After years of deciding against getting an Apple TV because of the limitations of Apple products, I got an Apple TV 4K recently. When I needed a streaming box last year, I went for a cheap Android TV box instead. I even wrote a review of XGODY X96 Plus Android TV box. It’s over a year and it still works despite the negative reviews I read about the product on Amazon then.
I also use Google Chromecast for another “dumb” TV I have in the house to make it “smart.” I went ahead to get an Apple TV 4K anyway for two main reasons.
The first reason is Airplay. I download lots of multimedia content on my iPad and there are times I wish I could watch these on my TV without necessarily plugging in a USB drive. On Android, casting to smart TVs and Chromecast is pretty easy. On iOS, you sure need an Apple TV to fully enjoy casting to a TV screen.
Also, if you also do a lot of streaming, the convenience of picking up a movie or a TV show is just one of the conveniences the Apple ecosystem offer.
But is the Apple TV 4K worth the price tag? First, I should let you know I’m doing this review from the perspective of someone coming from a cheap Android TV box. It’s not like I’m upgrading from Apple TV 4th generation, this is my first Apple TV.
Unboxing and first impressions
When I unboxed it, I saw everything I expected: a power cable, a Siri remote, a Lighting cable to charge the remote, setup guide, and stickers. There’s absolutely no HDMI cable.
It feels strange though. Most, if not all, streaming boxes come with HDMI cables.
Apart from the power supply port, the TV box itself has just an HDMI port and a gigabit ethernet port. This is not the regular TV box that lets you plug in a USB flash drive and play your local movies. If that’s one of the features you always look out for when picking up a TV box, Apple TV 4k isn’t for you.
It was easy liking the rechargeable Siri remote holding it for the first time. It replicates the streamlined design of Apple mobile devices. It’s pretty thin and looks like something that could get easily missing if allowed to slide into the crevice between your sofa’s cushion. It has just six buttons and a thumb-size touch interface. Unlike most remote controls with clunky button arrangements, the simplified design makes it fun to use.
It also works via Bluetooth, you don’t need to point it at your Apple TV before it works, unlike infra-red remote controls. With a full charge, it is said to last up to 3 months.
Setting up Apple TV was easy and intuitive. If you have an iPhone, you can easily finish the setup with your iPhone by bringing it close to the streaming box.
Even though I live in Nigeria, almost all devices use the US region in the settings. My iTunes account is also a US account. This is because the best apps and services are exclusive to the United States. So as to access the best content available and get the best out of the TV box, I’m using the US as my region.
Operating system and features
Being a fork of iOS, tvOS feels very familiar even if you’re operating it for the very first time. The remote was really easy to use and it makes navigation smooth. The inclusion of a dedicated Siri button lets you perform lots of functions using just your voice.
tvOS has a far too simple user interface reminiscent of the old days of iOS when it was actually simple and straight to the point. Apps are found on the homescreen as usual and the settings app lets you set your preferences. If the light theme is too bright for your liking, there’s a dark mode you might want to switch to.
As much as I hate typing with the remote control on my Android TV box and using the Dualshock 4 to type on my PS4 console, Apple TV lets you use your iPhone or iPad to type on your TV. It’s one of my favorite features that makes using it really fun.
My unit of Apple TV 4K comes with tvOS 11.2.6, but there’s already an update already to tvOS 11.4.1. tvOS seems to follow every iOS update as it’s an iOS fork.
Apple devices sync with ease thanks to iCloud. Apple TV 4K lets you access your iCloud photos and view right on the TV, you can as well play downloaded iTunes songs. Since you won’t be able to sync local songs on your Mac, AirPlay lets you play videos and music on your iPhone, iPad or Mac right on the TV.
For reasons best known to Apple, Safari does not come tvOS. This means you cannot use your Apple TV to surf the internet. There are contents I would like to access using just a web browser, but this is impossible with Apple TV. If there’s no app for a particular service, you have to AirPlay the content from your other devices to Apple TV.
Content and user experience
Apart from a great user experience, what most people actually want from a streaming box is great content. It’s not just about what is delivered, but also how it’s delivered.
When it was launched, Apple TV supported 4k HDR content and Dolby Vision. Most reviewers had one major gripe with this great streaming box: the absence of Dolby Atmos. The good news is that Apple has already announced this is coming to Apple TV 4K in tvOS 12 which is about a couple of months away. This would make Apple TV 4K the first streaming box to have both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
Although Apple TV works better with a cable TV subscription, I’m unable to use this feature because my cable TV provider is DSTV and it’s not on the list.
I had to stick with free content and the few movies I purchased from iTunes. Talking about free content, there are lots of them. I’ve been watching the CW and lots of free channels. However, you can’t watch most of these outside the US. Since Apple TV does not use a VPN, you need to use a smart DNS like the one provided by Unotelly. I’ve had an account since 2012 and it sure works for a number of these US channels on Apple TV
There are also lots of apps you can download from the App Store offering free movies and live streaming like TubiTv, PlutoTV, and many others.
I do lots of shopping on Amazon and as an Amazon Prime member, I have free access to thousands of movies and TV shows on Prime Video. For the first time in a while, I’m putting this to some good use.
The fact is, whether you live in a country where Apple TV is fully supported or not, there are still lots of content to watch.
If you’re an AV nerd, you should be excited about HDR 10 at 60Hertz, Dolby vision, Dolby Atmos surround sound and all. If you have one of these latest high-end TVs, Apple TV is the perfect partner to get the most out of your TV. But if you’re hooking up your Apple TV to just a Full HD TV, the highest resolution available is 1080p.
With exactly the same A10x Fusion chip on the iPad Pro, Apple TV is meant to do more. It’s built to handle some serious gaming, but unfortunately, games available for tvOS are still pretty much limited. Although you can use the remote to play games, pairing my SteelSeries Nimbus controller gave me some nice gaming experience. I particularly enjoyed playing Playdead’s Inside on the big screen with the controller.
Old titles like Minecraft: Story Mode, Asphalt 8, Modern Combat 5 are available for tvOS. However, the biggest and most recent App Store hits on iOS are all missing.
Based on my experience, Apple TV is indeed a great home entertainment gadget. Coming from Chromecast, an Android TV box, and streaming on my game console, I think I’m going to be using Apple TV 4k primarily for streaming.
Unfortunately, Apple TV is not for everyone. I think it works better for people already in Apple’s closed ecosystem. It doesn’t take peripherals through USB but I’m actually seeing less need for this. The touch interface on the remote eliminates the need to have a mouse. Typing on your Apple TV using your iPhone or iPad eliminates the need to get an external keyboard. MFi game controllers are all wireless and work great with Apple TV.
If you intend to play local movies on your MacBook, you can use Airplay. There is absolutely no need to copy files around using a flash drive.
If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you should already be used to things like these. That’s why I said Apple TV is great for people already in Apple’s ecosystem. If you’re not, there are cheaper alternatives you might want to consider.
And by the way, if you plan to have loads of apps and games on your unit, the $199 64GB version is recommended.