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Roku Express (2022)
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What we don't like
Roku Express (2022)
The cost of streaming subscriptions can add up fast, so finding a budget device to access them is always a relief. For those who don’t want to break the bank, the Roku Express series is an affordable way to dive into the streaming space, with Roku’s platform offering access to all of the major services. Like other Roku devices, the Express offers a simple UI plus plenty of free channels. As with previous Express models, the 2022 edition is the perfect small size to take on the go, but how does the bare-bones approach compare to the latest competition? Find out in our Roku Express (2022) review.
What you need to know about the Roku Express (2022)
- Roku Express (3960R): $29.99 / £29.99
The Roku Express is a small set-top box that plugs into one of the spare HDMI ports on your TV. You’ll also need a spare USB port on your TV to power the Roku Express; otherwise, you might find yourself scrambling for an outlet or a power strip to accommodate the short cable. though you’ll need to supply your own power brick this time around. Once plugged in, it uses Wi-Fi to connect to many of the most popular streaming services and the Roku Channel, which includes various free live tv options.
Roku has made a few changes to the Express compared to previous models. The Roku Express (2022) now comes with dual-band Wi-Fi, which was previously only available with the Express 4K Plus. Roku has also upgraded the internal storage of the Express, which delivers slightly faster loading times than before but still falls behind competitors.
In terms of streaming quality, the Roku Express maxes out at 1080p at up to 60fps, with support for upscaling from 720p. Those of you with 4K TVs might consider one of Roku’s more expensive options instead, or at least the Roku Express 4K Plus ($39.99) for only $10 more.
The Roku Express (2022) now has dual-band Wi-Fi and more internal storage than previous models.
The Roku Express still supports Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay, so you can mirror your phone to the big screen. Likewise, the Express is compatible with Google Home and Apple HomeKit, so you can use voice commands with other smart home devices to control the Roku Express, just not vice versa.
Speaking of voice commands, there is no voice control capability via the included remote. The Basic Roku remote only controls the streaming device itself and not your TV, meaning you won’t find a power button or volume controls, for instance. You can, however, use voice controls via the free companion app or buck up for the Roku Voice Remote ($19.99).
As one of the smaller devices in Roku’s lineup, the Express is a perfectly portable companion. At roughly the same width as a credit card and less than an inch thick, you can easily slide the Roku Express into your pocket to take with you while traveling. Basically, it’s a solid budget TV streamer that covers all the bases, making it ideal for secondary TVs or an excellent gift for first-time streamers.
The main selling point of the Roku Express hasn’t changed with the newest model: a solid balance of portability and compatibility. You can stash the lightweight streamer in pretty much any sized pocket and use it with just about any TV you find (provided it has a spare HDMI and — if you don’t have a spare power brick — a USB port). If you are going to keep your Roku Express stationed on one TV, it comes with an adhesive strip for mounting on the top, side, or bottom of the screen. Just make sure the front face has a direct line of sight for use with the bundled infrared remote.
The Roku Express (2022) strikes a solid balance between portability and compatibility.
Roku OS is simple and easy to navigate, with noticeably fewer ads than Amazon’s more expensive Fire TV Stick streamers. If you’ve used a Roku before, then Express will import your app list from your account. The customizable home screen puts your go-to streaming apps front and center, so they are usually only a click away. Plus, the included Roku Channel has some original TV shows and movies you won’t necessarily find on the other major streaming services, such as Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.
The free Roku mobile app adds a lot of value to the Express experience as well. You can cast music, photos, and videos directly from your phone, and the app works as a second (but better) remote, which conveniently provides voice controls that the physical remote is missing. Plus, the universal search feature using text or voice is a time saver compared to selecting each letter one by one.
The Roku app also allows you to listen to your shows with wireless headphones, which is appreciated because older TVs primed for the 1080p-only Express likely won’t have the required Bluetooth compatibility. If you’re not using headphones, the audio quality is pretty decent through a soundbar or TV speakers, and the Express even supports Dolby Audio and Dolby Atmos for surround sound.
What’s not so good?
If you have a 4K TV, the Roku Express is not for you. There’s nothing wrong with the device per se, it’s just that the picture quality only reaches 1080p. Likewise, there’s no support for Dolby Vision or any other HDR standards either. Overall, the Roku Express looks best on older, smaller TVs, perhaps in a kitchen or bedroom. It is not designed to satisfy a big-screen home theater experience.
