Cord Cutting Guides, News, and Reviews
Last modified: February 14, 2019
By Stephen Lovely
When the cord cutting trend began, it meant living with on-demand options: cable and satellite were still pretty much your only legal paths to live TV. The rise of the skinny bundle has changed that, and has sparked a gold rush in a business space that didn't exist just a few years ago. The latest skinny bundle on the scene is Philo. How does it measure up? Here's our complete Philo review, including everything you need to know about the channels it offers, the features that set it apart, and the price you'll pay if you sign up – plus, of course, my advice on whether or not you should!
We've updated our Philo review for 2019
In an increasingly crowded skinny bundle market, Philo stands out. It's a slimmed-down service that offers live TV streaming for less than its competitors do — something Philo can afford to do because it eschews the sports, local content, and network news that have driven up the price of other bundles. Our last reviewed Philo more than a year ago, so it's about time that we took another look. In this entirely new and up-to-date Philo review, I'll do just that.
Last time around, Philo impressed with its streaming quality and user interface but was held back by limited platform support. This time around, I found that Philo had patched its weak points and delivered on its promise of budget live TV streaming.
Philo's user experience was pretty strong when we reviewed it the first time around, and it's excellent now.
Philo's in-browser app has a cable-like TV guide menu, which I consider a must-have for skinny bundle services. That guide seems to be missing on mobile (I tested Philo on iOS), but it reappears on the larger streaming platforms (I tested Philo on Roku).
Select a show or a movie, and you'll find that you can also watch content on demand on Philo. You can save favorite shows and movies, too. Doing so will mark the title to be recorded with Philo's included DVR feature and will give you a heads-up regarding future broadcasts. (You don't necessarily need to DVR everything, though, since back-episodes of of some series are already available on demand by default.)
There's no limit to how much you can record, but there is an expiration date: saved episodes will only stick around for one month. That's an unfortunate limitation and the only real real knock on Philo's suite of features.
Skinny bundle user interfaces have settled into a pretty comfortable norm, and Philo is right up there with its peers in terms of features and user experience.
Update: shortly after this review was published, Philo added a channel to bring its packages up to 44 and 47 channels, respectively. While we normally do not update our reviews without full re-testing, we made an exception here because Philo debuted its new channel count so soon after we tested the service.
Our reviews reflect our perspective on a product during our testing period. For always up-to-date coverage of Philo's features and channel count, check out our Philo service page.
Philo's content offerings have improved since the last time we took a look at it. Philo's two bundles now include 44 and 57 channels. The core selection, available in both bundles, includes popular channels like AMC, Comedy Central, DIY Network, Food Network, Hallmark Channel, HGTV, MTV, Nick Jr., History Channel, TLC, TV Land, and VH1.
Step up to the pricier of Philo's two bundles, and you'll grab another 13 channels. The extra 13 didn't do too much for me, but hey, that's a matter of taste.
These are live network TV shows, of course: as we talked about in the User Experience section, Philo TV users can channel surf and watch live TV. You can also stream past programming on demand in many cases, which effectively grows Philo's content selection.
Of course, it's still important to talk about what Philo does not have. Philo is largely free of news channels: it has BBC World News, but CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the rest of the cable news networks are missing. There are no local feeds of the major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) and, for that matter, no content from major networks at all. And there are no sports whatsoever: no ESPN, no FS1, no NBCSN, and no regional sports networks (RSNs).
This is by design, though: these are the priciest channels to carry, and Philo is trying to keep its price down. Philo is a service designed for people who want super-cheap channel surfing and lots of network television.
Somewhat ironically, this means that Philo's live TV service includes very little in the way of actual live broadcasts. Philo's channels are full of pre-recorded reality TV shows, sitcoms, dramas, and other stuff that feels like it could just as easily be watched on demand. But that's part of the point, of course. Philo replicates that old-school cable experience of flopping down on the couch, complaining that “nothing is on,” and happily wasting an hour or two watching some reality show. Sometimes it's nice to not have to choose what to watch from an on-demand menu. Sometimes it's nice to pick up some silly show halfway through.
