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HBO Max is a subscription streaming service that serves up HBO content on demand to subscribers. As we’ve explained in our HBO Max guide, HBO Max is a little different than HBO Now, HBO Go, and the rest of the HBO family. But the HBO products are related: You might get HBO Max through your cable provider along with your subscription to HBO’s TV channel, for example. You can also go directly to HBO and sign up for HBO Max for $15 a month — but should you? That’s what our HBO Max review is here to find out.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • The best original content in streaming
  • The best HBO experience yet
  • Offline viewing

Cons:

  • No Roku channel
  • No Fire TV app
  • No 4K HDR content
  • Relatively high price

There’s a lot to love about HBO Max, which is no surprise to us. After all, the whole service is built around HBO content, and we at Cordcutting.com consider HBO to be the best in the business when it comes to original series. But, at launch, this service has some serious flaws. The biggest problem for us is the lack of platform support. Without Roku or Fire TV support, this streaming service can’t reach many cord cutters.

HBO Max Review

User Experience

The HBO Max experience begins with signing up — or just logging in, if you’re one of the customers that HBO has automatically upgraded to HBO Max from an existing HBO or HBO Now subscription. The process can be very simple if you’re already an HBO customer, but it was a little obnoxious for me: My HBO Now subscription did not automatically upgrade, and so I ended up making a new account for HBO Max.

HBO Max iOS home - HBO Max review

Once logged in, I found the HBO Max pretty easy to use. The app is simple — maybe even a little too simple, since there’s just one “Home” tab in the mobile app and therefore just a handful of rows’ worth of title suggestions.

There is a portal a little way down the home tab that connects to HBO’s various “hubs” and sub-brands. Buttons there lead to screens full of content from just DC comics, or just HBO originals, and so on.

HBO Max review - mobile app "hubs" screen

There’s a search tab, too, and a user tab that includes “My List,” a bookmarks system for favorite shows and movies. This tab also lets me pick up where I left off watching recent shows and movies, and it connects me to my downloaded content, too.

Speaking of downloads, HBO Max lets us download movies and TV shows to watch later. HBO Max is primarily built around streaming, but the downloads are a good way to avoid devouring data or losing connection when you’re away from your Wi-Fi. (By default, HBO Max streams only on Wi-Fi, but you can change this setting to use HBO Max on your mobile network).

HBO Max user profiles

HBO Max also let me create multiple user profiles. There wasn’t much customization to be had here (amusingly, the “profile image” options are just different-colored circles), but the multiple user profiles meant that I could let someone else use my account without worrying that they’d muck up my suggestions and viewing history.

Content

Content is where HBO Max really excels. The TV shows and movies on HBO Max are more consistently high-quality than the shows and movies on competitor services. That includes both the original content (which includes HBO hits like The Sopranos) and the licensed content (which, as of this writing, includes film classics like Casablanca).

This sort of thing can be pretty subjective, we know. But, even if you’re not a huge fan of The Wire or Veep, it’s hard to deny that HBO’s lineup is packed with shows and movies that critics broadly approve of and that audiences have devoured. Even mighty Netflix has never had a show as big as Game of Thrones or as critically adored as The Sopranos.

Game of Thrones

Which isn’t to say that HBO Max is full of fancy prestige TV only. Thanks to a huge licensing deal, it’s also home to the ever-popular 1990s sitcom Friends. And HBO Max also has the DC superhero films, which are popular with fans but not particularly big with film critics. We also got some family-friendly content with HBO Max, including the beloved Sesame Street, which is now an HBO Max exclusive. All in all, I found the HBO Max library to be as accessible as it was impressive.

A lot of what’s here is high-quality stuff — but how much is here, really? According to HBO, the HBO Max library totals more than 10,000 hours. That’s significantly larger than the Disney+ library was at launch, but nearly as large as Netflix’s library. That’s okay with us, because the content HBO Max is really high-quality and includes more recent releases than Netflix. Still, there’s quite a gap between Netflix and HBO Max in content hours — and, as we’ll see a bit later on, not such a huge gap in price.

Streaming Quality

In our tests, HBO Max did very well on the streaming quality front. Our streams were smooth and consistent in sharp HD.

But that HD tops out at 1080p, not at 4K. That’s not unusual. Though 4K is increasingly the industry standard, we don’t always see it in streaming services. Netflix has 4K only in its priciest plan, and other services, like Hulu, don’t have 4K at all. (Even when a service has 4K support, that doesn’t mean that all of its movies and TV shows will actually be in 4K.)

HBO Max app cellular streaming warning - HBO Max review

Even though 4K is still pretty rare in streaming, we would have liked to have see it here. HBO Max has plenty of high-quality content that would look great in 4K. And, as we’ll talk about later, HBO Max’s price is a little steep — which makes it a bit more frustrating that 4K support isn’t included here.

Platform Support

HBO Max initially launched without support for Roku devices like the Roku Ultra and Roku Express and without an app for Fire TV devices like the Amazon Fire TV Stick. That made platform support a sore spot in our review. Happily, things have gotten better: HBO Max is now available on Roku and Fire TV devices.

HBO Max on iOS
HBO Max's app works great on iOS

The newer Fire TV and Roku apps join a long list of platforms that HBO Max already supported. HBO Max works with iOS, Android (mobile), Apple TV, Chromecast, and Samsung Smart TVs. You can also use HBO Max in your browser or on a PlayStation or Xbox video game console.

Price

HBO Max’s price stands out a bit in the streaming business right now, and that’s not a great thing. Netflix used to set the pace for streaming prices, but the trend lately has been to undercut the streaming giant. We’ve seen new options like Disney+ and Apple TV+ price subscriptions lower than Netflix. But HBO Max is more in line with Netflix’s prices (and the price of Netflix’s most popular plan in particular).

HBO Max costs $14.99 per month, which is about the same as the popular Netflix Standard plan but significantly more than Disney+ (about seven bucks a month) or Apple TV+ (five bucks a month).

On the other hand, $14.99 per month is exactly what HBO Now costs. HBO Now is an on-demand service without the HBO Max exclusives, so it’s basically just an older and less impressive version of HBO Max. So we can also look at the $14.99 per month price as a pretty good deal: an upgrade to HBO Now but with no cost increase.

We should also note that some of us will get HBO Max for no additional cost. On top of the fact that it’s the same price that HBO Now subscribers are already paying, HBO Max is available for no extra charge to many who subscribe to HBO’s TV channel through their pay TV provider. It’s also available to some of AT&T’s customers for free.

Overall, HBO Max looks like a decent value to us. But it’s fair to say that its relatively high price makes it harder to accept other flaws with the service. If we’re paying that much a month, we want to see 4K content, strong platform support, and other goodies that we wouldn’t necessarily expect from the cheaper competition.

HBO Max's in-browser app - HBO Max review

Verdict

HBO Max has some problems, but it also has some incredible things to watch. When it comes down to it, finding great movies and TV shows to watch every night is the most important thing we get out of a streaming service subscription, so it means a lot to us that HBO Max excels in that department.

Since my first round of testing with HBO Max, the service has made a significant improvement. It now has apps for Roku and Fire TV devices, which fixes the biggest issues that I had in my earlier tests of the service.

HBO Max is a fantastic service. It was initially hampered by a lack of apps for the best streaming devices on the market, but it has fixed that flaw and looks ready to take on Netflix and the rest of the top streaming services. Though it doesn't come cheap, HBO Max works well and includes some of the best shows and movies in streaming.