Watch TV for free with these 10 Android apps

Cutting the cord? These apps will stream hundreds of network or cable TV shows for free, no pay-TV subscription required.

10 free tv apps
Cutting the cable cord? You need these apps!

Thinking of tossing your cable box or ditching your satellite dish? If so, good news: many of your favorite shows are (probably) available for free on your Android phone or tablet. All you need are the right apps.

Most of the big broadcast and cable TV networks are offering free streaming apps for Android, complete with full episodes of their most popular shows—everything from About a Boy and America’s Next Top Model to Duck Dynasty and Scandal.

We’ve rounded up 10 free TV apps that offer at least some of their full episodes without verifying a cable or satellite subscription, or requiring any other sort of payment beyond sitting through a few advertisements. Indeed, some of the best apps on our list serve up all their episodes for free, no pay-TV login required.

Ready to sit back and start streaming? Let’s get started.

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A&E

Most of A&E’s signature reality shows—everything from Flip this House to Duck Dynasty—are present and accounted for in the network’s solid Android app, but the selection of available episodes can be frustratingly spotty, particularly when it comes to recent episodes.

Pros: The home of Hoarders and Duck Dynasty boasts a sleek Android app that gets all the basics right, including crystal-clear menus and a slick slideshow of featured series. A “Just Added” queue lets you see the latest episodes and clips made available for streaming, while a handy “Watch List” keeps track of the episodes you’ve viewed and lets you pick up right where you left off. And if you’re a fan of Intervention or Hoarders, you’ll be happy to learn that just about every episode of those compulsively watchable shows is available for free streaming, no pay-TV sign-on required.

Cons: Several of A&E’s most popular shows, such as Dog the Bounty Hunter and Cement Heads, are completely locked unless you’re a cable or satellite subscriber, while other series—notably Duck Dynasty, Chris Angel: Mindfreak, and Fix This Yard—only offer a smattering of older episodes for streaming. Full episodes of scripted A&E dramas like Bates Motel and The Glades are completely MIA. Also, get ready for unskippable ads, with 4-5 commercial breaks per episode.

A&E (Free)

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Watch ABC

ABC was among the first of the big TV networks with its own mobile streaming app, and with its full-screen promo images and translucent menu overlays, the Watch ABC app is among the prettiest in our roundup. Too bad about its surprising—and potentially deal-breaking—flaw.

Pros: Indeed, Watch ABC’s interface is a feast for the eyes, with big, bold cover images on individual show pages and slick, intuitive menus. You won’t have any trouble finding full episodes for shows like Castle, Dancing with the Stars, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, or any other show in ABC’s lineup, daytime (The View, Good Morning America) and late-night (Jimmy Kimmel Live!) included. The ABC TV app is also the only one I’ve seen with full episodes of its nightly news broadcast (World News Tonight).

Cons: With the exception of new shows like How to Get Away With Murder and Selfie, full episodes on the Watch ABC app are riddled with Verify to Watch tags. You’ll typically need to log in with pay-TV subscription credentials to view the current week’s episode—and that includes daily shows like The View and World News Tonight, which have multiple episodes of the current week padlocked.

Worse, though, is the fact that the Watch ABC app is only compatible with a handful of Android phones and a select few Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy, and Nexus tablets. (Other Android 4.0-or-better tablets may also work, ABC says.) In other words, there’s a good chance the Watch ABC app won’t run on your Android device at all.

Watch ABC (Free)

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CBS

Starting with a polished “splash” screen with thumbnails of its nightly lineup, CBS’s impressive and relatively generous Android app serves up recent episodes for shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds, Elementary, The Good Wife, NCIS, and Two and a Half Men.

