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Roku Express streaming media player review

Roku Express smart TV streamer

£29.99
8.6

Build quality

8.5/10

Design

8.5/10

Performance

8.5/10

Picture Quality

9.0/10

Value

8.5/10

Pros

  • Small and well made
  • Easy to navigate
  • Great picture quality
  • Neat design
  • Great app

Cons

  • Some menu lag
  • Sticks are more compact

roku controller tagThere are a number of ways of making your dumb TV smart, or for streaming shows directly to your projector. We recently were sent the Roku Express so we gave it a whirl.

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

roku express controller and streaming boxThis is not a dongle. I thought I’d better be upfront about that.

The Roku Express is actually a remarkably small streaming box. From that unit, you can connect it via HDMI or USB ports.

roku express boxOne side of the streaming box is taken up by its infrared sensor for the remote to hit.

roku express box portsThe other is where you’ll find the 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.

roku express controllerBack 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.

Set up

The Roku Express is really easy to get up and running. Plug it in and follow the clear on-screen instructions.

roku appThis guides you through hooking it up to your wi-fi and grabbing updates. Yes, you can even name your Roku as I have done. Well, what else should I have called it?

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.

roku appYou 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.

roku appThis is a tad worrying when you have to hand over your card details at this point. Also, this step cannot be bypassed – no card, no play.

User interface

roku express screenThe 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.

Apps

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.

roku appThe smartphone app hands you the navigation controls found on the remote. It also makes punching in search text a lot less bothersome. You even get voice search.

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.

Picture quality

roku express controller and boxMost importantly, the picture performance is great. On a television Full HD video is crisp and sharp with plenty of detail. I really cannot fault the output from this tiny device.

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.

Roku Express streaming media player review

by Jay Garrett time to read: 5 min
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