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Apple TV reviews: A step toward reinventing TV, but living room not evolved yet

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 9.40.00 PM

The new Apple TV is slated to go on sale in retail stores this coming Friday after going up online earlier this week, and now early reviews of the device have hit the web. The new Apple TV includes a variety of enhancements, feature additions, and more, including a smarter Siri, a new remote, a redesigned interface, and an App Store. But how do all of these new features add to the overall experience of the device?

Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey Fowler says that the fourth-generation Apple TV is very much the company’s attempt at turning “your TV into a giant iPhone.” Ultimately, Fowler believes that the Apple TV’s central advantage is the App Store, which will allow developers to showcase their talents for the everyday streamer:

Ultimately, the Apple TV’s advantage is that it isn’t tied to the idea of channels, live TV or even streaming. It’s the place where developers are able to do the most cool interactive stuff for the widest audience. There’s already a workout show on the Apple TV that’s smart enough to know if you’re really working out.

The TV of the future needs to be as powerful and easy to use as an iPhone, and this Apple TV is the first box—and the first Apple TV—to achieve that.

Walt Mossberg of The Verge writes that one of the biggest flaws of the new Apple TV is that Siri doesn’t work for searching in the App Store, which as it grows, will become increasingly hard to navigate and find what you want.

Another disappointment: Siri search doesn’t work in the App Store, which will soon become incredibly hard to navigate, just like on the iPhone. Even worse, the keyboard you need to use to search for apps (or for content in services not enabled for Siri, or for signing into services) is awful, actually worse than the old one. It’s maddening.

And, as good as Siri has become, it feels limited on this device. It needs to work on allor most of the apps, not a few. It doesn’t even work in the Apple Music app. And it’s odd that it can’t handle all the queries that it can on an iPhone, or speak to you.

Mossberg does note of one neat feature that speeds up the set-up process, however:

Apple does help you with setting up the box, if not its apps. You can just hold an iPhone running the latest iOS version near the Apple TV and it will fetch your iCloud and Wi-Fi settings over Bluetooth.

Nilay Patel, also writing for The Verge, says that most of the apps currently available for the new Apple TV are simply scaled-up iPhone apps. Obviously this is something that can and will change overtime, but in the interim it presents a major problem for Apple’s “future of TV” offering:

And… that is not what the currently available apps in the App Store do. Most of them are just gigantic iPhone apps. The Periscope app seems like it would be brilliant, but lacks the ability to log into your Periscope account, so you can’t see your friends’ streams or leave comments. The Zillow app appears to be an aggressive attempt to highlight the crime-scene aesthetic of most interior real estate photography. Descriptions for featured games like Shadowmatic and Mr. Crabtalk about plugging in headphones and tapping on your screen. Laziness abounds.

In BuzzFeed’s review, John Paczkowski praises the device’s new touch-based remote. Paczkowski says that the combination of touch support and Siri make navigating the Apple TV’s interface incredibly intuitive and simple:

If the new Siri Remote isn’t everything Apple claims it is, it’s close. Certainly, it’s a dramatic improvement over its predecessor in function and usability (it’s worth noting that Apple charges $79 for a spare, which is more than half the cost of the base model Apple TV). Siri is a TV remote that actually makes sense. It does what you want it to do with a minimum of fuss and clutter. There’s a touchpad on one side of the remote, and you can use it to navigate in all sorts of ways. Swiping across a film’s timeline to pinpoint a particular moment, for example, is surprisingly accurate and easy. Universal search — which not only enables searches across multiple streaming video services, but prioritizes the results based on the services you subscribe to — is fantastic. After using it for a few hours, I found myself resenting Apple for not enabling it sooner and leaving longtime Apple TV users like me to suffer with the lousy search function that preceded it.

Christina Warren, writing for Mashable, praises Apple’s attempt at reimagining the Apple TV’s operating system and interface with tvOS. Warren notes of the differences between designing for a “six-inch experience and a 10-foot experience,” saying that Apple managed it very well.

Turning on the Apple TV for the first time, I was pleased with the new interface. The old Apple TV interface has received some updates over the years, but has remained fundamentally unchanged since 2010. The new interface shares the same UI and UX cues as iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan. From the font to the images, everything looks modern — yet familiar.

