I spent most of the holiday weekend watching movies and TV shows on the new Apple TV, which launched in late October.
The new Apple TV surpasses previous models in almost every way. But there is one glaring issue with the new Apple TV that feels like a major step backwards.
It's the new remote control. It's incredibly annoying to use.
It also looks worse than its predecessor, in my opinion. The Apple TV remote used to look like this:
Now it looks like this:
The new "Siri remote" looks much more pedestrian than the sleeker, minimalist Apple TV remote of years past. But its biggest problems, in my opinion, lie beneath the surface.
Here are my biggest gripes with the Apple TV's Siri remote.
It has too many buttons
The new Apple TV remote has six buttons. The old remote had three buttons plus a directional pad for navigation and playback controls.
On the new remote, more buttons means more features - but there's at least one button that could've been eliminated entirely.
There are two buttons at the top, a "Menu" button and a "Home" button. The Menu button takes you back to the previous screen, while the Home button can turn on the Apple TV, put it to sleep, or bring you back to the home screen immediately.
These buttons could have been combined. The Home button has the most features - click once to go home, click twice to quickly switch to another app, and hold to put the Apple TV to sleep. But this button could've easily included the "back" functionality. This way, you could click once to go back, twice to go home, three times to switch apps, and hold to sleep. To me, it'd be easier if all the "change what I'm seeing" functions were housed in one single button.
The new remote also has a button for Siri, which can help you search for TV and movie content using your voice. The button works well, but Siri does not: it frequently misunderstands me, and it often takes far too long for Siri to translate my voice command into actual actions. (By comparison, Amazon's Echo device is much better at understanding my commands and giving me instantaneous responses.)
The other buttons work fine, but I wish Apple approached the remote with a more clever solution. Personally, I would've loved to see the return of the iPod's click wheel design. With a single button in the middle - click it once to play/pause, and hold it to use Siri - and a touch-sensitive click wheel for navigation, playback and volume, the Siri remote could've eliminated four buttons and looked incredible.
The touchpad is oversensitive and inaccurate
The new Apple TV remote has something others didn't: a tiny touchpad designed to replicate the experience of swiping on an iPhone or iPad.
Apple thought this would make navigation easier on the Apple TV. On the contrary, I think the touchpad makes the Apple TV more difficult to use.
Apple says the touchpad is made of glass, but it feels more like low-quality plastic. As it turns out, Apple tells Tech Insider the Siri Remote doesn't use the same type of glass from the iPhone or iPad.
And that makes a big difference in the user experience.
Unlike iPhones or iPads with glass screens, where inertial scrolling really makes it feel like you're touching your content, the Siri remote's glass touchpad feels more slick and less precise. It's cumbersome to manually search for something or enter your email address/password for Apple TV applications. When you do those things, typing involves clicking on alphabet letters in a single line. In the old Apple TV interface, you'd click on alphabet letters in grid so it'd take less time to reach each letter. Again, something that's intended to feel "new" actually feels like a step backwards.
The touchpad also has one particularly annoying quirk: It's extremely sensitive to any kind of touch, which will immediately wake your Apple TV from sleep. So if if you're like me and the remote control slides down into the couch or accidentally touches you, your Apple TV will turn on and your content might start playing. I can't tell you how many times my new Apple TV has played an entire season of a TV show without me just because of the remote's hypersensitivity.
A silver lining
The Siri remote has some pretty cool features, but they're unfortunately masked by their flaws.
Using Siri to control your content would be great if Siri actually worked faster and understood voices better. Using the touchpad would be great for navigation if it actually worked and felt like it does with iPhones and iPads.
But the Siri remote doesn't work as it should, and its flaws really do affect my overall enjoyment of the Apple TV.
Thankfully, there's an alternative to the Siri remote: You can use your iPhone's Remote app to control the new Apple TV interface. If you own the new Apple TV, this is the remote I'd recommend using. The Siri remote is filled with unique functions, like an accelerometer for gaming and ways to multitask and control your TV, but it suffers from a few too many flaws that are annoying and rub off on the overall experience.
At the very least, I hope Apple fixes some of the sensitivity issues with a software update, but I'm personally wishing for an overhaul at some point soon. Compared to the Siri remote, I'd take the old Apple TV remote - or the iPod click wheel - any day of the week.