Mobile phones are getting big. So big, in fact, it’s difficult to know sometimes whether it should be called a phone or a tablet – just look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which jumped up to 5.7″ in screen-size from the measly 5.5″ of its predecessor. Some tablets even serve up glasses-free 3D, for those who are that way inclined.
This proverbial steroid-injection is good news for those who like to watch videos on the move. Whether it’s CBS’ full-episode streaming app, BBC iPlayer, or whatever the local equivalent is in your ‘hood, you can easily catch up on all those TV shows wherever your roam.
Video player apps
So. Much. Tech.
Some of the biggest names in tech are coming to TNW Conference in Amsterdam this May.
But what about video player apps for content stored locally on your device? There are many – some great, some good and some, well, not so good. Here, we pick out some of the best and most popular ones, to give you the lowdown on what makes them worth your time.
Each of these offer a broad selection of file-formats in terms of compatibility, so we will endeavor to look at other elements too, such as design, ease-of-navigation and any stand-out features.
MoBoPlayer is a perennially popular video player app, and for good reason.
When you first install the app, it will scan your device and associated SD cards, reeling in all the content it detects as ‘video’ on your device. And it supports folders too, so if you have all your content divided into categories, such as ‘TV Shows’, ‘Documentaries’, ‘Movies’, it will display this as such – though one tap can change the view to include everything on a single screen.
One of the main selling points of this video player app is that it will support pretty much any file-format you throw at it, without the need to convert first. It also offers up separate codec downloads in case you do experience compatibility issues.
Additionally, MoboPlayer offers great support for subtitles, including SRT, ASS, and SAA, while you can sort all your videos by a number of criteria, including name, size, format, resolution and more.
However, where MoboPlayer really sets itself apart is through the desktop-like floating window feature. So if you need to dart out and check a quick email or text, tap the home button and the video will shrink, letting you drag it across the screen to an appropriate position while you do your thing.
During video playback, you can also surface the battery power by tapping the screen once, which is very helpful if you don’t want to interrupt your viewing while keeping one eye on your remaining juice.
MoboPlayer isn’t perfect though. Getting it to resume automatically from a previously paused/stopped point isn’t a consistent experience. Sometimes you can hit pause, go away and do other things, come back and kick off from where you left it. Other times, however, it will play from the start again. There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason for it, and seems arbitrary, so as a back-up, remember which position in the video you were at.
Overall though, it’s a great video player that performs consistently well in terms of playback and video quality, and is easy on the eye to boot.
VPlayer lacks some of the bells-and-whistles – and visual finesse – of MoboPlayer, but it has proven to be a popular video-player among the Android masses.
Indeed, it’s a sturdy app with solid and consistent video playback, supporting most of the common file-formats out there. When you first launch the app, it detects all the video-containing folders on your handset, though the overall aesthetics and ‘look-and-feel’ of the app won’t win it any prizes.
VPlayer doesn’t let you organize or filter your content all that well, however, and as such may appeal more to power-users rather than those just looking for a nice way to access and view their videos.
Indeed, one of VPlayer’s big selling points is its hardware-accelerated decoding and rendering to HD for MKV, AVI, MOV, FLV, TS, M4V and 3GP, which should in theory help preserve battery life over software-accelerated incarnations – though more and more video apps are offering a hardware-led approach now anyway.
That all said, VPlayer replays video in high quality, and always remembers where you left-off, should you wish to cease viewing temporarily. It also supports dual core devices, playing 720p and 1080p videos.
The settings menu serves up a bunch of options to tweak things to your needs, including video orientation, hardware decoder, background playback, audio balance (L/R) and more.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the elephant in the room here – the fully unrestricted version of VPlayer is only free for seven days, after which you’ll need to cough up $5 for VPlayer Unlocker.
If you’re looking for a powerful all-in-one video player and discovery app, Wondershare is well worth checking out.
As with VPlayer, you can copy/paste video links into Wondershare and save for later, but this goes further in that it contains a built-in browser letting you search for videos across a number of sites.
These videos can be bookmarked for later too, and can also be streamed directly to a nearby TV. But of course, you’re likely reading this piece in search for a good video player app to watch locally-stored videos – something Wondershare caters for too.
For many, Wondershare will lose some appeal through trying to be too many things at once. The locally-stored videos, for example, require a few clicks and scrolls to get there, though there is a ‘Play History’ shortcut buried in the menu button to take you quickly to recently viewed skits.
It would be good if the menu options could be configured to bring the local library to the forefront, and also if it would detect folders on the device, so that any manually-curated categories would be reflected within the app.
That all said, it is a really robust app and does everything it promises to well, supporting most of the common file-formats.
MX Player has a main folders view but, again, it would be good to be able to switch to ‘All’ a little easier – as things stand you must navigate to settings and switch this view off. Not a big deal-breaker for sure, but it’s just that little extra bit of friction.
In terms of ads in the free version, well, they’re not overly intrusive. You’ll see some at the bottom of the screen when navigating your videos, and when you have a video paused.
You can also set things so that it always resumes from the point where you left off, or have it ask you on launch whether to start from scratch. And there’s an easy option for switching to portrait mode, unlike many of the other apps which typically require you to dig deep into the settings to enable this.
It’s also easy to switch between hardware and software decoding too – the former using the built-in handset technology (such as hardware acceleration) to playback video, the latter relying only on the CPU. This can affect the quality of the video, and drain the battery. Which option you use depends entirely on the model of handset you have, but always try hardware decoding to begin with.
It also supports all the common file-formats, subtitling and, as with VPlayer, multi-core decoding for higher-end devices.
A really nice app for sure, though the organization and file-management system perhaps lacks some of the pizzazz of MoboPlayer.
