2. The Apple TV 4 is finally available. Its hardware looks the same, but its software and remote have been completely redesigned.
3. Last week, Apple loaned me their first major Apple TV release in nearly three years and I wanted to see if it’s actually worth the $149 price tag.
Confession: I have never paid an actual cable bill. When I moved into my first apartment, I bought a digital antenna that produced exactly 20 glorious channels. Since then, I’ve tried every media steaming device on the block and either lost their remotes or have become so frustrated with how slow they were that I’ve given up on them altogether. These days, I mostly Netflix and (actually) chill on my laptop.
But the new Apple TV is supposed to be different. It’s supposed to be much more than TV.
After 440 minutes of Orphan Black, 3 hours of Alto’s Adventure, and one very tiring 45-minute ab torture session, I found that is that there is a lot to love about the new Apple TV, plus a few misses that aren’t total dealbreakers for me, but might be for some.
5. The Apple TV’s new main menu looks like a giant iPhone homescreen.
The Apple TV’s software works just like any iOS device. Like the iPhone and iPad, there’s an App Store where you can download a variety of games, video streaming services, fitness apps, and more. There’s even a “Purchased” section where you can download all the apps you already own on other iOS devices, if they’re available for the Apple TV.
The foundation of the new Apple TV is apps — and this, I think, is why it offers so much more than other media streamers.
6. When you press and hold an app icon, it’ll wiggle when it’s ready to be rearranged – just like on iOS.
The apps in the first row can now be moved which you weirdly could NOT do in previous generations of the Apple TV.
7. The new Siri remote has a trackpad cursor and voice recognition. It can also be charged via Lightning cable.
The old Apple TV remote was frustratingly simple and so stupidly thin that it would fall through the cracks in my couch at every opportunity.
The new remote is much improved. There are *finally* dedicated “back” and Main menu/Home screen buttons. The Siri button cuts annoying on-screen typing time in half (more on this later). Instead of clicking sticky arrow keys, there is now a trackpad that your thumb can swipe to navigate. To select, press down on the trackpad until you hear a satisfying click.
One downside: the Apple-branded remote loop that makes it easier to find/attach to yourself or attach a locator device like Tile doesn’t actually come with the set. And it costs an astounding THIRTEEN DOLLARS to buy one separately. $13 for a piece of string. I’d wait until there’s a more affordable third-party version available on Amazon. Or, you know, make your own.
8. You can talk to Siri while an episode or movie is playing.
Try questions like: “Who stars in this?” for a list of actors; “What’s the weather like in [city]?”; “How are the [sports team] doing?” for scores. The content will resume playing in the background. If there’s a little arrow on top of the pop up, you can swipe up on the remote for more information and pause your movie or show.
Siri can also open any app (“Open Hulu”), find movies (“Show me sci-fi movies on Netflix” or “Find me movies with [actor/actress]), and even identify a particular show episode (“Find the episode of Friends with Brad Pitt”).
Sometimes Siri fails miserably, and “can’t search the web right now” for inexplicable reasons. But once you get the language down, using voice commands is so much faster than typing with the remote.
9. The best Siri command is “What did he/she say?”
Siri will rewind a few seconds and turn on closed captioning.
10. Games like Alto’s Adventure are incredibly fun on Apple TV. They look and sound beautiful on the big screen.
There’s an accelerometer inside of the Siri remote that essentially turns it into a controller. For some games, you simply raise and lower the remote to navigate. On others, you click the trackpad to jump or swipe to accelerate. I tried two of my favorites: Badland and Alto’s Adventure. I was blown away by how good the games looked and sounded and how easy (and, dare I say, fun?!) it was to use the remote.
The set-up is, of course, designed for solo gameplay. A handful of titles, like Crossy Road, have multiplayer mode where one player uses the remote and the other uses an iOS device, which is perfectly fine. But the standout games are the ones that only require one person at the helm.
This is an exciting prospect for gaming enthusiasts and indie game developers alike. Now that Apple TV games can be downloaded like apps, you’ll be able to play indie titles like (*fingers crossed*) Limbo that were once confined to computers and mobile devices, on a big, high-definition display.
11. I (shockingly) enjoyed Zova, a fitness app that guides you through no-equipment, body weight workouts.
I could spend all of my waking hours rewatching Gilmore Girls, but somehow this fitness app was so intriguing that I downloaded it and used my TV as a personal trainer instead of the Netflix vessel it had been for many years. Truly revolutionary.
It’s hard to explain the utility of non-TV, ~lifestyle~ apps on the big screen but you’ll have to trust me when I say, it’s insanely cool/dangerous to do things like buy stuff FROM YOUR TV with the Gilt app. The Behance app, which is basically a Pinterest for graphic design, looks stunning in high-definition. It’s pretty cool to get up close and personal with little design details here and there.
12. If your roommate is sleeping, you can connect any Bluetooth headphones to Apple TV.
The older Apple TV 3 had an optical audio port for a home theater setup, but the new Apple TV doesn’t. It now supports wireless headphones, which mean you’ll have the freedom to roam about your living room instead of being tethered to the device.
If you don’t have wireless headphones, unfortunately you’re out of luck. Get the Roku or the older Apple TV 3 if this feature is important to you.
