Sling TV is an antidote to cable TV. Cable television is one of those things you know is a bad deal (especially when compared to the best TV streaming services), but you feel have no choice but to grit your teeth and put up with it. It’s expensive and gives you little choice as to which channels you can receive, but many of the best shows currently airing come from cable networks. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, or even the Real Housewives of Wherever, you’re pretty much stuck forking over a small fortune to your local cable company.
Or ARE you? (dramatic music plays)
Check out our guide to the best TV options in 2020, which has everything from OLED and QLED to budget 4K TVs.
Sling TV presents itself as cable, but better. It offers most of the same channels you’d get from your local cable or satellite provider, but using an a la carte model that allows for customization. You can add or dump bundles of channels on a month-to-month basis with a minimum of hassle, something that definitely can’t be said of traditional cable subscriptions. Most intriguing of all, Sling offers a host of live programming, including sports and news from around the world. And all of this can be yours without the need for a cable tech who’ll definitely, absolutely be at your house sometime between 8am and 6pm. Yeah.
Sling review: TV shows
Sling distinguishes itself from other streaming services like Netflix by letting you catch up on the day’s headlines with live news programming from around the world. You can view live news broadcasts in Polish, Urdu, French, and Arabic to name a few, or access archived shows. You won’t have as wide a selection of networks if you don’t subscribe to one of Sling’s packages, but you can still get the information you need every day.
Sports fans will also find much to enjoy on Sling, provided they’re willing to cough up some coin. Basketball, wrestling, robot fighting, NASCAR, eSports, and more are available, as well as championships and games from past years. At the exact time of this writing, Sling is broadcasting a 2018 game pitting the Kansas City Chiefs vs the LA Rams. (We won’t spoil the ending for you, but we like the Rams’ chances.)
Sling starts to get a little weird when it comes to regular TV programming. Unlike other streaming services, Sling doesn’t work like a library, but rather like the cable and satellite providers it wants to replace. Imagine turning on your TV and flipping through the channels until you landed on something that you found appealing. That’s the Sling experience. If you pay the monthly fee to use Sling DVR, you can set programs to record - wonderful when you stumble across a show you’d enjoy but don’t have time to watch then and there.
Sling review: Movies
In contrast with its regular programming, Sling has an excellent selection of movies for rental, and lets you sort them with a set of filters you’ll wish every streaming service would adopt. Want something safe for the wee ones? Search for anything with a G-rating. Want something you’re at least reasonably certain won’t be awful? Search for a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 90% and above. The rental library is movies-only and not nearly as deep as something like Amazon Prime Video, but it has the recently-released films you missed in the theaters.
Outside of the Rental section, you’ll find a modest selection of films in the On Demand section, though what’s there will vary depending on network programming. That said, we saw a nice selection of newer films like Hustlers and older favorites like A League of Their Own. Most movies will require either an Orange or Blue subscription, but a handful can be viewed without one. There isn't anywhere near the range of kids movies or classics to rival the likes of Disney Plus.
Sling review: Pricing
Sling wants to be better than traditional cable by offering semi a la carte programming. First, choose your starter base of channels, either Orange or Blue. They’re identically priced at $30 a month, though Blue offers 20 channels than Orange. Choose whichever lineup best matches your preferred content (Orange has ESPN, for example, while Blue has BBC America) or just get the Orange + Blue package for $45 a month. There’s a $10 discount for the first month of each package.
Once you’ve selected your base package, it’s time to choose your Extras: additional bundles of channels and services you can add for varying prices. The “Kids Extra” package adds another 5 channels of programming to your line up for an additional $5 a month, and you can use Sling DVR to record and store content for another $5 a month. On top of that are the Premium Extras, channels like Showtime, Starz, and Dogz. Yes, Dogz is programming for your pooch. What, entertaining your best friend isn’t worth $5 a month? Wow. Just...wow.
Depending on your viewing taste, you may find that your Sling bill keeps pace with a regular cable bill once you’ve tacked on all the extras you want. There’s a fair amount of Sling programming you can watch absolutely free, with no subscription of any kind, but the best shows and movies are, unsurprisingly, behind a paywall. What you get here is choice and flexibility, even if you don't make huge savings.
Sling review: Streaming quality
We tried Sling on an iPad Mini 2, iPhone 8, and a desktop computer: playback on all was typically smooth so long as the internet was robust. Occasionally, skipping ahead in a program caused the audio and video to fall out of synch, but the issue would resolve itself after a minute or so. Navigation takes a little getting used to if you’re trying to use Sling like a traditional streaming service, but once you understand how programs are grouped, it’s no trouble. The filters were both helpful and creative, especially for movies.
Should you subscribe to Sling?
If you find yourself in a situation where you’d love to have cable or satellite but don’t have (or want) a TV set then Sling is a great choice. It has the same kind of libraries shown on similar schedules as traditional cable, without the need for a table-hogging television. It’ll be a less expensive option for a lot of folks, too, with a good selection of channels available at a price point of $50 a month or less. It’s the best streaming service for live programming like sports and news, no question.
However, it’s important to remember that Sling won’t always have what you’re in the mood for. If you have a hankering to watch, say, Rick and Morty, you’ll find that you only have access to whatever episodes Cartoon Network has programmed for that week. So long as you’re ok with that, Sling’s a good fit.