How To: The Five Best Apps for Streaming Movies on Your Phone

The Five Best Apps for Streaming Movies on Your Phone

There are more than a few subscription-based movie streaming apps available for Android and iPhone, each with different benefits and varying pricing plans. Needless to say, it can get expensive fast if you sign up for multiple services because you can't decide on what's best. Hopefully, we can help you out with choosing the right video-on-demand app to spend your hard-earned dollars on.

We've tried and tested all the major players, as well as some ones you might not know about, to find the five best movie streaming apps for your money. While we're only showing you our top five, there were a few apps that came close to making this list, which we'll discuss in a bit. First, let's jump right into the chart and its key points, then we can dive deeper into the whys below.

Image by Jake Peterson/Gadget Hacks

Key Comparison Points

When it comes to picking a movie-streaming service with the best bang for your buck, there are quite a few key factors that need to be considered.

  • Quantity of Titles: Most of the services on our list have no official tallies for the number of movies they provide. Services like HBO Now and Hulu, with more limited-sized catalogs, were counted manually. Amazon has their numbers listed right on their search feature. Filmstruck lists their tally as "hundreds," with no other way to discern a total. Netflix provides no official data and declined to give us a number since it's "rapidly changing," so we had to go off of data found in third-party research. In mid-2016, Amazon had four times the movies that Netflix did, and it seems to be very a very similar ratio still.
  • Max Streaming Quality: This will vary greatly from device to device, but these are the maximums for each service that you can obtain as long as you have the right phone.
  • Adjust Streaming Quality: This is an important feature for streaming apps to have so you can control the quality of your video, so you can either preserve data or boost quality manually. Most apps don't let you have any control over the quality, while some let you control the stream from the settings. One in particular wins by letting you control the quality from within the stream itself, but more on that later.
  • Ability to Download: If you're taking a trip or on a daily commute where there's no Wi-Fi, and cellular service is spotty (or you don't have an unlimited data plan), this is a key feature. Being able to watch a movie from your phone's storage is great in these situations, but only a few services allow you to download.
  • Subscription Costs: In addition to the monthly services highlighted in the chart above, Filmstruck and Amazon offer yearly subscriptions at a discounted rate. Both offer the same features as their $10.99/month counterparts and cost $99 for the year. If you do the math, it's decent savings — $32.88 a year, to be exact. Also, some services provide discounts for students, and others are more generous with their free trials (an important factor for deciding if you like the service or not).
  • Ads: Ads can be a pretty broad term. There are the commercials that play throughout a video and pre-roll commercials that you can skip for the service you are currently streaming on. There are also pre-roll ads you can't skip. These usually contain the production company or channel the show is from and what day and time that show typically airs. This pre-roll ad is found on Hulu's bottom tier.
  • Original Movies: Three out of the five apps on our list produce their own original movies, which is a plus. Hulu, surprisingly, only has one original flick, a documentary, while Filmstruck has none.
  • Android vs. iOS: Many of the apps on this list are basically the same between the different mobile platforms, but depending on update timelines, they may have some pretty major differences. For instance, Hulu rolled out an interface overhaul for Android a few months ago which was quite different from the iOS app. They've since updated the iOS app to match, but we'll continue to highlight where these differences may affect you in case you get a new phone, use multiple phones, have a tablet, etc.

Services That Almost Made the Cut

Like we've already said, some close calls almost made our top-five list. If you're still unsure about which services to try out after reading this guide, these are good ones to try out.

  • Crackle was a contender simply for being 100 percent free (with ads, of course). However, the small movie library of 96 titles coupled with interfering ads stopped it from making the final cut. You can install it on Android or iOS.
  • Mubi, a unique service that uploads one classic movie a day from a film expert, was also left out. That means there are only about 30 movies a month to watch. While a cool concept, the tiny selection plus similarities to the fifth app on our list made for a necessary omission. You can install it on Android or iOS.
  • Showtime narrowly missed our list, due to its decent catalog size and downloadable content. However, compared to other services we chose, Showtime's library just couldn't compete. You can install it on Android or iOS.

