problem that should take care of itself soon.

Thanks to Onavo’s focus on crunching images, the app makes older connections like EDGE/2.5G seem blazing fast. The excessive image crunching might be a problem for Android tablets with large screens as compression artifacts would show through but this can be changed or turned off in the app’s settings.

Saving Even More Data on Roaming

Onavo’s commitment to hands-off operation is best illustrated with this feature – the app figures out when you’re using data on roaming and switches to more aggressive compression saving you even more money.

Like Opera Mini for Every Droid App

Opera Mini‘s headline feature since Symbian S60 has been image compression making mobile browsing faster. Extrapolate that to every single bit of data your phone receives and you get what Onavo Extend does. Even though the demand for a data saving app like Onavo Extend is on the rise, it remains the only comprehensive data compression app on Google Play.

Final Thoughts

I’ve spent the better part of a five hour flight trying to think of a good reason to turn off Onavo Extend’s Data Savings. The app is free, both in dollar terms and from ads. If your data plan is capped, install this app now. If it isn’t, leave details in the comments so the rest of us can get on to that train. Maybe you’ll think of something I haven’t.


Summary

The must-install app that compresses data and slashes bills saving you from data caps at home and monster roaming bills when abroad.

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