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Roku's new Streaming Stick is smaller, speedier, and as slick as ever

It’s hard to believe the original Roku Streaming stick was introduced more than two years ago. Time flies when you’re binge-watching Netflix! But here we are, and it’s about time the Roku Stick got an update. With competition from the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Google’s Chromecast heating things up, Roku needed to step up its game a little. But where do you go when you already have one of the best little media streamers on the market?

Well, in the electronics world, you make it faster, sleeker, and cleverer. And that’s what Roku has done. There wasn’t a ton of room for Roku’s Streaming Stick to grow – in fact, physically growing would be a step in the wrong direction – but it did grow up a little. This little stick is quick, and it’s got some fun features you won’t find elsewhere.

In short: Unless you need 4K, external storage, or the ability to play media off a USB thumb drive, the $50 Roku Streaming Stick is a no-brainer, must-own device for the serious streamer.

The beauty of the Roku Streaming Stick is in its simplicity. Therefore, there’s not a ton in the simple, green packaging the device comes in. When you lift the box lid, however, you will be surprised by the Roku Streaming Stick’s waifish profile. It’s much more slender than before, albeit a touch longer. The stick is also matte black rather than purple now, which makes it look a little less cartoonish.

The included remote control has also been slimmed down, and transitioned from glossy to matte black. On the down side, the remote still wobbles around on flat, hard surfaces (an annoyance for this reviewer) but on the plus side, Roku wised up and placed the ‘OK’ button back in the center of the directional pad, making it feel much more familiar to pretty much every other remote control in your house.

We had hoped Roku would lengthen the USB power cable for this iteration, but the company decided to keep it to about 6 feet, and put a right angle on the micro-USB end. The shorter cord works well for connecting the device to a TV’s USB port, but not so well for reaching a power outlet with the included wall adapter.

We also wish Roku included an HDMI extension dongle. This is something Amazon and Chromecast get right. The Streaming Stick barely fit in a Vizio M-Series TV due to the TV’s HDMI port placement and the cabinetry around them. Fortunately, we had an extra one laying around.

Roku claims its new stick has more processing power than any other pocket-sized streamer, and we’re inclined to agree. The previous Roku streaming stick had a single-core processor, but the new stick sports a quad-core – just like the Roku 4 — and the performance differences are apparent. The small stick also packs an 802.11 a/b/g/n dual-band antenna.

What you don’t get is 4K resolution, expandable storage, an Ethernet connection, or the ability to play media stored on USB drives.

Perhaps the most notable new feature for the Roku Streaming Stick is its ability to stream audio to the Roku app installed on any iOS or Android smartphone connected to the same network. While the larger Roku 4 and Roku 3 boxes are able to stream analog audio to their remotes, the Roku stick isn’t capable of doing the same. Some may see the streaming to a smartphone as a workaround of some sort, but as far as we’re concerned, it’s far better. There’s no lag, and sound quality is far better. Plus, a smart phone’s battery is far better at handling the task than the two AAA batteries used in Roku’s remote controls, which die pretty quickly with extended headphone listening.

Given the Roku Streaming stick now sports a quad-core processor, it stands to reason it would be quick. But we were still surprised at just how fast the device is. It actually feels faster than our Roku 4, and seems snappier than our Amazon Fire TV stick.

Powering the stick off of a wall outlet or a constant-power USB port on a TV is ideal, but those who must connect it to a USB port that loses power with the TV is shut down will be pleased to know the new Streaming Stick boots up in 27 seconds, about three times faster than the first-gen stick. Loading apps is also a very quick affair – we clocked Netflix opening in just over 5 seconds in most cases.

Along with the increased performance, the new Roku Streaming Stick is fully capable of taking advantage of everything Roku’s app has to offer, including voice search, keyboard text entry, and managing favorites and feeds.

In short, the Roku Streaming Stick delivers best-in-class performance, and leaves very little to be desired.

Roku’s new Streaming Stick delivers an outstanding experience. It’s the snappy click-and-go device we think everyone expects, but somehow packed into a little stick no larger than a small pack of gum. And, as previously mentioned, Roku’s platform simply beats the competition because it doesn’t play favorites with different streaming services, and it provides the most comprehensive search feature available. Virtually anyone can grab a remote and get running in short order – even grandma.

We’d like to see have seen 4K resolution come to a streaming stick, but for now that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Perhaps next year? Otherwise, we’re seriously short on complaints, which makes rating the Roku Streaming Stick a 4.5/5 and offering it our Editor’s Choice award an easy decision.

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