1. Netflix

Netflix is probably the pop-culture king of streaming, and the name is now synonymous with binge-watching. What's funny is that their focus has shifted more from movies to TV over the years. While shipping both movies and TV shows on DVD in the early days, Netflix may be better known today for both their original content, as well as their library of other popular shows.

Still, Netflix has a lot of movies in its catalog. Netflix doesn't release official numbers, but according to this research, Netflix has 4,579 movies available in the United States. Wow.

While many of those titles are pretty odd (there is some weird content out there), Netflix is home to a wide variety of great movies. Documentaries, drama, comedies — Netflix has them all, old and new.

Netflix also produces its own movies. Critically acclaimed films like Beasts of No Nation, Okja, and Amanda Knox are all Netflix originals, and are ready to be streamed here alongside 80 other original movies.

(1) iOS, (2) Android

Netflix offers 4K HDR video streaming, but you need to have a compatible device to access it. If you're an iOS fan, you have access to Dolby Vision. Compatible devices include the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X, as well as the iPad Pro 2. If you're on Android, only the LG G6 can playback Dolby Vision. Android devices that can stream HDR content include the LG V30, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, and the Sony Xperia XZ1.

You can still enjoy 1080p streams on almost any mobile device. While you cannot adjust the video quality while watching a movie, Netflix does let users choose the quality they would like to stream in from the settings.

On Wi-Fi, HD streaming is almost instantaneous. Streaming on a cellular connection takes some time to reach HD, but nothing unbearable. You may have to wait 15–30 seconds before your movie looks the way you want it to, but considering the first 15–30 seconds of movies are usually just credits and text anyway, it shouldn't be a big deal.

Arguably Netflix's best feature is downloading titles to be played offline. Whether you're looking to take pressure off your data plan, or you need to binge your movies without an internet connection, downloading your titles gives you a lot of freedom. The three apps above, while great in their own rights, are hindered by not including this feature.

Now, you can't download everything, unfortunately. Netflix Originals are fair games, as well as many third-party movies. But some aren't, due to licensing issues. You'll have to search for yourself to see if the movie you want to watch is actually available to download.

Netflix plans start as low as $7.99/month, but if you need to watch on more than one device at a time, or you want to watch in HD, consider the higher tiers. The mid-tier plan costs $9.99/month, allows two devices to stream at one time, and upgrades customers' streams to HD. The premium-pier costs $11.99/month, offers four simultaneous streams at once, and offers 4K for compatible devices.

What also makes Netflix a great app is the complete lack of ads. Once you select a movie, that movie will play instantly, no commercials necessary. It's a great feeling and makes it very hard to watch a movie on cable ever again.

New users can get a 30-day free trial, which is plenty of time to check out all the movies you can, and see if Netflix is worth the cost — although it is a bummer that there is no student discount.

Get Netflix for Android or iOS to try it out for yourself.

2. Amazon Prime Video

Here's the deal: Amazon Prime Video is in possession of a lot of movies. A lot. At the moment, there are over 17,000 movies available on Amazon Prime.

Holy moly.

The sheer volume of Amazon's streaming library rockets the service up this list, as does the fact that these movies are current, regularly updated, and good. Amazon even produces its own content. Movies like Manchester By the Sea, Chi Raq, and The Big Sick (not yet available to stream) are produced by Amazon, and when out of theaters, land on its streaming platform.

Not to mention, you can also download movies for offline play. Unfortunately, like Netflix, not all titles can be downloaded, and, like Netflix, Amazon does not give any real parameters for what is and is not available to download. All Amazon-produced material should be available, as well as many third-party titles, but it comes down to licenses and deals beyond our control.

Amazon Prime Video alone costs $8.99/month. But for 10.99/month or $99/year for a slight savings, you get all the perks of Amazon Prime included with your streaming service. Anyone up for two-day free shipping?

If you have the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, you can stream Amazon's content in 4K, when available. Hopefully, Amazon will support 4K on other mobile devices soon, but it's good to see they are slowly breaking into the market.

One flaw that I've encountered with the iOS app is slow quality ramping. On a few Wi-Fi connections I've tested, the video starts with poor quality, and will slowly raise that quality over the course of one or two minutes, until finally reaching HD, if available. On a cellular connection, that quality starts even worse.

