Every BBC iPlayer device tested

The BBC's iPlayer is compatible with so many portable devices now it's almost funny. So here's your ultimate reference resource: we've tested and judged every single one of them

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
13 min read

The BBC's iPlayer is compatible with so many portable devices now it's almost funny. In terms of ease of access to on-demand content, Auntie has pushed the boat so far out it's barely a dot on the horizon.

So the time has come to survey the best ways to watch the iPlayer. Over the last year we've tested a huge number compatible devices, from phones, to PMPs, to games consoles. Here, we've collected together our thoughts on the iPlayer functionality of every compatible device currently on general sale.

If you have an obscure device you think we've missed, please post your thoughts on it in the comments. Our aim is that this can be the most comprehensive guide to iPlayer devices on the planet.

Portable media players

Apple iPod touch
Although the iPod touch doesn't let you download content for offline playback, it offers the best portable iPlayer experience when in range of Wi-Fi. The BBC has a special iPod touch-friendly version of the iPlayer Web site, and streams videos in high-quality H.264. Along with the iPhone, it's one of the most enjoyable ways to watch TV, even if you can't take shows on the Tube as you can with many other platforms.

Our score: 9 out of 10

Full review

Sony X-series Walkman
Expensive and less feature-rich than the iPod touch, Sony's X-series Walkman nonetheless impressed us with its amazing OLED screen. iPlayer video downloads look sweeter on here than any other device with a 76mm (3-inch) screen. It has 32GB of storage to store roughly 50 hours of iPlayer content, and requires you use Windows Media Player on a PC. There's no streaming option, but it's a very comfortable device to watch shorter-length TV on.

Our score: 7 out of 10
Full review

Sony S and E series
As far as use with the iPlayer goes, these two players are very similar. The S- and E-series devices scored a respectable 7 and 7.5 out of 10 respectively, and offer 51mm and 61mm screens respectively. Depending on the memory capacity you buy, they'll each store up to a few dozen hours of downloaded iPlayer content each, which syncs via Windows Media Player on a PC. The E series is an affordable and highly recommended alternative to the iPod nano, with great all-round performance and a good screen. The same goes for the S series, which offers the larger of the two screens and up to 16GB of memory.

Our score: 7 out of 10 (S series), 7.5 out of 10 (E series)
Full review
(S series)
Full review (E series)

Archos 5
One of the biggest advantages of the Archos 5 is its enormous internal storage -- up to 250GB, enough for hundreds of hours of TV -- and its superb 5-inch screen. Content can be synced to the player easily with Windows Media Player, using the Portable Devices format downloads from the iPlayer's Web site. It has a kickstand and built-in speakers too, and you don't need any Wi-Fi to watch what you download. Best offline iPlayer device? We think so.

Our score: 8.6 out of 10
Full review

Archos 7
Essentially, the Archos 7 is identical to the Archos 5, only instead of a 5-inch screen it has -- wait for it -- a 7-inch screen! It offers up to 320GB of storage for hundreds of hours of downloads, an awesome screen, internal speakers and no need to be in range of Wi-Fi to watch content. It's a bulkier iPlayer companion, but probably the best big-screen experience this side of a netbook.

Our score: 8.4 out of 10
Full review

Archos 605 Wi-Fi
An older player, but a good one, with a 4.3-inch display, a kickstand and built-in speakers. It comes with 30GB of internal storage -- room for roughly 50 hours of iPlayer content. You'll need to download programmes from the iPlayer's Web site on a PC, then transfer it to the player's memory via Windows Media Player. But despite having Wi-Fi, downloading this content on the device itself is not possible. If streaming is important, consider the iPod touch.

Our score: 8.5 out of 10
Full review

Creative Zen & Zen X-Fi
In terms of iPlayer functionality, these two players are identical. Their screens are the same size -- 64mm -- and both come with up to 32GB of memory for storing roughly 50 hours of iPlayer downloads. Despite having been on sale for almost two years, the Zens are still great little devices, and crucially allow up to 32GB of additional memory to be added via SD card. It's another sync-via-WMP setup, but they're great alternatives to the iPod nano and Sony's E- and S-series Walkmans. Out of the two, the Zen X-Fi gets our vote as an iPlayer device, as it also includes a built-in speaker. Note that the latest Zen X-Fi2 does not support iPlayer downloads.

