Hands-On with the Apple Siri Remote (2nd Generation)

Posted on May 24, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Apple TV+, Music + Videos with 25 Comments

I described the previous Apple TV remote as a crime against humanity, and now that a new version is available, it’s fun to watch Apple fans finally admit the same. But you don’t need to buy an expensive new Apple TV 4K at $179 and up to see whether Apple has addressed the complaints: You can get a standalone Apple Siri Remote for $59 instead and try it out with your existing Apple TV.

That’s what I’m doing, and while I know that $59 is a lot of money for a remote control, this is Apple we’re talking about here, and the remote is, at least, very well made. If it’s good enough, I may consider replacing my current Apple TV 4K, which is almost four years old, and using that for TV instead of the Chromecast with Google TV that we’re currently using.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The previous Apple TV remote was, as I wrote at the time, “terrible, and prone to misclicks and mis-swipes, and is, in general, the worst thing about Apple TV.” That remote is also tiny and slippery, and too easy to lose in the couch or pick up upside down and misuse. It was so bad that I was surprised by how long that Apple stood by it. But then, this is the company that burdened its MacBook customers with endemically unreliable butterfly keyboards for years as well. Apple can be stubborn, even when its worst ideas are so obvious to everyone else.

Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of things to “fix” the previous Apple TV remote. I bought a silicon case that made the remote more grippy and less likely to succumb to my couch cushions. I used a Logitech Harmony universal remote (now discontinued) for several months. I bought a third-party Apple TV remote from Amazon (no longer available) and tried that instead. And … none of it stuck. Each was unsatisfactory for different reasons. And with other living room set-top boxes offering better remotes—like every Roku, the latest Fire TVs, and, most recently, the Chromecast with Google TV—I just didn’t see a reason to bother with a fiddly remote.

Remote comparison: Apple (new), Apple, Google, Roku, Amazon

There are a few reasons I might want to use Apple TV, however, so this new remote is of interest for practical reasons. First, the Apple TV UI—which was taken from an old Mac OS X app called Front Row that Apple ripped off from Microsoft’s Windows Media Center—is simple and efficient, and it should offer excellent performance on the new Apple TV 4K. As important, when I buy movies and TV shows online, I buy them from Apple, and to access the special features on movies, I need to be using an Apple TV; that content is not available from the Apple TV app on other platforms. Apple, like Amazon and Google, is trying to aggregate content and recommendations from multiple services in the top-level UI, which I like. And Apple, unlike those firms, doesn’t have any obvious advertising in its UI, which I also like. So you never know.

But again. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, the remote.

I’m happy to report that the new Apple Siri Remote appears to solve the problems with the previous Apple TV remote. It’s bigger, for starters, and fits better in an adult-sized hand. Of the devices I use, I guess the remote is the most similar to the latest Fire TV remotes, and it has a tall and thin design that adds some crucial buttons and other controls that previous Apple TV remotes lacked.

The new remote loses the silly trackpad-like touch surface from the previous version and replaces it with a vastly superior clickpad with four directional buttons on its outer ring which even better, also offers a fun circular scrolling capability for scrubbing through video. It’s reminiscent of the old iPod click wheel.

The old remote only had five buttons—Menu, Home, Siri (for voice control), Play/Pause, and the Volume rocker, in addition to the click/select feature of its trackpad-like top. But the new remote has more buttons, including a Power button (finally!) that passes through to the TV. So we get five buttons on the clickpad—Click/select plus up, down, left, and right—plus Back (which works like Menu), Home, Play/Pause, Mute (which is new), and the volume rocker, and a Siri voice control button on the side. Steve Jobs is probably rolling in his grave, but real people need this functionality, and this layout is long overdue.

Like the previous remote, the Apple Siri Remote charges over Lightning, and Apple does include a cable in the box, which I appreciate. Setting up the remote, however, proved difficult. The one-point type in the book of matches-sized user manual says you need to hold down the Volume Up and Back buttons at the same time in front of the Apple TV, but it would never register despite detecting the remote immediately. So I checked for a software update, and there was one, and because this is an Apple product, it look far too long to install it. That did it: After the update, the new remote paired on the first try.

In use, it seems to work well. You can use the four buttons on the clickpad ring to navigate through the Apple TV UI, but the click/select button in the middle also has a trackpad-like surface for some reason too, and I wish I could turn that off. Otherwise, the buttons all work as expected, though you have to press and hold the Power button to turn off the TV.

The best thing about the new remote, however, is that clickpad. When you pause a video, you can use its outer ring to scrub through content accurately in either direction. This was nearly impossible with the previous version. Big improvement.

Contrary to Apple’s claims, however, the new remote isn’t couch proof, which I experienced first hand when I just went back into the room to find it. The remote had been sucked between two cushions just as easily as its predecessor.

No matter. It’s still a big improvement. Now the only question is whether I can use Apple TV as my primary interface to the TV. I’ll experiment with that this week.

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Comments (25)

25 responses to “Hands-On with the Apple Siri Remote (2nd Generation)”

  1. mclark2112

    For me, there seems to always be some outlying service that just doesn't exist on any given streaming box. Which makes me always need two of them. Roku was the closest, but I really didn't like it.


    I also have Comcast cable TV, because it is $30 more to add TV to my internet, and Comcast is the only game in town.


