When it comes to product upgrades, it might sound like lukewarm praise to say, “It’s pretty much the same as the last version – but the last version was good!” But that is exactly what is true of the new Roku Streaming Stick 4K and its more expensive siblings, that Roku Streaming Stick 4K +. While neither of them has enough in the way of new features to make it a dramatic upgrade from Streaming Stick Plus or Roku Ultra, both of the new sticks still run on a solid OS, have a great design and deliver great streaming content . If it’s not broken, do not repair it, right?
Should any of this alone be enough to convince you to pay $ 50 for the Streaming Stick 4K, if you already own Roku’s Express 4K Plus, which offers a virtually identical set of features for $ 10 less? Probably not. But if you are in the market for a compact, skilled streamer which now includes extra support for Dolby Vision, Roku Streaming Stick 4K and 4K + are excellent options.
Perhaps the biggest concern for me personally is that Roku at this point is approaching critical mass on its streaming offerings, at least from a nomenclature point of view. The current range includes Express, Express 4K Plus, Streaming Stick 4K, Streaming Stick 4K Plus, Ultra, Streambar and Streambar Pro – a confusingly similar range of streaming devices that are quite homogeneous in terms of their capabilities. When you can analyze the (minor) differences between your options, you will, like I did, realize that you really can not go wrong with any of them – which is not necessarily a convincing argument for why 4K and 4K + are worth the slightly higher price.
A winning formula
Streaming Stick 4K offers small improvements to its very good, very affordable predecessor, Streaming Stick Plus (currently $ 35 on Roku’s website). The newer device is faster and offers improved wifi performance, but these updates are hard to quantify (more on that below). Aesthetically, the design on both sticks is more or less the same, with the exception of a more matte black finish, but it’s not that it really matters anyway: Like the Plus, the Streaming Stick 4K hides nicely into an HDMI port behind your TV, so it is not the case that there was any major need for an overhaul there.
To that end, both Streaming Sticks come with a USB power cable with a long-range wifi receiver (the 4K + package also comes with a separate USB charging cable to turn on the remote control). There is also a power adapter included in case you can not connect the streaming stick directly to a USB port on the TV itself, but the TCL set I used to review Roku sticks did not have that problem.
But really, the big reason to upgrade is added support for Dolby Vision and HDR10 Plus. Dolby Vision content now abounds across various streaming services, including Disney + and Netflix, and now Roku supports it. That’s pretty much it.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K vs. Roku Streaming Stick 4K +
If you want to spend $ 20 extra, you can choose the Roku Streaming Stick 4K +, which is equipped with the Roku Voice Remote Pro. The Pro looks almost identical to Roku’s other remote controls, except for a few minor adjustments. A headphone jack for private listening has been added to the side, and the Voice Remote Pro also replaces AAs for a built-in rechargeable battery, which can be juiceed up via a microUSB port tucked away under the purple fabric mark of the remote control.
Admittedly, the voice remote control is a nice touch here, and if you’re considering whether it’s worth the extra money on 4K +, let me say that the included remote finding feature is almost worth the entrance fee in itself. A simple “Hey Roku, find my remote” triggers a beep to help you track it, which is actually a welcome respite from digging through the sofa cushions for the third time without success. For those who get bored of the idea of having a device that always listens in their home, Roku has included a switch on the left side of the remote to turn off the microphone. In this mode, the remote control can still pick up commands if you press and hold the microphone button, it just will not be “hands-free” anymore.
A legitimate grip some users may have with 4K and 4K + is that the voice assistant still can’t really hold a light to Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. Rocu’s voice qualities remain rudimentary at best; raising and lowering the volume, turning the TV on and off and searching for content by genre or actor name is no problem; Ask something more complicated, e.g. when the Knicks play and you’re unlucky.
Elegant, intuitive software
People love the familiar feel of Roku’s app grid home screen, and Roku knows this. As a result, they tend not to change things too much in the software department, leaving the same manageable home screens that users know and appreciate largely untouched.
There’s a new “Featured Free” section that lets users browse their free streaming options, but this is mostly just a way for Roku to promote its own content. While it’s true that the ad-supported Roku Channel has dozens of free shows and movies, it’s also a good reminder that Roku is at its core a advertising factory, and more ads means more metrics are tracked and sent back to Roku. It’s definitely a bummer, but it’s a kind of deal you implicitly accept when you see Roco’s content: great shows, easy to use software, and ads. That’s what it is.
Streaming Stick 4K and 4K + both run on Roku’s latest OS 10.5, which adds a few intuitive fixes like voice guidance to passwords (scrolling around the on-screen keyboard with the remote in what feels like 15 minutes is always such a skirt) and easier troubleshooting for AV out of sync. While competitors like Amazon’s FireTV Stick 4K Max have recently taken the leap to Wi-Fi 6, Roku still uses Wi-Fi 5 – but again, loading times have never been an issue, so it’s not a conspicuous omission.
Faster performance, I think
I have to be honest: If Streaming Stick 4K loads faster than its latest predecessors, it’s lost on me, but that’s mostly because there was no issue with load times to begin with.
The latest batch of streaming sticks also boasts more powerful quad-core processors, which reportedly provide 30% faster boot times, but again … it’s hard to really notice a markedly improved performance here. All streams were launched without any problems and never let me hang for more than a few seconds.
Worth the upgrade?
Having said and done, any of Roku’s latest streaming sticks are solid options and no one will leave customers with buyer remorse. With its wide selection of streamers, the right choice any Roku customer faces is tied to the details: Do you prefer a stick that can hide in your HDMI port, or are you okay with something a little bigger, like Express 4K Plus? Whichever direction you end up going, the long and short of it is that you will still end up with an extremely skilled, user-friendly streamer at the end of the day. If it were me, I would save my coins and just choose the cheapest option, but your mileage may vary.