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Netflix Review: With or Without Ads, Still the Best Streaming Service

Editor's Choice: After testing the new ad-based plan, we still rate the streamer as top-tier based on its vast library and features.

Netflix is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about streaming TV shows and movies. Despite heavy competition from rivals such as HBO Max and Disney Plus, it remains the best choice for streaming entertainment, period -- even with ads.

Netflix includes a wide variety of familiar network shows and more original series, films, documentaries and specials than any of its myriad competitors. Despite challenges with retaining subscribers, a price bump and the addition of an ad-based plan, the world's first major streaming service remains our favorite choice thanks to its huge library of constantly refreshed content and its easy accessibility across different devices. In 2022, Netflix won 26 Emmys, with Squid Game making history as the first ever non-English series to win (or be nominated). If you're looking for something new to watch, Netflix should be your go-to pick.   

9.0

Netflix

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Like

  • Strong recommendation engine
  • Easy to use across different devices
  • Extensive list of movies and shows
  • Massive selection of original programs

Don't Like

  • Cost for premium plans is on the higher end
  • Can't watch shows as they air on other networks
  • Missing titles on ad-based plan

Depending on the plan you choose, Netflix costs between $7 and $20 per month, which is at the higher end for a streaming service, as you can see in the chart below. Its price increase shook up the streaming world and moved Netflix closer to HBO Max in terms of cost. However, the pricier package lets you watch up to four screens at once and create different user profiles, so in theory, you could split it with those in your household to lower the price. Thanks to its sheer variety and number of new things to watch, Netflix also gives you the most bang for your buck.

Editor's note, Dec. 1: Due to its features, user-friendliness, and robust, variety-filled catalog, Netflix has earned an Editors' Choice Award for 2022. With the addition of an ad-based subscription, the platform is on equal footing compared to competitors like Disney Plus and HBO Max when it comes to pricing. Netflix previously won this award in 2021 and continues to rank at the top of our list for best streaming service.  

Netflix plans


Basic with ads Basic no ads Standard Premium
Monthly price $7 $10 $15.50 $20
Number of screens you can watch at the same time 1 1 2 4
Number of phones or tablets you can have downloads on 0 1 2 4
HD available Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ultra HD available No No No Yes

How Netflix started vs. how it's going

Between 2012-2013, Netflix premiered its first original TV shows, including Lilyhammer, House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Today, it has a catalog of more than 1,500 original TV shows and movies, including global hits like Stranger Things, Emmy winners such as Bridgerton, The Queen's Gambit and The Crown, as well as Oscar-nominated movies such as The Power of the Dog, Tick, Tick… Boom! and The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Though the company's been known for its commercial-free streaming experience since its inception, the ad-supported tier launched on Nov. 3 for $7 per month with one stream. Additionally, Netflix aims to crack down on password sharing by charging a fee for extra users on an account. The days of crowdfunding your Netflix subscription are coming to an end in 2023. 

As of 2022, Netflix has more than 220 million paid subscribers across 190 countries. A dent in its subscriber base caused numbers to drop -- and then rise again -- but there are still reasons to keep the service, with the main draw being its content. 

jenna ortega as wednesday addams holds a black umbrella over herself

The new Wednesday Addams series is one of the many reasons to have Netflix.

Netflix

Netflix with ads: Here's what it's like

Like HBO Max's ad-supported subscription, the Netflix with ads $7 plan promises roughly 4 to 5 minutes of commercials per hour of content. The streamer also said it would implement frequency caps to prevent viewers from seeing the same ads over and over while watching an episode or movie. However, we found that not every title -- new or old -- features ads and the length of each ad break varies.

For example, Community episodes do not have any ads, not even a pre-roll before an episode of the show begins. The Bodyguard had a 30-second pre-roll, but no ads played during the entire movie. Jane the Virgin, on the other hand, had three ad breaks and a 30-second pre-roll in a 40-minute episode. Each ad break lasted 60 seconds and contained two to three commercials.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith had longer commercial breaks during its two-hour runtime. After a 30-second pre-roll, there were four ad breaks, with the first three lasting 75 seconds each with three to four commercials. The last break ran for 1 minute total and contained two ads. A 30-minute episodes of Attack on Titan and Cobra Kai only had two ad breaks.

When I watched the Netflix original Love is Blind, there was a 30-second pre-roll and four commercial breaks that lasted for 60 seconds each. There were two to three ads per break. Another Netflix original, Enola Holmes 2, only had a 30-second pre-roll of ads and no commercials during the film. This seems to reflect Netflix's commitment to omit ads from new movies.

