Sling TV Review: A Solid Cable Alternative

If you’re tired of paying that massive cable bill every month but aren’t ready to cut the cord just yet, here’s some good news — you have other options!

The cost of cable TV seems like it’s climbing every day. It’s no wonder then that so many people are jumping ship and switching to digital alternatives. By going digital, you can pay less while still having access to many of the channels you know and love.

These days, there are a few live TV streaming services available. YouTube TV and DIRECTV NOW are familiar brands, but they’re relative newcomers to the digital live TV game. Launched in 2015, Sling TV has been around the longest and has had plenty of time to perfect its service. But how does it hold up to the competition?

Sling has a lot going for it, but still leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, it offers some solid features for a reasonable price — certainly less than what you’re paying for cable now.

Plans and Pricing

By far, the best thing about Sling TV is its pricing. At $25 per month for “Sling Orange” or “Sling Blue,” the cheapest available packages, you can get anywhere from 29 to over 42 channels. This number varies depending on where you live and which package you choose. Nevertheless, the potential number of channels that you can access by default is a nice start.

If those 42+ channels aren’t enough for you (and let’s be honest — they probably aren’t), there’s always the option to purchase add-on packages. Prices vary, but you shouldn’t have much trouble finding exactly the channels that you enjoy on cable. Even better, you’ll still end up paying less than what you’re paying for your current cable bill.

Channels

If Sling Orange and Sling Blue cost the same, what are the differences between the two plans? For the most part, they differ in the availability and variety of channels.

To begin with, Sling Orange has fewer channels than Sling Blue. Orange has around 29 by default while Blue offers 42 or more. That may seem like a stark difference for the same price, but Orange has channels that Blue lacks. Sling Orange has the Disney Channel and the ESPN channels. On the other hand, Sling Blue has channels like FOX, NBC, National Geographic, and Bravo…all of which Orange doesn’t have.

Serious TV connoisseurs may balk at having to make such a choice. But if you can’t live without any of the channels listed above, you’re in luck. The aptly-named “Sling Orange + Blue” package combines both services for $40, which is $10 less than their individual prices together. It’s obviously much more expensive than either of its component plans. Thus, you’ll need to consider the importance of the missing channels when deciding which package is right for you.

At up to and over 42 channels, Sling’s initial offering is pretty impressive when compared to basic cable packages. That being said, there’s always room for more.

Add-On Packages

If you’ve gone through the list of basic channels and are disappointed with what’s on offer, don’t despair. You may be interested in premium channels or other extras not included in one of the base packs.

Thankfully, there are plenty of add-on packages you can opt for. These additional packages can be quite low in price while offering a good number and variety of channels. Keep in mind, however, that the price can climb pretty quickly as you add more packages. Nevertheless, the total should still be significantly lower than the price of a comparable cable plan.

Premium Channels

Sling users have the option to buy subscriptions to premium channels such as HBO, Starz, or Showtime. The pricing can range from $3 to $15, depending on the channel you’re interested in. What’s more, you can purchase these packages no matter which Sling plan you have. The prices are the same as what you would pay through other services, so this shouldn’t hurt if you’re already paying $15 a month for HBO.

Sports

Sports fans should probably choose Sling Blue since it offers several ESPN channels missing from Sling Orange. But if you’re a true sports fanatic and those aren’t enough for you, you have the option to purchase a $5 sports package.

This package includes 13 additional sports channels, such as NBA TV, NHL Network, PAC 12, and more. Combined with Sling Blue, that’s nearly 20 sports channels for only $30 a month. Not a bad deal at all!

Specialty

You can purchase other packages as well. These include movie, lifestyle, international, foreign language, news, and kids’ channels. Each package is $5, but some have many more channels than others.

The Español package, in particular, gives you a good bang for your buck with 26 channels. In comparison, the Kids, Comedy, and Hollywood packages have eight or fewer channels for the same price. Thus, it’s worth taking a detailed look at the different packages when deciding on a plan.

Local Channels

For fans of local stations, Sling has you covered — for the most part. Despite giving you the option to add local channels to your plan for free, Sling offers only a small number of ABC, FOX, and NBC affiliates. CBS and PBS affiliates are entirely unavailable.

If you decide to sign up for a Sling package, you may want to consider purchasing an HD TV antenna. That way, you’ll still be able to watch all of your favorite local channels for free. The only drawback is that you won’t be able to watch them all through Sling, which interrupts an otherwise seamless viewing experience.

Streams

One area where Sling could improve is in the number of simultaneous streams it allows. The system is much more confusing than it needs to be. This won’t be a problem for everyone, but those with families who use multiple devices may encounter some issues.

