Opera has tried to make its mobile browser use up less of your cellular data for several years now, but today it's beginning to release a tool with a bit more ambitious of a goal: to reduce data use from just about everything on your Android phone. Called Opera Max, the app is entering an open beta today (though you may have to wait in a Mailbox-style queue to get in), and Opera says it should be able to reduce your data use by up to 50 percent by compressing most text, images, and videos that you load.
Compresses most text, images, and video
Opera Max works by routing all of your cellular internet traffic through Opera's servers, which then compress the content and send it back down to your phone in a smaller package. It hangs out in the background, so you can use all of your normal apps and still benefit from the compression. In practice, Opera Max does a surprisingly good job of nearing its 50 percent reduction goal, though it'll change dramatically based on what you do with your phone. Loading a websites saw negligible savings, but watching a video while Max is on can cut out most of the data you were about to use.
Whether that benefit is worth it is another question though. Videos compressed by Opera Max became fairly low resolution and ugly — you might be able to watch them, but you won't necessarily enjoy them. And naturally, using Max makes loading everything take longer as well. Exactly how much longer seems to depend on how heavily Opera's servers are being used at the moment: Max can sometimes bring a browser to a crawl, while other times it will only add in a small hiccup. Opera says that Max will be opening up on a wait list for just this reason — to make sure that its servers don't fall apart.
Where Opera Max won't work is with any encrypted sites, so it'll have no savings impact while you're browsing some popular services like Facebook. And while it's supposed to work with YouTube — where you'll likely be watching a lot of your video — that didn't happen during our initial testing of an earlier beta, and YouTube instead loaded over a cellular connection.
That app is available to use for free if you're willing to watch an ad on occasion, or for a $1 per month fee to use it without ads. For its other compression tools, Opera also gathers analytics based on aggregate, anonymized traffic that's run through its servers, so you'll want to decide if you're comfortable with that too since it's probably happening here as well. Using Max can definitely conserve some extra data for you, but you'll have to choose whether extra data or quick data speeds matter more.