Quibi review: 10-minute shows watchable any which way on your phone

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Chrissy’s Court, a courtroom reality show in the style of Judge Judy (but starring Chrissy Teigen), is one of Quibi’s launch titles.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The star-studded mobile streaming service Quibi went live Monday with a slate of exclusive new dramas, comedies, reality shows, talk shows and news programs, but it’s not at all like Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services. Every episode is just 10 minutes or less, every show is an original and you can only watch on your phone. After using it on my phone for a couple of days I found Quibi interesting as an experiment in short-form entertainment, but hardly a must-have. 

Like

  • Includes 90-day free trial
  • Flipping between landscape and portrait model works well
  • Lots of variety in the initial shows

Don’t Like

  • Can’t watch on TVs at all
  • App lacks user profiles
  • Tough to justify $5 price when there’s YouTube for free

In its favor, Quibi’s app has a clean, user-friendly interface, and its shows are packed with variety as well as big names. While the dramas I watched didn’t do much for me, the comedy and reality shows were fun, and the news shows were solid sources of information. Quibi says it’s adding new episodes every day and already has an impressive lineup, so maybe one of them will prove to be a hit.

The thing is, I already have YouTube and plenty of other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu where I can find just about any drama, comedy or news show I would want to watch anyway — especially while everyone is quarantined thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, and not necessarily looking for content to watch on the go. After my brief time with the service I don’t foresee myself signing up for Quibi long-term unless more of the shows break out. And it would help if Quibi let me watch them on my TV screen instead of just my phone. 

A Quibi subscription costs $4.99 a month with ads or $7.99 ad-free. It comes with an impressive 90-day free trial and costs nothing for select T-Mobile customers. If you’re at all curious, I’d recommend checking out the free trial and seeing if the format works well enough for you to continue paying for it.

Read more: Quibi: Prices, shows, release date and WTF is a Quibi actually

Can you really watch in portrait and landscape mode? 

Quibi’s Turnstyle features lets you move between portrait and landscape mode.


Quibi

Perhaps Quibi’s most impressive feature is called Turnstyle, which lets you flip between portrait and landscape mode and have the show automatically adapt to fit either in full screen. On my iPhone 11 ($699 at Apple) and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus ($700 at Amazon), this worked seamlessly. Landscape gave a wider screen view, where you could see more of the room a given character was in, while portrait mode featured more close-ups of characters’ faces. 

Some shows will use Turnstyle in interesting ways: An upcoming thriller series called Nest, for example, will show the filmed action of the story when you watch in landscape, but will let you see what’s happening on a character’s device when you switch to portrait, according to the company. 

Read more: Best live TV streaming service for cord-cutters in 2020

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What’s it like to use the Quibi app? 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Quibi’s mobile app has a simple interface, similar at first glance to the Netflix and Hulu apps. On the home tab, called For You, you’ll scroll through different shows, see previews and choose what to watch. It’s kind of like your Instagram feed. At the bottom of the screen you’ll find tabs titled Browse (for searching shows by name or genre), Following (where you can add shows you want to follow) and Downloads. 

One of the biggest issues a mobile streaming service has to deal with is data usage. In the Settings tab at the top right corner of the app, you can toggle on “minimize data use” to reduce video and download quality. You can also set the app to download shows only when connected to Wi-Fi, and to change your video streaming and download quality. 

Tap a show to immediately start watching, or tap the three dots next to it to see all the available episodes, the cast and crew, and to follow, download or share. When you start a show, you can fast-forward or rewind, turn on closed captioning or change the language, or share what you’re watching via text, email or any other means. 

In the version of the subscription with ads, I saw one ad, of 15 seconds or less, before each show started. 

Read more: How to choose which TV streaming service is best for you

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Lefties may have a reason to celebrate: You can change your preferences to “left-handed mode,” which I haven’t seen in many other streaming apps, but feeds into Quibi’s goal of being a comfortable mobile platform. 

While the app works just fine, I do have a few Quibi quibbles (I’ll see myself out). One major downside is that unlike other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, Quibi does not let you create profiles for different users. You can sign into the app on different devices with the same account, but there’s no way to separate the content you’re watching from, say, your spouse’s or kid’s. 

