Many Android devices are now very powerful and capable computers that we take with us everywhere. Quad core processors, large memory capacity (often expandable via microSD memory cards), and 1080p (or higher) screens are now the norm for higher end devices, making them great for many tasks that have always traditionally been performed on desktop systems.
A perfect example is BitTorrenting, which can now be performed pretty much just as easily on your Android device as on your PC or Mac computer. There are some downsides to torrenting on a mobile device, but these are less important than they used to be, and can be mitigated in various ways:
- Battery life – downloading via a BitTorrent client does drain battery life. The simplest solution is to download overnight, with your device plugged into the mains, although mobile batter chargers and spare batteries (for devices which support this) can be used when no mains power is available. The Pro version of uTorrent also adds various power saving options.
- Storage – mobile devices typically have less storage than desktop computers with their gigantic 1TB+ hard drives, but the situation is improving. Not only are more devices being released with 16GB, 32GB, and even 64GB memory on-board, but many devices allow further expansion using hot-swappable microSD cards. Most devices also support connection to external hard disks via $2 OTG cable, while WLAN connected hard drives can be accessed from anywhere within WiFi range (or even over the internet) using SAMBA with programs such as ES File Explorer, and cloud storage has become very cheap (Mega,for example, offers 50GB storage for free)
- Screen size – while many would argue that even a large phone screen (say 5” or so) is still too small to enjoy watching a movie on, many do enjoy watching content on the move, and a phone sporting a 1080p resolution has a better picture than all but the most expensive and up-to-date large screen TVs (typically also 1080p, but the pixel density is much lower on a TV as the pixels are spread over a considerably larger area). Tablet devices of course have larger screens, and many media streaming devices (such as AppleTV, Roku and Chromecast) allow you to playback content from your Android device on your large screen TV. We will show you how to do this using a Chromecast at the end of this article.
Before we start you should install some important apps (if you have not already done so):
- A file manager – a file manger allows to you examine your device’s file directory tree, move files, copy files, etc. Some manufacturers pre-install a basic manager (which is usually fine), but if not, or if you want a more full-featured app, there are many available on the Play Store. We like ES File Explorer
- An OpenVPN client – this can be a custom app supplied by your VPN provider, or the OpenVPN for Android app, which can use generic OpenVPN configuration files (see 5 Best VPNs for Android for setup instructions), even if your provider does explicitly not support OpenVPN on Android. It is possible instead to use the built-in VPN client, but as this only supports the less secure PPTP and L2TP protocols, we advise against it. You will of course also need a subscription to a VPN service
- A BitTorrent client (duh!) – there are plenty available, but we favor the Android version of the old desktop stalwart, uTorrent. You may need to configure the app (upload limit, download limit, incoming TCP port etc.), although the default settings should be fine to get started with).
2. Connect to a VPN service
Using VPN prevents anyone tracing your BitTorrent downloads to your real IP address, as the VPN server acts as a proxy server, presenting its IP (rather than yours) to the outside world. Also, because all internet traffic between your Android and the VPN server is encrypted, your ISP cannot detect that you are downloading using BitTorrent (it may be able to guess based on the volume of traffic you use, but has no ability to ‘see’ what it is).
Always choose a VPN provider which allows BitTorrent downloading and keeps no logs (so it has nothing to hand over to copyright bully lawyers if they come a-knocking). It is generally also a good idea to use VPN servers located outside countries such as the US and UK, where copyright is stringently enforced.
Using a VPN is also essential for residents in the UK and some other European countries to access torrent websites which have been banned in those countries (just connect to a server located in a more liberal country – the Netherlands, Switzerland and Romania are all good choices).
You can easily tell if your device is connected using VPN by looking for the key icon in your notification bar.
3. Find the torrent you want
We will assume that readers know the basics of downloading via BitTorrent (a good general beginners guide is available here). You need to visit a torrent website using your web bowser, search for the file you want, and click on the ‘Download torrent’ or ‘Download Magnet’ link (avoid any ‘Direct Download’ type links, as these are usually dodgy promotions leading to paid services).
