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Roku Streaming Stick review: The only streaming device you need

Roku’s first Streaming Stick has been the best streaming device around for some time. It’s inexpensive, unobtrusive, and packs Roku’s ginormous collection of streaming channels.

But it’s not perfect. Compared to rivals like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and the Apple TV, the Roku Stick is preposterously slow.

But Roku has introduced a new Streaming Stick for all of your Netflix and chilling needs. And it’s not only light years faster than its predecessor thanks to a quad-core processor, it’s also slimmer and features an updated smartphone app, too. Oh, and it’s still just $50.

In other words, the best streaming device just got better.

The stick

The new Roku Streaming Stick isn’t much to look at, because, well, there just isn’t much to it. The Stick is so small and slim it could easily pass as an abnormally large USB stick.

That’s all the more impressive when you consider that the original Roku Stick wasn’t very large to begin with. More than anything, the new Stick is far more streamlined. It measures just 3.3 x 0.8 x 0.5 inches. There are lipstick cases bigger than this thing. It’s actually kind of mind blowing that so much technology is packed into such a tiny gadget.

The old Stick’s cartoonish, bubbly purple design has been replaced with a more aggressive jet-black body that says, “I came here to kick ass and stream ‘Dora the Explorer’ for your two year old. And I’m almost out of episodes.”

There’s still a secondary USB cable you need to plug into the back of the Roku Stick to give it the power it needs to work. Depending on the kind of TV you have, you can plug the line into your TV’s available USB slot or just plug it into a wall outlet using the included power adapter.

The remote

The original Roku Stick’s remote was … well, chunky. But like the Stick itself, the remote’s size wasn’t much of an issue. It’s not as if you carried the remote around with you all day like your smartphone. At least I hope you didn’t.

This time around Roku has sliced off a good amount of the remote’s bulk, making the new one more comfortable to hold. It’s also lighter, which is important when you lose it in your bed and inevitably send it sailing across the room as you frantically flip the blankets over while trying to find it.

It’s also good to see that Roku has done away with the sad Blockbuster button on the remote and replaced it with a Google Play button. God knows the only people that ever pressed that button only did so by accident while trying to reach for the remote in the middle of the night.

The setup

Setting up the new Roku Stick is far faster than setting up the original Stick. After plugging the Stick into my TV and wall outlet, I connected to my Wi-Fi network, registered my Roku account and downloaded streaming channels in about 10 minutes.

After you’ve downloaded the channels you want to watch, you have to log in to each service. But with the new Stick’s faster quad-core processor, hunting and pecking for letters via Roku’s on-screen keyboard is easier since there’s no longer and lag when moving the cursor between letters.

Using the Roku Stick

Not much has changed in terms of Roku’s interface. You’ll still navigate the same menus and follow the same on-screen prompts, but there are two new features to look for.

My Feed TV Shows and My Feed Movies let you follow shows and movies that you like. When the shows are available via a certain streaming service or become available for free, you’ll receive an update from My Feed.

Beyond that, the biggest difference you’ll notice when using the new Roku Stick is how much faster it is. I’ve been using the original Stick for about a year and a half now, and every once in awhile it likes to play this little game where it decides to take forever to load Netflix or Hulu.

The new Stick, on the other hand, flies. Movies and shows load as soon as you select. Heck, even thumbnails pop up quickly, which means you no longer have to wait for pictures of your favorite movie and TV show logos to load so you know which episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” you’re up to.

The Stick does force some tradeoffs, though. Namely, it doesn’t support 4K video and doesn’t have any ports for optical audio or Ethernet connectivity.

But let’s face it, there isn’t enough 4K content out there to stream yet anyway. And chances are, if you’ve got an Ethernet connection in your home, you’ve also got Wi-Fi. As for folks interested in optical audio, well, I’ve got nothing for you.

The app

Roku’s updated app for iOS and Android brings along one major change that will make a lot of people happy: private listening mode. With more premium Roku devices like the Roku 3 and Roku 4, private listening is available by plugging your headphones into the included remote.

The Roku Stick’s remote doesn’t come with a headphone jack, but thanks to the updated Roku app you can get the same benefit using your smartphone. That said, listening mode only works with the new Stick for now.

I used the app to listen to “Bob’s Burgers” while in bed, and the show and what I heard synced up perfectly.

I bought my parents a Roku 4 for Christmas last year specifically for the private listening remote, because I didn’t want my dad to wake up my mom when he turns on the TV at night.

The bottom line

So to recap: The Roku Stick was already the best deal in streaming devices thanks to its enormous number of available streaming services ranging from Netflix and Hulu to Amazon Prime Video and Google Play Movies. And now it’s faster, has private listening mode via the free Roku app, and costs just $50.

Sure, the Amazon Fire Stick is $40, the Apple TV has a beautiful interface and slick remote, and Google’s Chromecast is just $35 and lets you cast shows from your smartphone to your TV, but the value proposition behind the Roku Stick is just too much to ignore.

In other words: The king is dead, long live the king!

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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