How To: The 4 Best Apps for Downloading Movies & TV Shows

The 4 Best Apps for Downloading Movies & TV Shows

Streaming movies and TV shows on phones is more popular today than ever, but what about when you're on a plane, have a limited data plan, or will be in a no-service area? You'll want to download your movies and TV shows instead. While Netflix is excellent, you can't rent or download most of the latest movies and TV series. What you need is an app that lets you do just that.

We've compiled a list of what we believe are the best four apps for downloading movies and TV shows onto your smartphone, whether you want to buy or rent that content. Any of the options below will allow you to choose from a large variety of entertainment for you to watch wherever you like on your iPhone or Android phone. There are critical differences between them all, and some may not work for your situation, so take a look through our list to find the app that fits your needs best.

Image by Jake Peterson/Gadget Hacks

Key Points

When it comes to picking the best service for downloading movies and TV shows, there are many factors. We started by laying down some ground rules.

First, all services had to offer both movies and TV shows, and they needed to be downloadable for offline viewing on mobile devices. We also made sure that each service provides occasional deals on its content, and another major factor was that each of these contestants provided full HD (1080p) content. That said, here are the finer points that we used to compare our finalists:

  • Quantity of Movies: Most of the apps on our list do not divulge any numbers. Apple has figures on its website, but its answers are very broad and misleading. The rest can be found on third-party sites; We used JustWatch for our numbers to make sure they're as comparable as possible. Keep in mind that these numbers are continually changing, so the values in the chart may be slightly different depending on when you're reading this. Another wrinkle is that these are the total number of titles in all quality ranges, so this number includes SD, HD, and even 4K content when available.
  • Movie Prices (Buy) The numbers in our chart only reflect the HD price range and take into account lowered costs for older or low-demand movies. Each service tops out at roughly $20 for the newest blockbuster films, but some have better deals on older movies. Keep in mind that SD movies, in many cases, cost $1–$5 less, and 4K movies are more expensive if they're available.
  • Max Resolution: All of the services on this list are capped at 1080p full HD playback on mobile devices, so this entry isn't much of a differentiating factor if you only plan to watch your downloaded content on a phone or tablet. However, some services offer 4K UHD content that you can play on your desktop, laptop, or TV.
  • Movie Prices (Rent): Only HD movie rental prices are listed here. SD rentals sometimes cost the same but usually cost anywhere between $1–$2 less. An outlier to consider here is when movies are simultaneously released in theaters and on digital media. Such movies are usually more expensive to rent, but they're so rare that we left them out of the listed price ranges in this chart.
  • Rental Period: All services give you 30 days from the time of purchase to start watching your rental.
  • Expiration After Starting: This is the time you have to watch your rental after you've started it. Most services only give you 24 hours, while Amazon and Google Play allow up to 48 hours to watch.
  • Quantity of TV Shows: See the Quantity of Movies above. To be brief, we use JustWatch to figure out the numbers for each service.
  • TV Prices (Episode): The prices listed here are for HD TV episodes. Many SD episodes cost one dollar less than their HD counterparts, but you will find HD and SD versions that cost the same.
  • Offers TV Rentals: Only Amazon lets you rent TV shows, which is a shame. Like movie rentals, TV rentals cost less than purchasing and, if you never plan to watch the episode or season again, might be the best choice for you.
  • Platforms: The entries in this section of the chart denote which devices the service is available for. The first row tells you whether you can use this app on Android or iOS, and the next five rows let you know which TV platforms you can watch your purchased content on. One major point to note here: With the help of a service called Movies Anywhere, you can connect all of your movie libraries to extend cross-platform compatibility. For instance, you can tie your iTunes library to Google Play, then use the YouTube app to watch iTunes content anywhere YouTube is supported.
  • Buy & Rent from iOS: The only way to buy movies or shows on an iPhone or iPad is by using Apple's own iTunes service; This means that you'll have to purchase content from Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play on a different device, but you can download and play the content on your iOS device once you've bought it.
  • Allows PC Downloads: Only two of the services on this list let you download your movies and TV episodes to a computer for offline viewing. If you're someone who uses a computer for your binge-watching, this is something to keep in mind.
  • Discounts for Discs Owned: Vudu allows you to use the DVDs and Blu-Rays you already own to get significant discounts on digital copies. They even go so far as to offer package deals where you can buy a physical copy and a digital copy together for one low price, but we'll get into that in a bit more detail below. No other service offers such features at this time.
  • Free Content Available: Most services on this list offer free content, and they're mostly free TV episodes. Look out for details in the individual sections below.