The biggest issue, though, is that Quibi is purely an app for your phone — there’s no option to stream shows on an Apple TV ($179 at Apple), Roku or Amazon Fire Stick TV, or even through Chromecast, AirPlay or a web browser. With shows that look to have a pretty high production value and big-name stars, I’d like the option to be able to throw them up on my TV screen. Company executives have said that it will widen device support to larger screens like TVs based on data once subscribers start actually using the service, so it’s possible that will happen in the near future. 

How does Quibi compare to the other streaming services?

Here’s how Quibi stacks up against competitors like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu in terms of price, top titles and features:

Streaming compared

Quibi Netflix Amazon Prime Video Hulu Disney Plus
Monthly price (US) Basic $4.99 with ads, ad-free for $7.99 Starts at $8.99 $8.99 (or included with $119 a year Prime membership) Basic $6.99 with ads, ad-free Premium for $11.99, Live TV for $55 $6.99
Ads Yes No No Yes No
Availability (US) Now Now Now Now Now
Top titles Chrissy’s Court, Survive, Most Dangerous Game, Punk’d Stranger Things, The Office, Breaking Bad, 13 Reasons Why Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Hunters, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, The Big Sick Handmaid’s Tale, Catch-22, Lost, Bob’s Burgers The Mandalorian, Avengers Endgame, Toy Story, The Simpsons
Mobile downloads Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Can watch on TVs No Yes Yes Yes Yes
User profiles No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of streams 1 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 2 2 (Unlimited with Live TV + $10 add-on) 4
4K HDR available No Yes (on Premium plan) Yes Yes Yes

Read more: Quibi vs. Peacock vs. HBO Max vs. Disney Plus vs. Apple TV Plus vs. Netflix: How streaming stacks up

What are the shows like?

Quibi plans to release 175 new shows in its first year, with at least 25 new episodes coming every weekday. Twenty-five scripted, unscripted and documentary shows were available at launch, and several other “daily essentials” — which appear to be podcast-like news shows and talk shows. 

I watched the first episode of a few Quibi shows: The dramas Survive and Most Dangerous Game and the comedy Flipped, which Quibi calls Movies in Chapters, as well as the reality shows Punk’d and Chrissy’s Court, and the news show Around the World by BBC News. 

I found the comedies and reality shows to fit the format better than the dramas — probably because I’ve been primed to watch short, comedic things on YouTube. Reviving MTV’s Punk’d into six-minute episodes where we can watch Chance the Rapper prank celebrities such as Megan Thee Stallion and Adam Devine is a fun idea and perfect for short-form. Supermodel Chrissy Teigen’s Chrissy’s Court is basically Judge Judy for the Instagram age. 

Flipped, a Funny or Die comedy starring Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson as a couple trying to become hosts of an HGTV-esque home-flipping show but end up working with drug cartels, feels like a shorter version of something you’d find on Comedy Central or Adult Swim. It was the only show I found myself wanting to watch another episode of right away, and did a solid job quickly building characters and including jokes. 

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Quibi revives the show Punk’d, which originally aired on MTV.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The dramas are a more interesting experiment. Survive stars Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner as a suicidal woman who finds a new will to live after surviving a plane crash. Most Dangerous Game is a dystopian action-thriller starring Liam Hemsworth as a terminally ill person who accepts an offer to participate in a deadly game to provide for his family. 

The premises and cinematography would suggest that these are prestige TV shows. But the pacing felt a little frantic — you’re fitting in the world-building, character development and conflict of a pilot episode that would usually take an hour into under 10 minutes. 

While the ability to flip the screen with Turnstyle was cool, this felt more like taking a traditional show and breaking it into chunks, instead of creating something totally new and different. And maybe it’s because I’m over 30, but I actually like watching hour-long prestige dramas on my nice big TV — I don’t need them in small chunks on my small phone screen. 

The service promises new episodes of shows every weekday. 

Should you try Quibi? 

If you’re someone who watches a lot of shows on your phone and like to watch things in short spurts, Quibi could be a great option for you. While I enjoyed the shows I watched, I wasn’t impressed enough to want to continue paying for the service outside of the free trial. But with new episodes coming every weekday, that could change if these shows become part of the zeitgeist the way that, say, Netflix’s Tiger King has. 

That being said, it doesn’t hurt to sign up for the 90-day free trial — check out the shows and see if you like Quibi enough to keep subscribing.