In the modern digital age, media is king. Whether it’s music blaring out of speakers, photos being styled and shared, movies and TV shows on demand, or the online video craze – we are all consuming entertainment at a mind-boggling rate, on an ever-growing number of devices.
iTunes is one of the most popular platform for organizing and collecting media, and for good reasons – it gets the job done, and it is backed by a goliath of an online store. It does have its limitations, though. If you want to stream media from your iTunes library, you’re going to need an iOS device. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, here, that’s not going to suit you.
An alternative streaming system worth considering is Plex. Once you’ve set up a Plex media server on your Windows, OSX, or Linux computer, you can stream content to nearly any smart mobile device via Plex’s app. Unfortunately, there are times when streaming doesn’t cut it, either because you are restricted by a data cap, or because wi-fi isn’t available. For this kind of problem, Plex offers a syncing service (part of the PlexPass subscription), which, when combined with its beta Plex for PlexPass Android app, allows you to download media to your Android device, with ease.
Or, at least, that is the claim – but can media management really be that simple? Time for a test…
According to Plex’s own blog, this beta app has been built to be the best-looking resident of the whole Google Play store. Obviously, any judgement on this is subjective, but they have certainly done a respectable job.
The main navigation is split up into five panels, each by default decorated with a subtle background image taken from the preview of an item in your library. The panels are controlled with side-swiping, and the sub-menus are hidden from view until they are required. The overall feel is slick, smooth and dark.
After noting that Plex for PlexPass needs a Plex media server-equipped computer to function, there’s not a lot of setting up required when you download the Android app. Sign in with your Plex account details, and the app offers your server-stored media with little delay.
Syncing media to your Android device can be achieved in one of two ways. While you are browsing your PC’s Plex library, the “Sync to device” option is made available; equally, while you are browsing streamable content on your phone, you can tap the drawing pin icon at the bottom of the screen to start downloading the content in question.
Whichever means you use to sync content to your mobile, the downloading process is remarkably speedy, even for full length movies.
Browsing Your Content
As mentioned above, Plex for PlexPass has several panels, which provide something more than just a list of media.
The My Library panel displays the media folders which you set up on your PC. Each of these contains a certain type of media, and tapping on them takes you through to a list of individual videos, tracks, or photos.
To the left of My Library is On Deck – if you’ve started a movie, but left it unfinished, it will be listed here. This is particularly useful for when you are commuting, or doing anything else that requires you to watch your film in a stop-start manner.
Also available is the Recently Added panel — I’m going to let you guess what this one does — and the Channels panel, which gives you access to all the channels (such as TED talks and Vimeo Staff Picks) that you’ve subscribed to on your PC.
While browsing your media, you can sort by name or date added — and artist or album, in the case of music. At most, you are never more than three taps away from your media, which seems like good app design to me.
Viewing and Listening
Most importantly, though, Plex for Plexpass plays well. Movies can be streamed at 1080p, and although video of this quality takes a little while to buffer, it does tend to play without interruption once it gets going. The only slight concern is how hot your phone gets when playing a video like this, although this is unsurprising given the hefty graphics processing involved.
Meanwhile, the exhibition of photos is error free, and music is, generally speaking, played smoothly. Unfortunately, there is one exception to this rule; the first time I attempted to stream a track, the app crashed completely. After that, though, Plex for PlexPass held its nerve, and given the beta status of the app, the odd bug can be forgiven.
Whilst DRM-protected videos can’t be played — an annoyance for iTunes customers— the full HD streaming and rich AAC sound make the viewing and listening experience in Plex for PlexPass a rewarding one.
The quality of Plex for PlexPass is excellent, and even more so when you take into account the beta status of its development. The app looks good, is easy to navigate, and provides entertainment on the go with a minimum of fuss.
Stability is currently a point of concern, although the likelihood of most bugs being weeded out before the fully finished version is released seems high.
Overall, then, Plex for PlexPass provides a remarkably simple way of getting content onto your phone. In fact, even if you don’t yet have a Plex account, and you want to have media with you on the go, then Plex for PlexPass may be enough to persuade you to make the switch.