If you’ve recently cut the cord with your cable company, you’re likely in the market for a reliable streaming device. And if you’re considering the purchase of a Roku device, you’re already on the right track.
So which Roku is right for you?
As I covered in a recent review of the Roku Express, the entry-level streaming device has Clark Howard’s approval and is a steal at a retail price of $29.99.
It may be a perfect choice for most beginner streamers. But as you work your way down the menu of streaming options from Roku, you may have noticed that the Roku Premiere is available as a “step up” from the Express for $39.99.
The price difference ($10) is small enough to make streamers wonder if they’re better off spending the extra money for the upgrade, so I decided to provide some answers.
With a Roku Express already in my possession, I decided to purchase the Roku Premiere to conduct a hands-on comparison of the devices. This article required extensive couch-sitting, snacks and a whole lot of television consumption. It’s tough work, but I’m glad to do it for you.
First, I must give you a spoiler: Many of the basic features that applied to my Roku Express review also applied to the Roku Premiere. I’d highly recommend checking that one out.
In this article, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what I noticed was mostly the same between the two devices, and then spend some time breaking down the main differences.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if the potential upgrades are worth the extra $10 investment from there.
Roku Express vs. Roku Premiere: More Alike Than They Are Different
Let’s get this out of the way: When I sat down to really compare these two devices side-by-side, I realized that many of the cool features I enjoyed on my Roku Express were also prominent features on the Roku Premiere.
The look-and-feel of the devices are nearly identical. The setup process and user interfaces are the same. Even the remotes are hard to differentiate, with the color scheme, size and feel mirroring one another.
Both feature what Roku refers to as the “simple remote.” My Express remote is on the left with the new Premiere remote on the right:
Upon review of both devices, I’ve compiled a list of important features that check off as “the same” between my Roku Express and the Roku Premiere.
- HDMI connection: Both are going to need an available HDMI port on your television in order to connect. The good news is that both also come with a HDMI cord in the box.
- Access to thousands of popular channels: With the exception of 4K material, which we’ll cover later in the article, both devices should offer access to all your favorite live streaming channels (YouTube TV, Sling, etc.) and popular streaming services (Netflix, HBO GO, etc.). I most often used YouTube TV while test-driving the devices, and I could not discern a difference in that product from one version of the Roku to another. The user experience was the same.
- Roku app: No matter which device you choose, it is worth downloading the free Roku app on your phone. There are some useful features, including the ability to use your phone as a remote control, voice search device or as a private listening device for when you have the television on and don’t want to disturb others.
- Hotel and dorm connection: You’ll be safe to bring either of these devices on the road with you. Both come with the ability work around those pesky public Wi-Fi logins that often serve as streaming device roadblocks. More details on how this works here.
Your mileage may vary based on some of the apps and channels that you download, but I have a feeling most of this will translate for those of you who already have an Express and are considering an upgrade.
At this point you might be wondering: “Are there any differences at all?” Well, I’m glad you asked!
3 Features Roku Premiere Has That Roku Express Does Not
As evidenced by this Roku Premiere explanatory video, the major marketing pitch for this version of the Roku is the ability to stream in 4K and HDR:
Given that, it’s easy to see that Roku is trying to take the popular Express model and create a slightly more premium viewing experience without pricing too many basic streaming customers out.
That means the differences may be a little hard to identify on the surface. Here are three that you should take note of as you make your purchase decision:
1. Roku Premiere Offers Streaming in 4K Ultra HD and HDR
If you own a 4K television and want to get the best picture possible from your streaming device, the decision to upgrade from the Roku Express to the Roku Premiere likely is a no-brainer.
The Express offers only HD streaming, and the Premiere is the cheapest Roku device that has both 4K Ultra HD and HDR capabilities.
Think of it this way: If you’re going to purchase this streaming device as a three-year investment for your television watching experience, you’re paying approximately an additional 28 cents per month to enjoy the enhanced screen resolution capabilities that you paid for when you purchased a 4K television.
The Roku Premiere also supports televisions that optimize in 1080p HD, so if you do not own a 4K television you’re likely still streaming at the best resolution possible from your HD television.
Also, you don’t have to worry about tweaking settings if you do not have 4K capabilities. I installed the Roku Premiere on my non-4K television and it automatically detected my optimal resolution during the setup process.
2. Roku Premiere Has A Quad-Core Processor
Without getting too “techie,” the basic difference here is that the Premiere is set up for better, faster performance than the Express due to a better quality processor.
For those of you wanting a little more explanation on this one, a quad-core processor is a chip that has four independent units used to process and execute data through the CPU system.
Generally speaking, having more of these units to process tasks on the Roku should improve overall performance.
Yes, that little box you aim your remote at is actually a miniature computer. And, yes, I did find that this made a difference in user experience.
When moving from screen to screen, I experienced a bit better performance from the Premiere that I was used to with my Express.
Those extra milliseconds probably don’t seem like much in the moment, but just like upgrading a phone, computer or tablet, those little chunks of time-saving all add up when measuring the overall user experience.
Editor’s note: The Roku website indicates that a newer version of the Express soon will have a quad-core processor as well, so this will only be a Premiere advantage for a limited time. To my knowledge, those are not yet available for sale (Roku is taking preorders). The Express on the market now and the one you may have purchased in the past does not have this feature.
3. Roku Premiere Has “4K Spotlight”
Jumping back into the 4K discussion a little bit, one of the things I noticed while browsing through the Roku Premiere was the prominence of a homepage tile titled “4K Spotlight.” This one is not available on my Roku Express.
I spent a little time looking through this, and it appears to be a handy centralized place to find all of the content that you may be able to watch while utilizing the 4K capabilities on your television.
It breaks down by categories: 4K Movies, 4K TV, 4K Video and Channels. Each category offered shortcuts to content from various Roku-approved providers (some subscription or one-time fee, others completely free).
Many people don’t even know that some of their favorite shows or movies are available in 4K, so I could see this being a really handy way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your 4K television.
Final Thoughts on Purchasing Roku Premiere
I’m a fan of the Roku streaming products, so it was no surprise to me that I very much enjoyed the test drive I took on the Roku Premiere. It offered a familiar feel to all of my favorite streaming options and delivered the reliability and simplicity I’ve come to expect from the Roku Express.
But, honestly, it seemed too similar to the Express to feel like I was getting an upgrade in a lot of areas. That’s not a knock on the Premiere as much as it is a compliment to the quality of the Express at a $29.99 retail price point.
So my recommendation is actually pretty simple on this one:
If you have a 4K television, it is worth the bump from $29.99 to $39.99 to enjoy the increased resolution quality when available.
If you do not have a 4K television, I believe you will get most of your basic streaming needs from the Roku Express at $29.99. No upgrade needed.
If you were hoping to find some of Roku’s elite features like voice-activated remotes, gaming buttons on the remote, a remote finder, or MicroSD and USB ports, you’re going to have to pony up for the higher-end Roku Ultra streaming device. That one retails for $99.99.