Google Chromecast vs. Roku Express: Which Streaming Device Is Best?

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Google-Chromecast-Roku-Express
Image Credit: Canva/Google Store/Roku

If you’re in the market for a value streaming device, chances are pretty good that the Google Chromecast and the Roku Express are products under serious consideration.

Both are incredibly popular devices for people who have cut the cord from their cable provider. However, the functionality of the two is actually quite a bit different. Due to this stark contrast in user experience, it is important that you know what you’re getting yourself into before making a purchase.

In this article, Team Clark will help guide you through understanding the intricacies of each device so that you can make an informed purchasing decision. For the purposes of this review, I purchased both the Google Chromecast and the Roku Express and set them up as streaming devices on my home television. I hope that some of the experiences I’m able to share will help you with your decision.

Table of Contents

Google Chromecast vs. Roku Express: What Are They and How Much Do They Cost?

First, let’s start with the basics on what these devices can do and the level of investment they require.

Roku Express is the cheapest offering in a growing list of Roku television streaming devices. As of November 2019, it carried a regular retail price of $29.99, but could periodically be found on sale at Roku.com and other retailers for $24.99. If you’re going to buy this one, keep your eyes open for the lower price to pop up in a sale.

This device comes with a remote, HDMI cord and mountable receiver that replicates a more traditional television viewing experience.

Google Chromecast, on the other hand, has positioned itself as more than a television streaming experience. While the device — which is priced at $35 in the Google Store — is capable of TV streaming, it is actually primarily designed to cast images and videos from one device to another. In other words, you can plug the Chromecast into your television via an HDMI port and wirelessly share the screen of a phone, tablet or computer to the television.

As you can see here, the packaging for the Chromecast contains simple plug-and-go device:

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In order to cast a screen from your device to the Chromecast, you will need to download the Google Home app. This is free, and instructions for getting it all set up are included in the packaging underneath the device.

Chromecast can be used with compatible streaming apps for television consumption, but the casting capabilities may have added benefits in work or social settings.

Differences Between Google Chromecast and Roku Express 

Casting External Screen vs. Internal App Downloads

As we touched on above, the Google Chromecast and Roku Express have different methods for delivering content to your television. For streaming purposes, that’s going to make the user experience quite a bit different. Let me explain my experience.

Using the Chromecast, I was required to have all of my desired streaming services downloaded as apps on my phone or tablet. From there, I would cast the screen from that device to my Chromecast, which would send the mirrored images and sounds to my television.

Meanwhile, on the Roku Express, I used a remote control to go through the Roku’s native interface on my television screen. From there, I downloaded the apps for each of my preferred streaming services. I would say this experience is much closer to your typical “point and click” television experience that you may be used to from cable or satellite.

Phone Control vs. Remote Control

The Google Chromecast is controlled through the Google Home app on your phone, not a remote control. Roku Express, meanwhile, comes standard with a remote control in the package. It is important to note that you do not need a Google Home device to use the Google Home app.

The Chromecast will be casting through your personal device, so you’ll need access to your streaming services through that device to control the content.

In my experience, that was a bit complicated for things like letting my children watch their favorite shows. Any time they wanted to make a change to the programming, pause for a bathroom break or the like, it required the use of my phone.

With the Roku’s remote, they’re able to control those things without access to another device. I didn’t have guests over during this test run, but I did wonder about how I might offer them the ability to change the programming without handing over my phone or asking them to download apps to access my Chromecast.

Personally, I preferred the comfort and feel of Roku’s remote for a more traditional television viewing experience. It was nice to not have to worry about the battery charge on my phone to watch TV. However, if you are someone who frequently loses your remote in the couch cushions or underneath a pile of laundry, I can see how not having to fuss with a remote could be a perk.

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Similarities Between Google Chromecast and Roku Express 

Now that we’ve covered the areas where you will find differences between the two, it’s important to note that there is quite a bit of common ground here, as well. Here are some of the things that you’ll find are the same with the devices:

  • HDMI port and outlet access required: Both of these devices are going to require an open HDMI port on your television and access to a power source.
  • Can stream most popular streaming services: Do you use Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube TV or one of the growing number of streaming services? No problem. Both of these devices are compatible with those.
  • Can connect to smart home devices: Chromecast is required to connect to the Google Home app, which easily connects to the actual Google Home and other smart devices. While not required for use, you can download Roku’s app for compatibility with smart devices.
  • Both are portable for travel: It only requires an extra nook or cranny in your suitcase to bring either of these devices with you on a trip. The slight advantage on portability goes to the Chromecast due to the lack of a remote, but it’s worth noting that you also could download the Roku app and use it in place of your remote if packing space is an issue.

Areas Google Chromecast Is Better Than Roku Express

Here are a couple of areas where the Google Chromecast is superior to the Roku Express:

1. Voice Commands

There are some advantages to using your phone as a remote. Once you have the Google Home app added to your phone, you can use the voice command functionality on your phone to your advantage with the Chromecast.

For example, I was able to pick up my phone and say: “Hey Google, play music from the Foo Fighters on Spotify on my Chromecast” and the music would begin to play on my television. Likewise, you could command it to start an episode of The Office via your Netflix account, for instance.

While you can get a voice remote with some of the more expensive Roku devices, the Roku Express does not have voice command capabilities on its remote.

2. Casting a Phone or Computer Screen to a Television Screen

Chromecast is the answer if you want to quickly show something — like a viral video or work presentation — to a room full of people all at once. As long as your device and the Chromecast are connected to Wi-Fi, you should be able to simply click to cast your device’s screen to the Chromecast and it will mirror in real time.

While this is handy, it should also come with a warning: People will be able to see all of your screen when casting, for better or worse. You’ll want to make sure that any personal or sensitive information is off your device’s screen prior to casting while others are present.

Areas Roku Express Is Better Than Google Chromecast

Here are a couple of areas in which the Roku Express is superior to the Google Chromecast:

1. Creating a Traditional Television Viewing Experience

If your household enjoys the ability to pass the remote around the living room, you’re probably going to prefer the “point and click” experience through Roku and its apps. While Roku does have a phone app that adds some additional functionality to the Roku Express, your phone is not required to use it. You can safely leave the phone on the charger or in the other room while enjoying television with your Roku.

2. A Library of Free Streaming Content

One of the perks of having a Roku device is the easy access to free streaming content through Roku’s “Free Featured” section. That includes a channel produced by Roku itself, as well as a library of curated free content. While you can access free content through either device, I found it convenient to have quick access to series, movies and live channels all in one space.

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Final Thoughts on Google Chromecast vs. Roku Express

As you’re considering which streaming device to purchase, here’s a quick look at some of the pros and cons I observed for each:

Google Chromecast: Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Casting phone, computer and tablet screens No remote control
Portability for travel Sensitive material can be seen by others
Control it all from your phone Phone app required for usage

Roku Express: Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Lower base price No remote voice commands
Easy to find free content Limited remote capabilities
User-friendly interface No 4K streaming

Bottom Line: Roku Express is going to offer a cheaper price and a more traditional television viewing experience through its remote and user interface.

Google Chromecast is going to offer a few more bells and whistles, including the ability to easily cast a screen from any device in your house in an instant.

I think there is a compelling case for both of these devices in a household because they function so differently. But if I’m choosing just one for my primary television streaming device, I give the slight edge to the Roku Express.

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