T-Mobile TVision hands-on: the basics but not much else

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T-Mobile has officially launched TVision, a new live TV streaming service that the company promises will shock the cable TV industry in the same way that T-Mobile’s aggressive plans and “Uncarrier” moves helped to push the cellular industry forward.

As it did with mobile, T-Mobile is trumpeting the service’s relatively cheap pricing (although it remains to be seen whether T-Mobile will actually be able to maintain those $10 and $40 price points long term). But when it comes to actually using the TVision apps, the experience is about as basic as it gets.

I spent a few days trying out TVision on both an iPad and T-Mobile’s branded Android TV dongle, the TVision Hub. Both apps are virtually identical, splitting up the main navigation into Home, Guide, Shows, DVR, and Search menus. And the app works the same, regardless of which plan or plans you have. The only difference is how many channels and how much on-demand content you’ll see.

Home, as the name suggests, is the main home screen that you’ll see when you load up, with a variety of scrolling carousels that highlight featured content (like a big sports game), along with specific rows for live news, sports, and recommended on-demand content.

TVision’s channel guide.

The guide menu is the most useful part of the app. It’s a traditional channel guide like you’d see on any cable TV box, showing you what’s currently on all of the channels you subscribe to and what’s on next. You can also click in to get more information or schedule a recording.

Navigating around is fast, as is actually flipping between channels or fast-forwarding and rewinding recorded content. It’s functional, but don’t expect to see any fancy bells and whistles.

The TVision app itself is pretty bare-bones, which seems at least partly due to the newness of the service. It’s easy to point to things TVision is missing: there’s no web app so you can’t actually watch live TV on your computer, and Chromecast or AirPlay aren’t supported at launch — although the available smart TV apps make that less of an issue. (There’s no Roku app, however.) Other basic features, like filtering or hiding channels you don’t want to view in the guide every time, are also missing on the mobile apps.

You get basic parental control features, but they’re broad in stroke — locking any movie or TV show above specific ratings behind a PIN — and don’t allow for more granular control or screen-time limitations.

TVision’s cloud-based DVR does work well, though; it records the actual live airing of the TV show or movie instead of flipping over to an on-demand version, although you’re limited to 100 hours of content across all users. TVision supports up to 10 profiles, but those 100 hours are pooled across all users, and you can only have up to three concurrent streams (just two if you only subscribe to the $10-per-month Vibe plan). There are also not many options for recording, say, just new episodes of a TV show, something that services like TiVo have allowed for years.

Lastly, the app also features a smattering of on-demand content sourced from the various channels that TVision offers. The lineup isn’t particularly great, but if you happen to come across something that you want to watch, it’s an option. Some on-demand content has ads, while other shows and movies don’t; it mostly depends on what you’re looking to watch.

That gets to the last part of TVision: its recommendation features or lack thereof. Where services like Netflix will work to throw specific shows and movies at you that it thinks you’ll like, TVision’s content curation abilities are scant at best. (Nowhere is this better seen than the Show and Movies tabs, which just display a list of TV shows and movies with no real distinction between on-demand or upcoming live content.)

TVision’s confusing “Shows” tab.

It’s still early days for TVision (the service is quite literally a day old), and presumably, T-Mobile will continue to build out the service as time goes on. For now, if you’re looking for a replacement for cable, T-Mobile’s offering will do just that. But don’t expect much more.

TVision is available now for all post-paid T-Mobile customers. Sprint users will have access later in November, with the service set to open up more broadly to all users in 2021.

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