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Apple TV Reviews: Kinda Buggy, Kinda Great

By John P. Mello Jr.
Oct 29, 2015 3:51 PM PT

The latest version of Apple's streaming media set-top box, expected to hit U.S. retail stores on Friday, has gathered a bundle of mixed early reviews.

Some reviewers saw great potential in the US$149 diminutive black box designed to pump movies, TV shows, games and apps from the Internet to a television set. Others found plenty to criticize.

"Functionally, it's the biggest change we've seen to Apple TV since its introduction," Ross Rubin, principal analyst with Reticle Research, told TechNewsWorld.

Still, with great change can come great grousing.

"As I reviewed the Apple TV, I was a little shocked to see how buggy it was," wrote David Pogue for Yahoo Tech.

Missed Opportunity

Pogue joined other reviewers in praising the voice search feature in Apple TV, but he found it lacking in some respects.

"Sadly, this 'speak to search' command finds shows and movies only in the libraries of Netflix, HBO, Showtime, and Hulu. It can't find anything on YouTube, CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, and so on. It's a missed opportunity the size of Greenland," he wrote.

"For now, your $150 or $200 isn't buying you much more than you'd get from less expensive rivals," Pogue added. "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."

The $99 Roku 4 set-top box competes with Apple TV, as do Amazon's $99 Fire TV 2 and Google's $99 Nexus Player.

Apple TV tops its competitors in another department, according to Nilay Patel, who reviewed it for The Verge.

"The combination of the remote and interface feels tight and polished and futuristic in a way that makes Roku and Fire TV feel plastic and utilitarian," he wrote.

Feels Like a First Effort

The new model "feels very much like a first effort at a new approach," wrote The Verge's Walt Mossburg, although he liked it overall.

"Some of its new features, like voice control, are catch-ups," he added, "and some seem too limited."

Like several reviewers, Mossberg was annoyed by the box balking at restoring settings from older versions of Apple TV.

"Channels you liked and have used before have to be fetched again from the app store," he wrote. "And, for those which require signing in, you have to do it all over again. Apple TV may now be an iOS device, but it's the only one that doesn't let you restore."

Reviewers at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal saw great potential in the fourth-generation Apple TV.

Trust Me

"Even for those more basic elements, the device is better at streaming video content than less expensive products from Amazon, Roku and Google, all of which I tested over the last month," wrote Brian Chen for the Times.

"While the new Apple box has flaws, it also has a cleaner interface for finding things to watch and a niftier remote control -- not to mention more compelling apps and games," he continued.

"You can trust me because after testing hundreds of new devices for nearly a decade in this line of work, I'm usually blasť about products," Chen added.

"My editor was concerned that body snatchers had taken me when I said I was positive about Apple TV," he continued, "but I reserve excitement for products that I think will make a difference, this being one of them."

Machete for Cord-Cutting

Apple TV may not be the solution for consumers wanting to cut their pricey cable-TV cords, but it could be a tool for it, 00000noted Geoffrey A. Fowler in The Wall Street Journal.

"But I expect Apple to continue hacking away at the old ball-and-chain cable subscription, and the new Apple TV is its machete," he wrote. "The TV of the future needs to be as powerful and easy to use as an iPhone, and this Apple TV is the first box -- and the first Apple TV -- to achieve that."

Where Apple TV has an edge over its competition lies in its development community.

"Ultimately, the Apple TV's advantage is that it isn't tied to the idea of channels, live TV or even streaming," Fowler wrote. "It's the place where developers are able to do the most cool interactive stuff for the widest audience."

That's what sets Apple TV apart from the other boxes in the market, too.

"Many of these products are similar. Their initial value proposition is 'I want to watch over-the-top, streaming television from a service provider through an app,'" Ben Bajarin, a principal at Creative Strategies, told TechNewsWorld. "What Apple hopes is that its developers will do new and unique things through software that don't happen on other platforms."

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to mainstream adoption of video calling?
Too many steps are required to reach a contact.
Video quality is often poor -- dropped calls, frozen images.
There's no advantage to face-to-face communication in most cases.
Too many people feel uncomfortable on live cameras.
There are too many security and privacy issues.
The trend is away from personal engagement and toward texting.
The obstacles are fading, and video calling is well on its way to adoption.
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