Roku is a name synonymous with smart TV software, whether that software comes built into the television itself, or as an extra dongle or box. The Streaming Stick+ is currently Roku's top-of-line smart stick, offering support for 4K and HDR video in compatible apps.
It's double the price but much more advanced than the Roku Express, a budget option you might want to consider if you don't need 4K video or voice control (note that the wireless range is shorter, and the Wi-Fi speed is slower on the budget Roku Express model as well).
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You can buy the Roku Streaming Stick+ direct from Roku now for £59.99, though you might be able to find it for cheaper online if you're prepared to do some shopping around. It plugs in to bring all the smarts that Roku offers to any television set with an HDMI port.
In terms of software, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is the same as any other Roku device, whether that's a dongle or TV. Via various apps (or "channels" as Roku calls them), you can access hundreds of thousands of movies and shows, as well as other kinds of content.
Roku Streaming Stick+: setup and design
The Roku Streaming Stick+ isn't difficult to install at all: you get the stick itself and a voice remote in the box, as well as a USB cable and a power adapter. If your TV doesn't have a spare USB port with power going to it, you'll need to connect the adapter and plug the Roku Streaming Stick+ to the mains.
Of course if your TV does have a USB port, it's already likely to have some decent smart TV software on it – which means if you're buying a Roku you're probably using it with an older TV, and that means connecting it to mains power. The cable included in the box is fairly generous, but considering the size of modern-day TVs, we reckon some of you might need another extension.
Power supply aside, the stick itself plugs straight into a spare HDMI slot, and once you've connected it to your Wi-Fi will be ready to go. One nice touch is the way it can automatically detect the best settings for your TV, so you don't have to waste time navigating through configuration screens.
Both the Streaming Stick+ and the voice remote are chunky but tidy in their design – the Roku remote is very recognizable, with that purple D-pad and dedicated buttons for services like Netflix (which we think is a bit limiting, but there you go). The soft rubberised buttons are certainly easy to find in the dark, and the remote can also control your TV volume directly, which helps.
You can also install the free Roku app for Android or iOS and control the Roku Streaming Stick+ from your smartphone as well (plus beam videos, audio or photos from your phone to your stick, if you need to)– it helps a lot when you need to enter text or digits, and it's an example of one of the many neat touches that come along with Roku devices to make them easier and more intuitive to use.
We've certainly got no complaints when it comes to the design of the hardware or the ease with which you can set it up. The Roku Streaming Stick+ will check for a software update as soon as it's awake, and after that's taken care of, you're ready to go.
Roku Streaming Stick+: software and features
Roku devices are never going to win any awards for the aesthetic quality of their interfaces – this is no Apple TV – but the software on board the Roku Streaming Stick+ does the job well enough. Your channels (or apps) are neatly arranged in a grid system, and switching between them and getting around the menus is a breeze.
One area where the Roku software really does excel is in search: type out the name of a movie or a TV show you're looking for, and you'll see results across all your installed channels. We also like the way you can "subscribe" to TV shows and get updates when new episodes are available to stream or buy.
In most cases signing into your accounts is straightforward – some channels ask you to open the matching app on your phone to sign in so you don't need to type out your username and password each time. Most channels we tried (including Netflix and Google Play Movies & TV) were also able to sync playback across the Roku Streaming Stick+ and other devices, so you can (for example) start watching on your phone and continue on your TV.
In general, the Roku software just gets out of the way so you can get to your content, which is what you want. Channels are stable and responsive, and so is the video they're showing (or audio they're playing). The remote gives you just enough functionality to be useful without being cluttered, and the voice search is perfectly usable for those times when you don't want to type with a software keyboard.
In apps that support 4K and HDR, such as Netflix, picture quality is excellent – though of course that depends on your television set as well as the Roku Streaming Stick+. We tried watching shows from Amazon Prime Video and Netflix in 4K HDR, and the quality was as good as from any other UHD source – and perfectly stable too.
The settings on board the Roku Streaming Stick+ are mercifully few: you get a handful of basic themes and screensavers to choose from, a small number of audio and video options, and that's about it. The device itself takes care of most of the configuration, so you can just get on with binge watching.
Roku Streaming Stick+: content
Just about any kind of streaming app you can think of is available on the Roku Streaming Stick+ – the choice of content is one of the biggest selling points of any Roku device. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Plex, Spotify, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Now TV, Deezer and much more.
All the main terrestrial channels in the UK are covered, so you can catch up on programmes from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. These apps work very much like the apps you'd get on your phone or laptop, and again you can resume playback across different devices using the same account. There's also a UK TV Play app that covers Freeview channels like Dave and Yesterday.
There are no channels for the likes of Virgin Media, Sky or BT, but presumably if you've got a subscription to these services then you've already got the relevant box connected to your television set. Now TV is available, though that uses a separate subscription to Sky (in fact the Now TV boxes are modified Roku devices). Sky News is available as a free channel.
One omission is YouTube Music, which launched in 2015, although you can get at your music playlists through the YouTube app if you need to. This not being an Apple device, you can't get anything from the iTunes Store either, but for just about everything else, you should be able to find it on the Roku Streaming Stick+.
Aside from the big name streaming channels, there's plenty more to explore too. Free channels from Bloomberg, the Financial Times and Red Bull, for example, plus a whole host of extra channels of more dubious quality. Let's put it this way: you're never going to run out of stuff to watch.
You even get a handful of games and extra apps such as the Firefox web browser to play around with. Again the quality of these can be a little hit and miss, but it shows off the versatility of the Roku Streaming Stick+.
Roku Streaming Stick+: verdict
If you want to add a selection of smart apps to your TV you've got plenty of options to pick from, but the Roku Streaming Stick+ still manages to stand out: for the sheer selection of apps (channels) you can access, for its ease of use, and of course for its price, which is in Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick territory.
It's a one-stop shop for all your TV's streaming needs and it means you might be able to get away with not having a box under your set instead. Even if you've already got smart apps built into your TV, the features and functions (like universal search) that come with the Roku Streaming Stick+ make it well worth considering.