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10 Critical Reasons to Reconsider Buying a Roku Streaming Stick (And What to Get Instead)

The Roku Streaming Stick is a popular, affordable option for upgrading a regular TV with streaming smarts. With support for thousands of channels and apps like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and HBO Max, it packs a lot of entertainment into a compact package. However, as a digital technology expert who has tested and reviewed dozens of streaming devices over the years, I‘ve encountered some significant limitations and concerns with the Roku Streaming Stick that consumers should be aware of.

While the Streaming Stick has its place, it may not be the best choice depending on your needs, preferences, and future-proofing. In this in-depth guide, I‘ll break down 10 critical reasons you might want to avoid the Roku Streaming Stick and explore some alternative devices that could serve you better in the short and long term.

Understanding the Roku Streaming Landscape

To put the Streaming Stick in context, let‘s review the broader Roku ecosystem it belongs to. Roku offers several streaming devices at different price points, all running the proprietary Roku OS:

Model Price Max Resolution Distinguishing Features
Roku Express $30 HD Most affordable Roku streamer
Roku Express 4K+ $40 4K HDR Best value pick with Dolby Vision
Roku Streaming Stick $50 4K HDR Portable design, long-range Wi-Fi
Roku Streaming Stick+ $60 4K HDR Adds voice remote with TV controls
Roku Ultra $100 4K HDR Best performance, Ethernet, USB, Bluetooth
Roku Streambar $130 4K HDR Includes integrated soundbar

As of Q1 2023, Roku boasts 71.6 million active accounts globally, with users streaming an average of 3.8 hours per day. According to research firm Conviva, Roku leads the US streaming device market with a 37% share, followed by Amazon Fire TV at 27%, Apple TV at 7%, and Chromecast at 5%.

One of Roku‘s strengths is its neutral, agnostic platform. Unlike devices from Apple, Google or Amazon, Roku doesn‘t have its own content or services to push. Virtually every major streaming app is available (with occasional carriage disputes like with YouTube/Google in 2021 and HBO Max in 2020). Roku offers user-friendly features like a universal search that checks prices and availability across services.

All current Roku devices support HD streaming, with most handling 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR). They have sleek designs, responsive remotes, and frequent software updates. So in general, Roku makes great streaming devices for average consumers. But the Streaming Stick has some noteworthy shortcomings, especially compared to other options on the market.

10 Reasons to Avoid the Roku Streaming Stick

1. Unreliable Wi-Fi connectivity

One of the most common complaints about the Roku Streaming Stick is spotty Wi-Fi performance. While it packs a dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi radio, many users report dropped connections, buffering, and degraded quality–especially in congested network environments or far from the router.

Since the Streaming Stick only works over Wi-Fi, poor wireless reliability can ruin the experience, with no wired Ethernet fallback. Higher-end Roku models like the Ultra include Ethernet ports for stable, consistent streaming. PCMag‘s testing found the Streaming Stick‘s Wi-Fi reception was about 33% weaker than the Ultra‘s.

2. Limited expandability and ports

The Streaming Stick‘s compact dongle design requires some tradeoffs in connectivity. There‘s a micro-USB port for power and… that‘s it. No Ethernet, no USB port for local media, no microSD card slot for expanding storage. It‘s as barebones as a streamer gets.

While many users can live without those ports, their omission restricts the flexibility and future-proofing of your setup. Want to plug in an external USB hard drive full of videos and music? You‘re out of luck. The Streaming Stick is a self-contained, closed system, unlike more expandable Roku boxes.

3. Missing premium AV formats

Roku‘s Streaming Stick supports 4K resolution and basic HDR10, but lacks more advanced AV technologies. There‘s no Dolby Vision for enhanced HDR and no Dolby Atmos for immersive object-based audio. You‘re limited to standard dynamic range and surround sound.