Our score: 7.5 out of 10 (Zen X-Fi), 7.8 (Zen)
Full review
(Zen X-Fi)
Full review (Zen)

Philips GoGear Muse
It wasn't one of our favourite iPlayer devices, and only scored 6.8 out of 10, thanks to its poor screen and laborious navigational system. But if you like Philips products, it's still one of its better players. Downloads from the iPlayer Web site are synced via Windows Media Player on a PC, and the 32GB model will hold around 50 hours of programming. Problem is, a 32GB Creative Zen will cost you about £50 less and is arguably the better player.

Our score: 6.8 out of 10
Full review

Philips GoGear Opus
The Opus scored more favourably than the Muse above, but is still let down by its weak display and horrible control system. A 16GB model will hold around 30 hours of iPlayer downloads, but isn't really good value for money. Other features may appeal to Philips fans, but if you're looking for a good iPlayer device, this probably isn't it.

Our score: 7 out of 10
Full review

Philips GoGear SA5285
One of the first Philips players to support iPlayer downloads was the GoGear SA5285. It comes with 8GB of memory, which translates to about 15 hours of iPlayer action, and an above-average 71mm (2.8-inch) display. But it's a basic player with no outstanding features. If you see one on the cheap, it might be a decent purchase, but too many competitors now offer more for less.

Our score: N/AFull hands-on

Samsung YP-P2
The P2 was one of the first devices we tested portable iPlayer downloads with. It has been succeeded by the YP-P3, but can still be found for sale. It has a true 16:9 capacitive touchscreen, and since most BBC content is shot in widescreen, this means you don't get any black letterbox bars at the top or bottom of videos. Up to 16GB of storage will store about 30 hours of iPlayer programming, and it has a decent screen. Like the Philips, better players now exist, but if you see it going cheap it's still a decent device.

Our score: 7.7 out of 10
Full review

Samsung YP-P3
With an outstanding score of 8.7 out of 10 in our review, Samsung's P3 is one of the highest-rated MP3 players on CNET UK. It's got a great display, excellent features and can store roughly 30 hours of iPlayer downloads in its 16GB memory (an 8GB version is also available). This is a rich MP3 player and one of our favourite non-Apple options that also happens to be a terrific iPlayer device.

Our score: 8.7 out of 10
Full review

Samsung YP-Q1
Another smashing little Samsung player is the Q1. It comes in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB capacities for storing up to 30 hours of iPlayer programmes, has a great 76mm screen, easy menus and good support for other audio and video formats. Its closest competitor is the Creative Zen, which comes with more memory, but in terms of which we'd prefer to own, it's the Q1.

Our score: 8.3 out of 10
Full review

Apple iPhone 3G and 3GS
The iPhone's iPlayer application is Web-based, and works just like the iPod touch version in every way -- no offline playback, so you need to be in a Wi-Fi zone, but one of the best no-computer-needed iPlayer experiences, thanks to the BBC's iPhone-friendly mobile site. Simply fire up the phone's Web browser and watch iPlayer content stream in glorious H.264 format.

Our score: 9.3 out of 10 (iPhone 3GS), 8.9 out of 10 (iPhone 3G)
Full review
(iPhone 3GS)
Full review
(iPhone 3G)

Incidentally, Android phones such as the HTC Hero don't natively support iPlayer like the iPhone, but there's a decent free app available called beebPlayer, which works over Wi-Fi and 3G, and is improving all the time.

Nokia N97
It wasn't the phone we were hoping for. It's currently Nokia's flagship device, up against a batch of exciting Android phones and Apple's iPhone. Its resistive touchscreen gave us reason to hate it, but it's quite a large display and thanks to its tilt mechanism and built-in speakers, it's a decent iPlayer phone. You can stream content over Wi-Fi or download it directly to the phone for offline playback without using a computer, with up to 32GB of memory to play with.

