DirecTV Now is currently giving away an Apple TV (32 GB) when prepaying for three months of service. I took advantage of this offer.
I’ve enjoyed the Apple TV 3 for a few years. While it’s not incredibly powerful and has relatively few channels, it has a fantastic user interface. It’s responsive and very simple to use. In a nutshell, it doesn’t get in the way of watching TV.
The 4th generation Apple TV is a different beast. It has an app store with over 1,000 apps available, including games. It comes with a rechargeable remote control with a touchpad, accelerometer/gyroscope, and microphone for Siri. The remote is a marvel of engineering. As someone pointed out on a teardown article, it has more processing power than a mid-1990s computer. While there’s no denying the “cool factor” of the remote, I don’t love it. Even after using it for a few weeks, the touchpad doesn’t feel like a natural way to navigate the screen.
Part of the problem is that any user interface should be consistent. This is one of the tenets of good user interface design. The primary issue that I have with the UI is that the scrolling direction sometimes moves in the direction of your trackpad swipe, and other times it’s exactly the reverse. This reverse movement is what Apple calls “natural scrolling” on Macs. Natural scrolling is meant to simulate how a swipe works on a touchscreen. Even after using natural scrolling for years, I don’t find it intuitive at all. The disconnect between the touchpad and the display prevents the motion from feeling natural, unlike using a touchscreen. What’s worse, the direction of the scrolling varies depending on which app you’re using. (It seems that natural scrolling kicks in whenever a full screen is displayed, without icons.) I’ve had to train myself to swipe in the correct direction. Apple should give the user the ability to turn off natural scrolling on the Apple TV, just like on the Mac.
Other gripes include its lack of 4K and Toslink audio output. It’s safe to assume that 4K and HDR will be added to the 5th generation model. Toslink is probably never coming back, as HDMI audio has taken its place in mainstream consumer electronics.
If you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem the Apple TV is a worthwhile purchase. However, you may want to wait for the next generation model if you own a 4K TV.