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Smartphones are selling like hotcakes. Okay, they’re selling better than hotcakes, and, alongside tablets, they’re replacing everything from laptops to televisions. For many people, they’re becoming the primary way to watch video, whether it’s traditional shows, full-length movies, or bite-sized YouTube clips.

There are many ways to get content on your device, but which way is best for you? That depends largely on your circumstances. For folks with spotty Internet connections or a costly cellular plan, streaming everything may not be the best approach. On the other hand, people who don’t like manually transferring files or want to watch shows on multiple devices may not want to deal with managing local content.

However you prefer watching video, there’s a way to do so using your Android phone or tablet. Here’s how.

Streaming

Put simply, streaming means watching a video while it downloads, though you usually don’t get to keep the video afterward. The experience is akin to watching TV, only with more buffering involved.

This is the direction the media industry is moving in and the most obvious way to start watching video on a phone or tablet out of the box. If you’re looking for TV shows or movies, the question has become less one of if you can find what you’re looking for, but where.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the options out there.

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1. General Streaming Services

BestAndroidVideo-Hulu

When you sign up for a video streaming service these days, you can expect to pay a monthly fee to get access to a full catalog of content. Netflix and Hulu take this approach. Amazon Video shakes this up by coming as part of an Amazon Prime subscription, which costs an annual fee and comes with a whole bunch of other perks.

Some services, like YouTube and Crackle, are free. These tend to be ad-supported (though some paid services, such as Hulu, may still show commercials too). Recently, Google introduced YouTube Red, which gets rid of ads and throws in some exclusive content in exchange for a monthly subscription Is YouTube Red Worth the Money? 7 Things You Need to Consider Is YouTube Red Worth the Money? 7 Things You Need to Consider YouTube Red has made headlines, both good and bad, but is the $10-a-month subscription service actually worth the money? Here, we look at the facts, and draw some conclusions. Read More .

2. Network-Specific Apps

After seeing the success Netflix and other forerunners have had, many traditional content makers are offering their own apps. You can get one for CBS, which provides some free content but wants $5.99 a month for the full selection. Premium pay-per-view networks like HBO and Showtime have also gotten into the game.

BestAndroidVideo-HBONow

Some require a cable or satellite television subscription, such as Disney Channel, Disney Junior, ESPN, HGTV, Nickelodeon, and TBS. Many take a hybrid approach combining some free content with the need for a cable subscription. Among these are ABC, Comedy Central, and NBC. On the other hand, PBS still provides its content for free.

3. TV Subscription Companion Apps

Faced with declining TV sales and viewership, cable companies have started offering apps such as XFINITY TV GO and TWC TV that allow subscribers to take much of the content they watch on TV with them on a phone or tablet.

This option does little to appease cord cutters as they still require a monthly plan, but they’re worth checking out if you’re a content cable or satellite customer.

4. Buying & Renting

BestAndroidVideo-PlayMovies

Not everything is subscription based. Google Play Movies & TV encourages you to buy shows by the season, even series that won’t finish airing for a few months. Amazon also lets people who don’t have a Prime account purchase content on demand.

5. Cable Imitators

BestAndroidVideo-PlutoTV

Many people may consider the idea of a traditional TV channel to be archaic, but others love the approach. For them, a couple of options have popped up online. Pluto TV scours the Internet for free content and bundles it into continuous streams. Navigating the service feels less like flicking through a grid and more like browsing a TV guide.

Folks who don’t want to settle for “fake” channels can pay $20 a month to stream some of the channels they used to watch on cable by subscribing to Sling TV.

6. Browser-based Video

Then there’s the old-fashioned option of watching video clips directly in your browser. Many of the services above work in a browser, though there’s not much reason to try doing so this way on a phone or tablet.

However, there are sites out there that are loaded with flash video. Android no longer supports this format out of the box, but you can get those video clips working again by installing an alternative browser Still Watching Flash Video On Android? You'll Want One Of These Browsers Still Watching Flash Video On Android? You'll Want One Of These Browsers Every once in a while you're going to run into a website that requires flash. Don't be caught unprepared - have these two Android browsers installed. Read More .

Drawbacks

This wide range of options means you can now watch a large portion of what you want using Android, but if you want to watch everything, it won’t be cheap. No one service offers everything, and it only takes signing up for a few of them to feel like you’re paying a cable bill again Considering Canceling Cable? The True Cost of Cutting the Cord Considering Canceling Cable? The True Cost of Cutting the Cord When you add everything up, do you really save money by cutting the cord? We do the math involved with cancelling cable in favor of Internet services. Read More . And you’re still going to need a cable subscription if you want to watch most sports games — though you can get some by signing up for Sling TV TV Channels Are Dead: Why Sling Isn't The Future Of Sports TV TV Channels Are Dead: Why Sling Isn't The Future Of Sports TV Kids don't watch channels; they watch shows. Worse, TV channels have been an obstacle for comprehensive coverage of live sports events. Sling doesn't solve that. Read More .

BestAndroidVideo-SlingTV

These aren’t the only drawbacks. You don’t own anything you watch through any of these services. True, you don’t own anything you watch on cable either, but you do own the DVDs or Blu-Ray discs you buy from the store. When you get a movie through any of the services above, you’re getting a license to view the content for only as long as the site continues to exist. If those servers shut down, you may wish you had taken the $15 you spent on a digital copy and plucked it down on a physical one instead.

You don’t have to wait for a service to shut down to lose access to content either. If Netflix loses streaming rights to a show, you can’t watch it using its apps anymore. This can be quite the unpleasant surprise when a child goes to watch his or her favorite show and finds out it’s no longer there. I was distraught when Netflix dropped Stargate a couple years back.

