It’s so, so, so much better. But by the time Apple introduced the second-generation Siri Remote, it was obvious that it would be a huge improvement over its hated predecessor. It’s easy to tell which side is right side up when you reach it. The clickable touch area that dominated the top third of the previous remote has been replaced with a more intuitive D-pad. The Siri button has been pushed on the right side of the remote, almost ensuring that you’ll never unintentionally trigger Apple’s voice assistant. And now there is a suitable power button for your TV.
The list of all those “upgrades” on the new $ 59 Siri Remote illustrates how underwhelming the old remote that lasted six years on the market was. Prior to this big overhaul, the most that Apple did around this time was to try and fix the “which side is up?” Confusion by adding a white border around one of the buttons. “I can’t innovate anymore, my ass.”
But this? This new Siri remote is a very good remote. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s functional, accessible, and painless to use. If you used these words to describe the original Siri Remote, you would be in the minority.
It is also very pleasant. Apple makes the remote from a taller, heavier, and considerably thicker unibody aluminum shell than the old Siri clicker. It’s slightly narrower than the black remote but still looks taller overall – and that’s a plus. The previous Siri remote was so thin it easily got lost deep in the couch. I don’t see this as a problem with the new, larger hardware.
The Siri Remote is in line with Apple’s renewed taste for hard edges. With the gripped remote in your hand, you never really feel the edges in the front, but you do in the back. The back metal is curved, but there is still a hard edge on both sides. As long as you don’t squeeze the remote too tight, it should be reasonably comfortable.
Instead of putting what essentially amounted to a touchpad on the top of the remote, Apple switched to a much more traditional directional pad. Within that circular D-pad is a tactile central button that still lets you browse content or move in any direction as you could before. (And yes, you can still play with the subtle movement of app icons on the Home screen by gently pushing your thumb.) But some streaming apps didn’t work perfectly with this input method, so Apple now includes the much more precise Directional Cross method.
This elective navigation method – Apple calls it the “touchpad clickpad” – has a very short learning curve. Initially, I inadvertently activated the touchpad when I just wanted to move my finger up and down or vice versa on the D-pad. It didn’t last long, but if you’re having more of a problem there is an option in the remote’s settings menu to set the center button to “click only”, which gives the D-pad all the functions. navigation.
Apple has also come up with a smart jogwheel feature that lets you circle a finger around the outer ring to browse videos at faster or slower speeds depending on how fast you are walking the circle. . It’s a direct call back to the days of the iPod’s Click Wheel and does a great job of helping you land on a exact moment in a video.
But I have to confess something: I had a few embarrassing hours where I couldn’t figure out how to make this work. Eventually I learned the trick: after pausing a video, you need to rest your finger on the D-pad momentarily before you start spinning around. An animation will appear in the progress bar (with a small dot that indicates where your finger is) to let you know you are in jogwheel mode. If you just pause the video and immediately start the circular motion, it’s not doing the right thing. Don’t be like me and needlessly reset your Apple TV 4K to factory settings because of this.
The buttons themselves all have a satisfying click and don’t feel mushy at all. The clickpad is quieter when pressed than the buttons below, which are each noticeably louder than any other remotes I had to compare with, whether for a Roku, Chromecast, or whatever. Again, that’s not a problem unless you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, but you’ll absolutely hear the volume rocking when you go up to a certain scene in a movie or show. The Siri button on the side is silent; you should always hold it down whenever you perform a voice command.
You may also need to overcome some muscle memory issues, as the mute button is now where the play / pause was located on the old remote. The “menu” button has been renamed “back” but performs the same functions as before, which means that in most cases the new icon makes a lot more sense. The buttons aren’t backlit, but it’s pretty easy to remember them by touch after you’ve used the remote for a while.
But as good as the new Siri Remote is, it looks like Apple has missed out on opportunities that frankly seem like fruits at hand. Most blatantly, there is no way to locate the remote if you cannot find it. As I said earlier, the larger dimensions should reduce the cases where the remote is misplaced, but some some way to have it alert you of its location would have been nice. “Hey Siri, where’s my remote? It sounds like such an easy thing to do, but that voice request won’t do you any good or cause the remote to beep. And unlike the AirTags recently introduced by Apple, there is no ultra-wideband chip in the remote to help locate its position in a room. If you find that the remote is constantly switching to MIA, you may just have to settle for a box that combines an AirTag with the Siri remote. But having a simple and straightforward remote location feature is one area where Roku objectively beats Apple.
A less punchy gripe is the lack of an input button to switch between HDMI sources; Apple TV automatically becomes the active input when you turn it on or wake it from sleep. But an enter button would at least have made life easier for people switching from an Apple TV to an Xbox or a PlayStation. As a result, I just can’t get out of my LG TV remote as much as I would like. Most of my devices automatically grab the TV’s attention when they’re on, but one button is foolproof.
I can complain about the lack of buttons, but I can also praise Apple for the same reason – there is no branded shortcut button on the Siri remote. Even Netflix can’t lock its own button, so you’d be hard-pressed to find another streaming box remote without that logo somewhere.
The Siri Remote still charges with Apple’s Lightning connector, though it’s now thick enough to accommodate a USB-C plug. USB seems more natural for this type of scenario, but what do I know? I am just a man who is delighted to have a reliable and thoughtfully designed remote control again. Apple is going to keep doing Apple things. I wasn’t able to test the new remote with third-party charging stands designed for the old one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this industry catches up with the new design in the near future.
The gyroscope and accelerometer on the previous Siri remote are a thing of the past, so you won’t be able to use this one for Apple Arcade games that rely on these sensors. But it’s unlikely that many people have started playing with it; tvOS now supports plenty of third-party gamepads, including the latest Xbox and PlayStation controllers, if you hadn’t heard that.
Whichever way you slice it up, the new Siri Remote is a win across the board. It is inconceivable that we have endured the last for so many years, but its time has come. And the remote control that takes its place is extremely effective at doing things from a distance. Much like Apple’s MacBooks M1 would have scored perfect if they had had competent webcams, the Siri Remote would be flirting with perfection if it just had a way to make it easy for you to find the thing. Or if the buttons were backlit. My review of the new Apple TV 4K is coming soon, but if you already have the latest model, this is the only real upgrade you need.
Photograph by Chris Welch / The Verge