Amazon Prime Video is undoubtedly a heavy hitter in the streaming wars. Since it launched in 2014 it has been a steadfast source of streaming television, movies and even live sport, making it a dependable choice filled with variety when it comes to the abundant options for streaming in 2022.
Given that heartfelt introduction, you could be forgiven for forming the impression that I have a soft spot for Prime Video when, in fact, the opposite is true. In reality, Prime Video ranges from frustrating to downright unpleasant to use. Every time I open the god-forsaken app, the idea of launching my TV remote at my living room wall becomes an increasingly tempting proposition.
So what's the issue with Amazon Prime Video? Let's start with the superficial stuff: first of all the app is ugly, badly designed and a mess to use. If Disney+ is a warm mug of hot chocolate in front of the fireplace, Amazon Prime Video is a bottle of vodka in front of a bin fire. It's confusing, messy, uninviting and laden with bizarre subheadings in an almost endless list of other lists. Your “continue watching” section is sandwiched between suggestions for other things to watch, allegedly (but unconvincingly) based on your viewing history, instead of it being the first option.
After the suggestions is where it becomes a free-for-all in curated suggestions, with TV shows and movies sitting side by side, broken down into the most random subsections. The same shows and movies appear in multiple lists, with some of these lists being weirdly abstract. “Intriguing” and “gripping” sit alongside the “thriller” category, for example, and while those might not literally be the same thing, the differentiation really isn't worth making in the context of finding a film to watch.
Seasons of the same TV series are often left ungrouped, meaning that each season needs to be added to your watchlist individually, and 4K versions are sometimes separate from their HD counterparts, meaning you could unknowingly be watching an inferior version of whatever series or movie you’re currently bingeing.
In short, Prime Video is messy and unappealing, and it could seriously benefit from some tidying that, for a company as huge as Amazon, shouldn’t be an unthinkably grand undertaking.
However, arguably the greatest sin the service commits is mixing content that is free to watch as part of your subscription with content that isn't included and that needs to be paid for separately. There is a toggle to only show programming included in your Prime membership, but it's off by default and not easy to find. Ultimately, you can click on your favourite series only to find you have to pay for each episode. Nothing makes my heart sink like that “buy or rent now” button popping up, especially considering I pay a monthly subscription for this service. This is undoubtedly the worst thing about Prime Video and is the reason I remain constantly on edge while browsing the content library.
If you're reading this and thinking that Prime Video has been like this for years, you're right! And What Hi-Fi?'s been complaining about it for just as long. Every so often we're told that a big UX upgrade is on the way, but while the service has received a few superficial licks of paint over time, its fundamental flaws remain. While a design change is appreciated, it doesn’t make browsing the service any more enjoyable; so come on Amazon, it's time for some Prime Video spring cleaning.
On top of the usability flaws, the picture quality of Prime Video is also discernibly worse than that of its main adversaries in the streaming wars, and it's hard to pinpoint why. Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon all stream in 4K HDR, yet Amazon's flagship content is noticeably rougher than that of the other two, particularly in terms of colour reproduction. One suspects that the service uses more aggressive compression technology, but information about that sort of thing isn't readily available.
Despite the general unpleasant chaos of Prime Video, it unfortunately has a benefit that trumps all caveats, at least for me: it has a fantastic content library. Prime Video features a varied, high-quality selection of original, exclusive and third-party content, with everything from Oscar winners to those straight-to-home-video, so-bad-it's-good, low-budget horrors. The variety is refreshing, and it's the perfect antidote to those evenings when no one can make their mind up about what they want to watch.
Its offerings of original programming include Mr Robot, The Boys, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Hanna, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Invincible, The Expanse and The Grand Tour, plus many more. It also boasts some fantastic Oscar-nominated original films, including The Sound of Metal, Being the Ricardos and One Night in Miami, as well as having exclusive streaming of other Oscar-nominated and -winning hits such as Spencer and Parasite. It even now has the entire Bond franchise, for heaven's sake. Prime Video’s content library is so well curated that if we’re going off content alone, it’s easily on par with Disney+.
Combine that with its price, which is particularly low if you already take advantage of the other benefits of Amazon Prime, and you can hopefully understand why I can’t bring myself to cancel my subscription, despite how annoyed the service constantly makes me.
Instead, I shall continue to suffer with possibly the most menial first world problem plaguing my evenings as I scour the streaming services for something to watch.
And to you, Amazon, I might pay you each month and I might enjoy your content, but just know that I do so very begrudgingly.