Who is binge watching TV regularly? I know I do. Never before have we had so many options for watching our favorite shows, especially when you think about how easy it is to stream anywhere on a mobile device. But sometimes all this choice becomes a bit overwhelming. What services are really worth the money? Where to invest your binges on Friday nights?
We've done the work and put together what we think are the top five apps for streaming TV directly to your phone, so any of these apps will give you hours of entertainment at home or on the go. We looked at things like pricing, the number of impressions available to stream in the US, and whether or not ads were a factor. All the information in the following diagram is for smartphones rather than tablets, so check out the list and we will take down the details below.
When it comes to choosing a streaming service with the goal of showing TV shows at a decent price, there are a whole some important factors that must be considered.
- Pricing: We list the different pricing levels (if more than one) that each service provides. No service on this list goes over three levels – Base, Midrange or Premium. Depending on the level you choose, you can get various features and benefits. These will be described below.
- Student plan: Some services offer student plans, which lowers the cost of students who are currently enrolled.
- Free Trial: All apps on this list offer a temporary free trial to new users. Some trials last as long as 30 days, or as short as a week. It simply depends on which service you choose. These lengths change over time, so that the 30-day free trial can be turned into a seven-day.
- Ads: There are different types of ads. First, there is the commercial that is played through a video. Second, there are pre-roll advertisements that you can skip for the service you are currently streaming, like with Amazon. Third, there are pre-roll ads that you can't skip. These usually contain the production company or channel the series is from and what day and time the series usually releases. These pre-roll ads are in Hulus levels, even if you subscribe to the ad-free ad.
- Number of titles: Most of this section must be taken with a grain of salt. Apple TV + and Disney + have enough small libraries, so we counted them manually. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have too many series to count by hand. JustWatch is a good source for keeping track of serial bills, especially since Netflix and Hulu release no numbers at all, and their libraries are massive .
- Max Streaming Quality: This will vary from unit to unit, but these are the maximum stream qualities for each service, provided you have a compatible phone.
- Original TV Series : All five apps on our list produce their own original TV series, but some have much more content than others. This is an important feature, as these TV shows will probably not disappear from every service because they are home grown. Everything else can come and go based on distribution agreements.
- Original Series to Total Library : A simple percentage of the number of original series to the total number of series that a service offers.
- Same or Next Day Airing: Some services on this list offer TV shows the same day they are broadcast or the day after. The highlight here is Hulu as the service provides airing the next day of current TV shows available on networks such as ABC, NBC and Comedy Central.
- Ability to Download: If you are traveling or on a day commute where there is no Wi-Fi and the mobile service is spotty (or if you do not have an unlimited data plan), this is an important feature. Being able to watch a series from the phone's storage is good in these situations. Previously, this feature was sought after by some apps, but now all five apps on our list support.
- Adjust Streaming Quality: This is an important feature for streaming apps to have, so you can control the quality of your video, either to preserve data or increase the quality manually. Most apps don't let you control the quality, while some let you control the power from the settings. You win in particular by letting you control the quality of the stream itself, but more on that later.
- HDR Support: HDR – High Dynamic Range – provides better contrast ratio and colors with your TV programs. However, services that support HDR do not necessarily show their content in HDR – your phone must also be compatible (see below for more information).
- Chromecast Support / AirPlay Support: Offers support for Chromecast and AirPlay. AirPlay is exclusive to Apple, so only iPhones can take advantage of the feature.
- Availability: Does the app support Android, iOS or both?
App 1: Netflix
Is there a more recognizable name in binge watching? Netflix has had the record for a long time, thanks to its large library of popular TV series, as well as its own original content. While the streaming wars have definitely taken Netflix titles, the service still continues.
There is no way to really know for sure how many series Netflix currently offers, but as of the latest bill it was 1,498. There are many series to watch.
But there are a lot of series on Netflix, of which 492 are original by our standards, 33% of all content. The amazing number is a combination of Netflix series produced on their own, as well as series that Netflix acquired after the fact. Regardless, there is no dispute about Netflix as the champion of original online content.
