I started testing gadgets back in the dark ages.
In 2005, I remember hearing rumors that television itself — that box in the corner connected to a cable — might actually “go digital” and allow you to watch shows and movies over the Internet.
This was no coincidence, since that was the year most of us first heard about YouTube and maybe even watched a video or two. This was many years away from the first streaming devices we all know and use these days from companies like Google and Roku. I remember a few milestones along the way, including a very unusual device called the MSN TV. These were early days when most people used antennas or cable, but since I’ve been working as a journalist since 2001, I’ve tested most of them and multiple times over the years.
I recently tested the Roku Express 2022 again after using it several times when it first launched in 2016. It’s due for an update soon, but the reason I like it so much right now is that it has improved with time as more and more free television offerings have become available. We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of channels on services like Pluto TV and Tubi but also just a wide selection of free sports channels, movies, and everything in between — some through Roku itself.
The Roku Express seems tailor made for this revolution in free television, as opposed to the higher end products and even the Google Chromecast devices that are a little more geared for paid streaming apps like Netflix. With the Roku Express, you can install all of those apps and watch premium shows and movies, but I like how the $30 device can become a low-cost media streamer right out of the box, and that you don’t even have to install any paid apps.
I did exactly that in a spare bedroom where I know people from my family might sleep overnight when they visit. Because we’re now all aware of how companies like Netflix have locked down their accounts and made it harder to share access, it’s nice to know that the Express won’t bump me off of my Netflix account (which is running on at least two televisions in different rooms right now, plus on my tablets and phone). I don’t know if it would — we’re all on the same Wi-Fi network — but I don’t really want to think about it anyway. I prefer having a streaming device that’s so low-cost that I can just have it running in a spare room without any access to my paid apps.
The Express is small and light enough to stash behind a television, but you do need to connect it to a USB port for power. I have an older Samsung television in the spare room without a USB port, so I had to find an outlet adapter for the USB cable (that’s one minor issue — I wish they had included one). Not a big deal. I was up and running in only 10 minutes, since I didn’t register any of my paid media streaming apps. In another few minutes, I was searching for free shows and movies.
I like the remote, too. It’s been updated to show more recent popular apps with dedicated buttons like Disney+ and the Paramount app.
As my favorite device for free shows, the Express is affordable and easy to use. The install was fast and painless. Now for the gotchas. The Express doesn’t support voice control like the Amazon Fire products in this price range, like the Amazon Fire Stick Lite for $30. It was a tad slow.
But hear me out. The Amazon products are made for those who already pay for Amazon Prime, and that’s an added expense. The Google Chromecast products are arguably faster and support voice control through the Google Assistant, but are not as heavily geared for free content. I like how the Express is a good fit for my spare bedroom — and all of those free shows and movies.
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