AppleTV with remote

Not enough time with an AppleTV to craft a coherent review

I’ve spent the last few hours playing with a new AppleTV, and because I enjoy reading my own writing, I thought I’d write down a few things that I think are notable.

Are you excited about this

Multiple staff in the Apple Store asked me if I was ‘excited’ about it. Like “oh, you’re buying a new AppleTV? Are you excited?” Eager, chirpy, grey company-shirted sales clerks. I don’t know if this is a new thing they’re doing.

I answered, “uh, yeah…?” like I wasn’t even really sure what I was buying. Sure, sign me up for that two hundred and seventy dollar box. What’s it do? How should I know?! Take my money! Well done James, ya dummy.

In retrospect, I don’t know what the right reaction to a question like that is. I think any reaction by me – either extremely positive “YEAH IT’S GONNA BE GAME CHANGING” or negative “I DUNNO GUYS IT’S JUST TO PLAY MY DUMB SHOWS” would’ve sent me into a post-purchase malaise.

A capitalistic lesprit de l’escalier, in which I lie awake wondering whether being excited by a streaming box is the right emotion to feel. 

Handy tech hint! Come prepared to the Apple Store with a little witticism tucked in your back pocket. So if they ask you if you’re excited, you can go “the last time I was this excited about a gadget with a remote it was my garage opener!”

Something like that. Ugh, don’t do that one though. It sucks.

Just know, that in the final edit of this article, I crossed out a lewd joke about your mother. Don’t do that one either.

Initial setup

The box asked me on screen if I wanted to do the pairing thing with my phone so it hands off all the wifi deets. I did. It worked, it was great. Then I had to do 2 factor authentication. Then I had to enter an App Store password, which I presume it would already have. Then a Netflix password, and a YouTube authentication code, then enter a DNS IP address, then change regions.

All of that sucked.

The remote is good, but somehow bad

The idea of having a trackpad on a remote is genius. Like, it’s one of those obvious revelations about UI on a TV that were all hoping Apple would tackle.

Here’s an analogy: you know how you had to key down, down, down a list to find Under The Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on your shitty Creative Nomad? And then the iPod click wheel came along and made that idea of flying through a list –with momentum and speed– simple and obvious?

Well, turns out TV interfaces are full of lists. Lists, and grids. Some are stacked vertically, some are horizontal strips. But they all require scrolling, and in the past scrolling was imprecise at best –hold that button down, wait, wait… oh too late, you went past it!– and excruciating at worst (press down, press it again, press it once for every frickin’ item in the list).

A trackpad on the remote solves that problem. Swipe, and you get a gravity, an inertia of sorts, as grids of TV shows quickly sweep by. Then it slows, then it stops. You swipe again. Keep swiping, keep the inertia up. You can swipe in any direction. It’s great.

Everyone will copy this.

The industrial design of the remote is frustrating. It’s a nice rounded-off slim remote, backed by metal, fronted by a two-pane combo of black glass and black matte trackpad. Lighting port on the bottom.

It’s a symmetrically-shaped rectangle, and the buttons are placed in the middle, so you can’t tell where the front is by feel alone. I tried to use it backward a bunch of times already. That’s annoying.

Nobody will copy this.

The buttons feel clicky and good.

Good job user interface designers

The interface has a constant sense of place so that you know where your ‘selector’ is at all times. It’s pleasant, and necessary. It has these little hover effects that aren’t too flashy, just quietly noticeable.

It’s dynamic, not static. Your ‘selector’ is always on the move; straining to spring over to another letter, hovering on an artwork, skidding to a stop on a list item. It feels alive. Other TV boxes interfaces were already hideous, but now they feel sticky, sluggish, and plodding. Not twitchy, skimmy, and slippery like this.

You can tone it down if it’s too slippery.

There’s two buttons on the remote, one is MENU, and one is a TV icon. Menu is basically a back button. TV icon is basically a home button.

I keep mixing them up. I think other people will too.

Scrubbing through video is great. You probably know because you watched Gruber bitch about video scrubbing for two months before the unveil and then surprise, it was fixed.

It’s good. They fixed it.

Though sometime I accidentally screw up my place in a show, because I keep fiddling with the remote.

AppleTV next to the TV

Apps are fine

The Plex app is the best Plex app I’ve used. Netflix is better than the old one. Everything is much faster.

YouTube is excellent. All my subs are there. I’m watching Game Grumps without needing to do Airplay. That’s good.

Voice search sucks, but other voice stuff is good

“Find It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Netflix.”

shows nothing except iTunes results

I wonder if this is because of the whole DNS situation. I am reasonably confident that I’m logged into the Australian App Store, but am accessing US Netflix. Perhaps it’s regionally puzzled.

“What did he/she say” is great.

“Subtitles on/off” is great.

That’s all I’ve found useful so far. I will find it way more useful if Netflix search works itself out and Plex search is integrated.


Buy a console if you care about games. Except for maybe Quiplash — those Jackbox Games people know what they’re doing.

It works with my TV, I don’t know about yours

So far for the bally-hoo about HDMI-CEC and it’s inherent dodginess, mine has worked perfect so far.

Press TV icon, AppleTV and actual TV turn on.

Hold down TV icon, and AppleTV and actual TV both turn off.

That’s a good trick. Volume worked out of the box. No complaints anywhere there.

I think that AppleTV, 6 year old non-smart Panasonic plasma and Sonos Playbar might be the ideal setup for this thing.

I reserve the right to complain later if this eerie technological synchronicity shits the bed shortly after writing this article.

Was it worth it, because that’s a lot of money.

I like a fifty bucks Chromecast as a much as the next guy, but having your phone also be a TV remote permanently is a chump’s game.

Think of it as two hundred and seventy bucks spent in the pursuit of making your TV interface usable. You’ll actually like using your TV again.

Well, after you’ve finished entering all your stupid passwords, that is.