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I Used a Roku Express 4K+ for 3 Months: An Expert‘s Review

As a digital technology expert and long-time cord cutter, I‘ve used my fair share of streaming devices over the years. From the early days of plugging my laptop into the TV, to the original Roku boxes, to Chromecasts and Apple TVs, I‘ve seen firsthand how these streaming gadgets have evolved. So when my aging third-gen Apple TV finally gave up the ghost a few months ago, I set out to find the best affordable replacement with 4K capabilities.

After weighing the options, I settled on the Roku Express 4K+, which promises 4K HDR streaming, Roku‘s renowned easy-to-use interface, and access to thousands of streaming apps, all for under $40. I picked one up for $34.99 and have been extensively testing it for the past three months. Now I‘m ready to share my in-depth review of this popular 4K streamer to help you decide if it‘s the right fit for your streaming needs and budget.

Roku Express 4K+ Specs and Features

Let‘s start with the basics. Here‘s a rundown of the key technical specs and features you get with the Roku Express 4K+:

Spec Details
Dimensions 0.7 x 3.4 x 1.4 inches
Video Output 4K (up to 2160p at 60fps) with HDR10, HDR10+, HLG
Processor Quad-core CPU
Wireless Dual-band 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi
Voice Remote No (IR remote included, voice control via app)
Ports HDMI 2.0b, Micro USB for power
Apps 4,000+
Audio Digital stereo over HDMI, DTS Digital Surround pass through over HDMI

As you can see, the Express 4K+ supports all the latest video and audio formats you‘d expect in a modern streaming player. The HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG high dynamic range support allows for improved contrast and more vivid colors when watching compatible content on an HDR-capable TV. The box itself is tiny, measuring just 0.7 inches tall, but still packs a quad-core processor and MIMO Wi-Fi antenna array inside.

On the connections front, you‘re limited to just an HDMI 2.0b port and a Micro USB port for power. There‘s no Ethernet port or USB connections for expandable storage here, which is typical of streaming players in this price range but still worth noting. The included IR remote is functional but basic—no voice controls, TV power/volume buttons, or headphone jack. Again, that‘s par for the course at this sub-$40 price point.

Setting Up the Roku Express 4K+

Physically setting up the Express 4K+ couldn‘t be much simpler. You just plug it into a spare HDMI port on your TV (there‘s an included 2-foot HDMI cable in the box), connect the USB power cable, and pop the included AAA batteries in the remote. The USB cable can be powered either by a spare USB port on your TV or by using your own wall adapter, as Roku unfortunately doesn‘t include one. I had to shell out another $5 for a USB power adapter and a longer HDMI cable to reach my wall-mounted TV, but your mileage may vary.

After the Express 4K+ powers on for the first time, the real setup process begins. Roku guides you through a series of on-screen prompts to get the device connected to your home Wi-Fi network and linked to your Roku account (which you can create for free during setup if you don‘t already have one). The whole process took me less than 10 minutes.

One important note: the Express 4K+ does not have an Ethernet port. It connects to the internet via Wi-Fi only, which could be a limiting factor if you don‘t have a strong enough wireless signal in the room where your Roku will live. In my experience, the Express 4K+ has performed well on my 5Ghz Wi-Fi network, but those with spotty Wi-Fi may want to consider a Roku model with Ethernet like the Ultra.

Roku‘s Simple, Intuitive Interface

One area where Roku streaming players have always excelled is their simple, intuitive user interface. I‘m happy to report that the Express 4K+ is no exception. Navigating the familiar rows of app icons on Roku‘s home screen feels like second nature at this point, with all your installed streaming channels front and center for easy access.

Roku also does a great job surfacing content with dedicated rows on the home screen for featured free titles, 4K spotlights, and personalized recommendations based on your viewing habits. I appreciate being able to see what‘s new across multiple apps without having to dive into each one individually.

