It seems that TVs are getting larger and larger these days, and while your iPhone (or iPod Touch) will never compare to the 60-inch monster you have in the living room, sometimes it’s the perfect device to satisfy your TV fix. After all, it’s portable, convenient, and always with you. With the right app, and perhaps a subscription service or two, you’ll never have to miss your favorite show ever again.
Monthly subscription required
If you’re a TV junkie, you probably already know about the Hulu website, which is a great way to watch entire seasons of older shows or to catch up on current season episodes you may have missed on a PC. The Hulu+ app works almost exactly like the browser version of the service that you’re probably already familiar with, though as you can tell by the name, a Hulu+ membership is required to use the app.
It opens with featured videos, mainly clips from last night’s talk shows, along with full comedy and drama episodes. Tabs at the bottom allow you to navigate to popular/trending videos, search for a particular show, jump straight to current TV shows, or access the More tab. There you’ll find settings, movies, your queue, a link to Spanish content, your viewing history, and support.
Your queue can be set up to group all of your content by show, or you can filter it to get quicker access to movies, video clips, trailers for upcoming movies, or for individual episodes. If you’ve already started watching something on the Web, accessing that same episode from your queue will take you to exactly where you left off, which is convenient. Subtitles are not available, and you’ll also find that some shows simply aren’t available within the iPhone app, even though they’re available on your computer, due to licensing restrictions. Aside from those two caveats, the Hulu+ app is highly recommended and definitely a must-have if you’re a subscriber.
Monthly subscription required
Like the Hulu+ app, the Netflix app allows subscribers to watch a large variety of TV shows and movies. Although there is a search tab at the bottom of the screen, it’s even easier to pick something from the items that are already in your instant queue. When you first start the app, you’ll be invited to resume watching the show you were watching last, or to pick something else that the matchmaking computer thinks you’ll like, based on your previous viewing history.
If you’re in the mood to try something different, the Genres tab is where you can start browsing for TV shows, dramas, comedies, documentaries, thrillers, and everything else in between. TV shows are arranged by episode and season, and you can add an entire show’s run to your instant queue with a single tap. The sound and video quality are top notch too.
This is an absolute must-have if you’re already a Netflix subscriber on something like a Roku box — just be sure that you have unlimited data on your mobile plan or good access to Wi-Fi, because you’re going to need it.
If you don’t want to pay a monthly subscription fee, and your tastes run more to the classic than the current, check out Crackle. It’s a free app from Sony Pictures Entertainment that includes an ever-rotation selection of free TV shows and movies. At the moment, you’ll find Seinfeld, Married With Children, Jackie Chan Adventures (animated), All in the Family, Bewitched, and even the Three Stooges.
A free Crackle account is required to watch the videos, or you can log in with your Facebook account information. It’s a fun app for those who are more interested in on-the-go entertainment than they are in crossing a specific episode of a particular show off of their to-do list, because you’re never exactly sure what will be available. There are also some original shows on Crackle that you won’t find anywhere else. There are a few ads here and there, but nothing too intrusive, and about the same as you would expect on Hulu, only shorter.
Both of these apps bring much of the education, arts, and entertainment that public television stations are known for. While you won’t find every single show and special on regular PBS stations on your iPhone, the selection is impressive. Favorites include Antiques Roadshow, Austin City Limits, Frontline, Great Performances, Nature, NOVA, and many others. There are multiple full-length episodes available for each show, as well as a multitude of short clips and previews.
You can also check out the schedule for your local PBS station, set reminders for your favorite shows, and of course share that information by Facebook, Twitter, or email. You can also make a donation to support public television from within the app.
And if you have kids, you’ll want to download the PBS Kids video app as well. It’s also free, with a more kid-friendly interface so that they can find and watch all of their favorite shows, including Arthur and Super WHY.
These are just two of the best examples of free, network-specific apps you can get. Other good options are NBC, ABC, and Cartoon Network. These apps are the best ways of watching recent TV episodes on your iPhone, from Grimm to Modern Family, at no cost.
This is, in essence, a promotional app with video clips and episodes from a few major stations such as CBS, the CW, Showtime, the Smithsonian channel, and several others. There are more clips than full episodes, but there are quite a few full episodes available as well, all of them free. They’re usually broken up into multiple segments, which is ideal for shorter on-the-go viewing sessions, as it’s easier to pick up where you left off since the app doesn’t bookmark anything for you like the Hulu+ and Netflix apps do.
There is advertising, but it’s not too intrusive, aside from when you are forced to watch a few seconds of a commercial or a movie trailer when you first launch the app. Fortunately that doesn’t happen every single time, but it is relatively annoying. You can filter the content by channel, and set your favorite shows that you can get a “feed” of new clips and episodes that you’ll like without having to wade through everything.
It works well, with good quality video; the only real downfall is the relatively limited selection of content. If a few more channels would jump on board, this app would have a chance to be something great; as it is it’s worth the free download to see if the shows you’re interested in are included.
AT&T U-verse Live TV
Monthly subscription required
This app brings live TV to the iPhone — so long as what you’re interested in is ABC News Now, FOX News, FOX Sports, or ESPN Sports. The “live” name is something of a misnomer, since you’re actually watching a stream of news and sports information that is pre-packaged for mobile devices, not what you would actually see if you turned on your home television.
You’ll also find a good selection of current TV shows that can be streamed to your device, though nothing that compares to Hulu+ or Netflix. You don’t have to be an AT&T U-verse subscriber at home, but you do have to pay a subscription fee of $11.99 per month, which covers all of your iOS devices, including the iPad, and automatically renews each month until you cancel.
The video quality is excellent, and so is the sound quality. The menu layout is easy to follow, with featured shows and live channels in the middle that you can swipe left and right to browse, plus category tabs for other content. There are commercials in the live programming, but not for regular products. While watching ABC News Now, I saw several promos for other ABC shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. While I would like to see more channels and shows available, and the monthly subscription price is relatively steep considering that Hulu+ and Netflix are each less expensive, the U-Verse app is a good alternative for mobile video on the go.