None of us would be here without Netflix. By here, I mean on this website, writing about Netflix and other TV services that don’t require a cable connection. Netflix has been around since the late 90s. Old folks like me remember getting DVDS in the mail at the turn of the millennium, but it feels like Netflix really became inescapable once it started offering streaming TV in 2007.

As of this writing, Netflix has more than 137 million subscribers around the world. Other streaming and live TV services can’t touch that. The company started out as a place to watch reruns of shows like Seinfeld and Friends, but now it’s pumping more of its budget into Netflix originals. Some of those originals have been hugely successful, like Bird Box, a movie so popular that it became a meme. Other Netflix originals haven’t done so hot. Do you remember Girlboss? Me neither.

Netflix is the biggest streaming player on the block, but does that mean it’s also the best? In 2019, Netflix has got more competition than ever. Now seemed like a good time to turn our critical gaze to Netflix and see how it compares. Keep reading for our Netflix review.

Netflix Review

User Experience

Netflix has a relatively simple user interface. If you’re interested in a show, you can add it to your list in one or two steps, depending on what platform you’re using. You can also start watching a show super-quickly. Sometimes, too quickly. Netflix seems to think that if I click on the shiny Grey’s Anatomy square, I must automatically want to start watching Episode 1 of Season 1. Not so, Netflix. Maybe I just want to hang out on that screen for a minute and try to remember how much of Grey’s Anatomy I watched before it got too exhausting (I think my tear ducts gave out sometime around season 3). This issue is most noticeable on my Roku TV; it’s easier to avoid on the web app.

Exiting out of the show is quick enough, as is finding the “More episodes” or ‘Info and trailers” option. On the TV app, selecting a square with the show’s title is enough to pull up a few seconds of preview footage. Aww, look how young all the actors were! Still, I can’t help but wish Netflix would slow its roll a little bit. At least the search feature is instinctive and doesn’t require you to do a lot of, well, searching before you find it.

Netflix’s recommendation algorithm is either famous or notorious, depending on your point of view. Yet it seems like the recommendations aren’t as hyper-specific as they used to be, or maybe the “Sarcastic TV shows with Opinionated Pet Characters” trend was always a bit overblown. I get categories in basics like “Dramas” and “Romantic Movies,” as well as more niche subjects “Critically-acclaimed Workplace TV shows” and “Cringe Binge.”

My favorite recommendations are the “Because You Watched” ones. For instance, I watched John Mulaney’s most recent comedy special. Since I did that, Netflix thinks I would like a few other shows, most notably She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

Sure, it has some eccentric suggestions. But it’s a generally smooth user experience that allows you to navigate through the programming options with ease.

Content

Part of that ease might come from the fact that on Netflix, you don’ have to decide between live TV or streaming options, because it’s all streaming. There’s no toggling back and forth and mucking things up. Netflix seems fine with letting other services do the whole live programming thing. The closest thing you’ll get to “live” is talk shows filmed a few days before airing. Netflix has handed out such shows to comics like Joel McHale and Michelle Wolf, but both experiments got cancelled after a single season.

Everyone likes to complain about how Netflix’s content just ain’t what it used to be. The company has invested billions in original content, so it makes sense that it won’t hang onto every single old favorite. In a sense, Netflix is trying to retrain our brains: “Why would you want to watch Seinfeld when you can instead watch Jerry Seinfeld drive around in weird cars and talk at comedians?” That’s a lofty goal, and I miss 30 Rock as much as anyone else, but Netflix clearly thinks it can make more of a mark with original content right now.

Netflix does still have a lot of classic TV shows like Cheers, The Office, and Friends. But it’s fair to wonder if those shows are going to be around for much longer. In late 2018, the Internet had a collective freak-out at the idea that Friends might be leaving the service. Netflix rushed to assure people that Friends isn’t going anywhere, at least until 2020.

The “Netflix is a Joke” marketing campaign focuses heavily on stand-up specials from names like John Mulaney, Ali Wong, Trevor Noah, and Donald Glover. It even got Ellen DeGeneres to do stand-up for Netflix, and nowadays she spends most of her days giving away big-screen TVs and scaring celebrities.

If you want prestige dramas, Netflix has got them. It landed Roma, a Spanish-language film with serious Oscar buzz for director Alfonso Cuaron (it’s also playing in some indie theaters around the country). If you want a show that’s sort of like Hoarders but more heartwarming, then you’re probably already watching Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series. It’s got concert specials from big names like Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake, plus a filmed Broadway show from none other than Bruce Springsteen.

But there’s probably a tipping point for customers who want old favorites instead of Netflix originals about sex education and bad bakers (though honestly, a show about bakers teaching sex ed sounds like a guaranteed hit from where I’m sitting).

Streaming Quality

I got the best streaming quality on my Roku TV, which streams in 720p. The quality of streaming was also crystal clear on my iPhone’s Netflix app. I tried the app both with and without Wi-Fi and couldn’t tell much, if any, difference.

My laptop’s streaming quality wasn’t ideal, but it was by no means terrible. My playback settings for the web app are on Auto, which means “default video quality and data usage.” I’m also on the Basic Plan, which means no HD, but I’ll talk about that more in the Pricing section.

Platform

For this review, I used Netflix on the Chrome web browser, a Roku TV, and an iPhone 8. But it offers support for way more platforms than that. You can use other streaming players like Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast, as well as just about any smart TV on the market. It works with game consoles, set-top boxes, and Blu-Ray players. As far as smartphones go, you can use the Netflix app on Android, Apple, and even Windows phones.

Price

Netflix is getting more expensive. In fact, it announced another price hike as this review was in the works. I’m currently paying $7.99 for the Standard plan, but for me and other current customers, that’s going up to $8.99 in the coming months. The Basic plan lets me watch one screen at a time in standard definition only. I can also download videos on one phone or tablet. The Standard plan is going up a dollar to $13.99 a month. For that price, you’ll get 2 screens and HD. The most expensive plan is Premium, which has gone up to $15.99 for 4 screens and Ultra HD.

The higher the price goes, the more Netflix risks alienating customers who cut the cord because they were sick of cable’s high prices. Don’t get me wrong; Netflix is still a better value than cable, especially since the company doesn’t make you pay to watch commercials. But the price hikes make it a slightly closer call than it would have been otherwise.

Verdict

Netflix is still essential, but perhaps a bit less so. I still groan every month when I find out that Netflix is losing another show that I either love to watch on repeat or meant to get around to eventually. But while some of my friends have ditched Netflix, I’m not there yet. Not all the originals work for me, but I’m intrigued by enough of it to stick around and see what the programming guys come up with next.

But the biggest factor to recommend Netflix just might be the lack of commercials. When I get tired of watching the same commercials ad nauseum on other streaming sites, I go looking for programming on Netflix. It offers a much-needed break from credit cards ads and car commercials. Netflix has lost too many shows for me to suggest that you get by with only Netflix, but it’s still a major part of a balanced streaming diet.