In 2019, you shouldn’t have to juggle more than one remote control to watch TV. With most media-streamer remotes, volume and power buttons are built in, so you don’t need to keep a second remote handy.

The Roku Express is a notable exception. At $30, it’s the cheapest streaming player that Roku sells. It’s also by far the worst, mostly because it lacks the TV controls that are now standard on every other streaming player. As more people drop cable or satellite TV and depend entirely on streaming, this omission has become inexcusable, especially when the Roku Express+ (sold exclusively at Walmart) has a superior remote for just $10 more.

I therefore implore you: Spend the extra money and thank me later.

Palm-sized streamer

In every other way, the Roku Express is fine. The 2019 version has a new design that’s more energy efficient—Roku says it can run off the powered USB port on nearly every TV that has one—but it’s still a palm-sized black box with an HDMI port in the back. It comes with a 2-foot HDMI cable, plus a strip of adhesive so you can stick the Express to your TV stand or to the TV itself. The box requires line of sight to the remote, however, so you can’t hide it inside an entertainment console.

rokuexpress2019rear Jared Newman / IDG

Around back, the Roku Express has just HDMI output and a Micro-USB port for power.

Performance feels similar to other Roku players, with the exception of the slightly faster (and much pricier, at $100) Roku Ultra. Roku has done an excellent job optimizing its streaming software for cheap hardware, so you’ll seldom need to deal with choppy scrolling of excessive load times. The only downside, as with all Rokus, is that there’s no fast way to switch between recent apps.

As for Wi-Fi connectivity, the Roku Express does not support hardwired ethernet, and its single-band 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) connectivity is well behind the times. It should be fine if you’re not putting a lot of other demand on your Wi-Fi network, or if you don’t have a lot of neighbors with their own networks in close proximity. If wireless interference is an issue, you’ll want a streaming device with dual-band Wi-Fi 5 support, such as the Roku Streaming Stick+, with a Wi-Fi 5 or better router to match.

Bare-bones remote

The main problem with the Roku Express, again, is the remote. If you’ve never used a streaming remote that has volume and power controls built in, you’re missing out on a much more convenient experience. And once you’ve gotten used to that convenience, going back is hard to tolerate.

rokuexpressultraremotes Jared Newman / IDG

Unlike other Roku remotes (such as that of the Roku Ultra, pictured in back), the Roku Express remote lacks TV volume and power buttons.

Those missing controls aren’t the remote’s only issue. It doesn’t have a microphone button either, so you can’t use voice to look up a specific show or search by genre, nor can you launch content directly by voice in apps that support this function, such as Hulu, Pandora, and The Roku Channel. Although Roku’s smartphone app still lets you perform voice controls on the Express, using it is a hassle compared to pressing a button on an actual remote.



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