Roku Express Streaming Stick Review

Roku revamped its lineup of streaming devices in early October 2017, announcing updates to the Express, Streaming Stick, and Ultra, and introducing the new Streaming Stick+. It was a predictable move, given recent updates rolled out by Amazon (the Fire TV) and Apple (the Apple TV 4K) which greatly improved upon those devices’ capabilities — thus raising the bar in streaming land.

The Roku Express is a killer entry-level streaming option Packing Roku’s excellent ecosystem, and claimed improvements like five times the computing power of its predecessor, the Roku Express is still a killer deal.

Design

Held in the palm of a hand, the Roku Express feels like a smaller version of a Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controller, minus the joystick. At 3.3 x 1.4 x 0.7 inches, it’s made to affix to a corner of your TV, using an adhesive tape that Roku includes.

Interface

As has been the case for many years, Roku’s streaming device interface hasn’t changed, for better and for worse. Its purple background still feels playful, and you still drag and drop home-screen channel icons to keep your favorites easily accessible.

The rest of the Roku includes the My Feed (for monitoring your favorite shows for new releases), the FandangoNOW Movie and TV stores, the AOL News Feed, the Roku Channel store, and Settings. Thanks to an option in Settings, you can hide the AOL and Fandango sections, and this option may be a blessing if you don’t want either one of those sections.

Performance

Roku claims this year’s Express provides performance gains of up to 500 percent versus 2016’s version, and we’ve seen some of the benefits with our own eyes. For starters, menu navigation is now smoother, dropping the hiccups we saw in last year’s model. Back then, the cursor took a split second to move and merely clicking on items caused delays.

We encountered zero image- or audio-quality issues with the Roku Express. Mountains and deserts in Star Trek: Discovery rendered in crisp detail, and the vibrant gold hues of aliens in a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer appeared accurate. As was the case with last year’s Express, the device’s output stabilized at 1080p resolution after around 30 seconds.

The previous Roku Express was so slow that it took extra time for the video to buffer on apps such as Netflix, while the sound played on its own. This is one of many bugs that no longer plagues the device

Remote

The Roku Express includes a relatively thin and comfortable remote. It’s nearly the same as last year’s model, but instead of a Google Play button, there’s one that opens Amazon

The remote offers a fairly standard set of buttons, with Back and Home sitting above the D-pad and OK button. Below those are quick rewind, options, rewind, play/pause and fast-forward. Support for the Options asterisk button isn’t universal, as it worked in Netflix but not YouTube.

Content and Apps

You’ll be hard-pressed to find one streaming-video service that isn’t on the Roku. With more than 5,900 apps (more than 5,100 of those are streaming channels), Roku is king of content. While this is mostly a compliment, there’s a lot of stuff in there that you’ll never, ever need.

Most importantly, Roku offers practically every major video-streaming service, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, HBO Now, DirecTV Now, Disney Movies Anywhere and CBS All Access. The only options it’s missing — YouTube TV and Apple’s iTunes store — aren’t available on most streaming devices anyway.

Channels for every major professional sports league — the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL — are available, as is ESPN.