We have all gotten used to being able to watch what we want, when we want. Fancy binge-watching a whole season of a show in one sitting? Sorted. Suddenly have the urge to watch the latest blockbuster without leaving your home? Just click and watch instantly.
However, there was a time when you’d have to head out to the video store or rely on your own tape/DVD collection for entertainment. That may be a dim and distant memory (or just plain history) to some, but others will still have a television without smarts. It may be in a bedroom, for instance. Or, you may have a projector that you want to add telly to.
This is where streaming sticks come in. These are a great and relatively inexpensive way to bring smarts to your TV or projector. Coincidentally,the Roku Express is their most recent and affordable offering.
Roku Express design
The Roku Express is actually a remarkably small streaming box. From that unit, you can connect it via HDMI or USB ports.
Having the sensor does mean that you need a line of site if you want to use the remote. On the plus side, you won’t have the possible issues that Amazon Fire TV Stick’s sometimes have with overly-snug HDMI ports.
Back to the remote. It actually feels pretty substantial, which is good. I do like the handy shortcut button for Netflix. However, I am more befuggled by the other buttons for Red Bull TV, Rakuten TV and Yupp TV. I can only assume that there was some deal between them and Roku. It would great if you could reassign those buttons through UI, but you can’t. I do like the colour choices on the remote and the added flare of the fabric tag.
All-in-all, the Roku Express is a compact and well-made system.
Roku Express performance
Firstly, don’t be expecting 4K here. This is a 1080p Full HD solution and proud of it. Being the owner of a Fire Stick already and still rocking a HD telly, this is cool with me.
The Roku Express is really easy to get up and running. Plug it in and follow the clear on-screen instructions.
After that is sorted it automatically checks your display and connection. This is so that it can optimise to the situation. Naturally, it went from from the 720p setup screen to 1080p.
This is handy if you are trying to use hotel wi-fi or similar as it will adapt to what’s best for Roku.
You will be prompted to go to Roku’s website on your phone, tablet or computer to register your device and add the streaming services you want. It does say that there’s a mixture of free and paid channels but it isn’t clear which is which.
The homescreen is clean and simple (and not as blurry as my photography when I was testing the Qumi Q38).
You are shown thumbnails of your selected apps on the right, and a short menu on the left. The options are pretty straightforward, and include settings, a search function and a link to the channel store for browsing more apps.
There’s also a section called My Feed, which pulls through a curated selection of popular TV shows and movies, with options to watch them through Now TV or Amazon. Obviously, those are subscription or pay for channels. From what I can see, you don’t get nudges from from Netflix, iPlayer or any of the UK catch up services. This isn’t really a deal breaker, it just seems to be half-an-idea to me.
However, I am digging the way you can ‘follow’ actors, or even movies. This way Roku will let you know when the price of a followed movie comes down, or when new movies you’ve followed (or a movie with a followed actor) lands. Again, this will be Amazon and Now TV specific. Fortunately, I’m a Prime Video subscriber.
There’s pretty much everything you could want. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Player and Demand 5 are all to be found.
Additionally, there are heaps of other apps and streaming channels, as well as over 100 games.
The channel apps pretty much match what you’ll see in your smart TV. There are some simplified versions, for instance Amazon and Spotify, but you still get much the same functionality.
Even with the streamlined apps, there are some laggy occasions especially when scrolling swiftly through the menus.
Furthermore, you also get the ability to share music, photos and movies from your device on your TV. Finally, there is an option for ‘private listening’. This chucks the audio from the TV to a pair of headphones connected to your device. I would suggest using wired cans as the Bluetooth option was out of sync when I tried it.
Additionally, the Wi-Fi signal never dropped out nor was there a bad case of the spinnies due to buffering.
This is all very impressive; especially for the price.
Roku Express review conclusion
The Roku Express is hard to knock. If you are looking for an excellent and inexpensive way to add Full HD streaming smarts to a projector or daft telly, this is a great way.
Granted, to keep it at such an impressive price, there are some compromises to be made. Some, for instance, might not like having the mini-streamer on show. However, that trifles me not.
The Amazon Fire Stick with Alexa voice control is currently only a fiver more but then it is obviously more Amazon-centric. That’s fine for the likes of me with Prime membership. The 4K Fire is twice the price of the Roku Express. Roku also offers a stick for £55.
I would recommend the Roku Express to all those looking for Full HD smart telly tech with a holistic approach to streaming.
Price and availability
You can buy the Roku Express right now for £29.99 from Amazon.