Windows Phone arrived back in 2010 and with it, the world received the first look at Microsoft’s interpretation of apps and services on a mobile device. SkyDrive, Hotmail and Internet Explorer were all apps from the Redmond-based company’s camp, but one website which still serves as the go-to for online video playback, didn’t quite make the cut at the time and even now, the mobile app simply serves as a shortcut to the mobile site. We are of course talking about YouTube.
The lack of a fully-fledged YouTube app actually falls to Google, who have repeatedly denied Microsoft access to important metadata needed to create an in-house app, metadata which does get fed into both the Android and iOS versions of the YouTube app. A suitable alternative then is MetroTube, one of a host of third-party YouTube apps for Windows Phone, MetroTube is true to the design of both Windows Phone and YouTube and offers the full suite of functionality.
Launching the app, you’re greeted with a familiar tile layout designed to mimic the Live Tiles of the typical Windows Phone UI. Swiping right across the first two screen displays the top rated and featured YouTube videos at the time and one more swipe right then reveals a full list of categories with which to filter the available video content, from ‘autos + vehicles’ down to ‘travel + events’. Drilling down to any of these categories then filters applicable uploads by four key fields: popular, staff picks, featured and top rated.
If you decide to sign in to MetroTube and allow it access to the details of your regular YouTube account, every time you launch the app you’ll land on the subscriptions tab in place of the top rated page, with the first two videos on display as larger video thumbnails. The last significant element to the overarching UI is the control page, which features all the tools to give a logged-in user access to their subscriptions, watch later list, favourites, playlists and ‘more’, which is yet another set of menus featuring the aforementioned lists as well as a page for uploads.
Rounding off the simplicity of the app is the search icon, which remains present on every page of the UI. Tapping list brings up a search bar and keyboard with the ability to filter search by video, playlist and author a feature far more accessible than on the comparatively convoluted UI on offer from the Android or iOS version of the app.
MetroTube distills down the functionality of YouTube on a smartphone to the bare essentials, showing nothing but video content on every menu and we respect it for this. The exception being the video playback page, where users can share, favourite, add to (a playlist) and even pin a video to the homescreen for quick access as well as comment and browse the user responsible for the upload. The most unique feature of the app is the ability to keep audio playing with the screen locked. This raises MetroTube’s functionality beyond a simple YouTube viewer to a more viable answer for those who like to stream music or voice from Google's online video service.
It’s tricky to break down what makes the app so intuitive beyond the clean UI, but as it’s free and compatible with both Windows Phone 7 and 8, users can sink their teeth into it without pricey repercussions.