What makes this even better is that Netflix has zero ads. Any title you choose will be streamed immediately. It's a benefit not many other streaming services can boast.
Netflix offers 4K HDR video streaming, but you must have a compatible device to access it. If you are an iOS user, your iPhone could potentially be streaming in Dolby Vision. Compatible devices include iPhone 8, 8 Plus, X and newer. If you're running Android, only the LG G6 can play Dolby Vision, since most Android devices use the open, non-proprietary HDR10 standard instead. For Netflix, HDR10 devices include many modern Androids, such as OnePlus 7T and Google Pixel 3. Check out the Netflix website for the most updated list.
You can still enjoy 1080p streams on almost all mobile devices. While you can't adjust the video quality while watching a show, Netflix lets users choose the quality they want to stream from the settings.
Download titles to play offline without a doubt good function. Whether you want to delete your data plan or you want your series without internet connection, downloading your titles gives you a lot of freedom. However, it should be noted that not all series can be downloaded. If a series is download compatible, you will see a download icon while browsing.
Another good aspect is that TV shows on Netflix are dumped into the service in one day, so you can watch an entire series in one day or two days if you want. The downside to this is that you have to wait until after a season ends airing before you can see any new programs.
Netflix plans start as low as $ 8.99 / month, but if you need to watch more than one device at a time, or if you want to watch HD, consider the higher levels. The mid-level plan costs $ 12.99 / month, allows two devices to stream simultaneously, and upgrades customer streams to HD. The premium level costs $ 15.99 / month, offers four simultaneous streams at once and adds 4K for compatible devices.
New users can get a 30-day free trial, which is a good time to check out all the shows you can and see if Netflix is worth the cost. You also get over 4,000 movies to stream in the process, if you ever need to take a break from binge watching.
Chromecast and AirPlay are both supported here, and of course the service is available on Android and iOS.
App 2: Hulu
Hulu is the place to be for updated TV series from both cable networks and air networks. No other service can match Hulu in this space. Hulu updates its current series catalog the day after new show air, which means you don't have to subscribe to cable to keep up with all the hottest series.
Hulu certainly deserves this second space, although our chart does not reflect that. Unfortunately, this is misleading as it is difficult to represent Hulu's greatest strength (a huge library of "current" shows and streaming the next day) compared to other services that do not even offer this. But since Hulu is the only service on this list that lets you stay almost as up to date with TV as you can with a traditional cable subscription, we think Hulu is the next best thing.
According to JustWatch, Hulu has 1,361 series available for streaming, so they definitely have a healthy selection for you to consume. There should be something here for everyone, and then some.
Although the number is not as great as Netflix's, Hulu has 62 original series, 5% of all content, currently available for streaming. Handmaid's Tale is the latest popular entry, and while the buzz around it has died down a bit, it's really just as fun to binge today.
Hulu is one of the only apps here that gives you manual video quality controls while streaming. Most other apps force you to go to settings to change the video quality, and some don't even give you an option at all. These problems are not a problem with Hulu. Need to save your data? Switch your stream to low quality, all without stopping the show you're watching. Do you want Hulu to play in full quality, no matter how much it needs to buffer? You can do that too.
While 4K is finally backed up, the compatible device list is quite short, giving you up to 1080p on your mobile, so you can fight your slow connection to see your series in the highest possible resolution on supported devices.
When it comes to pricing, Hulu gets a little muddy. For $ 5.99 / month, you get access to Hulus's entire serial library, but you will be subject to a multitude of ads. These ads will appear before and during your TV series, so it can get quite annoying. And you can't skip them.
To avoid this, switch to the plan $ 11.99 / month. You lose all ads so you can binge without a break. Note, whichever plan you choose, Hulu plays a pre-roll before each show, which shows the channel the series belongs to and what day and time the series is broadcast on TV.
