The best way to secure Android phones and Android tablets is a source of contention. Android antivirus, if it works at all, can deal with only one type of threat. And in a world where the weakest security link is often the end user, that is far from enough. Enter OCShield's DataGard, an app for Android that uses a VPN (virtual Private network) to allow the device user to work and play in an anonymous and protected tunnel.
DataGard is currently available for Android phones and tablets, but OCShield tells us that Windows Phone and iOS apps are in the works. The idea is that you access data only through OCShield's VPN, which is itself protected by antivirus and antispyware. This in turn protects your device and your data.
It's a fiendishly simple, effective idea. Route all data traffic through a third-party sworn to protect you, and forget about all your security worries. As long as the app's icon is visibile in the corner of your screen, OCShield promises to weed out all malware, and block dodgy websites at the network level, so even if you click a rotten link in an email, OCShield's filters should block out the resulting site. See also: Best Android Apps
You can enjoy enterprise level antivirus, anti-phishing and encryption, without the system overhead of having to install apps and download updates. And DataGard even keeps working in the background when your system is asleep. Thus are you protected from even drive-by attacks. It's discreet, until something happens (when we tried surfing on an unsecured network, DataGard was quick to let us know).
DataGard: additional benefits
There are additional benefits, too. OCShield's VPN compresses websites, which it says makes web surfing through DataGard faster. We've never had a problem with the speed of the browser on our Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and didn't notice things getting faster. But it certainly didn't get slower, which is a boon for any security product.
More easy to measure is that OCShield says its compression can mean DataGard saves you data, and therefore money. Indeed, OCShield claims that it can reduce your data consumption by 25 percent. Whether this is the case will depend on your current data useage, but - again - anything that secures your devices and data without adding data consumption is a good thing.
And OCShield's very accurate data usage guage may be worth the price of admission alone. It not only tells you how much data you've used, over 3G and Wi-Fi separately, but it also allows you to set limits, so you don't bust your allowance. Useful, and potentially wallet saving.
Utilising OCShield's network of IP addresses, using DataGard you can choose where geographically you want to locate your VPN. There are, I'm sure, legitimate reasons for doing this. You may wish to spoof your location for privacy purposes, or - I dunno - you may like seeing adverts on the BBC website. More likely you want to watch BBC iPlayer or Sky Go when you are abroad, or US TV when at home in the UK. We make no judgments: DataGard offers this capability, and it works well.
There's a comprehensive Help section in the app, as well as useful account history data.
DataGard: down sides?
It's worth pointing out that DataGard is optimised for Android 2.2.x to 2.3, and a new version is in the works for Ice Cream Sandwich. Although DataGard worked fine on our Android 3.1 Tab, there were some glitches such as the Help menus failing to load properly (hardly surprising when the app is not designed for the OS used). We had no such problems with our older Galaxy Tab, running Android 2.2. This is despite Google Play proudly saying that DataGard 'REQUIRES ANDROID: 2.1 and up'. Not strictly true, although OCShield is working on adding more of the disparate family of Android OSes.
There are more legitimate down sides. The app's always on, so you may find your battery useage is affected - this will be an issue only if battery life is already an issue. Both of our test tablets can easily manage a day or two without charging, but perhaps an Android phone would be different. And DataGard is limited to a fair useage policy of 5GB of data a month.
OCShield told us: "The Always On can be switched to Manual and then you have a drop down menu allowing you to pick what you want to automate. There is a large list of options. Always On is the default, but you can change it in Settings and tune it down to what you prefer."
OCShield also showed us its own test results that suggest that battery life is affected only in single-digit percentages, if at all. And in our own use we haven't noticed a difference in the amount of time we can squeeze out of our devices. Again, a single-digit drop in battery life will only be a problem if your battery life is already catastrophically poor.
In our initial review we said the biggest reason not to fly out and buy DataGard was the cost: back then a subscription would cost you £5.95 a month, which over a year would make this a very expensive option as a pure play security product (albeit DataGard offers more than just security). However, since we posted that review the pricing has changed a little: a 12-month subscription now costs £39.95p, or £3.33p a month. Six months is £24.95p (£4.16p); three months £14.95p (£4.98p) and two weeks £2.99p (£5.98p). That puts it in line with the cost of a full-spec Windows security suite, and if you are a heavy data user the reduction in data used should actually save you money.
OCShield is set to offer PC Advisor readers a 20 percent discount, too. Details to follow.