10 of the best apps you need to download now for your smart TV or streaming device

Dec 12, 2019

Your new smart TV or streaming device probably comes with a load of apps like Netflix and Hulu already pre-downloaded. But there’s so much more out there. By some estimates, the U.S. alone has more than 200 streaming services. 

And with most new streaming devices and smart TVs, searching for a movie will comb through all your apps, so you can see if a title is available for free before you pay to rent it. Here are some of our most overlooked favorite smart TV apps. 

The Criterion Channel

Good for: Art house and foreign films
Price: $10.99/mo., $99.99/year
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku
Recommended titles: Mulholland Drive, In the Mood for Love, The Thin Blue Line

NIrvana for the serious film buff, The Criterion Channel debuted in May 2019 to a standing ovation from cinephiles. That’s not to say its library is entirely obscure, either. According to Reviews.com, The Criterion Channel has more movies in IMDb’s Top 250 list than Amazon, Hulu and HBO.

Disney+

Good for: Disney, Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel
Price: $6.99/mo., $12.99/mo. bundle with Hulu and ESPN+
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG smart TVs, PlayStation 4, Roku, Samsung smart TVs, Xbox One
Recommended titles: The Mandalorian, Inside Out, The Sound of Music

While it’s hardly unheralded, Disney+ is new enough that it might not come pre-installed on your TV or streaming device. And if you’re looking for something the whole family can watch over the holidays, it’s hard to beat the Disney+ catalog of Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar movies. Its original content has also been a hit so far, earning rave reviews from both critics and viewers. 

Fox Sports

Good for: 4K sports
Price: Included with pay-TV subscription
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Xbox One

If you recently unwrapped a brand new 4K TV, you’re probably wondering where you can find some 4K content to watch on it. Few things benefit more from 4K than sports — the contrast between lights and darks, increased resolution and wider range of colors all bring out more detail in the games than you’d ever see otherwise. 

Unfortunately, sports in 4K is still in the early stages. Fox is one of the only networks that’s experimenting with it, and you can catch every Thursday Night Football matchup — along with college football and basketball games — in 4K HDR on Fox apps. We’ve put together a full guide to watching Fox in 4K here

fuboTV

Good for: Live cable channels
Price: $54.99/mo. 
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Samsung smart TVs

Unlike any of the other streaming apps on this list, fuboTV streams the same live TV channels you’d get through your cable or satellite provider. In our review of the best live TV streaming services, we named fuboTV the app with the best all-around channel selection, but if you’re looking for a service that’s a little better for sports, we’d recommend YouTube TV ($50/mo.). 

HBO NOW

Good for: Prestige TV, movies
Price: $14.99/mo.
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, PlayStation 4, Roku, Samsung smart TVs, Xbox One
Recommended titles: Watchmen, Game of Thrones, Succession

Want to watch all The Sopranos Christmas episodes on your break? Jonesing for the 1996 Schwarzenegger classic Jingle All the Way? HBO is the only place you can get them. (If you already get HBO through your TV provider, you can use HBO GO to access the HBO library at no additional cost.)

Hoopla

Good for: Holiday movies
Price: Free (with a participating library card)
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku
Recommended titles: Christmas with the Kranks, The Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol

Like Kanopy (see below), Hoopla is supported entirely by your local library. But while Kanopy specializes in more serious art house fare, Hoopla is more like your neighborhood video store: there should be something for everyone here. Its holiday movie library is particularly impressive, with a good mix of classics and newer releases. 

Kanopy

Good for: Foreign and indie films
Price: Free (with a participating library card)
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Samsung smart TVs, Telstra smart TVs
Recommended titles: Zodiac, Lady Bird, Harold and Maude

Kanopy’s motto is “thoughtful entertainment,” and you won’t find many big-budget blockbusters on the library-funded streaming service. But that’s not to say it’s full of stuffy movies that will put you to sleep. On the contrary, Kanopy has some of the most beloved movies in recent years like Oscar darlings Moonlight, Amy and Room — all available for free.

Locast

Good for: Local TV channels
Price: Free
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, DIRECTV, DISH, Google Chromecast, Roku, U-Verse

If you don’t pay for cable, satellite or live TV streaming, Locast is one of the best resources you’ll find. The non-profit airs local over-the-air channels like ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS and The CW entirely for free. The only catch? Locast is currently only available in 16 U.S. cities. If you live in one of them, it’s absolutely worth a download. 

Pluto TV

Good for: Live news, sports channels, 2000s reality TV
Price: Free
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Android TV

While you won’t get big names like ESPN, Pluto TV has a surprisingly solid lineup of live TV channels for free. Out of its 100+ channels, you’ll find offshoots from NBC, CBS and CNN, and they’re often showing the exact same stuff as their pay-TV counterparts. And because it’s owned by Viacom, there are dozens of channels devoted to MTV, VH1 and BET hit shows from the 2000s. 

Tubi TV

Good for: Popular movies and TV shows
Price: Free
Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Comcast XFinity X1, Cox Contour, Google Chromecast, Nvidia Shield, PlayStation, Roku, Samsung smart TVs, Sony smart TVs, Xbox One
Recommended titles: Major League, No Country for Old Men, Scream

Tubi has the best all-around selection of any free streaming service, so it’s the perfect app to start exploring your new smart TV or streaming device. And unlike Kanopy and Hoopla, Tubi is entirely supported by ads, so you don’t need a participating library to use it. 

What’s next?

Now that you have some options for your new gadget, all that’s left to do is start watching. We recommend around 8 Mbps download speeds for HD streaming and 25 Mbps for 4K. If you don’t know what you’re currently getting, you can take our speed test here

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