Hulu has a student pricing plan, which is actually one of the best deals on this list – for $ 5 a month you get not only Hulu, but also Spotify and Showtime. Whoa.
While the Hulu plan contains ads, Spotify Premium will not. It's a trade-off that I suppose many would consider doing.
Hulu also allows users to add premium subscriptions to their Hulu accounts. These include Showtime ($ 10.99 / month), Cinemax ($ 9.99 / month), HBO Now ($ 14.99 / month), STARZ ($ 8.99 / month), Unlimited screens ($ 9.99 / month), entertainment ($ 7.99 / month), Español ($ 4.99 / month) month) and / or Enhanced Cloud DVR ($ 9.99 / month).
If you want to continue watching a section of the big screen, you can use Chromecast with Hulu, or you can AirPlay your content to an Apple TV. Both of these platforms currently support 4K streaming, but only for compatible Hulu titles. Hulu is available on both Android and iOS.
App 3: Amazon Prime Video
Talk about an original power programming program. Amazon has increased its game in recent years and created some of the most talked about series that are not Game of Thrones . Transparent and The man in the high castle is just a few examples of what Amazon can do right.
Amazon is also unique in that it crowds its TV pilots. Subscribers can watch all the pilot episodes Amazon has produced and vote on what they want to see transformed into entire seasons. It's a good idea, and one that makes subscribing to Amazon feels like more of a community than any other service on this list.
As mentioned above, it is difficult to place Amazon in terms of hard numbers. Their claim to have 5,710 series is reportedly inflated by considering each section as its own series. Third-party bills point to 1,960 as a more realistic representation of the number of series Amazon actually provides. However, we know that Amazon has 136 original series available to watch in the US. That's 7% of the entire library. Not too bad.
And just like Netflix, new TV shows and seasons on Amazon Prime Video are dumped on a day of ultimate binge-watching joy, so there is no waiting for new episodes every week. In addition, you can download virtually any series you want to watch without using data. But if you are an Amazon household member and not the paying member of Amazon Prime, you can only download selected pilots to watch in the Prime Video app.
Amazon Prime Video alone costs $ 8.99 / month. But for $ 12.99 a month, or $ 119 / year for a small saving, you get all the benefits from Amazon Prime included in your streaming service. Free two-day shipping, anyone?
It's hard to find a compatible device list today for HDR Prime Video, but we know with Sony Xperia XZ Premium or Xperia XZ1, Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or 9 or Galaxy S8, S8 +, S9 or S9 +, you can stream Amazon's content in HDR, when available.
Speaking of the Android app, that's another matter entirely – at least in the past. Until the end of August 2017, Amazon forced Android users to download the Amazon Prime Video app through another app, Amazon Underground.
Times have changed. You can now download Amazon Prime Video directly from the Google Play Store. If you want to read about how Android users used to download Amazon Prime Video, be sure to check out the link below.
An Amazon Prime membership with all accessories comes with a 30-day free trial. You can see how it feels to binge all the programs you want while swimming in free shipping. If you are a student, this trial jumps to six months, and then your costs are reduced by 50 percent. Anyone know how to pose for a student?
While the streaming service contains ads, they are Amazon branded products. This means that they will not be completely irrelevant, and at the same time they are easy to skip. You will be able to AirPlay with Prime Video, and the service is finally compatible with Chromecast after years of feuding with Google.
- Installing Amazon Prime Video: Android (Free) | iOS (free)
Apple TV + is probably the weirdest addition to this list. Apple's forwarding to streaming is basically brand new and will be launched on November 1 this year. Their approach is, as you can see, completely unconventional, but with fantastic features and unbeatable pricing it can only be worth your time.
Apple knew that launching a new platform by the end of 2019 would be competitive. That's probably why they priced their service so competitively at $ 4.99 a month. It's ridiculously low, especially for a non-student plan. If we talk about it, Apple TV + has a student plan. Technically, the Apple Music student plan, which now comes with Apple TV +, is all for the same $ 4.99 a month. Tough to beat it, especially with a seven-day free trial.