1: Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime has made a name for itself in so many more ways than just a shopping site. Between its suite of products like the Kindle, Echo, and Fire TV, and its excellent original programming, Amazon is a multifaceted juggernaut.

For our purposes, however, it is the premier app for downloading movies and TV to your mobile device. While the company refuses to release official numbers, Amazon provides users with thousands of choices for watching movies. As of this writing, JustWatch had the count at over 30,000 movies, so you shouldn't have a problem choosing something for your movie night!

  • Install Amazon Prime Video: Android (free) | iOS (free)

HD movies, when first released, are usually priced at $19.99, before dropping to $14.99. There are plenty of movies whose prices fall further, ranging anywhere from $9.99 to as low as $6.99. Not a bad deal.

SD movies are also available, but won't necessarily cost less. If an HD movie costs over $9.99, the SD movie is typically cheaper, ranging from $9.99 to $14.99. But some HD movies that cost $9.99 or less will have an SD equivalent that costs the same. Not all, mind you, but it's an interesting quirk, nonetheless. In those cases, unless you don't have the needed space, you might as well go with the HD version.

From left to right: The Android app and the iOS app.

Speaking of deals, Amazon does provide special deals on movie prices. Keep in mind it's usually discounts off movies priced $9.99 or higher, so you won't see anything dip below $6.99 here.

Amazon has yet to bring 4K to its mobile users, unfortunately, and that's a shame since more and more phones have displays that would benefit from the quality boost. Still, you can purchase videos in HD up to 1080p.

Amazon does TV just as well as it does movies. According to my search, Amazon offers 5,481 television series to purchase, which is considerably more than any other service in this list. Seems to me like there should be something for everybody in its catalog.

TV episodes in HD typically cost $2.99, though some shows have episodes available for as low as $0.99. Some episodes will cost you $3.99, namely hit HBO titles like Game of Thrones or True Detective. You can also get SD episodes for a dollar less. Pricing for seasons vary based on the series but usually cost anywhere from $14.99–$29.99. SD seasons cost less until the price hits $14.99, in which case the SD price will reflect the HD price.

From left to right: The Android app and the iOS app.

Like with movies, Amazon provides discounts on TV. Additionally, if you already own episodes from a season of a series, you can purchase the rest of the season minus the cost of the episodes you currently own.

Amazon, of course, offers rentals as well. A typical HD movie rental will cost anywhere between $0.99–$5.99, but for newer and more popular movies, that price will stay closer to $4.99–$5.99. SD rentals usually cost one dollar less, but once an HD movie costs $0.99 to rent, its SD counterpart will cost the same.

Movie rentals are good for 30 days after the date of purchase, but that's normal. What makes Amazon stand out here is how long you can continue watching your movie after you've hit play. Amazon ties for the most substantial grace period on this list at 48 hours. That's enough time to get a few more watches in or to let friends and family on your account watch as well.

When you're downloading an HD movie or show that you've purchased on Amazon, you'll have the option of downloading in SD as well, which can save a lot of space. No extra charges apply for this feature.

One cool thing about TV with Amazon is that Amazon provides TV rentals for both episodes and seasons. You have the typical 30 days to watch from the date of purchase, but 14 days after you've begun playback. Rented TV typically costs $0.99 per episode, and $9.99 per season, HD or SD.

On Android, you can purchase digital content either in the app, via Amazon's site in a browser, or from select TV devices. For iPhone, it's a little trickier since you can do the same except within the iOS app.

