Simple and intuitive interface
Dolby Vision and HDR10+
No Ethernet option
No onboard storage
Like most Roku devices, the Streaming Stick 4K is meant to be a simple, no-nonsense way to get your favorite content on your TV. Well, there may be a bit of nonsense now (more on that later), but it's still the platform that does the best job of staying out of your way and letting you get to your favorites the fastest. The remote is snappy and responsive, the interface is pleasant and easy to use, and the price doesn't hurt, either.
The new Stick doesn't add a ton of the older Streaming Stick+, but it has the features, apps, and speed to be your primary streaming device—even if you have a very high-end 4K TV. The main drawback is the lack of wired internet (something you'll have to jump to the Roku Ultra to get) but with an MSRP of just $49.99 ($69.99 if you want the better "Voice Remote Pro"), this is clearly the best streaming device for the money right now.
About the Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021)
Here are the specs for the 2021 Roku Streaming Stick 4K as provided by Roku:
- Resolution: Up to 4K at 60 frames per second
- HDR: HDR10, HDR 10+, HLG, Dolby Vision
- Ports: HDMI 2.0b, USB for Power, Long-range Wi-Fi receiver (built-in)
- Connectivity: 802.11ac MIMO dual-band Wi-Fi
- Audio: DTS Digital Surround over HDMI, Dolby-encoded audio over HDMI (includes Dolby Atmos passthrough)
- Remote: Voice remote with streaming shortcuts, power, volume, mute (Voice Remote Pro only on Streaming Stick 4K+)
- Smart home support: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple AirPlay 2, Apple HomeKit
- Dimensions: 0.8 inches x 3.7 inches x 0.45 inches (W x H x D)
- Weight: 0.9 ounces
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is, as the name suggests, a "streaming stick" meaning its processor, memory, and radios are all built into a stick-like device that plugs into the back of your TV. This makes it ideal for cleanly installing behind wall-mounted TVs, though it will require a plug-in power supply if your TV doesn't offer USB power (a wall charger is included).
The main thing to be aware of here is the remote. The standard Streaming Stick 4K offers the standard Roku voice remote, which has a push-to-talk microphone button, 4 streaming shortcuts (they'll vary from retailer to retailer), buttons for controlling and navigating your content, as well as volume and remote buttons. This basic remote doesn't feature a headphone jack for wireless listening (you can still use the Roku app on your phone for this).
If you opt for the pricier Streaming Stick 4K+ you get the same streaming stick but bundled with Roku's newer Voice Remote Pro. The Voice Remote Pro typically costs $29.99 on its own (so you save $10 with the bundle) and works with a wide range of Roku devices (so you can add it to an existing one if you want). It adds a rechargeable battery, headphone jack, two programmable shortcut buttons you can customize, and hands-free listening so you can just say "Hey Roku where's my remote?" and it'll play a little chime—if it can hear you from in between the cushions. (You can also turn this off and use the chime with the Roku app.)
What we like
The same Roku interface: intuitive, easy-to-use, if a little hokey
Roku's interface has changed a lot over the years. It's gotten a healthy bit of polish, but there are also more ads, more content suggestions, and more useful extras like screensavers and Roku's free "Roku Channel" full of complimentary content. The core thesis behind Roku's approach to streaming apps hasn't changed though: hit the home button and you'll be brought right to a grid of your favorite apps, just like the app drawer on your phone.
It's simple, it works, and it's consistent. Though the home screens of most of Roku's competitors are flashier, they also almost universally opt to show you more splash screens for a bunch of new content you can dive right into. In nearly every case though, these are just ads for that platform's newest content, so to get to Netflix you'll first have to scroll past the latest episodes of whatever show Apple or Amazon is pushing. Sometimes it's nice to have a show suggested for you, but most of the time I know I want to go right to Netflix and not have to wade through a bunch of stuff to get there.
The remote is still the best in the game
Roku has always known how to make a great remote, and the newest one still has all the clicky, tactile buttons you know and love with a variety of shortcut buttons for your favorite streaming services. It's endlessly annoying that these shortcuts aren't all customizable by default, but you'll almost always have at least a Netflix button and one other service you may like. Our review model, for example, came with Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Apple TV+—most or all of which have become streaming staples.
The base remote doesn't have some of the best features in other Roku remotes, but you can upgrade to the Streaming Stick 4K+ for another $20 and get the Voice Remote Pro which does. The base remote still has a microphone button for easily using your voice to jump to apps or pull up specific content, as well as buttons for controlling your TV's volume and power (assuming your TV has a newer HDMI port).
If you want the absolute best streaming remote, though, you'll want the next step up. It has all the same features as the base remote, but it adds the headphone jack for wirelessly listening to whatever you're streaming, two customizable shortcut buttons, a rechargeable battery, and the all-important remote finder that will force the remote to make a sound when its misplaced.