In addition to the differences in channels, each Sling pricing plan gives you a number of devices that you can stream on at the same time. Sling Orange only gives you one stream, while Sling Blue gives you a much more generous three.

That means if you have Sling Orange, you can’t watch the big game on ESPN while your kids are watching Disney. For large families with different tastes in television, this can be a major inconvenience. It’s also a problem for people who like to have shows playing in many rooms at the same time.

On the flip side, with Sling Blue, you, your partner, and your kids can all use different devices to watch different channels at the same time. Or, in the scenario mentioned above, you can stream one channel on up to three devices simultaneously.

Unfortunately, Sling Blue + Orange makes things a bit more complicated. While this plan gives you a total of four simultaneous streams, you only get one for Orange channels and three for Blue channels. It combines the two plans’ limitations without giving you extra streams, which is a disappointing restriction for a more expensive package.

DVR

Since Sling TV is a live TV service rather than an on-demand one like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video, there’s a good chance you’ll want to record some of your favorite shows for later. Well, for an extra $5 per month, Sling offers a DVR service that provides 50 hours of storage for an unlimited period of time.

Just be aware that Sling automatically deletes old recordings to make room for new ones! You’ll probably want to delete the shows you no longer need to keep, or else Sling will do it for you.

Interface and Usability

Sling has a lot to offer in terms of content, and it gives you the ability to customize what’s available to watch. How easy is it to use, though, especially if you’re making the switch from cable?

Sling’s interface isn’t exactly straightforward, so you might have a bit of trouble getting started. The average user will probably need to spend some time exploring Sling’s menus and options before they’re able to browse channels like a pro. Thankfully, its functionality is fantastic once you get over the initial hump.

Sling has five main tabs that should help you decide what to watch. Shows that you mark as favorites, as well as shows that you’ve watched in the past, appear under the “My TV” tab. The “On Now” tab lets you see what’s playing at the moment on different channels, and the “Guide” tab gives you a schedule of what’s showing now and what’s coming up later. The “Sports” and “Rental” tabs should be pretty self-explanatory.

There is one quirk in the interface that many users may find annoying. On Now lets you search for shows by genre, which is a pretty convenient feature if you have a specific taste. However, within that tab, you’re not able to search by channel. You’ll need to use Guide if you want to do that.

Switching between the two tabs can be a bit of a pain, so you may want to choose your favorite search method and stick with that. It’s a minor inconvenience that, for some people, can become a major nuisance.

Technical Problems

Aside from Sling’s interface quirks, there are a few other problems that you might run into while watching TV. None of them are necessarily dealbreakers, but they can be a major inconvenience if you’re unfortunate enough to encounter them.

Fast-forwarding is one particular hitch — sometimes, the function gets stuck, and your show skips forward until you close down and reopen the application. Fast-forwarding can even stop working entirely in your web browser, so be prepared to refresh the page or restart your browser if you encounter this bug. While it’s not exactly a major problem, it’s still an annoying interruption of an otherwise smooth viewing experience.

Also, you should make sure to have fast enough Internet before you start using Sling. A 25 Mbps connection should be enough for a family, but you may need something faster if everyone in the house is online and streaming. Your savings from cutting out cable could go towards upgrading your Internet speed, which is a good overall investment for people who spend a lot of time online.

Compatibility

Despite its technical drawbacks, Sling is great when it comes to compatibility. The Sling app is available on iOS and Android, Windows 10, and streaming devices such as Apple TV and Roku. In fact, Sling even works on more obscure platforms and devices — if you can think of it, Sling probably runs on it. You can even use it through your Internet browser, so no extra equipment is needed aside from a reliable Internet connection.

The Verdict

If you’re sick and tired of paying a steep monthly cable bill, then Sling TV might be the answer to your problem. It is an affordable alternative to traditional cable packages that still offers a good variety of channels and relatively satisfying user experience.

Before you make the leap, though, you should take some time to compare Sling Orange and Sling Blue. Not everyone will need the combined Orange + Blue package, and the variety of add-on packages might be useful in plugging the holes in your channel selection. Knowing what you might miss out on with one package will help you save money while giving you access to the shows and channels you simply can’t live without.

You may also want to consider alternatives such as YouTube TV or DIRECTV NOW. These services have their own advantages and disadvantages, but you may prefer what they have to offer. That being said, Sling has the cheapest base options. Also, it remains competitive even when you factor in its add-ons and additional services like DVR.

Overall, Sling is an affordable, varied, and mostly user-friendly alternative to cable TV. Despite its flaws, it may be just what you need in order to finally get rid of your cable plan.

Pros:

  • Good variety of basic channels
  • Many affordable add-on packages
  • Low price

Cons:

  • Unintuitive interface
  • Buggy playback functions
  • Limited local channel options

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