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Roku Express 2022 Review: This Streamer Is Stuck in the Past

Roku makes great products, but the entry-level Express isn't one of them

Roku Express and remote on a yellow background
The Roku Express has not made any significant improvements in years. 
Sarah Lord/CNET

We all make mistakes, but this year Roku made a big one. The company that manufactures some of the most popular and well-reviewed streaming devices available released a product that is, in no uncertain terms, a stinker. The 2022 Roku Express lacks the hardware to compete against the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite and especially the Chromecast HD in the $30-ish, HD-only streaming device market. 

4.0

Roku Express

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Like

  • Speedy
  • Excellent Roku software

Don't Like

  • Practically unchanged since 2016
  • Remote that doesn't control TV on/off/volume
  • Comes without a power brick
  • Streams only in HD

The biggest problem with the 2022 Express is that it basically hasn't changed at all since 2016, and that includes the remote. The remote continues to be incapable of controlling your TV's power, volume and inputs, which means that you'll need to use your TV's original remote along with the Roku remote in order to use the device. You also need to aim the Roku remote at the TV -- technically at the little Roku Express box itself -- for it to work.

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To make matters worse, the only visible "update" to the 2022 Express is actually a glaring omission: a power brick is no longer included in the box. Instead, Roku is now asking users to provide their own or to plug the device into their TV's USB connection in order to power the device. It seems weird to me that one device should need to take up two ports on my TV, especially since my television only has one USB input. I understand that inflation is a big problem and Roku wants to be able to keep the Express at its original $30 price, but this kind of cost-cutting measure is particularly frustrating and makes the product feel cheap. 

This is especially true when comparing the Express to other HD streamers. Roku might think that it's still 2016, but other companies are well aware that we're now at the end of 2022. Google released the $30 Chromecast with Google TV HD streaming device within a few days of the Roku Express, but the two devices could not be more different. 

Chromecast with Google TV HD leaves the Express in the dust

Chromecast with Google TV HD

Chromecast with Google TV HD is lightyears ahead of the Roku Express.

Sarah Lord/CNET

The Chomecast with Google TV HD looks and feels exactly like its more expensive 4K sibling. It's smooth, sleek and comes with an individually wrapped power brick. It also features the exact same remote control from the $50 Chromecast with Google TV 4K. Not only can it control your TV power, volume and inputs, but it comes with voice-controlled Google Assistant as well. It's speedy, responsive, easy to use, and runs circles around the 2022 Roku Express in terms of value. 

Even the $30 Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite has better hardware than the Roku Express. The remote on the Lite lacks physical buttons to control your TV's functions, but it does come with Alexa integration, which allows you to control your TV through your voice. You can't do that with the remote included with the Roku Express, as it lacks voice control. 

The Express is still easy to set up, but remote juggling is messy

Roku Express on a blue background

You need the Roku remote along with your TV remote to use the Express.

Sarah Lord/CNET

The lack of hardware features on the Express hold back the excellent Roku software. Thankfully, it's fairly straightforward to set up the Express, though I found it was slightly difficult to plug it into the USB port on my TV due to the port's placement on the back of my television. Luckily, I was able to use my small hands to wiggle it in place, though it would have been a lot easier to just plug it directly into my power strip. 

Despite depending on my TV's USB port for power, the Express managed to turn on quickly. Roku's simple setup process remains unchanged on the Express, so I was up and running in about five minutes. 

That said, I found it maddening to need two remotes in order to watch one program. I had to use the Roku remote in order to log into my apps and pick my show, but needed the TV remote to change the volume once I was watching it. This meant that I needed two remotes by my side at all times, which sometimes meant that I accidentally picked up the wrong remote and unwittingly activated my Samsung TV's overlay menus. I'm sure there are plenty of organized people that won't have this issue, but I found it extremely frustrating. 

Another downside to this particular Roku remote is that you need to aim it directly at the Express in order to change the channel. That's because this remote comes with infrared technology, which requires it to have line-of-site access with the receiver for it to register your inputs. Most Roku remotes now use a different technology called RF, or radio frequency, that doesn't require you to point directly at a device. RF remotes can pick up your button presses from anywhere in your room and make it easy to place your streaming device in the back of your TV, instead of sitting in front. 

