CineTap brings a great Netflix frontend to the iPad

CineTap for Netflix
(US $0.99) is the newest and nicest Netflix management app that I've seen so far. It won't replace the Netflix app, since you still need to have that installed in order to instantly watch movies. But CineTap adds some great features to the experience that the Netflix app doesn't include. The app is amazingly fast and absolutely gorgeous, taking full advantage of the iPad's screen real estate. Instead of lists, it uses posters to represent movies that can be scrolled left or right, or if you tap the Show All button, the line expands to fill the screen with posters that can then be scrolled up or down. In Show All mode, you'll see 20 posters plus a navigation bar in landscape mode, or 25 posters in portrait mode with an optional navigation bar that covers up some of the posters, which is no big deal since it's easily dismissed.


Tap on any poster and you'll get a pop-up detail screen giving you the same information you'll get from Netflix, including playing time, rating, year of release, a synopsis of the plot, director, cast and genre. This listing is scrollable if the information won't fit on one screen. On the left of the screen are options to add the film to your queue as a DVD or a Blu-ray (if available), and if it can be Watched Instantly, you can add it to your Instant Queue. This is presented under an enlarged poster of the film. If you choose Watch Now, the Netflix app is invoked, and the movie seamlessly plays. If you happen to choose a TV show with multiple episodes, an episode list is presented, and you can pick which one to watch. When done, a few taps brings you right back to CineTap. Each detail screen also contains a More Like tab that offers a variety of choices similar to what you're viewing.

The navigation bar is hierarchical, starting with Suggestions For You, New Arrivals, Genres, and Queues. Selecting any one of these drills down to a scrolling list of categories of posters (with three lines displayed before you need to scroll). Tap on any poster in a category then tap on the navigation bar again, and you'll see a list of sub-categories, which if repeated, can go three or four sub-categories deep. That's a lot of information and it's provided in clear, intuitive, and detailed manner. This is one of the things that the Netflix app can't do. CineTap is far more organized and categorized than what Netflix gives you, and thus, it allows you to find all sorts of movies and shows that you wouldn't happen upon otherwise. I really love the organizational capabilities of this app -- I quickly found what I was looking for, even if I couldn't exactly remember the name.

Another really nice feature that I haven't seen before is a listing, under Suggestions For You, of two lines of 24 choices that are similar to the last two items that you have streamed. Also quite useful is a seemingly random listing of 100 items that you've previously rented and can instantly watch again. At first, I didn't see the point of this, but I soon realized that all of these can be watched instantly, proving that Netflix has really increased their streaming catalog. From anywhere, you can hit a search button to type in a name, and there is a home button to get you back to the start, which is quite valuable since while drilling down, the app can be so specific that it's possible, but certainly not probable, to get lost.

For all of this, you do give up some of the functions of the Netflix app, including:

  • seeing what's available or on short, long, or very long wait in your queue

  • seeing release dates of titles that are not yet available

  • reading user reviews

  • rating films

  • re-ordering your queue

  • seeing what films that you've seen that suggestions are based upon

There are also some oddities that I've seen before in other Netflix front ends such as MovieBuddy, and since they are the same problems, I'd chalk them up to the information being provided by the Netflix API. For example, the first item in my queue is Iron Man 2. I have that saved as a Blu-ray, but CineTap only gave me the options to Remove From DVD or Save To DVD, making no mention of Blu-ray. This is wrong and confusing, but it doesn't happen often. I checked four or five more Blu-rays in my queue, and the only option was to Remove from Blu-ray, which is the right way to do it. This sort of thing can get you the wrong version in infrequent cases. Another thing I've seen here, and in other apps, is providing different suggestions than the Netflix app or site. The suggestions do seem more or less appropriate, but they are different, and since the viewed movies that the suggestion is based upon aren't given, it is rather odd.

Overall, I recommend CineTap very highly. It's not a full replacement for the Netflix app, but it does have its own advantages. Viewed as an alternative interface, it's speedy, great looking, and easy to use. And since it's so well-designed, it makes casual browsing a much nicer experience than found in the original Netflix app. At just a buck on the App Store, it's also quite cheap. If you are a Netflix user and have an iPad, I suggest you download it right now.

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