Apple TV now has its own operating system, tvOS, which is based on iOS. The idea behind tvOS is to bring the best aspects of the iPhone and iPad experience to the biggest screen in the house. But tvOS isn’t simply blowing up the iOS experience for a bigger screen. That’s something we’ve seen from other Android-based set-top boxes (including, to a certain extent, Amazon’s Fire TV), and it doesn’t always work as well as you might think. That’s because a six-inch experience and a 10-foot experience are different. The nice thing about the Apple TV and tvOS is that it knows that the experiences are different and the apps are built in a way to make that kind of shift work.

Apple has also included some high quality HD video screensavers for the Apple TV that look unbelievable and are different based on the time of day.

One feature many have been excited for with the new Apple TV is the support for gaming that the added App Store brings. In CNET’s review, David Katzmaier notes that gaming with a single thumb is surprisingly appealing, but that nothing beats the precision an actual controller offers.

The first thing to know about gaming on the Apple TV is that you can always use the included remote; you don’t need to buy a separate controller. The second thing is that with many games, a controller simply works better. Most of the titles I played worked fine with the included touchpad remote, and there’s something to be said about gaming with one thumb. I easily could hold my infant son while I played Crossy Road, for example.

That addictive chicken-smasher, with its simple controls and graphics, played beautifully and looked great on the big screen. So did JetPack Joyride and Bandland, both of which mainly consist of timed jumping. Slightly more complex controls worked well at times, for example steering on Does Not Commute (tapping either side of the pad) or swinging a bat with Beat Sports (swiping to move a bit, and swinging the controller like a Nintendo Wii). Where the touchpad controller failed for me was with quick movements requiring precise directions, like flying the ship in Geometry Wars, or directing the character to move across the map or attack something in Oceanhorn and Transistor.

David Pogue of Yahoo! Tech says that Siri functionality with the new Apple TV works very well with commands relating to finding specific episodes of shows and genres of movies, as well as several useful commands during playback.

Siri can answer any query that incorporates a show or movie title, cast, director, age rating, critical response, or date. (You can even say, “Show me bad movies!”) You can also continue to refine a search. After you’ve said “Show me some Bruce Willis movies,” you can then say, “Only the recent ones,” and then, “Just the funny ones.”

Or “Find action movies,” then “The James Bond ones,” then “just the ones with Sean Connery.”

When a movie or show is available from more than one service—iTunes and Netflix, for example—Apple TV lists them both. And, thoughtfully, it lists Netflix first (because that’s $8 a month, so this particular movie costs nothing more), even though Apple would make more money if you bought that movie from iTunes.

It’s clear that Apple worked its fingers to the bone on this; it works unbelievably well. You have to give a lot of commands before you find a failure. (I finally stumped it when I said, “Show me the episode of ‘The Office’ with guest star Paul Feig.’”)

Finally, the New York Times review of the device explains that while the Apple TV is now more expensive than its competitors (starting at $149), its value will continue to increase as the usefulness of the App Store increases over time:

There are two storage models for the Apple TV. For $149, you get 32 gigabytes; $199 buys 64 gigs. In my tests, apps and games were pretty slim in terms of data size, so 32 gigs should be enough for most people. Those who plan to do a lot of gaming will probably be safer with 64 gigs.

Apple TV is on the path to turning the television set into a smarter connected screen. And though it’s the most expensive of the bunch, it will accrue more value over time as software developers expand its capabilities with more apps and games.

The general consensus among reviewers seems to be that the Apple TV is a great start for Apple in its end-goal of fixing television, but its not entirely there yet. Some of this will get better as the App Store becomes more useful and more developers are able to showcase their skills on the larger-screened platform. The main advantage many seem to think the device has, however, is the integration with Apple’s existing ecosystem. Walt Mossberg writes in his review:

I don’t know when, if ever, Apple will reinvent TV. But this isn’t the moment. I can say that, if I were buying a streaming box right now, this is the one I’d buy, if only for the promise of lots of apps.

By making the set-top box a part of its giant app and services ecosystem, the company is moving Apple TV into a future that’s much broader and bigger than Roku’s or Amazon’s. And that makes the case. In effect, while it may not have reinvented all of TV, Apple has reinvented the streaming set-top box.

The new Apple TV is available now on Apple’s website and will be available Apple Stores to start selling new Apple TV on Friday. The device starts at $149 for 32GB of storage and increases to $199 for 64GB. See also our 9to5Toys roundup of best accessories for the fourth-gen Apple TV.

