Streaming services are now the official default entertainment medium, and we’re not mad about it. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through cable channels in the hopes that the Friends rerun on TBS is one of the good episodes, we can pinpoint exactly what we want and stream it anytime from any device. Like anything successful in the public marketplace, there are now a gazillion options for streaming services you can subscribe to, each of which requires you to cough up anywhere between $6-$15 a month to access their content.
Disney Plus, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video — which ones are worthwhile? We’re here to answer that question with hands-on reviews of each of them. First up: HBO Max.
Today, we’ll be rating and reviewing HBO Max. When we’re reviewing a streaming service, we evaluate it based on the most important components of any good media streaming platform.
- Quality of Content
- Original Content
- Overall Customer Experience/ User Interface
- Video Playback
- Discovery Features/ Search
I’ll be giving HBO Max a rating out of five for each of these categories, and then explaining our various praises, complaints, gripes and feedback.
But if you’re just looking for the bottom line, here it is: HBO Max is the frontrunner for the best streaming service of 2021, and considering all the HBO shows, new blockbuster releases and deep library of classic movies, the $14.99/month price is a steal. So despite a sometimes glitchy user interface, we strongly recommend HBO Max.
Quality of Content: 5/5
There’s no category where HBO Max shines brighter than this one. HBO’s extensive back library of shows they’ve created is impressive, and it’s all available on the platform. This includes, but is not limited to, F.R.I.E.N.D.S, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Veep and many other hits. They’ve also got classic fan-favorite movies like Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca, the Dark Knight trilogy and the Harry Potter movies.
They’ve also got an extensive Same Day Premieres program with Warner Bros., with many big blockbusters using their service as an alternative to seeing major motion picture releases in theaters. 2021 releases include Malignant, Dune and The Matrix Resurrections. If you’re a movie buff who’s not totally sold on sitting in a theater filled with strangers yet, this is a worthwhile subscription.
Original Content: 4/5
This is another area where HBO Max is bringing a lot to the table. In terms of original TV shows, The White Lotus, Mare of Easttown and the Gossip Girl reboot have all dazzled audiences with their drama, and FBoy Island has circulated amongst reality TV junkies as a delightful jaunt of a new dating show. While they haven’t churned out as much original content as Disney Plus, the stuff they have created has checked the boxes for unwinding after work. I’m looking forward to seeing more come from them.
Overall Customer Experience & User Interface: 3.5/5
The overall interface is solid. It’s easy to find the exact episode you were just watching and pick it back up, it’s pretty easy to scroll through content and the controls are intuitive. What I don’t love is how hard it is to access the rest of a show you’ve been watching from the home screen. You can’t select other episodes before pressing play like you can with Netflix, and I sometimes find myself needing to search for the show because it’ll be faster.
I also find that it’s hard to select the “Skip Intro” option because if I try to click on it while the intro is playing it’ll think I’m trying to pause the intro. If I click the down arrow, it takes me to the playback bar because it thinks I’m trying to skip forward or backyard. A clearer way to highlight this function would be helpful.
Video Playback: 3/5
This is another area in which HBO Max is glitchy. The playback will work for hours just fine on my TV, and then all of a sudden the whole app will malfunction and I’ll either need to restart it, or uninstall and reinstall it on my TV to get anything to load again. This is mildly frustrating, especially when I’m trying to watch season 2, episode 6 of Sex and the City for the 17th time (the one where Carrie and Big get back together).
Except for the occasional complete shutdown, the playback streams very smoothly and there’s very little buffering on my TV. I’ve found this to be true on my laptop as well.
Discovery Features & Search: 4.5/5
HBO Max makes it super easy to discover new content, and the search function works very well as well. It’s easy to find where to search, and typically I only need to enter in a few letters before what I’m looking for pops up. They’ve made it very easy to scroll through their content casually and discover something unexpected or pinpoint the exact show or TV you’re looking for.
HBO Max costs $15/month without ads and $10/month with ads (technically, it costs $14.99 and $9.99). It’s one of the more expensive streaming services out there, which loses them a point. However, the price is totally worth it for the quality of content and extensive library of content they offer. They’ve got over 10,000 hours of movies and TV series from Warner Bros as well as their 100-year content collection, library titles from DC and classic films curated alongside TCM. If you’re into entertainment, this should be one of the first services you sign up for.
Bottom Line: Is HBO Max Worth the Money?
Similar to picking a cable package, each of us is going to have to decide and curate the streaming services we sign up for. HBO Max should be in everyone’s core group of subscriptions due to the sheer quality of the content and the access you’re going to continue to get to some of the best entertainment currently being made. The app is solid enough to work most of the time, and the classic content is perfect for throwing on in the background while you work, clean or cook dinner. I’ve been signed up for HBO Max for as long as it’s been around, and there’s no chance I’m canceling anytime soon.