Unfortunately, with Amazon, you can't download videos to a computer. You can download on your smartphone or tablet, but if you primarily watch on your PC or Mac, you will have to stream your purchased content. You also cannot use your previously purchased DVDs and Blu-Rays for discounted or free digital copies like you can with other services.

Amazon does provide free content, however. The company usually provides a list of free TV episodes for you to download at your pleasure. These episodes are typically the first in the series, which means you won't miss a thing.

When it comes to platform compatibility, Amazon is pretty universal. You can download your content on both Android and iOS, and you can view it on Roku, Fire TV, Android TV, and Apple TV. Amazon Prime Video does not officially support Chromecast, but Android users can still view the content by casting their phone's screen through the Google Home app while playing the video in the Amazon Prime Video app.

However, you can skirt all of these platform restrictions by connecting your Amazon library to Movies Anywhere. Once you've done that, Amazon purchases will be available in the iTunes app for iOS and Apple TV or the Vudu and Google Play Movies app for the majority of other platforms.

It's likely you use Amazon Prime for your shopping needs already, and if you do, you gain even more movie and TV options with its Prime Video service. Even if you don't subscribe to Prime, Amazon's media marketplace is an excellent spot for anyone looking to catch up on their shows or settle in for movie night.

2: Vudu

Vudu is Walmart's entry in the streaming and downloadable media space. While its ownership doesn't have the tech pedigree of companies like Amazon or Apple, Vudu was founded and created smack-dab in the middle of Silicon Valley before being purchased by the retailer in 2010. As a result of this mishmash upbringing, Vudu has quite a few unique features that set it apart from the other names on our list.

It's tricky to figure out how many titles Vudu offers for purchasing. At this time, the company has not responded to our request for numbers, but JustWatch points to 23,266 titles available.

  • Install Vudu Movies & TV: Android (free) | iOS (free)

HD movies are typically labeled as "HDX," a proprietary codec which helps ensure that movies are seen at a full 24 frames per second with 5.1 surround sound and minimal compression artifacts. However, HDX movies have the same actual resolution as their HD counterparts, and the benefits of HDX apply more to streaming content than downloaded content.

HDX movies on Vudu have similar price ranges to Amazon, coming in anywhere between $6.99 and $19.99, depending on how recent and popular the film is. SD movies usually cost $1–$5 less. Like Amazon, Vudu offers special deals, most notably bundles. These bundles typically come with two movies for a flat $7.99, which is one of the best savings you'll find on this list.

From left to right: The Android app and the iOS app.

While Vudu does support UHD, it does not offer this quality tier on smartphones. Users looking for a 4K movie experience on their phones will have to look elsewhere. You can buy UHD movies in the Android app, but you will not be able to watch in 4K unless you do so from a computer. On the other hand, iPhone users can't even buy movies in the app but need to do so in a web browser first or on another compatible device.

Vudu also has a respectable TV catalog, albeit a bit small. JustWatch has Vudu's library at 3,277 series, which is just over half of what Amazon offers. Episodes are the standard $2.99 for HD and $1.99 for SD, but you will find deals and unique offerings from time to time, so keep your eyes peeled.

Unlike Amazon, you can't rent TV series, but you can rent movies. The prices don't quite go as low as they do on Amazon, but are still similar to other services. HD movies will run you anywhere from $3.99–$5.99, while SD movies typically cost one dollar less. Purchased HD content can be downloaded in SD without paying any extra, should you decide you'd like to save some storage space.

From left to right: The Android app and the iOS app.

Once you purchase a rental, you have 30 days to watch it. Once you hit play, you have 24 hours to watch before the movie disappears.

Vudu has a leg-up on Amazon when it comes to downloading. Vudu offers PC downloads, so those who prefer to watch movies and TV on their computers have that option. However, you have to go through Vudu's player, rather than VLC or Quicktime, which can hamper your media freedom a bit; This also means you won't be able to add your Vudu movies to your Plex library unless you can figure out a way to strip the DRM.

