Watching TV shows and movies on a mobile device is a great way to keep you and the family occupied during long flights, in between sightseeing or in case you hit a rainy day. That means planning ahead and using your subscription service(s) to download what you want to watch onto your smartphone, tablet or computer before you leave (while keeping an eye on your home internet data cap, too).
Don't stream movies while you're out and about. For one, that's a surefire way to chew through your wireless data plan -- and that's if you're fortunate enough to even have stable coverage along the way. Got Wi-Fi access away from home? That's great, but it's a good rule of thumb to avoid public Wi-Fi whenever possible.
Here's what to do to make sure your devices are ready for these big-file video downloads and also how to download from Netflix, Amazon Prime and a few other sites.
How to check your phone, tablet and laptop's storage
The first thing you need to do before you load up your phone, tablet or laptop with videos is to make sure you have enough storage space. Keep in mind that a full-length movie can take up 500 megabytes of space on your phone or tablet. That’s about the same size as the Netflix app itself.
The steps to check your device's available storage may vary slightly depending on what make, model and operating system you have, so we advise that you do this at home before you head out.
iPhone and iPad:
Settings >> General >> iPhone (or iPad) Storage
Settings >> Device Maintenance (You'll see how much storage space you have at the bottom of the screen)
Laptop - Mac
Apple >> About this Mac >> Storage and Memory (tabs)
Laptop - PC
Start (Windows icon) >> Settings (Gear icon) >> System >> Storage
How to download content from Netflix
To download shows and movies from Netflix, you'll need to have a Netflix account and make sure you're connected to the internet. We recommend doing this from home because that's likely your most secure network. Depending on your mobile device, these are the minimum system requirements for downloading from the Netflix app:
- iPhone, iPad, iPod touch with iOS 9.0 or later
- Android phone or tablet running 4.4.2 or later
- Amazon Fire running Fire OS 4.0 or later
- A tablet or laptop running Windows 10 version 1607 or later
- The latest version of the Netflix app
The last point is important: If you don't have the app installed on your device, you won't be able to download and save the video. Sad news for Mac users: There is no downloadable app for Netflix, so you won't be able to download videos to watch on your laptop unless you have an Intel-powered Mac that runs Windows.
Once you've signed into your Netflix app from your mobile device, you will see the following screen:
Here’s what Netflix's available for download looks like:
Anything that's a Netflix Original, you should be OK to download. Everything else (movies and TV shows) depends on licensing and other types of agreements Netflix has with the content source. If you see a downward arrow on the description page of a movie or show, you're in business.
Licensing will play a factor after a download is complete. Some titles will expire within 48 hours after you tap play. For others that don't expire as quickly, Netflix will display the amount of time left when it drops below the seven-day mark. This and additional info can be found on the Downloads page of the app.
Once you’ve downloaded a movie or show, you can explore more on Netflix:
The icon turns blue on iPhone and Android when it’s been added to your device.
Swipe left when you’ve finished watching a show or movie, and it will be removed from your phone.
And you should have enough programs to watch. Netflix allows a maximum of 100 titles to be stored on a single device at any given time!
Netflix's "Smart Downloads" feature for Android smartphones and tablets manages your downloaded TV shows. When you finish watching a downloaded episode, it will automatically delete it and download the next episode. But exercise caution when using this feature while traveling so you don't go over your mobile plan's data limit. "Smart Downloads" is not yet available on iOS devices.
How to download movies and TV from Amazon
If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, then you have access to everything Prime Video has to offer. Similar to Netflix, Prime Video has a fairly wide variety of movies and TV shows, along with its own original programming.
To watch it on your iPhone, iPad or Android-powered device, you'll need to download the app from Google Play or iTunes. Even if you purchase the video and add it to your Amazon Prime library, you need the app to view the video.
Another similarity is that not everything is available to download. It's still all about rights and licensing agreements. When you find a title you'd like to watch offline, open the video details in the app and look for the down arrow icon, just like Netflix.
In the image above you'll see there are a couple downloading options for a TV series. You can either download the entire season of a series at once or download one episode at a time.
How to download programming from other sites
Hulu has never offered offline viewing. It has hinted that downloadable content experience would launch during the 2018-19 upfront season, but we haven't seen it yet.
iTunes and the Google Play Store are similar in that you can rent or purchase movies -- and the content can be made available for offline viewing either way. If you rent instead of buy, there are limitations on how much time you have to watch the program, as well as the number of devices it can be stored on.
Google Play downloads work only on Chromebooks. They won't download on Macs or PCs.
YouTube downloads work only on iPhone, iPad and Android devices if you subscribe to YouTube Premium (formerly YouTube Red).
Download something different to your devices
Feeling like you'd like to listen to a lecture and maybe learn something or be inspired? TED Talks allows you to download their videos to the app installed on your iPhone, iPad or Android phone or tablet. Sorry, no downloads from their website to your laptop, either PC or Mac.
Here's a site we're pretty sure you never considered: the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress has a huge library of video content that is in the public domain.
You won’t find new releases here, but you’ll find fun things like a silent-film documentary featuring Thomas Edison and how he invented the lightbulb. We’ve got a link to this on our Show Picks page. Or you can go to loc.gov and select films, videos and browse and download from its library.
Hopefully, most of your vacation will be so exciting you won't need to see much of what you have downloaded. But if you do, we have you covered.
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"Don't touch that dial," or at least that's what they want you to think. With the ever-expanding landscape of digital streaming services out there, it's getting harder and harder to find great and affordable streaming services, or at the very least to select one of them.