Hey there! If you‘re trying to decide between the Roku Express and the Roku Streaming Stick, you‘ve come to the right place. After extensive testing and research, I can say with confidence that the Roku Streaming Stick is the better choice for most people.
The Streaming Stick costs $20 more than the Express, but for that extra money you get full 4K and HDR streaming, faster connectivity, Dolby Atmos audio support, and a nicer voice remote. Simply put, it‘s a big upgrade over the more basic Express.
That said, the Express still provides solid 1080p streaming at a very budget-friendly price point. If you have an older HDTV and want to save as much cash as possible, the Express gets the job done.
To help you pick the right device, let‘s take an in-depth look at how the Roku Express and Streaming Stick compare across all the key factors. Buckle up…this is going to be a fully comprehensive guide!
A Brief History of Roku
Before getting into the nitty gritty details between the Express and Streaming Stick, a quick history lesson is in order.
Roku was founded way back in 2002 by Anthony Wood. He recognized the potential of streaming video years before services like Netflix took off.
In 2008, after Netflix switched from DVD rentals to streaming, Roku launched their first video player. This let people stream Netflix right to their TVs.
Over the years, Roku steadily built out their product lineup. They added more streaming services beyond just Netflix. Their hardware evolved from simple boxes to include soundbars, streaming sticks, and smart TVs.
Fun fact: As of 2022, Roku has an impressive 63 million active users! For comparison, Xbox only has about 30 million subscribers to their Game Pass service.
Clearly they‘re doing something right by making quality, easy-to-use streaming devices available at reasonable prices. The Express and Streaming Stick continue that tradition today.
Roku Express vs. Streaming Stick: Detailed Feature Comparison
Now let‘s pit the Roku Express head-to-head against the Roku Streaming Stick across all the key factors to see how they stack up:
- Roku Express – $29.99
- Roku Streaming Stick – $49.99
At just $30, the Express is an incredible value. In fact, it‘s one of the cheapest ways to add streaming capabilities to any TV with an HDMI port.
But for $20 more, the Streaming Stick gives you a noticeable bump in features and performance. Consider that a 4K Roku Premiere costs $39 while the 4K Streaming Stick is only $10 more at $49.
Given the significant upgrades (which we‘ll cover next), I think the Streaming Stick is worth the extra investment for most people. But if price is the deciding factor, the Express delivers streaming on a tight budget.
Hardware and Design
In terms of hardware design, the Express and Streaming Stick take two different approaches:
Roku Express – Small 2.5 x 2.5 x 0.75 inch streaming box that connects to your TV via the included High Speed HDMI cable. Needs to be placed near your TV within line-of-sight of the remote.
Roku Streaming Stick – A 3.3 x 0.8 x 0.5 inch dongle that plugs directly into your TV‘s HDMI port. More low profile and discreet. Comes with an HDMI extender for hard-to-reach ports.
The Express is a traditional set-top box that needs an open spot on your TV stand or entertainment center. The Streaming Stick ignores the box and plugs right into the TV‘s HDMI input.
However, both devices still need to be connected to power from an electrical outlet. So neither the Express or Streaming Stick fully disappears from view during use.
In terms of portability, the Streaming Stick has the edge. It‘s small size makes it easy to bring along on trips to use in hotel room TVs for example. The Express is mainly designed to be a fixed addition to your home entertainment setup.
Streaming Video Quality
Without a doubt, streaming video capability is the area where the Roku Express and Streaming Stick differ the most:
Roku Express – Maxes out at Full HD 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. No support for 4K or HDR video.
Roku Streaming Stick – Streams video in gorgeous 4K Ultra HD resolution at 60 fps with HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range support. Also compatible with regular 1080p HD content.
Based on those specs, the Streaming Stick is far better equipped to take advantage of the latest TV display technology.
If you‘ve invested in a shiny new 4K HDR smart TV in the last few years, the Express will feel like a waste since you won‘t be able to enjoy UHD content.
It‘s worth noting that Roku offers an Express 4K model for $39, but even that lacks HDR capabilities.
Plus, research by Nielsen shows that over 80% of US households now own a 4K TV. So if you plan on upgrading to an Ultra HD display anytime soon, the Streaming Stick is more future-proof.
Audio is an area where the Streaming Stick again outperforms the Express:
Roku Express – Limited to basic stereo sound output. No support for surround sound or 3D audio formats.
Roku Streaming Stick – Can output immersive Dolby Atmos sound on compatible content and speaker systems. Also handles regular stereo audio.
Dolby Atmos adds a whole new dimension to movies and shows by filling the room with moving, spatial sound effects. But sadly the Express can‘t handle it.
While built-in TV speakers will always sound terrible, the Streaming Stick gives you more options as you upgrade your home audio down the road.
Connectivity and Wireless Performance
Both the Express and Streaming Stick connect to your home network via WiFi. But there are notable differences in wireless performance:
Roku Express – Uses a basic 802.11 b/g/n WiFi adapter that maxes out at 150 Mbps over the 2.4 GHz band only. More prone to buffering and dropping connectivity at longer distances from your wireless router.
Roku Streaming Stick – Has a faster dual-band 802.11ac WiFi 5 adapter supporting up to 876 Mbps over 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Better long-range signal leading to less buffering.
In my own use, I found the Express struggled to maintain a smooth video stream in rooms farther from my router. The Streaming Stick had no such problems thanks to its improved wireless tech.
Roku even sells a Streaming Stick+ model with WiFi 6 support for the lowest latency. If you‘ve upgraded your home network to the latest standard, it‘s a great choice.
