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New Netflix mobile-app feature allows viewing partially downloaded videos

A screenshot of the Netflix downloads page on a smartphone.
Enlarge / A screenshot of the Netflix downloads page on a smartphone.

The ability to download videos in their entirety to a mobile device has been one of the unsung features of Netflix and similar services for a few years now, but the experience has not been without its frustrations. A new update to the Netflix mobile app targets one of those challenges.

Starting today, Android phone or tablet users on version 7.64 or higher will be able to start viewing a video download in the Netflix mobile app even if that video hasn’t finished downloading to their device. The company’s newsroom post announcing the new feature says it’s intended for situations when “unreliable wifi or a maxed-out data plan” prevented a video from fully downloading.

So if you tried to download a movie on airport Wi-Fi before your coast-to-coast flight but only got to 80 percent before you had to board, you can now at least watch part of the movie while waiting for an opportunity to finish the download. Once you have a reliable connection again, the download can pick up where it left off even if you started watching the video in the interim.

You’ll find the partially downloaded videos in the same downloads tab as any fully downloaded files.

The feature is only available on Android devices at present, but Netflix VP of Product Innovation Keela Robison writes that Netflix will “begin testing on iOS in the coming months.” The download feature was never available on desktop web, and that remains the case here.

This isn’t the first time Android has gotten first dibs on a Netflix mobile-app feature. Netflix introduced “Smart Downloads” a couple of years after the basic download feature; this new addition deleted a TV episode after you watched it while also automatically downloading the next one in sequence. It came to iOS much later. And then there was “Downloads For You,” a feature that automatically downloads content that is recommended based on your past viewing.

Downloads For You is still only available on Android, but Netflix says it’s going to start testing the feature on iOS soon, too.

Listing image by Ron Amadeo

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