Apple TV + has no ads, which the ad haters reading here will surely love. But the reality begins when you realize that there are currently only 11 programs to see. There are 11 original titles, sure, but still 11. Apple has a series of programs planned and in production, but don't think you'll get endless entertainment for the low price.
What do you get are programs which streams in 4K. Apple TV + has no live TV deals, so no one will be broadcast the next day. However, you can download all titles directly to your device. However, there are limited quality controls, as Apple only lets you select "Best Available" or "Good" in the TV app's settings. What does that mean, Apple? We like specificity here.
Apple TV + offers HDR support (remember, compatible on iPhone 8 and newer), and of course AirPlay, but no option for Chromecast. Speaking of Google, here is a tender topic – there is no Android support either. How many of you did what was promoted? If you have a compatible smart TV or Roku device, you can still watch Apple TV +, but you won't be able to stream your phone anytime soon.
Would Apple TV + inspire your Android fans to switch devices? Probably no. As I said, Apple is offering one year of Apple TV + free with the purchase of a new iOS device. It might not be a reason to switch phones, but if you are still looking for a new one, it really is something that
Disney + is the latest streaming service on this list, coming in just behind Apple TV +. As such, it is still an emerging platform compared to some other streaming giants out there. So why are other services on our list? Except for the rocky first day launch, it does very well, although its overall library (especially in the original department) is a bit small at the moment.
First and foremost when we consider pricing, Disney + seems pretty fair. You pay $ 6.99 a month at the moment, with a two month discount if you choose an annual plan ($ 69.99 per year). You can also buy a $ 12.99 monthly plan, which comes with Hulu (advertising plan) and ESPN +. Not a bad deal. There may not be a student plan, but you can test the service for free for seven days.
None of your Disney + entertainment features ads, so you can watch uninterrupted. When it comes to the amount of entertainment you find, it pales in comparison to names like Netflix and Hulu. We currently count 160 TV shows currently available for streaming on Disney +, of which 12 (7.5%) are original. Disney + promises a lot of content on the horizon, but you can find the early titles, like The Mandalorian, to attract enough, especially when streaming in crisp 4K.
The deal is better for you Disney fans out there. These additional 148 titles are Disney classics, Disney Channel Originals and other Disney features, including such unexpected things as The Simpsons. If you want to relive your childhood, or just have a comfortable spot to watch all your Disney favorites, Disney + is not that hard to sell.
Disney + is not a Hulu-like service, so you won't see the next day airing cable shows. However, you will be able to download your content, which is great for watching the speed. Disney + offers some user control when it comes to video quality, but it is very limited. You can essentially choose whether you want to "Save data" or select "Automatic" streaming, none of which clarifies any type of resolution. However, when you stream in high quality, there is HDR support, and you can stream with both Chromecast and AirPlay (iOS only).
Obviously based on the order of this article and the chart, Netflix is the supreme winner when it comes to TV series streaming services for your smartphone. They have lots of titles, good resolution, no ads, the most original series, and you can download most episodes.
Hulu got its second place conveniently, mainly because of the large library and its constantly updated catalog of new programs on a weekly basis. The rest are all great deals too, it just depends on which series you want to watch the most and who has them.
Apple TV + and Disney + are both super new. While their benefits rightly earn them places on our list, you have to decide for yourself if their initial offers are worth the subscription. If you use Apple's original content, it's a no-brainer. If you are interested in Disney +'s original content or its backlog, then go for it.
Honestly, when it comes to it, the service that is best for you is the one that captures your interest the most. Sure, features are important, but if you're a big Star Wars fan, and you don't like the programs that Netflix or Hulu have to offer, you might be better off with Disney +. Take a look at our chart and then look at each service's library. That's how you know what to choose.
This article was first produced during Gadget Hack's annual movies and TV on mobile special coverage. Read all movies and TV about mobile coverage.