Roku Express Review 2020
Bottom line: Roku Express is cheap and simple
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 $29.99, which makes the 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.
- Inexpensive price
- Small design
- Full Roku interface
- 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).
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, livestreaming, 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 actually 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: $29.99
- 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 Express. Video resolution tops out at standard high-def 1080p, meaning no 4K or 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 $30, Roku’s still giving away plenty of streaming power with the Express.
Roku Express vs. the competition
|Amazon Fire Stick||$39.99||1080p||Included|
Data effective as of 12/26/2019. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
Above, we compared streaming devices that are similar in size and price range—it wouldn’t be fair to put the Roku Express in the ring against pricier powerhouses like Amazon’s Fire TV Cube or Apple TV 4K. In the above table’s weight class, the Express competes well.
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 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.
- 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 (Netflix, Hulu, 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):
- Amazon Prime Video
- Hulu + Live TV
- CBS All Access
- HBO NOW
- Apple TV+
- Sling TV
- YouTube TV
Roku’s list of TV and video streaming apps is endlessly impressive. But its collection of gaming and entertainment apps? Not so much. Most of its games are trivia-based or rudimentary single-players, but there are at least a few popular music apps to be found.
Roku entertainment apps (partial list):
- Amazon Music
- Wheel of Fortune
- Pac-Man Championship
- Downhill Bowling
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.
Roku Premiere is a model we haven’t mentioned so far—it’s just the Express with 4K and HDR capability. All of its other features are identical to those of the Express. That’s not bad for $30, but if you’re going to upgrade, we’d recommend spending a little more for the Streaming Stick+, since it has better wireless capability to handle 4K.
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.
Our final take: Gift someone an Express
There are few devices of any type that go for as low as $29.99, let alone something as fully functional as the Roku Express. It’s really 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—$30! That’s about the cost of a good pedicure or a better pizza. For those curious about streaming, the price can’t be beat.
Roku Express FAQ
Is there a monthly fee to use Roku Express?
No, 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.
How much internet speed do I need for Roku Express?
Most streaming services recommend at least 7 to 10 Mbps of internet speed to stream content, so that should be enough for Roku Express as well. That said, CableTV.com suggests internet speeds of 25 Mbps or above to avoid lagging and buffering, especially for household networks with multiple internet users.
What’s the difference between the Roku Streaming Stick and Roku Express?
There’s a couple main differences, but price (Roku Express is $20 cheaper) and voice remote (Roku Streaming Stick has one, Roku Express doesn’t) are the two main ones.
Is Roku Express or Amazon Fire Stick better?
We think Roku Express is slightly better because it’s more platform agnostic and a little cheaper.
Can Roku Express control my TV’s power and volume?
The remote included with Roku Express doesn’t have the capability to 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.