Another awesome Vudu feature is its partnership with UltraViolet. This program allows users to use their previously purchased DVDs and Blu-Rays to receive digital copies at substantial discounts. DVDs cost $2 per copy, and $5 for an HD copy, while Blu-Rays cost $2 for an HD copy, since, presumably, you've already paid more for the Blu-Ray.

The disc-to-digital goodies don't stop there, either. Vudu offers package deals for some movies that allow you to buy a physical Blu-Ray, then enter a code to redeem a free copy of the digital version in full HD. And with Walmart's InstaWatch program, when you buy eligible discs from Walmart's website using the same email address attached to your Vudu account, you'll instantly receive a free digital copy of the media in your Vudu account; This might be the cheapest way to buy digital content in HD, as Walmart has some great deals on Blu-Ray discs.

Unlike some of the other services on this list, Vudu has a minimal selection of free downloadable content. You'll mostly find short behind-the-scenes clips for some shows, but not many. Vudu is well known for offering free movies and TV with ads, but that service is restricted to streaming only. If you're looking for free media to download to your devices, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Vudu excels when it comes to cross-platform availability. The app will work whether you have Android or iOS, however, as a result of Apple's restrictive policies, the iOS app is handicapped by its inability to make purchases. You can use Vudu on all of the most popular TV devices, such as Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, Android TV, and Apple TV. It's the only service on our list with official support for all five of the top TV platforms by market share.

3: Google Play Movies & TV

In many ways, Google Play can be thought of like the iTunes of the Android world. Well, more accurately, the iTunes and the App Store of the Android world, but we don't need to worry about that right now. The point is, the two offer similar services to one another.

As we have no official way to know how many titles Google Play offers, we have to look to third-party sources. JustWatch states Google has 29,465 movie titles. Google's movies are priced almost identically to iTunes. HD movies will run you $4.99–$19.99, with SD either one to five dollars less or the same, depending on the film and its cost. Included with the purchase price of HD content is the ability to download an SD copy if your phone is running low on space.

  • Install Google Play Movies & TV: Android (free) | iOS (free)
From left to right: The Android app and the iOS app.

Google Play does offer special deals on movies, and, like iTunes, you can usually find these deals on the front page. Google makes it easy to see your savings, as the old price is crossed out in gray, and the new price bright red like all the other prices.

While Google Play does offer UHD on a desktop and compatible smart TVs, smartphones are not supported. Hopefully, we see that technology arrive soon.

Regarding TV, Google Play offers a similar selection to Vudu, coming in at around 3,414. HD TV episodes usually go for around the standard price of $2.99, unless it's a premium show, which might charge $3.99. SD episodes are generally a dollar less.

From left to right: The Android app and the iOS app.

Google Play also offers specials on TV episodes. While you might not find as many deals as on another service, Google will feature money-saving bundles, TV seasons $15 or less, among other decent deals.

One of Google Play's biggest draws is the fact that you can earn free credit to purchase movies and TV shows by filling out occasional surveys using the Google Opinion Rewards app. Given enough time, you could build up an impressive movie and TV show library without ever paying a dime. However, Google Opinion Rewards is only available for Android devices.

Google Play's rental system is relatively straightforward. HD movie rentals usually cost $2.99–$5.99, with SD titles either the same price or a dollar less. You get 30 days to watch your movie from the time you buy it and an impressive 48 hours to finish watching from the time you hit play. Google Play, like all services on this list but Amazon, does not offer TV rentals.

You can't download your Google Play movies and TV shows to a Windows or Mac computer, but you can download titles if you own a Chromebook. There aren't any discounts for previously purchased DVDs or Blu-Rays, but Google Play does offer free content, like its "Free TV" section. Like iTunes, this isn't where you find the best or hottest TV shows right now, but hey, you might find something fun.

Google Play pairs well with the various devices out there. You can access it on both Android and iOS, although you can't purchase anything on the iOS app. Google Play is directly compatible with Roku, Chromecast, and Android TV — but even on the platforms where it isn't available, you can play purchased content through the YouTube app, which means you can even watch your movies on Fire TV and Apple TV. The iOS app, as well as the YouTube app, have AirPlay streaming now built right in, so Google Play users can beam their content right to an Apple TV.

