TCL S305 series Roku TV (2017) review: Solid streaming-centric secondary TV

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The Good Roku TV delivers the best smart-TV experience on the market. A superb user interface makes its thousands of apps and streaming video easy to use from the TV's own simple remote. It's also less expensive and more frequently updated than just about any other smart TV.

The Bad No Ethernet port. The largest, 49-inch size isn't as good a value as the others.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for an affordable small TV, the Roku-powered TCL S305 series should be your first choice.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 5
  • Value 9

Here's the thing about small TVs: Their picture quality is pretty much all the same.

TV manufacturers tend to pour their effort and latest image-enhancing extras like 4K and HDR into larger models that will be used in more demanding viewing environments, and incidentally can be sold for a higher profit. In the world of small, bedroom-sized TVs -- I'm talking 43 inches and smaller -- the focus is on reducing cost to hit a price point.

So what separates a good small TV from the pack? In my book it's convenience and ease of use, and nobody does that better than Roku TVs. Chinese TV maker TCL is the leader in televisions powered by the Roku operating system, the same one found in my favorite external streaming devices. Roku streaming, complete with thousands of apps and a dead-simple menu system, is built right into the TV, and everything is controlled by one remote.

The fact that you don't have to connect an external streaming device, combined with their dirt-cheap prices, makes TCL's S305 series our go-to budget budget pick at modest screen sizes. Its closest competitor is Vizio with its D series or the 43-inch member of the E series, but Vizio's Smart TV system is significantly worse. I didn't review any of those smaller Vizios this year, but based on what I've seen in the past, their image quality is close enough to this TCL's that it doesn't make a difference.

Smart TV made simple

TCL's sets are bare-bones, with a thin, glossy black frame and prominent logos, including one for TCL and another for Roku along the bottom. Silver legs to either side keep the TV upright.

I like Roku's simple remote for TVs. It's tiny, with just a few buttons, and unless you dial in channel numbers from an antenna you probably won't miss the absent ones. Unfortunately its central directional cursor has a cheaper feel than Roku's device remote, with every press emitting a hollow click.

TCL S305 series Roku TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

The volume control/mute are side-mounted and the shortcut key varies. Both the 32- and 43-inch remotes had Netflix and Sling TV, but on the 32-inch there were also shortcuts Hulu and Starz, while the 43-inch got Amazon and CBS News.

Simplicity and customization reign with Roku's menu design. The main difference between its streaming devices and its TVs is the handful of icons along the top of the main home screen, like "Antenna TV," "DVR," "Blu-Ray player" and "HDMI 3." You'll choose a name and icon for your connected gadget during the setup process, and you can easily change it later or hide unused inputs.

Roku TVs have access to all the thousands of apps found on Roku's platform, which still offers better coverage than any competitor, smart TV or otherwise. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, Plex, HBO Now, Showtime, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Vudu, Google Play Movies and TV, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Now, FX Now, Comedy Central, Starz, PBS Kids...if there's a video app that isn't iTunes, Roku almost certainly has it. And thanks to Movies Anywhere, it can access iTunes movies, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's also worth mentioning the exclusive Roku Channel app which has a bunch of free on-demand movies (with ads). The selection is a lot better than you'd think, and the ads aren't that bad, although you might have to put up with some awkward breaks.

As usual with Roku, apps launched quickly and performed well. I also appreciated that the TV, unlike cheaper Rokus like the Express, can connect to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks. Search is the best in the business overall, and in general the interface is as friendly and simple as it gets. For more info, check out my review of my favorite Roku device, the Streaming Stick Plus.

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