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  1. johnmfoley - 7 years ago

    Reviews these days always try to present a ‘balanced’ opinion. So no matter how amazing the Apple TV turns out to be, there will be some skepticism in these reviews. Also, no reviewer would completely trash Apple if the product seemed even remotely viable. So really these reviews tell me almost nothing.

    • mikegwest - 7 years ago

      Kind of like how your skepticism that the reviews aren’t genuine and your assumption that it will be amazing tell me that you’re not really interested in the reviews any further than reaffirming the purchase you made four hours ago that you just can’t stand waiting for…

      • johnmfoley - 7 years ago

        Well I made the purchase of 2 of these AppleTVs more like 36 hours ago–no 4. And I can’t stand waiting for it. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the point I’m making that reviews feel the need to take a balanced approach with Apple products no matter if they are revolutionary or useless. They always have more points and counterpoints than any other reviews/devices out there that I’ve seen lately.

  2. incredibilistic - 7 years ago

    I’m definitely getting the new Apple TV but if there’s on glaring, startling omission it’s using voice search in the App Store. That seems like a really BIG miss on Apple’s part. I can sort of understand why voice search might not work once you’re in an app but why there’s no dictation feature from those search boxes feels like someone not only dropped the ball but didn’t hear it fall. If an update is coming that’s the first thing that has to be addressed.

    Also seems weird that Siri can’t control the Music app. That’s especially weird since Siri can control Music on iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. Speaking of which, maybe the first version of tvOS is like the first version of Apple Watch: there’s some things missing that seem like no-brainers but maybe those things are coming.

    Again, dictation seems like such an easy thing. I understand if I can’t say “show me the Entourage series” if I’m already inside the HBO Go app but at least give us dictation so I can say “Entourage” versus having to type it.

    Still, the interface looks extremely slick and I can’t wait to get mine!!

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      Yep no dictate or App Store search is just sad. Apple better do something about their Apple TV team. Maybe that woman needs to stop fake laughing at Paddington Bear and start making functionality which should be there at launch, actually available at launch.

    • mikegwest - 7 years ago

      To me, a GLARING omission is Amazon Prime Video. Put your anti-competitive squabbles aside and deliver to your customers…

      Also, there are no featured apps that truly show differentiation in the marketplace. You could maybe argue that Siri is more polished than its’ competitors, but it certainly isn’t revolutionary.

      Plain and simple, it’s a better Apple TV. Not a new or different product. Not a revolutionary product.

  3. cjt3007 - 7 years ago

    How could it have a “Smarter Siri” if it’s the first Apple TV to have Siri?

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      It’s a dumber Siri by far. It answers almost only questions concerning TV shows and movies. Why in the hell doesn’t it answer everything like it does on the iPhone? If it says to search the web it should just handoff to the iPhone or iPad… Apple honestly has so many missteps now. For everything they do amazingly well, there are increasingly becoming more problems, and I attribute it to the number of things they’re trying to do now, a lack of resources which is just embarrassing given its Apple. They need to hire some people. It’s true that numbers don’t make a company great, it’s a few people with great skill. However, you need the numbers to get everything done. Leave the world changing ideas to a few, but have plenty of people to get the work done.

      It’s really sad that the biggest company in the world has to pull engineering resources away from ANY aspects of their different products to work on one of the other products to get it done. That’s completely unacceptable. They better hire insane numbers of people once that Campus 2 is operational.

      There are so many things where you can say..what in the hell are they doing? Like, they release 3D Touch and – without getting into all the apps – the music app only has Search and Play Beats 1 as quick actions? There is no way I’d have let that happen. It’s completely inexcusable, unless they’re going to say only a few engineers knew and were working on 3D Touch features. Now iOS 9.1 is out and 9.2 is being worked on and still no new Quick Actions for their own damn apps, it’s beyond sad.

  4. freediverx - 7 years ago

    And still no mention of Home Sharing.

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      Because Apple was too stupid to include it in the one product that makes the most sense for it. I mean the Apple TV should be the HomeKit hub, it should be the ONE DEVICE in your home that is the hub for all HomeKit devices. Instead of that, Apple just wants you to have hubs for every different companies’ smart home devices. I mean it’s such a disaster of thinking I don’t know what else to say.

      • gkbrown - 7 years ago

        I don’t think Apple TV is meant to be a hub. What if you have 2? Or 3? Or more? Which one is the “hub”?

