I’ve waited an awfully long time to write this 2015 Apple TV review. The fourth generation model of this device took years to arrive, by which time a heady sense of anticipation had built.
So was it worth the wait? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out!
To put this review into context, I should explain that I’ve been using the previous generation Apple TV for years, and have one connected to each of my main TVs. I’ve always been quite a fan, but admittedly had my head turned when I recently wrote a positive review of the new Amazon Fire TV.
Apple TV 4th Generation: First Impressions
Apple products are usually a pleasure to unbox, and the new Apple TV was no different.
This new Apple TV looks awfully similar to the previous model, but is significantly taller and heavier. On the back, we find the same power, HDMI and Ethernet ports as before, but the optical audio out has gone. What’s new is a USB-C port, but apparently this is purely for “service use” – at least as things stand now.
Of course, the big difference is the new voice controlled remote, which was shown off at the recent Apple Keynote event. My first impressions were positive, as it’s slightly bigger than the metal remote supplied with older Apple TVs. Those diminutive remotes are pleasing to use, but you seem to spend as much time looking for them as you do using them. In fact, in my case I eventually just gave in and bought a spare one to save me continually removing the sofa cushions!
Anyway, the new remote looks good, and packs in lots of functionality, including one-touch access to Siri voice control, a touchpad surface, and basic motion control. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exactly live up to its promise, but more of that later.
Apple TV Review: Setup
Setting up the new Apple TV device is simple, especially regarding cable connections – power and HDMI and you’re ready to go.
There is an option for a simple Bluetooth setup if you have an iDevice set up for your Apple ID within reach. I didn’t at the time, but figured entering my WiFi password and Apple ID details manually wouldn’t be too much hassle – and would provide a good chance to have my first play with the remote.
Unfortunately, at this point everything started to get a little bit disappointing. Cursor control using the trackpad felt horribly unintuitive – and I’m saying this as an Apple fanboy. Typing in my passwords felt like a chore – and a rather inaccurate chore, come to that. It actually felt slower to me than using the cursor keys on the old Apple TV remote – hardly a step forward.
When you’re used to Apple products, you’re not used to an unintuitive feel, so I was rather perturbed by this, but I figured I’d either get used to it, or be able to tweak some settings. Regardless, I was soon all done, and launched into Apple’s new tvOS environment.
Using the 2015 Apple TV
The first thing I thought upon seeing the new Apple TV interface was how “bare bones” it all looked, with just Movies, TV Shows, Photos and Music, along with a Settings button and one for the App Store.
This, of course, is because tvOS is all about the apps. Out of the box, you’re all set for all things Apple, but if you want anything else, you need to download the relevant app.
I started off by browsing through the Apple stuff. Integration with my Apple ID was impressive, and it was pleasing to have instant access to all my previously purchased content and my iCloud photo library.
Apple Music is natively supported too, albeit with an interface that manages to seem somehow attractive yet clunky at the same time. If, like me, you are an Apple Music subscriber, this means millions of tracks straight to your TV, but the implementation is frustratingly incomplete. For example, the much spoken-of Siri integration (more on that later) doesn’t work here. Pressing the Siri button on the remote and saying “play Michael Jackson” just gives you a bunch of related films to purchase. This feels like a real missed opportunity that I sincerely hope is addressed in a future update.
Playing, buying and renting content is all perfectly intuitive, but a little slower than seems necessary given the Apple TV’s A8 processor. For example, clicking through to some previously purchased episodes of The Big Bang Theory involved a five-second wait to load the episode list, and another to start playing the chosen episode. This is far from intolerable, but with recent comparisons of the Amazon Fire device fresh in my mind, it felt a little slow.
Apps on the New Apple TV
For anything beyond Apple content, you need to head to the tvOS App Store.
The basics are present and correct, and I quickly downloaded Netflix and Now TV. Both of these worked as expected, but entering my account details for each once again raised the frustration of working with the new trackpad remote.
I had already hit the settings menu to adjust the response speed, but I found it no easier to work with the trackpad to negotiate the on-screen keyboard. Furthermore, the design of the remote is such that it’s easy to pick it up and inadvertently face it the wrong way. All in all, it just felt rather frustrating and distinctly “un-Apple-like.”
Sadly, my frustrations continued as I searched the App Store for more TV apps. I reviewed the device in the UK, so went looking for BBC iPlayer (no), All4 (no), and ITV Player (no).
Apparently there’s an Amazon Prime app coming (see this report), but that’s not there yet either. I was left thinking how little choice I really had in terms of things to watch (and again, I couldn’t help drawing comparisons with the Amazon Fire, which already has much more to offer).
