Up until a few years ago, the first thing you thought of when someone mentioned Amazon, was a big online retailer with huge warehouses. And when someone mentioned Amazon Prime, you probably thought about free shipping.
How things have changed… yes, Amazon is still a huge retailer (worldwide, and in the UK), and Prime still gives you free shipping. But Amazon have also entered the streaming video scene with a bang, offering a big selection of films and TV programmes, and a few award-winning original productions – all as part of Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Amazon Prime Instant Video actually started its life as LoveFilm – a UK (and German) DVD-by-mail rental service, just like Netflix in its early days. People would pay a monthly fee, and get movies in the post.
In 2011, LoveFilm was acquired by Amazon, and in 2014 it was folded into Amazon’s “instant video” service, and was offered as an added benefit of Amazon Prime, or as a stand-alone, monthly subscription.
Where does it fit in the life of a UK cord cutter? Can it truly replace your cable TV? Is it better or even comparable to arch-rival Netflix, and what’s the cheapest way to subscribe? Let’s find out, with this Amazon Prime Instant Video review.
Amazon Prime Instant Video UK Review
Who is it for: Cord cutters looking to replace their cable TV subscription.
Interface & Usage
Value For Money
- overall rating 80%
- Decent catalog with a variety of films and TV programmes
- 4K and HDR titles included in the price (tiny collection, though)
- Excellent value for money with an annual Prime subscription
- Small selection of newer programmes from other networks
- No user profiles
- Bad at recommending titles you might enjoy
- Not available on Apple TV and Google Chromecast
It’s a decent streaming video service, with a decent collection and some high-quality original productions added on top. It’s not as comprehensive as Netflix, but if you’re an Amazon customer and have use for the other Prime perks as well, it’s a no-brainer.
How to Join And Watch Amazon Prime Instant Video In The UK
If you’re just starting out, and want to give it a try, there’s a 30-day FREE trial of the full Amazon Prime package. You do need to remember to cancel your subscription before the free trial ends, though, otherwise you will be billed automatically.
Once you’re done with the trial and decide to keep going, you can pay for Amazon’s video subscription in one of three ways (Prices correct as of February 2017) –
- A stand-alone, monthly subscription to Prime Video – £5.99/month
- A monthly Amazon Prime subscription (that also includes free shipping, Prime Music, and all the other Prime benefits) – £7.99/month
- An annual Amazon Prime subscription, with all the benefits, at £79/yearly (that comes down to £6.58/month)
If you have no use for the full Amazon Prime package, then obviously the monthly Prime Video subscription it the cheapest way to go. I order a lot from Amazon, so free one-day shipping is a big plus for me, hence I have the annual Prime subscription.
However, one of the big pluses of being a cord cutter, is not having to sign long contracts. You can join a streaming video service (say, Netflix) one month, then cancel it the next, then replace it with Amazon Video for a month, and vice versa. So, getting the yearly Amazon Prime subscription is a bit like signing a contract, because you’re signing up and paying for the whole year.
My suggestion? Give the free trial a try first, and see if you like the content, the service, the interface… If you do, and you have even little use for the other Prime benefits, I would still go for the yearly plan. Otherwise, just get the monthly video one.
As far as device availability, Amazon’s list of compatible devices isn’t as big as Netflix’. You’ll find Amazon Instant Video apps on:
- TV Streamers (such as Amazon Fire TV and Roku)
- Smart TVs
- Gaming Consoles
- iPhones / Android phones
However, you will NOT be able to watch Amazon Instant Video on Google’s Chromecast or on the Apple TV. No one knows exactly who is to blame for this – Google and Apple, or Amazon (or maybe both) – but if these two are your only TV streaming devices, then Amazon’s video service is just not for you.
The Content – What Can I Watch On Amazon Prime Instant Video?
There are no “official” numbers pertaining to how many titles are available on Amazon Prime Instant Video, but according to JustWatch, a website that seems to track titles pretty accurately, the UK version of Prime has, as for February 5, 2017:
- 1,610 Movies
- 238 TV Titles
If you compare that to the US version of Prime, we’re at a big disadvantage – they have a staggering 6,699 movies, and 462 TV titles. This big difference is annoying – it has to do with content agreements around the world, and it’s the same situation on Netflix, but Amazon really could do better with their numbers.
