HBO Max Review

HBO Max Review: 7 Things to Know Before You Sign Up in 2021

If you haven’t tried the HBO Max streaming service, 2021 may be the time to see what you’ve been missing.

Here are three reasons why:

  • HBO Max brings the stars of Friends together again for a reunion special
  • Warner Brothers films premiere on HBO Max the same day as theaters for the rest of 2021
  • HBO Max launches a new and cheaper way to stream

HBO Max Review: Should You Sign Up in 2021?

I’ve started and stopped my HBO Max subscription several times since it first launched.

Although the on-demand streaming service is expensive, it offers high-quality content and a better user experience compared to some competitors.

In this article and the video below, I’ll share the key things you need to know before you sign up for HBO Max. Let’s get started!

1. What Is HBO Max? 

HBO Max launched at the end of May 2020, so most streamers are familiar with it by now.

At first, many people were confused because of its name and the difference between HBO Max and regular HBO.

Here are the basics:

  • With HBO Max, you can stream everything from HBO
  • Plus, you can watch HBO Max Originals that are only available on the app
  • A library of WarnerMedia shows and movies is also included

HBO Max says it’s a service for everyone, from families with young children to adults. It features more than 10,000 hours of content.

2. How Much Does HBO Max Cost?

HBO Max is not cheap. Its ad-free plan is $14.99 a month, which is more expensive than Netflix Standard ($13.99) and Hulu No Ads ($11.99). 

But after a long wait, HBO Max debuted a cheaper option with ads in June 2021. It costs $9.99 a month.

A company executive said the plan will run fewer commercials compared to other services:

“HBO Max with Ads provides a superior marketing environment, featuring the lightest ad load in the streaming industry, driving engagement with consumers and efficacy for our partners,” said JP Colaco, Head of Advertising Sales for WarnerMedia. “Couple that with beloved premium content spanning all genres and audience segments, and we are delivering the best ad offering available in market today.”

Unfortunately, the ad-supported plan doesn’t include access to Warner Brothers same-day premiere films for the rest of 2021 or the ability to download content for offline viewing.


DEAL ALERT: You can prepay for a year of HBO Max and save about 15%. The ad-supported plan is $99.99 a year, while the ad-free plan is $149.99 a year.


3. Does HBO Max Offer a Free Trial? 

When you sign up for HBO Max directly on its website or through the app, there is no longer a free trial. At launch, a 7-day free trial was offered.

But there’s still a way to try before you buy.

The service created a “Watch Free” section on its website where you can stream select free episodes without a subscription. Typically, it’s just the first episode.

Meanwhile, YouTube TV and Hulu still offer a 7-day free trial of HBO Max when you subscribe through their services.

In addition, qualifying AT&T customers get free access to HBO Max. AT&T’s most expensive wireless plan and some AT&T TV streaming plans include HBO Max at no additional charge.


SAVINGS TIP: If you’re on the fence and price is a concern, consider pausing one of your other subscriptions like Netflix or Hulu for a month to try HBO Max.


4. What Do You Get With HBO Max?

HBO Max describes itself as “all of HBO and so much more.”

In this section, I’ll focus on the “so much more” part because most people have already formed an opinion about regular HBO and whether it’s worth it.

Movies

Let’s start with movies. For the rest of 2021, all Warner Brothers films will premiere on HBO Max the same day that they hit theaters. These films will stay on the service for 31 days.

For many streamers, the Warner Brothers premieres alone justify the cost of a subscription.

Put the Warner Brothers same-day premieres aside and the library of movies on HBO Max is still one of its best features. Its collection of action, drama and comedy films stand out the most.

TV Shows

If you’re not into movies, HBO Max’s library of shows is also pretty strong. It includes big hits like:

  • Friends
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Doctor Who
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
  • The West Wing
  • Young Sheldon

You can browse a longer list of the service’s featured TV shows by following this link.

HBO Max Originals

HBO Max Originals will appeal to many of the service’s subscribers.

There’s a mix of content, but I noticed quite a few reality and non-fiction series, including the competition show The Big Shot With Bethenny, hosted by Bethenny Frankel.

Two popular HBO Max Originals are reunion specials for Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Kids Content

Although I think HBO Max is primarily a service for adults, it does have a respectable collection of kids content from Cartoon Network, Sesame Workshop, Looney Tunes and more.

However, I wouldn’t cancel Disney+ for HBO Max’s kids programming.

5. How Is the User Experience With HBO Max?

HBO Max features a great layout and has made steady improvements to the user experience since it first launched. 

I give a walkthrough of the service in my video review starting at the 5-minute mark.

Profiles

When you first open the app, you select a profile. You can add up to five profiles per account, including kid profiles with parental controls.

Home Screen

From the home screen, a featured movie or series will be displayed front and center.

You can click Play and go directly to it or select More Info for a longer summary and other episodes if it’s a series.

Immediately below the featured series or movie is Continue Watching, followed by My List.

When I first signed up for HBO Max, I spent about 15 minutes browsing the recommendations and adding things to My List. Just look for the plus symbol to populate your watch list.

At the very bottom of the home screen, you’ll see HBO Max Hubs for various types of content.

Left Navigation

Aside from the home screen, there’s a separate navigation menu on the far left side of the TV screen. It includes shortcuts to Search, Home, Movies, Series, Browse and Hubs.

This menu is useful when you know what you’re looking for, while the home screen is better for browsing.

Other Features

When you select an individual movie or series and play it, you’ll see the option to skip the intro in the lower right corner. 

Fast forwarding is also made easier because you can preview the point that you’re skipping ahead to.

And when you finish an episode in a series, the next one will automatically play. There’s no way to turn this feature off.

6. How Do I Stream HBO Max?

You can stream HBO Max on your phone, tablet, computer or to a TV set with a compatible device like the Roku Express 4K+ that I use.

In addition to Roku devices, you can stream HBO Max to a TV set using streaming media players from Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and even some newer Samsung Smart TVs. 

See the full list of supported devices here.

A high-speed internet connection is required. HBO Max says on its website that you’ll need a minimum download speed of 5 Mbps to stream HD video and 50 Mbps for streaming 4K content.

When you’re connected to Wi-Fi, you can also download shows and movies for offline viewing from the HBO Max app on a phone or tablet.

7. Can My Family Share HBO Max?

HBO Max can be streamed on up to three devices at the same time. You may receive a  “streaming on too many devices” message if you go over the limit. 

There are up to five user profiles per account, but those multiple profiles are intended for your immediate family or household.

Separate profiles let everyone have their own Continue Watching and My List.

Kid profiles are very useful since so much of HBO Max’s content is geared toward adults. You can filter what kids watch using parental controls.

Pros and Cons Summary 

When it comes to HBO Max, the biggest downside is the price of the ad-free plan at $14.99 per month. But I give HBO Max credit for launching a cheaper plan with ads.

From my perspective, here are the main reasons to consider HBO Max:

  • Same-day premieres of Warner Brothers films for the rest of 2021
  • Library of movies and TV shows, including high-quality HBO content
  • Premium feel, with a solid user experience

If HBO Max isn’t in your streaming rotation, I recommend that you try it out for a month or two. And while you’re testing it, you could always pause Netflix or Hulu to save money.

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