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Netflix review

Netflix is the service that made video streaming a household staple but, with so many new services to choose from, is it still worth the money in 2020?

Netflix review
(Image: © Netflix)

Our Verdict

Netflix is the Amazon gift card of streaming services: everyone can use it to get something they like.

For

  • Huge library of shows and movies for all tastes and ages
  • Buzz-worthy original content
  • Updated with fresh content on a regular basis

Against

  • Its suggestion algorithm could use some work
  • Very few current TV shows are available

When it comes to video streaming services, Netflix is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. It has its own meme: "Netflix and chill." It has original movies that have been nominated for Oscars. Its name is practically synonymous with the very concept of streaming. If you’ve only ever had one video streaming service in your life, it was probably Netflix. It achieved its cultural impact by being first, being affordable, amassing huge collections of quality content from every corner of the world, and finally, from serving up high-quality original shows and movies you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a behemoth, and easily one of the best TV streaming services.

Whether or not you still need said behemoth depends on the specific kind of entertainment you crave. While Netflix has acres of programming at the ready, there are some notable gaps in its library. Even if your taste aligns with what’s on offer, finding something new to binge can be surprisingly difficult as Netflix’s algorithm seems to actively work against you wandering too far outside its preferred content. 

Netflix menu screen Stranger Things

Netflix's Originals TV shows, such as the excellent Stranger Things, proves its the master of watercooler entertainment. (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix review: TV shows

  • Superb variety of shows
  • More exclusives than any other service

Netflix is king of the binge, the undisputed master of watercooler entertainment. Stranger Things, Black Mirror, The Witcher, The Haunting of Hill House, Queer Eye, Cheer, The Crown - the shows everyone burns through in a weekend all live on Netflix. These are the shows that win Netflix all sorts of awards, and they never end up anywhere else. If you want to see them - and to be part of the conversation - it’s Netflix or nothing.

There’s lots of other TV to enjoy once you’ve run through the marquee shows, though. If your taste runs toward mysteries, either real or fictional (Mindhunter or Making a Murderer), Netflix has rolls and rolls of crime scene tape it’s happy to unfurl for your viewing pleasure. Those who crave the alpha and omega of baking can start with The Great British Baking Show then follow it up with kid favorite Nailed It. If animation is your jam, there’s BoJack Horseman, Big Mouth, Aggretsuko, Castlevania, and more anime than you perhaps knew existed. Want a scare? K-drama? Stand-up comedy? Netflix has all of the above in ample supply, and is acquiring more all the time.  

What Netflix doesn’t have, however, is what you’ll find on network TV. Netflix can’t help you stay current on The Bachelor or This is Us, though some shows do find their way to the library eventually. If you’re looking for a streaming service to serve as an approximate replacement for cable TV, Netflix probably isn’t it. 

Netflix Kids

Netflix Kids is an easy way to manage what your children watch. (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix review: Movies

  • Good range of movies
  • Fewer current releases

Netflix’s roots as a disc-rental service show through in its movie library. If you have a hankering for a movie you haven’t seen in ages, odds are decent you’ll be able to find it on Netflix somewhere. Netflix falters when it comes to anything fresh from the theater, however. A quick search of Netflix for some high-profile movies from 2018 turned up a lone selection: Roma. Current movies do the tour of pay channels like HBO and Showtime before landing on Netflix, so it’s not the service for you if you hate waiting.

That’s not to say Netflix has nothing new or relevant; Netflix has been producing a string of notable originals. The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, Klaus, and American Factory were all nominated for Oscars in 2020. (And Dolemite is My Name should have been, let’s be honest.) Netflix is also the home for documentaries, which may not sound sexy at first, but consider that both Queen Bey and Taylor Swift host their stories on the service.

Netflix review: Pricing

Netflix has three pricing plans, starting at $8.99, $12.99, or $15.99 a month. To figure out which one you need, ask yourself two questions: Do I care about 4K viewing, and how many people are going to be watching?

If you crave those lush high-definition visuals, then you have no choice but to get Premium for $15.99 a month. If you have no dog in the HD/4K fight, then it comes down to how many people are likely to be using Netflix at once in your home - for example, if the kids are watching on a tablet while you’re watching on the TV. If it’s no more than two, you can get by with the standard package at $12.99/month, but more than that puts you back in Premium (up to 4). And if it’s just one? Well, you get to save a few bucks by squeaking by with the Basic account at $8.99/month. 

Whichever package you choose, you can kick it off with a 30-day free trial. While it isn't quite as competitive as Disney Plus, the choice on Netflix more than justifies the price.

Netflix iPhone

Whether you're watching on TV, a laptop or on your phone, the Netflix stream quality is usually great. (Image credit: Netflix)

 Netflix review: Quality of Stream

We watched Netflix on an Apple TV, iPhone 8, and a desktop computer: playback on all was typically smooth, with no buffering or lag. The stream would occasionally chug and throw an error, but backing out of the program and resuming viewing rectified the problem without having to restart the app. The worst aspect was Netflix’s inconsistent UI, which made it difficult to find brand new content. The search function works perfectly, but brand-new shows were often hidden from the main navigation, depending on the platform being used. Not a deal-breaker, but annoying.

Should I subscribe to Netflix?

Probably. It offers a massive amount of content at a reasonable price, and has enough of each kind of content to keep anyone happy. It also supplements its lineup regularly; while the big-ticket items like brand new shows may only arrive quarterly, there’s something new (or at least new to Netflix) to watch every single week. $15.99 a month is an amazing value for a family of four (or more), with parental controls keeping the younglings away from anything they shouldn’t see.

All of that said, Netflix won’t keep you current with anything on network TV or fresh out of the movie theater. This isn’t the service you get to avoid having to rent a movie from iTunes or Redbox. Think of Netflix more like its own network of programming, which may (or may not!) eventually host shows that originated on other networks, but it probably won’t be any time soon. Though canceled shows sometimes find new life on Netflix, which is a whole other thing.