Hands on with Hulu Plus and their new Android tablet UI

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Last week Hulu rolled out a new app for (some) Android tablets, and since mine (an Acer Iconia A500) was one of those supported, I thought I'd take the app for a spin as well as revisit the Hulu Plus service that I haven't used in quite a while.

This isn't Hulu's first foray into Android but until now they've mostly supported smartphones. This new app, available for Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Motorola Xoom, Motorola XYBoard 10.1, Toshiba Thrive, Acer Iconia and LG G-Slate, features an updated interface that, in my opinion, is the best Hulu Plus UI to date.

The top of the screen shows the typical promotions that you'd see on the website or any other Hulu Plus app, but below that is a rich browsing experience accomplished via rows of categorized thumbnails that scroll left and right via swiping. The UI is reminiscent of Netflix's, honestly, but without the weird categories.

Instead you get "What you're watching" that lets you get right back to the series you've been enjoying, followed by "Featured" and "Recommended for you." Then things get more specific, with "Popular" rows for TV, Movies and Clips, then a peek at what friends have been watching, Recent Episodes and Additions and so on. Last is another smattering of "Popular" rows, these focused on categories that are, it seems, based on what you've been watching lately. (For me these rows were "Popular Comedy," "Popular Drama" and "Popular Action.")

You can also drill down for more specifics. Hit the "Recommendations" tile and you'll get specifics like "Recommended in 80s Action" and "Recommended in Mystery." (I'd been screening some older stuff when I got these.)

Of course you can still search for a specific title and you still have a Queue to manage, if that's more your style. And if you really liked the old "Browse TV A-Z" system, that hasn't gone away.

Anyway, you get the idea. The point is the new UI exposes a lot more content and makes 'looking for something to watch' a much more visual and engaging activity. And when you find something to watch, a long press on it will fire up either the latest episode (if it's a new series to you) or the episode after the last one you watched. Of course a tap takes you to the show's page where you can pick any episode you like.

So that's the new Android UI, and I hope to see Hulu spreading the love to iPads and set-top boxes and game consoles soon. It's far better than what they've had up to now.

As to the service itself, I haven't really used Hulu Plus since it first launched back in 2010. At the time I found it to be an OK service but the quality of the streaming wasn't as good as that of Netflix, and the ads drove me bonkers.

While I'm still miffed that I have to pay for a subscription and still see ads, there are at least a wider variety of ads now. The only thing worse than watching a bunch of TV ads is watching the same TV ad over and over again. I guess that's damning with faint praise, but in general I didn't find the ads as aggravating as when I first tried the services. Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age.

As to the quality of the streaming, from my point of view (and based, remember, on just a weekend of watching) it has gotten much better. I never encountered buffering or any kind of glitching. The last time I tried Hulu Plus there were times when a stream would just die and I'd have to restart the show I was watching. That didn't happen at all this weekend (I did some of my testing on my Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet, and some on my PS3). I think the acid test of a good streaming experience is when (during testing) you stop watching for streaming glitches and just start enjoying the show you're watching. The 'streaming' factor totally disappears. Hulu Plus passed that test easily. Oh yeah, and that new Awake show is pretty darned compelling, too!

So if you're a lapsed Hulu Plus subscriber it might be worth giving the service another go. And if you happen to have one of the Android tablets supported (and Hulu says this is just a start and more tablets will follow) then Hulu Plus is a good option for streaming recent content to your device. Hulu Plus is $7.99/month and you can get a free 1 week trial to test it out first.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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