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Windows Phone 7 App of the Week: Netflix

Date: October 22, 2010 
App type: Entertainment 
Publisher: Netflix, Inc. 
Release date: October 18, 2010 
Price: FREE 
Requirements: Access to your data connection, media library, and phone identity

I've been writing about PC-based digital media for over a decade, and while there are few sure things in this field, Netflix is one of them. This excellent subscription service--available to consumers in the US and Canada--provides two core features: at-home DVD delivery and unlimited movie and TV show streaming via PCs, TVs, and various electronic devices including, among others, the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, the Wii, various Blu-Ray players, and the Apple TV. One of the more recent additions the pervasive Netflix service is portable device support. You can now access Netflix streaming video via Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and, now, Windows Phone devices as well.

The Netflix client for Windows Phone is particularly well done and takes advantage of that system's unique UI conventions while retaining virtually identical functionality as its iPhone cousin. It's a single screen, pivot-based application that is, like other Netflix clients, completely customized for each user. It can be used in either portrait or landscape mode, though video playback always occurs in landscape.

There are four pivots, or columns, in the main Netflix UI:

Home. This column provides a set of picks, sorted under categories, which are customized for you, based on your previous usage and preferences. So on my own phone, I see categories such as Witty Workplace TV Comedies (like "Better Off Ted"), Visually Striking Imaginative Movies ("Up"), Dark Suspenseful Sci-Fi & Fantasy ("Mad Max"), and so on. These categories and picks are dynamic and change over time as you watch and rate more content. You can also dig deeper into each category by tapping its name, so whereas the top-level column shows only three choices for each category, you can see several more in this fashion.

Genres. The Genres column provides a list of Netflix's top-level genres: Television, Action & Adventure, Children & Family, Comedy, Drama, Foreign, Horror, Independent, Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, and Thrillers. Unfortunately, there are no sub-genres seen when diving in, so you can't view only French movies in Foreign, for example.

Search. Need to find something specific? The Search column will let you search the database of available TV shows and movies for live streaming.

Instant Queue. Netflix users can maintain two lists, or queues, of content, one for DVD movies that are delivered as part of the subscription, and one for streaming. This latter queue is called "Watch Instantly" on the Netflix web site, and on the phone it's sorted in the order in which items were added. So in my own Instant Queue, the movie "Paris" is the first item since this is the first movie I ever added to the queue.

When you tap the Play button associated with any video (TV show or movie), the Netflix app switches to landscape view, determines the video quality based on your connection speed and quality, buffers the video, and then plays it. Quality ranges from terrible to decent based on a number of factors, and if you are picking up in a video you previously played, you'll be prompted to resume or restart.

As with other mobile Netflix clients, Netflix for Windows Phone provides a way to rate content, and add and remove it from your Instant Queue. You can also simply play content you've found without adding it to the Queue.

There's even a bit of DVD queue management available. If you search for a movie that isn't available for streaming (like "Star Wars"), the Netflix app will still show it in the search results but note that it is "disc only." If you select the film, you're given the chance to add it to your DVD queue. And, in a nice touch, Netflix will display a list of similar movies that are available for streaming.

A phone's tiny screen and balky connection isn't necessarily the best way to enjoy a TV show or movie. But if you're stuck, you could do worse than Netflix for Windows Phone, and this version of the client is particularly full-featured in addition to taking advantage of unique Windows Phone UI conventions. Nicely done.

For more information about the Netflix service and its various subscription packages, please visit the Netflix web site.

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