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Netflix mobile downloads can play now even without full movie or episode loaded

Netflix has tweaked mobile offline viewing -- at first just for Android -- so you can start watching even if you lost connectivity before you finished downloading it.

Angela Lang/CNET

Netflix has upgraded mobile downloads for Android phones and tablets so that you can watch partially downloaded titles offline. The change -- which means you can watch the portion of a movie or episode you successfully downloaded before you lost connectivity -- is available for Android phones and tablets now, and Netflix is going to test it for iPhones and iPads in the coming months, the company said Monday. 

Netflix resisted offline downloads for years before 2016, betting that connectivity would eventually become so ubiquitous that downloading to watch offline wouldn't be necessary. But as competitors like Amazon Prime Video began offering downloads, and as Netflix itself expanded internationally to markets where mobile connectivity was less reliable, Netflix relented and began letting subscribers download much of its catalog in 2016. 

Since then, downloads have become a standard expectation of streaming customers, and Netflix has fine-tuned the feature every few years. Three years ago, it introduced what it calls "smart downloads," which begins downloading the next episode of a downloaded series automatically when you reconnect to the internet after you've watched any while you were offline. 

Like Monday's partial-download viewing feature, those smart downloads also rolled out on Android first. Smart downloads widened to Apple iPhones and iPads on iOS later. 

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