How do you improve on one of the best streaming devices in the world? And how do you keep it relevant, in a world so full of Smart TVs? Those are the questions that Roku faced with the development of their most recent streaming stick – and I was eager to find their answers in this review.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is Roku’s brand new (2021) streaming stick, an upgrade to their Streaming Stick+. It’s a snappy stick-formed device that supports 4K and HDR (this time with added Dolby Vision support), connects to your broadband via improved WiFi performance and supports almost every streaming service and app that’s available in the UK.
In this review, I’m going to take an in-depth look at the Roku Streaming Stick 4K’s features, what it does well (and what it still lacks), and who it’s aimed at, especially with such tough competition around – even from Roku’s own cheaper models.
Quick Look – Roku Streaming Stick 4K
What is it: Roku’s top 4K / HDR streaming stick, with a big library of streaming services and apps.
Interface / Usage
Value for Money
- Excellent 4K / HDR Picture quality (and Dolby Vision)
- Fastest Roku stick to date
- Easy to use Roku interface
- Almost all the major UK streaming services
- Improved WiFi connectivity
- Voice remote
- No official Dolby Atmos support (only via passthrough)
- No VPN support
- Only a minor upgrade over the Stick+
Features and Specs
- Size: 94.5mm (h) x 21.1mm (w) x 11.5mm (d)
- Video Quality: 4K HDR10 / 10+ / HLG / Dolby Vision
- Audio: Digital Stereo / DTS Digital Surround, Dolby Audio pass-through over HDMI
- Processor: Quad-Core (ARM Cortex A55)
- RAM: 1GB
- Storage: None (only for system use)
- Apps: Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, NOW, Apple TV, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My5, BritBox, YouTube and thousands more
- Connections: HDMI (MiniUSB used for Power and WiFi amplifier)
- Extra Features: Voice remote with basic voice commands, Smartphone app can be used to control the device and for “Private Listening”, Can connect to Apple AirPlay 2 / Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant
The best Roku streaming device sold in the UK gets a little better with this version – though not by much. Yet it remains a top choice, with support for almost every streaming service in the UK, fast and responsive performance, and Roku’s super-simple interface (which may look dated to some – but is a highpoint for others).
Table of Contents
Who Is The Roku Streaming Stick 4K For?
Being able to stream content to your TV is almost mandatory these days – without streaming, there’s no Netflix, no Disney+ and no BBC iPlayer.
But with streaming becoming so popular, almost every TV is now a Smart TV, with its own set of streaming apps/services and broadband connectivity. Therefore, is there still a need for standalone streaming sticks?
Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K supplies a great answer to that question: its interface is faster and more responsive than most Smart TVs out there (which are usually slow and annoying to use), it’s easy to use and understand, and it supports almost every streaming service that exists in the UK.
In the US, Roku is often the most popular streaming device in terms of market share – ahead of Amazon, Apple and Samsung. While not as popular in the UK – they’re certainly gaining ground here as well.
In the UK, Roku currently sells four separate models, at four different price tags:
- Roku Express (see our review) – The entry-level streaming device
- Roku Express 4K (see our review) – Which replaced the Roku Premiere as their mid-range 4K device
- Roku Streambar (see our review) – A soundbar combined with a streaming device
And now, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K – which replaces the Roku Streaming Stick+ as the top-of-the-line device (In the US, Roku also sells the Roku Ultra).
The new Stick 4K’s suggested retail price (currently £49.99) is exactly the same as the previous Stick+ (when not under a special deal), and is similar to it in many ways – with the main differences being a new, more powerful CPU, upgraded WiFi connectivity, and Dolby Vision HDR support.
The Stick 4K also comes with Roku’s voice remote – unlike the Express and Express 4K that come with the basic remote. This lets you search for specific programmes, films or stars with your voice – as well as issue basic voice commands.