The first time you download a torrent you will be asked which app you want to open the .torrent or .magnet file with. Choose your BitTorrent app, and decide if you always want to use that app, or just this once.
Here we will of course opt to uTorrent!
Handy hint 1: many public torrent websites fund themselves using adult rated advertising. If you don’t want to see this, use FireFox for Android and install the Adblock Edge extension (go to Menu -> Tools -> Add-ons -> ‘Brows all Firefox Add-ons’, search for Adblock Edge, click on the correct search result -> Add to Firefox).
Handy hint 2: Movie filenames on torrent sites can be difficult to decipher, as they use a specialized syntax. A good list explaining the terms is available here, but DVD-Rips and BD-Rips (movies copied directly from DVD and Blu-Ray disks) usually offer the best quality. If your device and the screen you plan to watch the movie on can handle it, 720p or even 1080p (larger files but better resolution) rips are the way to go.
4. Your BitTorrent app will open and (usually) ask where you want to store the downloaded file.
uTorrent allows you store files on an external SD card – very handy for large files
In uTorrent you can view a list of the files you are downloading (we show a legal torrent where the copyright has expired)
By touching a file and selecting ‘Details’ you can see more information
5. Access your downloaded files
uTorrent (like many other Android BitTorrent apps) has a built-in media player, and simply touching a completed file will cause it to play, or to open in an app with the correct file type association.
If it does not, then you can use a file manager (e.g. ES File Explorer) to locate the file manually, and if there is no app already associated with that file type then you can choose can one already installed, or download one from the Play Store if none is available.
Casting to a big screen using Chromecast
One of the biggest limitations to watching movies on your Android phone or tablet is the devices’ generally very limited screen size. As we noted in the introduction, various media streaming devices can solve this problem, but as we actually have a Chromecast to play with (and as it is the cheapest solution), we will take a quick look at ‘casting’ movies with it.
Google Chromecast is a $35 dongle that that connects to your large screen TV’s HDMI slot. Google has just recently enabled screen mirroring from Android devices (this is still in Beta, and not all devices are supported), so the Chromecast is perfect for ‘casting’ downloaded movies to a large screen, and if you downloaded them at 1080p, you can enjoy watching them at full Blu-Ray quality!
If screen mirroring is supported is supported on your Android device, run the Chromecast app, let it detect your Chromecast device, select that device, and wait for the app to connect. Then go to the menu -> Cast Screen, and ta-da, you should see your Android device mirrored on your TV screen!
One of the biggest problems with watching a movie using screen mirroring is that, well, the screen is mirrored, so it needs to stay on, which is very wasteful for battery life. VLC however has Chromecast support built-in, and when playing using Chromecast screen mirroring it will not play the movie on the Android screen, automatically turning the screen off to save battery power.
Another solution is to use the (slightly buggy) Screen Standby app, which is designed to solve just this problem. Although it says root access is needed, the app apparently ‘does work on non-rooted devices, but that mode only darkens your screen, so you won’t be saving as much battery life as you would with a rooted device.’
The justifiably popular Allcast app is almost a must for any Chromecast user anyway, and the free version has just removed its previous 5 minute time limitation on movie and photo casting (although a watermark remains onscreen at all times). It works with almost all Android devices, and will turn off the Android when casting screen to save battery life.
We did find, however, that Allcast could not handle all movie file types as well as VLC and MX Player.
One further note for which we don’t have a solution other that turning it off when using the Chromecast or Allplay apps, is that neither could locate a Chromecast device when VPN was enabled in Android.
Downloading via BitTorrent and then watching downloaded content on your Android device is easy, and even when watching video content on the device can be very rewarding (depending on the device). Throw in a media streaming gadget such as the Chromecast (other options are available), and your Android device becomes can become the hub of an entire home media or cinema system!