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Roku Express (2019) review: High-def streaming at a low-debt price

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The Good The Roku Express (2019) is an affordable, easy-to-use mini streamer with access to thousands of apps. Load times and app performance are quick and reliable.

The Bad Lacks the TV control buttons and point-anywhere voice remote included on the more-expensive Express Plus and Amazon Fire TV Stick.

The Bottom Line The Roku Express 2019 is an excellent streamer. It's easy to use and offers the cheapest access to Roku's superb operating system.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Ecosystem 9
  • Features 5
  • Performance 7
  • Value 9

If you've come to this review with the intention of spending the bare minimum on a streaming player then congratulations: You found what you're looking for.

The $30 Roku Express is the least-expensive streamer on the market and a great value. Its performance is excellent, it loads apps quickly and it gets you in the door with Roku, our favorite overall smart TV streaming system. Yet even at the measly price of $30, the Roku Express isn't the only solution, and neither is it necessarily the best value.  

When you're shopping at the non-4K, ultra-budget level there's four main streaming options -- Roku Express, the Express Plus ($40), the Google Chromecast ($35) and the Amazon Fire TV Stick ($40). The Fire TV Stick is the best of the four in terms of features (with Alexa built-in) and speed, thanks in part to the new YouTube app. However, the Fire TV's ($39 at Amazon) interface isn't as easy to use as the Roku: Its search results and other areas of the menus push you more toward Amazon's own video content. 

Both the Fire TV Stick and Express Plus offer voice remotes that can also control your TV's volume, mute and power, and in my book those extras are worth the extra $10 over the Express. But if you don't care about those extras and simply want to smartify a bedroom or second (or third) TV for the least amount of money possible, the Roku Express is the streamer to get.

A set top fit for a flat screen

14-roku-express
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The Express comes with adhesive tape

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Roku Express ($33 at Walmart) isn't really a "box" and it's not a dongle either. It's a tiny device, just 1.5 inches across, which is designed to attach to your slim TV or on top of your AV unit with a sticky tab on the unit's bottom. Unlike some of the more expensive models in the Roku line that offer the voice remote, the Express needs a line of sight between the IR remote and the unit itself.

As the basic entry into the range the Roku Express streams in 1080p only; for 4K HDR streaming you'll need to step up to the Streaming Stick Plus ($49 at Amazon)

At the back of the Express you have two ports -- one for the USB charger and one for HDMI -- and all the necessary cables are included in the box. If you want to, you can use the USB power port on your television, but this does mean you need to wait the 30 seconds or so for the Roku to boot up when you turn the set on. It's not an intolerable wait (see below), but using the included power pack means you'll be ready to go instantly.

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