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Android TV apps are still second-class citizens, and that's a huge problem

Amazon Prime Video Playback Fixed Android Tv
Amazon Prime Video Playback Fixed Android Tv (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I'm someone who loves to watch re-runs, who loves to quote along to her favorite films, and someone who has a fast-forward button and is NOT afraid to use it! As such, I'm very particular about how apps are laid out and how they control playback on various platforms. Last time, I was cheering about how wonderful fast-forwarding and rewind are on the Disney+ Android TV app, but today, I come with ill omens.

Mostly because I want to watch Good Omens without being reminded what an absolute load of crap Amazon Prime is on Android TV.

There are actually plenty of apps that are just this side of horrible on Android TV, but Amazon Prime Video is the one that gets the most flack, and for good reason: the interface and app flow on Prime Video absolutely suck. From trying to find a show to watch to rewinding that perfect scene to show your partner, the Prime Video experience is just miserable.

Amazon Android TV app

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Let's start with how Prime Video came to Android TV: NVIDIA and Amazon made a deal to bring it to the Shield TV years before it became available on any other Android TV devices — a list that is still pitifully small today. While NVIDIA is very hands-on in demanding the best experience for its users, even they apparently couldn't convince Amazon to make the Android TV app pleasant in any way.

As a matter of fact, if you have Prime Video on your NVIDIA Shield right now, you're probably dealing with the same outdated version of the app I have for the last two years because the pre-loaded app wasn't set up to be auto-updated. You'll need to hunt down the app in Google Play and manually update it to the new version in order to fix the most egregious long-term problems the app has had.

Prime Video's spring update finally fixed the fast-forward and rewinding so that you're not continually overshooting your target, but there's still no way to turn off auto-play. So when you go to re-watch your favorite episodes, instead, it plays three seconds of the end-credits (that it skipped last time) and then auto-plays straight to the next episode. I've spent the better part of ten minutes trying to get to the rewind controls quick enough to prevent autoplay from skipping episodes before I can get it back to the beginning because the "Play from beginning" will trigger for the following episode, not the one you just selected.

This app is the worst, and that's saying something on Android TV.

Browsing for a show to watch is a sea of tiny icons with even more miniature labels for "Prime Included" or 4K. Then when you get to a show's page, browsing between seasons is time-consuming and annoying for anything longer than a miniseries. Swapping seasons is better than it used to be, but it's still clunky as all get-out.

And I'm not the only one to notice the horrible, no-good, very bad interface on Prime Video's Android TV app; its Google Play listing is chock full of user reviews with the exact same qualms I have with the app. It's slow to load, the settings are limited and revert to defaults too often, and repeated time and time again: "this is the worst video player on Android TV."

That is an even more damning criticism once you look at other Android TV apps. Another egregiously bad Android TV app is Funimation's. I'll start off by saying that Funimation's playback interface isn't nearly as bad as Amazon's. Still, you'll have to do your seeking blind because there are no previews here ever, as opposed to Amazon, where the seeking previews will load maybe 55% of the time.

And of course, navigating the rest of the app makes you want to scream your favorite Japanese curse words at the screen.

Funimation on Android TV

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The layout is clunky, especially when trying to navigate between sections or navigate between seasons in a show. The sidebar doesn't always load properly, and there will be weeks at a time where the SimulDub tab just refuses to load. You also better be sure to watch an episode all the way to the end, because like Prime Video, it'll skip the episode and play the credits instead, and the Continue Watching carousel is absolutely filled with episodes that you actually finished and just exited out of the credits on. Funimation does get points for its auto-play not being as overbearing and insistent as Prime Video's.

Now, this all isn't to say that a good app experience is impossible to come by on Android TV. The Disney+ app offers a great experience, as mentioned before, and the YouTube and Hulu apps are great as well — though it took literally YEARS for Hulu's Android TV app to catch up to the rest of its apps in getting the new UI. Funimation and Crunchyroll's apps may be a pain to navigate, but VRV does things right at least — well, apart from how you go between seasons or between subbed/dubbed. And CBS would be alright if it didn't go to pieces the second the Wi-Fi hiccups. Okay, let's just say there's room for improvement all around.

Disney+ on Android TV

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Part of the reason that these apps and so many more offer an inferior experience is that while Apple TV and Roku are relatively well-known, Android TV is an afterthought for consumers almost as much as it is for content services. It can be years before a new streaming service has an Android TV app, and it can take years more for that app to get bugs fixed and new features added, such as Amazon finally fixing the playback controls after three years of user complaints.

