Samsung Stratosphere

We live in a world of large displays and touchscreen keyboards. As phones continue to evolve, it seems as though physical keyboards and smaller screens are fading out. Not everyone is enthralled by this notion, however. There are many who still prefer to text or write an email with physical keys. Why should those users be left out of cutting edge technology such as 4G LTE? Enter the Samsung Stratosphere. It boasts a beautiful 4-inch screen, a slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard and runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE service. On top of all that, it is a cheap alternative at $99 when compared to the rest of Verizon’s 4G LTE lineup, which run from $199 - $299 with a 2-year contract. It is a beautiful device that runs very smoothly and should be a consideration for many this holiday season. So let's dive in to see how the Stratosphere stacks up.

The Good

Overall, the phone is smooth. It gives QWERTY keyboard lovers the chance to have a great experience on Verizon’s blazing fast 4G LTE. Camera shutter lag is very quick. Battery life is surprisingly solid on LTE. Price at $99 is significantly cheaper than alternative LTE devices. 

The Bad

Due to the sliding QWERTY, it’s a bit heavier than what we’re used to from the Galaxy S line. Camera quality, both for photos and videos, leaves something to be desired. 

Conclusion

The Stratosphere performs like a high-end device while costing like a mid-range one. It’s being overshadowed by Verizon’s flagship devices, but I suspect for many it will be more than adequate, and for some, perfect, for what they’re looking for. It’s great for someone looking for either a physical keyboard or an LTE device that doesn’t cost at least $200. At 4-inches, which is considered by many to be an ideal screen size, Super-AMOLED looks beautiful. Of course, since it does only cost $99, something has to be sacrificed. The cameras leave a lot to be desired. 

Inside this

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Hands-On

When the Stratosphere first got into our hands, we did a hands-on.  Check out our first impressions.

 

Hardware

As I mentioned above, the Stratosphere boasts a gorgeous 4-inch Super-AMOLED display. As much as I like the larger screens, I’ve always felt that 4-inches is one of the best for a phone. 

The biggest complaint I hear about Samsung’s phones is that they feel cheap. This is driven by the fact that Samsung uses plastic to surround their devices, mainly to make them lighter. That’s the trade-off you get: an extremely light phone, but it won’t feel as sturdy as some of the others, such as HTC’s aluminum builds. While the Stratosphere has lots of plastic on it, the keyboard adds weight, which makes it feel quite nice in the hand. It’s rigid back is particularly nice and prevents it from slipping. This phone will feel more robust than many of Samsung’s other devices, but for that very reason it could not win a lightness contest. It weighs in at 5.8 ounces, compared to 4.66 of the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket.

Stratosphere front 2 Stratosphere backing

The phone comes with two cameras as has become commonplace with smartphones today. The rear camera is an adequate if not a little disappointing 5MP while the front-facing camera is 1.3MP.

I am not a devoted physical keyboard user, but I like the option that the Stratosphere provides. The keyboard has five rows and the keys are spaced out pretty well. The top row is a dedicated number row, while the bottom has function, a messaging shortcut button, a browser shortcut button, navigational arrows and the spacebar. To the left of the keyboard you have the Menu and Home buttons while the Search and Back buttons are to the right.

Stratosphere keyboard

The rest of the hardware is similar to that of the rest of the Galaxy S line of phones. The volume button is on the leftside near the top of the device while the 3.5mm headphone jack  is on the top right.

Volume jack Micro USB

When you crack the Stratosphere open, you’ll find the replaceable 1800mAh battery, the microSD slot and the SIM card. Verizon users are not used to popping in SIM cards like those using GSM devices. With their 4G LTE services, that’s exactly what you get.

Even further underneath the hood, the Stratosphere boasts a 1GHz single-core Hummingbird processor, 512MB RAM and 4GB for system storage.

