Netflix is currently testing out a special audio-only mode for its mobile apps — Android, specifically. While that’s no guarantee that the ever-so useful feature will see the light of day in a stable release, it’s promising, and if you’re lucky, you can test out the feature right now.
I totally understand you scoffing at the idea of “listening” to a movie instead of watching it, believe me. I would have had the same reaction, too, but we used to do this all the time in my early days as a tech editor. A bunch of the Maximum PC staffers would spend the day in the lab running all sorts of benchmark tests, building (and breaking) various components, and packing and unpacking limitless shipping boxes. We’d put movies on to pass the time, but it’s not like we could just hunker down and watch them. We had shit to do.
With Netflix now having an audio only mode, filmmakers should highly consider the importance of adding audio description to their content. Especially if audio only mode becomes popular resulting in more platforms adding it as well.
— Juan Alcazar ???????????????? (@JC12209) December 29, 2020
Was anything lost by an audio-only experience? Obviously, yes, but if it’s a movie you were already fairly familiar with, losing the visuals — or only checking in on them from time to time, or glancing for favourite scenes — isn’t that big of a deal. I can see the same thing being true if you’re on a road trip and want to have something more exciting to listen to than the radio (or your favourite podcasts). Why not put on your favourite movie? And since you’re not streaming video, you should be using a lot less of your precious cellular data cap (theoretically).
To see if you’re eligible for Netflix’s audio-only trial, you’ll need to make sure you’re at least running version 7.84.1 (build 28 35243) of the Android app. This is easy to check on the Google Play Store; just tap “About this app” and scroll down until you see the version number under App info.
If you can, try signing up for the Netflix beta at the bottom of the app’s listing. It was full when I checked, but if you can get in, you’ll only increase your odds that you’ll be selected to test these kinds of limited-release features.
A word on that: Since Netflix’s audio-only mode is a server-side unlock, you might not see it in your app even if you’re running the most up-to-date version you can get. If you’re eligible, you’ll know pretty quickly once you pull up anything to view on Netflix. At the top of the view, right above the pause button, you’ll see an option to turn the video on and off.
I don’t have that option, so I get the regular screen, shown above. (Also, blame Netflix for not allowing screenshots of its content.)
If you can access the feature — lucky you — you’ll also find a brand-new option in Netflix’s Settings screen. Under the modified Video & Audio Playback category in your App Settings, you’ll be able to pick when Netflix should default to audio-only mode: Always, never, or whenever it detects that you’re using headphones or external speakers.
We don’t know when Netflix will roll out this feature to everyone, if it ever will, but we’ll report back if that changes. I can’t wait to check out the feature, though, as I can’t wait to enjoy movies without wasting precious data during those moments when I can’t fixate on my screen for hours.