Granted, not everyone has a Dolby Vision HDR TV or Atmos speaker system. But for the Streaming Stick‘s $50 asking price, omitting those premium formats is a letdown when many competitors include them. If you want the best picture and sound quality, you‘ll need to look beyond the Streaming Stick.

4. No support for game streaming

Cloud gaming is a rapidly growing trend, with services like Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, NVIDIA GeForce Now, and Xbox Game Pass streaming console titles over the internet. Unfortunately, the Roku Streaming Stick doesn‘t support any cloud gaming platforms.

That‘s not entirely surprising, as Roku is focused on video and music streaming, not gaming. But for folks interested in dipping their toes into game streaming with a multipurpose device, Roku‘s platform comes up short. A 2022 Parks Associates report found 50% of US internet households now play games on a TV streaming device.

5. Unimpressive voice control

The Roku Streaming Stick‘s remote has a microphone for voice commands, but the experience is rudimentary. You can search for titles and perform basic playback functions, but not much else. There‘s no smart home integration with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple HomeKit.

For hands-free navigation and controls, the Streaming Stick pales next to competitors like the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max with Alexa or Chromecast with Google TV. Those platforms let you use the streaming device as a voice-controlled hub for your smart home ecosystem. Roku‘s voice features are just the basics.

6. No Dolby Vision gaming

All Roku devices lack a key next-gen gaming feature: support for Dolby Vision gaming at 120Hz. Current Xbox Series X/S and PS5 consoles can output full-resolution Dolby Vision gaming, but Roku streamers are incompatible. They max out at standard HDR10 at 60Hz.

To be fair, the Streaming Stick‘s entry-level hardware would struggle with advanced gaming features. But Roku‘s higher-end Ultra and Streambar don‘t fare better. For Dolby Vision 4K 120Hz gaming on a streaming device, you‘ll need to step up to an Apple TV 4K, NVIDIA Shield TV, or Chromecast with Google TV.

7. Suspect privacy practices

All modern streaming platforms collect some degree of user data for ads, recommendations, and analytics. But Roku has come under fire for the extent of its tracking and targeting. A 2022 SEC filing revealed that over 40% of Roku‘s revenue now comes from advertising and data licensing.

Researchers have found that Roku devices collect user behavior data even when the platform says it honors limited ad tracking. Roku has been known to combine data from streaming habits, over-the-air antennas, and optional microphone access for ad personalization. For privacy-conscious consumers, Roku‘s practices raise red flags.

8. Closed, proprietary ecosystem

While Roku‘s simplicity is an asset for novice streamers, its closed ecosystem can be a liability for power users. Unlike more open platforms like Android TV/Google TV and Fire TV, Roku doesn‘t allow sideloading apps from external sources. You‘re locked into the official Roku Channel Store.

That walled garden means you could miss out on bleeding-edge streaming services, niche content providers, emulators, and other apps that aren‘t available or allowed on Roku‘s platform. Roku is also known for aggressively cracking down on private channels and banning innocuous developer options like screensavers. The sandbox is small.

9. Limited international availability

Although Roku is the leading streaming platform in the US, its international reach is lacking. Roku devices are only officially sold in 26 countries, compared to 100+ for Amazon Fire TV and 200+ for Chromecast/Android TV.

That limited global presence means many international streaming services don‘t prioritize Roku app development and support. If you want to access region-specific content, Roku might not have the best options. Even major US services have been slow to roll out Roku apps internationally, like HBO Max in Latin America.

10. Uncertain future positioning

Roku‘s long-term outlook in the rapidly evolving streaming wars is hazy. The company faces stiff competition from tech giants like Amazon, Apple, and Google that can afford to subsidize their streaming hardware with other profitable ventures. Roku‘s market share has steadily eroded in the face of aggressive rivals.

The Streaming Stick is particularly vulnerable in this landscape. It‘s neither the cheapest nor most full-featured Roku player. As consumers gravitate to the low and high ends, the Stick‘s mid-tier positioning seems precarious. Roku‘s future-proofing for advanced technologies like 8K video, Wi-Fi 6E, VR streaming, and cloud gaming remains uncertain.