    So right now, I have an Apple TV and the comcast box. It all works pretty well, just wish I didn't have to change inputs all the time. No matter what I do, I still seem to need 2 remotes. And don't even get me started on the home theater setup downstairs, at least I bought a Harmony for that, and it's mostly OK.

  2. crunchyfrog

    I am glad to know that this can be purchased for older models and for your review. I ended up buying a cheap remote for $15 on Amazon that basically does the same things as this remote but lacks the build quality and touch sensor dial. I may buy this impulsively some weekend after a few drinks.

  3. red.radar

    At least Apple is offering to let you buy just the remote. That is a plus.

    • jgraebner

      Of course, this being Apple, the new remote alone is more expensive than most of the competing streaming devices...

      • red.radar

        Intentional I am sure. I bet their production processes only have so much capacity dedicated to making remotes as standalone products. I am sure they need to protect capacity so that they don't disrupt their ability to ship Apple TVs. And they get to make a bunch of money while doing it.

  4. jsulliweb

    Just a note, but I think you can turn off the trackpad functionality. Go into Settings - Remotes - Select Clickpad, and change it from Click and Touch to Click Only. At least, that's what another article said, because I'm hoping to turn it off as well. Good review. Thanks!

  5. truerock2

    We buy Samsung TVs and use the built in Samsung software to stream - but, Samsung stops updating its software after a year or 2 - so, then we buy a Roku and stop using the out-of-date Samsung software.

    We want to stream the following (in order of importance):

    1. Comcast Xfinity (includes HBO, Major League Baseball, AMC, Showtime, etc)
    2. Netflix
    3. Apple TV+
    4. Amazon Prime
    5. Disney+
  6. bettyblue

    Thank god Ive is gone. Apple is slowly reversing all of his bad decisions.

  7. retcable

    I bought the whole package, and it was worth the money. The new Apple TV is noticeably faster and smoother in its interface and operation, but the real benefit is the new Siri Remote. As an Apple fan, I wholeheartedly admit that the old remote was a design travesty. I never liked it. I found the trackpad fiddly and very prone to over-shooting whatever icon you were trying to get to and click.


    This new remote is orders of magnitude better. I love the heft of it, the feel, the trackpad function of the center button, everything about it is SO much better. I read a review the other day that complained about the "sharp" edges of the new remote, but I disagree, these harder edges make the thing easier to hold onto and much less likely to slip out of your hand as was the smooth rounded edges of the old remote. So I have ordered another remote for the old Apple TV 4k that was moved to the TV in the bedroom. Good job on this one Apple!

  8. brduffy

    Thanks this was useful! My original streaming box was an Apple TV and I really liked it. It got a little old though and I replaced it with a Fire Tv 2nd gen which I still use and basically like except that it is a little sluggish. Knowing when to pull the trigger on an Apple product is important because you can get stuck with some pretty awful annoyances otherwise. I think maybe its time to go back to the Apple Tv now. I'm waiting for the next iteration of the MBP to come out, I think that will be the right time to upgrade my mid 2014 version. I'll wait to see what you say though first.


  9. nbplopes

    For me the previous remote was ok. But I’ve found something better even when compared with the new remote.


    Two years ago bough an LG C9 OLED TV and it came with the LG Magic Remote

    . The thing is that with this remote I can control all my devices connects to the TV directly or indirectly: TV, Setopbox, Apple TV, FireTV, Denon AVR, HUE Box … heck even my lights and blinds. Changjng HDMIs takes 2 seconds and bang.


    The secret is HDMI CEC/Symblink. As long as the devices support this standard everything works out of the box, no configuration needed. LG implementation of this standard is second to none.


    Granted, is not has fast as the dedicated remotes. Some functions specific to the device are not available. But this convenience made it the goto remote to all of us.


    Cheers.

  10. angusmatheson

    I suspect there is a typo couch cushions not couch cousins.


    I think I am the only person in the world who does not hate that remote although I always preferred to use a keyboard or my phone for what I consider the greatest problem especially with that remote and with all remotes. Apple has the solution - in the very same keynote. Every Apple remote should have air tags built in (and the ability to beep). That would be a game changer in the world of remotes - especially for small black remotes. Why didn’t they build it in? Am I supposed to duct tape an air tag to my Apple TV remote? Is that elegant? Great products solve problems. Losing the remote is a problem waiting for a solution. Which Apple decided not to fix.


  11. txag

    I bought a no-brand remote (okay, the brand was “Inteset”) on amazon and it is a device with A/B/C/D choices: I made Apple TV the A device, the TV set on B, my cable dvr on C, and my Blu-Ray player on D.


    It is conventional in layout and works fine for all four devices.


    But I think I would be OK with the new Apple remote.


    I suppose they had to have had Jonny Ive gone long enough to get rid of the minimalist remote design.

    • lvthunder

      Or they just waited until they release a new AppleTV. They change the remote every time they release a new one. The last one though was a minor change. This one is a major change.

  12. jason_e

    I am a huge Apple fan and I have hated that stupid remote since day one. I got ok at using it but yuck. I have since switched to a Roku box and I absolutely love it and the remote that comes with it.

  13. philly30

    If you can't use the remote how do you update the software?

  14. dell5050

    Looks like the Amazon FireTV remote.

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