(1) iOS, (2) Android

It's frustrating, especially since other apps — including the Android app — can achieve an HD stream in seconds.

What's nice is you can control the streaming quality from the settings, so you don't have to deal with the app changing quality automatically. It would be nice to have that option while streaming, so you don't have to leave your show to go to the settings, but we can't have everything.

An Amazon Prime membership with all the trimmings comes with a 30-day free trial. You can see what it feels like to binge all the movies you want, while swimming in free shipping. If you're a student, this trial jumps to six months, and after that, your costs are slashed by 50%. Anyone know how to impersonate a student?

Those who aren't interested in full Amazon Prime don't need to worry about the free trial, since the standalone Prime Video subscription also comes with a 30-day trial. Win-win!

While the streaming service does feature ads, they are Amazon-branded. This means they won't be completely irrelevant, but at the same time, they are easily skippable, and only come at the beginning of videos.

Amazon Prime Video is in no way perfect. Its issues on both platforms can be pretty frustrating. But, to me, that frustration countered by the largest video library on this list, and the great perks a Prime membership can give.

Get Amazon Prime Video for Android or iOS to try it out for yourself.

3. Hulu

Hulu has just shy of 1,500 movies available to stream. That's not too shabby, and you get a healthy mix of old and new, with titles ranging from excellent, to ... well, maybe you'll want to read some reviews before watching willy-nilly.

Where Hulu shines is in its app. The Hulu app has a funky design that goes against the normal green and gray theme Hulu usually goes for. What makes the app really special, however, is in its quality control.

(1) Android, (2) iOS

I'm not talking about Hulu closely policing its movie selection. Hulu is the only app that lets you choose what video quality you'd like to stream in while you are streaming. Need to conserve your data? Switch your stream to Low-quality, all without stopping the movie you're watching. Want Hulu to play at full quality, no matter how much it needs to buffer? You can do that, too. Hulu gives you up to 1080p on mobile, so you can fight your slow connection to watch your movie in the highest resolution possible.

Hulu is relatively speedy at bringing your videos to HD. Cellular connections take a bit longer than Wi-Fi, but both will get your video to HD in 10–15 seconds.

In terms of pricing, Hulu gets a bit muddy. For $7.99/month, you have access to Hulu's entire movie and television library, but if you choose to watch any of its shows, you will be plagued with ads. Some movies will also have a quick pre-roll ad with the base tier. For $11.99/month, however, the ads go away — but if you only want Hulu for the movies, your $4 would be better off elsewhere.

... like with one of Hulu's optional Add-Ons. Hulu lets users add Showtime ($8.99/month), Cinemax ($9.99/month), and HBO Now ($14.99) subscriptions through their Hulu account. If you're looking to expand your movie collection, skip Hulu's $12/month plan, and invest that money towards one, two, or all of these extra channels.

Hulu does have a student pricing plan, which is actually a pretty sweet deal — for $5 a month, you get not only Hulu, but Spotify as well. Seriously.

While the Hulu plan does contain ads, this deal may be too good for some to pass up. Hey, at least you won't deal with ads on Spotify!

Hulu, surprisingly, only has one original movie, a documentary called Becoming Bond. It would seem reasonable to think, however, that Hulu will put more time into original movies now that companies like Netflix and Amazon have as well.

One thing that stinks about Hulu is you can't download your titles for on-the-go watching. We learned back in January that Hulu will eventually bring this feature to its apps, but at the moment, that feature is still missing.

Get Hulu for Android or iOS to try it out for yourself.

4. HBO Now

While its name stands for Home Box Office, HBO is more associated with television than movies these days. Shows like Game of Thrones or Silicon Valley draw the crowds on Sunday nights. But if you are already an HBO Now subscriber for the shows, you have a great movie-streaming app on your hands as well.

With 635 titles, HBO Now doesn't have the largest movie selection, but it does have some killer flicks. This is HBO, after all. There's a healthy mix here of current movies, classics, and some that may have gone overlooked in their time, and HBO's movie library is refreshed with new titles quite frequently.

