Philo burst onto the streaming scene at the end of 2017 with an amazing offer: get three dozen live TV stations for only $16 per month. The catch? No local TV stations and no sports channels.
Is that a compromise you’re willing to make? Our Philo review will dig into the features of this brand new internet TV service to help you decide whether Philo is right for you.
- 1 What is Philo?
- 2 Plans, Add-ons and Channels
- 3 Free Trial, Interface and Features
- 4 Overall Review: 8.3
- 5 Final Thoughts
Philo may be new to most streamers, but it’s been around for several years. For most of its history, Philo provided streaming TV services to universities.
After hiring Facebook co-founder Andrew McCollum to be its CEO, Philo landed investments from HBO, Discovery Communications, A+E Networks and other media companies.
That support let Philo put together a new kind of live TV streaming service. Rather than try to reproduce the cable experience over the internet, Philo chose to serve certain kinds of customers.
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Many cord-cutters walked away from cable because they were tired of paying for sports channels they never watched. Others get all the local TV they need using a TV antenna so don’t need everything services like Sling TV offer.
Philo meets these cord-cutters’ needs by offering an affordable live-TV streaming service with a focused channel lineup.
As with many streaming services, licensing issues limit Philo to the United States. Most streaming services define that as the fifty States and the District of Columbia.
Philo’s different. Anyone living in US territories and possessions can get Philo right now. That includes Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as well as Guam and American Samoa.
Since Philo doesn’t offer local stations or regional sports networks, your Philo experience will be the same wherever you travel in the US and its territories.
Philo’s support for streaming devices is one of the areas where its youth shows through. Like YouTube TV and other services, Philo focused its launch efforts on creating apps for desktop browsers, mobile and Roku. Philo also lets you stream to as many as three devices at one time.
However, Philo’s features aren’t fully implemented in all of its apps. In addition, the apps haven’t been fully optimized to take advantage of the devices they run on.
Philo’s CEO explained in a Reddit AMA that, as a small startup, Philo’s developers had to focus on releasing a solid service to the public… in November. That did not leave a lot of time for Philo to produce perfect apps on every streaming platform.
The following descriptions may make Philo’s apps look worse than they are. I’m pointing out the gaps and inconsistencies so you know what to expect. Just remember that this is a snapshot in time. Philo’s developers may have updated the apps by the time you read this review.
Overall, Philo’s devices provide a good experience. Navigation and video streaming performed well in all the apps I could test. My favorites and viewing history seemed to sync instantly as I switched between devices.
The iPhone is the only part of Apple’s ecosystem that Philo fully supports. The app’s interface supports most of Philo’s features, with two exceptions. You don’t get a programming guide and you can’t manage your account.
While you can load the app onto an iPad, the interface doesn’t adapt to the iPad’s form factor. Philo’s app treats the iPad as a really big iPhone. The main interface remains locked in portrait orientation. The video does play in landscape, but it doesn’t fill the iPad’s display.
You can’t use the Philo website to watch live TV on iOS devices. Both the Safari and Chrome browsers are blocked by a message telling you to download the app.
The iOS app doesn’t support AirPlay either. That leaves Screen Mirroring as the only way to stream Philo’s content to the Apple TV. I gave it a shot but did not have much luck.
When mirroring from my iPad, a static image appeared on my television but the video stayed on the iPad. When mirroring from my iPhone, the audio and closed captions made it to my TV. The video stayed on my phone.
Philo hasn’t created an Android app yet, so don’t go to the Google Play Store. You can use the Android version of Chrome to watch TV through the Philo website. You won’t be able to Chromecast to your television.
The only guaranteed way to get Philo onto your living room TV is a Roku device. The Philo channel installs easily with an activation code. As with the iOS app, you get all of Philo’s features except a programming guide and account management.
Pick the right Philo app
One last tip. When you search the Apple App Store or Google Play, you’ll see an app called Philo Edu.
Don’t get that app.
Philo Edu only works with the company’s on-campus TV service. It won’t work with Philo’s streaming TV service.
Plans, Add-ons and Channels
Philo’s plans are simple to explain. You only get two choices:
- $16 per month includes a package of thirty-seven channels.
- $20 per month includes an extra nine channels.
Philo hopes to offer premium options like HBO and channel expansion packs. Until Philo cuts deals with more media companies, the two base plans are all it offers.
Philo achieves its low subscription price by avoiding the most expensive networks. It chose to focus on three categories: entertainment, lifestyle and information.
The $16 entry-level subscription plan’s channel lineup includes:
- Entertainment: AMC, IFC, Lifetime Movies, Sundance, Nick, Nick Jr, TeenNick, A&E, BBC America, BET, GSN, Lifetime, OWN, Paramount, TLC, TV Land, WE TV, AXS, Comedy Central, CMT, MTV, MTV2 and VH1
- Lifestyle: diy, Food Network, fyi, HGTV, Travel Channel, Velocity
- Information: BBC World News, Cheddar, Viceland, Animal Planet, Discovery, Science, History and Investigation Discovery.
