I ordered the new Apple TV as soon as I could. Some might think this makes me a fanboy willing to purchase anything with Apple’s bite-marked fruit logo on its chassis. Others will remember that I’ve been looking to replace the PS4 my wife and I have been using as a media center for a while. Still others — and I’m sure this is the largest group of all — couldn’t care less about my purchasing decisions.
That’s fair! I’m just a 23-year-old dude with opinions and the desire to tap on a keyboard for a living. And the Web is awash in mostly favorable impressions on the Apple TV, whether it’s because of the App Store, the improved speed, or this iteration of the device’s ability to play games. There’s just one thing I want to highlight: Its remote.
Anyone who’s used the old Apple TV remote knows how bad it was. I kvetched about that damned thing with a few hundred words over at Pando when the New York Times first reported this update. And that was after I wrote the following, long before the new Apple TV was revealed, in a post describing how smartphones and tablets make good remotes:
Hell hath no fury like an Apple TV owner forced to use the set-top box’s standard remote. The metallic sliver and its click wheel of misery are perhaps the most frustrating remote controls to ever torment a living room. It’s much easier to use the software version of the remote, which allows iPhone and iPad owners to control their televisions without invoking the wrath of ancient and terrible gods every time they have to search for ‘Breaking Bad’ on iTunes.
The PS4’s controller was in some ways worse than the old Apple TV remote. It’s easy to accidentally press a button on that controller, and because it doesn’t turn off when a video is playing, its battery dies constantly. It’s fine to play games with (it’s certainly much better than the controllers that shipped with older PlayStation models) but it was easily the most frustrating remove I’ve used.
All of which makes me appreciate the new Apple TV’s remote even more. It has just enough buttons — play, menu, home, Siri, and a volume rocker — to be useful but not clunky. The touchpad feels good, it offers a satisfying click when it’s pressed, and it often works pretty much as expected. Given all the problems I’ve had, that’s no faint praise.
I’m not going to say the remote’s perfect, though. It seems like I constantly pick it up the wrong way, making my attempts to get back to the homescreen pointless until I flip it over. (Though I’m fully prepared to admit that this is probably my fault and nothing Apple can change.) I also forget where the buttons are placed, so if I’m not looking at it, I’ll often hit “Siri” instead of “back.”
The remote isn’t great for games, either. I seem to be alone in thinking that — always the black sheep, etc. — but I’ve been frustrated playing both “Crossy Road” and “Alto’s Adventure.” I won’t use the Apple TV as a gaming device very often, since I have the PS4 and didn’t buy a controller for the Apple TV, but it’s still frustrating.
Then we get into the smallest of my complaints: I have yet to use an Apple TV app that displayed a menu when I pressed the “Menu” button. (Sure, it shows the “top menu,” but that’s not at all what “menu” means in most software.) I’m not sure what else Apple could do to change this, since a back button would look too much like a rewind button, but I suspect it will confuse people besides me.
But all of those are minor complaints. Otherwise this is the best remote I’ve ever used. There aren’t a lot of options, but there don’t need to be. I don’t accidentally press buttons. And I don’t lose it every two seconds, like I did with the old remote. This simple change would be enough to convince me to buy the new Apple TV on its own.