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Small and portable
Minimal cords involved
Supports voice controls
Initial setup can be buggy
Streaming stick can overheat
No mute button on the remote
Some lags in performance
The Roku Streaming Stick packs a fair amount of punch into a small package, but you may trade performance for portability with this streaming device.
In an increasingly cordless world, why wouldn’t you consider pulling the plug on your cable provider? There are streaming devices that can ease any qualms you have about missing out on the shows, movies, and other media you love.
But when it comes down to choosing which one is right for you, you want to first consider the type of streaming device you want. They come in a range of sizes but are still generally smaller than your average cable box. If you want to go the (nearly) cordless and minimalistic route, the Roku Streaming Stick may fit the bill.
We explored just how easy this little device is to use and what kind of performance power it offers.
Bigger is not necessarily better, and the Roku Streaming Stick champions that.
The stick, which is black and rectangular in shape, kind of looks like a longer USB stick. Measuring 0.5 x 3.3 x 0.8 inches, it’s small and unobtrusive enough to stow in your pocket or pack for your next vacation—unless you’re trying to unplug even more.
The portability of the device is underscored by the minimal number of cables necessary to make the device work. Other than the USB power cord and the adapter, you have little extra gear to concern yourself with or worry about forgetting.
If you want to go mostly cordless and minimalistic, the Roku Streaming Stick may fit the bill.
The size of the stick and design are also great if you’re interested in streamlining your entertainment layout. If you already have a lot of other devices and cords around your TV and don’t want to complicate it further with bulky gear and cords, this streaming stick provides a remedy to that.
The downside to that placement, of course, is the potential for sluggish connection between the device and the remote, which we did experience.
We also noticed that the stick itself gets quite warm when plugged in. Maybe it’s because we tested it with a TV that’s close to a wall, but this isn’t a problem we have noticed with other streaming sticks. It’s something to consider in terms of compatibility with your TV and the ventilation you have in place.
Beyond the streaming stick itself, you also get a remote. It has straightforward power, volume, and directional controls. There are also shortcut buttons to some featured apps: Netflix, Hulu, ESPN, and Sling.
But the remote does feature some oddities. There are volume buttons on the right side of the remote, but no mute button. There’s also a circular arrow that looks like a “re-do” button, which is easy to confuse with the back button (another arrow located at the top of the remote right next to the home button).
This circular arrow button seems useless other than for rewinding slightly when you’re viewing something. But there’s no equivalent button for jumping forward, so it’s a bit lopsided.
These are small quirks that are just slightly confusing. They don’t necessarily take away from the ease of the experience altogether.
Setting up the Roku Streaming Stick is not quite plug-and-play, which does seem a bit counterintuitive given the minimal amount of equipment in the box.
First, we plugged the stick into our TV’s HDMI port. Then we plugged the USB power cable into it and connected that cord to the power adapter.
After we had the adapter plugged into an outlet, the only other thing to do was insert the provided AAA batteries into the remote. The remote came on, and a green light began blinking below the battery area on the left-hand side. This was the remote pairing itself to our streaming stick.
Once we turned on the TV, we were prompted to connect to Wi-Fi to ensure the latest software updates were automatically downloaded to the device, which took less than a minute. You’ll know the update is in progress when the Roku logo letters start bouncing on the screen, along with the trademark startup “beep.”
This was when we noticed our first hiccup with the setup. The device seemed to restart after the update, but then it took us back to the exact same screen as before. We had to log back onto the Wi-Fi network a second time, and it about 50 seconds for seemingly the same software update to download again.
The Roku Streaming Stick is a great solution for small spaces, but it struggles with consistency.
The second time was the charm, though. After the update was successful, we were prompted to choose a display preference. Auto-detect is the standard, but you’re free to make an alternate choice. The next step was the volume test, which required us to point the remote to the TV and make sure the volume buttons worked.
Next, we had to activate the device through the Roku website. If you don’t have an account, you have to create one and link a credit card to it. The manufacturer makes sure to explain in the quick start guide why this is a critical step in the setup process—taking the time to enter these details at the beginning makes it a seamless process to purchase movies and videos down the line, which enhances the overall viewing/streaming experience.
We logged in with our existing Roku account and then activated the device using the code that appeared on our TV screen. After we inputted the code, we were asked to set up our channels in the browser. This is also something you can do later on the TV if you’re setting up your account for the first time.
Since we already had a Roku account, this took a little while—about 2.5 minutes to load in all the apps we already had associated with the account.
