Tablets are a great way to watch movies - you can lie back in the comfort of bed but you don't have to squint at the small screen of your phone. But the default apps on both Android and iOS are pretty limited in terms of features; if you're looking for something smart that lets you use gestures, stream video easily, or manages your library in an intuitive fashion, then you need to turn to third party apps. Here are our top choices:
This free app (pictured above) is easily the best app to watch videos on an Android device. MX Player is fast, loads almost instantly, scans through all your storage to find movies, and comes with a host of features that make it a must have.
With support for multi-core encoding, MX Player was one of the first apps that can make use of your quad-core and octa-core phones power for smoother playback. It also supports hardware acceleration, which can be useful with some codecs and resolutions. Aside from that, the app was also one of the first to add gestures which have become fairly standard today - swipe vertically on the left side to adjust brightness, on the right side of the screen to control volume, or pan through the movie with a horizontal swipe. Want to zoom in a little? Just pinch to zoom. The app is free, but ad supported - ads fade away when a video is playing so it's not really a problem.
The app also supports all popular subtitle formats, and loads them automatically. You can control the fonts and layout for subtitles and the list of movies comes with little tags to highlight new movies, movies with subtitles etc. The sheer speed and ease of use make downloading MX Player an obvious choice for Android.
VLC has a long history on the PC, and it's a good option on both Android and iOS. It organises your library into thumbnails, and lets you see at a glance how much of the video has already been watched. The Android version is still a beta according to the developers at VideoLAN, but it seems to work fine too.
The app plays local audio and video files, and also supports network streams and adaptive streaming, which means that it is a good option for when you're on the move. The app has built in support for DropBox, Google Drive, iTunes and also UPnP media servers so it's a superb choice for streaming, but even with local media, the large number of supported codecs means it's very unlikely that you'll get a video file that VLC can't play for you.
The user interface is very simple and elegant, and new updates have added gesture control as well, but it's still a little unstable, and has crashed a couple of times. It's rare, but when it crashes, the app doesn't remember your place in the video you were watching either, which can be annoying.
This iOS app is a paid app and costs Rs. 300 to download. If you're watching a lot of videos on your iPad though, then this app is a must-buy.
For one thing, it's easily the best looking app in the category - bright pop colours dominate, with large text and clearly marked buttons giving it a very modern and user friendly feel. In terms of support, nPlayer is up there with the best; it supports Dolby Mobile Surround Sound, and has official support for the Dolby Audio Codec, plays just about every video, audio and subtitle file. nPlayer also comes with built in clients for WebDAV, FTP, UPnP and HTTP streaming and downloading - this means that not only can you play videos off your network, but if you want to save files to your device, you an access it directly over Wi-Fi from the browser, without having to bother with iTunes or wires.
Add to that features like gesture support, zoom control, lots of control over subtitles, passwords for folders, and TV-out support, and you end up with one of the most full featured pieces of software available as well. Simply put, despite the relatively high price, this app is an absolute must-have.
It's Playing Pro/Lt
Another paid app for iOS, It's Playing Pro is the Swiss Army knife of video players, full of a lot of useful features such as cloud connect to Dropbox, Put.io, Facebook, YouTube and HTTP cloud services, network support for a huge range of protocols and fine grained control over playback aspects like zoom, audio gain, speed with real time adjustments. The coolest feature though is fetching subtitles from OpenSubtitles.org with just one tap - it's a common feature on desktop players but this is the only good video app we found with this feature.
In case you want to try out the app before paying the Rs. 300 price, then there's also a free version which lets you try out the various features with just a few missing ones such as Dolby Digital playback.
Purely in terms of features, there's little to differentiate it from nPlayer, but subtitle fetching and detailed control over all the settings do make it well worth trying out.
XBMC for Android
If you use XBMC on a PC, then you know exactly why this app is a great choice, particularly if you have a large media collection. The catch is that the app isn't available on the Play store; but if you visit the official XBMC website you can download the APK file and install it on your device anyway.
We didn't have any issues with the app, and it's almost entirely a faithful copy of the desktop version - it even uses the same skins and plugins as the desktop version. The app isn't entirely finger friendly - most of the skins use small buttons which can be difficult to press even on smaller tablets. There are a few though which are relatively easy to use, though some experimentation is recommended.
Now, XBMC on Android takes a little setting up, particularly if you're not keeping all the videos on the device, but will be streaming them across your home network. Adding a network source is fairly simple, but with XBMC you're always going to need to tinker a little, so we'd suggest that people who aren't comfortable with experimenting with a lot of settings avoid this app.
With that said though, XBMC is one of the most beautiful and powerful media management tools around - you can automatically download metadata, subtitles, lyrics, automatically organise TV shows into seasons and even sort movies by genre or the year they released in or the actors starring in them. If you have a large collection of videos, then XBMC is, without a doubt, the best way to access them, and supports a wide range of formats and streaming options, and can even be used as a server if you wanted to. Plus, a huge range of free plug-ins lets you add a lot of functionality to the app, completely changing how you use it.