Roku Streaming Stick Review
What is it?The Roku Streaming Stick is Roku's answer to Google's Chromecast. If you've seen one of their devices before, or have used a Sky NowTV box then you know exactly what you're getting.
Roku use dedicated apps to provide streaming capabilities - there is no reliance on a smartphone or tablet (although you're able to control the stick this way if you want) thanks to a compact, solid-feeling remote control. There are apps for almost all of the major streaming service in the UK, with just a couple of exceptions that we'll come to later.
First impressionsThe Streaming Stick is slightly chunkier than the Chromecast - but it's still tiny given what it actually does. Just a little wider and thicker than an HDMI connection, it's easily pocketable so can be used anywhere.
The remote control is bigger than the device itself, but is so easy to use - only eight buttons and a D-Pad for navigation. It's attractive and despite the sheen it isn't a fingerprint magnet. The great thing is we also get decent batteries for the remote control - Duracell - so these won't need swapping out any time soon.
Setting upThe Streaming Stick is one of the easiest gadgets for configuration we've laid our hands on - just plug it in to an HDMI port, power it either via your TVs USB port or plug it into the wall. Once it's connected and on setup is as simple as choosing a language, connecting to your Wi-fi network and then downloading the latest software update. Once you've done this the final step is to activate the stick via another internet connected device and to set up or log in to a Roku account.
A few minutes later, once all of the channels are updated, you'll be ready to go.
Installing channels is easy - just browse the channel store and select them. Most are free, but there are a few that require payment or paid subscription (Netflix and NowTV are the ones you're most likely to come across).
How well does it work?
Very - it really is a case of something doing everything it says on the box well. Our only criticism is that it's not QUITE as responsive as the standalone Roku boxes - sometimes there's a delay between pushing a button and something actually happening. This is excusable though given the much more compact form-factor.
Netflix and NowTV look great and the addition of the likes of iPlayer, Demand 5, 4oD and ITV Player (most recently) make it a really good alternative to any built in apps your TV may offer. The beautifully streamlined interface also means navigation is a breeze and both young children and adults will instantly know what they're doing.
The only thing we've noticed that the Streaming Stick actually LACKS is the ability to play Angry Birds - but really, if that is a deal breaker then we have some concerns over your priorities! There are other games but they're all basic and rudimentary and none will hold your attention for more than a minute.
The best channel of all has to be Plex - if you're already running a Plex server with all of your media, then the Roku with this installed is probably the best combination for playing your media back on your TV. It's smooth, easy to use and allows quick access to all content.
Finally you can also 'cast' from many smartphone/tablet apps to their matching Roku equivalents - this is especially good with YouTube which will allow you to queue loads of videos to play back in order and Netflix, allowing you to use your mobile device as a fancy media browser. Thumbs up!
Any negatives?None - at least in terms of functionality. It performs its job flawlessly. The only real downside is that there are a couple of missing streaming services that, if they were included, would make the Streaming Stick the best all-round media device available. Those are Amazon Instant Video (which IS available in the US) and Blinkbox. It's the former of these that we'd most like to see as it would fill the biggest gap in coverage.
We'd also love Sky Go to be an option for existing Sky customers and as an alternative OR addition to NowTV.
The big question is...... how does it compare to Chromecast? It compares well. In terms of coverage options its a close run thing. We like the standalone nature of the Roku, but we're expecting more support for Chromecast in the future. Right now, they're neck and neck - and even with the premium that you'll pay for the Roku it's a difficult decision to make. Are you an iOS user? then the Roku might be better but it's not such an easy decision if you're already invested in Android.
The Roku is much more user friendly and easier to set up, but Chromecast, once it has ironed out performance issues with screen mirroring will be much more universal in what you can send to your television. We'd say its currently a draw.
Should I get one?Do you want Smart TV functionality on your non-Smart TV? Then YES.
Do you already have a Roku device? It's not an essential upgrade - if you want something smaller then it's an option but it isn't quite as nice as the set-top hardware.
If you have any other streaming hardware, other than the Chromecast, which we've already covered above then the answer is a clear YES. All of the Roku devices are a step up from the alternatives, especially for users of Plex, Netflix and NowTV and we'd put the Streaming Stick on an equal pegging to the Roku 3 but for varying reasons.