NEW YORK — Streaming sticks can be an attractive and unassuming addition to the living room, but they do tend to lack some processing power compared to their set-top box cousins. The new Roku Streaming Stick aims to address that concern with a quad-core processor and a mobile app that allows private listening without the need for an expensive remote control or Bluetooth headset.
I went hands-on with the new Roku Stick ($50, shipping in late April), and this new version is well timed. In our most recent tests, we've noticed that the original Roku Stick is starting to show its age, lagging considerably against competitors like the Google Chromecast and the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Roku representatives explained that the new stick makes use of a quad-core processor, which theoretically makes it more powerful than any other streaming stick on the market.
The new device is much like the old one, but much sleeker and faster. Rather than the purple, stubby stick of yore, the new Roku Stick is an elegant black rectangle that looks an awful lot like the Fire Stick. Like its predecessor, it can plug into either a USB port or an external power source, and will include adapters for both. Like its previous incarnation, the new Roku Stick maxes out at 1080p resolution.
From a software perspective, the Roku Stick will be pretty familiar to anyone who's used a Roku device in the last year or so. You boot it up, choose what you want to watch (there are more than 3,000 channels; Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video are all present and accounted for) and go from there.
The device comes with a remote control, or you can download an Android or iOS app if you can't be bothered to dig through the couch cushions. The interface is the same as always: a lean menu on the left-hand side, with customizable boxes on the right-hand side so you can access your favorite apps right away.
The OS has received a few updates to its search algorithms, as well as its movie and TV tracking features. For starters, the Roku's unified search now covers more than 30 services, including Netflix and Google Movies and TV. Furthermore, until recently, users could track only movie prices and availability over time. Now, the functionality will now apply to TV shows as well.
Another useful innovation is the ability to channel private listening through Roku's mobile app. While Roku 3 and 4 owners can simply plug headphones into their remote controls to watch a program with private audio, this feature has never been available to Stick owners before. Users simply need to open the app and tap a headphones icon to channel audio directly into their phones. From there, they can use whatever kind of wired or Bluetooth headsets they have handy. For the time being, at least, this feature is restricted to new Roku Streaming Sticks.
During my time with the Roku Streaming Stick, I navigated through a variety of menus and checked out programming on Netflix, Hulu and M-Go. Navigation was a breeze, and the stick seemed much more responsive than the Roku Stick from 2014. I was also impressed with how quickly it loaded apps. I went from searching for a show to watching it in Hulu within 15 seconds (although this will likely depend on a user's individual Wi-Fi).
Tom's Guide will have a full review for the Roku Stick soon. If you're already sold, pre-orders are available at Roku's website.