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REVIEW: All-New 2021 Roku Streaming Stick 4K – Should You Upgrade? Yes.

Jason Gurwin

In September, Roku announced their first update to their Roku Streaming Stick+ since 2019.

In comparison to the Roku Streaming Stick+ that it replaced, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is packed with new features. The device has a new Quad-Core processor and twice the memory of the Roku Streaming Stick+.

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K offers HD and 4K, with HDR, HDR10+, & Dolby Vision support. It doesn’t include native Dolby Atmos (but does offer pass-through). Unlike the Roku Express 4K that they launched in April, the Streaming Stick 4K is about the size of a thumb drive, which plugs directly into the HDMI port on the back of your TV.

At $49.99, just $10 more than the recently introduced Roku Express 4K+, it packs even better performance at an even smaller form factor. The impact of the longer-range Wi-Fi is noticeable and helps with launching channels, since you can’t hardwire the device to your router.

One of the challenges for Roku is that their devices hold up for so long, that it’s often a challenge to justify upgrading to the latest model. But, after testing the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, I think this might be the exception to the rule.

The device begins shipping today, but we got an early look at the device and these are our thoughts on the all-new Roku Streaming Stick 4K streaming player. And whether you are buying a device for a new TV, or upgrading from the 2019 Roku Streaming Stick+, the improvements will be noticeable.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021)

  • Quad-Core Processor (30% Faster)
  • HD & 4K up to 60 FPS
  • HDR, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
  • Supports Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Atmos (via pass-through)
  • Up to 2x Faster Wi-Fi Speeds
  • Includes Roku Voice Remote with TV Controls

What’s In The Box

Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021)

When you first open the box, you’ll see Roku Streaming Stick 4K, which is a little bit longer than a thumb drive, but shorter than a pencil. The device has a nice black matte finish, which has been a shift away from the glossy exterior of previous models.

It has a single port for microUSB, which connects the Wi-Fi extender, which has a USB port on the end to plug in to a power brick if your TV doesn’t have a USB port to power the device on its own.

One nice enhancement is that the cable itself is much longer. The previous model came with a USB extender, but isn’t needed anymore because the cable has that length built-in.

With the device, you’ll find a user guide, as well as the Roku Voice Remote (including batteries) which supports TV controls.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021)

Remote

Just like the Roku Streaming Stick+, this device includes a Roku Voice Remote with TV controls. That means you can control power, adjust volume, and mute.

If you’ve used one before, there are no major changes to the Roku Voice Remote. This remote came with quick-action buttons for Netflix, Apple TV+, Hulu, and Disney+.

Roku does sell a bundle called the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+, which includes their new rechargeable Roku Voice Remote Pro, for $20 more ($69.99), which is a $10 savings.

While the Roku Voice Remote doesn’t include private listening like on the Roku Ultra, you can still use it using the Roku mobile app, which can double as an extra remote. This is an especially great feature for those who want to watch TV, but share a room with someone on a different sleep schedule.

Private Listening is also available on the Roku Voice Remote Pro if you upgrade to the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ bundle.

Overall, Roku continues to have my favorite remote of all the streaming devices. So, if you liked the remote before, this new remote is just as good.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021)

Set-Up

Roku continues to make the set-up experience simple for users. After connecting to Wi-Fi, they ask for your e-mail address to continue to set up on your phone.

If you are an existing Roku user, you can just log in and it will automatically install the apps you have on your other Roku devices.

One incredibly nice feature is: for many apps, including Sling TV and fuboTV, if you are already signed in on another device, you will be automatically signed in on your Roku Streaming Stick 4K. This will save you about a half-hour of trying to type your email and password into each streaming app.

There is also a new feature in Roku OS 10.5, which ships with the device, that allows you to type by voice. You can now enter your email address and password, one character at a time, by speaking it out. It is a little temperamental though, when speaking out my email address, it mistakenly thought my email address ended in “.con”.

Performance

Generally, this is the area where I’m a little disappointed when it comes to Roku’s every-other-year upgrades to streaming players. Most of the time, in the real world, the speed bump isn’t noticeable. But, this year, it is very noticeable – especially against the 2019 Roku Streaming Stick+.

The internals of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K are quite different from past models. They are using an ARM Cortex A55, compared to the ARM Cortex A53 in the 2019 model.

The device comes with Roku OS 10.5, which comes with a number of enhancements, including bring their Live TV Guide out of the Roku Channel and onto the Home Screen.

The interface itself feels snappy without any lag, which I couldn’t say was the case with my 2019 Streaming Stick+. When it comes to channel launching, it performs much better than the previous model, and in line with what we’ve seen on the Roku Express 4K and pretty close to the Roku Ultra.

You can see the real-world speed in our video review.

To test the device, we launched and streamed three different streaming services to measure launch time and time to first video load.

Compared to the 2019 Roku Streaming Stick+, Netflix launched about 0.5 seconds faster, while fuboTV first launch was almost 4 seconds faster (about 0.5 seconds once cached). Sling TV was about the same 9.5 seconds on both devices. All of these launch times were within 1-1.5 seconds of what we saw when testing against the 2020 Roku Ultra.

When launching a video or switching between a live channel, the three services took about 2 - 3 seconds to load, which was on par with other Roku streaming players.

These tests are far from perfect, but are meant to capture some of the real-world improvements you might see with the device. For most apps, unless you were comparing them side-by-side, you probably wouldn’t notice that they are launching faster.

Audio & Video

4K Streaming

The device supports 4K HDR streaming, including HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, and for the first time Dolby Vision. HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are similar, as they use metadata to enhance the HDR image of each scene. HDR10+ is included on most newer Samsung, VIZIO, and Hisense 4K Smart TVs.

Just like other Roku devices, the Streaming Stick 4K, supports the ability to use AirPlay 2 (and HomeKit). This opens up the ability to stream apps that don’t have native Roku channels like YouTube TV. It is also the less expensive way to AirPlay 4K content from an iPhone to your Smart TV, than the $170 Apple TV.

Audio

The device supports audio via Dolby Digital, and while it doesn’t support Dolby Atmos – it will pass it through. If you want features like Dolby Atmos and Bluetooth, you will need to upgrade to the $99 Roku Ultra.

Wireless

One feature that is often underrated in real-world performance is Wi-Fi connectivity. Since the Roku Streaming Stick 4K doesn’t have Ethernet, better Wi-Fi will help with channel launch times, navigating apps, and streaming playback.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Roku Streaming Stick+

My set-up had the Roku Streaming Stick+ and Roku Streaming Stick 4K connected in a far away bedroom (albeit with a mesh network). The Roku Streaming Stick 4K (108 Mpbs) said it had more than three times the Internet download speed than the Roku Streaming Stick+ (33 Mpbs).

Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021)

Should You Buy It?

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is worth the upgrade on so many levels. It has faster performance, better Wi-Fi, and supports Dolby Vision. Whether you are looking for a device for a TV without a streaming player or just looking to upgrade your existing Streaming Stick+, the answer as to whether you should upgrade is a definitive yes.

With Roku getting more competition, whether it’s the Chromecast with Google TV ($50) or Amazon Fire Stick 4K’s new interface ($50) – it’s clear that Roku is doing its best to keep driving better performance with each iteration of its streaming players.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021)

Roku Streaming Stick 4K Video Review

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