Hands On: Comcast's Xfinity TV Go app finally treats Android users like adults again
For years, Comcast and other content purveyors treated Android users like second-class citizens.
Exhibit A: the previous Xfinity TV app for Android only allowed Android users to schedule shows on their DVR, while the comparable TV Player app for iOS devices allowed those users to stream Comcast shows that the user subscribed to.
Things are now on an equal footing, both for phones and tablets. Comcast’s teriffic new Xfinity TV Go app isn’t just available for Android; Comcast has made available a version for iOS as well. I tested the Android version of the new app both on my new Galaxy Note III and the last-generation Nexus 7 tablet.
But the freedom afforded to Android users is highly welcome. Not only can Android users watch about 20 channels of live streaming audio and video (via Wi-Fi), but they now can also actually download movies for offline viewing.
Users must still log into their Comcast account as a means of authenticating their device; note that this might not be the account name and password that you use to check your bill online.
Aftter you move past the login stage, Comcast will show you three tabs: “Must See, “which mostly displays recent, high-profile TV shows; “TV,” and “Movies”.
Comcast doesn’t attempt to hide content that you haven’t subscribed to; somewhat unsurprisingly, most of shows and movies it displayed were from HBO, Showtime, and its Netflix-like Streampix service, none of which I subscribe to. Each show is given a large, prominent Instapaper-like graphic, which you can swipe down to explore.
Each show has a number of episodes attached to it; I didn’t exhaustively check each one, but it appears that they’re vaguely comparable to what Comcast already offers via its video-on-demand services: several recently broadcast episodes, some stretching back to last season.
As you might expect, video quality will depend on the quality of the Wi-Fi network, the stream, as well as what device you are using. A hockey game on the NBC Sports Network stuttered and sputtered on our choppy office network one day; the next, The Simpsons displayed flawlessly (probably due to the relative lack of motion).
On my phone, videos rendered in what appeared to be full HD; ditto for the tablet. Your mileage will probably vary.
Oh, and there are commercials—about four blocks within a 30-minute TV show. At this point, however, they’re skippable. In fact, unlike the Comcast VOD service, you can skip to any point in the broadcast just by tapping the nav bar at the bottom of the screen—a lovely, exceptionally convenient feature.
Comcast doesn’t highlight its live-streaming capabilities; to access those, you’ll need to tap the menu icon in the upper left-hand corner. Unfortunately, none of the major networks are represented, but a number of important cable channels are: BBC World News, beIN Sport, beIN Sport Español, Big Ten Network, CNBC, CNN, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, Fox Sports 1, FX, FXX, Golf Channel, HLN, MSNBC, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo Wild, NBC Sports Network, and Pac-12 Networks. More will be added in the future, Comcast says.
Comcast inclues ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes, ESPNews, and ESPNU in its list of live-streaming channels, but this isn’t totally true; they’re all lumped together as part of “Watch ESPN” icon—which, when tapped, either launches a separate “Watch ESPN” application or directs you to the app store to download it yourself.
Finally, movies for the plane
But the unexpected delight of the Xfinity TV Go app was discovering the magical “download” button within each movie’s page. For some reason, this only applies to some movies; not all are available for download, and I couldn’t find a TV show that could be downloaded, either. (For instance, John Carter is downloadable but not Inception. Probably not that surprising, actually.) You can filter by subscription services as well as downloadable options.
On my service, the only way I could download these movies was via Encore, part of my cable subscription. Clicking a movie like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance allows you to download either a “medium-quality” version (of about 1 gigabyte in total size) or “high quality,” roughly 3GB to 4GB.
I found the medium-quality version slightly choppy, at what I would guess was 720p resolution; I didn’t have enough time to try the high-quality version.
And no, there are no commercials whatsoever.
Even better, yes, you can download the full movie to your phone or tablet, and save it for offiline viewing for a full 30 days. And to top it all off, you don’t need a live data connection to view it, as Comcast downloads the license key as part of the file.
After downloading my movie, I put the phone in airplane mode, with Wi-Fi and cellular data turned off. I then rebooted, again into airplane mode. The movie played without a hiccup.
One note: I didn’t receive an option to download a movie to an SD card, so if you want to collect a few videos for later viewing, you’ll need a phone with a hefty chunk of free internal storage space. (My SD card was full of music, however, so there wasn’t room to begin with.)
Nevertheless, if you do own a phone—or better yet, a tablet—with some available storage space, and subscribe to Comcast, it’s definitely worth your while to add Xfinity TV Go to your app collection. And if you have a long, six-hour cross-country plane flight in store, dump some movies onto it. At this point, I’m cautiously, irrationally excited that Comcast maty have given us the offline video solution that Android users have been waiting for for years.
For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.