We'll talk more about this in the pricing section, but it's important to note that comparing Philo's content to that of other skinny bundle's isn't really apples to apples, because no other skinny bundle is this cheap. The closest are Sling TV‘s Sling Orange and Sling Blue bundles, and our last review knocked Philo for being lacking in actual live content (sports, news, etc.) compared to those — particularly Sling Orange, which offered ESPN and some local content for the same price as Philo's larger bundle. But Sling Orange has since raised its price, and Philo has not. Philo's content is looking pretty impressive for the price these days, particularly in the case of the cheaper of its two bundles.
Streaming quality has never been an issue for Philo. I was impressed with the service's streaming quality the first time I reviewed it, and I'm still impressed now. With live TV and on-demand content alike, Philo snaps into 1080p HD quality quickly and remains smooth and sharp throughout the streaming experience.
Philo has significantly improved its platform support since the last time we took a look at it. As of this writing, Philo is available on the Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku platforms. Philo has mobile apps for both Android and iOS, and you can watch Philo on your computer using an in-browser app that works on Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari.
Philo's price is a huge part of its appeal. The service omits sports and news stations by design so that it can offer prices that are much lower than those of typical skinny bundles.
The smaller of Philo's two bundles, a 43-channel bundle, costs just $16 per month. The larger bundle includes 56 channels and costs $20 per month.
That's obviously much, much cheaper than the typical $40-per-month entry-level skinny bundle. It's cheaper than Sling TV's $25-per-month Sling Orange and Sling Blue plans, too. The cheaper of the two Philo plans costs barely more than what you'd pay for HBO alone.
In fact, Philo's pricing advantage has improved a bit since we last reviewed it, as some other skinny bundles have crept up in price. Several bundles that were once $40 are now $45. More importantly, Sling Orange — which was the same price as Philo's larger bundle at the time of our last review — is now $25, five bucks more.
Philo sets out to be a very particular type of skinny bundle: an affordable, sports-free one. It succeeds. Philo has improved its content selection since its debut and since our original (and somewhat critical) review. Its streaming quality is excellent, and I like its user interface. It's really everything that it's supposed to be.
Whether what it's supposed to be appeals to you is, of course, a question that only you can answer.
From my own perspective, I have to say that Philo has grown on me. I'm a die-hard sports fan, and Philo can't help me there, but I already have MLB.TV for baseball, a TV antenna for playoff games and football, and tickets to occasional local games. That keeps me happy enough that, most of the time, I don't feel like paying $40 for a skinny bundle. Still, I miss channel surfing, and I miss goofing around and watching Tiny House Hunters or “whatever's on” while I drink a beer or do my ironing or tidy up my living room. For $16, Philo's smaller plan kind of makes sense to me. I think I'll keep it for a while.
Maybe Philo fits into your cord cutting setup, as it has with mine. Or maybe it doesn't. Either way, here's our verdict: if Philo is good at what it does. If Philo's promise appeals to you, you'll be happy with what it delivers.
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Philo is incredibly cheap, but it's also incredibly underwhelming. It feels like a service that we would have raved about two years ago, when live TV streaming was in and of itself a new and thrilling thing to be happy with. But Philo isn't the first skinny bundle we've seen, and it's in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. We expect skinny bundles to have the major networks now, and Philo doesn't. We expect skinny bundles to have sports coverage, and Philo mostly doesn't. We expect streaming services of all kinds of have decent platform support, and while we can forgive a missing app or two near launch, the fact that Philo supports only one streaming box is too much to let slide.
It's good to have a new skinny bundle on the market. It's great to see one with such a good user experience. From where it is now, it would be easy to imagine Philo growing to add more channels and platforms, as many of its competitors have in the past. If it does, Philo seems destined to be among the best of the skinny bundles – but for now, save your money.