Is the Roku Streaming Stick 4K worth the premium you pay over the Express 4K? Is it worth an upgrade if you already have the Stick+? And which is better – Roku or Fire TV? Let’s dig in deeper…
Setting Up The Roku Streaming Stick 4K
The Stick 4K is – as the name suggests – shaped like a small USB stick. You’re supposed to connect it to your TV’s HDMI port – and just forget that it’s there (the remote works via Bluetooth, so you don’t need a line of sight to the stick).
In the box, you’ll find the Roku stick itself, the remote (with batteries included), and the power cable/adapters. On the power cable, you will also see the chubby WiFi amplifier.
This amplifier helps with the stick’s dual-band WiFi support, giving you better range and a stronger signal – in fact, according to Roku, this redesigned receiver will give you up to 2x higher WiFi speeds.
This is helpful if your broadband router is far from your TV, and is especially important with 4K streams that require stable, high-bandwidth connections. That being said, for most people, this is overkill – and the WiFi connectivity on the cheaper Roku Express 4K, or even the Express, would do just fine.
That same cable is also used to power the Stick 4K. If you have a newer TV, you can – in some cases – plug the device (with the supplied cable) into a free USB port on your TV – and it will get its power from there.
However, some TVs won’t be able to give the Stick 4K enough power via their USB ports, so you may still need to connect it to a power socket – with the supplied adapter.
Furthermore, if you connect the Stick 4K to your TV’s USB port, it will turn on and off right along with your TV (as it loses power once the TV is turned off). This, in turn, means that every time you turn on the TV, you’ll need to wait a few seconds for the Roku to restart.
So If you prefer a more instant start, you’ll need to connect the stick to a power socket instead of the TV’s USB.
As for the HDMI connectivity, with this being a stick, you don’t use cables to connect it to your telly – instead, you plug it directly into your TV’s HDMI port. This is either a blessing or a curse – if your TV is set up in a way that doesn’t leave room for the stick, you’re going to need an extension cable.
Roku doesn’t supply an HDMI extender cable in the box (unlike some Amazon Fire TV Sticks, for example). Instead, you need to order one for free, via Roku’s website.
Also remember that with this being a 4K device, you need an HDMI port that supports 4K. On some TVs, only one or two of the available HDMI ports support 4K – so check your TV’s documentation.
Signing Up And Installing Channels
When everything’s connected and you turn the Roku on, you’ll be asked to sign in to your WiFi network.
Next, you need to sign in to your Roku account (which you’ll have to create on your desktop/smartphone if you don’t already have one).
This is a sore point for some, as you can’t create a Roku account without a payment method (a credit/debit card number or PayPal). While this makes future content purchases easier, some people aren’t too keen on giving their payment details before they have had a chance to see what the device does – but that’s how most streaming devices operate these days.
Once you sign in, Roku will install some of the “default” channels (in Roku’s world, apps are called channels), and if you have another Roku device (or ever had one), the Stick 4K will remember channels you chose in the past, and will install those as well – so you can start right where you left off.
Once all that’s done, you will finally go to Roku’s “Homescreen” – which you can customise to your liking, by choosing different themes (there are plenty of choices, which is fun), and your very own screensaver.
Using The Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Roku’s streaming devices were always fast and snappy to use – but the Stick 4K manages to take it a step further. Everything is super-responsive, the menus are smooth as butter, and apps load quickly.
Roku’s marketing is doubling up on the improved booting up speed for some reason, saying the stick now boots up to 30% faster. Yes, it’s fast – I timed a full restart at 25 seconds, and a cold boot-up (from an off state) at 18 seconds.
But most users will rarely notice these timings – you only need to constantly boot up the Roku if it’s connected to your TV’s USB, and therefore loses its electricity every time you turn off the TV.
But since most people are going to connect the stick directly to the wall – you’re only rarely going to need to restart the device. Most of the time, it’ll just go into standby mode.
But back to the speed: the new quad-core CPU certainly does a good job of keeping everything flowing. If you look at the other end of the scale – the cheap Roku Express – it’s responsive, but you do feel it lagging behind at times, with apps being slow to load (Disney+ can be infamously slow to load there!).
Even the Roku Express 4K – which impressed me with its speed – suddenly feels sluggish in comparison to the Stick 4K.