Roku‘s universal search is another standout feature, letting you look up a movie, show, actor, or director once and see results from all your streaming services in one place. So if you search for "The Office", for example, Roku will show you all the places you can watch it, from paid options like buying individual episodes, to streaming it with a service you‘re already subscribed to like Peacock, to free ad-supported viewing on Pluto TV. It‘s a great way to find the most affordable viewing option.

You can even search with your voice by pressing the microphone button in the Roku mobile app. It‘s not as convenient as a dedicated voice button on the remote would be, but it still works well and is often faster than typing on Roku‘s on-screen keyboard.

4K HDR Streaming Performance

Streaming 4K HDR content is the primary reason to buy the Roku Express 4K+, so I‘m pleased to report that it handles this task with aplomb. I tested 4K HDR streams from a variety of popular apps like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, and Vudu and was impressed with the consistent quality.

There‘s a night-and-day difference in sharpness and detail compared to HD content from those same apps. In the "Our Great National Parks" Netflix docuseries, for example, fine details like tree bark and bird feathers looked remarkably crisp and defined. Vibrant colors, like the lush greens of plants and crystal blue waters, also had a lot more pop and depth thanks to HDR.

I didn‘t run into any buffering or stuttering when streaming 4K content, which is a testament to the Express 4K+‘s 802.11ac MIMO dual-band Wi-Fi and quad-core processor. Even with multiple other devices on my home network, the Express 4K+ was able to lock onto a strong signal and provide a stable streaming experience.

That said, I have occasionally seen the Roku interface freeze up and become unresponsive, requiring a full restart. This has only happened maybe once a month so far, but it‘s still an annoyance. Hopefully this is something Roku can address in future software updates.

Roku Has All the Apps (Almost)

Roku‘s Channel Store is a big reason why I‘ve remained a Roku user over the years. With over 4,000 channels (Roku‘s term for apps) and counting, it‘s simply the most comprehensive app platform for streaming devices. All the big players are here like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and HBO Max. But Roku also has hundreds of smaller niche apps that you won‘t find on other streaming platforms.

Want to stream concerts and music documentaries? There‘s a Qello Concerts app for that. Craving classic Doctor Who episodes? Check out the Brit Box channel. From genre-specific movie channels to foreign sports networks to kids programming, Roku likely has an app to scratch almost any streaming itch.

Cord-cutters will also appreciate Roku‘s lineup of free, ad-supported streaming channels. Apps like Roku Channel, Tubi, Pluto TV, and Crackle offer thousands of older movies and TV shows to watch for free, albeit with commercials. If you‘re a frugal streamer, you could easily cobble together enough no-cost content from these apps to keep you busy for months.

The only major omission from Roku‘s app lineup is YouTube TV, which is still in a contract dispute with Roku. If you‘re a YouTube TV subscriber, you‘ll need to use another device like a gaming console or the YouTube TV mobile/web app for now. That‘s disappointing, especially since other live TV apps like Sling, Hulu + Live TV, and Fubo are all available on the platform.

Comparing the Express 4K+ to Other Roku Models

The Express 4K+ sits near the bottom of Roku‘s streaming player lineup, which can make it a little confusing to figure out which model is right for you. The Express 4K+ is a good fit for most people, as it offers all the essential features (4K, HDR, voice search) at an affordable price. Here‘s a quick breakdown of how it compares to other popular Roku streamers:

  • Express 4K+ ($39.99) – Best balance of price and performance for 4K streaming
  • Roku Express ($29.99) – Entry-level HD-only streamer, good for secondary TVs
  • Streaming Stick+ ($49.99) – Adds voice remote with TV controls, better Wi-Fi range
  • Streaming Stick 4K ($59.99) – Faster processor, Dolby Vision HDR, voice remote, best portable option
  • Roku Ultra ($99.99) – Ultimate Roku player with Ethernet, USB, fastest speeds, Bluetooth, remote finder

As you can see, the Express 4K+ delivers a lot of value for the money. It has the core 4K HDR streaming capabilities of the more expensive Streaming Stick+ and Streaming Stick 4K, just without the voice remote or Dolby Vision. And it‘s nearly as fast as the flagship Ultra for less than half the price. For most people, the Express 4K+ hits the sweet spot.

