Apple TV 4K (2021) Review: Get one if you don’t have a smart TV

The Apple TV 4K (2021) streaming box was launched in Singapore late May this year. And I have been wondering if I should review it, as it does not seem to offer much upgrades compared to the 2017 version.

Apple TV 4K turns any TV into a smart TV and game console. (Photo: Apple)

Indeed, the biggest upgrades of Apple TV 4K (2021) are its faster A12 Bionic chip and a revamped Apple TV Remote. This new set-top box also supports high frame rate high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Vision video, thus enabling 60 frames per second for smooth and more life-like video playback. And I think that’s about it.

PRICE: S$269 (32GB), S$299 (64GB); available in Lazada and Apple Store
PROCESSOR: Apple A12 Bionic
CONNECTIVITY: HDMI, Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth
WEIGHT: 425g (Apple TV), 63g (Apple TV Remote)

In terms of design, there is virtually no difference to the 2017 model. You put them side by side and you won’t be able to tell which is which.

It is still a black square box with a discreet Apple logo on its top and bottom and glossy finishing on its sides. At its rear, there is a HDMI 2.1 port, an Ethernet port and the power socket. It is as minimalistic it gets.

+ Vastly improved re-designed Apple TV remote
+ Slighter faster in overall speed
+ High frame rate HDR and Dolby Vision support

– No design changes
– Does not come with a HDMI cable

But the Apple TV Remote gets the major re-design. Unlike the all-black remote of the previous two generations, the new Apple TV Remote is now a silver slab of metal. While it is thicker than the previous remote, it is lighter.

The new Apple TV Remote. (Photo: Apple)

The layout of the new remote has been greatly improved. Only the TV and volume control buttons remain intact. The black top touchpad found on its predecessors is gone. In its place, there is a directional clicked that doubles up as the touchpad.

The old remote (left) vs the new Apple TV Remote. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

The confusing Menu button is replaced by the easily-understood Back button. The Voice Search/Siri button has been moved to the right side of the new remote. In its place is a playback button with the Mute button below.

All these changes make the new remote much more intuitive to use. It feels almost second nature to use it, unlike the previous remote that till now I still make mistakes with it. In fact, this new remote (available separately at S$79) is the highlight itself.

However, is important to note that Siri is still not available in Singapore. In other words, you can use the remote to search for movies or open apps using your voice but you cannot use it like Siri personal assistant on an iPhone.

This is all you get out of the box. No HDMI cable. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

The new Apple TV Remote charges via a Lightning cable, which is included in the box. However, there is no HDMI 2.1 cable included. Something that continues to baffle me, as this really cause the users some inconvenience. Remember to get a HDMI cable if you don’t have one, when you buy the Apple TV.

On the upside, you can connect your Xbox, PlayStation or MFi (Made for iPhone) controller to the Apple TV 4K to play games. This is especially so if you subscribe to Apple Arcade, in which you get to enjoy Arcade games like NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition and Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm. These games require a controller to play.

If you already have an Apple TV, it is easier to set up the new Apple TV 4K. Just log in with your Apple ID and you will be able to sync across all the tvOS apps that you have previously installed.

Easy set up if you already have an Apple TV. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

You will also get the exact layout of the Home Screen in your last Apple TV, which is really convenient. But you do need to log in your credentials again for the respective streaming apps.

Performance wise, I find that opening apps and playing games did feel slightly faster than its predecessors. But for most of the tasks, even playing games like NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition, the improvement in speed is not really noticeable.

Playing NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition with a MFi controller by Steel Series. (Photo by Trevor Tan)

Watching Netflix’s 4K Dolby Vision shows, such as The Witcher, seem smoother though. But again, the difference is not heaven and earth.

Considering that most smart TVs these days have their operating systems and come pre-loaded with major streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, you can be forgiven for giving the Apple TV 4K a pass.

However, the Apple TV 4K does have another use. It doubles up as a HomeKit hub, so you can control your HomeKit accessories like smart plugs or security cameras.

In addition, you can use the light sensor in your iPhone to tweak the colour balance of your TV for more accurate colours and better contrast.

Through a new colour balance feature, Apple TV works with iPhone and its advanced sensors to adjust colour balance for more accurate colours and contrast. (Video: Apple)

If you are using the last generation Apple TV 4K, you probably can give this 2021 version a miss. Just get the new remote and save yourself some money.

But if you don’t have any previous Apple TV streaming box or still using a non-smart TV, you probably want to pick up the Apple TV 4K (2021).

DESIGN: 8/10

Trevor Tan

Started out with dreams to become a street photographer, Trevor Tan somehow became a tech journalist with over 16 years of consumer tech experience. Maybe he plays too much video games and buys too many new gadgets.
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