Review: BitBop offers dream of great video on Android someday

Have I mentioned there are a dearth of options for watching TV shows and movies on Android devices? Yeah? Well, while we wait for the possible arrival of Netflix and Hulu Plus for Android, I’m just trying out a new offering called BitBop on my T-Mobile Nexus S.

It’s very early days yet but it has potential to be pretty good. The interface is snappy and simple and it’s the first widely available Android video service I know of that lets you download shows to your phone for viewing offline (you can also stream while online). Unfortunately, the content and pricing leave BitBop in the dust compared with the offerings on the iPhone from iTunes, Netflix and several others.

In a world of fragmentation, one of the first cool thing about BitBop is that works on lots of Android phones — 30 so far including many popular models like the Galaxy S, HTC Droid Incredible and my personal fave, the Nexus S. It also works on some Blackberries.

You can’t load the app through the Google Market, sadly. You have to check the “unknown sources” box in the applications section of your settings. But thanks to the Amazon appstore, we’ve already probably all done that by now. After you sign up on the web site and create an account (credit card required), BitBop send you a text message with a link to download the app. Install and you’re ready to go.

Once you fire the app up, there’s a simply interface for finding shows. Movies aren’t available yet. If you’re connected online via wifi or 3G, you can watch the shows streamed or download to your phone for later offline viewing. Here’s what the opening screen looks like:

But there are at least two huge problems with BitBop. First, as of right now on March 25, 2011, the content is incredibly spotty. There are 168 TV shows and 0 — that’s zero — movies available. Even for the TV shows listed, most have only one or two episodes available. Maybe that’s not even spotty, just crappy.

And the selection is bizarre. For The Office, the only episode available to watch is from February 24 and it says it will expire on April 15. I hope they add some more episodes by then! Other shows, like Sponge Bob Square Pants, don’t even have full episodes, just short snippets, snackable comedy bites, I guess. For example, you can watch 2 minutes of Betty White at Comedy Central’s roast of William Shatner (After saying hi to George Takei, she quips: “We all think Shatner’s nuts, but George take has actually seen them”).

The other downer is the price: $10 a month after an initial free 7-day trial. That’s more than an online subscription to Netflix with only one-billionth as much content (though you do get the download option that Netflix doesn’t offer) and hard to justify against Apple’s pay only when you watch pricing. It also appears that the $10 won’t even include movies, once they finally arrive. Movie rentals will be $1 to $5, according to the web site. The pricing seems way out of line.

So, we end where we started. TV and movie options on Android stink. But like Meg Ryan says in the movie You’ve Got Mail when asked if she’s fallen in love: No but there’s the dream of someone else.