Keep in mind, Amazon tends to mix up (interface-wise) their Prime Instant Video offerings with their streaming video store. So when you search for a specific movie or a series to watch, Amazon will be more than happy to present it to you, but then you’ll find out you have to buy or rent it outright, for an additional fee, of course.
As far as picture quality, HD streaming looks great, and Amazon also offers a rather-small (for now) selection of “Ultra HD” (4K) programmes, as well as HDR. Unlike Netflix, you don’t have to pay extra for the 4K content – it’s all part of the standard subscription.
When it comes to movies, you won’t find the latest blockbusters as part of the Prime subscription service. Looking at the list of available films that were released in 2016, you’ll find a rather obscure list of films you’ve never heard of.
Sure, you might find a few hidden gems, but if you’re looking for the big blockbusters or critically acclaimed masterpieces, you would have to look two and three years back. Then, you will find movies such as Interstellar (2014), Eye In The Sky (2015), Spotlight (2015) and The Hateful Eight (2015).
If you’re looking for the newest releases, you would have to seek out something like NOW TV, or rent/buy the movies directly.
So, if you’re looking for a movie to watch at the end of the day, would you find something on Amazon Prime Instant Video? It’s a big IF. If you’re willing to experiment and gamble on some lesser-known titles, you might find something interesting. Otherwise, you’re likely to exhaust the popular-titles list pretty quickly.
The situation is a bit better with TV series on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Again, you won’t find most of the newer network programmes here, and would usually have to wait a few months after a series ends, before you’ll get it on Prime.
There are a few exception, though. The popular Mr.Robot, for example, was shown in real-time, with every episode being released shortly after its US debut. The same was done with Preacher, Vikings, Lucifer and a few others. It’s not a common practice, and cord cutters are usually looking for shows to binge-watch, anyway – but it’s still a refreshing twist, when you occasionally want to watch what everybody’s talking about in Facebook.
Other than that, there’s a good choice of older TV shows you can binge on, some exclusive to Amazon. From Downton Abbey to Outlander, Arrow, Prison Break, Ray Donovan, The Americans, Seinfeld… it’s a mish-mash of old and new, and you’re bound to find something to watch.
In addition, there are the Amazon Originals – TV shows (and a few movies) produced by Amazon Studios and only available with them. These include things like Transparent, Sneaky Pete, The Man In The High Castle, Bosch, and of course – The Grand Tour – the much-talked about “replacement” for Top Gear.
Amazon Originals aren’t as strong as Netflix’ originals, with only a handful of programmes that are really worth your time (let alone your money) – but with more and more money put into the game, it’s safe to assume Amazon will catch up.
Kids and Sports
There’s an OK selection of kids TV shows and movies, though keep in mind the choice is a bit limited. (Currently 138 titles according to JustWatch). There are popular things like Peppa Pig, Spongebob Squarepants and Bob The Builder, as well as a few titles aimed more towards the teen demographic.
Amazon also offer parental controls, either via your streamer or directly through Amazon’s website. You can set a secret PIN, and then use it to block content with age restrictions, as determined by the “British Board of Film Classification”.
As for sports, if you’re a fan, this isn’t the place for you – there are a few documentaries, but for actual sporting events you would need to look elsewhere (such as NOW TV or Freeview).
The Amazon Prime Instant Video interface – Give Us Profiles!
While the basic Amazon Prime Instant Video interface is similar in the various devices you might use it on, there are a few changes here and there, which makes the usability inconsistent at times. They should really take a page from Netflix’ book, where all their apps are almost identical on different devices.
For example, the Amazon interface on my Samsung Smart TV has a completely different series screen than the one on my Amazon Fire TV. And somehow, the Smart TV interface doesn’t show any indication of episodes you’ve already watched – that’s an awful, awful omission, and Amazon should really take more care to keep a consistent, useful interface across devices.
The basic interface is built of rows of thumbnails of titles – either movies or TV programmes, put together in groups of genres, “Recently Added”, “Trending”, etc’.
For some reason, Amazon treat each series of a show as a different “title”, so you might see Downton Abbey in a row, for example, only to find out it’s Series 5 when you click to get into it. You can easily jump between different seasons from within the show’s main screen, but it’s still rather confusing to have a different thumbnail on the main interface for each series of every show.
Browsing these rows for things to watch is easy enough, but there’s another problem – Amazon don’t do a very good job of switching things around, or floating up interesting recommendations of titles you might have missed. I’ve been an Amazon Prime Instant Video subscriber for several years, and I think some of the titles I’ve been seeing on the main screen have remained the same since Day 1.