Our score: 7 out of 10
Full review

Nokia N96
The questionable build quality of the N96 belied the wealth of its internal features, and it's one of Nokia's more capable iPlayer phones as well. It has 16GB of internal memory, and it's one of the few phones you can side-load iPlayer programmes to from a PC. You can stream BBC content over Wi-Fi, download it over Wi-Fi directly to the phone, and on some networks even stream over 3G. A compelling option.

Our score: 8.2 out of 10
Full review

Nokia N85
Reviewed late in 2008, the N85 proved itself to be a solid all-rounder, scoring 8 out of 10. It can also take advantage of almost all mobile BBC iPlayer features. In addition to Wi-Fi streaming, you can download programmes directly to the phone over wireless broadband -- and over some networks, stream programmes over 3G as well. Also, there's a side-loading option for transferring iPlayer shows from a PC. Note that its pitiful 74MB of internal memory is an enormous problem for downloading, unless you expand via microSD card.

Our score: 8 out of 10
Full review

Nokia N86
Although overshadowed by many recent phones, the N86 proved itself to at least pack some powerful features. As an iPlayer device it's on a par with the N96, with streaming and downloading options of Wi-Fi, streaming over some 3G networks, and compatibility with PC-based iPlayer downloads for quickly loading up content for offline playback at home.

Our score: 7.7 out of 10
Full review

Nokia N95 and N95 8GB
Nokia's flagship-for-a-while N95 phones were a CNET favourite for quite some time. They were also some of the first phones to support the BBC's streaming iPlayer functionality. You'll need Wi-Fi to stream programmes, and the viewing experience is nowhere near what you'll get on more modern phones such as the iPhone or Samsung's i8910 HD, but they're still decent mobiles that can be picked up reasonably cheaply now.

Our score: 8.7 out of 10 (N95), 8.8 out of 10 (N95 8GB)
Full review
Full review (N95 8GB)

Nokia 5800
We never really liked this phone because it felt like too little, too late. We only gave it 6.3 out of 10 in our full review. But its reasonably large 81mm (3.2-inch) screen makes iPlayer streaming more pleasant than on many Nokia phones. You'll need Wi-Fi to access the iPlayer's mobile Web site, and you can also download shows directly over Wi-Fi for offline playback.

Our score: 6.3 out of 10
Full review

Nokia E71
Back in June 2008, the Nokia E71 became one of our favourite business phones. It scored 8.9 out of 10, bearing away our coveted Editors' Choice award too. Its average-size screen doesn't make it a compelling iPlayer device, but for a quick catch-up of the news over your office's Wi-Fi network over lunch, it's more than capable. You're also able to download shows over Wi-Fi for offline playback.

Our score: 8.9 out of 10
Full review

Samsung i8910 HD
One of the most important things for a video-playing device to have is an awesome screen. This phone has an awesome screen. Suffice to say, if it was a fridge, it'd be stocked purely with bottles of ice-cold win -- it won an 8 out of 10 score in our review, and 9 out of 10 in our user-review section. It'll stream iPlayer content over Wi-Fi, and even over 3G if you're on a network that supports it (currently 3 and Vodafone). There's no option to download for offline playback however, neither via the phone itself or via a PC.

Our score: 8 out of 10
Full review

Samsung i8510
Samsung's i8510 preceded the i8910 HD by almost a year. As an older piece of kit it doesn't offer the same excellent screen. But it'll still stream iPlayer programming via Wi-Fi, and is a smashing smart phone to boot. It scored an excellent 8.9 out of 10 in our full review last year, along with scooping up a CNET UK Editors' Choice award. The only issue we have is that you aren't able to exploit its 16GB of internal memory with iPlayer downloads -- it only allows streaming via Wi-Fi (or 3G on compatible networks).

