Stand-alone streaming devices like Roku are very popular these days, even though Smart TVs are getting better and better. That’s because streaming devices are often faster, easier to use and support a more comprehensive library of apps.
In the UK, there are currently three different streamers available from Roku: the Roku Express, Roku Express 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K, which replaced the Streaming Stick+ (there’s also the Roku Streambar and several Roku TV models).
In the US, Roku is often the most popular streaming platform, but in the UK, the Amazon Fire TV Sticks and Google’s Chromecast are still better known. But with three separate devices at three different price points and an easy to use, streamlined interface, you should definitely consider Roku when you’re buying.
In this roundup, I’ll compare the three Roku streamers as of 2023, look at each one’s pros and cons, and help you decide – which Roku device to get, according to your budget. Plus, if you’re in the market for a soundbar – check out my review of the Roku Streambar.
- Looking for our older comparisons? See the Roku Premiere VS the rest comparison, and the Roku Streaming Stick+ VS the rest comparison.
Entry Level Streamer
Small Box Connected With HDMI Cable
HD Only (1080p)
802.11 Single-band WiFi
Quad-Core CPU, 512MB RAM
Simple Infrared Remote
Roku Express 4K
Cheap 4K Streamer
Small Box Connected With HDMI Cable
4K + HDR
802.11 Dual-band WiFi
Quad-Core CPU, 1GB RAM
Simple Infrared Remote
Roku Stick 4K
Premium 4K Streamer
Small Stick, Connects Directly To HDMI
4K HDR – Dolby Vision
802.11 Dual-band WiFi + Booster
Quad-Core CPU (A55), 1GB RAM
BT Voice Remote
Roku Streamers – What They Share
While there are some distinct differences between them, the Roku Express, Roku Express 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K also have a lot in common, as they’re all based on the same Roku OS.
Two older models have been discontinued in the UK, although you can still find them in some stores – the Roku Premiere (which was replaced by the Express 4K) and the Roku Streaming Stick+ (which was replaced by the Streaming Stick 4K).
Video Connectivity: All three devices are HDMI only, meaning you can’t connect them to an old TV that only has SCART or RCA ports (If your TV doesn’t have enough HDMI ports, consider using an HDMI switcher).
Broadband Connectivity: All three devices use WiFi to connect to the internet, but on the Roku Express 4K, you can use an optional Ethernet adapter via the mini-USB port. For the others, if your WiFi isn’t strong enough, you might want to consider a WiFi Range Extender.
Roku Interface: All three devices use the same Roku operating system and interface, which is good, as it’s slick and easy to use. There are speed differences (more on that later), but other than that, every Roku device looks the same on your screen.
Channel Availability: There are thousands of channels (known as “Apps” on other devices) available for Roku streamers – from the big ones like Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video and NOW, to UK catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and ITVX, as well as plenty of others – some good, some not so much.
The selection of channels is the same across the entire range of Roku streamers – though you might see a difference in how responsive some of the apps are, depending on the specs of your device (See here for my recommendations on the best Roku channels in the UK).
The Roku Channel: All Roku devices give you access to this streaming video-on-demand channel, which includes free movies, TV programmes and kids’ content, as well as some Roku Originals – a rich library of premium TV shows that Roku acquired from the now-defunct service Quibi, as well as some newer originals produced specifically for the channel (See our Roku Channel review).
Audio: All three devices support Digital Stereo / DTS Digital Surround, as well as Dolby Audio and Dolby ATMOS (but those are only supported via HDMI pass-through, so you’ll need an audio device with the proper decoder).
Roku Mobile App: The app gives you the same additional features on all three devices – using it as a remote, casting from your phone to the device, and “Private Listening”, which lets you connect headphones to your smartphone and hear the Roku’s audio through those.
Roku Express VS Express 4K VS Stick 4K
All three are very capable streaming devices, but there are several differences (other than the price) that you need to consider before buying.
In broad terms, the Roku Express is an entry-level HD streaming box, the Roku Express 4K is a budget-friendly 4K streaming box, and the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is the premium 4K stick that adds better WiFi connectivity, a more powerful CPU, HDR Dolby Vision support and a voice remote. (In the US, you can also find the even higher-end Roku Ultra, and the Roku Express 4K+, which also comes with the voice remote – but both aren’t available in the UK for now).
Here are some of the significant differences between the three Roku devices:
The Form Factor
The Roku Express and the Roku Express 4K are both small “boxes” that sit near – or even attached to – your TV. They connect to the HDMI port with a cable, and then, for power, either to your TV’s USB port or to a regular power socket.
The Express is 1.5 x 0.75 x 3.0 inches, and the Express 4K is slightly bigger at 0.8 x 3.4 x 1.5 inches.
The Stick 4K, as the name suggests, is a stick – similar in shape to a USB stick. You connect it directly to your TV’s HDMI port, as well as to the TV’s USB socket for power (though an actual power socket is highly recommended in this case).
Because the Express and Express 4K are so small and light, their cables tend to pull them up a bit. That can be a problem, since you need direct line-of-sight from the Infrared remote – so you might need to “glue” them to your TV cabinet or the TV itself – Roku even puts an adhesive patch in the box for that.
The Stick, therefore, is easier to connect – but only if you have the space for that behind your TV – otherwise, you would need to order a free HDMI extender cable from Roku.
All three devices require WiFi to connect to the internet. The Express 4K is the only one that also gives you the option to connect via Ethernet – but you need to buy an optional mini-USB adapter.