That being said – is it really faster than the previous Stick+ model? Perhaps, but not really at a level that anyone would notice during regular use. But no one ever said no to more speed!
The Roku Interface
The interface itself is very clean – on the main Homescreen you get a tiled list of your installed channels, and that’s about it – except for the annoying banner that often takes up half the screen and promotes other channels, movie rentals, etc.
You can control everything on that tiled list of channels. Unlike Amazon, which tends to push Amazon Prime on the Fire TV’s interface, Roku doesn’t play favourites, so you can move icons and channels around whichever way you want (Although, Roku does sometimes pick up fights with streaming giants – such as its feud with Google and YouTube).
When you install a new “channel” (directly on the device or via the web/phone), it will show up at the bottom of the installed channels list – and you can then move it to your desired position.
Roku’s interface hasn’t changed much since the company was born, which is a blessing or a curse – depending on your own tastes. Personally, I’m a fan, and I like how simple everything is – I know which streaming app I’m going to use, so I just want to get to it as fast as possible.
Other streaming devices (like the Fire TV or the new Chromecast with Google TV) take a more “proactive” approach and fill your screen with content ‘recommendations’ – which is not the case here.
Also, this “simple” interface passes the Grandparents Test with flying colours – once things are set up, almost anyone can understand how to run Netflix or BBC iPlayer. Give your grandparents a Fire TV – and they might get lost with all the flashy recommendations and ads.
Channels on the The Roku Streaming Stick 4K
The Roku Stick 4K supports a very comprehensive list of UK streaming services – Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Disney+, NOW, and all the UK catch-up apps – BBC iPlayer, ITV HUB, etc. Even BritBox was finally added this year.
You also get “The Roku Channel” (see our review), which is only available on Roku devices, Sky Q and the old NOW TV streaming sticks. It’s basically a free – with adverts – streaming service, that curates TV programmes, films, and quite a few Roku Originals – so consider that a Roku Bonus.
Most channels (or apps, whichever way you prefer to call them) are for video streaming, but you will also find some simple games, fitness and meditation services, weather apps and more.
Sadly, there are no internet browsers, and there’s also no VPN support on the Roku Stick 4K, which is a real shame. So if a VPN is important to you, for example, so you could watch American streaming services, or just for the extra privacy, that’s something to keep in mind (Though you could still use a hardware-based service like the StreamLocator).
The games selection is pretty minimal, but there are both free (ad-supported) and paid. Don’t expect any console-level gaming, and control has to be done via the remote – but you can find some OK casual games to pass the time.
The wealth of apps is generally a good thing, but unlike Apple, there’s very little curation on the Roku Store. Apps do need to get basic approval (mostly for security and copyright purposes), but other than that, you’ll see plenty of very bad or useless channels/apps – and it can be difficult to find your way around them (see our list of recommended Roku channels).
There’s also a market for “Uncertified Roku Channels” (previously known as “Private Channels”), for channels that are either small and peculiar or sometimes a bit dodgy (As in – copyright infringing, so be careful). You install these with a “code”, just remember that these apps are UNcertified.
Unfortunately, Roku is planning to close the Uncertified Channels loophole in March 2022, so you won’t have the same flexibility you have today (if you’re willing to take the risk, that is).
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K Remote
The Streaming Stick 4K is the only model in the UK (along with its predecessor the Stick+) that comes with the Bluetooth-based Voice Remote bundled in. The other models come with the “simple” remote, which is infra-red based and doesn’t have TV controls.
The remote is small and easy to hold. It’s a “Point-Anywhere” remote that connects wirelessly to the stick (via BT), so you don’t need a line of sight with the stick. But it also has an InfraRed component that lets you turn your TV on/off and control its volume.
Pairing the remote with the Roku Stick 4K is easy (there’s a pairing device button near the batteries, but the stick found my remote even without pressing that).
Pairing the volume buttons with your TV is also a breeze, as you just point it at the TV and press a button or two.
Disappointingly, however, the remote can only control volume directly on your TV – if you’re using an external receiver, soundbar or speakers – the remote can’t “learn” how to control those (which is something the Fire TV’s remote can do).
