Days ago, Netflix announced that it has expanded into 130 new countries around the world. That’s great news for travelers looking to get their entertainment fix abroad. Even with all those new locations added for streaming your favorite TV shows and movies, though, Netflix still presents challenges for those traveling overseas.
Content restrictions are still a big issue when it comes to accessing media around the globe. While a movie or TV show might be available on a service like Netflix in the USA, it might not be in another country (such as Canada) because another company may own the rights there.
Even with Netflix’s big expansion, as a traveler with an account in your home country, the list of content (movies & tv shows) available while traveling in another country may be quite different.
We’ve spoken about the importance of VPN’s in the past, including using them to bypass content restrictions like this. With a VPN, you can connect securely through another country like the USA. This fools a company like Netflix into thinking you’re there when you aren’t.
Recently released app Smartflix (currently in beta for Windows and Mac) aims to solve this Netflix problem in the best way possible. With the app, not only do you have access to one country’s catalog of Netflix content as you would get with a VPN, it shows you content from Netflix’s catalog all over the world.
Smartflix is available for PC and Mac. After installing and opening the app, you’ll see an interface a little different than usual for Netflix. Generally it’s slicker and faster in my opinion, but it does keep its signature black look. Search is quick and easy, and when you click on a title, you’ll need to log in (you need a Netflix account to use the app). You only need to log in once.
Streams work just like they would in the browser. Click the movie and after buffering, you’ll be whisked off to another world, if only for a couple of hours until the credits roll.
When using the app, one of the first differences you’ll notice is when you hover over a movie or TV show, you’ll see the short synopsis, and where it will stream from. This is what is so special about this app.
In the case of the television program “Fargo,” you’ll see it will stream from Netflix Netherlands. That’s because it’s not available on Netflix in the USA (and perhaps other countries). While browsing through the catalog, you’ll notice this over and over. When you combine all the content Netflix provides from all around the globe, the catalog is massive, but the country you’re in may only have a fraction of it.
Search Downton Abbey on Netflix in the USA, and you’ll only see “Titles related to Downton Abbey.” On Smartflix, you’ll see it’s available in Netflix Ireland, and now… to you. Same goes for Interstellar (available in Canada, but not the USA).
Of course, this also works in many other instances. Netflix in Canada has a pretty poor reputation compared to the US version. People have been using a VPN to connect to the USA for its larger catalog for years.
According to the developer, the technology behind Smartflix is all done without a VPN as well, only sending some information to Netflix for bypassing your location to make sure the stream comes through. Everything else (the video stream itself) is direct from Netflix. That means it’s fast.
Smartflix vs VPN
As a traveler, you should already have a VPN. But how is Smartflix different than just using a VPN?
With a VPN, you could connect to a server in a location (USA), so when you load up your Netflix account, you’ll see content available from Netflix USA. You would only be able to see what’s available with Netflix USA, and not other countries as with Smartflix.
With a VPN, you’re also connecting through a “middleman.” What that means is when you go to stream a movie from Netflix, it’s sent through the VPN server (in this scenario, in the USA) before coming to you. That will often mean a slower connection, and perhaps more buffering. Most likely just when the movie is getting good (am I right??)
So Smartflix has two benefits over a VPN. No middleman, and a content catalog from all the Netflix arms around the globe.
Smartflix is not without its drawbacks. Since it is using a built-in browser to access Netflix, you’re limited to 720p max resolution (the same as Chrome or Firefox).
On the privacy side of things, there is also very little information about the app on the website. The developer (a one-person team) didn’t even want to give their name in our brief chat. They are quite active on Reddit though, if that does anything for you. It just means that the nerd patrol is on the scene, hopefully making sure there is no funny business going on.
There is also a chance Netflix would shut down your account for attempting to bypass their content restrictions. That’s highly unlikely however, as while this sort of technology is listed as against their terms of service, representatives from the company have gone on record saying they’re not interested in that at all.
In fact, it’s believed the number of people who currently bypass these restrictions on Netflix numbers is in the millions around the globe. Netflix is eager to keep taking your monthly subscription fee.
Smartflix is free while it’s in beta, which the developer told me should last for another month or so before the final release. After exiting beta, Smartflix will be offering a free month before charging ~$7.99 for lifetime access.
Do you use Netflix when you’re traveling?