Saturday, January 28, 2017

Roku Express Review – Setup and Usability of the Streaming Player

Streaming tv has started to become very popular as many people are looking to cancel cable and dish subscriptions in favor of lower cost streaming tv which offers more freedom to watch what you want, when you want it. I had put it off for a long time, but recently I had a chance to try out the Roku player in combination with Netflix, and I was surprised at how many shows and movies were available.

I ended up getting the Roku Express which is very affordable at just $30 and allows you to stream tv shows and movies by connecting it to your wifi internet. The Roku offers many free channels as well as the option to view additional content and channels for a fee or monthly subscription.

First Impressions
Upon taking it out of the box, I was surprised how small the device is, which meaures about as big as a fun size candy bar. It plugs into the tv by HDMI cable and is powered by a USB cable that can be plugged into an outlet using the AC adapter, or into the tv itself using the USB for power. The cables included are rather short but I found they were long enough to set up the Roku in a good position near the base of the tv.

Once it is plugged in, the Roku must be connected to your wifi internet and then registered online either by computer or by phone. This was a bit time consuming and not as easy as it could be. Also, upon registering the Roku, they require a payment method such as credit card or PayPal. This was something that was not made clear before purchasing. It does not even mention anything on the box about having to enter a payment method.

Upon doing some research, apparently there are ways to get around having to enter in a credit card, but when I was setting it up, it did not have any option to skip this part, so I had to enter the credit card. I found out later, once you have an account and are logged in, you can remove the payment method. Still, this should have been optional upon setup. I understand they want to make it easy for people to be able to purchase content using the Roku, but many people may just want to use it for the free channels available.

During the setup, they will ask if you want to install channels such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. It was not clear if they were setting it up with an actual subscription or if they were just adding it to the Roku menu so I unchecked most of the options. I found out later, this is only for adding them to the menu, but it will not actually sign you up for paid services. It needs to be more clear especially considering they already have your payment information on file.

Another thing I noticed is the terms of service and privacy policy are not great. I looked them over and they collect a lot of personal information and data and are able to share it with 3rd parties so you do not have much privacy with the Roku.

Using the Roku Express
Once it was set up, I starting playing around with the settings and exploring the channels. It does have some ways to customize the menu and there are a fair amount of options available. For channels, there are hundreds available to choose from and you can add them to your main menu if you find some you like.

Most of the best channels have a monthly fee. Free channels usually have ads or commercials or they are just not very good. I noticed a lot of the free channels are basically like Youtube channels, which is ok, but to really make use the Roku to its full potential, you will probably want to get at least one of the paid services.

Navigation using the remote provided is pretty easy, but it would definitely help to have a keypad option when try to to search by name or title. There is also an option to link it to the Roku app with a phone, but I will probably just continue using the remote.

Also it seems there is no way to turn off the Roku Express. They mention that it is meant to stay on at all times and does not use much power. It will go to a screensaver after a certain amount of time. Still it would be nice to have an option to be able to turn it off.

Final Recommendation
So far it has been working pretty well and despite the some of the shortcomings mentioned above, it is still a great deal at the $30 price point to get streaming video for your tv. If you are looking for an affordable way to get a lot more content to watch on tv, I recommend trying out the Roku Express.

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