Update, June 30, 2020: AT&T Watch TV is no longer taking new subscribers or letting users whose subscription has lapsed to sign up again. New AT&T Unlimited wireless plans now include HBO Max instead of Watch TV. Our original review, published in May 2019, follows.
What's the main reason cable subscribers cut the cord? They want to save money. While the price of somerivals that of cable itself, there are still some budget options. The cheapest is AT&T Watch TV. It costs just $15 a month and wireless customers get it for free.
Watch TV is a cut-down version of DirecTV Now. It has a lot fewer channels, however, and lacks key features, including the cloud DVR. AT&T pitches Watch TV primarily as an add-on for its mobile subscribers. That said, the ability to watch the service on an actual TV via Apple TV ($130 at Crutchfield) and Fire TV devices, in addition to phones and tablets, greatly enhances its appeal. And at this price its channel lineup is pretty solid.
Overall AT&T Watch TV is not as robust as eitheror , its top two budget live TV competitors at $20 and $25 per month, respectively. If you're OK with its channel selection and downsides, however, it could be the budget service for you. Especially if you get it for free anyway.
How it compares
AT&T Watch TV is a live TV streaming service that offers dozens of "cable" channels streamed over the internet. It's watchable on iOS and Android phones and tablets, PC browsers, Fire TV and Apple TV streamers and . The experience is different on different devices, however. The mobile app has the ability to search and bookmark favorites, for example, while the Apple TV app has a program guide.
Competitors Philo and Sling TV offer more platforms including the most popular of all -- Roku -- in addition to Android TV, and other smart TVs systems. More important, both Philo and Sling have a cloud DVR to record show to watch later, a feature Watch TV lacks.
Budget live TV streaming services compared
||AT&T Watch TV ($15)||Philo ($20)||Sling TV Blue ($25)|
|Number of top 100 channels||37||58||49|
|Locals included||No||No||Yes (NBC and Fox)|
|DVR storage||--||Unlimited||50 hours|
Mobile video quality on AT&T Watch TV can vary depending on your plan. Both the paid ($15 per month) and "free" versions (for most AT&T Unlimited plans) are locked at standard definition on mobile phones (480p). If you trade up your mobile plan to the AT&T Unlimited & More Premium plan, however, mobile video quality ups to 1080p. The Apple TV and Fire TV apps can still show up to 1080p on the basic plans, however.
It's all about the channels
How do budget services like Watch TV keep things affordable? By omitting local channels and sports, that's how. To its credit, however, AT&T Watch TV peppers its lineup with plenty of popular channels.
Both Philo and Sling TV win over Watch TV in total number of channels, but more channels doesn't guarantee that it is "better." When compared against thethe number is a lot closer -- AT&T has 35 of these versus Philo's 38 and Sling TV Blue's 39.
Here's how all three stack up.
Top channels on AT&T Watch TV vs. Philo vs. Sling TV
||AT&T Watch TV ($15)||Philo ($20)||Sling TV Orange ($25)||Sling TV Blue ($25)|
|NBC (select cities)||No||No||No||Yes|
|Fox (select cities)||No||No||No||Yes|
|BBC World News||Yes||Yes||$||$|
|Fox Sports 1||No||No||No||Yes|
|Fox Sports 2||No||No||No||Yes|
|Lifetime Movie Network||Yes||Yes||$||$|
|Turner Classic Movies||Yes||No||$||$|
$ = Sling TV offers this channel as part of a more expensive package.
Using AT&T Watch TV
The AT&T Watch TV app on Apple TV should be very familiar to anyone who has used the DirecTV Now app -- it has the same easy-to-use interface. Swiping left and right works in the same way, letting you "surf," and the results are much zippier than the Roku DirecTV app -- only a 1- to 3-second delay between each channel.
Watch TV users can "bookmark" some shows from within the TV guide but it only works with content that is also available on-demand. The lack of a DVR means you can't rewind (although you can restart some shows) and pressing pause only saves about two minutes' worth of programming.
Meanwhile AT&T Watch TV's mobile interface is clean and a lot more "fun" than Philo's more powerful, though more confusing, menus. While both mobile apps lack a program guide, AT&T's ability to drill down to a specific channel is more intuitive than Philo's Search text box.
Streaming from an iPhone ($899 at Amazon) using Chromecast to an Android TV worked ok, but you miss out on advanced features such as the guide. The stream failed to work at all when I tried to AirPlay from an iPhone to an Apple TV. For big screens the Apple TV app provides the best experience.
Should you get it?
If you can get the service for free, AT&T's Watch TV is great. But for $15 a month its lack of Roku support and DVR extras will make it a non-starter for many people. A couple of key channels buoy its fortunes, though, especially if you only watch TV on your phone anyway.
Philo has a DVR and more channels overall, although it lacks some of the Watch TV heavy hitters like CNN, TNT and TBS. Sling TV is a better choice than either one, however, thanks to a superior channel lineup and range of choices. For many cord cutters it will be worth the extra money.