The streaming is fast, stable, and supports just about everything
Even if your TV isn't quite ready to take advantage of it yet, 4K and HDR have fully arrived. Pretty much any new TV you buy will support both, and so does the Streaming Stick 4K+. The new stick can support 4K at up to 60 frames per second (matching just about every streaming service's peak output) as well as HDR in standard HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, and Dolby Vision.
Like other Roku streaming devices, it the Streaming Stick 4K pairs its video support with Dolby Atmos passthrough from supported services. The immersive surround format that adds a height dimension is becoming more common both on the software and hardware sides, with Dolby Atmos-ready soundbars becoming increasingly affordable.
Roku also features apps from every major player, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+ (including iTunes library support), Google's various movies apps, pretty much every music streaming service, and a litany of premium services like HBO Max, Showtime, Peacock, Paramount+, AMC+, and basically anything else with a "+" after its name. There's also Roku's free ad-supported Roku Channel, which offers some surprisingly good movies and shows without a subscription.
Delivering all this is the Streaming Stick 4K+'s 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi antenna, which is built into the USB power cable. Roku claims it's 2x faster than the previous Streaming Stick, though we were unable to verify its exact speed different and your results will depend entirely on your house's network. In our experience, it was more than fast enough to deliver 4K and HDR at high quality on Netflix, even when it was a few rooms away from the router.
What we don't like
The stick design doesn't allow for wired internet or storage
Though you won't necessarily need them, wired internet and room for additional storage are two major benefits of Roku's top-tier streaming device, the Roku Ultra. The Streaming Stick 4K+ doesn't support either, since its small size doesn't have room for ports like the larger Rokus.
The most notable omission is wired internet. If your home has weak Wi-Fi, or if you just prefer not having to worry about your streaming dipping in quality randomly, a wired connection can be super useful. I use my Ultra's wired connection even though it's right next to my router and should get great signal, since it provides a better experience and it's one less thing clogging up my network.
Built-in storage isn't as big of a deal, but if you watch a bunch of different apps the Roku will keep some of them saved so you can pull them up quickly. If you haven't used an app in awhile, Roku may need to re-download the channel. With the Ultra, you can just add more storage to fix this, but you can't on any of the Roku sticks.
The voice remote pro isn't standard
There aren't a lot of improvements between this year's Roku Streaming Stick 4K and last year's Streaming Stick+. Roku claims it boots up to 30% faster and has faster Wi-Fi, both of which are nice. The biggest addition is support for Dolby Vision and HDR10+, but even those are just higher-end types of HDR for TVs that support them. It's a better stick, for sure, but the improvements aren't massive if you already have a 4K-capable Roku.
Most of the benefits for Roku users this year come with the new remote, the Voice Remote Pro. As we've covered above, it's excellent, but it doesn't come with the new Streaming Stick 4K by default. For that, you'll need to get the Streaming Stick 4K+, which is the new Streaming Stick plus the new Voice Remote Pro. It's confusing—especially because this is replacing last year's Roku Streaming Stick+, which is 4K and HDR-ready but doesn't have any of the new features or the new remote.
Keep it simple: just get the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ or find a version without the "+" if you don't care about the new remote. If it doesn't say 4K in the name, it may still support 4K, but it won't be the 2021 version.
Should you buy it?
Absolutely—it's the best streaming device for the money right now
The Roku Ultra has been our favorite streaming device for awhile, because it combines everything we love about Roku—the simple interface, the clicky remote, the support for just about every app in full 4K and HDR—at a price that's still very reasonable. The Streaming Stick 4K takes most of what we love about the Ultra and shrinks it down to a size that fits behind your TV, which is critical if you have one that is wall-mounted.
The Streaming Stick 4K has an MSRP just under $50 and—at least in terms of what shows up on your screen—is basically the same as the $100 Ultra. The Ultra does have a few more features, like wired internet, but it's way more expensive. And if you opt for the Streaming Stick 4K+ (note the + there) you get the new Voice Remote Pro for just $20 more. That's still cheaper than the Ultra, even when it's on sale, and it gets you a better remote.
Compared to the non-Roku field, the Streaming Stick 4K+ is right in line with the new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max and Google's excellent Chromecast with Google TV in terms of price and features. They all have a voice-enabled remote with app shortcuts, support for 4K and HDR, and a price around $50-70. The Roku streaming Stick 4K+'s better remote is probably the biggest advantage for most people.
No matter how you slice it, the new Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ is the best Roku streaming stick yet, it's the best streaming stick for most people, and it's nearly the best Roku we've ever tested. There are a couple things that keep the Ultra in front in our mind, but for most people, this is the streaming device to buy.
Meet the testers
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
Managing Editor - Electronics@ryanwaniata
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2012. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
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