The streamer also seems to keep its word about ad variety, and barely saw the same commercial twice while watching one title. Commercials for T-Mobile, Nyx, Cadillac, Progressive Insurance, Carnival's Funderstruck, Vaseline, Prada and Duracell were among those that aired. There was an M&Ms holiday-themed ad that syncs up with the current holiday season. I did not notice any commercials on kid-friendly content I tested in the adult profile for shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Cocomelon, Raising Dion or Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu.

The ads do not operate as pop-up surprises. Yellow dots on the progress bar indicate when and how many ad breaks will appear in a TV show or movie. If you don't see the dots, there aren't any commercials in that particular piece of content. But there is a countdown clock that tells you how long each break will last.

What's missing from Netflix's ad-based plan?

Though you can watch in HD, you can't download any content for offline viewing. This is comparable to other platforms like HBO Max and Hulu which require you to have an ad-free subscription to download.

Prior to launch, Netflix said that some titles would not be available on the ad-supported version due to licensing restrictions. This content is marked with a lock icon, similar to Peacock Free's setup where the symbol indicates which titles are behind a paywall. In Netflix's case, this means you have to upgrade to an ad-free account. A quick note on the thumbnail lets you know the title is unavailable due to licensing. But if you click on it, Netflix will prompt you to choose an ad-free plan to watch it.

In addition to popular shows like Arrested Development, Good Girls, The Good Place, House of Cards and Peaky Blinders, a number of DreamWorks Animation and Lionsgate titles are unavailable to stream unless you upgrade to a higher-priced subscription. They include Gabby's Dollhouse, Boss Baby: Back in Business, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and The Spy Next Door. Netflix's Kids' Profile does not play ads at all, but some children may be disappointed to learn The Bad Guys, Sing 2 and other titles aren't available to watch. It's probably worth spending the extra $3 on the Basic ad-free plan just to access Netflix's whole catalog.

What shows and movies does Netflix have?

Netflix may have had the first-to-market advantage in the world of streaming services, but it's kept its momentum with its increasing number of original shows and movies -- many of which have won critical acclaim and major awards and nominations.

Compared to other streaming platforms, you can't beat Netflix's slate of original TV shows that are now considered among the best of the modern era of television, including those mentioned above plus many more, such as The Witcher, Ozark, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Money Heist and Cobra Kai.

Read more: Netflix: The 50 Absolute Best TV Shows to Watch

Outside of TV shows, Netflix's original programs include a wide range of comedies, dramas, foreign films and shows, documentary series, anime, stand-up comedy specials and reality dating and competition shows. Not all of them are runaway hits, but many of them are, and there's enough to explore interesting shows that may not have found a home on traditional network TV. And at a time when going to the movies is more fraught than it once was, Netflix offers a place to find new films: In 2022 alone, Netflix aimed to release over 100 new movies, at least one per week. The selection spans across genres and geography, and includes K-dramas, animated features, and fantasy book adaptations.

Millie Bobby Brown, as Eleven, screams with a contorted face as sparks explode behind her

Knives Out 2 is one of the most anticipated titles on Netflix in 2022.

Netflix

Netflix typically adds shows a full season at a time, though not while a show is airing on network TV -- so if you don't have cable or another platform like Hulu, you'll have to wait to watch for a few months to watch seasons in full. 

One complaint: Netflix content sometimes can come and go without warning. The only way to tell if something is leaving the service in the next 30 days is if you happen to tap on the details page for the given show or movie -- or search online for everything coming and going in a given month.

Another potential content issue to flag: In recent years Netflix has lost some of its most popular content (such as The Office, which moved to NBC's Peacock, Daredevil, which moved to Disney Plus and Friends, which moved to HBO Max) as other networks created their own streaming services. While it started as an online video store that was trying to offer every movie and TV series online, it may be slowly becoming more akin to the old HBO -- mostly featuring its own original programming, complemented with some things it licenses from other companies.

What's it like to use Netflix? 

I first subscribed to Netflix back in the first streaming days of 2007, so using the platform feels like second nature at this point. Even if you're new to it, it's pretty user-friendly: Open the app and tap on your profile (if you have one set up), and you'll see a homepage. You'll see Popular on Netflix, Continue Watching, Trending Now, Top Picks for you and a number of (sometimes oddly specific) other categories based on shows you've watched before. Mine include Critically-acclaimed Witty TV Comedies and Suburban-dysfunction TV Comedies, for example. 

Netflix's design encourages scrolling -- there are so many different categories to look through, and then shows and movies within those categories to continue scrolling into. You can create a watch list to help you cut down on this, but the vast, colorful library makes it easy to spend more time looking through options than actually watching a show, so be careful.