You’ll also want to keep the Roku Express close to your router, as the dual-band Wi-Fi only supports a standard 2.4GHz 802.11n connection. Loading times will appear sluggish to those who are used to Wi-Fi 5 or spoiled with the speeds of Wi-Fi 6. Added to that is a meager 512MB of RAM, so you may experience especially slow-loading screens when you launch a dormant app.
The Roku Express' speed and basic remote lag far behind its competition.
Another area where the Roku Express falls short is the remote control. Roku’s basic remote lags far behind some of its competition. There is no voice command button, which the cheaper Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite includes, and no volume or power controls on the remote, which the equally priced Chromecast with Google TV provides in addition to its Google Assistant-powered remote. For those features, you’ll have to pay extra for the Roku Voice Remote ($19.99), which is sold separately.
Lastly, it’s a bit odd that Roku hasn’t included a power adapter with this model, given that most of the older TVs it’s suited for won’t have a USB port to provide power. If you find yourself with such a TV, you’ll need a spare power adapter and perhaps even an extension cord to reach the outlet since the micro-USB cable is just 55 inches long.
Roku Express (2022) review: The verdict
The Roku Express (2022) is the cheapest Roku set-top box in the company’s current line-up, covering most of the basics you would want from a streaming device. This player is perfect if you own a smaller TV that only supports 720p or 1080p resolution. It’s also suitable for televisions without a smart TV interface or a limited interface you’d want to replace with the simplicity of Roku OS.
As the “Express” in the name suggests, the Roku Express is the perfect size to take on the go. It’s easy to set up on any TV, whether at a friend’s home or in a hotel room. In this way, it is best served as a reliable travel companion for streaming but not as a primary device for your main TV to enjoy that wow factor viewing. And keep in mind you will have to use two remotes — one for the TV and one for Roku OS.
The Roku Express is best suited for quick streaming while on the go, but not as your go-to device for that wow factor viewing.
If you have a 4K TV and want crisp images and HDR compatibility, you should really consider the Roku Express 4K Plus ($29.99 at Amazon) instead. For only $10 more, the Express 4K Plus solves most of the issues of the Express by including a Roku Voice Remote, faster Wi-Fi, 1GB of RAM for faster loading times, and 4K or HDR10+ in case you do decide to upgrade your TV in the future.
Roku continues to undercut Amazon’s comparative Fire TV Sticks on price and supports Google Cast and Apple AirPlay to boot. However, if you don’t need 4K streaming and want a complete package for the same price, it’s hard to recommend anything other than the Chromecast with Google TV (HD) ($29.07 at Amazon). That has a more versatile remote, complete with voice controls, Radio Frequency (RF) instead of Infrared so you don’t have to point the remote directly at the module, and HDMI-CEC support to control other devices. It also has Wi-Fi 5, 1.5GB of RAM, and AV1 support, plus all the apps and games you can get via the Play Store.
Unless you strongly prefer Roku OS, the Express (2022) just can't compete with the Chromecast with Google TV (HD).
Ultimately, your choice of streaming devices may be driven by the platform you are most familiar with. For instance, the Fire TV Stick Lite has Alexa, and the Chromecast with Google TV HD supports Google Assistant and Nest. Likewise, Roku’s interface is the simplest out of the three and can therefore make a great budget gift for those who aren’t that tech-savvy looking to cut their first cord. But at the end of the day, unless you have a strong preference for Roku OS, the Express (2022) just doesn’t compete with the Chromecast with Google TV (HD).
Top Roku Express questions and answers
The main differences between the Roku Express and Express 4K Plus are that the latter comes with the Roku Voice Remote and supports 4K streaming with a better cable HDMI cable. The Express 4K Plus also provides faster Wi-Fi and almost twice the RAM for faster loading.
Follow these steps to set up your Roku Express:
- Connect the streaming player to an HDMI port on the back of your TV with the included cable.
- Use the micro-USB power cable to connect the streaming player to a USB port on your TV. Make sure the Roku Express is visible to your remote control.
- Turn on the TV with your TV remote and select the appropriate input (source).
- Insert the batteries into the Roku remote and follow the on-screen instructions to set up or log in with your Roku account.
There is no power button on the Roku Express (2022) remote, and the device doesn’t have a power button on it. If a USB port on your TV powers your Roku, it will shut down when you turn the TV off. If your Roku is powered via a wall outlet, you must unplug it.
Yes, YouTube is available to download for free on the Roku Express (2022). You can also use Google Cast to cast YouTube from your phone to the Roku Express.
No, there are no monthly fees for Roku Express. (2022). You do need to enter a credit card to set up a Roku account, but no charges will be made without your authorization.