Whether for video or audio, the world is moving from local media to always-on streaming services, and Netflix leads the charge in the world of streaming movies and TV shows. However, depending on where you live, Netflix’s catalog can be kind of limited. Thankfully, a nifty desktop app called Smartflix is changing all that.
While Netflix originals and exclusive are available everywhere, the rest of the catalog changes based on which region you’re in. Netflix itself is global, but movie and TV producers don’t always grant a “global” license for movies. So, for example, Netflix might have bought the rights to stream Inception in the U.S., but not in the UK.
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are an effective way to get around this pesky problem and watch Netflix no matter where you live. But they are riddled with a few problems:
- They can be complex to set up for average users.
- They make you choose one region at a time.
- They are actively being targeted and shut down by Netflix, although Matt reckons that is bound to fail.
In the middle of all this, Smartflix stands tall as a dead simple alternative for anyone who just wants to enjoy all of the content Netflix has to offer, without any hurdles getting in the way.
[Update on October 22, 2016: Smartflix is no longer working, with a notice on the website which reads, “Following the very recent, extremely aggressive and targeted VPN/proxy crackdown by Netflix, we do not feel confident we can provide the same quality of service we used to provide to our users. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.”]
What Is Smartflix?
- Smartflix isn’t a replacement for Netflix. It’s an app through which you access Netflix. What makes it better than the official Netflix app is that it opens the library to show movies and TV shows from across the world, not just the region you’re in.
- Smartflix is a desktop app that works on Windows and Mac. Currently, there is no Linux version, but the developers have said that a Linux version is on its way. Until then, here’s how to watch Netflix on Linux natively.
- Smartflix is currently in beta and will stay free while it’s in beta. Once it exits beta (the developers estimate that to be soon), users will have to pay $3.99 per month or $29.99 for a lifetime subscription; this amount is above and beyond your Netflix subscription, which is well worth the money at $8.99 per month.
- Yes, Netflix is currently cracking down on VPNs, but the Smartflix team has done a good job of staying ahead of the curve, and have quickly resolved issues for users facing downtime. The r/smartflix subreddit is full of help and information about this.
- Even after the beta, Smartflix will offer a 7-day trial and a 14-day refund for the $3.99 amount once you purchase it. For all further clarifications, check out the official Smartflix statement on the issue.
What Makes Smartflix Special
Now that you know what Smartflix is what it does, the question remains, what makes it worth spending $3.99 per month on? After all, a simple VPN could do the same job, right? Wrong. First, know that Smartflix never puts you through the process of setting up a VPN or a proxy DNS; all of that is happening at the backend, and that’s part of what you’re paying the developers for.
Apart from that, Smartflix is a good-looking app in itself! Part of the Netflix experience is the wonderful interface where you can check out an array of movies and select the one you want to play. Smartflix does that too, with a grid of movie or TV show posters. At the top, neat categories (Popular, Top Rating, Netflix Originals, Family, Mystery, Romance, Documentary, Kids, etc.) let you filter your selections quickly and efficiently.
Hover over any poster and you’ll see a brief synopsis of the movie or TV show from IMDb as well as the rating. That’s right, Smartflix uses IMDb information and not Netflix’s own data. You can also right-click any title and find a link to go directly to its IMDb page, or watch a trailer.
Much like Netflix’s “Watch It” list, Smartflix maintains its own “Watch Later” list which you can add titles to. You can also check out your recently watched items.
But by far the best feature is that you get to search Netflix across all regions from a single place. Smartflix does not make you choose a single country, unlike all other VPNs. Instead, you just search, and it’ll find the movie from the region it’s available in. Click it and you’re ready to start watching.
And given that means foreign language films, you’re probably wondering about subtitle support. Smartflix scores over Netflix here too. Not only will it automatically find the matching subtitles from OpenSubtitles.org, but you can even upload your own by finding the right ones at any of the best subtitle sites for movies and TV shows,
Given these features, Smartflix almost seems like a better app than Netflix itself! But wait…
Not Everything is Perfect
While there is plenty to love about Smartflix, it has its flaws too. The biggest is that all content is limited to 720p. As Smartflix explains in its FAQs, the app is based on Google Chrome, and Netflix is limited to 720p output on Chrome. So right now, you can’t get 1080p Full HD videos or 4K videos in Smartflix, even if they’re originally available on Netflix.
Also, you can’t use Smartflix with Google Chromecast, the fantastic streaming media stick. Smartflix is a desktop app only. I even tried casting my full desktop screen to the Chromecast, but a persistent lag made it an unpleasant viewing experience, so I cannot recommend it.
Finally, while Smartflix deserves praise for its interface for movies, it’s found wanting in TV shows. When you click a TV show’s poster, it will start at the first episode of the first season, regardless of where you finished watching last. Instead, you need to right-click and select the season and episode. Not only does this mean you have to remember where you were, but also that you don’t get a description of the episodes; it’s a simple list menu, nothing more.
Why Netflix Should be Scared of Smartflix
Despite these flaws, Smartflix remains an incredible app for anyone who loves to binge-watch movies and television shows. The sheer amount of extra content you get through using it makes it worth the money alone, and the easy-to-use interface is the cherry on top of the already delicious cake.
Additionally, as someone who has used VPN services to access Netflix in the past, I can assure you that Smartflix is a much easier option, not to mention much better given you can search and browse all regions at once.
Instead of thinking your Netflix account costs $10, think that it costs $13 to include the price of Smartflix, and then judge it. I can guarantee you will find it well worth the price.
Which Foreign Content Are You Happy About?
In the past few days, thanks to Smartflix, I have discovered several fantastic movies and TV shows from other regions already. For example, Netflix Netherlands has a wide variety of fantastic Korean films like The Chaser and little-known gems like The Man From Earth.
Have you got a movie or TV show from another region that you’re glad you’re able to watch? If so, please share your recommendation in the comments below! Alternatively, if you are already using Smartflix, or start doing so based on this article, let us know what you think of it.