One of the big reasons that you have an Android device is to watch videos, from wherever you want to be. YouTube and Netflix can only do so much; when it comes to serious TV viewing, you still have to sit yourself in front of the TV itself. Or do you?
Cable subscribers, be of good cheer. Many of the major TV providers have mobile apps now, as do some of the biggest individual cable networks. The services that they offer vary wildly, from true live TV viewing on your device to simple programming guides. Our selection highlights the very best Android apps for cable subscribers, but also takes a jab or two at some major cable providers who could be doing a little more for their customers.
1. DISH Remote Access:
Okay, not technically “cable,” but Remote Access is an essential app for DISH subscribers, raising a high bar for competing cable providers. For one thing, it’s one of the few that offers live viewing and DVR playback right on your mobile device’s screen, effectively turning your smartphone or tablet into a second (or third, or fourth) receiver/TV combo. Plus, Remote Access has full browsing and searching capabilities, and total DVR control from scheduling to deleting recordings. Downside? Well, you need a Sling attachment for your device, and a Sling-compatible DISH receiver. Still, the app is one of the best of the bunch; and if you’re asking “where’s the remote control function?” never fear, for there are also countless helpful (although unofficial) DISH remote apps available at Google Play.
2. TWC TV:
Time Warner cable subscribers have one of the strongest apps of the lineup, but keep in mind that the best thing about it, the live TV viewing of “selected” channels, is only available to Android devices running 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Otherwise, you’ll get a mostly-average app with remote control and programming guide features, as well as DVR scheduling and parental control functions.
3. AT&T U-Verse:
One of the best options for viewing TV also happens to be one of the worst. Confused? Well, there are two apps available at Google Play: AT&T U-Verse and AT&T U-Verse Live. The first is a free app for U-Verse subscribers that promises programming guide capabilities, DVR control, and some video viewing, but in practice doesn’t seem to deliver much of anything to most Android users. The “Live” app, however, is like getting cable service to your phone or tablet; a monthly subscription gets you plenty of high-quality live TV and On Demand downloads and you don’t need to be a U-Verse subscriber. But it may come “free” with higher U-Verse tiers, and it certainly helps if you’re an AT&T wireless customer (i.e., it’s only available to compatible devices and carriers). Other drawbacks? Some disturbing permissions, and a tendency to force a 3G connection instead of using WiFi.
The first name in news also happens to have done an exceptional job with their mobile app. Actually, there are two apps, one for smartphones and one optimized for the larger screens of tablets. Either way, you’ll get a great way to browse and view up-to-the minute news video straight from the CNN studios. Keep in mind that CNN is content-heavy, so those with cutting-edge devices will have a better time than those trying to trudge across the finish line of a 2-year plan.
Like CNN, this app only does one cable network, but it does it VERY well. Sports fans can get around-the-clock live viewing of most pro and college games, as well as every single other show that ESPN has to offer (from SportsCenter to Mike & Mike). The only drawback is that access depends on both your cable provider and your wireless provider; chances are, if you can get ESPN on your TV, you’ll be fine, but there are some exceptions.
6. HBO Go:
Another single-network app, and also dependent on whether you actually subscribe to HBO via your cable provider. But if you do, you’ll get every movie and every episode of every show that HBO offers, whenever and wherever you like. The video quality is great, especially if you have a 4G connection, but some users have expressed disappointment over the app’s design and interface.
7. MAX Go:
Okay, so it’s basically the same as HBO Go, and why not? They’re the same company, after all. But if you love Cinemax (and are a subscriber of a participating cable provider), you’ll get all of the movies and shows to watch whenever and wherever you like. For added value, Facebook and Twitter sharing features are built in to let you post your thoughts on Cinemax programming (but please think twice about some of those Max After Dark updates).
Comcast confusingly offers three different Xfinity apps for Android users, each providing different ways to get more from your cable TV. The Xfinity TV app makes your smartphone into a remote control, including DVR scheduling and OnDemand purchasing, and also provides a thorough way to browse and search the channel lineups and genre categories. Xfinity Mobile offers the listings and DVR scheduling as well, but lacks the remote functions. However, Xfinity Mobile adds access to your Comcast account (to pay bills, manage info, etc.) and also provides texting and email. And finally, Xfinity TV Player lets you watch selected shows from your channel lineup. It’s not live, and it won’t give you everything that your TV will, but many shows and movies are available for viewing and downloading on your mobile device.
9. Charter Mobile App:
You might guess from the uninspired name that this app is nothing special, and it’s no mistake that we’re nearing the end of the list. Charter cable subscribers get TV listings with a genre search function and even some videos in the form of On Demand preview clips. Extras include support and email functions, and the news and weather features are a nice idea, but you’d get better results from dedicated apps (and really, who doesn’t have news and weather on their smartphone already?).
10. Cox Mobile Connect:
Well, you get a decent programming guide and DVR controller, access to your voicemail, and some helpful support and troubleshooting info. The lack of actual video and limited STB remote control functions is disappointing, but not all that surprising. A solid app for 2010, but let’s hope that Cox is working on a more compelling update.
You may have noticed your provider’s name missing from this list. For example, the wonderful WOW! and the competent Cablevision are missing in action on the Android app front, and Bright House’s app was not even up to Cox’s humble standards. Conversely, we really couldn’t justify the competing TV services from Sprint and Verizon, as they’re carrier-specific and not really cable TV providers to begin with. Feel free to check out your provider’s options (whether cable, satellite, or wireless) and let us know if you feel that someone was unfairly disconnected from our lineup.