Our score: 8.9 out of 10
Full review

Samsung Omnia i900
The original Samsung Omnia is now well over a year old. Back in September 2008 we gave it a decent 7.9 out of 10, but in terms of an iPlayer phone it offers identical functionality to the i8510, which scored an entire mark higher. It won't let you side-load stuff from a PC or download content via Wi-Fi, but it'll stream over Wi-Fi or a 3G connection. Again, only 3 and Vodafone currently seem to support iPlayer-over-3G functionality. It's got a large screen, but no 3.5mm headphone socket -- if you want to use headphones, you'll need to use an adaptor.

Our score: 7.9 out of 10
Full review

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
It's about to be succeeded by the Xperia X2, but until it does, this is Sony Ericsson's flagship Windows Mobile phone. That does mean you need a terrible stylus, but it still got 7 out of 10 in our review late last year. You can stream iPlayer programmes over Wi-Fi or 3G on permitted networks, but unfortunately -- and weirdly -- there's no support for side-loaded content from PCs. Hopefully this is something that will be addressed on the Xperia X2.

Our score: 7 out of 10
Full review

Sony Ericsson W995
Sony Ericsson's flagship Walkman phone earned it an Editors' Choice award in June 2009, along with a respectable 8.3 out of 10. It's also the only Sony Ericsson phone to permit iPlayer downloads over Wi-Fi directly on the phone itself -- no PC needed. It has a great screen, built-in speakers and a proper 3.5mm headphone socket too. You can stream over Wi-Fi, and on certain networks over 3G as well. Of all the iPlayer-compatible Sony Ericsson devices, the W995 is the best.

Our score: 8.3 out of 10
Full review

Sony Ericsson C905
Another Editors' Choice award winner was the Sony Ericsson C905, reviewed in late 2008. A flagship camera phone which takes superb 8-megapixel photos with a xenon flash to back it up, it scored 8.8 in our review. With the iPlayer mobile service you can stream over Wi-Fi and some 3G networks, though there's no offline playback available in any form, so you must be in range of a wireless network of some sort to access content.

Our score: 8.8 out of 10
Full review

Sony Ericsson W705
Without a real 3.5mm headphone socket, the W705 was never going to get higher than the 7.8 out of 10 it scored earlier this year, but it's still a decent phone all the same. You won't be using any of its 4GB of internal memory to store iPlayer programmes for offline playback, because it only supports streaming over Wi-Fi or certain 3G networks. We love its design though, and it has a great little screen.

Our score: 7.8 out of 10
Full review

Virgin Media Box
The set-top box for Virgin Media's cable-TV service gives you access to the last seven days of BBC iPlayer programmes, all pumped out to you at extreamly (see what we did there?) high quality.

Our problems with it surround the criminally slow interface, which makes it annoying and tedious to find exactly what you're looking to watch. Essentially, you need to know which day and what time the programme you're looking for was broadcast. It's a pain. But it does stream HD content from the BBD HD channel.

PlayStation 3
Using the latest 3.0 firmware, you can access iPlayer on your Sony PS3. It's basically just the full-screen version displayed inside the console's Web browser, but it supports the high-quality H.264 stream and makes for one of the most impressive iPlayer-on-your-TV experiences available.

Downloads and HD streaming aren't available, but everyone in the CNET UK offices who uses the Virgin Media service commented on how much better the experience was on PS3. TV and radio content is available, and along with Blu-ray playback, it makes the PS3 a seriously compelling UK media centre -- even if you have no interest in gaming.

You can also access iPlayer on the Nintendo Wii, but you have to use the Opera Web browser and we wouldn't recommend it.

Computers, laptops and netbooks

The iPlayer is available on almost every desktop, laptop and netbook in the UK. You can stream programmes within any Adobe Flash-enabled Web browser. Obviously slower computers may have a less glitch-free experience, but the BBC offers streams in various qualities to help people on slower machines and Internet connections.

PCs, Macs and Linux machines can all download and play back programmes offline as well. The iPlayer Desktop application is written in Adobe Air, which is a cross-platform technology. Regardless of whether you're running Windows, Mac OS X or one of the many mainstream flavours of Linux, you'll download the same application to enjoy standard- and high-definition downloads of any iPlayer programme made available.

Downloaded programmes can be watched up to 30 days after being download, but must be watched within seven days of you first hitting play. After that, they're automatically removed from your system.