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REVIEW: All-New 2021 Roku Express 4K+ – The Least Expensive 4K Streaming Player

Jason Gurwin

In April, Roku announced their lowest priced 4K streaming player ever, the all-new Roku Express 4K+, starting at just $39.99.

At $10 less than the Roku Streaming Stick+, it has very few trade-offs compared to the more expensive model. While it does not have the form-factor of a streaming stick, it is very small, and unlike previous Express models, includes a Roku Voice Remote with TV Controls.

The only other difference is that it does not have quad-band Wi-Fi support, which we tested to see what that meant in the real-world.

The device begins shipping on May 16th, but we got an early look at the device and these are our thoughts on the all-new Roku Express 4K+ streaming player.

Roku Express 4K+ (2020)

  • HD & 4K up to 60 FPS
  • HDR, HDR10, HDR10+
  • Supports Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Includes Roku Voice Remote with TV Controls
  • Dual-Band Wi-Fi & microUSB

Roku Express 4K+ Video Review

What’s In The Box

Roku Express 4K+ (2021)

When you first open the box, you’ll see Roku Express 4K+, which is about half the length and similar width of a Roku remote. The device has a nice black glossy finish, which should blend in nicely with most of your A/V hardware.

It has ports for an HDMI and microUSB, which can be used for power, as well as to attach a third-party Ethernet adapter.

With the device, you’ll find a user guide, microUSB cable for power, as well as the Roku Voice Remote (including batteries) which, for the first time in an Express model, supports TV controls.

Like other recently released Roku streaming players, the Roku Express 4K+ includes a premium HDMI cable, which was a surprisingly nice addition. As I’ve said in the past, with more devices removing this, it’s nice not to have to scramble to find an HDMI cable to use with a new device.

It also included a nice sticker that allows you to “glue” it to the bottom of your TV, like an IR blaster.

Roku Express 4K+ (2021)

Remote

Unlike previous Roku Express models, this is the first one that includes 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, with the exception of the streaming services promoted on it. This year’s model (which sometimes can differ based on where you buy it) has Hulu, Disney+, Netflix, and Apple TV+, for the first time.

The only thing that I noticed that seemed a bit different is that the volume rocker on the side seemed slightly taller. But that may have just been because it just hasn’t been worn down as much yet.

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.

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 Express 4K+ (2021)

Set-Up

Roku continues to nail the set-up experience 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, if you are already signed-in on another device, you will be automatically signed-in on your Roku Express 4K+. This will save you about a half hour of trying to type your email and password into each streaming app.

Performance

Oftentimes, when you choose a less expensive streaming player, you end up giving up on performance. In my experience, that doesn’t appear to be the case with the Roku Express 4K+.

The internals of the Roku Express 4K+ are quite different from past models. They are using a Realtek 1315 chipset, instead of a ARM Cortex like on other models. Fortunately, it has 1GB of RAM, which is double the Roku Express and Roku Express+, and identical to the Roku Premiere and Roku Streaming Stick+.

The device comes with Roku OS 10, which comes with a number of enhancements, including easier set-up of wireless networks.

The interface itself feels snappy without any lag, which caught me a bit by surprise on a sub-$40 device. When it comes to channel launching, it performs as well as almost any Roku device we’ve tested.

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

Compared to our tests on the Roku Ultra (2020), which is their top-of-the-line device, Netflix had nearly the same launch time (~4 vs. 3 seconds). fuboTV actually launched faster (~6 seconds vs. 8.5). Sling TV was a bit slower (~8.5 vs. 6.5 seconds).

When launching a video or switching between a live channel, the three services took about 1.5 - 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, and for the first time: HDR10+ and HLG. While it doesn’t include Dolby Vision (you’ll still need a Roku Ultra for that), not even the Roku Streaming Stick+ offers HDR10+ support.

HDR10+ is similar to Dolby Vision, as it uses metadata to enhance the HDR image of each scene. This standard is included on most newer Samsung, VIZIO, and Hisense 4K Smart TVs.

Just like other Roku devices, the Roku Express 4K+, supports the ability use AirPlay 2 (and HomeKit). This opens up the ability to stream apps that don’t have native Roku channels. It is also the least expensive way to AirPlay 4K content from an iPhone to your Smart 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 concern I had ahead of testing is that the wireless performance wouldn’t be as good as on the Roku Streaming Stick+. My set-up had the Roku Express 4K+ in a far away bedroom (albeit with a mesh network).

The streaming performance and stability seemed identical to the Roku Streaming Stick+. If you don’t have strong wireless performance in your house however, you might consider the $10 upgrade to the Roku Streaming Stick+, which has quad-band wireless.

Roku Express 4K+ (2021)

Should You Buy It?

The Roku Express 4K+ is an incredible deal at just $39.99. The biggest knock that I had with the Roku Premiere, which it replaced, is that it didn’t include a remote with TV controls. They do have a Walmart-exclusive model for $34.99, which includes a remote without TV controls, but that’s a hard pass from me.

Now that Roku has a sub-$40 device, with a Roku Voice Remote with TV Controls, this would probably be my go-to-device on most televisions, with two exceptions: if I had terrible wireless or I needed Dolby Vision/Dolby Atmos support.

While some people prefer the form-factor of the Roku Streaming Stick+, with the built-in HDMI, this device was so small that it didn’t really seem all that different. If it was me, I would save the $10 and get the Roku Express 4K+.

With Roku getting more competition, whether its the Chromecast with Google TV ($50) or Amazon Fire Stick 4K’s new interface ($50) – it’s nice to see Roku improving their devices, while driving the cost down on 4K streaming.

Roku Express 4K+ (2021)

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