VLC for Android

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VLC for Android

VLC has a rock solid reputation on the desktop, and while it had a rocky start on Android, it has gotten a good deal better, and I now recommend it as the best media player for Android.

4

Our rating: 

4

Pros & Cons:

supports a large amount of codecs, supports hardware decoding for non-native formats, floating video player, pretty good controls
finding videos takes too long, sometimes confusing interface, uses a huge amount of storage space

Summary:

While VLC for android aims to be what it is on the desktop, it doesn't quite achieve its goal yet. While it supports a wide range of codecs, has a good basic music player and a range of interesting features, it still has a few problems - but it's good enough to get the top spot. Please note that as of version 3.0.5 Android Auto has been disabled, though it is promised to be back in version 3.1 - so if you rely on that, it might be best to wait until the 3.1 is released (there don't seem to be any security vulnerabilities that would be left open by not updating).

Our Review:

Ah, VLC. That rock solid media player that can always be relied upon... at least on the desktop. On mobile, it had a rough start - but it's continually improving. It's definitely improved since the last time I tried it (back then it was in beta) and it sucked the battery out of my previous phone faster than I thought was even possible, somehow leaving no trace in the battery usage information. While it still has ways to go to match its reputation on desktops, it now is, in my opinion, the best free media player for Android.

The first problem becomes apparent when you start it for the first time - it needs to scan your phone for videos. It's not the only media player that needs to do that, but it used to be absolutely disastrous - thank goodness, it has been vastly improved, but it still isn't what it shouldn't be. The time it takes to scan the phone the first time the app is started is reduced to around 10 minutes (yes, reduced - I told you it was disastrous before!). It's still longer than it should be, but once it's done that initial scan it doesn't take too much longer than it should. So, thank goodness, that issue is... well, sort of fixed. However, the issues with the progress bar jumping around are still there... someone has to teach these people how progress bars work. Hint: the progress bar should only be filling up, not being emptied. Thank goodness, this is really the biggest black eye VLC has, everything else is a good deal better.

Unsurprisingly (at least considering the desktop version), VLC, serves as a decent music player - don't expect anything I talk about in the reviews of full-on music players like tag editing or automatic playlist generation - we're only talking about basic functionality. However, what it does, it does pretty well - it even has an equalizer which sounds pretty darned good, even though it does take a while to react to your changes.

The video playing interface is also decently well done, with a good amount of functionality, including speed, subtitle and audio track and delay, snooze and crop controls. You can also choose an external subtitle file for the video. Like many other media players on Android, VLC lets you seek and control the volume and brightness via gesture controls. The only thing it's missing there is a way to switch off the brightness control, since I, for instance, prefer my ambient light sensor to control my screen's brightness. They've also added the double-tap to fast-forward or rewind feature which started on YouTube, which is a plus in my eyes - I find that feature very handy. You can also play the video in a floating player, which actually works pretty well.

For those looking to browse their media files by directory, VLC also supports that - it even supports browsing and playing files on your network, although I had trouble getting it to work initially - soon after that, VLC froze... I tried it again and it worked fairly seamlessly, over SMB as well as over UPnP. It also supports playing streams, although I wasn't able to test it due to a lack of sources. Also, in the video list, folders look eerily similar to videos, which can be pretty confusing.

There is a decent amount of options including some fairly advanced options, so you should be able to find what you're looking for. For instance, you can set it to use a TV-friendly interface (for those looking to use this on an Android TV), remember playback speed or brightness for videos, and use hardware acceleration or not. It also supports Android Auto, and while it takes a while to load lists of music, I haven't been able to find any other problems with it - and thank goodness, it doesn't even think about letting you play a video while you drive - definitely some common sense built-in there. It supported Android Auto until 3.0.4 - as of 3.0.5, it no longer supports Android Auto due to "a Google claim" according to the developers - but it should be back as of version 3.1. At version 3.0.13, I'm starting to wonder when it will come back.

Finally, one aggravating flaw is the amount of space it takes up on my device... usually around a whopping 200MB. Again - yes, I realize I have a lot on my phone, but no other media player needs this much space.

Overall, while VLC isn't perfect, at the moment, with the other top contender going overboard with the ads, this is the best free media player for Android at the moment - especially considering VLC has no ads. It also has some rough edges - for example, when you open a file from your file manager with VLC, switch to a different app and then back to VLC, it doesn't react properly. But, with some more work, it has the potential to be the best free media player on Android, period - and if the last few years are any indication, that's the direction it's going.


VLC for Android was reviewed by on based on version 3.0.13.