4: iTunes Store

While it popularized downloading music digitally — legally, anyway — iTunes has since established itself as a great source of downloadable movies and TV.

Apple's iTunes is most likely the best app on this list for iPhone, Mac, and all-around Apple users. But outside of Apple's ecosystem, it's only available on Windows PCs, so it's a no-go for Android users. However, because of how great an app it is for those in the iOS community, we feel it deserves the third-place slot.

Let's talk movies. Apple claims that iTunes users can choose from around 85,000 flicks. JustWatch, on the other hand, claims iTunes only has 26,427 titles. Go figure.

Movies are priced at a typical range, but you can find some for cheap — HD movies usually go for $5.99–$19.99, with SD movies usually costing one dollar less. Like Amazon, some iTunes movies will charge the same for the SD copy as the HD copy, so be aware of that before making your decision. However, HD purchases can be downloaded in SD for no extra charge if you'd like to save space on your phone.

The iTunes Store only has an app for iOS.

Also, iTunes will routinely offer special discounts on movies, pricing the more premium films as low as $4.99.

With iTunes HD, you get 4K content, a welcome addition for anyone using the service on compatible devices. Unfortunately, the only 4K-compatible device in Apple's ecosystem is the Apple TV 4K. Even Apple's latest iPhones can't run movies in 4K, only at a max resolution of 1080p. Luckily, HDR-compatible iPhones can display HDR movies in their full dynamic range, albeit at 1080p rather than 4K.

At first glance, iTunes seems to have TV covered. Apple claims iTunes has 300,000 TV series on its store, but we're not so sure about that.

We're thinking Apple is counting each episode as a TV series, which would make sense considering JustWatch lists iTunes as having just 4,645 series available. In any case, iTunes prices its TV episodes similarly to the other services, although, like with its movies, provides some HD shows a little cheaper. HD shows typically range $0.99–$2.99, although HBO and other premium channel episodes may charge $3.99 per episode.

The iTunes Store only has an app for iOS.

Apple's service shines with its TV deals. The front page is littered with offers and discounts, from TV seasons $5–$15, to $0.99 TV episodes that otherwise shouldn't be. It's great to check out now and then, since you never know if they'll be offering something you want at a considerable discount.

The Apple-users-only shop is an excellent movie rental service, with HD titles ranging from $0.99–$5.99 and SD titles either the same or one dollar less. Rentals, as usual, are good for 30 days after the time of purchase and 24 hours once hitting play. Disappointingly, iTunes does not offer TV rentals.

Apple's iTunes is the only service on this list that lets you purchase content directly from your iPhone or iPad (though content needs to be watched via the Apple TV app for iPhone), which is the primary reason we recommend this service to folks in the Apple ecosystem. However, it's worth noting that this is likely by design, and Apple just doesn't let other services sell content on its devices so that iTunes doesn't have to face any actual competition.

Not surprisingly, iTunes allows for PC/Mac downloads. The protection it put on its movies can get a bit annoying, since there's not a whole lot you can do with the video file other than watching it in iTunes, but it's a convenient feature nonetheless.

You cannot buy discounted movies and TV from your DVDs and Blu-Rays. However, iTunes offers a decent amount of free content. There is a page dedicated to free TV episodes. You won't find Game of Thrones here, but you might find something you're interested in. And it's 100% free.

Where iTunes doesn't shine is accessibility, but it's getting better thanks to Movies Anywhere, which lets you watch compatible movies and TV shows bought from iTunes on your Android device; This extends to Chromecast and Android TV as well. However, iTunes is not compatible with Roku or Fire TV.

Most of these titles are from iTunes but watchable on Android devices.

This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' annual Movies & TV on Mobile special coverage. Read all of the Movies & TV on Mobile coverage.

Just updated your iPhone? You'll find new features for Podcasts, News, Books, and TV, as well as important security improvements and fresh wallpapers. Find out what's new and changed on your iPhone with the iOS 17.5 update.

Cover image and screenshots by Jake Peterson/Gadget Hacks

1 Comment

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