SlingTV: One Year In
By Chris Heinonen on
The most exciting thing for me at CES 2015 was SlingTV. Here we had a TV provider that was actually looking forward instead of relying on a monopoly to get users. For $20 you got access to essential channels, including ESPN, that you could watch on almost any device. I could stream it to my Roku or FireTV when I’m in the living room, or watch on my laptop, a tablet, or smartphone. With no set top boxes to pay for, and no contracts, it seemed like a promising idea.
In my initial review I found that to be the case. Sure, I had a few quibbles with it, but am impressed. Now after having it for over a year, I have a better idea of what SlingTV is doing right and where they still need to improve.
SlingTV has, in almost every case, worked as advertised. I’ve watched March Madness, NBA Basketball, the College Football Playoff, and political debates on it. I’ll browse through and catch a show on HBO, AMC, TNT or many other channels. The buffering time is usually quite fast on my devices, and the picture quality holds up well to cable.
I never had issues where I couldn’t watch a program I wanted to see. I’ve seen many reports of SlingTV having issues for some people, but even during popular events it held up well. It is hard to determine sometimes if the issues on streaming services are due to the Internet provider or the streaming service. In my case both held up over the year.
Though likely out of the hands of the SlingTV people, you cannot watch NFL games through SlingTV on your smartphone. Since Verizon has an exclusive contract with the NFL, they restrict Monday Night Football to larger devices. You can stream it on your laptop or TV just fine, but not to your phone if you’re out somewhere and want to watch.
It also seems that the 2015 Roku 3 isn’t quite powerful enough to stream SlingTV for extended periods of time. If you watch a full football game over many hours, you start to see some slight stuttering as if it’s low on memory while buffering the content. This might not be the case on the Roku 4 or the FireTV, but I normally watch football on the TV that uses the Roku 3. Over shorter periods of time I never notice this, and the program is still watchable, but it just isn’t perfect.
If you switch away from the SlingTV app on your smartphone or tablet and then come back, sometimes it won’t refresh. Closing the app and reopening it will fix this, but that is an annoyance. Sometimes you need to give it 10-15 seconds to realize you are back, but you can close it and reopen it in less time than that. This might have more to do with how Android and iOS handle background apps, but it is an annoyance.
The worst thing about SlingTV, by far, is the interface. I’m not an expert in UI design, but SlingTV needs an overhaul. On an iPhone all the icons and symbols are too large and take up far too much of the screen. It takes too many steps to change channels, and isn’t as easy to find what you’re after as it could be. I’m not a big fan of the standard grid-style layout used on a cable box, but even that works better than this. It isn’t as attractive, but it is easier to use on a day-by-day basis.
After a year of SlingTV, I do still recommend it to people. For what it offers for the price, you have trouble beating it. After years of cutting cable, I was finally able to watch all the football and basketball I wanted this year at home for only $20 a month. Even when the local cable company offers me a deal, cable box rental fees alone will run me more than that every month. Since it is just an app on my Roku box, my universal remote was already programmed to use it and I didn’t have to add any clutter to my tabletop.
Since SlingTV offers a free trial, there is no reason not to try it out if you’re curious. If, like me, you only watch sports you can keep it during the season and cancel after. Hopefully SlingTV can keep improving on what they already have, because a year in they are off to a good start.