There’s a new streaming stick on the market – the new and improved Roku Stick. Roku has updated their streaming stick with a new form factor, a quad-core processor, and a bunch of new features. It’s a clear improvement on the old Roku Stick, but how does it measure up to the competition? Here’s our full review.
A Quick Disclosure
While it’s standard industry practice, we always like to disclose when we receive free review copies of products. Roku was kind enough to send us a Roku Stick for the purposes of this review. As always, this won’t affect our impartiality.
The Roku Stick is a tidy little device. The new form factor is nice – the Roku Stick is thin and pretty sleek looking. It didn’t poke out from behind my TV, and its power cord is pretty unobtrusive. It’s black, instead of purple like the old one was. If your TV has a USB port, you can use that to power the Roku instead of an outlet. The Roku Stick will stick out a bit if you have a TV with HDMI ports that face straight back (less common on modern TVs), so it would have been nice if they’d included a bendy section like the new Chromecast does, but there’s really not much to complain about here.
The remote is smaller and thinner than the one that comes with the larger Roku 4. The shortcut button for Rdio (may it rest in peace) is gone, and there’s now a shortcut button for Google Play, which is a big step up. The “A” and “B” buttons are missing from the Roku Stick remote, and the finish is matte instead of glossy. There’s no headphone jack on the Roku Stick remote (as there is on the Roku 4), but you can get the same functionality by using Roku’s mobile app and the headphone jack on your smartphone.
User interface is Roku’s bread and butter, and it’s here that the Roku Stick really shines. The Roku is easy to set up (even easier if, like me, you already have a Roku account), even easier to use, and pleasant to interact with. Roku’s interface keeps everything as simple as possible, and while it will never be as customizable as an Android device, it’s perfect for most casual users and families.
One part of the Roku 4 experience that is missing on the Roku Stick is the voice search. That’s not surprising, since the Roku Stick is at a totally different price point, but I was surprised by how much I missed it after using the Roku 4 and Fire TV for so long. The text search is fine, but without a shortcut button on the remote, I found myself plunging into apps and trying to find things manually.
You can also use a smartphone as a remote for your Roku Stick, which is a nice and convenient touch.
Roku has a ton of apps (they’re called “channels” in Roku parlance), and most of them are as pleasant to use as their Android, Fire TV, and Apple counterparts. Some of the channels can be a bit more utilitarian than they are on other platforms, but usually in the service of simplicity. And, above all, Roku has a lot of these things. More than any other platform we’ve reviewed, you can be sure of finding all of the apps you want to use.
As with the Roku 4, the only real weakness in channel selection is the lack of games. The Roku Stick’s remote lacks the “A” and “B” buttons of the Roku 4’s remote, so even simple games are pretty much out of the question.
The folks at Roku are quick to point out that their new product has a quad-core processor. Fancy! But how does it actually perform?
Well, pretty well. It streams sharply and consistently. The streaming quality was very comparable to what we got from the Roku 4 when we used it with Wi-Fi.
Of course, Wi-Fi is your only option when using the Roku Stick, which is a bit of a drawback. In our trials, streaming video tends to work a bit better with an ethernet connection. Still, the Roku Stick does a really impressive job of keeping things crisp and smooth. Assuming you have a decent wireless router, the Roku Stick should serve you well.
The Wi-Fi-only setup does hold the product back a bit on certain intense streaming tasks, like live HD feeds from league streaming apps. But for typical on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO, there were no quality issues.
It’s also worth noting that the Roku Stick is not 4K-enabled – it tops out at 1080p. That’s a place where it lags behind the Roku 4. Frankly, though, we’re still a ways away from a time when 4K capability is a key feature. Most consumers don’t have 4K TVs, and there’s not all that much content that’s available in 4K. If you have a 4K TV, go with the Roku 4, but if you don’t, I wouldn’t worry about 4K capabilities for another few years. By the time it’s in the mainstream, you’ll be ready for a new streaming device anyway.
At $49.99, the Roku Stick is significantly cheaper than the Roku 4 ($129.99) but still pricier than the Chromecast ($35) and Fire TV Stick ($39.99). The Fire TV Stick is clearly the Roku Stick’s closest competitor, and Roku’s product is within shouting distance of the the Fire TV Stick (which is an older product – though rumors of a new model are growing). $49.99 seems like a reasonable price.
The Roku Stick is a fantastic choice for mainstream users. It’s at a solid price point, but doesn’t sacrifice many core features to get there. It streams well, looks good, and has a handy remote. Most importantly of all, it comes loaded with Roku’s operating system, which is still the most user-friendly, brand-neutral, simple, and family-proof entertainment system on the market. We recommend this product.
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