Updated: May 19, 2018It's a no brainer. On the desktop, you go online, and you open a tab and you load Youtube, and then you play clips. But then, on mobile devices, you have dedicated applications, which usually offer a somewhat more efficient media experience. So, on the desktop, it's the browser way or the ... SMTube way?
SMTube is a cross-platform Youtube player, which allows you to search and play videos from the popular media platform, with some additional search tweaks and filters, and extra download options, all this from the desktop, without having to keep a browser tab open. It's a convenient tool to use, and with the recent rewrite, it actually works, and it works fairly well. I decided to test to see what gives.
I tested in Linux - just get the program from the distro repo, and if you want a newer (and better) version, there is a dedicated PPA for Ubuntu. Windows users will need to separately download the SMPlayer and then SMTube. Once installed, the program even lets you updates its Youtube code, so if there are any API changes, they will be reflected in the application, and you won't end up with any weird errors. In fact, this was the main reason for the major rewrite that SMTube underwent recently, as the old version simply stopped working. For those wondering, I tested version 18.1 here. Now.
The program is both simple and powerful at the same time. Not sure what that tonvid thingie stands for, but okay. Anyway, you have categories (popular stuff is shown by default), the search field, and then all sorts of filtering options, like clip length (duration), type, resolution, and more, which at a first glance, seems more powerful than what you normally get in Youtube. At the bottom of the page, you can change your region and choose a skin for the SMTube interface. Lots of goodies right there.
After that, you just play what you want. If you click on any which video, it will open in the default media player as defined by SMTube. You can change this in the system settings, and indeed, I found VLC to be superior to MPlayer, including the ability to actually control the currently playing stream, and - in KDE - there's also the system integration.
Even though it's a simple tool, SMTube is fairly configurable. On the General tab, you can change your preferred playback quality, and optionally download clips (more about that later). The Players tab lets you configure and prioritize your media players. It will show the installed software, plus you can add some predefined templates, but they will not work until you install the necessary programs - no warning on this though, only a quiet failure. You can then also edit each one as you see fit.
This is another strong feature of SMTube - it allows you to download video clips. Now, I am not sure if this is legal (or where), or if this breaks Youtube EULA or whatnot, but I guess it's no different than any which hundred browser extensions that do the same thing. For the obvious reasons, SMTube does not ship with the download extras, but you can configure them yourself.
Most notably, it allows you to configure "additional players" - except these will be download tools like uGet, wget or youtube-dl rather than ordinary multimedia programs. The official site also had very simple instructions on how to configure these players. Once they are ready, they become right-click options for any which video, and you can grab the video streams and save them offline.
I tried this, and this seems to work very well, and uGet has a pretty neat interface, for instance. I was not able to download audio streams, though. You get a Forbidden error. But that's fine. You can always extract audio if you need to, as I've shown you a long time ago.
SMTube looks like a nice tool. It is not strictly necessary or needed, but it does allow you to have Youtube open and playing, even if you're not currently using your browser, i.e. you can use it like any other media player. This is nice, plus you get a clean and intuitive interface, decent search and filter options, and it's easy to change settings and configure additional players. You also have the option to download clips.
I don't know where SMTube stands when it comes to Google, Youtube, but ordinary users will surely appreciate the extra flexibility they get with a media player rather than just a browser tab. Of course, you're not signed in, you don't get recommendations, comments or playlists, and such, so I guess there are benefits to going directly to Youtube. But if you're only after what Youtube can play without any socializing, SMTube is an excellent choice. It's had a rough ride, it never quite fully worked for me in my various distro reviews, but this new version is stable, robust and works well. At the very least, it's worth testing. Choo choo.