How to download Netflix videos to your phone without destroying your data plan
Watching Netflix movies offline is easy, but storage is at a premium.
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Netflix is probably the most heavily-used streaming service around, but did you know you could download certain TV and movies from the service on a mobile device? This is perfect for times when you want to limit how much mobile data you use or if you'll be without an internet connection for a while, such as a long flight. But first, just how do you actually download movies from Netflix? It couldn't be simpler.
How to download movies from Netflix for offline viewing
Though how you get there will depend on which version of the app you're using, on most mobile apps all you have to do is find the "downloads" icon at the bottom of the app to see all the content you've downloaded. If this is your first time, just hit the "Find more to download" button and you'll be taken to a section that shows only the movies and TV shows that you can download.
Once you find a program you want to download, just tap it the way you would if you were going to stream it. For movies this will bring you to the title screen, with a big play button at the top, some details about the movie in the middle, and two options: "My List" and a "Download" button with a down arrow. For TV shows you'll see a similar setup, but the down arrow download button is located next to the titles of each individual episode.
How big are the movies and TV shows on Netflix?
By default, all content you download from Netflix is in "standard quality." At that setting most hour-long TV shows rang in at around 250MB or so. Movies were a bit bigger, ranging from around 500MB to 1GB depending on the length and content. By default you can only download these movies over Wi-Fi so that they don't eat up all your data if you're on a limited plan. If you really want to download and you don't have Wi-Fi, just hit download and, when prompted, hit "Download Now" to force it to use cellular data.
If you want to bump the quality up you'll need to hit the burger menu button at the top left again. This time you'll want to scroll all the way down to "App Settings" which is usually below all the other content categories. Just tap the option for "Download Video Quality" and bump it up to High. At this setting the TV shows doubled in size to about 500MB per episode while the movies jumped to between 1.6GB and 2GB.
How do I enable downloading over 3G, 4G, or 5G services?
In this same App Settings menu there's a check box for "Wi-Fi Only" which is checked by default. Just uncheck the option and you can download off of Wi-Fi. Just be aware that this will completely tear up your data plan if you're not careful. You'll also be prompted to make this change any time you force the app to download over cellular data.
Whoa, that's a lot of data. Can I store this on an SD card or USB drive?
For iOS, unfortunately you can't. iOS devices don't support expandable memory, so you're left with whatever storage you have on your phone or iPad.
For Android, the answer is yes, but only for certain devices that have a microSD card slot. If you have such a phone with a microSD card installed, just go to app settings and you can designate a "download location" that is either the internal memory or the memory card. The downloads still expire, but you can at least take advantage of the extra storage space provided by your card.
How to back up Netflix movies up to a USB drive, SD card, or elsewhere (the hacky method)
On many Android phones you can use file manager apps that let you poke through all the files on your phone, just like the File Explorer on a Windows PC. Some phones include this by default, such as the "My Files" app on Samsung Galaxy phones, but if not you can get one from the Google Play store.
If you use these apps, you can find the downloaded Netflix videos by going to the following path: Device Storage > Android > data > com.netflix.mediaclient > files > Download > .of. If you get to the "Download" folder and don't see anything, you need to enable the ability to see hidden files. The Samsung My Files app makes this easy, as the option is right in the "More" menu at the top right.
Once you're in the .of folder, if you've downloaded any Netflix content you'll see several folders with numbers for titles. For example, in the image above Love Actually shows up as "60031262." Each one of these folders represents a single TV episode or movie and includes all the necessary video data in a bunch of proprietary formats.
You can move these folders and files around all you want, including to your SD card or an on-the-go USB drive like this one. The problem is if you change anything about these folders, including the names of files, that particular piece of content won't play in the Netflix app and you'll get an error message. So I can stash 60031262 (aka Love Actually) on an SD card, but until I put it back in that .of folder, it won't play.
It would be easy to rename these folders for your own sanity, but if any of the names are changed it also won't play. Basically, you can take these folders away, but you have to put them back exactly the way you found them when you want to play the videos.
For most people this is both too technical and too much of a hassle to be useful, but there are instances where it could help. Say you've got 2GB of space on your phone and you want to bring a 1.7GB movie with you on a trip. It's hit or miss, and too much hassle for most people (especially with microSD cards being so cheap), but it's a nice trick to have in your back pocket if you need it.