In fairness, what’s in the App Store will vary from country to country, and the selection should hopefully improve. US users already have HBO, Showtime, ABC and Hulu – admittedly a fairer selection that we have in the UK. (And, of course, a SmartDNS is an option for these services – see this article).
The App Store isn’t only about core TV apps. Plex is there, which will please people with their own local digital media libraries, and there’s all sorts of random stuff to play with. However, right now the store is both missing the basics and already starting to suffer from the kind of “garbage bloat” we see in the main iOS App Store – which isn’t a great combination.
The Apple TV Siri Remote
I’ve already moaned about the remote a little (did you notice?), but of course its “killer feature” is the presence of Siri. All you need to do is hold down the Siri button and speak, and you can access a whole load of different functionality.
Some of this is great; Saying “Prison Break” uses the Apple TV’s “Universal Search” to give me the option of watching it via iTunes downloads or my Netflix subscription.
“What’s the weather like?” works impressively, with a brief overlay that you can expand to fill the screen with a detailed forecast.
The functionality for use while watching movies and shows, which was proudly shown off by Apple during the demo of the Apple TV is a little more hit and miss. “Who’s in this?” gives a useful breakdown of who’s in the show you’re watching, but it’s galling that “who is that actor?” just isn’t understood by Siri.
Similarly, the “what did s/he just say?” feature, where the broadcast rewinds a few seconds and plays back with subtitles is impressive, but only when it works. Siri’s understanding of my (native English) voice is poor at times, sometimes leading me just to give up on making it understand.
The potential’s there, but I simply wasn’t as blown away by Siri on the Apple TV as I’d hoped to be.
Before I move on, I’m afraid there’s one more thing I have to criticise about that remote. If, like me, you like to watch TV in bed, or reclined on the sofa, that trackpad is awfully sensitive. Shifting your position and suddenly finding you’ve nudged the remote, resulting in what you’re watching beginning to rewind or fast forward, is a frustratingly regular occurrence.
2015 Apple TV Review: Gaming
Much has been made of the potential gaming abilities of the new Apple TV, but it was telling that a relatively simple title was used as a demo at Apple’s keynote event.
Most of the necessary ingredients are there, including a fast processor and a remote with motion controls, but I think it’s fair to say that the true potential has yet to be reached.
I spent most time with Beach Buggy Racing – essentially a Mario Kart clone. It was agreeable enough to play, but that remote I keep going on about does not make for a good gaming controller. For motion control it feels like a Wii Remote in miniature scale, and is simply too light to provide a satisfying gaming experience. In addition, the trackpad-plus-button combo simply isn’t arranged in a way that’s conducive to gaming.
There are third-party game controllers out there for the Apple TV 4G. If you’re serious about gaming, you’ll want to buy one.
2015 Apple TV Review: Conclusion
I read a lot of other Apple TV reviews before starting mine, and it’s fair to say I’ve perhaps been harsher than most in my opinion of the new device.
Ultimately, however, we all had to wait an awfully long time for this new device, and so far it just doesn’t do enough to impress. Add on the high price, and the confusing choice of two storage capacities (the latter is only really worth it for hardcore gamers), and it’s hard to recommend this over the Amazon Fire, which right now delivers far more for far less.
That’s not to say that the new generation Apple TV doesn’t have its merits. If, like me, you’ve invested heavily in Apple’s ecosystem already, this does bring all your media, including your photos, conveniently to the big screen. There is, of course, AirPlay as well, for those with other Apple devices in the home.
Also, the tvOS App Store content and the potential for future firmware updates means that the device offering can only get better – and it certainly needs to in terms of apps for UK TV services.
But then there’s that horrible remote – and even the good reviews out there tend to concur with me on this. The trackpad on it reminds me of when low-end PC manufacturers try to replicate the smooth gestures of an iPhone or a Mac without success. It’s a real shock to find that Apple has put their name to something that’s so irritating to use.
Perhaps, in time, I would become more used to it. Sadly, until Apple beef up their App Store offering, I’m plugging my Amazon Fire back in, with my previous generation Apple TV on standby for any purchased Apple content.
I will revisit the 4th generation Apple TV in time, and see how much has improved. At that point, I’m in no doubt that my stance will change somewhat, but for now, unless you’re even more of an Apple fanboy that I thought I was, there are better TV streaming devices out there.
- Simple, clean interface
- Instant access to all your Apple content
I wasn’t sure about:
- High price compared to competitors
- Unconvincing gaming potential
- Unclear need for the high capacity 64GB model
- Horrible, unintuitive remote
- Serious lack of TV apps for some markets