Do you need some TV on your mobile device? Are you overwhelmed by all that unknown online TV programming, or hesitant to shell out for Netflix or Amazon Prime? Crackle may be the answer. In addition to providing a sleek website portal for free movies and television shows, Crackle has developed service for Smart TVs and set-top devices including Roku, Xbox360, and PS3 consoles; it also has an app for just about any mobile device you might use.
There’s nothing particularly new about the idea: offer a selection of free movies and TV shows, and pay for it by running ads where the TV commercials would go. These sites (ad-supported and otherwise) were around long before the original Hulu went big. However, Crackle offers some features that make it truly stand out, including a good (and 100% legal) selection of programming, a clean and user-friendly design, and the single best free TV app currently available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and other mobile platforms.
Crackle’s interface is simple and intuitive, with a basic icon menu at the bottom and a grid of “Cover” icons for each movie or show. You can view the whole list in either category, or filter your results using the “Browse” button in the upper right. Everything is immediately available without the usual registration requirement (except for the “Watchlists” function), so you’ll be able to launch Crackle and start watching any TV show or movie it offers in an average of 2-4 taps.
The video player isn’t loaded down with extra features. The bottom row gives you the usual timeline bar, a pause button, and a subtitle option, as well as a few icons near the top right to access sharing, watchlist, and media purchasing functions. Dots represent ad breaks (2-3 for shows, 7-9 for movies), and you’ll always start with an ad if you tap farther along the timeline. Menu items disappear after a few seconds of inactivity, leaving a smooth and clear video image.
Crackle offers a good mix of mainstream programming and lesser-known cult favorites from Sony Pictures Television (Crackle is a Sony product). The certified TV classics span several decades, including Seinfeld, Three Stooges, All in the Family, The Prisoner, Rescue Me, and Married with Children. There’s a very healthy supply of anime and superhero animation, and a sprinkling of interesting reality, variety, sketch comedy, and music shows.
Crackle also has a few of its own productions, which tend to be higher quality than most made-for-the-Internet shows. Original programming includes everything from comedy sketches and one-off short films to ongoing full-length series. What I’ve seen of Chosen, for example, makes me wonder if Crackle might become an alternate launching pad for major premium-channel TV shows.
The film section contains many recent Hollywood movies, plus some sleepers and classics that you may have missed. Inevitably, there are also several that are well worth missing, but Crackle has a much smaller collection of direct-to-video stinkers than most. Although ads have been inserted, no other editing has been done on the movies, so you’ll get all the NSFW content (if you don’t select the Parental Controls option in the Crackle settings). Be warned: Crackle rotates its movie list every few months, so it’s not always safe to assume you have plenty of time to get to a movie eventually.
Crackle comes with a few drawbacks. There are no currently running TV shows, no HD content, and the ads can be disruptive to your viewing pleasure and your device–some users have reported force closes and other bugs–and the app menu can get sluggish and unstable after playing a video or returning from screen timeouts. It’s also a tiny bit annoying that the app always returns to the top of any list, forcing the user to scroll down to wherever they left off.
You might find it a bit sneaky that Crackle includes shows like The Walking Dead among its available shows, when all it really offers is clips and trailers. There are some conspicuous omissions even from the Sony Pictures Television stable; sure, Breaking Bad and Shark Tank are still in production, but why no King of Queens?
Crackle still has all the polish, if not necessarily the current content, of a subscription service like Netflix or HuluPlus. The three most important words with Crackle are “free,” “Sony,” and “app.” You get a solid amount of quality TV and film content, and an intuitive interface to get it playing on your phone or tablet with a minimum of fuss–and all its costs you is a few ads now and then.
Follow Emiah @EmiahGardner
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