Hulu Plus and Netflix are two of the best ways to stream video on an iPad. They both have a good selection, each service has its own exclusive shows and films. Amazon Instant Video has been around for a while too, but there was never any indication of the online superstore bringing access to the iPad. In fact, ever since Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, it was apparent that Apple’s tablet would likely never get such a streaming service since it was a competitor.
But Amazon decided to surprise us on July 31st, releasing an official Amazon Instant Video app that allows viewing of all your favorite programs right from your iPad. It even features free Prime streaming for those who pay the $79 per year for the service — and it’s actually $39 per year for students, too. This is exactly what you can get on a Kindle Fire, but is the actual experience as good? I’ll take a look after the break.
Intuitive Layout with No Search
Have you ever used Amazon Windowshop? It’s pretty much an alternate way to browse products on Amazon, as opposed to the buggy official app. If you answered yes, then you have a good idea of what Amazon Instant Video for iPad’s layout is like, but there’s one major difference: the user interface is horrible compared to Windowshop. I mean terrible. There’s no excuse for such a lack of design when they could have made it beautiful.
You can always use Amazon’s Watchlist function like a Netflix queue to find what you’d like to watch on a computer first, but there’s no management tools for removing an item in the iPad app.
But that’s not the only thing that’ll annoy you about this app. It lacks, of all things, a search function. Now honestly, why on earth would any developer in his right mind neglect to include a search function in an app such as this? This is beyond absurd. In fact, I would have expected Amazon to release an update by now being as over two weeks have passed since its initial release, but no.
Navigating and Watching Can Be Slow
While I do like the layout of Amazon Instant Video, it has a few issues with keeping the experience polished. For example, basic navigation like scrolling through a list of shows or films can lag in an irritating manner. Sometimes the app won’t even recognize that you are touching the screen. I’m using a 3rd generation iPad so lagging should not be happening, and in a world where apps are built well, using the basic functions should be smooth. With this however, even rotating the device will hurt your eyes.
My one major annoyance is that when it stops to say “Buffering …” there’s no way to get back to the main screen if your connection happens to be too slow at the moment. And while I’m on the connection note, I’ve discovered that there isn’t a meter to tell you how well your Internet speeds are holding up with the streaming; this is present in the web player and helps if you have an inconsistent connection.
No AirPlay Streaming, Unless You Want Audio Only
In any iOS streaming app, there’s really one major requirement: AirPlay. If Amazon’s app were for playing audiobooks then I’d let this slide, but you know there’s a problem when a video streaming app is without AirPlay playback to an Apple TV. This unjustifiable mistake cannot go unnoticed as the feature is a necessity. I’m not sure if they meant to include just audio or wanted to offer both but didn’t. Whatever the case, video should be included.
Download Videos to Take Them with You
Imagine the situation of you not having an iPad with a 3G data connection. What would you do if you wanted to watch the video on the road or during a flight? Simple: download it. Amazon made it easy to download any video that’s in your library for watching offline. Unfortunately, there’s no support for downloading Prime videos, but that makes sense as they do not allow it on a computer either.
You had best not lock your iPad when a download is progressing — that’ll pause it.
Regardless of how it works and whatnot, I downloaded some free content and a few episodes of USA’s Psych effortlessly. If the video is available in HD, the app should grab that copy, but I had a few issues occasionally. A fun little feature in downloading is that it lets you know how much has been downloaded — the screenshot above shows that sixteen seconds are complete — presumably in case you want to watch it before things are finished. At least that’s what I thought until I tried playing it, which yielded additional streaming over the download. A bit unproductive, isn’t it Amazon?
You Can Stream Videos with Limitations
Amazon Instant Video for iPad offers very limited functionality. If you want to find something then it had better be somewhere on the main screen because there’s no search function. If you were hoping to stream the video to your Apple TV via AirPlay then this app is going to disappoint unless you wanted to listen to it on your surround sound. However, you can always connect your iPad to your HDTV with the digital AV adapter that Apple offers.
In the end, Amazon could have started with a better app on the iPad. The layout is fine and the functionality works, but it could be much more polished. I want to see an app that doesn’t lag throughout, has more features, loses the inconsistent user interface, and doesn’t take so long to load basic pages. When that happens, I’ll recommend this app for streaming. But until then, it’s just OK and isn’t worth a subscription to Amazon Prime if you seek more than casual streaming on this device alone.