There’s good news and bad news for Honeycomb tablet owners who have been waiting with bated breath for the official release of a streaming Netflix app. The good news? It’s official, having been announced by Netflix and released into the Android Market on October 19. The bad news? It may not be the incredibly awesome Honeycomb-optimized experience you’ve been waiting for.
Ever since May, when Netflix made its grand (and way overdue) appearance on the Android Market for a handful of seemingly random mobile devices, tablet owners have been looking for ways to get in on the fun. First, it came to the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 and ThinkPad Tablet, then a handful of Gingerbread tablets. Now, it’s available for all devices running Android version 3.0 and higher. Naturally, it’s not without its ups and downs.
If you’re a newbie to Netflix Watch Instantly and your Honeycomb tablet’s doubling as your training ground, here are a few helpful details to get you up and running.
- The Netflix streaming app isn’t just for watching movies on your phone or tablet; you can also manage your Watch Instantly queue by adding and removing titles. In addition to that, you can rate movies you’ve just watched or have already seen. The only thing it doesn’t let you do is manage your physical DVD queue (for those hopelessly devoted few who have chosen to keep both DVD and streaming services), which is something that you can do over the Web.
- While you can’t search for movies by director or actor and are only limited to finding titles by typing their names into the search field, it is possible to browse movies by genre. The various genres on offer include: Action/Adventure, Anime, Children’s Movies, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Foreign, Horror, Indie, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller, and TV series.
- Some titles are available via streaming that aren’t available on DVD, and vice versa. This is a disparity that Netflix doesn’t seem to be making any efforts to address, primarily due to licensing rights and other complicated entanglements. If you can get past having streaming access to Poltergeist II and III but not the original, you’ll be okay. For some, however, that may be a bridge too far.
Lest we bust too many chops and make Netflix raise their rates again out of spite, it should be mentioned that there are some good things about the Netflix Honeycomb app.
- Load-up time for movies is surprisingly fast, putting to shame the excruciatingly slower performance you experience when accessing Netflix streaming via a Wii game console, for example.
- Video playback makes full use of your tablet’s screen, most of the time, dependent on whether or not the movie’s being presented in widescreen. At least that’s what appears to be the rationale behind it.
- There’s no painful syncing needed to pick up viewing where you left off on another device. You can start watching a movie on your TV set, migrate over to your computer, hop over to your tablet, and finish up on your smart phone.
- Subtitles and alternate language options can be easily accessed by tapping a small icon that looks like a cartoon dialogue bubble, but as you might imagine it’s not available for all movies.
- Mobile streaming is simultaneously being rolled out for United States, Canada, and Latin America users.
Not to be ungrateful, but the tech geeks over at Netflix have had five long months to ponder over the steaming app’s migration to Honeycomb tablets and there’s no excuse for some of the following oversights.
- The application layout isn’t optimized for tablet screens. It’s essentially the exact same thing you see on your smart phone, only bigger.
- The “Search” function only allows you to find specific titles, so unless you know exactly what you’re looking for or are viewing solely by what’s available in your Instant Queue, there’s no such thing as browsing. Want to find that classic Hitchcock flick whose name escapes you? Better pay a visit to IMDb first to get the title.
- Queue view is a bland, boring, straightforward text display of all titles you’ve racked up for later viewing and doesn’t even offer a one-line synopsis unless you select the expanded view.
- Video quality is still dodgy, but that’s nothing new. It’s always been that way, offering something of a schizophrenic watching experience. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between streaming and DVD, other times it’s painfully obvious. The fact remains, however, that the picture quality of the stream remains consistent when you compare the Honeycomb app to the regular desktop version. In that way, this last point could be taken as both a positive and a negative.
Apparently having conquered whatever DRM issues prevented it from rolling out its streaming app to Honeycomb tablets in the first place, Netflix’s latest app update is a step in the right direction for a company that’s displayed a real talent for causing outcry among its customer base. First, there was the double-whammy decision to not only hike up prices, but to separate DVD rental plans from Watch Instantly plans (although anyone who’d been lucky enough to pay such a meager amount for both for such a long time certainly should have known a price hike was inevitable). Then there was the announcement – and rapid reversal – of Netflix’s bewildering decision to rename the DVD portion of its service to Qwikster. If Netflix can finally get around to optimizing the streaming app experience to make use of all that extra screen real estate that tablets have over their much tinier smart phone cousins, they’ll officially be two-for-four. At this point, that’s a record to aim for.