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Don't need sports or local channels? Philo can save you some cash

While device support was initially limited to Roku, the Philo app is now on Apple TV, Android TV, and Amazon Fire TV. So if you’re a user of one of those platforms who hasn’t considered the service because it wasn’t available on your streaming box of choice, now is a great time to take a look at it.

What is Philo?

While Philo is similar to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, or Hulu with Live TV in terms of how it works and the technology behind it, it’s a very different offering. Instead of trying to replace a full cable subscription, it offers a smaller subset of channels, and while it’s more expensive now than when it launched, it’s still a compelling service at $20 for new subscriptions.

AT&T offers the closest competitor to Philo when it comes to price and programming with its $15-per-month AT&T WatchTV service. That service might have a lower price, but it also offers fewer channels. In the end, which service you choose will likely have to do with the channels offered, though AT&T is hoping to draw more users to its service by offering it free to customers of certain AT&T Wireless plans.

There are some trade-offs for that low price, however. Philo is focused on offering mainly entertainment and lifestyle programming, which makes sense, given that most of its programming is provided by owners A&E, AMC, Discovery, Scripps, and Viacom (provider of channels like Comedy Central, CMT, MTV, and others). This focus means you won’t find two things that are often prominently featured in other services’ packages: sports channels and local network channels. But what you will find are plenty of sought-after channels plucked from cable’s deeper catalog.

Channels and price

At launch, Philo offered two packages: A $16 per month 45-channel lineup, and a $20 per month 58-channel lineup. However the company has recently made the decision to eliminate the cheaper package as of May 6, 2019, and will only offer the $20 per month package going forward. Existing members who subscribed to the $16 per month lineup, are grandfathered and can keep that subscription until further notice. Even at $20 however, it’s still cheaper than Sling TV’s regular monthly price of $25. In addition to a lack of sports or local channels, several big names are missing from Philo’s lineup, including Turner channels like CNN and TNT, and the big four networks — Fox, CBS, NBC, and Disney-owned ABC, along with other Disney offerings like ESPN.

The good news when it comes to local networks is that many of us can easily get them for free (and in HD, no less) with the purchase of an affordable HD antenna. If you’re in that camp, and you don’t mind missing out on sports, Philo is an enticing option, and the cheapest way to catch up on banner shows like The Walking Dead or The Daily Show live. Here’s what’s included in the $20 per month Philo subscription:

Features

In addition to live streaming channels, and a collection of over 25,000 on-demand titles, Philo also offers a free cloud DVR like many pricier streaming services. There is no limit to how much you can record, either, but you’ll have to make sure you catch up fairly quickly, as recordings only stick around for 30 days. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a DVR time limit; PlayStation Vue’s cloud DVR cuts off recordings after 28 days.

Another feature to consider when shopping streaming services is how many different devices can tune in at the same time. Philo offers three concurrent streams, meaning up to three people can watch on different devices at a time on the same account. This falls roughly in the middle of the pack: PlayStation Vue offers five concurrent streams, DirecTV Now offers two, and Sling TV offers either one or four, depending on which package you choose. One thing to take into account is that Philo doesn’t currently offer profiles, so your saved programming and viewing history will be the same, no matter who is watching.

At CES 2019, the company announced that it had finalized development of a co-viewing feature that would launch soon, though no date for the launch was given. The feature will let two Philo subscribers in different locations create a synchronized viewing session of a show. A link that corresponds with a specific channel, show, and time can be sent as a text message, which when opened will trigger the joint viewing session. In a similar vein, Philo users will be able to merge their profiles for the purpose of getting joint content recommendations from the platform. Philo is the first live TV streaming service to offer these features.

The service also offers a handy catch-up feature called 72-Hour Rewind, which lets you access almost any show that aired at any time during the previous 72 hours.

What about watching away from home? All of Philo’s live streaming channels can be accessed on-the-go via the company’s iOS app, or the Chrome browser on Android devices. Additionally, many of the channels carried by Philo offer their own on-demand shows and movies that might not be included in Philo’s on-demand catalog.  To access them, you need to download that channel’s dedicated app, and then sign-in using your Philo credentials. To see which channels offer this service, and the platforms they support, check out Philo’s “TV Everywhere” help page.

Supported devices

Early on, Philo struggled to keep up with rival services when it came to device support. For a long time, the Roku platform was the only way to watch the service on a TV, meaning you needed either a Roku TV or one of the company’s streaming boxes or streaming sticks. Things have changed however, and now Philo is also available on the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV devices, including the Fire TV Cube. There’s also an app specifically for Android TV users.

An app is available for iOS devices, though it’s only an iPhone app, so you’ll be dealing with a scaled display if you’re trying to watch on an iPad. For Android, there isn’t a bespoke app. Instead, you can watch via the Philo website using the Chrome web browser.

Viewing experience

During our time testing Philo, we watched the service on every supported platform, and the picture quality was good no matter which we chose. The picture is slightly softer-looking than either PlayStation Vue or Sling TV, but not as much as we have experienced with DirecTV Now in the past.

When it comes to actually navigating through available shows, the interface is mostly universal from platform to platform, with one notable exception: The only place you’ll find a traditional channel guide is on the website. On both the iOS and Roku versions, this is nowhere to be found. This may not be a bad thing, though, as the guide feels a bit like an afterthought and is somewhat awkward to navigate when compared to the rest of the service’s interface.

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It’s clear from the get-go that Philo is content-oriented, not channel-oriented. No matter which platform you’re watching on, the first thing you’ll see when firing up the app is the home screen, which features two main sections: Trending Live shows, presumably which shows other users are watching the most; and New & Upcoming, which lets you see which shows and movies are on the way. If you were previously watching one or more TV shows or movies, you’ll also see an option to pick up where you left off.

There is also a Live section that shows what is currently airing, organized alphabetically by channel. While other streaming services tend to start you off on the livestream, Philo instead gives you the option to click through on-demand content or skip to the live stream if you prefer.

Our take

Finding the right streaming service isn’t an easy task, especially when you’re looking for something comprehensive yet affordable. That said, if Philo offers the channels you’re looking for, it’s a great option. Obviously, this isn’t the streaming service for news junkies or sports fanatics, and if you’re just looking to save money, you might also consider a Netflix or Hulu subscription supplemented by a more limited (but totally free) service like Pluto TV.

If you’re curious about Philo but aren’t ready to commit, there’s a free seven-day trial, and you don’t even need to enter payment information for the first two days — all you need is your mobile number. If you’re still uncertain, make sure to check out our comparison of the other most popular live TV streaming services to get the lay of the land.

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