The Competition: Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, Apple TV

Of course, Roku isn‘t the only company making 4K streaming devices. Here‘s a quick look at how the Express 4K+ stacks up against its biggest rivals:

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($49.99)

  • Pros: Alexa voice control built-in, Dolby Vision HDR support, Wi-Fi 6
  • Cons: More expensive, fewer apps, interface cluttered with ads

Chromecast with Google TV ($49.99)

  • Pros: Sleek design, excellent Google Assistant voice control, Dolby Vision
  • Cons: More expensive, some app limitations, less user-friendly than Roku

Apple TV 4K ($179+)

  • Pros: Best-in-class hardware and performance, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, excellent for Apple ecosystem
  • Cons: Very expensive, not as many niche apps as Roku

The biggest advantages the Express 4K+ has over these competitors are price and app selection. At just $39.99, it significantly undercuts the Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast while offering a similar core experience. The Roku platform also still has the edge in terms of sheer number of apps/channels.

The Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast do offer Dolby Vision HDR support, which provides slightly better image quality than the HDR10 and HDR10+ formats on Roku. They also have more advanced voice control capabilities with Alexa and Google Assistant. But for most consumers, the Roku Express 4K+ is going to be the better value.

Meanwhile, the Apple TV 4K is a fantastic streaming box for serious home theater enthusiasts or those heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem. But it‘s overkill for most people, costing more than four times as much as the Roku Express 4K+. As an all-around 4K streamer for the masses, Roku is still tough to beat.

Should You Buy the Roku Express 4K+?

The Roku Express 4K+ is the best overall value in 4K streaming players today. It‘s an excellent choice for:

  • First-time streamers looking for an easy, affordable entry point to 4K
  • Secondary TVs in bedrooms, offices, guest rooms where you want quality streaming without breaking the bank
  • Cord-cutters who want the most comprehensive app selection to replace cable

I wouldn‘t recommend the Express 4K+ if:

  • You‘re a videophile who needs Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and the absolute best audio and video quality
  • You want hands-free voice control or smart home integration
  • You have poor Wi-Fi and need Ethernet for a stable connection

For around $40, the Roku Express 4K+ delivers on its core mission of simple, reliable 4K streaming and it does so at an incredibly competitive price. While it lacks a few bells and whistles like Dolby Vision and a voice remote, its ease of use, well-designed interface, and massive app ecosystem more than justify the modest tradeoffs. The closest alternative, Amazon‘s Fire TV Stick 4K, costs $10 more and comes with a worse interface cluttered with ads and fewer apps. The Chromecast is also $10 more and isn‘t as simple to use.

According to Roku‘s Q4 2021 report, Roku remains the #1 streaming platform in the US, with 60.1 million active accounts streaming an average of 3.8 hours per day. With over 4,000 apps and the highest engagement of any streaming player, it‘s easy to see why Roku continues to dominate. And for the cost of dinner and a movie, the Express 4K+ may just be the best value in that lineup. If you‘re looking to upgrade an older TV to 4K streaming on a budget, it‘s my top pick.

Roku Express 4K+ FAQ

Q: Can you watch normal TV on Roku?
A: Yes, you can watch live TV on the Roku Express 4K+ by subscribing to apps like Hulu + Live TV, Sling, YouTube TV, or FuboTV.

Q: Is Roku Express 4K+ wireless?
A: Yes, the Roku Express 4K+ connects to the internet wirelessly via a dual-band 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi chip.

Q: Does Roku Express 4K+ have Bluetooth?
A: No, the Express 4K+ does not have Bluetooth capabilities. You‘ll need the Roku Ultra for Bluetooth.

Q: Is there a monthly fee for Roku?
A: No, there is no monthly fee for using a Roku device. You only need to pay for subscription apps like Netflix, Hulu, etc.

Q: What channels are free on Roku?
A: Roku offers hundreds of free channels like the Roku Channel, Tubi, Pluto TV, PBS, PBS Kids, Crackle, and more.