- Special Report
A Year with Sling TV: What I Loved and Hated
Things were changing. A year ago, I moved from the Bronx to Astoria, Queens, which meant saying goodbye to my draining hour-long commute and eating a lot more Greek food, but also letting go of Optimum, the cable service I've pretty much been using since I started watching TV.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide
I had already been thinking about cutting the cord for quite a while, and a new home was the perfect excuse to see if I could survive on streaming alone (I had just spent a lot of money at Target, after all). So, as soon as I set up my TV and Xbox One on the work desk that was serving as our makeshift entertainment center, I signed up for Sling TV (starting at $20 per month) and hoped for the best.
A year later, I now have a much nicer TV stand, I'm not eating quite as much Greek food, and, most notably, I'm still using Sling. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss my cable box sometimes, though. Here's what I've loved and hated about the service over the past 12 months.
Pro: Almost Everything I Need for a Good Price
Before I go any further, I have to admit that I'm far from a typical TV consumer. The bulk of my entertainment comes from Twitch and YouTube (yes, I'm a filthy millennial), so I was only using cable for a handful of network shows as well as to watch my beloved New York Jets lose most of their games.
Since my girlfriend and I already had Hulu, Netflix and an HDTV antenna, our main priority was being able to watch The Walking Dead. "She" also insisted that we needed HGTV, a channel that I never accidentally find myself watching for hours.
Fortunately, Sling's basic $20 per month package (now called Sling Orange) satisfied our basic needs just fine. We could catch up with Rick Grimes every Sunday night on AMC, watch Monday Night Football games on ESPN and sit through countless Harry Potter marathons on Freeform (I still call it ABC Family). The 28-channel package also has plenty of other good networks I never watch, such as IFC, Cartoon Network and BBC America.
Pro: On-Demand Is a Life Saver
I was worried that ditching Optimum meant leaving behind its huge library of on-demand shows, but Sling assuaged those fears pretty quickly. Sling offers a healthy selection of on-demand movies and lets you watch most of its networks' shows after they aired, which I found useful for those awful Sunday nights in which life got in the way of The Walking Dead.
Pro: You Can Use It on Almost Every Device
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide
One of Sling's best features is ubiquity ─ you can watch the service on Apple TV, iOS, Android, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, Xbox One and Windows. I mostly watch Sling on my Xbox One, though I love that I've been able to watch football games on my laptop or iPhone while using my TV to play games. It would be nice to be able to watch Sling from a browser, though, and PS4 owners are out of luck ─ likely because of Sony's own PlayStation Vue service.
Con: The Xbox App Is a Clunky Mess
While I'm happy with the amount of content Sling gives me, I don't always have the best time actually using it. I primarily use the Xbox One Sling app, which can be slow to load and makes navigating channels feel clunky. It's also straight-up crashed on me plenty of times. I haven't had as many issues with the desktop and mobile apps, but Sling should work best where I need it most: my living room.
What's worse is that Sling seems to have capacity issues. Almost every time I've watched a live episode of The Walking Dead (particularly season premieres), I've experienced some sort of lag or crashing issue that kept me from seeing the first few minutes of the show. I'm not alone, either. Because of this, I find myself booting up the app and tuning into AMC well before the show even starts.
Con: I Miss My DVR
Sure, on-demand shows are nice, but I really miss recording my favorite shows and fast- forwarding through those pesky commercials. You can technically record Sling content if you own a Channel Master DVR box, but there's no built-in option within the service. PlayStation Vue starts at a pricier $40 but offers DVR functionality, which alone makes the extra $20 seem worth it.
Con: I Haven't Quite Survived on Sling Alone
I've been pretty OK with Sling TV, but that's because I also have Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now and an HD antenna. If I dropped all of those services and devices, I wouldn't be able to catch up on Arrow or The Flash the day after they aired, binge through Daredevil or keep up with local news. (I could add HBO to Sling, though, which would cost the same as HBO Now.) I'm not expecting Sling to suddenly start airing original programming or double its channel lineup, but I've realized my streaming life would be kind of bleak if it was the only thing I used.
I'm still fairly content with Sling, but I can't tell if that's because I'm genuinely enjoying the service or if I'm just too lazy to try something new. Like I said before, I really don't watch all that much TV, and Sling does a decent job filling in the gaps when I'm not gaming, watching Twitch streams and devouring Netflix. It's simply there for me when I feel like having something on.
However, in the time since I first unpacked all my stuff in my new apartment, I've also purchased a PS4. That means I have access to PlayStation Vue, which, in addition to offering lots of channels I like, also provides the DVR features I've been sorely missing since I cut the cord. I have no excuse not to fire up that free Vue trial that's been waiting for me for months, and if I end up liking it, I won't hesitate to switch.
All in all, my year with Sling TV taught me that I could survive just fine without regular cable. But I'm not convinced that it's the best cable replacement out there.