Roku's mobile app is even better than its TV interface.
By Jared Newman, TechHiveOct 7, 2021 3:00 am PDT
Image: Jared Newman / IDG
Although Roku’s streaming platform is simple and dependable, it’s not the most exciting.
Other platforms, such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV have leapfrogged ahead in making content easier to find, providing universal guides and watchlists that work across numerous streaming services. While Roku does offer a universal search function, its TV interface is mostly content with shunting you off to individual apps or funneling you into the Roku Channel, where the company can better-monetize your eyeballs through advertising.
That’s why Roku’s recently updated mobile app is so interesting. Unlike the menu system on Roku’s streaming players and smart TVs, it offers several ways to find new things to watch, along with a “Save List” for easier access to the shows you’re already watching. The app is also full of features that make the viewing experience more pleasant.
If you’re not yet using the Roku app for iOS or Android, here’s what it can do for you, beyond the basics of just replicating your physical remote:
Browse by genre
Tap the search button at the top of the app, and you’ll see a list of genres to browse through. (You’ll also find a row of these genres further down the homepage.) Within each genre page, you’ll find new releases, content that’s included with your subscriptions, and ad-supported movies and shows you can watch for free.
While these pages are also available directly on your Roku, the only way to find them is by searching for each genre specifically. Having everything laid out in one place makes for a great starting point if you’re feeling indecisive.
Create a “Save List”
While the My Feed feature on Roku players falls into disrepair, Roku has started building a replacement called the “Save List” into its mobile app. This allows you to build a watchlist of movies and shows from across different streaming services, just like you can on most other streaming platforms.
To add an item to your Save List, select a program from your home screen, then hit “Add to save list.” You’ll then find these saved items in the app’s Remote tab by hitting the “Save List” icon at the bottom.
Removing an item from the Save List is a little trickier: Tap on it in the Remote tab, then hit “See details.” On the listing page, you can counterintuitively hit “Added to save list” to remove it.
Launch shows directly
While using Roku’s mobile app, you can launch movies and shows on your TV without having to navigate through your apps first. Once you’ve found a show through the search bar, genre pages, or Save List, hit “View Options” to see where it’s available to stream. Selecting one of those options will begin playback in the corresponding app on your television.
A note about Netflix: Unfortunately, you can’t use the Roku app to find, save, or launch programs from Netflix, presumably due to Netflix’s weird aversion to universal streaming guides. The Reelgood app for iOS and Android does provide a workaround, letting you launch shows on your Roku from Netflix and more, though it lacks some of the extra features found in Roku’s app, and its built-in remote is a bit less responsive.
Fix Bluetooth headphone lag
Pairing a set of Bluetooth headphones to Roku’s app for private listening is neat, but it can also lead to audio lag. Now, you can fine-tune the latency levels to compensate.
First, make sure your Roku device is running Roku OS 10.5 by checking under Settings > System > System Update. If it’s still on an earlier version, you’ll need to wait. You’ll also need an iPhone, for now, as this feature isn’t launching on Android until October 15.
Now, head to the remote tab of the Roku app, hit the gear icon at the top, then select “Adjust audio delay.” Grant camera access to the Roku app, then point your phone at the TV and follow the prompts to sync the audio and video.
This auto-sync tool was buggy for me, crashing my Roku Ultra twice and failing to produce a noticeable improvement. Fortunately, Roku also offers a manual sync option, which you’ll find by returning to the “Adjust audio delay” menu. Select “Advanced adjustments,” then increase the slider until the lag is gone.
If you have a Roku Smart Soundbar, Streambar, or Streambar Pro, you can now adjust equalization and volume modes through the mobile app. This is especially useful if you have cable boxes, game consoles, or other inputs hooked up to the TV, as you can use the mobile app instead of switching back to the Roku input just to make audio tweaks.
To find these options, head to the Remote tab, hit the gear icon at the top, then select “Sound Settings.” (As above, you’ll need Roku OS 10.5 for this feature; again, that won’t be available on Android phones until October 15.)
Enter text with ease
When you’re trying to enter text on the TV, tap the keyboard icon inside the Roku app’s Remote tab. This brings up an on-screen keyboard that’s much faster than thumbing through letters with your TV remote.
Find your lost remote
If you have a Roku Ultra or the Roku Voice Remote Pro, you can activate the remote finder function through the mobile app. Under the Devices tab, hit the “…” menu button next to your Roku and select “Ping Remote.” Then, listen for the sound coming from your remote.
Manage your channels
Deal with your Roku’s cluttered channel menu by uninstalling apps from your TV using the mobile app. Under the Devices tab, find your Roku and select “Channels.” Long-press any app to bring up a menu where you can launch, rate, or remove the channel. (Sadly, you can’t rearrange your apps from here, which seems like a missed opportunity.)
From this same Channels menu, you can also add new apps to your Roku. Just hit the “Channel Store” tab to browse for new apps, or use the search bar under the Home tab.
Get a little more privacy
One other nice benefit of Roku’s mobile app: It provides easy access to Roku’s “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” toggle, which limits data sharing with third parties under the California Consumer Privacy Act. Even if you don’t live in the Golden State, you’ll find this setting by tapping the profile icon on the home screen, then hitting “Do Not Sell My Personal Information.” Turn the toggle to the on position to affirm that you don’t want your data shared. (You can also control this setting online, and exercise similar rights for other streaming services.)
To get even more out of your Roku player—with or without the mobile app—check out more tips here.