The Roku lineup's most junior member got a very serious upgrade this year. While the top dog of Roku's lineup got a price drop and not much else, the lowly Express got five times more powerful. Let's see what it can do! Here's our review, which will cover both the Express and the Express+ (while the Streaming Stick and Stick+ are different enough to merit separate reviews, the Express and Express+ are pretty much identical, as I'll explain below).

Roku Express/Express+ Review

Disclosure

Streaming companies sometimes send us products to review. When we get things for free, we let you know in a special disclosure section (that's what this is). We pledge not to profit off of these things in any way – we don't sell them or use them to promote the site – and we also never take money for reviews and never let free products sway our reviews.

Device

The Roku Express looks a whole lot like it did before. And by ¢€œa whole lot¢€ I mean ¢€œEXACTLY,¢€ because in terms of form factor, nothing has changed.

Roku Express
Here's everything that's in the box: instructions, the remote, and (clockwise) the Roku Express, power adapter, mounting strip, power cable, and HDMI cable.

But don't let that fool you: the new Roku Express is a full five times faster than the previous generation. I know this because it says that on the box and Roku's PR team told me so, but also because I tested it and thought things like ¢€œhmm, yeah, that does seem faster,” and “yeah, I guess five times more powerful sounds about right.”

Just as the device looks familiar, so does the remote. But that's a heartbreaking thing in this case, because Roku's latest lineup unveiled their cool new universal remote, which can turn off your TV courtesy of the big red power button.

That big red power button is conspicuously missing on the Express, which is a real bummer, because I loved it (check out our reviews of the Roku Ultra, Roku Streaming Stick+, or Roku Streaming Stick to see me rave about it). Having a universal remote just makes things easier. And that just makes it kind of bewildering that it isn't on this one, especially in the case of the Roku Express+.

See, the Express+ is pretty much exactly the same device as the Express, but with composite cables. It's a device explicitly aimed at the luddites among us who still use TVs without HDMI ports. Those are people who could use some help! My father struggles to find the right remote for his last-generation Roku Stick even though it has ROKU written on it, and he does have a TV with an HDMI port, so even he is too tech-savvy for the Express+. The Express+ is targeting people like my parent's parents, who use AOL and don't think iPads are intuitive. These are not people to trust with multiple remotes.

My guess is that Roku ditched the universal remote because the smooth auto-programming thing their remotes do isn't possible with composite cables, but there must be some way to replace that with a reasonably elegant remote-programming scheme, right? Come on.

User Experience

The first time I chatted with Roku's PR team (this is the price of review copies, but they're all very pleasant), they insisted repeatedly that they are a platform company, not a device company. That's at least partly true, as each of the Roku devices runs the same OS. I don't want to make readers read four identical sections on the Roku platform as they make their decision, so I'll just link you to the Roku Ultra review and let you read about it there. The short version, though, is that Roku's platform is the best in the streaming world.

Streaming Quality

The old Roku Express was a decent streaming device for the money. The new one is much better, and in my trials often felt on-par with the pricier Roku Streaming Stick (no-plus edition). The Express and Express+ top out at 1080p – you have to jump up at least as far as the Roku Streaming Stick+ to get 4K HDR – but it's smooth sailing and even does well with live streams (it will stop to load for a second or two at times while you're using a skinny bundle service, but I've yet to find a device that never does this).

Price

The Roku Express is $29.99

, which is a good price. The Roku Express+ is $39.99 and a Walmart exclusive. For comparison, the next step up in Roku's line is the Streaming Stick at $49.99. The Fire TV Stick is $39.99 (the same price as the Express+), and the Chromecast is $35 (that's the 1080p Chromecast 2 – the 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra is $69).

Verdict

These two devices are similar enough to cover in one review, but ultimately different enough to get two different verdicts.

The Express+ is a nice idea: a streaming box for people with insanely outdated TVs. But I don't think it works in practice. The $10 price hike feels like a tax on tech illiteracy, the lack of a universal remote seems like the worst kind of omission, and at the end of the day, this is a Wi-Fi-only device aimed at people with TVs from the pre-HD era. Does your grandmother know her Wi-Fi password? I know mine doesn't. The Express+ seems less like a box designed to please Grandma than it does a box designed to get you to buy it for Grandma, who will never use it but will hand-write you a very nice thank-you note.

The Express is fine, though. At $30, it's a cheap way to get the best streaming platform in the biz. I think it's worth splurging on a better Roku for your main TV for a couple of reasons: 1) because I love the universal remote that comes with pricier models and 2) because (as I mentioned in my Roku Streaming Stick review) I think we're finally at the point where a streaming device you plan to use for more than a year needs to be 4K-ready. But the non-plus Express is a good option for that TV in your exercise room or as a device to toss in your suitcase before you head to that beach house you rented, just in case it rains. That's what it's for, and it fits the bill perfectly.