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Roku Express review: Cut the cord and stream at a rock bottom price
Retail price: $29.99$29.99 at Amazon
What we like
What we don't like
It’s always refreshing to hear that you don’t have to break the bank to get a good experience. For those of you on a shoestring budget, the Roku Express is one of the most affordable ways to dip your toes into the streaming space. It offers all of the same apps and services, but does the low-cost approach compare to the big guns? Let’s find out in our Roku Express review.
What you need to know about the Roku Express
- Roku Express: $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. It grants you access to many of the best free and premium video streaming services and even a few music options. Roku’s Express is a portability dream — it fits easily into a pocket so you can take it on the go when visiting friends or staying in a hotel.
As far as quality is concerned, the Roku Express comes ready for 1080p streaming. Those of you with 4K TVs may want to look to one of Roku’s more expensive options instead. The Express includes a fairly basic remote that only controls the streaming device itself but offers no control over your TV. It also skips the voice control capability, but you can always add that with a connected Amazon Echo device.
The Roku Express is one of the smaller devices in Roku’s lineup, measuring just 2.8-inches across. It’s similar to a credit card at 1.5-inches wide, and it’s 0.8-inches thick. Roku recommends its Express device for secondary TVs or first-time streamers, which makes it a solid gift option.
The streaming company also launched a more powerful Roku Express 4K Plus in 2021, which adds faster Wi-Fi, a voice remote, and crisp 4K streaming quality to the mix.
The main selling point of the Roku Express is that it’s very portable. You can stash it in a pocket and take it anywhere to use with just about any TV. If you want to keep it connected to just one TV, the Roku Express comes with an adhesive strip for mounting on the TV itself. All you have to do to get started is plug the Express into a free HDMI port. If your TV has a free USB port, you can use it to power the stick as well.
The Roku Express is just the right size to take on the go.
Roku OS is also very easy to navigate. It packs just about all of the major streaming services, and you can even tap into the Roku Channel for free TV shows and movies.
If you happen to need an app that Roku doesn’t support, you can simply mirror your phone or tablet right to your TV. A recent AirPlay 2 update means that iOS users have the same level of freedom. Finally, the rock-bottom price is perfect for gift-giving for people who are new to cord-cutting.
See also: The best Roku streaming players
What’s not so good?
If you have a 4K TV, the Roku Express is not for you. It’s not that the device itself isn’t good, but it only goes up to 1080p streaming. The wider design of the device is also slightly harder to hide unless you attach it directly to your TV. Roku’s basic remote also lags far behind some of its competition due to the lack of voice commands.
The basic Express remote skips the voice commands and TV controls of most Roku remotes.
Another place where the Express falls short is memory. It only boasts a small amount, so you may run into loading screens when you launch an app that has been dormant for a while.
If you don’t have a free USB-A port, you might find yourself scrambling for an outlet or a power strip to accommodate the short cable.
Finally, and perhaps worst of all, the Roku OS is laden with ads. You’ve already spent the money on the device, so it’s not wonderful to see recommendations for random shows as part of your screensaver.
Roku Express review: Should I buy it?
The Roku Express is the cheapest Roku set-top box but it still packs a solid punch. If you own a smaller TV in your kitchen or guest room that only supports 720p or 1080p resolution, this box is perfect for it. It’s also good for televisions without a smart TV interface or those with weaker interfaces.
Those of you with 4K TVs should consider the Roku Express 4K Plus ($39), which is basically the same box with 4K quality, a voice remote, and faster Wi-Fi. For even more portability, consider the Roku Streaming Stick 4K ($49). The premium Roku Ultra ($99) set-top box comes with an Ethernet port, making it a great option if you have a need for speed.
If you’ve changed your mind about Roku OS but want to keep a slim budget, consider the Amazon Fire Stick Lite ($29) or the basic Google Chromecast ($29) if you don’t mind using your smartphone to cast apps on your TV.