2021 Apple TV 4K Review

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Today at Gadget User I am reviewing the new 4K Apple TV and my main question is, is it worth paying for it over a traditional smart TV for the cost of $249 Australian dollars?

Unboxing

Like all Apple products, the unboxing experience is outstanding! Inside the box, we have the new Apple TV along with its redesigned remote as well as the power cables and some documentation. Of course, this documentation comes packaged with everyone’s favourite item: Apple stickers! A quick note here is that there is no HDMI cable included with the Apple TV, much like the last generation, so you will need to purchase one of these separately. Make sure you purchase an HDMI 2.0 cable, or better, so you can utilise all the features that the new 4K Apple TV provides.

Overview

Apple TV

The new 4K Apple TV has the exact same design as the outgoing 2017 4K model. It is a very clean design with only a white LED upfront; power in, HDMI 2.1 out and a LAN port on the back and Apple logos on the top and bottom.

The new 4K Apple TV measures in at 98x98x35mm and are surprisingly heavy, weighing in at 425g.

The new 4K Apple TV has received a processor upgrade from the A10X in the 2017 model to now having the A12, which is the processor from the iPhone XS, so still a few generations behind Apple’s flagship, but a notable upgrade, nonetheless.

This new generation supports Dolby Digital audio as well as Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 and for video, the new model has received an upgrade to 4K 120HZ which doubles the framerate of the 2017 model which could only support 60HZ. We also can view HDR content in Dolby Vision up to 1000 nits of peak brightness, also known as HDR10.

We have also received a wifi upgrade and the latest model now supports Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax.

The new Apple TV remote is quite small compared to other remotes you will have in your home theatre; it is also the most elegant remote you will own. It measures 136x35x2.95mm and weighs 63g. The new remote has ditched the touchpad from the previous model in favour of this new system that looks like an old iPod click wheel, however, it does work somewhat differently. This new system is somewhat of a fusion between the two. Basically, it looks like a click wheel but is used like a touchpad. However, the four dots on the top, bottom, left and right sides can also be clicked for navigation. Apart from that, there is a power button at the top that controls the apple TV but is also universal. Next to this, there is the microphone which is used for Siri. The Siri button is on the right side, roughly where your lock button would be on an iPhone and then under this new click wheel touchpad fusion, we have the back button, a somewhat programmable home button, a play/pause button, a mute button and a combined volume up/down button. The new Apple TV remote is also charged by the lightning port located on the bottom of the device.

User Experience

Apple TV in Couch

Using the new 4K Apple TV daily is an amazing experience. With my setup, all I have to do is press the power button on the remote and my whole living room setup including my TV and receiver turn on with the Apple TV. This one-button approach, compared to my previous three, is a small but very noticeable quality-of-life improvement that I doubt I will ever be able to go back on. Once the system is turned on, I find navigating the Apple TV very intuitive. Everything is laid out logically and I have never struggled to find something.

Watching content on different streaming services works seamlessly and I have not once seen any lag or drop in the quality of content, even though I use my Apple TV on wifi.

Speaking of different streaming services, whenever I needed to input a password on the Apple TV, a notification would pop up on my iPhone allowing me to input the password there. This is quite a handy feature because not only am I a much quicker typist on my phone, but if there is someone in the room that I don’t want to see my password, it is also a great privacy feature.

Another useful feature of the Apple TV is that on the home screen, if you have one of your streaming services in the dock, for example, Netflix, the top carousel of the home screen will display the recent shows that you have been watching from that streaming service. This is really useful as it makes it so much easier, and removes a few steps, to go back to a show that you have been binging so that you can be watching your content quicker.

You can also change the layout of your home screen, and what is in the dock, by just clicking and holding the centre button of the click wheel on the app you want to move and dragging that app where you want. You also can access an options menu for an app if you click and hold on the app and then press the play/pause button. This options menu allows you to place apps in folders, create a new folder or delete the app.

Accessing these other streaming services is quite simple too, as the Apple TV has its own dedicated app store which allows you to access a plethora of apps that have been specifically designed for use on larger screens.

The Apple TV also has the ability to support multiple Apple ID accounts on one device. This is really handy if you have multiple people living in one house that use the one Apple TV because you can just hold down the home button on the remote to bring up the sidebar and change the user with ease.

Another great benefit of the Apple TV for late-night movie watchers is the ability to pair your AirPods to the Apple TV. To do this, just head to the Bluetooth menu, hold the button on the back of your AirPods and select your Airpods when they come up on the Apple TV. Now whenever you want to use your AirPods, just place them in your ears and they will automatically connect. You can also have up to two pairs connected at once. This is an amazing feature as it allows you to watch movies late at night without disturbing anyone else that may live with you.

Apple TV Color Calibration

Now for the Gadget Users out there that have a tendency to pixel peep, the Apple TV has the ability to automatically calibrate itself to colour balance your screen. What you need to do is select the colour balance option in the settings menu and then the Apple TV asks you to hold your iPhone approximately 1 cm away from the specific section of the screen and then it runs through its calibration before giving you the option to use the standard mode or the new colour balanced mode. It does this by using the camera and proximity sensor of your iPhone and, as you can see, there is a slight difference between the two options.

