“Eh?” I can sense your puzzlement from here. Why would you need a third party video player on an Android phone when Google supplies this functionality in the OS, as part of Gallery? In addition, many manufacturers also add their own custom video players (if only to get something under ‘V’ in an alphabetic application listing!) However, not every video player can play all files, and few people want to browse through the photo-centric Gallery for media from their side loaded video collection. Which is where third party players come in – luckily there are plenty to choose from. Even more luckily, I’ve tried them all and whittled them down a top 5!
Not everyone side loads videos onto their smartphone, of course. In highly connected cities, it’s usually possible to get access to most video content on the likes of YouTube and Vimeo by streaming directly over Wi-fi, LTE or even HSDPA data. However, even the smuggest streamaholic will look rather silly when they’re next on a train ride between two cities and their data connection is slower than a snail on valium.
Which is where it’s a great idea, if you have the space (e.g. on microSD), to have a collection of movies, music videos, documentaries and the like, all loaded onto your phone, for just such an occasion, ensuring that your entertainment is independent of the vagaries of your cellular connection. You may even save a lot of money in bandwidth too.
In testing, I came across around a dozen video players for Android, in various states of currency and recommendation. Armed with a 32GB microSD stuffed with MP4 and other video material, I then tested each – and quickly rejected all applications that were slow, buggy or broken. I ended up with a top 5 video players, as follows. If you’re looking for something like this, then try these first.
In reverse order: (and note that playback screens are all normally devoid of controls, but I’ve tapped to show them for screenshot benefit!)
5. BSPlayer 1.17
Scraping into this list by the skin of its teeth, BSPlayer will play everything you throw at it, with a mountain of options – but the interface is a nightmare, centred around a playback queue that you populate by manually browsing through your Android phone’s raw file system (the ‘Scan media’ on the menu doesn’t work). Once everything’s in the queue then you can at least see everything, but there’s simply far too much manual work to be done to recommend this to anyone except a geek.
Happily, most people reading this will be geeks, so it’s not a total loss. Unfortunately geeks can often be love starved, and I was disturbed at a new trend in banner ads, with these graphics styled after action buttons – here in BSPlayer, I was served up by a tempting looking ‘Flirt’ button pre-highlighted. No, it’s not part of the UI, it’s an ad, guys. Not BSPlayer’s fault, and there’s a paid-for version without ads, but a little unfortunate nevertheless.
Playback was fine, though changing the aspect ratio of the playing video requires a trip into a menu, which seems a little more work than should be needed for this common function.
4. DicePlayer v20813210
Perhaps the most ubiquitous application in this top 5, DicePlayer is plain, is modern, is functional, and ‘just works’. What you see is very much what you get – a swipe in navigation interface from the left, a list of all videos, excellent codec support so that everything plays and…. that’s it. Hard to fault at every stage.
You do get some extras, there’s Samba (media server) integration, you can swipe up in the playback interface to increase brightness, and there’s a speed changer, presumably useful for talk-based videos. Overall, there’s little to help DicePlayer stand out, but it certainly does the job.
3. VLC 0.9.9
In theory, the big daddy of all video players on most platforms, VLC is a rich history and maturity in its code – and it’s pretty good on Android too, albeit with big ‘this is in beta’ notices everywhere. Playback was smooth, with a range of acceleration and decoding options, plus the interface is minimalist but intuitive, with help/hints when you start playing a video – especially for brightness (potentially very useful) and volume, both handled with a swipe up or down the screen – these then disappear after a few seconds.
There’s a choice of themes too, helpful on LCD/AMOLED screened phones, plus an equalizer, but there still a few rough edges, not least the ‘history’ page, which is pretty useless, listing the same video multiple times when all you were doing was resuming it. Plus the initial ‘loading’ time when you first start VLC are huge because all audio files are also scanned – and there’s still extra waits when resuming the app too.
2. MX Player 22.214.171.124
The go to third party video player, for many people, it seems, available in ad-supported and ‘pro’ versions. MX Player is mature and well supported, with a very clear and utilitarian interface, yet immensely powerful for people who need to fiddle (e.g. with codecs).
Anecdotally, playback quality and overall UI smoothness was the highest here, but the application just misses the top spot by virtue of missing navigation aids other than simply browsing folders – more could have been done here.
1. Archos Video
Yes, yes, by the people who make the smartphones and media players(!) A terrific option, with (more or less) fully working trial (with ads) and a way of buying the full thing, obviously, which gets you extra ‘scrobbling’ options, and more. But the baseline player is nigh on perfect, playing everything and with a beautifully simple interface: volume up/down on the left, scrubbable timeline along the bottom, stretch options bottom right – it’s all just very intuitive.
Most of all, I liked the start and navigation interface, with auto-playlists ‘Recently added’ and ‘Recently played’ – and of course there’s full resumption of each media from where you left off. There are more extras here than I can list, but I did note ‘Audio Boost’, a way of digitally loudening videos which have a quiet soundtrack.
Do note that weird and wonderful videos may also require the installation of the third party separate codec pack, though it seems that I didn’t need to go this far. A worthy – and somewhat unexpected – number 1!