(1) iOS, (2) Android

HBO also produces its own movies, like in recent years with All the Way and The Wizard of Lies. HBO has been making movies for decades — since the 1980s, in fact. Not all of those titles are available to check out on HBO Now, unfortunately, but some are. Give them a browse if you want to see what HBO movies are all about.

There is filler inflating HBO's total movie count. I don't think many people are subscribing to HBO Now for movies like Space Chimps or Batman & Robin. But I think the amount of solid movies choices here outweighs the bad.

HBO will occasionally play ads before content, but the ads will always be for HBO-related material. Plus, you can fast-forward through these ads, so while they can be annoying, you can just go past them to get to your movie.

During my tests, movies would load in HD instantly over Wi-Fi. The opening HBO title slate would be a little fuzzy, but by the time this ends, my videos were crystal clear. Cellular would take a little longer to load, but only by 10 seconds or so. HBO offers users a max quality of 1080p.

One thing HBO is missing and desperately needs is downloadable videos. So much of HBO's content deserves to be watched no matter where I am. It's one part of the app that feels pretty lacking.

At $15/month, HBO Now is a bit expensive compared to some of the services on this list. But that does include all of HBO's original programming in addition to its sizable movie catalog. Students get $5 off a month, however, and all new users receive a 30-day free trial.

I can see why some people would think the price is too steep, but I believe, with all things considered, the price is worth the value.

Get HBO Now for Android or iOS to try it out for yourself.

5. Filmstruck

Filmstruck stands out among the rest of the names on this list, not necessarily because it is a better app, but because of how different its service is. Filmstruck is a streaming service dedicated to classic and acclaimed movies. Here, you will find films dating back to the beginning of movie-making itself.

That's not to say Filmstruck's library excludes modern movies — the service has 77 titles from the 2010s alone (on the premium tier, but more on that later). You won't find The Fast & The Furious here, but you won't find Moonlight or La La Land, either. Filmstruck's mission seems to build a library of films that don't have much attention but are most likely worth your time.

(1) iOS, (2) Android

Filmstruck, like many streaming services, has pricing tiers. Its base tier costs $6.99/month, but its premium tier is worth checking out — for $10.99/month, or $99/year, you gain access to the Criterion Collection, a compendium of historic movies preserved in the highest quality possible. There's no student discount, but its base tier is the cheapest subscription on this list if that helps.

The app itself is great to use. The UI is clean and organized, and, if on a good connection, videos load in high quality almost instantaneously, regardless of whether you're connected to Wi-Fi or cellular. Filmstruck streams movies at a max resolution of 1080p.

There's no way to adjust the quality here, sadly. The app will automatically set quality based on your connection. If you want HD, you're just going to have to stream on a good Wi-Fi or cellular network.

Filmstruck frustratingly does not offer downloadable content, which would make viewing these movies much more convenient. Hopefully, they release this feature in the future. Sometimes, you just want to catch up on art-house movies on the bus!

At least there are zero ads here. When you find a movie you want to watch, it starts up without a hitch. You won't have to sit through an annoying commercial, or even a pre-roll ad, for that matter.

If its more hipster approach to movie streaming gives you pause, try it anyway — Filmstruck comes with a two-week free trial, which is more than enough time to browse through its library of "hundreds" of titles, as it so claims.

Get Filmstruck for Android or iOS to try it out for yourself.

The Verdict

These are all great apps and services, so it's pretty hard to choose a favorite. How do you choose between apps that are so similarly good, but also so different, such as Amazon Prime and Filmstruck? But, in the end, my vote is for Netflix.

Netflix offers a good selection of movies at fair prices to fit your needs. It gives a similar, functional experience no matter what device you're using, and lets you download that content for offline viewing. Best of all, you can get the service free for one month, bringing all the movies you like.

So, what do you think of our list? Is Netflix the king of movie apps, or does that title belong to another app? Did we leave out any of your favorites? Let us know in the comment section below!

Cover photo by Justin Meyers/Gadget Hacks
Screenshots and chart by Jake Peterson/Gadget Hacks

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