The Roku Express is a pretty unique streaming box. At $29.99, it competes more directly with streaming sticks (including Roku’s own Roku Streaming Stick) than it does with streaming boxes like the Fire TV or Apple TV. But Roku has high hopes for this tiny device, which they see as their way to dominate the growing market for budget streaming players. First-time streamers and budget-conscious consumers, Roku reasons, will flock to this device – the cheapest Roku ever. Will they be happy with their choice? Here’s our full review.
A Quick Disclosure
We got this device for free, and we always tell our readers up front when we get free review copies. This will not affect the objectivity of our review.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Roku Express is how small it is. It represents a 75% size reduction from Roku’s old Roku 1, and it achieves that while actually improving the processing power. It’s a simple little device, and the back features just two jacks (HDMI and power supply – no Ethernet).
Here’s everything you get in the box:
Hey, is that an HDMI cable? It is! The included cable is short, but it’s a nice thing to see. Why Roku didn’t see fit to include one with their top-of-the-line model is a mystery to me. Another interesting inclusion is the adhesive tape, there so that you can stick the device to the side or top of your TV. It’s small enough of a thing that this solution wouldn’t be as ugly as it sounds.
The remote is the regular old Roku remote. Note that the two gaming buttons (“A” and “B”) from the Roku Ultra are not available on lower-level models like the Express. It’s a line-of-sight remote, which is one place where the Roku Express fails to measure up to the the Roku Streaming Stick (the Roku Streaming Stick’s remote is of the point-anywhere variety).
There is also another version of the Roku Express called the Roku Express+. The Plus model is identical in every way except that it includes A/V cables to allow it to connect to older TVs.
The best thing about Roku’s devices is that they call come with the Roku operating system. Roku’s OS is, for my money, the best streaming box OS available, and that gives this tiny box a huge advantage.
Roku’s OS definitely puts the emphasis on being easy to use, so it’s not a sleek customizable thing. But it is attractive, fast, well-organized, and absolutely idiot-proof. Channels in Roku’s vast app store can be added on your computer or on the Roku Express itself. You can download a Roku app to use as a controller, and the physical controller has shortcut buttons for certain popular channels (a convenience if you use those apps, and a bit of an annoyance if you do not). Roku’s Channel Store is massive, so finding your content is no problem.
There’s no voice search on the Roku Express – you’ll have to step up to one of the fancier models if you want that functionality. You can, however, search by text.
The Roku Express tops out at 1080p, just like the (mildly more expensive) Roku Streaming Stick. It relies entirely on Wi-Fi for streaming, so you’ll be better off if you have a decent router in your home. In my trials, streaming was smooth and reliable, very much as it was with the more expensive Roku Streaming Stick. You’ll occasionally see dips in quality, but again, that depends on your router. This device was as reliable as any other Wi-Fi-only device I’ve tested.
At $29.99, the Roku Express is the cheapest Roku available. It’s $20 less than the Roku Streaming Stick, despite offering very similar functionality and performance.
The Roku Express is another solid offering from Roku. The device works well, and it features Roku’s excellent operating system. In my opinion, it’s a smarter buy than Roku’s own Roku Streaming Stick. It lacks some of the bells and whistles of the higher-end models, and (like most small devices) it’s Wi-Fi-only, but it’s a really nice little product for a very low price. Roku is probably right about its appeal to first-timers and frugal streamers, and those who buy it will be satisfied.
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