If you're regularly tuned in to the guilty-pleasure programming offered by the Discovery Channel and the History Channel, you're going to want to snag the Smithsonian Channel app for your Android phone.
The Smithsonian Channel is kind of like a mash-up of the two, offering original documentaries, series and programs that highlight America’s historical, cultural and scientific heritage. Before reviewing this app, I didn't even realize that there was such a thing as the Smithsonian Channel — and I was really disappointed to learn that it's not available everywhere. Only specific providers in specific parts of the country offer it. This is where the network's app comes in.
Regardless of where you live and even if you don't own a TV, you're able to watch on the go. The app also includes artiFacts, which features trivia about history, science and music, along with program information and the channel’s programming schedule.
Everything is organized in a sensical way, so you can pretty easily find what you're looking for. When you're looking for something in particular to watch, there are a number of categories for you to flip through: Air & Space, Science & Nature, Culture, History and Kids. The challenge here, though, is that there's a lot of material lumped into these categories and a lot of the subject matter is very specific. It's often difficult to guess exactly what you're getting into. At the same time, because the options are so open-ended, there's plenty of opportunity for exploration.
One major bummer is that it's often not immediately clear which shows or videos are available through the app and which ones are limited to synopses or small samplings of the whole program. It can be frustrating when you find that what you're looking for isn't available.
The design isn't extraordinary, as it looks a lot like other searchable database apps — but the app is absolutely beautiful. The full-screen, high-resolution photos look like they're straight from the pages of National Geographic magazine.
Sadly, the app's video quality isn't as sharp. The picture occasionally becomes pixelated, even when it's not loading or paused. The audio is decent, but you need headphones or perfect silence to clearly hear what's happening in each video. The production quality of these videos is exceptional, though, so it's worth sticking it out, despite the flaws.