Review: The Roku Streaming Stick

You’ve moved into your new student digs and your landlord has left you the most useless TV imaginable. It doesn’t have Freeview, it doesn’t connect to Wi-Fi and it most definitely isn’t smart.

What if there was a way to make it smart?

For the past week I’ve been testing out the Roku, which is a small, memory stick sized device that plugs into the HDMI port of a TV or screen. Using the provided remote, you can access a smart TV user interface and add apps such as YouTube, Netflix, etc.

Our landlord has left us a mammoth TV which is just too old to have a HDMI port. But, I have extra monitors so I’ve been testing the Roku out on one of them. The first issue is that the Roku is rather large and doesn’t come with a HDMI adapter. This means that the Roku doesn’t quite fit my monitor as there’s only a small space available for access to the ports. The only way around this was using a HDMI adapter that I luckily have in my box of cables.

Secondly, set up was not the easiest and it took longer than expected. There was a problem to do with pingback and not having the most up-to-date software on the Roku. Fortunately, I was able to find a solution online, but it wasn’t a great start to my Roku journey.

The Roku is very easy to use. Using the Wi-Fi remote or the downloadable Roku app for iOS and Android, you can traverse the interface and explore apps. At home at my parent’s house, they have a smart TV and I see many similarities with the Roku. The interface is very similar; both are app based with a store and a home page that can be explored and added to. I really like this as it behaves and feels like a real smart TV. Users familiar with smart TV’s will know exactly what the Roku is about and how to use it. Plus, using the handheld remote makes it feel like you’re back in the living room, in front of the TV set.

Practically, going to the channel store and browsing the available apps is very clear and easy to do. There’s no actual search function, which is a major issue for advanced users in particular; if you know what you need, you want to get to it fast. At the moment, you’ve just got to pick the category and hope that when you scroll enough you will find the app that you’re looking for.

There are a good number of well known apps to choose from as well some I’d expect to find but I never did on the smart TV at home. For example, there’s Netflix, YouTube, BBCiPlayer, ITV player, 4oD, Demand 5 and Now TV. The interfaces of these are similar to what users of these apps on other devices would be accustomed to. There’s also American apps like Flixster , TMZ, BYUtv and tonnes of other niche Film and TV apps that are entertaining enough just reading their descriptions. Some are free, some are subscription based but it’s nice to have the choice and it’s easy enough to distinguish between the ones you’d want to download.

The Roku apps are not limited to just Film and TV. There are approximately 40 games to choose from, some are free but I think the majority are paid. My personal favourites include Four in a Row, Mini Golf and a version of Flappy Bird called Birdie, which are all available to download for a small fee.

The Roku isn’t just about the apps, it’s about casting too. I myself watch a lot of YouTube and TV on demand. At uni, I share a Chrome Cast with my house that we use for casting. Comparatively there are a few differences. Price wise, you can pick up a Chrome Cast for £18 whilst the Roku RRP is £49.99. However, as much as I love the Chrome Cast, it’s a TV add-on that utilises the magical, smart features in your devices whilst the Roku is the whole TV package.

When comparing Roku to Freeview; Freeview provides you with the list of channels whilst Roku allows you to choose which programs from the ‘channels’ (apps) you want to watch whilst also connecting you to the internet.

One of the more consistent drawbacks is the user interface. I’m so used to using my phone, tablet and Chrome Cast that I now expect everything to be designed flawlessly and work smoothly with each other without any long pauses or glitches. Having to wait a good few moments for the Roku to boot up and having to use the really simple YouTube app that only displays three video options at a time, is something I was not prepared for. I understand that the Chrome Cast has the advantage here as the Roku is independent and works a little differently. With time I think some of these issues will be resolved and user experience will improve, after all this Roku device is fairly new. Apps will become better and there will be greater choice, which is definitely something to look forward to.

One of the more consistent drawbacks is the user interface. I’m so used to using my phone, tablet and Chrome Cast that I now expect everything to be designed flawlessly and work smoothly with each other without any long pauses or glitches. Having to wait a good few moments for the Roku to boot up and having to use the really simple YouTube app (for example), that only displays three video options at a time, is something I was not prepared for. I understand that the Chrome Cast has the advantage here as the Roku is independent and works a little differently. With time I think some of these issues will be resolved and user experience will improve, after all this Roku device is fairly new. Apps will become better and there will be greater choice, which is definitely something to look forward to.

I’ve really enjoyed using and playing with the Roku. I definitely appreciate how easy to it is to used. I know other users such as family and friends that would find the Roku beneficial and could use it with ease.

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I'm a Computer Science student at the University of Nottingham and I like to think that procrastination is another form of keeping busy.

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