When Apple dropped the price on its third generation Apple TV to $69, we still recommended holding off until Apple released a new version. The new Apple TV has arrived, so today we’re going to discuss whether we now think it’s time to make the jump.
The new Apple TV marks a dramatic technological leap over its predecessor. The old, or third generation, Apple TV had an A5 processor with 512 MB of RAM, and Apple TV OS 6.1, which is a modified version of iOS.
Today’s new Apple TV, or fourth generation, sports a snappy A8 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB or 64 GB of onboard storage. Additionally, it runs an entirely new OS or tvOS, which is based on the most current version of iOS.
Additionally, the new Apple TV includes a brand new touch sensitive remote and has Siri baked in so you can look up information and issue commands using your voice.
Overall, the new Apple TV marks a huge improvement over its predecessor, but at $149 for the 32 GB model, and $199 for the 64 GB version, it’s considerably more expensive than even the third gen Apple TV at its original $99 price point.
So then, should you buy one over something like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV streaming box, or the simple, yet highly effective (not to mention cheap) Google Chromecast?
The Hardware – Same but Different
The new fourth generation Apple TV has the same shape (cuboid), width, and depth as the old version but is about one inch taller.
As with the previous version, it is well made, solid, black, and fairly nondescript. The only indication that the device is operating is a white LED on the front of the device.
The new remote marks a drastic change from the old skinny silver remote that we loathed so much. That said, though it is different (and wider, which is easier to hold if you have large hands), it’s really not a tremendous usability improvement. It’s still small and skinny and awkward if you have large hands; not as awkward as the original remote, but still awkward.
There’s also the fact that it’s very easy to hold the remote upside down if you’re not paying attention. Beyond that, however, it’s an expensive piece of hardware (retailing for $79) and doesn’t feel remarkably well-made. Additionally, it needs to be charged via a Lightning port at the bottom. Not a huge deal, but it would be nice if you could just set it on top of the Apple TV and charge it inductively.
Further compounding its problems is the fact that the top of the remote functions as touchpad, which is how Apple has decided users will enter text. If the old remote was frustrating to use for this purpose, then the new Siri Remote (as Apple is calling it) is downright tedious. You can adjust its sensitivity, but no matter what you do, it is still a lesson in patience.
As we mentioned, you can use the new remote to interact with Siri. Simply press the microphone button on the device and it will call upon the digital assistant, which you can then use to look up movie information, sport scores, the weather, and much more.
Finally, the new remote can double as a game controller, though you can add a third-party game controller since the Siri Remote probably isn’t going to give you the kind of control and satisfaction that a dedicated gaming device would.
At the end of the day, the actual Apple TV box is a worthy technological upgrade, and the remote is somewhat more comfortable to use, but we’re not entirely sure it’s as revolutionary as they would like us to believe. Still, let’s discuss the interface before drawing any final conclusions.
The Interface – Faster and Polished
If there’s one saving grace (and it’s a big one) to the new Apple TV, it’s tvOS, which is light, fast, and a pleasure to use. The previous interface was clunky, dark, and slow, but this new one is a fantastic improvement.
The new Apple TV doesn’t come preloaded with the plethora of channels like the previous version. Instead, it now features an app store, which lets you download apps such as Netflix, WatchESPN, YouTube, and much more.
Additionally, you can also add games to your device, which is an attractive option for many people who might not be hardcore gamers, but might still enjoy passing the time playing a title or two.
Overall, the new Apple TV interface is a pleasure to use. Unlike the old version, this one flows and pops without any apparent lag or stutter. Moreover, it includes pleasant sound effects that are downright Nintendo-esque.
If the new Apple TV has one saving grace that propels it to the top of the streaming box heap, it’s its new operating system.
It’s Promising and Fun, but Not Cheap
The biggest thing going against the new Apple TV is the price. It’s not cheap, especially when compared to the competition. The ever-popular Roku starts out at $49 and even the top of the line Roku 4 HD player is $129.
Meanwhile offerings by Amazon top out at $139 for the gaming edition, which includes a dedicated gaming controller. Furthermore, lest we forget, you can always pick up a Chromecast for $35, which may not be quite as powerful, but is still extremely versatile.
Still, the new Apple TV does feel like the company is finally starting to get it, and we find ourselves using the device more and more in lieu of our trusty Chromecast.
That said, it’s still not a cordcutter’s dream. If you don’t have a cable or satellite subscription, you’re not going to be able to use apps such as WatchESPN, FX, or the History channel, so we’d be hard-pressed to recommend it based solely on those type of offerings.
Still, this being so early in the product cycle, we see good things and an enormous amount of potential with it. The interface, while already fast and much improved, can only get better, though we would hope that Apple would figure out something to do with the woeful text-entry method.
Should You Buy One? Probably.
At the end of the day, we think that you should base your Apple TV buying decision on whether you already own a streaming device and are looking to upgrade, but also whether you like Apple products. While the latter factor won’t exclude you from enjoying the Apple TV, the fact remains that the experience is still a whole lot more complete if you don’t mind buying into the ecosystem.
On the one hand, this device is very solid and bursting with promise. On the other, $149 or $199 is quite a chunk of change to pony up for it, but we’re inclined to say that it’s probably worth it, especially since it’s clear that Apple is putting a lot more time, thought, and energy into it.
Our one glaring critique is that Apple is fleecing customers out of $50 for an extra 32 measly GB of flash storage, but that’s clearly Apple’s M.O. (and they’re certainly not alone in this practice). They do it with the iPhone and the iPad so why expect anything different with the Apple TV?
Also, they apparently think the Siri Remote is worth $79, so don’t lose or break it.
Bottom line: if you won’t need the extra space, buy the 32 GB model, but if you plan on filling it with apps and games, swallow your pride and buy the 64 GB. If you are looking to upgrade or even buy your first streaming device, we recommend giving the new Apple TV some careful thought. With the inclusion of apps, games, and Siri, it’s clearly a contender that should be taken seriously.
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