In recent months, Sling TV has been rolling out a redesigned app experience, which for the most part has been well received by my colleagues at Tom’s Guide and other reviewers.
Unfortunately, I found out that the latest Sling update includes some extremely poor UI changes. Years of intuition in the use of navigation thrown out the window, now I am frustrated and squinting at the screen, lost at sea. I’ve never been legitimately depressed by an app update before, but here we are. I am almost ready to cancel my subscription.
I should start by mentioning that I have been a huge fan of Sling TV over the years. The app’s combination of content, price, and design always made Sling a no-brainer for my choice of cable replacement. No other streaming app has seen as much use in my home on a day-to-day basis. Cutting the cord has been great for me; I’d be fine if I didn’t touch a clunky cable box remote again for the rest of my life.
So my heart aches that now I think about canceling what was once an excellent application. TO Quick Sight a Twitter shows that a number from pissed off users appear for agree with me: Sling’s latest update is a huge downgrade.
Browsing casual channels is now a pain
Swiping up (or clicking up) used to be an easy way to browse channels on Sling TV. It was a simple and powerful way to bounce off live TV, like a better and more responsive version of what cable boxes have offered for years. A single swipe up invoked the ‘mini guide’ navigation bar, which occupied a small sliver at the bottom of the screen.
Going left or right at that point will scroll through All Channels view without leaving your current program. The channel logos were clearly visible on the black background. You can see the start time, the remaining time and the next program. The mini guide can even be customized to show only your favorite channels in the My Channels section.
That minimalist interface has been totally messed up with the latest update. You have to swipe up, then down, then right, then down again to get to the equivalent menu, which for some chaotic reason is now sorted alphabetically, with smaller channel logos hidden within giant thumbnail images ( which are often a useless and blank default) graphic).
Even though it only shows the channel logos as a small icon and shows much less data, this new menu somehow consumes more than a third of the screen. It’s taken one of Sling’s strengths – easily navigating channels while watching a live show – and it’s made it completely frustrating.
Sure, you could go to the Full Screen Guide page to navigate, but doing so will take you away from what you are currently viewing. That’s exactly what he hated about live TV on Hulu, and now Sling has essentially copied it. Boo.
It is much more difficult to get quick information about what you are seeing.
Another massive downgrade in terms of ease of use comes with the way you view program information. Swipe down on the Apple TV remote that is used to quickly display the information of what you are currently watching: season and episode information, recording controls, and more.
Now you have to slide your finger all over the place to see the same thing: up, down, right, right again, then down again. He has turned a simple UX action he had previously performed dozens of times a day into a nasty and tedious Dance Dance Revolution combo.
Its not all bad
To be fair, there are some good things about the latest Sling update. The overall design has benefited from cleaner elements and better search functionality.
The home screen now offers more logical menus to access the DVR and content on demand, which was previously hidden. And adding “Recent Channels” to the mini guide is useful for ping-ponging between some live shows, even if the current implementation leaves a lot to be desired.
What should Sling do next?
Sling can still save this redesign; in fact, with a few key tweaks, it could be even better than ever.
First, swipe (or click) up one time when watching live tv it should take you straight to the mini guide, as it had been before. And a swipe down should take you directly to the program information again. The channel browsing process needs to lose all the unnecessary clicks that the update brings.
Next, Sling needs to redesign the mini guide so that it makes sense again (and takes up less space). It should make the channel names clearer, instead of using small, inscrutable icons. It could easily borrow some of the space that giant miniatures now occupy; these thumbnails don’t add much and aren’t really necessary in a mini guide to begin with.
Finally, remove the alphabetical order from the “All Channels” view and make it the default in the mini guide, setting it back to the previous channel order, with local channels first. And bring back the customizable “My Channels” or “Favorite Channels” view as a mini guide option, allowing users to reorder them however they want there.
Give people the power to build their own experience. At the very least, users should have the ability to make these kinds of menu changes in settings, rather than being locked into half-way defaults. Make Sling TV great again.