Roku Streaming Stick 4K Review: Midrange, But Definitely Not Middling

On paper, Roku’s new Streaming Stick 4K seems like it could reside in a perfect sweet spot when it comes to price, portability, and performance. But to really find out if Roku’s hit the mark with its latest streamer, we had to spend some time living with the new device as our everyday, go-to streamer.

Roku sent us a Streaming Stick 4K to check out ahead of the device’s official launch this week and we’ve been putting it through its paces. And while Roku did provide the review unit for free, we’re under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

As always, our opinions remain 100% our own.

So, with that being said, let’s explore how Roku’s new $49.99 option distinguishes itself from the cheaper, but similar Express 4K+ and the higher-end, but more expensive Ultra.

(Editor’s Note: This review is based on our full video review, which you can check out at the embedded link below.)

Hardware and Features

At the heart of the new Streaming Stick 4K is an ARM Cortex A55 CPU. That’s similar to the CPU you’ll find in other current Roku offerings, including the Express 4K and 4K+, (here’s our review from earlier this year), as well as the top-of-line Roku Ultra (and here’s our review from late 2020).

It’s not quite the exact same setup as a Roku Ultra, however. That higher-end option still boasts 2GB of RAM, while the more affordable Streaming Stick 4K and the Express 4K+ have 1GB to work with.

Compared to the 2019-era Streaming Stick+, you get an upgraded CPU and more robust HDR support, all packed into a form factor that’s broadly similar to the Streaming Stick+ — though it’s not a carbon copy. For one, the overall shape is now more oval-like than the rounded-cube aesthetic of the Streaming Stick+.

The form factor differences are probably less important — especially for something meant to hide behind your TV. No, the more meaningful changes reside inside — like that newer CPU and much-improved HDR support that adds HDR10+, HLG, and Dolby Vision.

On the audio side, you get pass-through support for DTS Surround Sound and Dolby audio via HDMI. And wireless duties come courtesy of 802.11ac WiFi, also known as WiFi 5, and an external “long-range WiFi receiver” built into the power cord.

As for the included remote, the standard Streaming Stick 4K comes with a Voice Remote with TV Controls and a pair of AAA batteries to get you started. You can also opt for what Roku’s calling the Streaming Stick 4K+, which includes the same streaming device, but subs in the top-shelf Voice Remote Pro.

That remote control upgrade comes at a premium — $69.99 versus the regular version’s $49.99. And to be clear: The actual streaming hardware between these two packages is the same.

Setup and Performance

On the packaging front, Roku’s moved on from the gray of the Streaming Stick+ to a purple hue that’s more in keeping with other recent models. Once inside, you’ll be greeted first by the stick-shaped streaming device itself. A paper-only tray underneath houses the Voice Remote with TV Controls — though if you opt for the Streaming Stick 4K+, you’d see a Voice Remote Pro in here instead.

Elsewhere, there’s a power adapter, and what the company calls a “USB power cable with long-range WiFi receiver.” This setup replaces the Streaming Stick+’s combo of a short USB power cable and an included extension cable.

Hardware installation is as straightforward as ever and it’s part of the Streaming Stick’s main appeal.. These stick-style devices have an HDMI connection built right in, so all you need to do is plug it straight into an open input on your TV and connect the power source.

That power cord, however, juts out at a right angle from the device, which could be a little tricky depending on just how crowded the back of your display is. If you’re able to reposition a few cables, great, but it would have been nice if Roku included some sort of HDMI extender, like you can find with Amazon’s Fire TV Stick line.

Things can get a little cramped, especially with a power cable jutting out at a right angle, so you might need to do a little rearranging.

As far as software setup goes, you’ll be greeted with the standard Roku process. When you power it on, you’ll be asked to pair the remote and then the device will ask for WiFI access. Once it establishes a connection to the internet, it’ll check for available updates and you’ll soon be whisked into the software setup process.

If you have an existing Roku account, you’ll have a chance to sign in (and you can do so using your voice thanks to recent voice support improvements). But if you don’t have a Roku account just yet, no worries. It’s free to create one and once you do, you can log into your account as well.

You’ll get a confirmation email sent to whatever address is associated with your Roku account and while you’re on your computer or mobile device, you’ll be asked to name your new device and label its location. Those personalization options can be handy when you’re managing multiple streaming devices in one household.

You can also sign up for free trials and services during this section, but you can simply scroll past all the offers and head straight into using your device.

Once loaded, the Streaming Stick 4K will autoplay an initial help video that briefs you on the Roku interface and some of its key features, including voice support. And yes, in case you’re wondering, you can skip the video and head straight into using your new device.

Following the setup process, you’re presented with Roku’s familiar user interface, with tiles on the right and a column of sections on the left. Our review unit came packing the latest software update, Roku OS 10.5, and you can check out what’s new in this latest version here.

Overall, using the new Streaming Stick 4K is a pleasant experience. Loading apps and scrolling through various menus is smooth and consistent. Navigation in different streaming apps is trouble-free, including ones that can be more challenging on older hardware. I spent a while exploring Pluto TV’s live TV guide interface, which can be a bit choppy on older, underpowered streaming devices and smart TVs, but had no issues here.

Meanwhile, the Streaming Stick 4K didn’t seem to break a sweat when we connected it to our LG OLED TV and queued up some 4K Dolby Vision content on Disney+.

In short, the consistent performance and upgrades like more robust HDR support, are a welcome sight on such a compact and affordable device.

Performance Benchmarks

Of course, when a company touts new hardware and improved performance, we have to put those claims to the test. Around here, we measure performance by loading a series of streaming apps and timing how quickly the device can load each one. So we ran the Streaming Stick 4K through our 10-stage test three times and then averaged the results to compare them against other hardware.

It’s important to note, however, that Roku OS 10.5 was not yet available on all our Roku units during our testing phase. Once the update is loaded up on more of our gear, we’re aiming to run various devices through our tests for a more apples-to-apples comparison.

For now, though, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K does indeed outpace the outgoing Streaming Stick+, turning in an impressive overall time of 81.01. That compares to the Streaming Stick+’s time of 96.46 running on OS 10, which comes out to a 16 percent speed improvement for the newer model.

Against the top-end Ultra, the Streaming Stick 4K can’t quite keep — although that’s not all the shocking. The Ultra regularly retails for twice the price, and its overall time of 64.33 keeps it at the top of Roku’s current lineup in terms of performance.

Even so, it’s still pretty clear the Streaming Stick 4K is capable of some impressive loading times, especially considering its $49.99 price tag.

Wrapping It All Up…

In our time with the Streaming Stick 4K, we discovered that Roku has another solid option in its arsenal. That lineup currently ranges from the 1080p Roku Express at $29.99 on up to that $99.99 Roku Ultra. Right in the middle of that price range is where you’ll find this newest entry, the Streaming Stick 4K. And it’s safe to say Roku has a winner on its hands.

The Streaming Stick 4K offers up noticeable performance improvements compared to the Streaming Stick+ it’s replacing and you get a more robust feature set as well. That’s especially attractive for anyone looking for more advanced HDR standards like Dolby Vision and HDR10+.

The $50 price point is a competitive arena among streaming devices. And while we still need to test Amazon’s latest entry, the $54.99 Fire TV Stick 4K Max, we think it’s safe to say Roku’s offering a compelling option here.

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K does indeed hit that ideal sweet spot and it’s a streaming device we can recommend to most any cord cutter out there.

You can check out more about the Roku Streaming Stick 4K here: