Roku Express Review

Is Roku Express Good?

Roku Express is a tween—not quite an over-the-top streaming box or an HDMI stick but somewhere in the middle. The distinction matters less than the price: it’s just $24.99, which makes Express the cheapest full-featured streaming device on the market.

While it lacks a few key features found on Roku’s more expensive Ultra and Streaming Stick+ models, the Express still delivers the Roku viewing experience. Since Roku is the OG of streaming boxes (it pioneered the slick-but-simple interface for internet TV newbies), that’s a big deal in a small package.

At this price and size, Roku Express could even be a great stocking stuffer for family and friends curious about cord-cutting. Yes, the holidays are coming—sorry (or you’re welcome) for the reminder.

 Pros

  • Inexpensive price
  • Small design
  • Full Roku interface  

Cons

  • Slower Wi-Fi
  • No 4K capability
  • Fewer remote features

 

Roku Express deals and promotions

When you purchase and activate any Roku device, you can take advantage of the 30-day free trials for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, iHeart Radio All Access, and DailyBurn. But don’t forget to cancel before the month’s up if you don’t want to keep watching (or working out).

Roku-Express

What is Roku Express?

Roku streaming boxes and sticks offer access to nearly 4,000 apps (or “channels,” as it calls them) of the on-demand, live streaming, and gaming varieties. The Express is an entry-level mini box with fewer features than other Roku devices, but it can still stream Netflix, Sling TV, and any other service like a champ.

Where the Roku Ultra is a fully loaded box for entertainment centers and the Roku Stick is designed for travel and mobility, the Express seems to be made for tight spaces and odd TV placements. It’s smaller than the remote and comes with an adhesive strip to attach directly to the television frame—that’s good for suspended and wall-mounted TVs.

Roku Express specs

  • Price: $24.99
  • Size: 1.5″ x 3″
  • Video: 1080p
  • Audio: Digital stereo, DTS Digital Surround, Dolby Audio, and Atmos
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11bgn single-band wireless
  • Storage: None

Compared to other Roku models, there are some compromises with the Roku Express specs. Video resolution tops out at standard high-def 1080p, meaning no 4Kor HDR, and the Wi-Fi can connect at only 2.4Ghz, which is slower than both the Ultra and the Stick+. There’s also no Ethernet port for a hardwired internet connection on the Express—a feature you’d expect with a non-stick device.

But for about $25, Roku’s still giving away plenty of streaming power with the Express.

Roku Express setup

There’s a lot of ways to handle your Roku Express setup: whether you attach the Roku Express to a TV with the sticky strip (the optimal way) or let it rest on your media center (which looks weird—like, “Where’s the rest of it?”), it’ll need to be in the line of sight for the IR (infrared) remote. No hiding it behind the TV—boo.

Conveniently, the Express comes with a 5-inch HDMI cable, which is perfect unless your TV is a 70-inch behemoth. Also included is a short USB cable that can power the device through the TV’s USB port or with an optional AC adapter; we prefer the AC for uninterrupted power flow.

From there, the on-screen setup wizard will walk you through the process of getting the Express up and running: autodetecting video and audio specs, connecting to your Wi-Fi network, signing in to or creating a Roku account, picking a few basic apps to start with, etc.

You can even choose a screensaver. FYI, cats love the fish-filled Aquatic Life screensaver.

 

Included equipment

  • Roku Express streaming device
  • Adhesive mounting strip
  • Remote control
  • 2 AAA batteries
  • 5″ HDMI cable
  • USB cable with AC adapter

Equipment you’ll need

  • TV with HDMI port
  • Wi-Fi network

       

 

Roku Express apps

As we mentioned before, there are almost 4,000 streaming apps in Roku’s Channel Store, including the familiar Roku Express channels (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, and Amazon Prime Video) and the out-there (UFO TV, ASMR TV, and 420 TV). The majority are free, if not necessarily all “good”—downloader discretion advised.

Livestreaming and on-demand channels and services

Roku may have launched as a Netflix-exclusive streamer over a decade ago, but it now carries everything. If there’s a major streaming TV service unavailable on Roku, we’ve yet to (not) find it.

Roku TV and video apps (partial list):

  • YouTube TV
  • Pluto TV
  • Philo
  • DIRECTV STREAM
  • fuboTV
  • ESPN
  • ESPN+
  • NBC Sports
  • CBS Sports
  • FOX Sports
  • Full Roku TV and video apps list

App and channel guide user experience

Roku’s home screen is pure simplicity, with a set of large app tiles to one side and a scrollable menu of settings and options to the other. You can choose from different backgrounds and themes if you’re not into Roku’s default purple—it’s almost like customizing your old MySpace page (Wiki it, kids).

You can also arrange your apps in the three-across grid, like placing your favorites at the top or categorizing them by type (movies, news, games, etc.). One minor bummer is the presence of random display ads on the home screen that seem to have nothing to do with your content preferences. At least tailor your ads, Roku.

