Hulu Plus for iPad and iPhone Hands-on: Worth $9.99 a Month?

Hulu Plus is almost available for mass consumption, and in the meantime,  the good folks over at Hulu granted us an early pass to check out their recently-announced premium subscription service.  We gave Hulu Plus a run on several platforms including the traditional web browser experience on our MacBook Pro, as well as the stand-alone preview application available now for the iPhone and iPad.  The iPhone and iPad application will allow anyone, even without a preview invite, to view a limited variety of content as well.  Hulu Plus will also be available for select Samsung web-enabled TVs, as well as the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 gaming consoles in the coming months.  Unfortunately, there's no word on whether Hulu Plus will come to Android devices.

Hulu Plus is a $9.99/month paid subscription service that differentiates itself from the standard Hulu Experience by offering the full current season of episodes from hit TV series on ABC, NBC, and Fox. For instance, over 188 full episodes of Saturday Night Live (ranging from season 1 to the current season, 35) are available on Hulu Plus, while only the last five episodes are available with Hulu standard. In addition, Hulu Plus will also offer a catalog of back season and full runs of popular TV shows from the past.

Our experience with Hulu Plus was mainly positive.  The video quality was a large improvement over previous efforts.  Anyone familiar with either Hulu Desktop or the website will immediately understand how to use Hulu Plus, as the interface looks virtually identical with no apparent differences outside the large amount of exclusive content. On the other hand, the iPad and iPhone versions offer the exact same functionatily, but are visually tailored specifically for each platform.

The iPad version of Hulu Plus, while well organized, doesn't appear as flashy as the ABC Player App.  For example the plain white backdrop that appears when activating the search function looks completely unfinished.  We also experience a few crashes and were booted out of the app while navigating through the interface as well.  Other than that, video content on the iPad looked great, and the start-up speed was nearly instant.  The queue function organizes your favorites shows and movies, while the history feature automatically bookmarks the elapsed position for any content you've viewed.  From there, you can pick up where you left off on any Hulu Plus enabled device.

The iPhone version of Hulu Plus was swift and intuitive as well. The quality of video was stellar thanks to its smaller screen, start up time was instant on both 3G and Wi Fi modes.  Nothing was sacrificed in the transition to the iPhone; the full Hulu experience is here in tact.  Unlike the iPad version, Hulu Plus on the iPhone didn't crash.  We booted up a number of movies, quickly backing out and restarting one after another- and the iPhone held up very well, resulting in a lag-free, crash-less experience.

With all its goodness however, Hulu Plus has a few caveats.  For one, some of Hulu's content is nowhere to be found on Hulu Plus- not for now at least.  Although Hulu Plus has a lot more exclusive content, Hulu episodes of hit series like Smallville, A&E's hit program Intervention, and more are noticeably missing. Even though many of these shows have a limited amount of episodes available on Hulu standard, the term "Plus" usually indicates the inclusion of everything and then some- but here with Hulu Plus, it's not the case.  Also, in contrast to other paid subscriptions services like Netflix, Hulu Plus still has commercial ads.  The general rule when purchasing mobile content is to enjoy an ad-free experience, so it's puzzling as to why Hulu would leave them in.  Still, these minor quibbles don't really detract from the overall experience, as Hulu Plus seems on course to satisfy even the most hardcore TV buff.

Hulu Plus is ideal for the users who wants a full archive of today's top TV series, and a huge backlog of classic content.  The ads, while annoying, maybe be what keeps the subscription costs at an affordable rate- still we'd like to see as little of them as possible.  We also feel that all of the content from Hulu standard should be viewable in Hulu Plus- maybe this can happen over time.  Hulu still has time to add a few stability tweaks, which we'd like to see for the ipad version, and hopefully they can cut down on the commercial breaks.  Other than that, we think Hulu Plus is on the right track.