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How to watch movies and TV shows on your phone or tablet

Christmas time means a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, it means sitting around with family, enduring endless hours of the same films and TV shows that we’re presented with every single year. But while the oldies are sat hypnotised by The Great Escape, Dad’s Army and – god forbid – Mrs Brown’s Boys, you can whip out your secret weapon. And we’re not talking a litre bottle of vodka (although that’s not a bad plan either).

These days it’s easy to watch whatever movies and TV you want on your humble phone or tablet. Here’s how…


The easiest way to watch movies on your iPad or iPhone is simply to buy them from iTunes. Open the app and search for whatever you want, or browse the various categories if you’re not after anything specific. Your payment details will be saved already, so you only have to choose what you want to watch and authorise your purchase. Once you’ve done that your films or TV shows can be downloaded directly onto your device.

If you have other Apple devices, your content will be available across all them all. And don’t worry if you want to delete them once you’ve watched them as they’ll be permanently stored in the cloud, so you can re-download at any time.

Google Play Store

If you’re on an Android device, you can do the same as Apple users do and utilise Google’s Play Store to buy your media. Again, your details will be saved and new, high quality content is just a few screen taps away.

Copying content

The old-fashioned way of getting content on your tablet or phone is to copy it to your device’s storage from your computer. The good point of this method is that your content will be available whether you have a data connection or not.

Copying media to Android phones and tablets

On Android it’s just a matter of plugging your device into your computer and dragging what movies or TV episodes you want in to the Videos folder on your device’s memory. Android plays most file formats natively, but if you’re struggling and your tablet or phone won’t play your media, you can install a third-party player like MX Video Player or Mobo Video Player Pro. Both of those apps handle a ton of file formats and external subtitles too!

Copying media to iPhones and iPads

On an iOS device, copying is done via iTunes.

You plug your device in, choose it in the Devices section on the left and then drag your content from iTunes to your device, much like you would with music. The pain with this method is that iOS is super finicky about what file formats it plays, so you’ll either have to upload your content in .mp4, .m4v, .mov or H.264.

The best and easiest way to play non-supported files is to download an app like VLC Player or PlayerXtreme. Then, with your iPhone or iPad plugged in, open iTunes and choose the device and then go to the ‘apps’ tab. Scroll to the bottom, select the app you just downloaded, and then drag your movie files into the box on the right. This copies those files onto your iPhone/iPad and associates them with that app, so now you just need to open the app and you should see your content, ready to play.

Alternatively, you could grab Handbrake, which is an open source video transcoder capable of quickly and easily converting your media into a format your iPhone or iPad will like. As a bonus, Handbrake converts to a bunch file formats and you may be able to save space on your device by choosing a more efficient container – if you’re more technologically inclined.

Copying media to Windows Phone devices

If you’re using a Windows Phone device, you can copy your content over in the same way as you would with music, using your Microsoft desktop app or Explorer. Surface supports a fair few file formats, including .avi and .mpeg 2. If you’re using a different format, such as .mkv, which is popular for HD content, you can download something like CCPlayer, which will play it just fine – like the Android apps, it will also give you plenty of other stuff too, including sub support.


Plex is an app available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone, and it allows you to stream your content from your PC or Mac, to your phone or tablet, using only Wi-Fi or 3G/4G. Just install the app on your computer, add your media to it (it can be music, movies or photos) and then install the app on your device.

Your device, if it’s on the same Wi-Fi connection, will recognise your Plex media server right away and you can begin streaming your movies. If you’re on 3G or 4G you’ll have to walk through the set-up for remote streaming, but using the guide (which offers help for getting started and generally tips) over at the Plex site you’ll find it’s a cinch, and you’ll be streaming content off your home computer to your tablet or phone wherever you are!

BBC iPlayer

If you want to catch up with any Christmas TV shows you’ve missed because you were unconscious/sorting out family arguments, just download a free streaming app such as BBC’s iPlayer or the ITV Player. These allow you to stream shows from the past few days, and in iPlayer’s case you can even download for a limited time to enjoy when you’re out and about.

Unlimited streaming services

The most popular pay-for streaming services are Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, and unlike services like BlinkBox, which charges you for every film or show you want to watch, you just pay a one-off monthly fee to stream as much content as you like. Just pop the corresponding app on your device, pay your subscription fee (or make use of the 30 day free trial that many offer) and get your popcorn out.

Most services have bundles of content and also offer exclusive content too, such as Bill Burr’s latest stand-up special on Netflix, or the moody and immersive Ripper Street on Amazon.


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