Pros: I found a pair of CBS shows—The Good Wife and Person of Interest—that offer streaming episodes with commentary tracks, a nice bonus for loyal fans. The app doesn’t skimp when it comes to late-night and daytime shows, with Late Show with David Letterman, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Talk, Price is Right, and The Bold and the Beautiful all offering a healthy portion of recent episodes for streaming. A “My CBS” feature lets you add favorite shows and track your recently watched episodes. Best of all, you can stream all you want without verifying a pay-TV subscription. In other words, not a padlock in sight.

Cons: While most CBS shows are available for streaming through its Android app, there are a few puzzling and notable omissions, including 2 Broke Girls, The Amazing Race, CSI, Blue Bloods, The Mentalist, NCIS: Los Angeles, and Hawaii 5-0. Full episodes of Survivor are available, but the most recent is from all the way back in 2007. And yes, you’ll have to suffer through mandatory commercial breaks—at least six in a one-hour episode of Person of Interest, for example.

CBS (Free)

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The CW Network

Rejoice, ANTM fans: Tyra, Miss J and dozens of wannabe supermodels are strutting their stuff on The CW’s Android app, and they’re joined by the likes of such popular CW shows as Arrow, Beauty and the Beast, Hart of Dixie, Masters of Illusion, The Vampire Diaries, and Supernatural.

Pros: Just about every current series and even a few recently cancelled shows (like Star-Crossed and The Carrie Diaries) on The CW are available for streaming, with each show serving up between five and ten recent episodes. Most shows include photo galleries, as well as optional mobile alerts whenever a new episode gets posted. Best of all, the CW app doesn’t required pay-TV authentication at all, meaning every episode is yours for the streaming.

Cons: The eye-popping CW app felt a bit sluggish on both my Moto G phone and Nexus 7 tablet. And as with most of the free TV apps in our roundup, unskippable ads are part of the deal.

The CW Network (Free)

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Crackle

Never heard of Crackle? Think of the Sony-owned online TV app as a pint-sized version of Netflix, complete with its own original shows, including the Jerry Seinfeld-produced Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Sequestered, a new 12-episode legal drama.

Pros: Aside from its original series, Crackle’s selection of movies and shows is sparse and sketchy, but there are some diamonds in the rough. Damages, The Shield, The Larry Sanders Show, along with classics like All in the Family, Barney Miller, Seinfeld, Good Times, I Dream of Jeannie, and Married with Children. No pay-TV sign-in is necessary, and some shows, such as Damages, include every episode ever aired, all for free.

Cons: Crackle’s TV selection is truly tiny. Only about 60-ish different shows are available, many of which are obscure anime titles (like Durarara!!, a “densely plotted urban fantasy”) or glorified promotional reels for Sony-financed movies (22 Jump Street: Behind the Scenes). Also, commercial breaks are frequent (4-5 per episode) and lengthy.

Crackle (Free)

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Discovery Channel

Yes, Discovery has its own plain-but-serviceable mobile app, and no, you don’t need a pay-TV subscription to watch everything on tap—or what little there is, anyway.

Pros: The Discovery Channel TV app makes it easy to see the few full episodes that are available for streaming, and a Favorites section lets you pin your favorite shows and videos. And not only is there no need to sign in to watch full episodes, there aren’t any commercial breaks save for a single “pre-roll” ad.

Cons: When I said the Discovery app only had a few full episodes available for streaming, what I really meant was ... well, a grand total of seven, with three from Gold Rush and four from Alaska: The Last Frontier. No Deadliest Catch, no Mythbusters, no Shark Week. Hopefully the situation will improve as the current TV season wears on.

Discovery Channel (Free)

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Fox Now

The Fox Now app makes a good first impression with its splashy, Pinterest-style feed of shows, including Bones, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Glee, Hell's Kitchen, The Mindy Project, New Girl, and Sleepy Hollow. Unfortunately, Fox is a bit stingier with its full streaming episodes than some of its broadcast-TV competition.

Pros: Social mavens will love the front-and-center Twitter threads on the home page for each show, and you can sign in with Facebook to bookmark your favorite shows and photos.

