Trying to find the best cheap streaming devices is much harder than it should be. That's because Amazon loves to flood the market with its low-end Fire TV sticks, which we still think lean too much on promoting Amazon stuff and take up most of your home screen with ads.
On top of that, Roku's got plenty of $50 and up options including the best streaming device overall, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, while Apple is trying to tempt people to spend $179 for the Apple TV 4K.
Meanwhile, the rising cost of Netflix and the increasing number of competitors for the title of best streaming service have people canceling streaming service subscriptions left and right. It's all enough to make many people wish their TV was their streaming device, to save some cash.
But if you didn't buy a Roku TV or Fire TV, you're probably missing some apps (my LG TV is missing HBO Max, frustratingly enough). And so I thought this was a good time (thanks to the ever-increasing inflation and the aforementioned surplus of streaming services) to issue a recommendation on the best budget streaming device. Because you don't need to spend $50 to get a streaming device that does most of what everyone needs — and you can actually save even more right now.
The Roku Express 4K Plus is the best cheap streaming device
While some of the best smart TVs have all the apps, you may not own one. So, simply put, I direct you to the Roku Express 4K Plus, which has everything you probably need and none of what we hate. First off, as its name suggests, this device offers Ultra HD 4K streaming, which is the primary thing most people are looking for.
Whether you've recently invested in one of the best 4K TVs or plan to in the future, you want a streaming device that will match your TV's resolution. Especially for all the 4K Star Wars and Marvel movies on Disney Plus, which doesn't charge extra (unlike Netflix).
Roku Express 4K Plus (2021): was $39 now $28 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The Roku Express 4K Plus is a wireless 4K streaming device with sharp resolution and rich colors. It loads fast, and you can use voice control to search for shows or channels. The remote is a good upgrade too. This current deal brings the excellent streamer down to $29 at Amazon.
On top of that, you get the best interface on any streaming device that doesn't cost $179. The Roku home screen is blissfully minimal, with big buttons for apps taking up the majority of the screen, and apps getting smaller portions of the screen than on Fire TV.
Oh, and the Roku Express 4K Plus upgrades its predecessor (the Roku Premiere) in two key ways. First off, it's faster: you'll see less load time for apps and everything just looks snappy. Secondly, and more importantly: the Roku Express 4K Plus ditches the Premiere's IR-based remote for a network-based Roku Voice Remote. This means you don't need a clear line of sight to the Roku Ultra to control the device.
Does the Roku Express 4K Plus have any flaws?
If I had to name the one audience who should spend a little more, it's the crowd that cares about the Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos standards. Those folks will want to pony up around $40 for the Roku Premiere 4K (currently $31 at Amazon (opens in new tab)).
Those folks know who they are. They know that there are certain picture and audio quality standards out there, and they want their streaming devices automatically calibrated.
And the Roku Express 4K Plus is on sale right now...
And, wouldn't you know it, Amazon has the Roku Express 4K Plus for $11 off right now, at $28 (opens in new tab). This is our favorite kind of sale, when a cheap purchase gets even cheaper.
This $29 price is a huge opportunity to take advantage of because the $29 Fire TV Stick Lite has no 4K and is limited to just 1080p. Same goes for the Roku Express (now $24). They're OK for what they are, but buying a 4K streaming device in 2022 is like buying a LaserDisc player in 2012.
So, everyone who's been waiting to buy a new streaming device, but doesn't want to spend a lot? The Roku Express 4K Plus may be a mouthful of a product name, but it's the best for your bottom line. 4K streaming at under $30? Don't wait for this deal to disappear.