Netflix is the biggest, but is it the best streaming service?
- Great original content
- Good regional content
- Apps for all platforms
- Most content can be downloaded offline
- Full HD is expensive
- Limited simultaneous users
With almost 170 million users worldwide, Netflix is the undisputed king of streaming services. And it’s popular for good reason: the US-based company has a vast catalogue of content that includes TV series, films and factual programmes.
In particular, what separates it from its rivals are its Originals – the TV series and films commissioned by and released exclusively on Netflix such as Stranger Things, Better Call Saul, Narcos and Money Heist, not to mention original movies like The Irishman and Marriage Story that gave big production houses a run for their money at this year’s Academy Awards.
That’s all well and good, but this still doesn’t tell you if it’s the right service for you. What other content does Netflix offer? How good is its service, and how do its different plans stack up against Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV in terms of value, picture quality, and other features such as the option to download content and watch offline? Read on to find out.
Netflix review: Prices and packages
Netflix offers a 30-day trial to all new customers, so you can see for yourself whether you like its content without parting with any hard-earned cash. Before making that decision, though, it’s important to know exactly what you’ll get for your money, if you do decide to sign up.
At £5.99, the Basic Plan is the cheapest Netflix subscription. As its name suggests, this option is very barebones, offering only a standard-definition stream on one screen at a time. If you’re on a strict budget, it’s a great way to get access to Netflix’s entire library of content, but otherwise you’re probably better off with one of the pricier options.
For £3 a month more, the Standard plan (£8.99) unlocks both Full HD-quality streams and the option to watch on two screens simultaneously. And, finally, if nothing less than 4K will do for your snazzy new UHD TV, Netflix’s Premium £11.99-a-month plan is the only option. This package also unlocks HDR (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are now supported) and the ability to watch on up to four screens simultaneously, making it a great option for families.
As far as what you can watch on, there’s a Netflix app for practically every device you can think of, including smartphones, tablets, PCs, smart TVs, games consoles and other streaming media players. Regardless of which plan you choose, Netflix lets you download many of its TV programmes and films (most of its originals and some others, too) to watch offline at a later date. This works on the iOS, Android and Windows 10 Netflix apps and is great if you still want access to your favourite Netflix content in places you might not be able to get a decent internet connection – on a long haul flight, for instance.
Netflix review: Content
Although it started out as a simple streaming platform, in recent years Netflix has become a production house in its own right, increasingly investing in its own “Originals” programming. The firm aims to have over 1,000 such TV shows and movies available on the service, and that’s now an achievable number considering how quickly it churns out original content.
In fact, Netflix has timed things so well that even though Disney Plus pulled its entire slate of Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars content onto its new streaming service from Netflix, the service has nothing to worry about because it has already gained a loyal fan-base owing to its brilliant original content. Some of its best-known series include Stranger Things, Narcos, House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and Better Call Saul, and it’s also had its fair share of hit documentaries and factual content including Making a Murderer and the Oscar-winning, Icarus.
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As with its Originals programming, Netflix does licensed TV series much better than it does movies. That’s not to say it doesn’t have any good films at all – at the time of writing you can stream It, A Quiet Place and Straight Outta Compton – but if you’re mainly looking to stream recent Hollywood blockbusters, you’re probably better off with Disney Plus, Now TV’s Sky Cinema Pass or perhaps even Amazon’s Prime Video.
Netflix also has a good selection of British TV content including Fawlty Towers, The Office, Only Fools and Horses, I’m Alan Partridge and Black Adder, and there’s also a good chunk of the BBC’s natural history programming, too, including Blue Planet, Planet Earth, and Life, as well as dramas such as Peaky Blinders.
If that’s not your bag, and you’re more of a big fan of US TV series, Netflix has you fairly well covered, too. All ten series of Friends were added to the service last December, and the entirety of Suits is also available, no doubt benefitting as being the show that made Meghan Markle (now the Duchess of Sussex) popular.
Netflix review: Competition
Netflix had a huge advantage over its competition because it was one of the first streaming services to marry great content at an attractive price-point in an easy-to-use package. In many ways, it set the bar for what a good streaming service should be. In the last few years, however, many other companies have been taking a leaf out of their book to provide and enhance their own streaming services.
The biggest competition to Netflix comes in the form of Amazon Prime Video, which is free with an Amazon Prime subscription. It now has its own originals in the form of The Grand Tour and Transparent along with a range of licensed TV shows and films. Signing up to Amazon Prime for £80 per year (or £7.99 a month) is the best-value way to subscribe to the service, because that also entitles you to free, next-day UK delivery on eligible items, and unlocks ad-free access to Amazon Music. Alternatively, you can subscribe to Prime Video only at a cost of £5.99. Both of these options are cheaper than Netflix’s Standard plan.
READ NEXT: What you get with Amazon Prime
More recently, Disney Plus has launched in the US and Europe, bringing with it its entire suite of Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars catalogues – many of which enticed Netflix users onto its platform in the early days. Disney Plus costs £60/year, you can use one account on four devices at the same, and every single title can be downloaded offline. All of these features have a significant advantage over Netflix. Like Netflix, both Disney Plus and Amazon Prime work on a range of devices, including PCs, laptops, phone, tablets, Smart TV sticks and even gaming consoles.
READ NEXT: Every film and TV series on Disney Plus UK
The other big streaming service in the UK is Now TV. Its Entertainment Pass gives you access to more than 300 TV box sets, as well as premium channels such as Sky One, Sky Atlantic and Comedy Central. The service is priced identically to Netflix’s Standard plan. For £8.99 a month, it will let you watch on up to four devices, although only on two screens simultaneously and at a maximum resolution of 720p, unless you buy Now TV Boost (£3/mnth) to upgrade your streaming quality to Full HD.
The Now TV Entertainment Pass gives you access to all manner of top-quality programmes, from Game of Throne and Westworld to Curb Your Enthusiasm, but most programmes only appear sporadically, so it’s worth checking how long something will be available for before signing up. Unlike Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, you can’t store any programmes to watch offline.
Crucially, the Entertainment Pass doesn’t include films. To stream Hollywood classics and recent cinema releases, you need to buy a Now TV Sky Cinema Pass, which is £11.99 per month and gives you access to all 11 Sky Cinema channels as well as more than 1,000 movies on demand. Paying £21 per month for Entertainment and a Sky Cinema Pass is a lot to fork out but, if you’re prepared to pay upfront, Sky usually offers some good discounts when buying its passes in bundles.
READ NEXT: Best films on Now TV Sky Cinema Pass
Netflix review: Verdict
It’s easy to see why Netflix has millions of subscribers, giving rise to the popular phrase ‘Netflix and chill’. Along with its unrivalled catalogue of original and licensed content, it lets you watch on practically any device and download many of your favourite TV shows offline.
As with all such services, whether Netflix is the right streaming service for you ultimately depends on whether or not it has the content you want to watch. But technically and in terms of the value the service offers, Netflix is currently leading the way.
What will be interesting to see is how well it stands up in the face of stiff competition offered by Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus in the next few months. Netflix clearly has the lead, but Amazon – and Disney Plus especially – will be looking to eat into that lead as much as possible.