So I had a $100 gift card, and applied my usual logic: buy something random to play with. In this case, since the Apple TV 2 is $99, it seemed like a worthwhile experiment. I say experiment, because I fully expected to be ripping it apart and poking at its innards anyway, so whether or not it actually worked well wasn’t really an issue for me. But let me share some impressions, anyway.
The hardware is typically Apple. It’s very well done. Cheap, but rugged ARM based system with 8GB of flash, 256MB RAM, lots of other goodies. This is certainly the main reason I bought it – to rip it open and poke at the innards and not really care because I got it as a gift and it was cheap enough anyway. There’s enough hardware in there to make a reasonable Linux set-top-box, or perhaps (more likely) break without really feeling much was lost (see software below).
Unfortunately, the software is typically Apple, too. Not only is it so locked down as to be useless out of the box (though you can fix some of it by jailbreaking, adding XBMC, etc.), but it doesn’t even live up to Apple’s traditional standards. This is true especially considering that they have tried twice to do this right now. The latest attempt fails because there is no integration. Rather than a boxee-style home screen with the latest bits of media you might be interested in, this facebook generation is greeted with a 1980s style menu system that might have been designed on the back of a napkin (were it wide enough to do so), in about ten minutes. Here are some of the ways the software fails to be useful:
- The remote use is horrific. No scroll wheel (iPod style), only a limited number of non-useful buttons. I’m sure if you own an iPhone it’s slightly better, but the out of the box experience is that you have a shiny remote control (lovely hardware), with a bad software experience.
- The home screen presents nothing other than simplistic drop-down, non-customizable (until you install “Overflow”, not supplied by Apple) menus. Very 1980s, not very 1990s, and certainly not the 2011 “facebook” generation wherein home screens are supposed to pull in all the latest bits of media, recommendations, etc.
- The integration with services like Netflix is an afterthought. Interested in browsing through your instant queue? Every time you go into a title and leave, it’ll take you back to the start of – if you’re like me – several hundred items that have to be clicked through to get back to the item you were on. Not very Apple.
- The Podcast subscription service is utterly painful, and rather than showing you the latest podcasts, you have to individually navigate to items in your “favorites”. Again, it’s an afterthought, added so it seems useful, but you wouldn’t want to use it every day (or all all).
- Media sharing with your existing Apple system kinda works, but doesn’t include Audiobooks (a jab at Amazon?), and is very clunky.
- Radio doesn’t do favorites, etc. Again, looks like an afterthought.
Really, the only thing this is good for out of the box is as a means to give Apple more money to watch iTunes content. So, if you’re planning to rent movies, maybe it’s useful. But it is a secondary set-top-box that might be useful for watching iTunes. It does not, and will not, be something you want to use if you live in the modern world.