When the HTC EVO 3D is released this summer, one of the apps that will be preloaded is HTC Watch, a new video download service that lets you rent and purchase TV shows and movies for viewing on up to 5 devices per account.
An early version of Watch, found in the recent EVO 3D system dump, has been confirmed to work on certain EVO 4G ROMs (the screenshot at right is from dmoses1969's EVO) but since I haven't been able to get it working on mine—and I've been trying for days—I decided to turn to a legitimately acquired and newer copy of the app on the HTC Flyer (Android 2.3.3, Sense 2.1 for Tablet) that arrived today for coverage on Pocketables. The upcoming EVO View 4G, you may remember, is Sprint's version of the Flyer.
The Flyer has a newer version of HTC Watch than the EVO 3D test build does, but other than the difference in screen sizes, the experience should still be the same. The app actually looks optimized for a phone, as you'll see from all the wasted space in the UI on the tablet.
HTC Watch is laid out very simply. All of your purchased/downloaded movies and TV shows are displayed in a Cover Flow-like arrangement. There's no search function here so when you have a lot of content, finding what you want to watch on this screen may be difficult.
A description of the interface is shown in the image above, so I won't bother repeating it here. What I will say, though, is that the left and right buttons take you to the same place.
They both lead you to a second area of the app that features a row of four tabs/icons (these are the same ones you saw in the EVO screenshot at the top of this review). From left to right:
- Downloaded videos – All of your downloaded content is listed here and can be sorted by title, video type, license type (rented or purchased), or most recently downloaded. You can also delete videos here; they can be re-downloaded from the "All videos" tab.
- All videos – Downloads are managed here. You can pause/restart a download, download something else (as far as I can tell, concurrent downloads are not supported), re-download deleted videos, and sync licenses (not sure what this means).
- Currently downloading – Whatever you're in the process of downloading is listed here.
- Video store – This is where you browse, rent, and buy content.
There's a lot of redundancy here.
Your Watch account is independent from any of your other accounts, so you'll need to sign up for one if you want to make full use of the video store. You can browse and watch trailers (when available) without an account, but you obviously need an account and a stored credit card to make purchases.
The store can be viewed in landscape and portrait; a paneled UI appears in landscape, though this may be specific to the Flyer and other tablets.
The video selection is very small right now, with 200 or so movies and just 6 TV shows, so browsing by genre is still a reasonable way to find what you want. The app also shows you featured, new, and recommended titles (these don't seem to be based on what you've previously purchased), and there's a search function at the top that will search the store and your downloaded videos.
Movies that are available to rent are clearly marked with a "rent" icon and a rental price. TV shows can only be purchased.
Movies that include trailers have a play button icon on its description page; tapping it will play the trailer in landscape mode.
All videos have a share button that allows you to tell other people that you like something. The default message includes the title and description of the video, but doesn't include a link for the recipient to do anything useful with the information.
When you find a movie or TV show you want, tap the shopping basket icon to buy it (or the "rent" icon if applicable).
When your payment is processed (usually within seconds), you'll see a "Purchase successful" on screen and you'll get a receipt via email. At the bottom of the screen are two buttons: one to start downloading the video immediately, the other to continue shopping.
The process is the same for rentals except that you have 30 days to start watching the video and then 24 hours to watch it. Videos you purchase are obviously yours to keep forever and rewatch at any time.
Due to the size of the files, downloading takes a very long time. As I write this, I've been downloading for two hours so far: Chuck is done and No Strings Attached still has 2/3 left to go. Fortunately, you don't have to wait for the video to finish downloading before you start watching it due to HTC's use of "progressive download technology."
I checked out a few minutes of Chuck and video quality and full-screen playback looked fantastic.
HTC Watch also includes a widget (on the Flyer, anyway) with a scrollable list of new releases and whatever you've previously downloaded. The shopping basket and arrow buttons at the top of the widget lead to the "second area" of the app (the one with the four icons). The shopping basket will take you directly to the video store, and the arrow will take you to wherever you were last. So if you were in the video store last, then both buttons lead to the same place.
If HTC Watch were the only way to purchase/download videos on your device, then it would be a no-brainer for most people to sign up for an account and start using the service. But with the EVO 3D being shipped with Blockbuster On Demand (the non-3D version is very nice on my HTC ThunderBolt), Google's own movie rentals in Android Market, Amazon Instant Video, streaming video apps like Netflix, and other solutions available for users to enjoy videos on the go, I can't think of a truly compelling reason to recommend HTC Watch over anything else.
Video quality is great and downloads don't have to be completed before users can start watching, but the video selection is extremely limited and the interface is redundant. It may have the potential to turn into something great over time, but right now there are simply better alternatives.