The Express only supports single-band wireless, the Express 4K and Stick 4K support dual-band, and the Stick 4K also comes with a WiFi Booster (attached to the USB cable), which increases the range of its WiFi reception.
All of them do not support WiFi 6, unlike the new Amazon Fire TV 4K Max Stick.
In actual use, I’ve had some issues with the Express’ WiFi connectivity (it wasn’t fast or stable enough at times, so some streaming stalled or buffered), but I had no issues with the Express 4K or the Stick 4K.
If your WiFi at home is patchy and your router is far from the TV, you might prefer the Stick 4K for its superior connectivity.
The CPU And RAM
The Express features the least-powerful processor of the bunch – a Quad-core CPU ARM Cortex A53 CPU.
The Express 4K has a different CPU – the Realtek 1315.
And the newer Roku Stick 4K is the most powerful, with an ARM Cortex A55 CPU.
As for RAM, The Roku Express has 512MB, while the Roku Express 4K and Stick 4K both have 1GB of RAM. This helps those two devices feel snappier to use than the Express and might also affect streaming and buffering issues.
The Roku Express only supports Full HD (1080p) content. The Express 4K and Stick 4K, however, support video quality up to UltraHD (4K) with HDR.
The Express 4K supports HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG – which is the format used by the BBC.
The Stick 4K supports all those HDR formats and adds support for Dolby Vision, which was missing from the previous Stick+ model.
Keep in mind that for 4K content, you also need a TV that supports 4K. And you need 4K content – on Netflix, for example, that means paying for a more expensive plan, while on Prime Video and Disney+ 4K is included in the base price. There’s also some 4K content on YouTube.
So which should you get, judging by video quality? At this point, I would suggest going for 4K, as that future-proofs your device. However, if you’re buying the device for a guest room or have an HD-Only TV and have no plans to upgrade it soon, the Express (and HD) might be enough.
The Roku Remotes
The Roku Express and Roku Express 4K both come with the same “simple” remote, while the Roku Streaming Stick 4K comes with a more advanced one.
The most significant difference is that the “simple” remotes use Infrared – so the Roku device has to be in direct line of sight with your remote. The Stick’s remote, however, connects wirelessly to the device, so you can point it anywhere.
The Stick 4K’s advanced remote also adds Voice Control and Search functionality – so you can press a button and “talk” to the remote. That’s primarily used for searching and some basic commands (like “Run Netflix”).
Last but not least, the Stick’s remote can also control your TV’s volume (with buttons on the side of the remote) and can turn the TV on and off. It’s a nice addition – so you don’t have to fish for your TV’s remote just for changing the volume.
Interface and Speed
Roku’s OS looks and behaves the same on every device (and I like it a lot, as it’s cleaner and easier to use than most Smart TVs, or even from the Amazon Fire TV’s interface).
However, the Express does feel a bit underpowered at times, and the interface feels a bit slow. It’s not very noticeable – this isn’t like using an old smartphone – but it’s still not as slick as the Express 4K or Stick 4K.
The Express 4K and the Stick 4K are pretty much on the same level in terms of speed and responsiveness, and are both very snappy to use – but the Stick 4K does have a bit of an edge thanks to its more powerful processor.
In addition, the Roku Express’ interface only supports 720p (for the interface itself, not for streaming video quality, where it’s 1080p). This means that some of the Roku screens – backgrounds in particular – look a bit pixelated at times. The Express 4K and Stick 4K don’t have this issue.
As of this writing, the official recommended retail prices for the devices are:
- Roku Express – £29.99
- Roku Express 4K – £39.99
- Roku Streaming Stick 4K – £49.99
Of course, some – or all of them – are sometimes on sale, so it’s hard to judge by these prices. Still, the differences usually stay similar – with the Express remaining the cheapest, the Express 4K in the middle, and the Stick 4K being the most expensive.
But when the prices go down, you should start asking yourself how much you’re actually saving by buying the Express instead of the faster, 4K-enabled devices.
Which Roku Device Should I Get?
As you can see in this comparison, the three Roku streamers are somewhat similar – with a few distinct differences. The price difference isn’t huge, making the decision even more confusing.
The first question you should ask yourself is whether you need 4K or not. Does your TV support 4K? Do you plan on buying a 4K TV anytime soon? If the answer is yes, the Express is out of the running, as there’s really no point in investing in a 4K TV, only to buy a streamer that doesn’t support it.
Even if your TV doesn’t support 4K (for now), you should still remember the Express’ downsides – a somewhat slower interface, problematic (sometimes) WiFi reception and an IR-Only remote. It’s still a good little device, especially as an entry-level one or for a second TV in your house – but it won’t give you the best results.
However, once you decide to go with 4K, you still need to choose between the Express 4K and Streaming Stick 4K.
That decision is more straightforward, in my opinion. While the Express 4K is an excellent device, with such a minor price difference (especially during special sales), I would go for the Stick 4K.
While the “Point-Anywhere” remote with its voice search capabilities and TV buttons, and the WiFi booster which offers better reception, are not deal-breakers – they do justify the small extra cost (plus, if you want Dolby Vision support – the Stick 4K is a must).
Either way, remember to read my full reviews of each device:
Where Can I Buy The Roku Streamers?
Roku’s streaming devices are sold both online and in high-street stores. You can check current pricing on:
Note: This article was originally published in January 2022, and has since been continually updated with new information.