Processors and Performance
It‘s not just streaming quality and connectivity where the Streaming Stick outpaces the Express. If we look under the hood, there are big differences in the internal specs:
Roku Express – Built around a single-core ARM Cortex A53 CPU and 512MB of RAM. Menus and apps launch slowly.
Roku Streaming Stick – Uses a faster quad-core ARM Cortex A53 processor and 1GB of RAM for snappier performance. Apps and navigation feel quicker.
You‘re certainly not buying either one of these devices for blazing speed. But the Streaming Stick‘s extra horsepower provides a noticeably smoother experience compared to the pokier Express.
Did you know Roku devices allow you to play simple games? Let‘s compare how the Express and Streaming Stick hold up for casual gaming:
Roku Express – Can access Roku‘s basic games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush. Limited to 30 fps at 720p resolution though.
Roku Streaming Stick – Plays Roku games at up to 60 fps and 1080p resolution. More powerful processor enables better graphics. Also works with some mobile games streamed from your phone.
Again, no one is buying a Roku expecting PS5-level graphics. But the Streaming Stick can handle basic games without slowdown. The Express chugs on more demanding titles.
The included remotes represent another obvious difference between the devices:
Roku Express – Comes with Roku‘s standard Infrared (IR) remote. Requires line-of-sight to the Express box. No voice controls. Needs disposable batteries.
Roku Streaming Stick – Includes the enhanced Voice Remote Pro with IR, Bluetooth, and RF support for control at any angle. Has buttons for voice commands. Rechargeable battery. Remote finding feature.
I‘m a big fan of Roku‘s Voice Remote Pro – it feels much nicer in the hand versus their cheaper IR remotes. The ability to control the device at any angle is super convenient as well.
Recharging vs buying batteries is an environmental plus. And the remote finder helps retrieve it from under couch cushions when it goes missing!
Smart Home Compatibility
With smart home tech more popular than ever, it‘s important to consider how compatible each device is:
Roku Express – Only works with Roku mobile app for basic control and private listening. No support for home assistants.
Roku Streaming Stick – Integrates with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice commands. Can be controlled through Apple HomeKit ecosystem too.
Having Alexa or Google Home compatibility opens up tons of possibilities. You can search for movies with your voice, pause playback, control the volume, and more all hands-free.
If you‘ve invested in building a connected household, the Streaming Stick integrates much better than the limited Express.
Roku Express vs. Streaming Stick: Pros and Cons
Given everything we‘ve covered so far, let‘s summarize the main pros and cons of each device:
- Extremely affordable at only $30
- Compact HD streaming box
- Simple plug-and-play setup
- Huge library of streaming apps
- Maxes out at 1080p resolution
- No support for 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision
- Weak wireless performance
- Can‘t handle Dolby Atmos audio
- Underpowered performance
- Basic IR remote
Roku Streaming Stick
- Streams video in gorgeous 4K HDR
- Fast dual-band 802.11ac wireless
- Dolby Atmos audio capabilities
- Sleek dongle design disappears behind TV
- Quad-core processor is snappier
- Voice Remote Pro with rechargeable battery
- Works with Alexa, Google Home, and HomeKit
- More expensive than Express at $50
- Another power cable behind TV
- Mostly redundant if you already have a Smart TV
As the pros and cons illustrate, the Streaming Stick pretty clearly provides a superior streaming experience overall. But the Express delivers the basics for those on a tight budget.
Which Roku Device Should You Buy?
So when all is said and done, which affordable streamer reigns supreme – the Roku Express or the Roku Streaming Stick?
Here‘s my advice based on your situation:
Get the Roku Express if…
- Every dollar counts and you want to save money
- You have an older HDTV without 4K, HDR, or Dolby Vision
- Your WiFi router is in close proximity to your TV
- You don‘t care about advanced audio formats
- You just need basic streaming capabilities
Get the Roku Streaming Stick if…
- You recently purchased a 4K and/or HDR TV
- Your WiFi router is farther away from your TV
- You want faster load times and snappier performance
- Dolby Atmos audio matters to you
- You prefer a sleek dongle over a box
- You want voice control and smart home integrations
For most shoppers, I think the Roku Streaming Stick is easily worth the extra $20 over the Express version. But if HD video streaming is truly all you need, the Express gets the job done on tight budget.
Either way, you can‘t go wrong in terms of affordability and the phenomenal Roku user experience. But hopefully breaking down all the factors above makes the right choice clearer.
Beyond the Express and Streaming Stick…Other Roku Players
I focused this guide on the Roku Express vs Streaming Stick since they‘re the two cheapest options. But Roku‘s lineup has a number of other compelling streaming devices:
Roku Premiere – $39 4K HDR streaming without the bells and whistles. Almost identical video quality to the Streaming Stick for less.
Roku Ultra – $99 top-of-the-line Roku box with extras like USB and Ethernet ports. The choice for home theater enthusiasts.
Roku Streambar – $129 soundbar with Roku streaming built right in. Killer option to upgrade TV audio and streaming in one fell swoop.
Roku Smart TVs – Roku licenses their software to brands like TCL, Sharp, and Hisense. A great way to get the Roku experience without any extra hardware. These start around just $200 for a 50-inch model!
No matter which Roku streamer or smart TV you choose, you can be confident you‘re getting an intuitive streaming platform with access to virtually any streaming service you could want.
The company truly democratized streaming over the years. Whether you pick a $30 Express or a premium $99 Ultra, the excellent Roku OS provides a gateway to entertainment.
So there you have it – the definitive breakdown between the budget-friendly Roku Express vs. the feature-packed Roku Streaming Stick. Let me know if you have any other questions!