Given that it’s still classed as a beta product, it’s being targeted at power users and hackers, and is “not stable”. It might even kill your kitten and destroy your house.
When you launch the app, things do feel a little on the slow side, and it takes a while to reel in all your content – this is an audio player as well as a video player. So if you have many gigabits of music on your device, you’d better be patient. And things do lag a little bit, but hopefully all these issues will be resolved once this is a fully ‘launched’ product.
As things stand though, it gives a good insight into what this product may eventually become. It has a nice interface, though this could change as it nears its full launch, and it does offer browsing by folder through navigating down into the directory. However, it would be nice to see folder view become an optional view alongside the ‘everything on your device’ view.
VLC does have one real stand-out feature though, even at this early beta stage. It has a sleep timer – so if you (like me) enjoy nodding off at night to a documentary or film, you can set it to switch itself off at a certain time. This will obviously preserve battery life and, if you share a bed with someone, stop them getting annoyed by waking up to see you fast asleep and snoring, with a mobile phone beaming out into the abyss.
A nice app with a lot of potential, we just wish they’d hurry things up a little and get this out as a ‘final’ product.
In terms of looks, there’s few better Android media player apps out there. It adopts an iPod-esque scroll wheel approach, though it is just a visual element – it doesn’t actually turn.
Also, bear in mind here it’s a video, photo and music-playing app, and to access the former you must cast your eye to the bottom where you’ll see an icon helpfully titled ‘Video’. You’re then presented with a folder view and ‘all’ view, which is a good thing.
You can search for any video stored on your device, and – the icing on the cake here – any video on the Web too. The built-in browser trawls online content and serves them up directly within the RealPlayer app.
The video player itself is basic, though it has unique 10-second skip controls that can take the video back or forward, well, 10 seconds.
RealPlayer is a great little all-in-one media app, but if you’re specifically looking to watch locally-stored videos, then you’d maybe be better with something a little more dedicated than this, such as MoboPlayer.
Archos Video Player
Archos is well-known for its hardware, but it also has a great-looking little Android app that might be worth your time.
You can filter through your library according to how your videos have been labelled, so ‘TV Shows’ and ‘Movies’ for example. You can also manually sift through the directories by folder, and sort your collection alphabetically, by date order, duration, rating and more.
But where Archos really shines is in its design and layout. It is a beautiful app, and automatically retrieves movie and TV show data, including posters, which gives this app more of a DVD-shelf look-and-feel. This really comes to the fore when you flip your device into landscape mode:
There’s a free ad-supported version of the app, and an ad-free incarnation which will cost you. The ads can be a little annoying, as they pop-up when you tap the screen during playback – other similar apps only show the ads when you hit the pause button. Again, not a massive problem, and it’s one that can be alleviated by simply forking out $4.99.
Archos Video Player is one of the lesser-known video player apps, but one that does deserve your attention.
BSPlayer merits a mention because it is a very popular video player app, but for me it lacks the slick panache of some of the other ones on here.
It’s worth stressing here that BSPlayer is a general media player app, and thus if you’re looking specifically for video, well, look elsewhere.
It doesn’t actually pull all the videos together into one place as the other apps we mention on here do – so I navigated to ‘Video’ and found a couple for sure, but had to peruse through other folders and found them spread all over the place. Some automation would be good here to help bring everything together.
But you can search for videos online and add the shortcuts to your folders.
And another potentially handy feature is that BSPlayer can automatically search for subtitles on your behalf when you start a video, without any prompting.
It also promises a neat sleep-timer feature just like VLC Player but, alas, we could not get this to work.
BSPlayer is a decent video-player, but not the best there is out there. It probably won’t appeal to those looking for an easy way to access all the videos stored on their handset.
RockPlayer2 is an interesting one, as it both looks and feels different to the other video player apps out there. Indeed, it offers quite a rich array of features, though it takes a little playing around with to get to grips with how it actually works – I’d say it might not appeal to novices.
On launch, all your videos will appear in one central library. You can swipe to the right, where you’ll see a file-manager that lets you browse down through your various folders, and then there’s a playlist page, that lets you create multiple playlists to which you can add videos – you do so by long-pressing a video and select the context-specific menu option that pops down from the top of the screen.
While you can also peruse your music library from within the app, there’s an interesting TV feature too, that lets you add TV channels to your library – but alas this feature has never worked for me, so I’m not sure if it’s restricted to certain regions or if there is a bug somewhere.
In terms of the video player itself, well, it’s actually pretty nice and goes beyond what its Google Play brethren attempt to offer.
You’ll see a default row of buttons at the bottom, swipe to the left and you’ll be presented with another five buttons. But here is where things get interesting – long-press any button and you can choose what position it appears in on the video player. So if you rarely use the ‘share’ button but always use the volume-control, you can place them all in your preferred order.
Throw into the mix network-streaming via the built-in UPnP client, the ability to create, move, delete and rename folders in your directory, and more, then it’s clear that RockPlayer2 is a very powerful app. That said, it will likely only appeal to power-users given that it’s not 100% intuitive to use – it does take a lot of playing around with it to figure out what’s what.
So which is the best out the lot? Well, the answer is a boring one – it really depends what you need from your video player. MoboPlayer is perhaps the most straight-forward to use, offering a simple and appealing interface to access your locally-stored videos.
But if you’re looking for a more extensive video player, then Wondershare opens things up significantly with access to the online video sphere, while RealPlayer is a really nice app for those looking for something that covers music and photos too. And Archos is fantastic for those on the lookout for a beautiful, fluid, video-viewing experience.
All the apps highlighted here have their pros and cons though, and if you’re not sure which one would work best for you, then all you need to do is hit the install button and check it out for yourself.
Feature Image Credit – Shutterstock