Plenty of apps (aka channels) to choose from • Slim design • Prime Video and YouTube apps included
Base IR remote on the Premiere • Limited voice controls • No Dolby Vision support
The Roku Premiere+ is a solid media-streaming box, but it’s outshined by the robust voice-assistant controls built into its competitors.
The Roku Premiere and Premiere+ are nearly identical 4K streaming devices. The one major difference is that the Premiere+ comes with a microphone-equipped wireless remote control (and it’s also only sold at Walmart). At $39.99 and $49.99 respectively, the Premiere and Premiere+ are poised to compete directly with the similarly priced, Mashable Choice-winning Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.
Does Roku still have a place in this Amazon-dominated world? Let’s find out.
What’s the difference?
The base Premiere does come with a remote, but it’s much simpler than the one on the Premiere+. It uses IR technology and will only control the Roku itself. The extra $10 you’ll pay for the higher-end model gets you a remote that uses IR and Bluetooth. Plus, it can control your TV’s power and volume with dedicated buttons, and doesn’t require line-of-sight to your TV. To me, spending the extra cash for those advanced controls is a no-brainer.
A teeny-tiny design
Although the diminutive design may have you thinking these are streaming sticks, they are in fact more feature-packed streaming boxes. They have an HDMI port, a micro USB port, an LED light, and several sensors. Inside you’ll find a processor, connectivity, and plenty of other hardware. At 0.7 x 3.4 x 1.4 inches (HxWxD) and 1.3 ounces, they are, as mentioned, small and light. They’re slightly smaller than the Fire TV Stick 4K’s remote.
Since the Rokus aren’t sticks, you can’t just plug them into the back of the TV and be done. On the Premiere, you’ll need line of sight from the streaming box to the remote. After all, it’s using an infrared (IR) blaster to communicate. Luckily, a strip of adhesive is included in the box, which you can use to stick the Premiere to the bottom or top of a TV.
A micro USB power cable, an HDMI cable, and a power plug are included in the box as well. In other words, you have everything you need in the box to get set up. As entry-level boxes, neither the Premiere nor Premiere+ has ports for enhanced audio or Ethernet.
No dual-band WiFi
Surprisingly, Roku opts for single-band 2.4GHz Wi-Fi in the Premiere and Premiere+. It’s an odd decision as streaming generally requires a strong connection to enable a smooth, bufferless experience, especially when you’re pulling large 4K-quality shows and movies across the internet.
I was mostly testing the Premiere and Premiere+ on a Verizon FiOS gigabit internet connection. It mostly performed well, but with some 4K content, via Netflix or YouTube, I did experience one or two hiccups. The performance isn’t a deal breaker, but a 5GHz band would have been appreciated, especially as many consumers switch to mesh network setups that prioritize via the fastest band.
Roku OS 9 shines bright
The latest OS 9 from Roku adds a bit of spice to the traditional, easy-to-use user interface.
The Roku Channel Store is home to hundreds of apps, or channels as they are called here, including YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, ABC, NBC, or even Disney Now. (You won’t find a YouTube app on the Fire TV Stick, so it’s refreshing to see it here.) Unlike other ecosystems which opt for a more closed-door experience, Roku encourages an open platform, meaning you’ll see some “indie” content providers.
Music-streaming options include Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM, and TuneIn, as well as a new Spotify app.
Channels are displayed in a grid format. It’s simple to use, so newcomers to the Roku platform should feel at home after a couple hours of use. I particularly like the Roku Channel. Essentially, this channel aggregates free movies and TV shows into a no-subscription-required experience. You’ll even get access to 24 hours of basic cable news. No other streaming box can compete with this level of easy-to-access free content.
A microphone at the top of the Premiere+ remote lets you access voice controls, but it’s limited to searching for content. This pales in comparison to the voice assistant functions you’ll get in the Fire TV Stick and Google’s Android TV.
A crowded field
As I said earlier, you’ll want to spend the extra $10 to get the more advanced remote that comes with the Premiere+. The option to control the power and volume of your TV without switching remotes, as well as the ability to access voice control, is nothing to be sniffed at.
The only other major difference is that the Premiere+ swaps a Vudu easy access button for a DirecTV Now one. Unless you’re an avid user of either, this shouldn’t matter too much. (Three more buttons allow quick access to Netflix, Sling, and Hulu.)
Other than that, the remotes are almost identical, with home and back buttons at the top. Just below those buttons are directional arrow controls, with an OK button in the middle. Between those buttons and the easy-access controls mentioned earlier are the playback buttons. On the Premiere+ remote, you’ll also find a power button at the top and a volume rocker on the right side. A purple tag with the Roku button juts from the bottom.
The extra $10 is worth it
If you’re married to having a Roku in your home, the more expensive Roku Premiere+ is the obvious choice among these two devices. For just $10 more, you get the ability to put the streaming box wherever you’d like and light TV controls with the same remote.
However, while there’s little inherently wrong with the Premiere+, for the same price you can get the Fire TV Stick 4K with its built-in Alexa controls. Amazon’s streaming stick also supports ultra high-definition video, including high dynamic range (HDR) media in HDR10 or Dolby Vision. The only leg up the Premiere and Premiere+ have over the Fire TV Stick is the built-in YouTube app. But if that’s important to you, pick up a Chromecast instead.