And without good apps, why would anyone want to buy an Android TV in the first place? Google may be about to give Android TV a shot in the arm with the new Sabrina-codenamed device, but unless Google gives serious incentives, the experience will remain as hobbled on it as it is on the NVIDIA Shield and other Android TVs.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

25 Comments
  • Prime Video is pretty bad in all major platforms including Roku. Just their whole interface is bad and sometimes convoluted and you just can't make heads or tails of stuff. Also, Amazon needs to rollout profiles on Prime Video quicker, it's annoying to get recommendations that are because one of your family members watched something
  • The Prime Video app auto updates on my Nvidia Shield just fine, always has. I get that AndroidCentral prioritizes attacking Google whenever they can squeeze a hyperbolic quibble in, but at least make it believable.
  • Prime Video is not Google though...
  • It hasn't been auto-updating on my 2015 Shield, but maybe it's auto-updating on the 2019 models.
  • "Without good apps, it doesn't matter how good your device is, just ask Windows Phone" Windows Phone was awesome, even with it's limited app selection, which quite frankly never bothered me...
  • Windows Phone was never awesome. The Nokia hardware was awesome but everything else was terrible.
  • I am with you on that. Wp as an os for me is still the best mobile os I have used. Slick, fast no lag and was ahead of android and IOS at the time. Even cortana was ahead of what others offered with things like read a text message ect. As for Android tv I have enjoyed using mine. OK I only use a few apps but it works for what i want it to do. I am with you on the app side though it needs more. I mean even the BBC has not got an app on it.
  • Agreed. Windows Phone was far advanced in it's day. Except for the lack of apps of which there were only 2-3 that I really missed and desired. I loved my Windows Phone and was passionate about it. Android? ehh. It's a tool that gets things done.
  • I totally agree. I have used all mobile OSes and I must say palm and window phone OS were my favorite. If I were to choose between the two, I would pick palm OS. It is a shame that both these OSes could not come out of the lack of apps issue.
    I had bought Nokia Lumia 900 (I think, forgetting the number) in cyan blue and I must say that was the best HW ever. Palm Pre and Lumia 900 will always have a special place for me in my smartphone journey.
  • Google's own apps on regular Android are a second-class citizen...not sure why you'd start complaining about Android TV yet. Wear OS, technically should come before it in the complaints list.
  • I wish folks would stop saying that. This is only true occasionally, and Google apps on Android get updates and new features before their apps on new platforms far more often. To put it another way, 20% of the time the Google apps get updated on iOS - or desktop maybe first - and then Android. 80% of the time the updates either happen at the same time or on Android first. Based on the 20% of the time people claim "Android apps are second class citizens." They aren't. Also, Google doesn't have a unified app development group anyway. They have one team that does the iOS apps. Another team that does the Android apps. Another team that does the desktop apps. What is the iOS team supposed to do? Withhold features that the Android team hasn't finished yet? (Or are irrelevant to Android hardware?)
  • ^^This^^^ And I use both Android and iOS every day and use Google apps on both for pretty much everything...
  • It isn't that Apple TV is a better known platform. Remember, Android TV preceded the modern Apple TV - meaning one that you could install apps instead of the previous version where all the apps that it would support came preinstalled - by several years. Instead, it is that Apple has standards. Bad apps don't get approved by their app store. Another issue is support. Both Amazon and Android TV are, well, the same. (There are differences of course but you get the picture.) There is no reason for a (third party) app to be on Amazon Prime that isn't on Android TV. The difference is that where Amazon promotes and supports Prime and releases new hardware every year at multiple price points, Google hasn't issued a new Android TV product since 2014 (the Nexus player, which sold terribly, was extremely underpowered, no Ethernet or full USB, and oh yeah had that Intel CPU). Third party support? Pretty much nonexistent. The CHEAPEST Nvidia Shield costs $125 more than the cheapest Fire TV. Think about it: the cheapest Nvidia Shield costs $150 When you can actually get a 32' Fire TV with a free Echo Dot for $125! After that you had the Razer Forge: $99 and you never got Netflix. Or support for Bluetooth headphones. At least it had an Ethernet port. But that USB 3.0 port? For the controller only. Long since discontinued. The only other options were Xiaomi and Ematic devices that are only available at Wal-Mart or online that were buggy (Google Cast was broken on the Mi Box for ages, plus the Mi Box has no ports to speak of, whether Ethernet or a USB port that can take an Ethernet-to-USB dongle either). So that is it for Android