As a user of Roku devices since the very first one on the market, there is nothing I love more than a new version coming out, but the Roku 4 took so long to get here that you almost had to wonder if it was ever coming and we would just live with tweaks to the Roku 3 for the rest of our lives. It now that it is here, you have to take a step back and wonder if it was worth the wait. Has the long road to the Roku 4 been worth the wait for existing users? Is it something that new users should see as their jumping on point to the Roku way of life?
We're about to find out.
At long last, 4K – But at what cost?
With a name such as Roku 4 it seemed inevitable that this is where 4K would finally catch up with this family of streaming devices, and we were right. 4K is indeed here, and there is content, some of it even free, for you to enjoy. Of course, this is going to depend whether your Internet connection is up to snuff. As is easy to understand, lower broadband connections will have difficulty streaming 4K due to the amount of data involved, but those with higher plans – usually 10 Mbps or so and above – should be fine.
Even with free content, and services such as Amazon and Netflix offering up 4K versions of some movies, there is still a severe lack of content out there for this higher resolution. This is certainly not Roku's fault in the least, but it does bring into question the necessity of 4K TVs at this time, let alone a streaming device to connect to it. Roku seems to realize this and has made a special channel for the Roku 4 where you can find all of the currently available content. Even if you want to just show off the technology to a family member or friends, you are only a few clicks away from being able to do so.
While 4K is a necessary addition, it does appear to have come at a cost: The size of the Roku 4. The Roku 3 and its brethren have received a lot of love over the years for not only their performance, but also their discrete size. It was easy to mount one to the back of your television and never have to see it again, but the Roku 4 looks as though someone stepped on a Roku 3 and tried to see just how large of a puddle they could make. It is not ugly, but it is definitely leaving a bigger footprint than we have seen before, and if you were someone custom mounting a previous generation device you're going to need to take this into consideration.
Stepping up the hardware
Lets face it, Rokus in general have been nice, but their performance can be a tad sluggish at times. The company stepped up the Roku 4 by increasing the RAM from 512MB to 1.5GB as well as giving it a quad-core ARM processor. You can tell the difference almost immediately as you quickly and smoothly zip around the also improved Roku OS 7. While older Rokus certainly weren't snails in the speed department, you will definitely notice the increased responsiveness of the Roku 4.
For those that don't want any more cables in their life than absolutely necessary, the Roku 4 is also the first of the product line to offer support for 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi. While previous models have offered wireless Internet connectivity, it was upped this time around so you could successfully do it with 4K content as well.
What is a bit disappointing in the hardware department is that the company stuck with just 256MB of internal storage for apps. Roku is known for offering thousands of apps, and it's easy to quickly build up quite a collection of them, but if there are some you access infrequently, you will be greeted by a loading screen as the Roku clears some memory to add the chosen one back in. There is a microSD slot on the back for you to add more storage, which is nice, but it still seems odd that it doesn't come with more storage out of the box.
One fun new little feature is a dedicated button on the top of the Roku 4 that will now let you page your remote. Push the button and you will hear your remote play a specific sound or song until you find it. Quite handy with the way couches tend to swallow remotes.
Roku OS 7 is where it's at
Along with the Roku 4 came the release of the newest operating system from the company, Roku OS 7. The My Feed section is far more useful now letting you follow actors, movies, TV shows and so on. The voice search – accessed by the mic built into the remote – understood me on the first try at least 90 percent of the time and quickly showed me my results and it just feels snappier.
The biggest improvement, however, is for those of us who travel with a Roku. At long last there is a way to log into a hotel's Wi-Fi network. It will require your phone or computer to complete the operation, but it is a vast improvement from the days of having to bring a travel router with you or using some other workaround.
All of this being said, Roku OS 7 should not be considered a selling point of the Roku 4 because it is being delivered to the more recent older models. So, for now, you should be looking at the Roku 4 based merely on its hardware improvements and the addition of 4K streaming.
To Buy or Not to Buy
Suggesting whether or not you should purchase the Roku 4 is a tough call.
If you currently have a Roku, and no 4K TV, you can definitely wait until such time as you do have one of those sets.
If you are jumping into the world of Roku for the first time and don't have a 4K TV, I would still recommend picking up the Roku 4 as you will be future proofing yourself for when you may pick up one down the road.
And for those of you with a 4K TV and no dedicated streaming device yet, this is a must have. The Roku has been the best in class of streaming devices for years now, and the Roku 4 only improves things that much more.
In short, it is really going to be based on what equipment you already own or plan to purchase in the near future. About the only people we don't recommend it for is someone who has a Roku already and no 4K TV. Except for that sub-category of consumers, the Roku 4 is a must have device to enjoy all of the streaming options out there in the world.
Disclaimer: Roku sent us a review unit of the Roku 4. We used it as our primary streaming device for a week before beginning this review.
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