7 Smart TV apps every viewer should check out
Built for the big screen.
This story was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of smart TV apps available. It’s never been easier to find a cheap smart TV for a great deal, but it only pays off if you have the apps that give you the content you want.
Using your TV’s built-in operating system can get you access to most of the content you want, but the experience can be fragmented. Sony Android TV apps are different from Samsung TV apps. The following apps work with Apple TV or Android TV, both of which will work with any TV with an HDMI port. Once you’re up and running with the hardware, choosing the best smart TV app is all about choosing the kind of content you want to spend your time staring at.
Think of Plex as Netflix for your personal video collection. It organizes the movies and shows you own—whether they’re on your computer or in the cloud—and beams them to your smart TV. All you’ll need is to make sure your TV and media storage location are connected to the same wireless network.
Even if you don’t have a big collection, Plex’s partnerships with companies such as Lionsgate and Legendary Entertainment mean it has thousands of movies and shows on demand. It’s also teamed up with Tidal, so you can use it to listen to music as well.
Everything the Plex apps excel at—including a slick and stable interface, the ability to pick up where you left off on any video, easy library management, and the option to automatically download artwork and metadata from the web—make them work great on the big screen.
If you spring for the premium version, called Plex Pass, you’ll be able to sync your videos with your phone or tablet in addition to your television. It’ll also allow you to do computer-to-TV streaming with online broadcasts of live TV, in addition to stored videos.
Plex is free for Apple TV and Android TV, with Plex Pass available for $5 a month or $40 a year.
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 require the larger real estate of your TV screen, some of AccuWeather’s features, including animated radar maps and detailed forecast charts, really benefit from that extra room. The app also provides video forecasts and weather reports that look much better on a larger display.
The basic version is free, but if weather is important to you, consider subscribing to AccuWeather Premium for more historical data, longer-range forecasts, and more-detailed radar information.
AccuWeather is free for Apple TV and Android TV, with AccuWeather Premium available for $8 a month or $80 a year.
If you keep a television near your food-prep area, cooking guide Kitchen Stories is definitely worth a download. Unlike some other recipe apps, which work best on smartphone or computer displays, this one scales up well to larger TV screens.
This app illustrates its recipes with plenty of clear, high-resolution photos and video clips that look great on a bigger display, letting 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 use to brush up on your cookery skills.
Kitchen Stories is free for Apple TV and Android TV.
If you don’t want to watch cable TV news, but you do like viewing the latest updates in video form, check out News360. It compiles recent clips from sources such as Reuters, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and others. The app is also good at personalizing the news to focus on what matters to you, assessing the topics and types of stories you like in an effort to provide you with better recommendations.
On the roomy screen of your smart TV, you’ll 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.
News360 is free for Android TV.
Sure, you can find plenty of workout and training apps for your phone. But you won’t want to crane your neck to see the screen while you’re bent over or running through burpees. So download Daily Workouts for your smart TV instead.
In general, Daily Workouts is one of the best exercise apps available. Videos demonstrate more than 100 different exercises, which the app can combine into full-body workout routines that last between 5 and 30 minutes. Where it really shines on a smart TV, 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.
For free, you’ll get three full-body workout routines that last 10, 20, or 30 minutes, plus 10 shorter 5- to 10-minute options. Spend $20 on the Pro edition, and you’ll get three additional long routines and 39 short ones, plus the ability to build custom workouts.
Daily Workouts is free for Apple TV and Android TV, with Daily Workouts Pro available for $20.
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’ll remember your preferences and keep your place in all your favorite shows.
While watching on your phone makes Netflix portable, those videos don’t look great on a tiny screen. On a smart TV, though, you can enjoy your favorite films and shows on a much bigger display.
The app itself is free, but you won’t be able to watch anything unless you subscribe. The cheapest, most basic plan is $9 per month, but you won’t be able to watch 4K movies and shows at their full resolution. For that, you’ll have to upgrade to the premium plan at $16 per month. If you have a TV set that supports that type of resolution, it may be worth shelling out the extra cash for a sharper picture.
Netflix is available for Apple TV and Android TV.
Alto’s Odyssey is 99 cents for Apple TV and free for Android TV.
Asphalt 9: Legends
If you’re searching for something more high-octane to play on your TV screen, we recommend the racing game Asphalt 9: Legends. 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 next-gen gaming console like the Xbox Series X or the PlayStation 5.
Asphalt 9: Legends is free for Apple TV and Android TV, with in-app purchases for car upgrades and faster progression.