I love that the volume and mute buttons are on the SIDE of the remote, so they’re very easy to find – even in the dark.
The other buttons on the remote haven’t changed much since Roku’s inception – there’s a “Home” button that always takes you to the main Homescreen, there’s a “Step Back” button, a multi-directional navigation pad, the standard control buttons (Play/Pause, Fast-Forward and Fast-Backward) and even an “Instant Rewind” button, which instantly jumps back 20 seconds (and even turns on the subtitles for those 20 seconds).
The remote also has four shortcut buttons – in the UK, they’re currently for Netflix, Spotify, Apple TV+ and Rakuten TV – since these are basically adverts, and Roku gets paid for them – you can’t reassign those shortcut buttons.
In the middle of the remote, you have the Voice Search button. It lets you use the Roku Stick 4K’s global search with your voice – So you say “David Tennant”, and you get the search results for him.
When you look at a specific title (film or TV show), you will also see what service it’s available on – the and price, if it’s available to buy/rent.
You can also use the remote for some basic voice commands – say “Disney+” and the app will run, or say “Replay” and the video jumps back 7 seconds,
The stick also knows how to open specific titles on Netflix and Spotify. So say “Play Stranger Things on Netflix” and the app will open up with the relevant episode ready for you. It’s a shame this doesn’t work with all the streaming apps, though.
One of the best new features of the Voice Remote, however, is that you can spell out letters and numbers. It sounds silly – but when you have to enter passwords, e-mail addresses or anything else on the virtual keyboard – saying “P A S S W O R D” is so much easier…
Roku’s voice capabilities are not on par with Amazon’s Alexa (which is built into the Fire TV) – you don’t get a full virtual assistant, and it only understands a basic set of commands – but it works, and it’s useful mostly when you want to search for names of movies or actors.
Unlike the “Pro” version of the remote, which is only sold in the US, this one doesn’t have a headphone jack, which is a bit of a shame. Instead, you need to use the Roku Smartphone App’s ‘Private Listening’ feature (more on that later).
4K / HDR Picture Quality
With 4K being one of the main selling points of the Roku Stick 4K (it’s in the name!), you expect it to work well – and it does.
Of course, picture quality depends first and foremost on your TV, and on your video source (streaming services are notorious for compressing the hell out of 4K streams – some more than others). So you’re not going to get the same quality as on a 4K Blu-ray player.
The Stick 4K also supports HDR, which stands for “High Dynamic Range”. It’s a technology that helps improve the contrast rates, making the picture more accurate, and it also provides a larger colour palette and more colour shades.
To complicate things even further, there are several competing HDR formats, but luckily the Roku Stick 4K now supports all of them – HDR10, HDR10+, HLG (which is the format used by the BBC for their 4K / HDR content), and Dolby Vision, which was missing from the Stick+.
While I haven’t had a chance to test with Dolby Vision (as my current review TV doesn’t support it), I’m happy to say everything else looks great – picture quality is bright and crisp, and looks excellent even when you’re watching Full HD (1080) content, but certainly gets better with 4K.
4K streaming is also quite demanding when it comes to bandwidth and WiFi. Roku says that the Stick 4K “uses adaptive algorithms to dynamically adjust its Wi-Fi radios for maximum streaming quality” – again, this may be extra useful if your device is far from your router, and your WiFi connection is problematic.
But either way, I had no problems whatsoever with the WiFi connectivity or speed, and every 4K stream (either from Netflix, Disney+ or Prime Video) managed to keep up nicely.
The Roku Smartphone App
Roku offers apps for both iOS and Android, and these complement the device nicely. Once you pair the app with the Roku Stick 4K, it can be used as a virtual remote control, for voice search, and even for content recommendations.
The app’s voice search lets you use the same global search and voice commands that are available on the remote.
My favourite feature on the smartphone is the “Private Listening” mode. You connect headphones to your phone, and use the Roku app to direct the sound from your TV to the headphones – so no more worrying about waking up your spouse with those late-night binge sessions.
