The $30 Roku Express can make dumb TVs smart - we tried the budget streamer to see if it's worth buying
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- Roku's streaming device lineup is growing, but if you want to reach everyone, you have to release inexpensive devices - like the Roku Express.
- The Roku Express may be cheap, but it has a lot going for it, like an easy-to-use interface and access to a ton of apps.
- The Roku Express does, however, have some downsides - like a limit of 1080p resolution and no voice control.
- For more buying advice, check out our guide to the best streaming sticks and boxes.
On paper, the Roku Express looks like a decent device - but it's not perfect. For example, it offers the full Roku platform in a package that's less than $30, but it doesn't come with some features you would find on Roku's more expensive devices, like 4K and HDR support.
But just how much does Roku sacrifice in order to hit that affordability mark? Are you better off saving your money and buying something else? We've been using the Roku Express for the past few weeks to find out.
Design and specs
If you've used any other Roku device before, you'll be immediately familiar with the setup of the Roku Express. The device is actually comprised of two main parts: the remote and a small box that plugs into your TV. That box is actually closer to the size of a streaming stick than a streaming box, so it looks more subtle on a TV stand or entertainment center.On the back of the streaming device, you'll find an HDMI port so you can connect it to your TV and a MicroUSB port for powering the device. We hope Roku moves to USB-C ports in the near future for charging, as it's 2019, and MicroUSB is outdated. When you place the streaming device near your TV, you'll want to put it somewhere visible - that's because the remote communicates with it through infrared and it requires a line of sight.
If you've used a Roku device before, you'll also be familiar with the remote. The remotes are pretty much the same across all Roku devices with a few small differences. The remote that comes with the Express does not offer voice input so you can't control the device with your voice, but it does have quick controls for Netflix, Sling, Hulu, and The CW, plus, it's very easy to use.
Specs and dimensions
- 1.4 x 3.3 x 0.7 inches
- Supports up to 1080p resolution
- IR remote
- HDMI 1.4
Setting up the Roku Express is exactly the same as setting up any other Roku device - simple. You'll start by plugging the Roku streaming device into your TV and a power outlet, after which the Roku logo should display on your TV.
After that, you'll simply follow the on-screen instructions to set the device up. This will involve heading to the Roku website, entering a code, then either signing in to your Roku account or creating a new one.
Part of the setup process also involves choosing which apps or "channels" you want installed on your device. Most people will want to uncheck most of the apps on the list - unless you happen to be a streaming service addict with dozens of streaming subscriptions. You can always add more later.
There are a number of things that make the Roku Express a great device, the first being that it offers an easy way to turn your TV into a smart TV at a great price. That's really the main reason to buy the Roku Express. If you like the idea of video streaming, but your current TV is too old to offer native apps and you don't want a new TV just yet, grab an Express.In other words, the Express is really for the first-time streamer or the casual TV watcher who doesn't care much about high-resolution video.
Apart from that, the Roku interface is generally very easy to use. You can easily navigate to the apps that you want to use, and while voice control would make it even easier to use, most will find the interface pretty intuitive.
The Roku Express is a great streaming device, but Roku does have to cut some corners to make a device this cheap. For starters, there's no 4K or HDR support here, so if you have a relatively new TV with 4K support, you'll want to look into the Roku Streaming Stick+, or our favorite streaming device, the Apple TV 4K.
The lack of voice control is also a little frustrating. There are other Roku devices with support for voice control, and it would have been a welcome addition here.
Last but not least, while the Roku Express is very easy to use. The Roku interface is starting to feel a little dated. Roku may well update the interface in the near future, but it's still something to keep in mind.
The bottom line
The Roku Express offers a ton of value for the money. The device is inexpensive and easy to use, making it great for those getting started in streaming or those with an older TV.
- Should you buy it? Yes - if you have an older 1080p TV that you want to turn into a smart TV for about $30, the Roku Express is hard to beat.
- What are your alternatives? If you have a 4K TV and you don't mind spending a bit more money, you can grab the Roku Streaming Stick + for $49. If you want 4K, HDR, more features, and faster streaming, the $80 Roku Ultra is worth looking into.
As Roku's budget option, the Express is a great buy for anyone who is on a budget.Pros: Easy to use, great value for money, 1080p streaming, lots of apps
Cons: No 4K or HDR, no voice control, Roku interface could use a refresh
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