THE GOOD The Roku Streaming Stick packs the entire Roku experience into a compact device that lives behind your TV and costs just $50. Over 1,200 apps are available, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, MLB.TV, Amazon Cloud Player, Vudu, and Showtime Anytime. There’s also a cross-platform search function that combs through several major TV and movie services to find content. And unlike the Chromecast, it has a real remote and an onscreen interface, which tends to work better in the living room.
THE BAD Some apps, like YouTube, take a long time to boot up. The included remote doesn’t have the neat headphone jack feature that’s available on the Roku 3 and Roku 2. And if you used your TV’s USB port for power, the device will likely need to boot-up when you turn your TV on.
THE BOTTOM LINE Roku’s Streaming Stick offers tons of apps, a real remote, and a compact design for just $50, making it the best streaming stick and an outstanding value.
If you’re familiar with the Chromecast, everything should sound familiar so far, as it’s very similar to Google’s streamer. But while the hardware is largely the same, the two streamers have different approaches when it comes to navigation and finding content.
A real remote and user interface
Unlike the Chromecast, Roku’s Streaming Stick includes a remote in the box. It’s essentially the same remote you’d get with Roku’s other budget streaming boxes, although it works via Wi-Fi Direct, so it can communicate with the Stick when it’s hidden behind your TV. If you were hoping the remote would include Roku’s neat headphone-jack feature, you’re out of luck, as that functionality is still available only on the Roku 2 and Roku 3.
The Streaming Stick also includes Roku’s standard user interface, which is best-in-class at this point. While an onscreen display and a remote may seem old-fashioned compared with the Chromecast’s “your smartphone is your remote” approach, I personally find it provides a better experience in the living room, as it means I can keep my eyes on the TV, instead of shuttling my attention between two screens. Especially when one of those screens may be reminding me about notifications and emails that I’m typically trying to unplug from while watching TV.
In addition to the remote and onscreen interface experience, you can also control the Streaming Stick with Roku’s mobile app, which is available on Android and iOS. And for Netflix and YouTube, you can also “cast” content straight to the Roku box from those respective Android and iOS apps, just as you can with a Chromecast. (And Roku says it’s working on adding casting functionality for more apps.) In other words, if you’re a “smartphone-as-remote” fan, you can throw the Roku remote into a drawer and never touch it again.
Ultimately, the Streaming Stick gives the best of both worlds, letting you control via smartphone — including “casting” from major apps — but also providing the traditional remote experience. The only major drawback is that the Streaming Stick’s back-of-the-TV placement means it doesn’t work with traditional IR-based universal remotes.