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Roku’s latest media device, the Streaming Stick 4K, is a compact streaming player designed to plug right into your TV’s HDMI port. Once connected, the stick gives you access to a huge selection of streaming apps with up to 4K resolution playback.
The new model will look familiar to anyone who’s used Roku’s previous Streaming Stick+, as it’s basically the same device with a few notable upgrades inside. With that in mind, we put the Roku Streaming Stick 4K to the test to see just how well these new features perform.
This means it won’t take up any space on your TV stand, but it will hang out from your display. Sticks like this are typically easy to install, but they can be a little tricky to slot in depending on the design of your TV’s ports.
Amazon includes an HDMI extender with its Fire TV Sticks to make sure you don’t have any issues, but Roku doesn’t. Roku will ship you an extender for free, however, if you end up needing one.
The Roku Streaming 4K and Roku Streaming Stick+ are virtually the same when it comes to external design, save for one small cosmetic difference. The Streaming Stick 4K now features the Roku logo in glossy black against a matte finish. The Streaming Stick+ had the opposite look, with a matte logo and glossy background.
One of the Streaming Stick 4K‘s new features is its updated long-range Wi-Fi receiver, which Roku says is capable of being up to 2x faster than the older model.
In my testing, that claim was spot on. With the Streaming Stick 4K and Streaming Stick+ both connected to my Wi-Fi, the Streaming Stick+ is able to get a 53.61 Mbps connection, while the Streaming Stick 4K is able to get a faster 99.82 Mbps connection.
I didn’t notice any immediate benefits from the faster connection, but this could be useful for people who have slower internet plans and need to take advantage of every boost they can get.
Though Amazon and Google have opted for content-focused interfaces, Roku still uses an app-focused approach. Rather than bombard you with recommendations for movies and shows right off the bat, the Roku home screen presents you with a simple grid of services. I prefer this design, but some may find it a little dated.
General navigation is smooth, but the device can lag here and there. Roku says this new model can boot up to 30% faster than the previous version. When restarting both devices, this claim proves to be true, as the Streaming Stick 4K takes 26 seconds to fully reboot and the Streaming Stick+ takes 36 seconds.
I also notice a slight uptick in overall responsiveness during navigation. The time it takes to open individual apps is similar on both models, but the new version shaves off about half a second to a second when loading services like Netflix, YouTube, and Disney Plus.
As a whole, though, I wouldn’t say the processor upgrade is much of a selling point. The Streaming Stick 4K is fast enough to satisfy most streaming needs, but it’s not worth upgrading from the older model just for this improvement alone.
Until now, the only Roku device with Dolby Vision support has been its flagship Roku Ultra set-top box ($100). The Streaming Stick 4K finally brings this feature to one of the company’s more affordable offerings.
Dolby Vision is an advanced high dynamic range (HDR) format that can provide enhanced colors and contrast on Dolby Vision-compatible TVs and apps. Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and Apple TV Plus all offer select titles in Dolby Vision.
If you have a compatible TV, Dolby Vision playback can provide a more accurate image than the standard HDR format, known as HDR10. But, in most cases, the actual differences are subtle. Since I own a Dolby Vision TV and I’m a big videophile, this is a feature I always look for in a streaming player, but don’t expect a huge leap in video quality.
The Streaming Stick 4K comes with a standard Roku Voice Remote that requires a button to initiate voice controls. But, buyers who want a hands-free experience can opt for the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ bundle ($70). The stick itself is exactly the same, but you get Roku’s upgraded Voice Remote Pro instead of the regular remote.
The Voice Remote Pro adds two shortcut buttons, a headphone jack for private listening, a built-in rechargeable battery (via USB), and most notably, hands-free voice control. You can just say “Hey Roku” to wake the remote and then initiate searches and controls without lifting a finger.
The hands-free function works great. I never have any issues with the remote hearing me or understanding my commands and searches. Though having to hold a button on the standard remote isn’t a big deal, the Voice Remote Pro is so much more convenient, especially when searching for videos on YouTube.
A microphone switch is also built-in, so you can easily deactivate the hands-free function if you’d prefer to use the button. The Voice Remote Pro costs $30 on its own, so the bundle saves you $10 off the regular combined price of both items.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is a reliable media player through and through. It has all the major features I look for in a streaming device in this price range, and it performs well.
That said, it doesn’t offer a huge upgrade over the older Streaming Stick+. It boots a little faster, has better Wi-Fi reception, and supports Dolby Vision, but buyers who are already satisfied with the previous model don’t need to upgrade. Shoppers who don’t already have a streaming stick, however, should go with this newer version since it’s more future proof.
What are your alternatives?
When it comes to competing streaming devices, Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick 4K Max is worth considering as well. Its full retail price is $5 more than the Roku, but it has noticeably faster loading times. I prefer Roku’s interface, though, and Roku has an edge with its platform agnostic support for Alexa, Google Assistant, and HomeKit devices. It also supports AirPlay while the Fire TV Stick does not.
The bottom line
If snappy navigation is your primary concern, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is a better buy. But the Roku Streaming Stick 4K isn’t slow by any means, and it’s a better fit for people who aren’t tied into the Alexa ecosystem.
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