The $20 subscription plan adds a few more channels:
- Entertainment: Nicktoons, BET Her, Logo and MTV
- Lifestyle: AHC, Cooking, Destination America, and Discovery Family.
- Information: Discovery Life.
What you don’t see in these lists are sports networks or the broadcast networks. Both charge TV providers fees for the privilege of carrying them — fees that cable companies and streaming services alike pass on to their customers.
Free Trial, Interface and Features
Philo’s different approach to TV starts with the seven-day free trial. Every other streaming service requires your credit card number before you can start streaming.
Philo asks for your mobile number. In exchange, you can use Philo as much as you want for the next two days. To get the remaining five days of the free trial, you will have to enter your credit card information.
Setup and UI
The first time you open an app or access the Philo website, all you have to do is log in with your number. Philo will send you a text and you’re in.
The website and the various apps open to a Home screen that gives you quick access to content you’ve liked saved or recently watched. Philo’s recommendation engine displays trending and popular content as well as upcoming shows.
Philo’s Live section is where you go to answer the “is anything on” question. An alphabetical grid of thumbnails shows what programs are live on each network. Your favorite networks appear at the top of the grid so you don’t have to hunt for those go-to channels. You can click on the thumbnails to start watching TV.
Clicking on the network’s icon takes you to the network’s profile page. There you can see the network’s schedule, TV series, and any on-demand movies.
The Saved section lists the TV series and movies you’ve “recorded.” Clicking on any of the thumbnails takes you to the content profile page. The TV series profile pages list the episodes that you can watch right now and any upcoming broadcasts.
All versions of Philo’s apps include a search function that works for show titles and actors’ names. You can’t search for movies by director.
Account management is only available through Philo’s web app. During the free trial, you can enter your name and email address. You can’t change any other settings until you’ve committed to a subscription.
Reinventing the programming guide
The Guide section only appears on the web. It’s kind of quirky which may be the reason why Philo didn’t roll the Guide out to all of its apps.
Unlike a traditional programming guide, the Philo Guide lists the networks horizontally at the top of the screen. Your favorite networks appear first followed alphabetically by the other networks. A scroll bar at the bottom of the screen lets you navigate across the channel listing.
Philo handles time vertically. The Guide opens centered on what’s playing now. You can scroll up into the future or down into the past. Be careful not to pull the vertical scroll bar too far from the center or else the Guide will accelerate into the distant past or the distant future. Without any indication of the date, you’ll be lost in time and will have to refresh the page.
Selecting any currently-playing program will take you to the video player. The same thing happens with most of the completed programs. Selecting a future program will, depending on the network, either pop up a listing of available videos or take you to the program’s profile page.
You can’t skip ads when you start watching a live TV show. On the other hand, you might be able to skip ads when you start a show in progress from the beginning or watch on-demand.
Philo’s support site does something that few other services do: explain why ad-skipping isn’t consistent. The deals Philo cuts with each network require Philo to apply one of these policies:
- Skip forward through all commercial breaks.
- Skip forward through all breaks except the last one.
- No skipping allowed the first time through.
Most programs on Philo will be available to watch for at least three days after they air through the 72-hour Rewind feature. Just go to a TV series’ profile page to find the episode you missed.
Philo uses the word “save” rather than “record” when talking about its DVR service. You can save movies or TV series. You can’t, however, save a specific TV show.
When you save a TV series, Philo flags all future episodes as they air with a DVR icon. You’ll be able to watch those videos for thirty days before Philo removes the DVR icon.
Overall Review: 8.3
When Philo first appeared on my radar, I wondered who could it be for? The answer from our Philo review is pretty clear. Philo is a supplemental service for certain kinds of cord-cutters. As long as you understand that Philo isn’t trying to be all things to all people, the new kid on the streaming block is an incredible deal.
Channel quality: 8
Philo’s channel lineup offers something for just about everybody. There’s a good mix of entertainment and lifestyle channels. The information category is strong on nature and science, but weak on news.
What you won’t find are channels owned by the broadcast networks. Not being able to get Syfy, TMC or other channels may be a deal breaker for some people.
Streaming quality: 9
All of the channels Philo carries stream in 1080i high definition. You won’t find any 4K Ultra HD channels. That is not a niche that Philo serves right now so I don’t consider it a negative.
Even when running three streams at the same time, I never experienced buffering issues or a drop in picture quality.
Device support: 6
I can understand why Philo limited its scope for app support at launch. Many of the established services, like Sling TV and YouTube TV, took a web-and-mobile-plus-Roku approach when they first started. It also took those companies time to roll out a full set of features.
However, those other services launched fully-baked apps. The poor iPad compatibility and the absence of a native Android app could be deal-breakers for some.
This one’s easy. At $16 per month, Philo takes the low-cost crown from Sling TV while offering what Philo’s target customers would consider a better channel lineup.
You will need to look at the channel lineup on Philo to decide whether it makes sense for you. If you consider local stations or sports networks essential TV, then Philo is not for you.
Where Philo comes into its own is when it’s paired with a TV antenna. Philo adds most of the basic cable channels that round out the TV experience for an amazingly low price.
As long as Philo addresses its app situation within the next few months, it could become a major force in the streaming TV business.