Editors' note: This review has been updated with new features from the latest version of Netflix for iOS released October 3, 2013.
Netflix for iOS lets subscribers watch movies and TV shows in the service's Instant Watch library. While the streaming service's catalog isn't nearly as strong as the Netflix DVD library, it's great to have the option to pick from several shows to watch on an iOS device wherever you are. What's more, in the latest version, iOS 7 users will able watch movies in HD.
The Netflix app's straightforward design starts off with a home screen that shows your most recently viewed and incomplete shows at the top for easy access, then featured content like Top Picks and popular shows. You can swipe up to view more content from various genres, then swipe left to view more shows from each genre. Of course you can also browse for flicks and shows by more typical genres, like Action, TV Shows, and Comedies, by hitting a Browse button in the upper left.
When you touch a title, the app shows you all the details: the star rating, synopsis, and the list of episodes for TV shows. A drop-down menu lets you quickly switch to a later season and you can browse by episode in the list below.
Watching movies and TV shows
The viewing controls on Netflix pop up when you tap, and disappear after a few seconds while you watch a video. A new, bigger button lets you scrub through the timeline with a little window that shows the exact point of the video you are in -- great for finding the part of the show you want to watch. A rewind button lets you go back 10 seconds in the show. A new volume control is now in the upper right that lets you control your iPad volume by swiping right or left, and it works smoothly in real time. There are also controls for changing the language (when supported) and you can turn on subtitles for silent viewing (when supported). All the interface controls worked very smoothly in our testing with no delayed response whatsoever.
Video quality is excellent even on older devices such as the iPhone 4 and iPad 2, so long as you have strong Wi-Fi connectivity. Obviously, with a newer iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, it will look even better on Apple's Retina Display. Overall, playback was stable with no skips, blips, or freezes to speak of.
One of Netflix's most useful features is syncing viewing data with the cloud. Netflix keeps tabs on your place in a show, so if you close the app, the next time you load it you'll have the option to resume playback from your drop-off point. It works like an automatic digital bookmark: even if you turn off your device and log in on a computer or another mobile device you'll still be able to start where you left off.
New features for iOS 7
In the most recent update to Netflix you can stream HD video if you're running iOS 7, and the app now supports AirPlay streaming. It will only be on movies and shows that are already HD, but now when you go to a video page there will be a little HD box in the upper right if HD is supported, and you'll be able to enjoy the higher-resolution version. It will be a significant improvement no matter which device you're using, but especially on devices that have the Retina Display.
The new AirPlay streaming features for iOS 7 are a little strange, but will be useful in certain situations. Before this update, you could already use AirPlay Mirroring to stream a video to your Apple TV. But if you already own the Apple TV, why wouldn't you just use the Netflix app on Apple TV? The only situation where AirPlay streaming might be useful is if you go to a friend's house who has an Apple TV, but he doesn't have a Netflix account. AirPlay streaming would allow you to stream the movie from your Netflix account on your device to your friend's Apple TV. So it's not a huge improvement, but it does afford you a little more flexibility.
Although the app itself is free, you will still need to subscribe to Netflix to watch video. You can do so for about $8 a month. It's important to note that the Netflix app focuses on on-demand streaming; it does not currently manage your rentals queue. Still, if you want to watch videos and shows on the go, the Netflix app is one of the best available.