The Netflix app operates similarly across various devices. My home page on the web browser is nearly identical to that on my Apple TVRoku and Amazon Fire TV Stick, both in content and layout. It's more condensed on the smaller iPhone and Android phone screens, but still follows the same format, and has a clear "Downloads" tab to find content to save to watch offline on your device. 

phone screen with Netflix rows on display

Rows and rows of content on Netflix can keep you busy.

James Martin/CNET

One difference between devices is voice commands: You might find it more or less difficult to fire up a Netflix show from your device's home screen depending on which voice-capable device you're using.

For example, when you say, "Watch Stranger Things" on the Apple TV and the iOS app on iPhone, it will first have you click which specific show (Stranger Things or Beyond Stranger Things), and then will take you to an Apple TV page for the show, and there it will give you the option to open Netflix and start episode 1. On Amazon Fire TV Stick, you can say, "Watch Stranger Things," and it will open Netflix automatically if you're logged into the app. On the Roku 4K stick, if you say, "Watch Stranger Things," it will take you right to the first episode in the app. Those are more hardware-side concerns, but interesting to note. 

Once you're in the Netflix app, though, voice commands work the same across devices: Go to the Search tab, hold the microphone button to dictate, and say the name of the show you're looking for. 

When you select a show or movie to watch, you have the option to fast-forward, rewind, add subtitles and change your audio settings. If you have a Premium account and a big enough 4K TV, watching in Ultra HD makes for a very cinematic experience. The show or movie you choose will also show up in your "Continue watching" section at the top of your homepage for easier access. 

How much does Netflix cost?

Netflix offers four pricing plans: Basic with ads, Basic, Standard and Premium. Here is how the costs and features break down:

Netflix plans


Basic with ads Basic no ads Standard Premium
Monthly price $7 $10 $15.50 $20
Number of screens you can watch at the same time 1 1 2 4
Number of phones or tablets you can have downloads on 0 1 2 4
HD available Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ultra HD available No No No Yes

All plans include the ability to watch on any device. The basic ad-supported plan will not include roughly 5 to 10% of Netflix's catalog, but all other subscribers have its full, unlimited collection of movies and TV shows. All plans allow cancellation at any time. 

Netflix's Basic ad-free plan costs more than Prime Video ($9 per month) and more than Hulu's ad-based plan ($8 per month) but less than its more comparable no-ads plan ($15 per month). Its new ad-supported version is less than Hulu's but you only get one stream. If you're on a shared Netflix account with family, chances are it's a Premium one ($20 per month) -- if you're actually splitting it between four people, that's only $5 per month each, and a strong value for all of the original content available, including some in 4K Ultra HD. Plus: No commercials on any plan. 

What features do you get on Netflix? 

Outside of general streaming, if you have the Standard or Premium plan, you can create different profiles for different users, and find your own list of personalized recommendations. 

Netflix's recommendation game is strong, from "Because you watched" carousels that have been improved by the new "two thumbs up" feature, to the option to remove content from your home page, to its "Play Something" shuffle feature for when you're unsure what to stream.

The platform also has a particularly appealing kid's section, with a solid catalog of content including CoComelon, Pokemon: Master Journeys and Trolls: The Beat Goes On! and a much more kid-friendly user interface – including the mystery box feature added earlier this year.

If you subscribe to the Premium plan, you can watch certain shows and movies in 4K Ultra HD on 4K TVs. You'll need a steady internet connection speed of at least 25 megabits per second, and streaming quality set to Auto or High. 

Netflix has more 4K content than just about any other streaming service, and a lot of its 4K shows and movies are also available in HDR. High dynamic range provides an even bigger improvement in image quality than 4K according to CNET's tests, with better contrast and color, and the difference is especially apparent on large, higher-end televisions. Netflix supports the two major HDR formats, generic HDR (aka HDR-10) as well as Dolby Vision. If you have a device that handles Dolby Vision, Netflix will play content (if available) in that format by default.

Netflix menu on a tablet

You can search for a selection of 4K TV shows and movies on the service with the Premium plan.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Data usage varies by format, ranging from about 1GB per hour for the standard-definition video to up to 7GB per hour for the highest-quality 4K streams. Downloading and streaming take up a similar amount of data, according to Netflix. If you want to avoid having Netflix eat up all of your data, you can take certain steps laid out on Netflix's website to adjust your data usage settings

All subscribers can download TV shows and movies on the Netflix app on mobile devices for offline viewing, though certain titles aren't available to download. 

Read more: Netflix's Hidden Codes Are Awesome, but These 9 Other Tricks Rock Too

Should you get it? 

Netflix remains my favorite streaming platform of the increasingly large bunch. It has a huge selection of movies and TV shows old and new, tons of high-quality original programs, and an easy-to-navigate interface. 

Even though it no longer offers a free trial, it's worth trying Netflix for a month if you want something new to watch.

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