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 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 Jumpback, 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.