These days, you can easily run an app on your television—just invest in a software-packed smart TV or a video-streaming device that plugs into your existing set. Whichever option you choose, you'll find that the same program you have on your smartphone works differently on the bigger screen. For one, it spreads the visuals over a much larger display. And in a second difference, you have to control the TV with a remote control or gamepad rather than a touchscreen.
This means the apps that work best on your phone won't necessarily play nice on your internet-enabled set. We looked at the programs that run on smart platforms Apple TV and Android TV, and picked out the ones that really shine on the larger display. These nine must-have apps will look great on your smart television.
Think of Plex as your own Netflix for your personal video collection. It lets you take the movies and shows you own—stored on your computer or in the cloud—and beam them to your smart TV. All it takes is a shared connection to the same wireless network.
Everything that the Plex apps excel at—including a slick and stable interface, the ability to pick up where you left off on any of your videos, easy library management, and the option to automatically download artwork and metadata from the web—make them work great on the big screen.
The best part is, you can use Plex for free on both Apple TV and Android TV. That said, the app also offers a premium version called Plex Pass ($5 a month, $40 a year, or $150 for lifetime access), which lets you stream these videos to your phone or tablet as well as your television. It also allows you to do that computer-to-TV streaming with online broadcasts of live TV, in addition to stored videos.
Install AccuWeather on your television and enjoy a full display of the forecast. It will give you all the temperature information you need to know for the rest of the day and week—without the distraction of a weatherperson.
While a rain cloud symbol doesn't necessarily need the larger real estate of your TV screen, some of the features of AccuWeather, including animated radar maps and detailed forecast charts, really do benefit from that extra room. In addition, the app provides video forecasts and weather reports that look much better on the larger display.
AccuWeather is free for Apple TV and Android TV, but if you buy into AccuWeather Premium ($4), you can access more historical data, longer-range forecasts, and extra radar data.
3. Kitchen Stories
If you keep a television near your food-prep area, then cooking guide Kitchen Stories is definitely worth a download. Unlike some similar recipe apps, which work best on smartphone or computer displays, this one scales up well to larger TV screens.
To illustrate its recipes, this app provides plenty of clear, high-resolution photos and video clips that look great on the bigger display. This lets you keep up with the steps as you get your hands dirty with ingredients. In addition to recipes, Kitchen Stories provides plenty of how-to videos that you can follow along with to brush up on your cookery skills.
The base app, which comes with an impressive selection of recipes, is free for Apple TV and Android TV. However, Kitchen Stories also sells a handful of curated recipe packs (ranging from $3 for the Coffee pack to $100 for the Michelin Star Dinner) as in-app purchases.
Although it's not the first app you might think of using with a smart TV, Airbnb works pretty well on the big screen. This service helps you save money on vacation by renting someone else's spare room or holiday home instead of shelling out more money for a hotel. Its display scales up nicely so you have plenty of room to scroll through the huge number of available locations.
When you use Airbnb on the bigger screen, you can more easily browse maps of available rentals and flick through photos of properties. This gives you a much better idea of the place where you'll potentially spend your vacation. It also lets you run options by the people with whom you plan to split your rental.
Unlike the other smart-television apps we've discussed so far, Airbnb is only available for Apple TV, not Android TV. The app itself is free, though you do of course have to pay once you book a location.
If you don't want to watch cable TV news, but you do like viewing the latest updates in video form, then check out News360. It compiles recent clips from sources like Reuters, The Guardian, Bloomberg, and others. The app is also very good at personalizing the news to focus on what matters to you, assessing the topics and types of stories you like to provide you with better recommendations.
On the roomy screen of your smart TV, you have straightforward controls to display, browse through, and queue up news videos. You can search by category or jump straight to the top stories. News360 also includes text articles, and for your television, it summarizes them in big, bold text to work on the larger display.
For the time being, News360 is only available for Android TV, not Apple TV. On the brighter side, it's completely free.
6. Daily Workouts
Sure, you can find plenty of workout and training apps for your phone. But you don't want to crane your neck to see the screen while you're bent over double or running through burpees. So download Daily Workouts for your smart TV instead.
Even without its television support, Daily Workouts is one of the best exercise apps available. Videos demonstrate nearly a hundred different exercises, and the app also combines those exercises into full-body workout routines that last between 5 and 30 minutes. Where it really shines, however, is in its ability to scale up to a larger display so its virtual coaches can demonstrate routines on the big screen. This lets you concentrate on getting in the right position to feel the burn.
This app has versions for both Apple and Android TV. For free, you get three full-body workout routines that last 10, 20, or 30 minutes, as well as 10 shorter 5- to 10-minute options. Upgrading to the Pro edition ($10) gives you access to three additional long routines and 39 short ones, plus the ability to build your own custom workouts.
Video-streaming behemoth Netflix is the perfect example of how an app can work seamlessly across multiple platforms and devices. As you switch from TV to phone to web browser and back, it remembers your preferences and keeps your place in all of your favorite shows.
While watching on your phone makes Netflix portable, those videos don't look great on a tiny screen. The smart-TV versions of the app let you enjoy your favorite films and shows on a much bigger display.
Netflix is available on both Apple TV and Android TV. The cheapest, most basic plan ($8 per month) doesn't let you view 4K movies and shows in their full resolution. For that, you have to upgrade to the premium plan ($14 per month). If you have a television set that supports the higher resolution, it may be worth shelling out the extra dollars to get that sharper picture.
8. Alto's Odyssey
When you think of television apps, gaming might not be the first thing that springs to mind—but plenty of quality titles suit the bigger format very well. One of the newest and best games you should throw onto your TV screen is Alto's Odyssey, from the development team behind the stylistically-similar Alto's Adventure. In this game, you slide down an endless landscape filled with rocks, animals, shipwrecks, chasms, hot air balloons, and variable weather conditions. The aim is to keep going for as long as possible without falling. As you pick up speed, you can take advantage of trick jump opportunities and other bonuses along the way. You also unlock new characters and superpowers to help you down the slope.
At the bigger scale, the richness and detail of the game's visuals really stand out. This helps you avoid some of the obstacles on the slope—after all, you have more opportunities to see that sneakily-placed boulder.
Alto's Odyssey is out now for Apple TV ($2), and it arrives on Android TV this month.
9. Asphalt 8: Airborne
If you're searching for something more high-octane to play on your TV screen, we recommend the racing game Asphalt 8: Airborne. It's a wonderfully heady mix of super-fast cars and gorgeous-looking tracks in a variety of landscapes. As you make your way through the game, you can upgrade your ride, unlock new tracks, spar with other players online, and speed through different types of challenges, including a neat Gate Drift mode.
Up on an actual TV, the superb visuals and authentic sounds work way better than they ever could on your smartphone. This makes the gameplay particularly compelling, though it just about manages to stay on the fun side of addictive. It's almost enough to make you question whether you actually need a PlayStation 4 after all.
The game is free for Apple TV and Android TV. However, you can buy car upgrades and credits, which let you progress more quickly, as in-app purchases ($5 and up).