Once upon a time in a world where streaming was still a novelty, TV remotes were filled with what seemed like thousands of buttons. They were complicated to navigate and intimidating to use. On top of all that input overload, you also had to memorize an ever-increasing glut of channel numbers and then punch them into a number pad like you were calling someone on the phone. It was cumbersome but we accepted it.
Over the past several years, however, streaming’s dominance has shifted the remote’s form and function from an overwhelmingly long channel changer to a simple and compact menu navigator. Roku, a pioneer which helped popularize dedicated streaming hardware more than a decade ago, is back to further cement this sea change with an upgraded remote that brings even more quality-of-life improvements.
The $30 Roku Voice Remote Pro is a new, standalone remote that works with all Roku devices going back as far as 2017. The long, black, and rounded rectangular build Roku owners have gotten used to over the years is still here, but with new additions like a physical microphone switch and, most importantly, a USB charging port.
The Roku Voice Remote Pro doesn’t herald a major paradigm shift for streaming or anything, but for Roku owners, it’s the best, most cost-effective way to consume all that content in your backlog.
Physical mic switch • USB charging • Hands-free voice commands
Roku’s newest streaming remote is essential for Roku streamers thanks to its rechargeable internal battery. But other improvements, like hands-free commands with a mic switch, help to sweeten the deal.
Old body, new parts
You’d be forgiven for looking at the Voice Remote Pro and thinking it’s one of the older Roku remotes. Between its design and general button layout, it’s almost exactly the same as any other Roku remote you’ve ever used. From the top down, this is what you’re working with:
Power, home, and back buttons
A four-way directional pad with an OK button in the center
Buttons for mic activation, instant replay (a quick 10-second rewind), and settings
Basic playback controls (play/pause, fast forward, rewind)
Two customizable voice macro buttons
Shortcut buttons for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Sling
That means the Voice Remote Pro doesn’t harken back to the ancient days of overly complex TV remotes, but for bopping around streaming menus and watching content, it’s more than capable.
Pairing the Voice Remote Pro with a Roku device is as easy as following the on-screen prompts — a process that takes maybe 60 seconds at most. As a nice bonus, you also don’t need to point the remote at your Roku device for commands to register.
At 5.7 inches in length and just 1.7 inches wide, it fits snugly in my hands — just like every other Roku remote I’ve used — because it retains almost exactly the same size. The real hardware differences come when you examine the sides of the remote.
Volume controls on the remote’s right side are unchanged, but things get interesting over on the left side. That’s where you’ll find a physical microphone switch and a headphone jack. The latter isn’t new, as the older Enhanced Voice Remote (sold with devices like the Roku Ultra) offered private listening in the same way, but the former is a clutch addition for folks who value their privacy. I’ll talk more about the always-on nature of the Voice Remote Pro in a bit, but just know that if you hate that sort of thing, you can completely neutralize it with the flick of a switch.
The last and biggest new hardware feature to note is on the bottom of the remote. That’s where you’ll find a micro-USB port for charging. Yes, finally, Roku has done what every remote manufacturer needs to do and abandoned old-school batteries. Roku says a full charge takes two to three hours and can last around two months. That fact alone is enough for me to say every Roku device user should get the Voice Remote Pro. Batteries can go to hell.
The Roku Voice Remote Pro doesn’t change a single solitary thing about navigating the Roku device UI with buttons. You’ll still use the directional pad and OK button for all of that. While there might be ways for Roku to improve that aspect of the remote, I don’t have a problem with this; the familiarity actually makes this a more appealing buy because I can get all the benefits without any sort of learning curve.
And those benefits are worth the price of admission. Always-on voice controls aren’t my thing because I feel like a real doofus talking to a little piece of plastic, but those who feel differently can belt out a “Hey Roku” followed by a command to get things cracking. This is the same voice search engine Roku’s used for years, so if you want to find movies with a certain actor or just open YouTube, those commands still work. The hands-free nature only makes it more convenient.
“Hey Roku, where’s my remote?” is a Voice Remote Pro-exclusive command that plays a loud beeping noise from a small speaker on the back of the remote. It’s a voice command I might actually be inclined to use and the only reason I’d ever leave the mic switch on, to be honest. If you don’t want to do that, you can also activate the remote finder from the Roku mobile app.
It must be stated, once again, that Roku’s move to a rechargeable internal battery is the closest thing to a game-changer the Voice Remote Pro offers. The idea that any device made after like 2010 still uses them is maddening. (I’m looking at you, Xbox controllers.) It’s frankly absurd that Roku took this long, given that some other competitors, like the god-awful old Apple TV remote, have been rechargeable for years. However, Google’s otherwise excellent Chromecast with Google TV remote still uses batteries, so we still somehow have a long way to go in this regard.
But even an obvious and long overdue improvement like a rechargeable battery is still an improvement. It’s just a shame that some of Roku’s other old habits have made their way into the Voice Remote Pro.
Some shortcuts are better than others
Streaming manufacturers have been putting branded shortcut buttons for various services on their device remotes for years. It must be a lucrative sponsorship opportunity because it keeps happening and my complaining about it here will not do a damn thing to change that.
Still, that is not going to stop me.
Even as someone who actively uses Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Sling, I don’t want the remote’s face taken up by those buttons. They’re ugly, inherently not useful to lots of people, and instantly become hilarious relics if any of the services in question rebrand or shut down.
(I once had a remote with a PlayStation Vue button on it (R.I.P.) and laughing about that is the most use I’ve ever gotten out of one of these sponsored shortcuts.)
Fortunately, the two custom, numbered shortcut buttons just above those branded buttons makes up for it to an extent. These aren’t new – the aforementioned Enhanced Voice Remote had them too – but they’re nice, nonetheless. Just issue a voice command, wait for the device to recognize and execute it, and hold one of the shortcut buttons for that command to be set to that button. For example, you could make one of them your YouTube button and the other a “Hey Roku, turn on captions” button. It’s up to you. Have fun with it.
I’d gladly take double the amount of programmable shortcuts on a new Roku remote, but those buttons don’t come with sweet, sweet branding dollars, I guess. The Voice Remote Pro may be the best Roku remote out there, but that’s one serious way in which it could be better.
What are you waiting for?
The Voice Remote Pro is an absolute no-brainer for people who already use Roku devices. Are there better streaming remotes out there in the wide world of streaming hardware? Almost certainly. But Roku has the most streaming boxes in the most homes, and those people won’t find a better remote than this one.
Its basic layout is the same as older models, so there’s virtually no learning curve whatsoever. Sure, the always-on voice commands may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the enlightened among us can use the handy kill switch whenever we want. Plus, you don’t need to buy batteries anymore with this thing. It’s as simple a sell as that.
So chuck those AAAs into the nearest recycling receptacle and embrace the future.