When I first heard that BlockBuster had an Android app for the Motorola Droid X during the Verizon Wireless press conference, I was excited. Sadly, after taking it for a test run, I found that it is one failure stacked on top of another. While Netflix is scoring big with a mobile Apps for the iPhone 4, iPad, and another one due for Windows Phone 7 later this year, Blockbuster is trying to catch up. However, they’ve made just about every mistake possible. I wouldn’t even be writing this piece if I weren’t so frustrated with these issues.
Starting on the topic of HDMI, with Motorola touting it as one of the key features, customers would expect the ability to output HD-like Blockbuster to a HDTV set. Unfortunately, HDMI output is restricted due to copyright protection. Ironically, an illegally downloaded TV show or movie will play just fine. And as a side comment, I don’t encourage illegally downloading movies or music, but the restrictions imposed on legal content is just disappointing. Considering that the Blockbuster App comes pre-installed and that Motorola even offers an optional HDMI dock accessory, the entire situation is just ridiculous. I should also note that the packaging doesn’t include a micro HDMI cable.
Forget HDTVs, how about watching Blockbuster movies on the phone? That works great, right? Unfortunately, this is a disaster too. It turns out that the Blockbuster by Mail subscription plans are entirely independent from Blockbuster On Demand. Paying for one won’t offer access to the other. Meanwhile, Netflix offers free instant streaming to computers, TVs, gaming consoles, and mobile phones with a standard rental-by-mail subscription. Sadly, Blockbuster’s pricing is hefty too, movies go for $3.99 for a 24 hour rental and purchases cost up to $17.99. For the average person, that’s just a bit too much to pay for watching a movie on a 4.3 inch screen. When Redbox costs just a buck, there’s no reason to deal with this.
Even if you were okay with the expensive rates, the experience is still problematic. And if you thought Blockbuster for Android was a streaming technology like Netflix or YouTube, you are wrong. On Demand is rather along the lines of iTunes Movies or Amazon Unbox, which means downloading large movie files. And that’s a problem, since downloads take forever. Verizon doesn’t allow 3G downloads either, users will need to stick around a WiFi network until a download completes. Even with a fast internet connection, downloading a movie took about two hours. The app can conveniently run in the background, but it kills battery life quickly.
For those looking to get media onto their phone, with 8GB of internal storage and a bundled 16GB microSD card, there’s plenty of space for storing content. And if that’s not enough, using DLNA with a Windows 7 machine on a home network is probably the next best experience. It allows streaming music, movies, and photos to and from computers, HDTVs, gaming consoles, and even other DLNA enabled smartphones.
While Blockbuster deserves some credit for bringing 125,000 movies to the Droid X and even offering an option to queue movies for Blockbuster by Mail customers, the overall experience is nothing more than a complete failure. The mere list of issues go on and on: no HDMI output, expensive prices, no streaming, slow downloads, and WiFi restrictions. With the entire service being a nuisance, I decided to uninstall this application, but it turns out that isn’t possible either. The entire application is nothing more than bloatware for the average users. I’m looking forward to when Netflix brings an App to the Android Marketplace, hopefully they won’t make the same mistakes.