TV. A way-too-expensive Shield TV. Two devices built with cheap parts only available at Wal-Mart (yet cost TWICE as much as better built/performing Fire TV options). Google brags about Android TV being a smart TV platform, but since when have app makers cared about smart TVs? Developers haven't even had a good reference device to test and develop their apps on. (Again, unless they are just going to port their Fire TV apps over ...) MAYBE when Google FINALLY releases their first new Android TV device since 2014 it will help. Though who knows, not that much. While the new Android TV won't cost as much as the Nexus Player and will have a standard hardware design, it will still cost 2-3 times as much as Fire TV and Roku smart boxes. Scratch that. It will cost twice as much as smart boxes with Ethernet and USB ports. It will cost up to 3 times as much as dongles. I will get it, because I am a longtime Android TV user - as you can tell - and this is clearly going to be better than my Mi Box and still-in-use Nexus Player. (I am going to keep my Jetstream because it has ports. An I glad that the Nexus Player still works after 6 years? Yep. Am I disappointed that nothing better that costs less than $150 has come around in 6 years? Of course not.) But at this point I really wonder why anyone else would.
  • The TED app is horrible as well. Youtube is far better for watching TED talks.
  • I've own a Sony Android TV which might as well be a dumb TV because I got a Roku for it's vastly better apps years ago to replace the Android TV interface. I use the Android TV interface only for some emulators and tinkering with Android TV apps. When I got the Sony many apps like prime video where also missing in Android TV. Rokus might be at times a little limiting but their mainstream streaming apps are so much better than on Android TV and new services are virtually guaranteed to support Roku at launch sure to it's market share. Plus my wife loves the super easy to understand UI and remote.
  • I had Rokus before the Nexus Player. The Nexus Player never got any regular use because Android TV sucked. I think I would turn it on occasionally to check if updates improved it. My Rokus always performed better, so the Nexus Player just sat unused until I needed the hdmi port for something else.
  • My Sony Android TV is great.. I don't really understand why ya'll *******
  • I have a Sony TV and 2 Shields and I love Android TV. And, honestly, the platform is in a much better place than it was just 2 or 3 years ago. There are a lot more apps, the interface is better, and more devices to choose from, though I will admit that the selection is still somewhat limited. But soon we will have two new devices from Google itself and Xiaomi and new TVs from Xiaomi and One Plus and a quite a few other OEMs. Also, while Roku may be a big deal in the US, it's pretty much nonexistent in the rest of the world...
  • I never could get Prime Video to work on Nexus Player. Works on Shield fine
  • I still find it baffling how Prime Video has separate listings for 4K and HD versions of shows, it's such a mess. More than once I've made the mistake of clicking on a show and getting through an episode or two before noticing it gave me the HD version.
    Searching for a show, and getting separate listings for every season in 4K and HD is laughable.
  • I usually agree with you guys but I don't know about this one. I have 4 TV's in my house, One has the Nvidia Shield, one is an Android TV, one has a Roku and one has a Fire TV. My favorite is the my Shield TV. Never had an issue with Android TV. I actually prefer it over the Roku. Yes Prime video isn't as nice to use as it is on Fire TV but um did you expect it to be. You think Amazon is going to go all out with another platform. Prime TV sucks on Roku as well. Every other app I use on my Shield Android TV is just fine. Never had an issue wish D+, Netflix or YouTube TV, so I have no idea what you are talking about when you say apps are a second class citizen on Android TV
  • removing third party devices from the equation, Android TV is still the best smart TV interface. Try getting any app updates from any other manufacturer! I have two Sony android TV's and love them. I do not need an external box for anything but watching UHD discs. Yes apps can suck, Hulu only supports 5.1 via chromecasting to my TV's and not the android TV app, but too many smart TV apps are discontinued like Netflix does outside of android.
  • Get a Samsung smart tv and stop whining
  • YouTube on Roku has a feature that I *REALLY* want the Android TV app to adopt and that's profile switching within the app. On my SHIELD, I have to "sign out" of my account and my wife has to "sign in" - not a HUGE deal, but with the Roku app, we just go to the top of the menu, click on our avatar, switch accounts, and boom, we're in our respective Google accounts. So convenient. But also, yeah Amazon Prime Video is bad on nearly every platform but their own. I wonder if the Roku/Android TV apps will get the new profile switching abilities they mentioned recently.
  • How are these hisense tvs in quality? Do the breakdown after 3 months? I was looking at TCL, hisense and another brand.. Big tvs lower prices... But do they last? Give problems?