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Roku Express 2017 Review: Simply powerful TV streamer

The Good

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Loads of channels
  • Private listening via app

The Bad

  • No 4K Ultra HD
  • No headphone port on remote
4.5

The Roku Express 2017 edition offers five times the power of the previous streaming stick, along with the same vast array of channels and fantastic app support. We’ve been testing this £30 smart streamer to see if it really is a no-brainer purchase.

For the price of two cinema tickets you can get thousands of hours of films and the latest shows, out of any TV in your house. All you need is the Roku Express, a tiny box that fits into your television and adds a huge amount of smarts.

A full review of the Express almost seems moot, since even a basic modicum of offerings are going to be impressive for such a price. At just £30, this streaming device – updated for 2017 – really does pack in a lot of power; five times the power of the previous model, in fact.

Roku has gathered an army of channels, both official and less so, meaning more content to stream than the competition. Of course, with 4K UHD streaming alternatives out there, a lack of private listening via the remote and many apps already available on modern smart televisions, is the Roku Express 2017 actually a good purchase? Or should you boost your budget to get even more streaming features?

Roku Streaming Stick+ vs Streaming Stick, Express, Express+ and Ultra: what’s the difference?

Roku Express 2017 review: Design, build and setup

The Roku Express for 2017 looks as good as ever. We half want to call this a smart streaming box, although in reality it’s the size of a streaming stick, only it plugs into your TV via a cable. This is a useful design feature as it means you can use the infrared remote to control the Express as it sits in plain view. Of course, it also means the device isn’t tucked well away out of sight, like the Streaming Stick+.

To counter this, Roku has at least included a double sided sticky layer that allows you to attach the Express to your TV. This means it can sit mostly out of the way, barely noticeable as little more than an IR strip that almost looks like it’s part of the TV. Attention to detail like this makes all the difference and Roku’s improvements don’t stop there.

The Express for 2017 comes with an HDMI cable, USB power cable and wall adapter bundled in the box. Plus there’s that remote control and the AAA batteries to power it. So out of the box, you’re ready to enjoy your Express to the full without needing to order in extra bits.

That blissful simplicity carries on throughout setup. We plugged the Roku Express 2017 in and were up and running within five minutes. You simply have to connect to your home WiFi, login on a computer or phone to verify the account you setup, pick a few channels you might like, and you’re ready to start viewing. The Express will even auto detect the type of TV you have for optimal output – this setup process really is idiot-proof.

What works?

The Express is pleasingly compact and offers impressively simple setup, which even technophobes should find agreeable. Everything comes bundled too, so you’re good to go straight out of the box.

What doesn’t?

You can’t tuck the Express away out of sight, although the sticky tape helps to place the streamer in a subtle position.

Roku Express 2017 review: Quality, content and performance

The Roku Express for 2017 is five times faster than the previous generation, according to the manufacturer at least. This performance boost is immediately noticeable however, as flitting about the menu screen is a pleasingly smooth experience. We tried to slow it down with crazy button mashing, but the box is now fast enough to keep up with any shenanigans you attempt.

This applies to using the remote and the app too, with instant responsiveness in both cases. Load times for apps are also much faster using this 2017 model, meaning you won’t be waiting around even when flicking from Netflix to Amazon Prime Video.

The quality of your video content tops out at 1080p, which is fine for those with a Full HD TV. But for anyone wishing to take advantage of the 4K UHD content of Netflix, Amazon Video or YouTube, this streamer won’t appease.

Roku has been around for so long that it’s managed to amass some serious options when it comes to channels. And the good news is, these are all available on the Express 2017.

You name it, chances are you’ll be able to find it. From BBC iPlayer and Now TV to UFC and TuneIn Radio, there are over 150,000 movies and shows to enjoy on the Roku platform. There is also an unofficial selection of private channels which can be loaded onto the player – this means less legal offerings are also accessible via the Express as well as some cool games and plenty more.

We’ve chosen our favourite Roku apps that you need to download straight away, to make the most of your Express.

Best Roku Private Channels: How to access them on your Roku player

What works?

Loads of app support and slick performance makes for a satisfying and ever-expanding user experience.

What doesn’t?

You won’t find support for 4K or HDR video here; that requires an upgrade to a more premium Roku streamer.

Roku Express 2017 review: App and features

The Roku Express of course works with the Roku app, meaning you can take full control of the device via your phone or tablet. This not only means using the app as a remote, but also as a way to browse content. Since this works seperately, you can be searching for your next YouTube hit on your phone as the Express box plays your current selection.

Of course this can also be a negative, as you end up only ever half watching one thing, as you’re immediately looking for the next. That said, this is a great way to get lost in everything YouTube has to offer.

One really nice feature of the app is the private listening feature. This allows you to listen to what’s playing on the Express via your phone and connected headphones. Plug your headphones into your phone, or Bluetooth connect them, then enjoy your shows without bothering anyone else in the household. And yes, there is no lag to speak of, so this feature works perfectly well.

The downside here? The option to plug the headphones in the remote, a previous feature for certain Roku devices, has been axed. There’s actually a good reason for this, since the battery life of the remote used to be absolutely annihilated by private listening. At least you can quickly charge your mobile back up after a marathon session of Don’t Tell The Bride.

Check out our Roku tips and tricks guide for more on the software side, including our favourite hidden features.

What works?

The Roku app is a great gateway into your Roku device and its content, while private listening works really well.

What doesn’t?

No more private listening via the remote.

Roku Express 2017 review: Verdict

If you want to upgrade a telly in your home to smart TV status, or if you want to access the less mainstream apps found in the Roku private channels, then this streaming box is a really affordable way to do it.

The Roku Express for 2017 is super responsive, easy to use, visually non-intrusive and has a great app for controls and private listening. Unless you need 4K visuals, there really isn’t much that can be faulted on the Roku Express 2017 – especially not for that £30 price.

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