        I’d actually prefer that all of my devices be able to interact with each other without any notion of a central hub. If Apple intends for anything to be “the hub”, I think it will be iCloud.

  5. PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

    If the keyboard is worse than the previous version, why haven’t the tech journalists mentioned if the Remote app works with tvOS?

    • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

      Turns out tvOS doesn’t support the Remote.ipa app. That’s just plain dumb. So dumb in fact that I won’t be buying this 4th gen.

      The Verge:
      “And the iPhone Remote app doesn’t work with the new Apple TV yet, so you’re stuck either swiping around the onscreen keyboard or digging up a laptop to enter an activation code. It’s frustrating — I found myself reluctant to download new apps because I didn’t really want to log in yet again. “

      • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

        My god Apple is really losing it now. That’s beyond sad. If they don’t have an update for that app by tomorrow it’s unbelievable.

      • gkbrown - 7 years ago

        I’ve never been a fan of the Remote app. It has never had the level of polish I associate with most Apple products. But I agree that the new ATV should have a companion app. The Siri remote is cool, but I’d like the option to use my phone as well (especially for typing).

  6. bennynihon - 7 years ago

    well for starters, it can’t even play movies properly! It doesn’t support video output that matches a film’s native frame rate of 24 fps. No avid movie fan or videophile would even consider watching movies on this thing. I own pretty much 2 of every Apple product there is, but they really dropped the ball on this one.

  7. taoprophet420 - 7 years ago

    The Verge review mentions one of. Y biggest gripes of the Apple TV, why can’t it authenticate all the streaming apps based on your cable provider instead of doing it app by app. This should be under the mange subscription settings.

    A real reviews can’t be don’t till more apps are available and hopefully Apple adds tight HomeMit intergradtion. For ththe $150 I think should had big HomeKit features and built in wifi router to conect your home devices to be a true hub for your home.

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      Yep I completely agree. Eddy Que even mentioned before how awful it is that you have to enter and re enter your sign ins to every different subscription services

  8. Inaba-kun (@Inaba_kun) - 7 years ago

    Any mention made of the missing video apps? No Amazon or BBC is a real deal breaker for many. They had both better arrive very quickly if this is to stand any chance against much, much cheaper alternatives, such as the Fire TV. (which has both Amazon Video and BBC iPlayer)

    The lack of 4K is also a major miss, even if at this point it’s more of a future proofing bullet point to set buyer’s minds at rest that their purchase will last a good while.

  9. BBC is coming to the TV so that is good. I am mostly surprised Siri search hasn’t been extended outside of movies and tv shows

    • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

      My best bet is that they wanted it to keep it relevant to the big screen. And should there be people (still) without an iPhone or iPad Siri could create the incentive to purchase that.

      What I don’t get is why the Remote.ipa doesn’t work with tvOS.

  10. Joseph Frye - 7 years ago

    I would rather have a new blu-ray player for my already purchased movies.

  11. TiVo bowl with 500 GB of storage cost 300 bucks. It integrates your cable company with all your streaming options even Plex. It’s everything is Apple TV which they could date aside from the potential of the apps. It has totally changed how I watch TV. I can use my voice to search via the TiVo app and it will find what I’m looking for whether it’s on regular cable, on demand, Netflix etc. etc.

  12. Tim LeVier - 7 years ago

    One of my favorite features of Roku 3 (and my xBone) is a wireless remote with a headphone jack so I can watch TV late at night and not disturb the rest of my family. Not sure I see that on the Apple remote, but it would be nice if it eventually had bluetooth connectivity for some beats wireless headphones.

    • galley99 - 7 years ago

      Apple TV supports Bluetooth headphones and speakers.

  13. Joseph Frye - 7 years ago

    I HATE the Apple TV interface! When casually browsing through various media and Netflix, I should not have to hit the menu button several times in a row just to return to the top level main menu. Plus, just to play an episode on Netflix when starting on the main menu, I have to tap through several screens which do not load instantly. I can figure it out, but telling older guests like my in-laws when they come to visit how to use it is a lesson in futility. The new TV OS doesn’t look any different aside from some color changes and Siri (which I never use).

    • aaronh - 7 years ago

      Well, there is a dedicated “Home” button so it’s only 1 click to get to the home screen. (And on the old Apple TV just holding down the menu button for a couple of seconds did the same thing).


Avatar for Chance Miller Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

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