Roku Express review

If you’re on the market for a new streaming device, you may be feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the options out there. Because let’s face it, there are a lot

Roku alone offers seven different streaming players, and that’s not even getting into its line of smart TVs. All these choices might leave you with questions like what’s the difference between the Roku Express and Roku Express Plus? Is the Roku Express HD the same thing or an entirely separate device? Is the Roku Ultra worth the money, or should you look at an Apple TV? For a full explanation of Roku’s different devices, visit our Roku streaming devices review.

The good news is, you can take a deep breath now because we’ve got your back. Here, we’ll break down the pros and cons of Roku’s baseline offering: its Roku Express. Then, we’ll compare it to other available players, so you can feel confident you’re getting the best equipment for your streaming needs. 

What is the Roku Express?

The Roku Express is one of the smallest and most affordable streaming players on the market. It’s an excellent choice for anyone on the fence about buying a new device, looking to gift one to a friend or wanting to add streaming capabilities to an extra TV in the household. 

While not the fastest streaming player available, the Roku Express reliably does the job. It can stream video in high-definition (HD), which is more than enough for the casual streamer who wants to watch a couple of episodes of Netflix after work. (If, say, you’re a sports fan who wants an extra-crisp picture for the latest Dodgers game, then we’ll run through some options for Ultra High-Definition (UHD) and 4K streaming below.)

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the Roku Express is that it comes equipped with the full Roku operating system (OS) found in Roku’s higher-end devices. Its OS includes features like the Universal Search Function, which helps you find the best price on TV shows and movies across all your apps. You’ll also have access to the Roku Feed, which alerts you when new films become available, and the Roku channel, which has hundreds of free TV series and movies to peruse. 

As if that weren’t enough, the Roku Express also comes with everything you’ll need to get started: remote, HDMI cable and even double-sided adhesive tape to secure the box to your TV. It’s a one-stop-shop, which allows you to spend less time setting up and more time streaming.

How much does the Roku Express cost?

The Roku Express costs only $29.99, making it one of the cheapest devices on the market. While you’ll get the full Roku OS and HD streaming quality, there are a few concessions that explain the price point. These include the Roku Express box needing to be in the line of sight of the remote, along with a basic version of the remote itself.

How does the Roku Express compare? 

Not all streaming players are made alike, and it’s important to take into consideration your streaming needs, TV setup and budget. So, let’s compare the Roku Express to other Roku and non-Roku streaming players. 

To other Roku devices

DeviceCostFeatures
Roku Express (HD)$29.99HD streaming, easy setup, HDMI cable included, full Roku OS
Roku Express Plus$39.99Everything you get with the Roku Express, along with a voice-controlled remote
Roku Premiere$39.994K and HDR streaming, includes HDMI cable, simple remote
Roku Streaming Stick Plus$49.994K and HDR streaming, wireless, portable, voice remote
Roku Ultra$99.994K and HDR streaming, ethernet port, lost remote finder, enhanced voice remote
Roku Streaming StickModel no longer availableN/A

(By lowest starting price.)

The Roku Express is the cheapest option available at $29.99, but with a budget-price comes a few limitations. The box must be visible by the remote, you can only stream content in HD and loading speeds are slower than other models (although it varies depending on your internet setup.) If none of those issues concern you, then the Roku Express HD player will have you covered.

Let’s say that all sounds good, except you want a more advanced remote. Then, you can upgrade to the Roku Express+ for $39.99. It offers the same thing as the Roku Express; only it comes with a voice remote. 

If you have a TV with 4K capability (and assuming you make use of those specs), the Roku Premiere is the most affordable option ($39.99) that allows for Ultra HD streaming. The only downside is that it comes with the basic remote. 

Upgrade to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus ($49.99), and you’ll get 4K streaming, a voice remote, wireless capability and faster load times. Should you still find yourself lacking, the top-of-the-line Roku Ultra offers additional premium features like its Lost Remote Finder. Plus, you can connect directly to an ethernet port for the absolute fastest connection possible. 

For a more in-depth breakdown of Roku devices, check out our Roku streaming devices review.

To other streaming devices

Streaming DeviceCostFeatures
Roku Express$29.99HD streaming, easy setup, full Roku operating system, hundreds of free channels
Google Chromecast$29.99HD streaming, wireless, dedicated app
Amazon Fire Stick$39.99HD streaming, Alexa voice assistant built-in
Apple TV HD$149HD streaming, Siri remote, wired or wireless network, works best with other Apple products
Nvidia Shield TV$149.994K and HDR streaming, NVIDIA Tegra X1+ processor, Google Assistant built-in, Alexa capability

(By lowest starting price.)

While the Roku Express and Google Chromecast come in at the same price point, the Roku Express gets a slight edge for including a remote. Plus, Roku comes with hundreds of hours of free content via the Roku channel. 

The Amazon Fire Stick runs in the same ball-park price range. For only $10 more, you get Alexa built-in, along with a little more speed. While you can stream from multiple apps, it favors Amazon content, unlike the more unbiased Roku devices.

After that, you jump into a much higher price bracket with Apple TV and Nvidia Shield TV, both coming in at $149 for the standard models. While the price is significantly higher, avid Apple users may prefer the streamlined capabilities of an Apple TV within their iOS ecosystem. On the other hand, Nvidia is best for gamers who want an all-in-one gaming and streaming device.  

Disadvantages of the Roku Express

The biggest downsides of the Roku Express are a result of its low price — not because it’s poorly made but because there’s nothing fancy here. 

That means no voice control on the remote, and the remote itself is very basic. The box also has to remain in the line of sight of the remote, so you can’t hide it on the back of the TV. Most importantly, while you can access any content you’d find on the higher-end devices, you’re limited to streaming only in HD and with slightly slower loading speeds.

Our hot take

The Roku Express is best for anyone who wants to lay back, kick up their feet, and casually stream some Netflix or Hulu on their living room TV. It’s a simple, yet capable player that will cover any basic HD streaming needs you might have. And at such an affordable price, it’s kind of a no-brainer. 

Alex Burns