Top Roku Streaming Stick Alternatives

If those drawbacks of the Roku Streaming Stick give you pause, fear not. The streaming device market is brimming with compelling alternatives across brands, price points, and feature sets. As a digital technologist, here are my top Roku Streaming Stick alternatives to consider:

Roku Express 4K+

The most direct Roku alternative to the Streaming Stick is the Express 4K+. For just $10 more, it adds Dolby Vision HDR, Bluetooth audio, an Ethernet adapter, and a more reliable dual-band Wi-Fi chipset. It also has a more ergonomic remote with TV controls. Unless you need the Stick‘s slim profile, the Express 4K+ is Roku‘s sweet spot streamer.

Chromecast with Google TV

Google‘s latest Chromecast is a major upgrade, evolving from a basic casting dongle to a full-fledged Android TV streamer. For the Streaming Stick‘s $50 price, the Chromecast with Google TV adds Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and hands-free Google Assistant voice control that can integrate with smart home devices. Its Google TV interface provides intelligent content recommendations.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

Amazon‘s flagship Fire TV 4K Max beats the Streaming Stick for just $5 more. It packs Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, Wi-Fi 6, and a faster processor for fluid 4K navigation. Its Alexa voice remote enables hands-free commands and smart home controls. For Amazon Prime subscribers and Alexa users, the Fire TV 4K Max provides a more complete, integrated experience.

Apple TV 4K

For users in the Apple ecosystem, the Apple TV 4K is pricey at $180 but hard to top. It combines pristine 4K Dolby Vision and Atmos streaming with Siri voice control, AirPlay, and an App Store with thousands of streaming and gaming apps. Its A12 chip enables fast multitasking and graphics. HomePod owners can even use the Apple TV 4K for Dolby Atmos wireless audio.


Android TV‘s most powerful streaming box, the NVIDIA Shield TV starts at $150. It delivers unrivaled performance for 4K HDR streaming, cloud gaming with GeForce Now, and AI-based 4K upscaling. Its Tegra X1+ processor is 25 times faster than typical streamers. It has Dolby Vision, Atmos, Plex Media Server support, SmartThings integration, and hands-free Google Assistant.

Choosing Your Ideal Streaming Device

Selecting the perfect streaming player is a personal choice based on your current TV setup, favorite apps, budget, and desired "nice-to-have" features. The Roku Streaming Stick covers the basics for casual viewers, but leaves some key needs unmet for discerning streamers.

As we‘ve explored, the Streaming Stick‘s core compromises are inconsistent Wi-Fi, lack of ports and expandability, no premium AV formats, minimal gaming options, basic voice control, privacy qualms, ecosystem lock-in, narrow international reach, and cloudy future amid rivals.

Within the Roku family, stepping up to the Express 4K+ gets you a more reliable foundation for just $10 more. Looking beyond Roku, a Chromecast with Google TV, Fire TV Stick 4K Max, Apple TV 4K, or NVIDIA Shield TV all offer meaningful upgrades like Dolby Vision/Atmos, hands-free voice assistants, stronger Wi-Fi, and gaming features.

Ultimately, only you can decide which factors matter most for your personal streaming pleasure. But I hope this expert breakdown of the Roku Streaming Stick‘s limitations and leading alternatives helps inform your decision. In the fast-moving streaming landscape, it pays to look beyond the first shiny device and invest in a platform that will keep up with the technical curves.

The future of streaming is only getting more sophisticated with 8K resolution, VR/AR applications, cloud gaming, and intelligent content discovery on the horizon. Choosing a streaming device is no longer a one-and-done decision, but an investment to reevaluate as innovation marches on. The Roku Streaming Stick is a tentative first step for many, but most streamers are better served by the wider view.