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New Apple TV review roundup: Huge promise, huge missed opportunities

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 9:07PM EST
Apple TV 2015 Reviews
Image: Apple

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Apple earlier this week started taking preorders for the brand-new Apple TV, a massive product refresh that brings over a slew of impressive features, including support for App Store apps and games, Siri support and system-wide voice-based search, and a new remote control that wants to bring Wii-like gaming to the living room.

Pricing starts at $149 for the 32GB version, and an extra $50 gets you the 64GB model instead. Now that the new Apple TV is shipping to buyers, the first reviews are in.

From the looks of it, Apple TV isn’t the perfect answer for your television needs, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to enhancing entertainment in the living room. In time, the Apple TV platform might evolve to really become a real cable-killing set-top box if Apple ever offers its own online streaming service.

Here’s what the first Apple TV reviews are saying.

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The Wall Street Journal praises Apple’s decisions for the new set-top box, including the user interface, the intuitive touch-friendly remote control, the gaming features of the new platform, and Siri’s smart access to content.

“The Apple TV gets the Internet TV remote right by reaching for the same touch-screen feeling that makes the iPhone intuitive to a 2-year-old,” the Journal says. “The new remote has a glass touchpad on one end that you swipe and tap around with your thumb as if it’s an iPhone. Without having to look down, you feel connected to what’s happening on the big screen.”

Of course, there are downsides too, like lack of support for 4K video playback, and a lack of content that would make it a true cable TV killer.

“In the long run, I suspect more cable cutters will take the [Apple TV option over competing devices],” the Journal says. “Apple has a proven record with attracting the best apps, and sway with media companies. Apple is working on a streaming service that would bring a lot more content currently tied up in cable subscriptions.”

Read the Wall Street Journal’s review at this link.

Writing for The Verge, Walt Mossberg, a veteran Apple device reviewer, found the new Apple TV to be faster and much easier to navigate, but the device “feels very much like a first effort at a new approach. “Some of its new features, like voice control, are catchups. And some seem too limited,” he said.

He also identified one potential problem some existing Apple TV users might have, and that’s the inability to restore apps and settings from the old model to the new one.

One more potentially annoying problem is not being able to search the App Store using Siri though you can use the assistant to search in any other apps. That means App Store searching might become “incredibly hard to navigate.” “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,” he said.

“I don’t know when, if ever, Apple will reinvent TV,” Mossberg added. “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.”

“In effect, while it may not have reinvented all of TV, Apple has reinvented the streaming set-top box,” he concluded.

Read The Verge’s review at this link.

Apple’s progress with the reinvention of TV is also noted in David Pogue’s review on Yahoo Tech. Pogue explains how is it is to set up the Apple TV if you have an iPhone running iOS 9 nearby, and how accurate Siri can be.

But at the same time, he notes that there are still bugs to be squashed and UI improvements to be done. Pogue also mentions Siri’s inability to take dictation that makes text input annoying, or to offer the same set of features across apps – for example you can’t ask Siri to search for shows anywhere outside of Netflix, HBO, Showtime and Hulu. “It’s a missed opportunity the size of Greenland,” he notes.

Interestingly, Apple TV comes with a lot of hidden gestures that aren’t documented for the time being. You can touch the left and right side of the trackpad to use them as arrow keys when typing, and use button sequences to switch between apps, or turn off the TV. Furthermore, the USB-C jack on the back of the Apple TV lets users capture the Apple TV’s video output on a Mac (the Apple TV graphics, but not the protected TV or movie).

The Apple TV has lots of potential, but it won’t fix television just yet. “For now, your $150 or $200 isn’t buying you much more than you’d get from less expensive rivals,” he said. “To be sure, you’re getting a much more polished experience—the voice-recognition stuff, in particular, blows away what Roku and Amazon have come up with so far.”

Read Yahoo Tech’s review at this link.

The New York Times’ review dives right into the cool features of the new Apple TV in a review titled “The new Apple TV invigorates the set-top box.”

“I NEVER imagined I would get hooked on reading comic books on a TV screen. That changed last week after I picked up a new Apple TV,” the Times’ Brian X. Chen says, explaining how he ended up reading the Madefire comic book apps on the device.

App access is, of course, one of the major new features of the new Apple TV.

“Playing with apps is just one new feature of the revamped Apple TV, which will ship this week,” Chen said from the get-go. “It’s that plethora of innovations and apps that leads me to conclude that the upgraded $149 box is now the best TV streaming device you can get for your money.”

The review describes the other major features of the new Apple TV, including the redesigned remote, and Siri’s advanced voice recognition features. Gaming on the Apple TV is likened to a Wii U experience rather than a Xbox One or PS4 one. “Gaming graphics were also on par with Nintendo’s Wii U, and some of the casual games seemed to compete directly in Nintendo’s sweet spot: lightweight, family-friendly gaming,” he said.

However, the Apple TV is not the perfect device you expect from Apple for fixing TV. Chen mentions the same issues, including 4K video playback absence, text input annoyances and lack of Siri dictation support and even price, at least when compared to competing devices.

Overall, “Apple TV is on the path to turning the television set into a smarter connected screen,” he said. “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 New York Times’ review is available at this link.

Even more Apple TV reviews are available from BuzzFeed, Mashable, CNET, and Refinery29.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.