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HBO Max review

HBO Max offers an amazing blend of high quality TV, classic movies, and new releases.

HBO Max review
(Image: © HBO)

Our Verdict

HBO Max is packed with high-quality shows and movies, but some irritating UI quirks make it a less than perfect experience.

For

  • Outstanding original content from HBO
  • Programming from affiliate networks like TCM and Crunchyroll
  • New stuff to watch on a regular basis

Against

  • The navigation has some frustrating quirks
  • Tech issues when accessing the service on iMac

HBO Max is a relatively new entry into the streaming game, having launched back in 2020. If you’re looking to leave cable behind and embrace the video streaming revolution, but don’t want to lose the high quality content that you’re used to on your TV, HBO Max is the way to go.

HBO Max carries a lot of pedigree with it when it comes to both TV and Movies. On the TV front, you get critically acclaimed HBO series like Game of Thrones, Watchmen, West World, and The Sopranos. There are also tons of HBO Originals - shows specifically created for the streaming service. With HBO’s impressive library of great TV content for both kids and adults, HBO Max is easily one of the best TV streaming services for you and your family.

On the movie side of things, you get access to Warner Bros’ impressive catalog of movies. HBO has also unleashed its secret weapon earlier this year with its Same Day Premieres, which means that new Warner Bros movies launch into HBO Max on the same day they arrive at movie theaters. This alone catapults HBO Max into the best movie streaming sites out there.

The only stumbling block with HBO Max is the UI, which isn’t nearly as slick or refined as the apps and websites that you get on services like Netflix. This is to be expected for a relatively new service, and we’re already seeing improvements, but it can be frustrating to navigate and find the great shows and movies that you want to watch. 

HBO Max review: TV shows

  • HBO acclaimed shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Sopranos.
  • HBO Originals exclusive to HBO Max.

As you might expect, HBO Max puts HBO’s acclaimed episodic programming on full display, with favorites like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Westworld, and True Blood alongside outstanding newcomers like Watchmen and Perry Mason. In fact, HBO does so much excellent original content that you might have forgotten about shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Oz, The Pacific, and Six Feet Under. If you allowed yourself nothing but HBO shows when you were choosing some TV to watch, you’d still be spoiled for choice for a very long time.

HBO Max

(Image credit: HBO)

But HBO Max has a great deal more television programming than just HBO originals. Fans of British programming will enjoy the entire modern Doctor Who catalog, Luther, Coupling, and the woefully underrated Bedlam. 

If you’re craving animations, you’ve got Adventure Time, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Powerpuff Girls, Rick and Morty, Steven Universe, and a smattering of Loony Tunes to sate your hunger. Sesame Street, Torchwood, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Kill la Kill, and oh, yeah, Friends. That little show. It's a staggeringly wide variety of quality shows that even puts services like Netflix to shame.

HBO Max review: Movies

  • Great variety of movies, new and old.
  • Harry Potter, Studio Ghibli along with niche genres.

It’s been around so long, you’ve likely forgotten that HBO originally stood for “Home Box Office,” and it’s still an excellent little movie theater. HBO Max’s movie selection will vary slightly month to month as new movies come in and older ones rotate out, but you should be able to find something worth watching with little effort. The entire Harry Potter franchise is in the library, as is the work of Studio Ghibli. 

HBO Max

(Image credit: HBO)

The movie selection is a mix of newer features and old favorites. The “Summer Horror” section that’s running as of this writing includes Us and It along with Jaws and An American Werewolf in London. The selection of kid-friendly content is large and not full of garbage, but that said, make sure you keep an eye on what your kids select: for some reason, Suicide Squad was put in that category.  

HBO Max also has a secret weapon when it comes to movies, with its Same Day Premieres initiative, which means that all new Warner Bros movies will launch on HBO Max on the same day as they hit theaters. That means you can enjoy the latest blockbusters like Space Jam: A New Legacy and The Suicide Squad on release day without having to leave your home and brave going out to the movies. This would have been an excellent feature at any time, but it’s especially valuable during a global pandemic when people are still rightfully nervous about attending public venues.

HBO Max review: Pricing 

  • $9.99 per month with ads, $14.99 per month with no ads.
  • Free with HBO.

HBO Max has two options available to new customers - with ads or ad-free. HBO Max With Ads is the cheaper service, costing $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually. You can enjoy most of the content on HBO Max on this service, but you’re limited to HD viewing and you don’t get access to the Same Day Premieres. 

HBO Max

(Image credit: HBO)

If you choose the Ad-Free option, you’ll pay $14.99 per month or $149.99 annually. Here you get access to the same content as the cheaper plan, plus the new Warner Bros movies. You also get to enjoy 4K viewing and you can even download movies and TV shows to watch them offline. 

HBO Max: Quality of Stream 

  • Smooth playback.
  • Sign in issues on some devices.

We tested HBO Max on an iPad mini 2, iPhone 8, AppleTV, and iMac. The experience was less than ideal on every platform tested with the exception of Apple TV. On iPhone and iPad, playback was smooth, but navigation was lacking. To skip around episodes in a series, you have to go back to the main menu for the entire series; there’s no way to navigate from the episode you’re watching to any other episode other than the next one. 

Signing in using a TV provider was inconsistent: on iPhone, our reviewer needed to use “AT&T U-Verse” as the provider, whereas on iPad and iMac it was simply “AT&T.” On iMac, attempts to navigate away from individual episodes on two separate days resulted in error messages, though this issue may be temporary.  

HBO Max

(Image credit: HBO)

Even in the best situation - in our case, using an Apple TV, one navigation quirk was annoying. You can add shows and movies to your own personal queue, you can’t access that queue from the side menu. Instead, you have to first return to the Home page, then scroll down. Given how robust the side menu is otherwise, breaking down available content in virtually every conceivable useful way, it is baffling there is no “My List” access point. 

Should I subscribe to HBO Max?  

When it comes to the amount and quality of the content you receive, the question of subscribing to HBO Max is a no-brainer. Even if all you got was the legacy HBO content, it’s an ample supply of excellent entertainment. But you also get new shows and movies - actually new, not just “new to the service” -  on a monthly basis. HBO Max’s library is fantastic, no question.

The issues with HBO Max are related to quality of life. Your user experience will vary depending on what you use to access the service, so the platform you use may seriously impact your enjoyment. Making good use of the free trial is sound advice for any streaming service that may be of interest to you, but it’s especially smart here, if only to make sure HBO Max works well with your device of choice. 

Susan Arendt is a writer and editor with more than two decades of experience from companies including AOL, Conde Nast, and The New York Times.  She currently resides in North Carolina with three dogs who, frankly, run her life.