That’s a shame – Netflix, for example, keep moving things around, and there’s always a good chance you’ll find something to watch that was already in the catalog, but you didn’t know about until now. With Amazon, on the other hand, I’m sometimes surprised to accidentally find a particular programme I would have loved to watch months after it’s been added – simply because Amazon’s interface neglected to tell me about it.
Another glaring omission (currently shared by all the streaming services other than Netflix) is that there are no user profiles.
So sure, there’s a watchlist you can add titles to, and there’s a “Continue Watching” section, but if other members of your family want to add their own programmes, they have to use the same watchlist. And if you and your spouse are watching Downton Abbey at a different pace, for example, there’s no way to follow who’s watched which episode, and it all turns into a big mess.
Please Amazon, we want user profiles!
To help you decide what to watch, Amazon will show you star ratings. For movies, you’ll see both Amazon’s own rating, based on users’ reviews (the same as with all the other products on Amazon) – you can even go in and read the actual reviews. In addition, Amazon shows the IMDB rating for the movie (based on votes of IMDB users). For TV titles, you only get the Amazon rating.
As mentioned, another issue with the Amazon Instant Video interface, is the minor distinction between titles that are part of your Prime subscription, and those that require additional payment. The only way to distinguish between the two is the little Prime banner across the thumbnail:
Lumping Prime titles with regular VOD titles is confusing, though obviously meant to drive you into buying more content. Searching for a movie, finding it, and then figuring out you have to pay more for it, is annoying. And while they do offer some separate Prime “rows” of recommendations, it would have been better to have completely separate collections – the stuff you can watch with your subscription, vs the stuff you need to buy on its own.
On the plus side, Amazon have been offering downloads for a while (something Netflix only added recently) – you can download most of the shows to your smartphone/tablet via WiFi, and watch them later even if you’re not connected to the internet (or don’t want to waste your monthly data allowance).
Amazon Prime Instant Video vs Netflix vs NOW TV
When it comes to streaming video subscriptions, the two main competitors for Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK are Netflix and Sky’s NOW TV.
Of the two, Netflix is the closest in spirit, with a similar interface and a similar collection of films and TV programmes (though many titles are exclusive to either Amazon or Netflix, and of course, each service has its own exclusive original productions).
Judging by the numbers alone, Netflix UK have the upper hand. According to JustWatch, on February 5, 2017, Netflix had 2,477 movies and Amazon had 1,610 movies. On the TV side, Netflix had 604 titles, and Amazon had 238. Keep in mind, these numbers are not official – but they give a pretty good indication of Netflix’ lead.
Netflix also have a more impressive slew of original productions, with House of Cards, Orange is The New Black, the Marvel shows, etc’. But Amazon is quickly catching up, and will probably do better as time goes by.
As for pricing, Netflix’ standard subscription is £7.49/month, and if you want 4K content, you need to pay more – £8.99/month. Amazon is cheaper if you take the Prime Video monthly subscription (£5.99/month), and if you take the annual Prime tier (£79/year).
Sky’s NOW TV is a bit different – while they have “box-sets” with full seasons of shows, they also offer a “catch-up” service, where you can watch the newest shows, week after week, shortly after their original broadcast in the UK or the US. They also have more recent films, including some of the biggest blockbusters.
However, the pricing scheme for NOW TV is different – you can subscribe to the Entertainment Pass, which is all about TV programmes, for £7.99 a month. But if you want movies, you will need to subscribe to the Sky Cinema pass, for an extra £9.99 a month. (Plus, there’s a Sports pass for £33.99/month and a Kids pass for £2.99/month).
Amazon Prime Instant Video – Should I Get It?
Amazon’s streaming video subscription offers pretty good value for money. They have a decent collection of films and TV titles, and a growing number of critically acclaimed original productions.
The selection is not as robust as that of Netflix, so for a cord cutter having to decide between the two, I would start with Netflix as the base of my cord cutting package. But Amazon Prime Video complements Netflix nicely, and getting the two of them together would still come out a lot cheaper than a cable TV package.
And if you’re an avid Amazon customer, it’s a no-brainer – Prime is a good deal for the free shipping alone, and having the video service on top is an excellent perk. (And remember – there’s a free, 30-days trial, so you can test things out for yourself).
Now, if only Amazon would improve the interface a bit (better recommendations, user profiles), and buff up the number of titles – the service could easily jump up to Netflix’s level.