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The Netflix SmartTV App for Samsung

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

 I started using Netflix in Switzerland about 5 months ago. I initially made these notes about 2 months after I started using the Samsung TV App. In the last three months, while Netflix has made updates to their app from time to time, the core usability and browsability issues have not changed.

Browsing

Permanent billboard
The browser doesn’t make efficient use of screen space. The top half of the screen is always reserved for a billboard for the currently selected item. This choice makes browsing feel very cramped, even though I’m browsing at an 1080P resolution.
Single-row browsing
When you’re browsing something like “My List”, you can only see one row and scroll horizontally to see more items. The browser only uses more than one row when you’re browsing categories. Unfortunately, none of your “smart” lists like “Continue Watching” or “My List” are categories. At least the side-scrolling wraps around to the beginning of the list instead of making you back all the way out.
No fisheye, filtering, grouping
There is no notion of “drilling down” into a list or folder. There seems to be a lack of fisheye for larger lists—i.e. focusing and zooming in and out—and an almost utter lack of basic management. I don’t want full-on editing, but I’d like to be able to guide the app in some way. When I want to see the movies I’ve added to my list to watch, I can only side-scroll in a single row. That’s ridiculous. I can’t filter by genre, type (TV/movie) or even do a simple filter by title, if I’m looking for something specific.
Unpredictable sorting
Lists are not sorted alphabetically but by something else, like last time added? Or the degree to which Netflix thinks a selection is a match for your current preferences? It’s impossible to predict, so you end up scrolling through everything trying to find a specific element.
Shifting content
The content of smart lists is updated relatively often and, while some suggestions seem to be set in stone, others are extremely ephemeral. NetFlix really thinks I should watch Trailer Park Boys in which I have no interest after watching one episode, but I was reduced to typing out River (with Stellan Skarsgaård) because it only ever showed me that entry once.

Lists

Single list
You can add items to your list, but you can’t indicate why you added them. The “your list” is ostensibly a list of movies you want to watch, but Netflix also doesn’t remove them once you’ve watched them.
No watched list
Nor does there seem to be a “watched” list that NetFlix offers to the user. Nor have I found a “Rated by you” list. Even were there such a list, I wouldn’t expect to be able to ask Netflix to group my rated movies by genre, sorted from highest to lowest rating. Or most recently watched. Or anything useful like that.
“Continue Watching” is not editable
NetFlix does keep track of what you haven’t finished watching, in the “continue watching” list, but you can’t edit this list either. So, that one-star–rated comedy you watched for ten minutes? NetFlix will ask you to finish watching that show the very first thing until the heat death of the universe. And even when it’s no longer in the top spot in the billboard, there it is peeking out at you from the “continue watching” list.
No control over meta-lists/suggestions
You also can’t tell NetFlix to stop showing certain lists that it has, in its infinite wisdom, decided you’re interested in. For example, I watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and now I have a category called Comedies starring a strong female lead. I’ve already either watched or don’t want to watch every item in this list. I cannot get rid of this list. This also applies to “Because you liked…” lists. You can’t quickly jump to the movie it thinks you liked and you can’t get rid of this list. (See No way to “not like” below.)[1]

Behavior and Display

No badges or indicators
When you’re browsing a list, you can’t see whether you’ve already added something to your list or not. A badge here would be nice. Multiple badges for “viewed”, “rated/rating” and “watchlist” would be nice. Maybe even being able to see if other people on your account have added this item to their lists (it’s all public in an account anyway).
Pushy default selections
What if you’ve been binge-watching something? That would be the first thing selected when you log in, right? Wrong again. NetFlix will grab the show they think you should be watching and auto-select/queue that for viewing. How do they select this show? The show is almost always suspiciously one of their newer offerings. Are you one episode 8 of 10 of Jessica Jones? Too bad, because your default action—if you hit “Play” after Netflix loads—will be to start watching Trailer Park Boys. Let it go, Netflix.
Unclear selection algorithm
How do you tell Netflix what you like? Does adding something to your list have any weight?Should you instead rate them? What if you don’t feel like rating from 1–5 stars and just want to “like” a movie? Can you tell Netflix to stop using a movie or series to choose other content?
No way to “not like”
While you can give content bad ratings, it’s hard to predict how Netflix will interpret a 2/5-star rating. Does it think you like that content because you watched it? Or bothered to rate it? Is that positive or negative? It would be nice to be able to say NO, not this content. Do not ever suggest this again.
Default action is to play
If you do see a show you’re interested in, the default action is to play that show rather to show information for it (so you could add it to your list).[2] If you do start a show by accident, going back doesn’t get you back to where you were, but somewhere else—and then the show you were interested in is nowhere to be found. So you’re stuck aimlessly browsing around, hoping that it shows up on another list by luck or going to the search and typing the bloody name in (if you can remember it correctly). That’s only if you’ve canceled loading the show before it showed anything. Otherwise, you can cheerfully find that show—that you might have possibly been interested in—in the “continue watching” list, where it has an eternal home.
No cross-account access
When you’re browsing a list with someone who also has an account on your NetFlix (c’mon, we can’t be the only ones who watch TV together), it would be nice to be able to add to a list on another person’s account. Otherwise, the workflow is atrocious: try to remember the one you’re interested in, back out to the main screen, enter as the other user and then try to find the movie you wanted to mark for watching.


[1] A concrete example is that I gave Grudge Match 3 out of 5 stars, which translates to “liked” in Netflix’s ratings system. I would rather NetFlix only based suggestions on 4- or 5-star reviews because 3 out of 5 is a pretty tepid endorsement. I cannot do this, so I’m left with downgrading Grudge Match instead. However, I can’t just jump to the movie because NetFlix doesn’t provide a link. I have to search for it in order to adjust the rating.
[2] This is very similar to how iOS annoyingly assumes that any touch on a person’s name means that you want to call that person immediately. These days, the default action should not be an interrupt on that person.