Apple TV (2015) review

Apple TV's latest iteration is a bit late and still missing 4K support, but is a good choice for fans of all things Apple

Apple lovers will swoon over the Apple TV.
Apple lovers will swoon over the Apple TV.
Apple lovers will swoon over the Apple TV.

Highs

  • Easy and fun to use
  • Fantastic remote control
  • Zippy operation
  • tvOS versions of apps are great
  • AirPlay mirroring

Lows

  • Does not support 4K
  • No optical digital audio port
  • Lacks some key apps
  • No expandable storage

If you prefer iPhoto to Google photos, Apple Music to Spotify, and AirPlay to Bluetooth, then the Apple TV is aimed squarely at you. You are heavily invested in the Apple universe, and the Apple TV has been designed to carry the Apple experience right over to your big screen. And in that case, if you’re looking for a streaming set-top box with a gorgeous user interface, a fun remote, and all the Apple integration you could ask for, by all means, buy an Apple TV.

If you are more like this reviewer, however, who owns an iPad and and iPhone but prefers the services of Spotify and Google, then you should seriously consider looking elsewhere. The Apple TV is a fine device indeed, but despite the fact that Apple waited over three years to cough up this latest version, it remains, in a few key ways, behind the times.

Out of the box

Apple has the out-of-box experience on lock. Those Cupertino cats really know how to make you feel great about the product you just purchased, and the Apple TV’s packaging may be its greatest achievement in this regard yet.

Once you lift the box’s lid, a glossy Apple TV box and gleaming remote greet you, both covered in protective plastic. Apple likes to use premium materials, and so those materials tend to have just the right amount of heft. The new Apple TV and Apple TV remote are even heavier than we anticipated, though – in a good way.

You may be pleased to see that, although the new Apple TV is quite a bit chunkier than its predecessor, there’s no wall-wart power block to cram into your already over-stuffed power strip. Instead, the Apple TV comes with a simple black AC power cable covered in that grippy silicone stuff everyone loves to coat their products with these days.

Along with the Apple TV and remote control, you’ll find a Lightning cable for charging the remote. What you won’t find in the box is an HDMI cable, which would have been a welcome addition considering the Apple TV’s premium price.

Setup

If you’re an iPhone owner, Apple is prepared to save you a little set-up hassle. Once you’ve fed power to the set-top box and connected it to your TV via the HDMI cable you had to buy, the Apple TV will run you through a set-up wizard. The most notable part of this process is setting up your Wi-Fi connection, provided you’re going the wireless route (the Apple TV does have an Ethernet port, which we recommend using if a line is available at your installation location).

If you have an iPhone running iOS 9.1 or later, make sure you have it handy and have Bluetooth turned on. When prompted you can simply hold your device in proximity to the Apple TV; doing so will prompt your phone to share your Wi-Fi settings. This is far easier than selecting the correct access point and pecking your password out on a virtual keyboard, especially if your password is long, complicated, or easily forgotten.

From here, the Apple TV will ask whether you want to enable Siri, whether you want to enable location services, and whether you want to share diagnostic data with Apple – that sort of thing. At this point you are set up most of the way, but we do recommend enabling Home Sharing if you want to share content across your Apple devices.

Side note: The Apple TV uses 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which is great if you have a router that supports the standard but does nothing to help you out if you use wireless profiles N or below. The Apple TV’s reception isn’t especially powerful, so don’t expect it to solve any problems you might have with other devices in the same location.

The Hardware

We’ll get to the Apple TV box itself in a moment. It’s the remote that really sets the Apple TV apart from its competition.

The Apple TV remote’s best feature is its touchpad. Not only does it speed up navigation considerably, but it also reduces wear and tear from repeated button pressing. In some cases, it allows for game play, though that sort of limited interface isn’t super compelling.

Aside from the touchpad, the few buttons Apple provides are quite useful too. A menu button effectively serves as a “back” button, backing you out of whatever you dove into, one screen at a time. There’s also a “home” button of sorts – it looks like a TV – which pulls you out of whatever you were doing and plunks you down in the home screen.

If the touchpad doesn’t impress you, dig this: The Apple TV is designed to automatically detect the make and model of the TV or A/V receiver it is connected to, then program the remote to control the volume of the device. You can program it manually if needed, but for the vast majority of people, it will just work — like so many of Apple’s products.

We have less to rave about when it comes to the box itself. It packs a powerful A8 chip, and you can opt for either a 32GB or 64GB version. Once again, Apple refuses to make its device’s storage capacity expandable. You’ll find no Micro SD card slot here. Also, don’t expect an optical digital audio port, either. Apple ditched it, just as Amazon did with its Fire TV box. This is a shame, since that connection makes integrating a sound bar, A/V receiver, or self-powered speakers much easier.

The biggest hardware disappointment, however, is the Apple TV’s lack of 4K Ultra HD support. We understand Apple’s tendency to play to the masses, and 4K Ultra HD has hardly had time to enjoy mass adoption, but it isn’t a fad, either. Many consumers will likely buy a new TV after buying an Apple TV and find themselves wishing for 4K support. Amazon’s Fire TV, the Roku 4, and Nvidia Shield all offer 4K resolution, with Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, UltraFlix, and others offering increasingly large catalogs of 4K content to watch. It’s hard not to call this one a miss.

Siri search and control

Amazon’s Alexa may be a more capable digital voice assistant on the whole, but when taken within the context of Apple TV, Siri rules, and there’s plenty of room for her to get even better.

Apple TV (2015)
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Siri covers the basics, as you would expect. You can ask to see a list of available movies featuring a certain actor, or a list of available sci-fi TV shows, for example. Go ahead, get specific – it will help you learn where Siri’s capabilities come to an end.