This always worked perfectly with wired earphones, and had some issues with wireless ones – but a software update added “Automatic A/V Sync” this year, which reduces the latency caused by your TV and the wireless connection – and indeed, it worked perfectly for me through wireless as well this time.
The app’s new “Home” screen also includes recommendations for content Roku thinks you’re going to like, as well as a global “Save List” you can save programmes to for later viewing.
It’s an odd thing – it’s as if Roku is using the app for what the Fire TV and Google TV are building into their streaming OS. I like that Roku is keeping the basic OS simple, I’m just not sure I need these recommendations and global watchlists living in my phone – I’m perfectly happy just using the remote. But maybe it’s useful for some…
Roku Streaming Stick 4K Alternatives
There are three major players in the standalone streaming devices world (and a few smaller ones) – Roku, Amazon (Fire TV) and Google (Chromecast).
Roku Stick 4K VS Amazon Fire TV
In terms of picture quality, HDR support and processing power – the Roku and Fire TV 4K sticks are almost identical. The new Fire TV 4K Max supports WiFi 6, which the Roku Stick 4K doesn’t – but since it’s not very popular in UK homes (yet), that’s not a major selling point for now.
The biggest difference between the two rivals, however, is in the interface. The Roku offers a very simple (some would say basic) interface that’s mainly there to stay out of your way and make it easy for you to find the streaming app you’re going to use.
The Amazon Fire TV’s interface, however (especially the newest version) makes a point of shoving everything and the kitchen sink in your face – content recommendations, streaming services, a history list, banner ads, Amazon promotions, and the list goes on and on.
To some (myself included), that feels like a confusing mess, sometimes – yet some do prefer it, so you’ll need to make up your own mind – do you prefer simple and easy (Roku), or rich and confusing (Fire TV).
As a side note, I also have to mention the Fire TV Cube (see our review): It’s faster and more powerful than both the Fire TV 4K Sticks and the Roku Streaming Stick 4K – and it also includes a built-in Echo/Alexa device. It’s a wonderful streamer – but it’s much more expensive (when not discounted), so it’s not for everyone.
Roku Stick 4K VS Google Chromecast
Google’s streaming devices come in two flavours – the older one, which doesn’t have a remote or user interface and is only used to ‘cast’ content from your phone to your TV – and the new Chromecast with Google TV, which comes with a new operating system that’s based on Android TV.
If you want a remote and an easy to use user interface on your screen – and not have to use your phone for everything – then the Roku Stick 4K is certainly better than the older Chromecast.
The newer Chromecast, however, poses a similar comparison to the one we did with the Fire TV – Google TV’s interface is all about recommendations and personalisation, trying to match things it thinks you’re going to want to watch and shove them in your face.
If you use a lot of different streaming services, and tend to forget what you watched where – Google TV offers an interesting (but not perfect) solution. If, again, you just want the streaming OS to stay out of the way – then Roku is your friend.
Bottom Line: Is The Roku Streaming Stick 4K Worth It?
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K stick is the new king of the Roku world – there’s no question about it – but it’s only a minor update over the Stick+.
So if you already have the previous model – there’s really no reason to upgrade.
The question becomes more difficult when you’re trying to decide between the new Roku Stick 4K, and Roku’s other models.
The Roku Express is really an entry-level device, and doesn’t even support 4K. The Roku Express 4K, however, is almost as good as the Stick 4K, except for two major things: it doesn’t come with the voice remote (though you can buy that separately), and it’s not as powerful, so it’s not as fast and responsive (Plus, it doesn’t support Dolby Vision).
If you’re looking to save, the Express 4K is a perfectly good choice. But if you can spare the money – and the difference in price is normally pretty small – I would go with the Streaming Stick 4K.
With so much of our TV watching now being done via streaming apps, the streaming stick is going to be your main window to the (TV) world – so it’s best to get the fastest and most capable device you can, as long as it’s still pretty affordable – and the Stick 4K is that and more.
Note: The Roku Streaming Stick 4K was supplied by the manufacturer for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.