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  • Post published:26/05/2021
  • Post last modified:26/05/2021

I described the previous Apple TV remote as a crime against humanity, and now that a new version is available, it’s fun to watch Apple fans finally admit the same. But you don’t need to buy an expensive new Apple TV 4K at $179 and up to see whether Apple has addressed the complaints: You can get a standalone Apple Siri Remote for $59 instead and try it out with your existing Apple TV.

That’s what I’m doing, and while I know that $59 is a lot of money for a remote control, this is Apple we’re talking about here, and the remote is, at least, very well made. If it’s good enough, I may consider replacing my current Apple TV 4K, which is almost four years old, and using that for TV instead of the Chromecast with Google TV that we’re currently using.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The previous Apple TV remote was, as I wrote at the time, “terrible, and prone to misclicks and mis-swipes, and is, in general, the worst thing about Apple TV.” That remote is also tiny and slippery, and too easy to lose in the couch or pick up upside down and misuse. It was so bad that I was surprised by how long that Apple stood by it. But then, this is the company that burdened its MacBook customers with endemically unreliable butterfly keyboards for years as well. Apple can be stubborn, even when its worst ideas are so obvious to everyone else.

Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of things to “fix” the previous Apple TV remote. I bought a silicon case that made the remote more grippy and less likely to succumb to my couch cushions. I used a Logitech Harmony universal remote (now discontinued) for several months. I bought a third-party Apple TV remote from Amazon (no longer available) and tried that instead. And … none of it stuck. Each was unsatisfactory for different reasons. And with other living room set-top boxes offering better remotes—like every Roku, the latest Fire TVs, and, most recently, the Chromecast with Google TV—I just didn’t see a reason to bother with a fiddly remote.

Remote comparison: Apple (new), Apple, Google, Roku, Amazon

There are a few reasons I might want to use Apple TV, however, so this new remote is of interest for practical reasons. First, the Apple TV UI—which was taken from an old Mac OS X app called Front Row that Apple ripped off from Microsoft’s Windows Media Center—is simple and efficient, and it should offer excellent performance on the new Apple TV 4K. As important, when I buy movies and TV shows online, I buy them from Apple, and to access the special features on movies, I need to be using an Apple TV; that content is not available from the Apple TV app on other platforms. Apple, like Amazon and Google, is trying to aggregate content and recommendations from multiple services in the top-level UI, which I like. And Apple, unlike those firms, doesn’t have any obvious advertising in its UI, which I also like. So you never know.

But again. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, the remote.

I’m happy to report that the new Apple Siri Remote appears to solve the problems with the previous Apple TV remote. It’s bigger, for starters, and fits better in an adult-sized hand. Of the devices I use, I guess the remote is the most similar to the latest Fire TV remotes, and it has a tall and thin design that adds some crucial buttons and other controls that previous Apple TV remotes lacked.

The new remote loses the silly trackpad-like touch surface from the previous version and replaces it with a vastly superior clickpad with four directional buttons on its outer ring which even better, also offers a fun circular scrolling capability for scrubbing through video. It’s reminiscent of the old iPod click wheel.

The old remote only had five buttons—Menu, Home, Siri (for voice control), Play/Pause, and the Volume rocker, in addition to the click/select feature of its trackpad-like top. But the new remote has more buttons, including a Power button (finally!) that passes through to the TV. So we get five buttons on the clickpad—Click/select plus up, down, left, and right—plus Back (which works like Menu), Home, Play/Pause, Mute (which is new), and the volume rocker, and a Siri voice control button on the side. Steve Jobs is probably rolling in his grave, but real people need this functionality, and this layout is long overdue.

Like the previous remote, the Apple Siri Remote charges over Lightning, and Apple does include a cable in the box, which I appreciate. Setting up the remote, however, proved difficult. The one-point type in the book of matches-sized user manual says you need to hold down the Volume Up and Back buttons at the same time in front of the Apple TV, but it would never register despite detecting the remote immediately. So I checked for a software update, and there was one, and because this is an Apple product, it look far too long to install it. That did it: After the update, the new remote paired on the first try.

In use, it seems to work well. You can use the four buttons on the clickpad ring to navigate through the Apple TV UI, but the click/select button in the middle also has a trackpad-like surface for some reason too, and I wish I could turn that off. Otherwise, the buttons all work as expected, though you have to press and hold the Power button to turn off the TV.

The best thing about the new remote, however, is that clickpad. When you pause a video, you can use its outer ring to scrub through content accurately in either direction. This was nearly impossible with the previous version. Big improvement.

Contrary to Apple’s claims, however, the new remote isn’t couch proof, which I experienced first hand when I just went back into the room to find it. The remote had been sucked between two cushions just as easily as its predecessor.

No matter. It’s still a big improvement. Now the only question is whether I can use Apple TV as my primary interface to the TV. I’ll experiment with that this week.

Tagged with Apple TV

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