What you may not expect is to be able to drill down to a more granular level within those searches. For instance, you can say “Show me movies with Robert Duvall,” then later add, “Only the ones from the ’90s,” or “Only the good ones.” Pretty slick.

It’s the remote that really sets the Apple TV apart from its competition.

Siri will search your iTunes library for music, movies, and TV shows if you are in the iTunes app. But if you search from the home screen, Siri will also return results from Netflix. This is a nice start, but we wish Siri polled more apps. Perhaps in time she will.

Outside of providing sports scores, weather information, or stock information, Siri can also control what you’re watching. For instance, you can turn on closed captions, rewind or fast forward a specified amount of time, find out who stars in a movie or sings a song, and even ask “What did he say?” to have Siri back up and replay the last segment you just watched.

How fun is this?

We’ll admit it, the Apple TV is a ton of fun to use – this coming from an unabashed Roku and Amazon Fire TV fan. Apple knows user interfaces, and it shows with tvOS. The entire screen is used to its maximum potential, colors are beautiful, icons have that rounded Apple shape, and even apps created for Apple TV tend to be superior to their Roku and Android counterparts. Plex, for instance, has a refreshingly different look and feel on the Apple TV.

There’s not much more to say about the user interface. It’s pretty great, and we think even tech novices would find it easy to get around. Well done (again), Apple.

One serious roadblock

Amazon Prime Video is quickly making itself a cord-cutter staple. Amazon has solid original TV series, exclusive deals on some highly desirable HBO content, and a wealth of movies to enjoy. Unfortunately, despite being available on iPhones and iPads, the Amazon Prime Video app isn’t available for Apple TV. Not good.

Apple TV 4th Generation

Granted, there’s a workaround. You just have to start the show you want to watch on your iPhone or iPad, then AirPlay it to the Apple TV. The Apple TV will pull the content from the cloud so your mobile device doesn’t die. But this workaround is a major hassle – take it from someone who uses Amazon Prime Video every day.

Spotify is also not an option, which is another potential deal breaker. Again, AirPlay can force it, but it’s a lot more hassle.

Eventually, we ended up disconnecting the Apple TV and replacing it with a Roku for easier access to these popular services.

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of all things Apple, the Apple TV is sure to be a delight in your entertainment system. It’s quick, fun and easy to use, and it brings the entire Apple content universe to your big screen.

If, however, you aren’t so heavily invested in all things Apple, we recommend considering a Roku 4 or Amazon Fire TV. The competition offers 4K resolution, better content search, expandable storage, and costs less.

The Apple TV may be a wonderful device, but it’s not the best choice for everyone.

Computing

Beam up the videos: AirPlay support is coming to VLC player

At CES 2019, the developers of VLC player announced they are adding support for Apple's Airplay feature, allowing consumers to beam video and other content from their iPhone and Android devices to an Apple TV. 
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

Want to mirror your smartphone or tablet onto your TV? Here's how

A vast arsenal of devices exists to allow sending anything on your mobile device to your TV. Our in-depth guide shows you how to mirror content from your smartphone or tablet to the big screen from virtually any device available.
Mobile

Join the Apple club with our complete guide to switching from Android to iOS

If Android simply isn’t cutting it for you anymore, then you might be considering Apple’s warm embrace. Here’s how to make the switch from Android to iOS without losing your contacts, sleep, or hair!
Smart Home

Ring security camera catches man licking the doorbell for hours

A family in Salinas, California had their Ring camera capture something pretty unexpected: a man licking the doorbell outside of their home for more than three hours. The incident took place around 5:00 a.m.
Smart Home

GHSP makes a (back)splash with its touchscreen concept kitchen

One of the coolest concept kitchens from CES 2019 came from GHSP. It created a backsplash entirely made of touchscreens. That means the control panel for your kitchen is accessible no matter where you are.
Health & Fitness

In search of the fountain of youth, beauty companies turn to tech

Beauty tech is a fairly new concept, but at CES 2019, companies such as Olay, L’Oreal, and Neutrogena were fully embracing it with all kinds of gadgets that promise to give you glowing skin.
Product Review

Kwikset Kevo Contemporary review

Tired of carrying around keys? Make keyless entry so easy that all you have to do is have your phone nearby to open the door. It’s a little pricey, but sleek lines and simple features make the Kwikset Kevo Contemporary a great choice for…
Smart Home

Airbnb says sorry to guest for how it dealt with undisclosed security camera

An Airbnb guest recently found a surveillance camera in his rental apartment that hadn't been properly disclosed in the listing. The firm admits its initial response to the guest's complaint was poor, but has since made amends.
Smart Home

Thinking of buying an Instant Pot? Here's what you need to know

The Instant Pot is a powerful kitchen appliance that does everything from pressure cook to to slow cook to steam. Heck, you can even make yogurt in it. Here's all you need to know about the magic device.
Smart Home

Want a smarter home? Ditch the keys with these great smart locks

A good smart lock should offer a combination of security and convenience. Fortunately, these devices keep your home protected, your family safe, and your belongings secure from possible intruders.
Smart Home

The best sous vide machines cook your food perfectly, every single time

Want to make four-star meals from the comforts of your own kitchen? Here are the best sous vide machines available right now, whether you prefer simple immersion circulators or something more complex.
Smart Home

Busted: Facebook Portal gets 5-star reviews from company employees

It's fair to say that Facebook's Portal smart display received a tepid response at launch, so it was something of a surprise to see lots of glowing reviews of the device on Amazon. Turns out some were written by Facebook workers.
Smart Home

Idaho mother says her child’s light-up sippy cup exploded

After a mother filled a Nuby insulated light-up cup with milk, the cup allegedly exploded. The incident caused burns to the mother's hand and face and a stinging sensation in her lungs that required a trip to the hospital.