Roku express on a yellow background

The remote on the Express needs direct line-of-site with the receiver in order to work. 

Sarah Lord/CNET

The Express is a little box that comes with adhesive, so you can stick your box firmly wherever you want beside your TV -- just make sure you don't put it behind something. I didn't bother securing my Express and instead let it dangle down the side of my 55-inch TV. The included wires weren't long enough for it to sit gracefully on my TV stand, so the device hung sideways and twisted, while the back half made contact with the base of my stand. 

Luckily, the line-of-site from the remote to the Express managed to work just fine from 20 feet away, even with the box at such an odd angle. It would be nice if you didn't have to worry that the remote will miss your inputs if it's out of sight of the box, but current line-of-site parameters appear to be generous enough that it shouldn't be much of a problem for most people. 

Roku's software is still excellent

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Roku puts all of your apps clearly in one place.

Sarah Lord/CNET

The highlight of the Roku Express is the Roku software. I've always found navigating the Roku interface to be simple and intuitive. Roku also tends to have the most streaming app options, and the best search functions, without favoring one content provider over another. I found that navigating around Roku menus, loading and opening apps and using the system to be fast and responsive.

The home layout consists of a large list of your downloaded apps that appears on the right, with a menu for settings, search, and other items on the left. In September, Roku launched a new category called "The Buzz," which is available on the left-hand menu. In its press release, Roku described it as "a collection of posts featuring trailers, interviews, and video clips from your favorite streaming channels." If you think this sounds like a cluttered mess, you would be right. Clicking on the Buzz leads to a seemingly endless hodge-podge of useless information and uninteresting clips. I didn't find anything that seemed relevant to my interests, but perhaps someone else might. Thankfully, Roku keeps it tucked neatly away on that left-hand menu, so you never have to look at it if you don't want to. 

A more useful new feature is the introduction of the sports section on the menu. Clicking here gives you a page full of live and upcoming games. The page prioritizes live games, and I quickly found the World Cup match I was looking for. Clicking on the game gave a list of apps where it was playing. Unfortunately, it only shows results from Apple TV, DIRECTV, Fox Sports, FuboTV, Paramount Plus, Peacock, Prime Video, Sling, The Roku Channel, TNT, TBS, and truTV, as well as games coming over the air through an antenna connected to Roku TV models. This means that it didn't tell me that the game that I was looking for was also available as part of my Spectrum subscription. It also won't show my hockey games from ESPN Plus or Hulu, which makes it of limited value to me at the moment. 

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Searching for "Action" brings up the Action Movie and TV Zone.

Sarah Lord/CNET

Thankfully, Roku makes it pretty easy to find just about any other content I might want. Finding a specific title is as easy as typing it into the search bar. Once it comes up, you can click on it and see exactly what services have it and how much they are charging for it. 

If you're not sure what you want to watch, you can instead search by topic. I typed in "Action" into the search bar, which brought up the Action TV and Movie Zone. Clicking here brought me to sections of action movies and shows grouped by New Releases, Free, and more. I decided to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and found that it was included with my Paramount Plus subscription, but was also on Prime Video and Epix. Clicking on the Paramount Plus listing brought me right to my show. 

Roku's simple, clean interface, detailed search and content-agnostic approach make it my favorite choice for streaming. 

Conclusion: Buy the $40 Roku Express 4K Plus instead

Roku Express 4K Plus with remote on blue background

This might look like the regular Roku Express, but it's actually the far superior Roku Express 4K Plus. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

I might prefer the Roku system, but that doesn't mean I recommend the basic Express. In fact, you should absolutely avoid this device at all costs. Its missing power brick and inferior remote make it a non-starter in 2022 and 2023. If you really can't pay more than $30 and want an HD streamer, the Chromecast with Google TV HD is the one to get. 

That said, our Editors' Choice picks of the Roku Express 4K Plus and the Roku Streaming Stick 4K cost only a little bit more than the regular Express, but offer many more features. The Express 4K Plus is only $10 more than the entry-level Express, but streams in 4K and includes a full-fledged remote. The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is similar to the Express 4K Plus, but offers a slightly different design along with Dolby Vision support and is $20 more than the Express. Both devices tend to be on sale throughout the year -- especially around the holidays -- and are often priced at $30 or less. 

Save yourself the hassle of the Express and pick up one of these instead.