Before we finally received the green light to start using our new Roku, we saw a message encouraging us to download the mobile app. While this isn’t necessarily a mandatory part of the setup process, we chose to do it at this point. The free Roku app is available for both iOS and Android and features much of the same content you’ll find through the streaming stick menus. We’ll talk a bit later about how this feature factored into our experience with the software.
The Roku Streaming Stick supports HD (high definition) TVs up to 1080p and scales up from 720p. We tested the device on an HDTV that falls right into that 1920 x 1080p sweet spot.
One of the first things we noticed about the streaming experience is how the picture was quite clear, but not consistent. It looked better in some apps than others. For example, Netflix, Hulu, and the Roku apps all looked crisp, but the CW and other network apps appeared less sharp.
The biggest red flag was how long it took to load content. Simply exiting out of one show to return to the home menu within an app came with a consistent delay. Even closing out of one app to return to the Roku home dashboard took up to 10 seconds. It’s not a huge delay, but we never noticed seamless movement in and out of apps or even while browsing the Roku menus.
Sometimes this seemed to be related to the way the remote was pointed in the direction of the TV. But we didn’t see a reliable change even when we very deliberately pointed it toward the location of the streaming stick on the back of the television. Often, we saw no indication of where the remote had led us, or sometimes the remote would skip ahead as if it were catching up on the prompts we had given it. This stop-start motion was unpredictable.
The Roku Streaming Stick system is straightforward and user-friendly. It’s easy to browse the apps you’ve downloaded right on the Roku home screen.
The only caveat about the home dashboard is that all your apps appear there on an endless loop. You can scroll through them like it’s a neverending list, which is confusing at first unless you know the system (you may think you’ve downloaded an app more than once).
To the left of the main home dashboard, there are several other search menus and options that make searching for apps simple. Roku boasts a library of over 500,000 shows and movies. Either type your selection into the search function or browse the collections that are split up into categories like Free Content, Featured, or Movies.
You also have the added benefit of a built-in voice assistant. Simply hold the microphone icon on the remote and say the name of the show or actor you want to search for. The system will return results and show you which apps that show or movie is hosted on, as well as the price and whether you need a subscription.
The layout is easy to interact with, and it's easy to understand how to get to what you want. But the lag with the remote functions really inhibits ease of use at times. We noticed it most intrusively in the Netflix app—the picture quality was sharp, but trying to navigate within the app was a slow and sometimes jarring process.
The lag with the remote functions really inhibits ease of use.
Other apps took particularly long to load, such as the Prime and YouTube apps.
The voice commands usually get a quick response, but you’ll see a prompt along the lines of “I’m thinking” to let you know the system is working.
The complementary smartphone app has a remote function, too, but you can’t mute your TV with it or do anything else that you can’t already do with the physical remote. This is still a useful alternative to packing the remote with you if you decide to take the streaming stick on vacation.
We tried using the app in place of the physical remote, and we even tested out the private listening function that allows you to plug in headphones to your smartphone and receive the audio that way. The Roku app menu was much more responsive to our menu selections and movement, but we noticed a different problem: a significant discrepancy between sound and picture matching up during private listening.
The Roku Streaming stick retails for $49.99 and is sort of in the mid to high range in terms of the Roku streaming device lineup. For about the same price, you could purchase a competing streaming stick like the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K that offers 4K and HDR instead of only HD streaming. This feature will definitely appeal to people that already have a 4K TV and want to take advantage of that picture quality.
You could also opt for the slightly less expensive Amazon Fire TV Stick, which retails for $39.99. It offers HD picture quality and voice controls like the Roku Streaming Stick, but the Fire boasts 8GB of internal storage compared to a measly 256MB in the Roku.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K retails for the same price as the Roku Streaming Stick, but the Fire TV Stick supports 4K and HDR streaming.
Also, unlike the Roku Streaming Stick, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K does not emit an alarming amount of heat or exhibit any of the content loading or remote lags. Navigating through the Fire TV system is quick and reliable and the picture quality is also consistent.
What the Amazon Fire TV Stick lacks, however, is access to a YouTube app. Both devices present an extensive library of content, but if you prefer a more neutral platform, you may feel more inclined toward the Roku Streaming Stick or the upgraded Roku Streaming Stick+, which is slightly more expensive ($59.99 MSRP) but includes support for 4K and HDR content.
Interested in weighing your other cord-cutting options? Check out our list of the best devices for streaming.
Decent performance, but there are better options out there.
The Roku Streaming Stick is a great solution for small spaces, but it struggles with consistency. If it requires you to be hyper-vigilant about overheating and serves up unreliable performance, it may be worth shelling out a little extra—or even finding an alternative at the same price—and getting a device that offers all the same strengths without these issues.