Tuba: A Decent YouTube App That Could be So Much Better

YouTube is on the road to becoming a quality replacement for cable television. There are currently many channels that offer daily news coverage, comedians like Rhett & Link have their own weekly program called The Mythical Show, and even The Associated Press, WSJ, and other major news outlets have channels on the video streaming giant. While the browser is still the main way to watch YouTube, mobile platforms have official native apps for the task. Why not on the Mac, then?

Tuba is the answer to a native YouTube solution on Apple’s personal computing operating system. It’s not just another browser window that cleans up YouTube — it’s an app that accesses the API of Google’s network and pulls the videos in directly for your viewing pleasure. But is it worth using over the website?

Straightforward User Interface

Refreshing a feed.

Refreshing a feed.

When compared to YouTube’s mobile apps, Tuba’s user interface is lacking. However, if you put it side-by-side with the desktop website, the app looks cleaner by comparison. There’s a slimmed sidebar that shows only the sections of the service you need access to: popular videos, your subscriptions, five categories, and playlists from your account. All of these are collapsible with one click to make the interface as clean as you need it to be. However, after some testing, I found that the app doesn’t store your menu preferences, so the sidebar is always fully open.

To check for additions to the feed you’re viewing, there’s a pull-to-refresh feature with a perky little analogue TV (with antennas). Searching, in my use, was surprisingly fast. Even when I had a very slow 1 Mbps connection, queries results were generated quickly.

Playback is Fluid, But Has Peculiarities in User Experience

Looks like YouTube, right?

Looks like YouTube, right?

By default, the app loads the highest quality available, which is typically either 1080p or 720p. However, it does not support 480p, no matter what video you’re watching. I found that strange because 360p is available from the quality selector. Regardless, all options worked great and loaded much faster than YouTube’s website because there was no extra time for the app to “think” about what quality to use.

One reason to use this app over the website is that it caches recent videos and you don’t have to reload them if you want to show a friend.

Longer descriptions do not display properly.

Longer descriptions do not display properly.

Here are the other bizarre things I discovered in playback:

  • Clicking the video does pause it, but there’s a two-second lag before it registers (the same goes for playing it).
  • While the volume slider looks cool with a red glow, it too is sluggish when moved back and forth.
  • Long descriptions are simply not supported, as seen in the image above.
  • Seeking only works when the video is buffered, making it only half supported.
  • If you hover over the sharing and then move your cursor back to the playback area, it plays a paused video.
  • Worst of all, there’s no way to visit someone’s channel by clicking their picture or name (even if it’s the author of the video you’re watching).

Interaction: There’s Only a Like Button

If you’re thrilled about the content you’re watching, great! Otherwise, disliking videos is not supported. Either the developers wish to disregard the demoting of videos or they completely forgot about the feature. Whatever the reason, disliking is necessary for the YouTube community and should be included in a third-party app.

You can share a video by hovering over the triangular menu above it and then selecting the social network. It’s not native though: you will be taken to the browser.

Leaving a comment in a different way than you'd expect.

Leaving a comment in a different way than you’d expect.

As for commenting, Tuba doesn’t adopt the inline method that most use. Instead, clicking the Comment button will open a small separate window for you to type your thoughts in. When finished, there’s a Post button. Replying is not supported and neither is liking, disliking, or reporting a comment as spam. Even more surprisingly, none of the comments are sorted by likes.

All of this basically makes involvement with the YouTube community impossible. You can say what you think, but you can’t reply to someone else and there’s no way to even dislike the video if it doesn’t appeal to you. All of this is available with one click through the “View on web” button, but it seems like a waste to exclude it from the app itself.

No Ads, Which Means Content is Missing

VEVO videos are not playable.

VEVO videos are not playable.

A nice perk of using this app is that it doesn’t show the advertisements you would usually see on YouTube.com. While this is wonderful news, there’s a downside: no VEVO channels. I tried to play music videos from Owl City, Psy, and others, but the videos didn’t load. The videos simply didn’t buffer and the play button did nothing, which is understandable since the app doesn’t show ads before it. I’d rather see ads than not be able to view the content at all.

Good for Quick YouTube Sessions, But Overall Unstable

Native fullscreen mode is the best part of the app.

Native fullscreen mode is the best part of the app.

I wanted to like this app. Its premise is exactly what I’ve been looking for on the Mac since I got one, but sadly it doesn’t deliver. The content is only half there — I count comments as part of YouTube, since the people should have a voice — and there’s simply no way to get around some of the issues. I have a bunch of feature suggestions, but I’ll leave those out since the app isn’t ready for daily use yet. Instead, I recommend that you try out the free version of the app for a taste of what you’ll get.

The nice thing is that the developers are serious about improving the app. They updated the free version alone on the 1st of August, which is the day I wrote this review, and they continue to work out the bugs. Once it’s more stable, I may be able to recommend this app to friends. Until then, it’s nothing more than a good idea.


Summary

It's good to see a native YouTube app on the Mac. This one does a good job at some things, but overall it's incomplete, buggy, and needs better support for commenting.

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