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Review: Netflix Debuts on the iPhone, But is it Worth Watching on the Really Small Screen?

Categories: Silicon Beach
netflix-iphone.jpg
Does Netflix really measure up on a much smaller screen?
I'm a big fan of Netflix. Something about being able to rent movies in my pajamas without actually leaving the house just appeals to me. And though my laptop screen (13.5 inches) doesn't really compare to a flat screen, sometimes you just can't wait for that little red envelope to arrive in the mail. But even with all of that convenience, I could never really watch said Netflix films in the car, on a plane, in a mall... until now.

Netflix released an app for the iPad a few months ago, but let's face it: Not everyone has an iPad. Besides, it's just a mix between an iPhone and a laptop, without a keyboard, right?

All kidding aside, I don't own an iPad. Please refer to previous statement about purchasing brand spankin' new tech the moment it comes out. I'm waiting until all the bugs are worked out. So when I heard the Netflix app was going to be adapted for the iPhone and iPod Touch, I was excited and a bit worried. Would the rush of watching a movie in the palm of my hand meet the potential downfall of quality by viewing it on a tiny screen?

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Click "Add to instant" to add the movie to your queue, and "play" to watch it in landscape mode
Once downloaded, the app looks very similar to the Netflix site. The layout is reworked a bit to handle the smaller screen, and instead of showing a list of recommendations that can be viewed horizontally (just like the web and the iPad app), a smaller list of recommendations is listed vertically for each category, with a link giving the option to see more under the last movie option. We don't know about you, but we find this a bit inconvenient, and we're not sure if we're willing to try to get used to it.

When you select a film, you get all of its information: A description, the cast, director, two buttons ("Add to instant" and "play"), and an interactive star rating system. The buttons' uses are kind of obvious, so we'll skip that.

Unfortunately there is no option that we could find to view films outside of landscape mode. We get that people like getting the "full-on movie watching experience" when watching movies, but what if you want to look like you're emailing while at work and not messing around?

If you know what genre a movie falls under, you can start a search using the "genres" tab at the bottom, and there's also a "search" feature if you know the exact name of the film you want to see. These features were pretty standard. They worked as expected, but it wasn't jaw-droppingly fast or anything.

When opening up your "instant queue," you'll find all your choices listed in the same order as you would if you logged in to the website. Unfortunately, you can't rearrange your queue from the iPhone once the movies are in it. You can only add a movie to the top of a queue or remove a certain movie from the list altogether. We thought this was a bit annoying.

When it comes to viewing quality, we'll state the obvious: This will not compare to watching a film in the theater, on a big screen, on your computer, or even on an iPad. Most films we tried viewing looked alright on the iPhone 4's retina display, whether it was streamed over WiFi or 3G. Unfortunately most of the interface elements in the app aren't at a high enough resolution for the display.

Believe it or not, this is minor and doesn't affect the overall functionality of the app, but we could see the difference when compared to other elements of the app, which are sharp. The icons are a bit pixelated and look a little amateurish, but we tested it out on the iPhone 3GS, 3G, and iPod Touch, and it's a lot less noticeable (possibly because they're older models). This is ironic, considering the Netflix app was designed to work specifically with the iOS 4.

One feature that we more than appreciated, though, was the ability to multitask. If you switch to another app, the video stream pauses instantly, saves your place, and returns exactly where you left off. The few issues we had with the app aren't necessarily deal breakers, and if you don't mind watching films on a much smaller screen, the app will do its job. The app is free, and to be seen as a companion to a Netflix subscription, which starts at $8.99 a month.

Watch a Netflix run through of the app below, and let us know what you think.


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