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When you buy a new Apple TV 3, the initial setup is much easier. Users quickly breeze through setting up WiFi and the iTunes Store, and are presented with dozens of Apple TV channels on the home screen. While some channels do require authentication prior to use, the extra step of downloading these content channels is not required. With Apple TV 3, you hit the ground running. You won’t be fiddling with apps and options. Furthermore, some of the content channels on Apple TV 3 are not yet available on the new model. Content providers need to create entire new apps for the new model.
Overall, Apple TV 3 is easier to use. It offers a simple UI with icons arranged in a grid. All of the channels follow the same design, with little variation. Although it lacks Siri, finding content on the third generation model isn’t difficult. Users just select a content provider from the home screen and browse or search for content within each channel. The new Apple TV has more variation between apps. Some content apps are easy to use while others are confusing. Developers have much more freedom with the new model, which has led to an inconsistent user experience across content apps. A lot of users prefer Netflix on Apple TV 3 over the new model.
Apple TV 3 is also more stable than the fourth generation model. tvOS is a new operating system, and the Apple TV team is not Apple’s best product team. Their best and brightest work on the Mac and iPhone. I expect Apple TV 4 to get better over time. I also expect the tvOS team to introduce regressive bugs, which has already happened with the first update. Being a simpler device, there’s less that can go wrong with Apple TV 3. The updates won’t be ambitious, but will be adequate. If you want a pain-free experience, Apple TV 3 is a better option.
The new Apple TV ships with an amazing remote which is, unfortunately, quite fragile. The front face of the new Apple TV Siri remote is made of glass. This is essential for smooth trackpad operation, however, if you drop the remote the glass may shatter. Users have already posted pictures of shattered Apple TV remotes.
The third generation model comes with an aluminum remote that is virtually indestructible.
Having dropped it a few times, mine doesn’t even have a scratch on it. Even if you aren’t clumsy, we are conditioned to treat TV remotes with less care than a smartphone. Unfortunately, the new remote is as fragile as a smartphone. If you are concerned about breaking the remote and paying $79 to replace it, you might want to stick with Apple TV 3. At $69, the third generation Apple TV costs less than a replacement remote for the new model.
Reasons to Buy the Fourth Generation Model
If you plan on sticking with Apple TV for a long time, it makes sense to invest in the fourth generation model. Apple has already neglected the second generation model, even though it has not reached “end of life”. There is a rather serious issue with the 2nd generation model restarting itself during video playback. Although Apple continues to push content channels to this older device, they refuse to fix this issue.
It’s only a matter of time until they neglect the third generation model. If you just want to play media and don’t care about apps, this may prove problematic if Apple starts neglecting Apple TV 3. Even enjoying a TV show or movie will be a frustrating experience if they refuse to address stability issues, as they have with Apple TV 2.
I got about three years out of Apple TV 2 before they neglected the device. Even then, it was a rocky road with lots of ups and downs. Sometimes it worked well, but they managed to introduce regressive bugs with some updates. There was a period of almost a year, when iOS 5 released, where AirPlay would continually crash. (continue…)