A whole other side of using the Apple TV is the ability to stream the screen of another Apple device you have onto your TV screen. In my house currently, I have at least one of each of the major product categories of Apple products and each of them, apart from my Apple Watch so far, has the ability to stream its screen wirelessly to my TV screen. This is extremely useful if you want to quickly show someone something on a larger screen, or you have found a video on your iPhone or MacBook that you want to watch on your TV but don’t want to go through the hassle of finding it on the Apple TV. Now, I will be honest, this is one of the major features of the Apple TV that I do not use all that often, but when I do need to use it, I am extremely happy that it is available.

Apple TV Remote Control

Moving over to the remote, it is also very user-friendly and very well-designed. The redesigned Apple TV remote feels amazing in the hand and is simple enough that you can identify every button without looking, this is useful when you’re using your Apple TV at night.

A very handy feature of the remote is that it utilises Bluetooth, so you do not need to have a line of sight to the Apple TV for the remote to work, it can work without you even pointing it in the direction of the Apple TV. However, Apple has intelligently combined this with a traditional IR transmitter so that legacy devices can use this remote.

Speaking of legacy devices, this is even more useful when it is combined with the fact that the remote is somewhat universal. If you remember a few minutes ago in this video I stated that I only had to press one button on the remote to turn on my whole setup. Well, the volume controls on the remote, including the mute button, actually controls my receiver. So, I now have a Bluetooth remote to control my receiver.

However, even with all these positives of the remote, unfortunately, it isn’t perfect. My first and most notable gripe with the new Apple TV remote is unfortunately one of its biggest changes. The click-wheel touchpad fusion thing that it has going on frankly can get quite annoying at times. I find this especially true when scrolling. Now if you were fortunate enough to own an iPod that had a click wheel back in the day, you would know that to scroll, you could just spin your thumb either clockwise or anticlockwise to scroll down and up respectively. In the case of the new Apple TV remote, this is not the case, even on menus that can only go up and down. I find this super annoying, because even though it has been over a decade since I have owned such a device, the muscle memory is still there, and it does catch me out. To add to this annoyance, the scrolling in menus that can only go up and down is reversed to what I am used to on my MacBook Pro, which did catch me out the first few times that I used it. I feel that this should be something that could at least be changed in the settings menu and I am hoping for an update that adds this.

I do have one other minor gripe with the new Apple TV remote and that is that the home button is programmable, but only between two options. You only have the option for this button to take you to the default Apple TV app, which is Apple’s subscription-based streaming service, which I don’t personally use or the home menu, which is what I have mine set to. Now, I do have to admit that even if this was a fully programmable button, I would probably still have it set to take me to the home screen, but I feel that other users may want this button to take them to their favourite streaming service. Unfortunately, this is not a function of this button, unless your favourite streaming service is Apple TV.

Pros/Cons

Now let’s take a look at some pros and cons of the new 4K Apple TV. Firstly, I have to say that since I purchased my Apple TV my living room has never been easier to use. As I said previously, it is only one button before I can start watching content on my TV. This pro is only enhanced by how easy it is to access the content that you want very easily with the Apple TV.

Another, unforeseen, benefit of the Apple TV, in my opinion, is the screensavers that come up when the unit is idling. I feel that it adds a nice touch to my home theatre to have some nice photographs displayed on what would otherwise be a large black rectangle in the room. It adds a nice atmosphere to an otherwise generally quite stale room in your house. This also has the added benefit for OLED TV owners of discouraging burn-in.

Moving on to cons, there really isn’t much I can fault with the new 4K Apple TV, there haven’t been any hiccups with my experience at all and everything has worked perfectly. There have been some minor gripes that I have had with the unit, mainly the remote, but I wouldn’t even dream of calling these cons to the new 4K Apple TV, I would consider them more as personal annoyances.

Our Final Opinion on this Gadget

So, that is my thoughts on the new 4K Apple TV, it has minor improvements over the outgoing model in the same package. The remote is very nice but can be purchased separately for $79 Australian dollars if you already own the previous Apple TV. To answer the question posed at the beginning of this video, I do think that the new 4K Apple TV has a markedly better user experience than any smart TV that I have ever used. The app integrations are miles more robust and anything that you could feasibly want to use is available for the Apple TV. I do believe, however, that it will be up to the individual Gadget User to decide if they want to spend the $249 Australian dollars on it. Either way, the new 4K Apple TV is an outstanding product and I would definitely recommend it to a Gadget User I would rate it 4.8 out of 5.

Joshua Allengame Head video reviewer at Gadget User
Joshua Allengame

Joshua is our head of video production. He draws his experience from over 10 years of experience in the field working for various productions as well as his university education. in addition to his two degrees, Joshua has had many prominent roles as a presenter and actor in short films, music videos and advertisements. As Gadget Users head of video production, he is responsible for writing, producing and overseeing the video content that Gadget User produces.