Cons: Don't have cable or satellite? Then get ready to be frustrated by Fox's hit-and-miss selection of full streaming episodes. With the exception of a few new shows (like Gotham and Red Band Society), the most recent episode of a given series (such as Bones or The Mindy Project) will be locked, with a handful of prior episodes available for free streaming (with ads, of course). For some shows, though—including New Girl, Sleepy Hollow, So You Think You Can Dance, and Hell's Kitchen—most if not all recent episodes are locked unless you're a pay-TV subscriber. Grrrrrr!

Fox Now (Free)

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History

Essentially a carbon copy of the A&E app, History's TV app boasts the network's signature gritty reality shows, including Ice Road Trucker, Top Gear, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Gangland, I Love the 1880s, and Mountain Men.

Pros: As with the A&E app, the History app features a watch list of recently-watched shows, and you can pick up watching an episode right where you left off. There's also a handy Topics section that lets you browse videos by category, from Ancient History to World War II. History buffs, take note.

Cons: Yep, there are ads aplenty in each of History's free streaming shows—about 4-5 per episode, as usual. Also, the most recent episodes of a given show are locked unless you sign in with your pay-TV login and password, while two of History's high-profile scripted miniseries—Bonnie & Clyde and Hatfields & McCoys—don't offer any full episodes at all.

History (Free)

lifetime
Lifetime

The Dance Moms and I Killed my BFF network offers a solid, if sometimes stale, selection of full episodes on its streaming TV app (which bears a strong resemblance to those from A&E and History), complete with shows such as Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition, Bring It, Catering Wars, and Project Runway.

Pros: As with A&E's and History's streaming apps, the Lifetime app boasts a watchlist stocked with all the episodes you've started watching, while Lifetime's most popular reality shows—including Dance Moms, Drop Dead Diva, and Project Runway—offer full episodes from previous seasons.

Cons: For Lifetime's most popular shows—I'm looking at you, Dance Moms—you'll need to verify a pay-TV subscription to watch episodes from the current season, and some shows (including Abby's Studio Rescue, BAPS, Devious Maids, and Girlfriend Intervention) are completely locked up to non-cable and satellite subscribers. You'll also need to steel yourself for unskippable ads. And if you’re a fan of Army Wives or The Client List, sorry no shows for you, even if you’re a pay-TV subscriber.

Lifetime (Free)

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NBC

Previous versions of NBC's Android app were so crashy that I couldn't even give them a proper test. The new—and thankfully stable—NBC streaming app, however, impresses with its easy-to-navigate interface and one of the most generous selections of full (if ad-supported) episodes I've ever seen in a mobile app.

Pros: At least four of five recent episodes from just about every NBC show are typically up for streaming, including About a Boy, America's Got Talent, Chicago Fire, Law & Order: SVU, Parenthood, The Blacklist, and The Voice. Late-night and daytime are also well represented, including full episodes of Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Days of Our Lives. A Favorites list keeps track of shows you've started watching and remembers where you left off. And no, you don't need to sign in with any pay-TV credentials.

Cons: Not many, besides the fact that there aren't any full episodes of Grimm or Hannibal available.

NBC (Free)

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Chromecast streaming

Got Chromecast? If so, you’re in luck.

All the apps in our roundup support Chromecast’s ability to mirror whatever’s happening on the screen of your Android device—including video streaming—on your Chromecast-equipped HDTV.

Just reveal your device’s quick settings by flicking down from the top of your Android screen, tap the Cast Screen button, then tap the name of your Chromecast dongle.

Meanwhile, two of the free TV apps in this list—Crackle and Watch ABC—boast “native” Chromecast streaming, meaning you can tap the Chromecast button in the corner of the screen (it’s the square one with the little Wi-Fi like icon) to broadcast your show directly to the Chromecast dongle on your TV, leaving the display of your Android device free for another activity (like, say, checking your email).