Surfing between apps is easy and glitch-free, and the channels themselves function as expected—well, the bigger channels do. Once you swim out of the mainstream into more obscure apps, performance varies wildly; most operate well, but some shut down without warning or never open in the first place. But that’s on third-party app developers, not Roku.

Many reviews of the Express mention that it runs slower than other Roku models, mostly due to its single-band Wi-Fi antenna. This is something only tech reviewers doing side-by-side device comparisons would catch; “normal” users will likely never notice the millisecond lag.

Roku Express remote

Just as the Express is a simplified version of higher-end Rokus, its accompanying remote is a bare-bones controller. There’s no voice command, TV power, volume options, or headphone jack (one of Roku’s coolest features). If you want more control, you can download Roku’s free mobile app for Android and iOS, which turns your phone into a full-featured remote.

Remote-control user experience

Home, Back, OK (Enter), a four-direction rocker, Channel Jump back, Options, Rewind, Play/Pause, and Fast-Forward—that’s it for purple buttons on the Express remote (Roku is all about purple if you haven’t noticed yet). It’s a sleek little remote, for sure.

Like all Roku remotes, the Express clicker also features four shortcut buttons that will take you directly to preset apps without having to open the home screen (ours included Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and CBS All Access; others vary). You can’t reprogram them to open different apps though—companies paid big placement bucks for those buttons. Remember our frustration with home-screen display ads? It’s that all over again.

App and channel guide user experience

Roku’s home screen is pure simplicity, with a set of large app tiles to one side and a scrollable menu of settings and options to the other. You can choose from different backgrounds and themes if you’re not into Roku’s default purple—it’s almost like customizing your old MySpace page (Wiki it, kids).

You can also arrange your apps in the three-across grid, like placing your favorites at the top or categorizing them by type (movies, news, games, etc.). One minor bummer is the presence of random display ads on the home screen that seem to have nothing to do with your content preferences. At least tailor your ads, Roku.

Surfing between apps is easy and glitch-free, and the channels themselves function as expected—well, the bigger channels do. Once you swim out of the mainstream into more obscure apps, performance varies wildly; most operate well, but some shut down without warning or never open in the first place. But that’s on third-party app developers, not Roku.

Many reviews of the Express mention that it runs slower than other Roku models, mostly due to its single-band Wi-Fi antenna. This is something only tech reviewers doing side-by-side device comparisons would catch; “normal” users will likely never notice the millisecond lag.

Roku Express remote

Just as the Express is a simplified version of higher-end Rokus, its accompanying remote is a bare-bones controller. There’s no voice command, TV power, volume options, or headphone jack (one of Roku’s coolest features). If you want more control, you can download Roku’s free mobile app for Android and iOS, which turns your phone into a full-featured remote.

Remote-control user experience

Home, Back, OK (Enter), a four-direction rocker, Channel Jump back, Options, Rewind, Play/Pause, and Fast-Forward—that’s it for purple buttons on the Express remote (Roku is all about purple if you haven’t noticed yet). It’s a sleek little remote, for sure.

Like all Roku remotes, the Express clicker also features four shortcut buttons that will take you directly to preset apps without having to open the home screen (ours included Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and CBS All Access; others vary). You can’t reprogram them to open different apps though—companies paid big placement bucks for those buttons. Remember our frustration with home-screen display ads? It’s that all over again.

 

Compatible devices with Roku Express

If you have an internet connection and TV with an HDMI port, you’re Roku-ready. Newer Rokus are also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

Roku even has its own branded smart TV with its streaming interface built-in if you want a minimalist media center with no extra devices. It’s not purple if you were wondering.

Final take: Gift someone an Express

There are few devices of any type that go for as low as $24.99, let alone something as fully functional as the Roku Express. It’s a cord-cutter recruiting tool, a cheap and easy giveaway that could turn anyone into a streamer in minutes.

That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. For just a little more money, there are faster streaming devices out there with more features (like better remotes and 4K capability, just to name a few). There’s also no apparent reason that the Express couldn’t be an HDMI stick rather than an odd, mini set-top box. When it comes to design, the Express is more “WTF?” than “OMG,” in our opinion.

But, come on—$25! That’s about the cost of a good pedicure or a better pizza. For those curious about streaming, the price can’t be beaten.

There’s no monthly fee to use Roku Express or any Roku device. But you will be required to create a Roku account and enter a credit card number for the rental or purchase of some movies, shows, and apps.

There’s a couple of differences, but the price (Roku Express is $25 cheaper) and voice remote (Roku Streaming Stick has one, Roku Express doesn’t) are the big ones.

There’s a couple of differences, but the price (Roku Express is $25 cheaper) and voice remote (Roku Streaming Stick has one, Roku Express doesn’t) are the big ones.

We think Roku Express is slightly better because it’s more platform agnostic and a little cheaper.

 

The remote included with Roku Express can’t control any other devices, including your TV. You can upgrade to Roku’s advanced voice remote, which can control your TV and also includes a headphone jack, for an additional $29.99.