13. If you don’t have headphones, you can make your roommate’s life less miserable by reducing loud sounds.
In Settings, go to Audio and Video > Reduce Loud Sounds.
15. Typing anything is still a nightmare.
Every time you download an app that requires a log in, you will have to face the endless swiping that is typing with an Apple TV remote. And because the trackpad is so sensitive, you may, like me, find yourself overswiping, then having to delete the mistyped letter, then returning to the correct letter, over and over again.
16. Worst of all: unlike previous Apple TVs, you can’t connect a wireless keyboard to the new Apple TV to help with password input.
Why, Apple. Why.
During the initial set up, there was this awesome feature where my iPhone wirelessly transferred my WiFi log in and password to the Apple TV by just being nearby. But for mind boggling reasons, you can’t transfer anything else, including your Apple ID or cable subscription login, this way.
17. You’re basically tethered to your laptop while downloading and logging into apps.
My Apple ID billing info was out of date, but I couldn’t edit it on screen. I had to open my computer, launch iTunes, and input the correct information before proceeding to download a free app. I get that inputting your credit card information on a giant display isn’t super secure, but I was alone, in my home, frustrated that I needed to have multiple devices open to get one of those devices to work.
That’s not all: there are many apps that need cable credentials before you can start watching: HBO Go, WatchESPN, Tennis Channel, and Showtime, just to name a few. The way you sign into these apps is by opening the Apple TV app on screen, getting a code, opening your computer, logging into the channel’s website with your credentials, then inputting the code. Every time! Even if you’re using the same cable log in for every app!
Right now, it doesn’t feel like the Apple TV is a standalone device. It feels like it works best in tandem with other gadgets.
18. There are no music streaming apps (yet) except for Apple Music.
There are no major native music apps for Apple TV, except for Apple Music currently. You’ll need your iPhone, iPad or MacBook (but only if you have a 2011 MacBook Air/Pro or newer) to stream Pandora, Spotify, or Rdio to the Apple TV via Airplay. And even then, you’ll be tied down to your device. If you’re on Android or Windows, you won’t be able to use Airplay at all.
19. There is no Amazon Instant Video app (and there probably will never be).
Amazon will probably never submit a native app for Apple TV. If you heavily rely on Instant Video to get your Transparent or Sex and the City fix, then you’ll need to download the Amazon Video iOS app, which amazingly supports Airplay. Airplay will stream the content wirelessly from your iPhone to the Apple TV.
20. The new Apple TV doesn’t support 4k.
This isn’t a huge ding against the Apple TV for me, since I don’t own/can’t afford a 4k television. The Apple TV has pretty new aerial screensaver videos that look nice despite it not being ultra high definition. But the lack of 4K support is weird, seeing as how Apple’s own 21.5-inch iMac has a 4k display and the iPhone 6S/6S Plus can record 4k video. How else will we show off those glorious 4k videos if not on our TVs?? Plus, Netflix supports 4k streaming for a handful of shows and movies, including House of Cards and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Amazon Instant Video also has a small but growing 4k collection, which includes Transparent and Orphan Black.
If you *do* have a fancy ultra high-definition display, both the Amazon Fire TV and Roku 4 support 4k content.
21. It’s expensive.
At $149 for 32 GB and $199 for 64 GB, the Apple TV is the priciest media streaming device on the market (aside from the Xbox One which, as a gaming console, can do much more than stream Netflix). The Chromecast is only $35, the Amazon Fire TV stick with voice recognition is $50, the Amazon Fire TV is $100, and the Roku 4 is $129 (but, really, if you don’t have a 4k TV the $70 Roku 2 is just as good).
If you just want the Apple TV for Airplay and Netflix, you can still opt for the older Apple TV 3 which, at $70, is a perfectly fine device for cord cutters.
23. If you already own Apple devices, I would definitely recommend the 4th generation Apple TV.
If you’re off to the Apple Store, opt for the 32GB version – you really won’t need 64 GB unless you plan on downloading a ton of gaming apps.
The most exciting thing about the Apple TV is its potential. Developers have just recently gained access to the Apple TV SDK (a fancy tech term that basically means, “Hey! Make some apps for this cool new thing!”) and I expect that the App Store will grow exponentially within the next year.
The Apple TV isn’t exactly affordable compared to other media streamers like it. But for many cord cutters, an $8 Netflix subscription + $15 per month HBO Now access + a one-time payment of $150 for the Apple TV is *still* cheaper than paying for cable (which can range anywhere between $60 and $200 per month for premium channels).
My one gripe against the Apple TV is how Android and Windows un-friendly it is. Chromecast, Roku, and Fire TV all have apps for both the iOS and Android devices, while the Apple TV is pretty much designed for iOS-only households. You *can* download some third party apps to use Android with Airplay, but they are largely unreliable.
Overall, the ability to download apps (instead of being forced to see channels you don’t want), and the new voice/Siri capabilities makes the Apple TV one of the most easy-to-use media streaming devices in its class. The redesigned software makes it the most enjoyable to look at.
For another perspective on the new Apple TV, check out John Paczkowski’s review on BuzzFeed News.
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