Playing Local Files

Watching video locally consists of downloading a file to your device and watching it in your app of choice. Typically these files come as MP4 or some other video format Digital Video Formats and Video Conversion Explained Digital Video Formats and Video Conversion Explained Read More .

Storing your own collection comes with several advantages. For starters, you have control over the files on your computer, unless they’re locked down with DRM (though, even then, there are ways around that Remove DRM From iTunes Videos Quickly And Easily With M4VGear Remove DRM From iTunes Videos Quickly And Easily With M4VGear M4VGear simply takes DRM videos downloaded from iTunes and makes them DRM-free Read More ).

Since the video is on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can watch it at any time, regardless of if you have an Internet connection. You only have to download the content once, saving bandwidth compared to re-downloading every time you want to watch as you do when streaming.

BestAndroidVideo-VLC

You can download video in the highest quality available. Then you get to enjoy the same beautiful picture each time you play, without worrying about congested networks or buffering. And you can choose whichever video player you like most What Is The Best Video Player For Android? What Is The Best Video Player For Android? Read More . This gives you greater control over video compared to streaming, where you’re stuck with whatever interface the service provides.

Drawbacks

Again, there are downsides. Most TV shows and movies are not available for download DRM-free. Not legally, anyway. You can find commercial content for free on various websites, but pirating in this manner puts you on the wrong side of the law. Cracking DRM can also leave you in a legal gray area.

Then there’s the hassle of having to move files around between devices. Whether you do so by plugging in cables, transferring data over a local network, or syncing content over a cloud service, it takes more effort and organization than opening YouTube.

Taking a Hybrid Approach

For some of us, the ideal approach would be having control over our own personal library but still being able to watch our content with the same convenience offering by media streaming services. An even better experience might be having access to local and streaming content in the same place.

The most basic approach is to plug a hard drive into your router or have a designed computer make content available to other machines on your local network. Then you can stream them to other devices using a video player.

Some companies have started to release hard drives and other backup solutions with companion apps that stream content to your other devices. Options are available from the likes of SanDisk, Seagate, Toshiba, and others.

For a more complete experience, you can navigate your content using Kodi, the open source media center formerly known as XBMC 5 Reasons to Install Kodi on Your Android Right Now 5 Reasons to Install Kodi on Your Android Right Now Kodi, formerly known as XBMC, is a fantastic media app for Android, and you're missing out if you haven't downloaded it yet. Read More .

Alternatively, you can download Plex. This service is available for your PC, tablet, smartphone, smart TV, or set-top box. You can then stream video from your desktop or network-connected hard drive to all of your other devices Making The Best Media Center Better, With a Plex Pass [Giveaway] Making The Best Media Center Better, With a Plex Pass [Giveaway] Love Plex? You'll love a Plex Pass even more. With new and exclusive features only for Plex Pass holders, it's the best way to support development of the best media centre app around. Read More . You can get started for free, but some features require a $4.99 monthly subscription.

With Kodi and Plex, you can watch some options such as Netflix and Hulu inside Plex thanks to community-supported add-ons.

Has an Android Device Replaced Your TV?

Watching video on a mobile device used to be a dream. Now it has become a reality that is upending the television landscape.

But that doesn’t mean embracing mobile apps has to cut down on your TV usage. Not at all. Many of these options, whether streaming from Netflix, playing a video stored on an SD card, or watching something over a local network, let you cast video to your TV using Chromecast How To Make Chromecast Your Smart Media Centre How To Make Chromecast Your Smart Media Centre At just $18, the Chromecast is an unmistakably great way to make your TV "smart", but it can feel a bit of a one-trick pony once the initial euphoria wears off. Read More . Alternatively, many of those set-top boxes you see in stores are based on Android Android TV Boxes: What Are They, And What Can They Do? Android TV Boxes: What Are They, And What Can They Do? Companies like Apple, Roku and Western Digital have already capitalized on this with their set-top boxes, but now a new wave of Android options has hit the market. Typically available for between $60 and $100,... Read More , and manufacturers such as Sony have started baking the open source operating system directly into their latest smart TVs What Is Android TV, and Why Was Google TV Killed? What Is Android TV, and Why Was Google TV Killed? Android TV is replacing the now-five-year-old Google TV. And it's not just an update -- it's a complete remake. Read More . Android doesn’t have to replace your TV. It might actually be the reason you stare at the big screen more.

Do you prefer watching shows on a phone, tablet, or TV? There are ways to stream and download video that I did not cover. What’s your favorite method? Whether you’re happy with the state of video on Android or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image Credit: bowl with popcorn by Margarita Nikolskaya via Shutterstock

  1. likefun butnot
    April 7, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Kodi isn't a bad all around option, especially in combination with something like Yatse or Music Pump remotes so that you can select and share content external to Kodi onto the screen your box is connected to. Chances are, if you can spell fusion.tvaddons.ag, you can probably find someone's stream of whatever paid content you wanted to watch anyway.

    Kodi has a generally better presentation than Plex, and a useful Plex setup needs to be backed by an x86 server machine, but it's certainly a good all around choice since a Plex Media server will transcode content into a forma that's appropriate for whatever device you want to watch with. Whether someone likes one package or the other depends a lot on how much they can tolerate a complex interface over a simplified one.

    Incidentally, work on Kodi for Android is currently paused as the Kodi developer who was responsible for the Android version left the team to resume work on his own, Android-specific fork which is primarily targeting Shield STBs and (to a lesser extent) Fire devices. This is a huge deal since Kodi is practically synonymous with "thing to questionably legal video streams with" for a whole lot of people, many of them nontechnical folks who paid for a Fire Stick or something that already had it sideloaded.

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