Apple TV Impressions

“Apple TV is syncing with iTun…”

That about sums it up. This is the message that comes up on your TV while Apple TV is syncing with iTunes on your PC or Mac, and because the box for the message is just a bit too small, the product name is abbreviated to “iTun…”.

Apple TV is an Apple product minus the attention to detail that makes Apple products so great.

The menu system, for example, is both ugly and awkward. The top level and second level menu items are both visible at the same time in a plain black and white box, with no indication that there’s a top level and a second level. The top level menu items make sense – Music, Movies, TV Shows, etc – but the second level menu items are mostly links into the iTunes store. For example, when you pick Movies on the left, there are 7 options on the right. 5 of them are iTunes links, and the one that lets you see your own movies is at the bottom of the list.

Another problem with the menu system is that when Apple TV is busy, it’s unresponsive. Unresponsive UI is a usability killer for a device that you use with an IR remote, because they’re inherently unreliable. It’s not like clicking a mouse button where if the click doesn’t register right away you know it will eventually get registered. With IR, people just press the button again because the receiver didn’t pick it up. But with Apple TV, sometimes there’s a delay of a second or two when you click the remote. This mostly happens when you’re syncing, but since syncing happens in the background you don’t know when it’s happening. Very annoying.

And the on-screen keyboard is terrible! Not only does it suffer from the responsiveness problem, but it’s got all the letter, A through Z, laid out in one line across the screen horizontally. Two line actually – one for upper case, one for lower case. So entering text (like when you’re searching in the iTunes store or entering your password for purchases) takes longer than it needs to. Plus, when you’re entering an email address, there’s isn’t the context-sensitive keyboard that adds a “.com” button. You have to type it in.

So Apple TV has some rough edges. But how does the product work overall? Very well.

I don’t regret buying it at all. Sitting on the couch and watching video podcasts and YouTube videos is cool, and works very well. Browsing the Apple TV library with my iPhone using Remote is slick, and when not syncing, video playback and the rest of the UI is responsive.

But for an Apple product, there’s room for improvement.

(You can get a 40gig Apple TV it on the Apple store refurbished, in Canada anyway, for $209. That’s a good deal).