Stratosphere opened up Stratosphere LTE SIM

Specs

  • 4G LTE capability
  • Five-row QWERTY keyboard
  • 4-inch Samsung Super AMOLED display
  • Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
  • 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor
  • 1.3-megapixel (front) camera
  • 5-megapixel (rear) camera
  • Mobile hotspot capability
  • AllShare
  • Samsung Media Hub
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • DivX and XviD support
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync
  • Support for Cisco AnyConnect 2.1 SSL VPN
  • Encryption Services
  • Support for Sybase Afaria


Software

The Stratosphere doesn't run Touchwiz 4.0, but a newer version of 3.0 on top of Android 2.3.5. I know, many are asking, why should I buy a brand new phone with Gingerbread when Ice Cream Sandwich is out? Valid question, but it should be noted that only one phone is currently shipping with Ice Cream Sandwich, the Galaxy Nexus. While it isn’t as polished as 4.0, Gingerbread works just fine and provides an excellent experience for the Stratosphere. No official word from Samsung on whether it will see Ice Cream Sandwich, but seeing as how it’s such a new device on Verizon’s cutting edge network, there is a good chance that it will. And while Samsung’s overlay is not Touchwiz 4.0, it seems to run pretty smoothly on the device. I have had issues in the past with Touchwiz bogging down phones, but this one seems to be running well, especially when combined with Verizon's LTE network. As far as I can tell thus far, some additions to Touchwiz 3.0 are the new settings including a devoted option for USB Settings, where you can set a default for what the phone will do when plugged in via USB. This setting was always present, but Samsung has made it its own section in Settings now. 

USB settings

Like so many other Android phones released on Verizon, there are a lot of pre-installed apps on the Stratosphere. In addition, you'll get pre-installed apps from Samsung such as Media Hub and Allshare.

The long list of Verizon pre-installed apps includes:

  • Backup Assistant
  • Blockbuster
  • City ID
  • Desk Cradle
  • Guided Tours
  • IM
  • Let’s Golf 2
  • Mobile Hotspot
  • My Verizon Mobile
  • NFL Mobile
  • NFS Shift
  • Quickoffice
  • Slacker
  • the V Cast family of apps
  • Voice Recorder


Screen 1 Screen 2  Screen 3 Screen 4


Cameras

The Stratosphere has two cameras as previously mentioned. A 5MP rear camera and a 1.3MP front-facing camera for video chat. The rear camera works well enough but won’t blow you away with quality. It’s definitely a step down from the quality we experienced with Samsung’s Galaxy S II line. One thing that really impressed me about the camera though is the shutter lag. Now it’s not as fast as the Galaxy Nexus claims to be, but few devices are. In my usage, the camera app, once opened, took photos very quickly. Rarely did I miss something that I meant to take a picture of, such as action sequences. The camera app has a tap to auto-focus like so many other devices do on Android.

The front-facing camera is 1.3MP, which seems to be the most common among smartphones right now. It works fine enough, though Google Talk video is not supported which is a huge bummer. I also hope that the Google+ app will support iniatiating a Hangout from mobile devices soon.

Stratosphere camera sample 1 Stratosphere camera sample 2 Stratosphere camera sample 3 Stratosphere camera sample 4

Stratosphere camera sample 6Stratosphere sample 8

Stratosphere camera sample 5front facing camera sample

The Stratosphere can record at 4 different resolutions, the highest being 480p. The videos that I shot with the device look decent enough, though it’s easy to be envious of the the phones recording at 1080p. The 4 resolutions that it can record at are:

  • 720 x 480
  • 540 x 480
  • 320 x 240
  • 176 x 144

Here is a video sample taken by the Stratosphere:

 

The LTE network

I live in the Washington D.C. region, which is an area that has Verizon’s 4G LTE service. This is my first experience with LTE and I think I can describe how I feel about it in one word: impressed. Verizon’s 4G network is blazing fast and while the speeds can be inconsistent at times, I always felt as though I was walking around with a Wi-Fi connection. The best that I experienced during my testing time was in the mid-30s (megabits), but honestly I only hit that speed once. The rest of the time was between 11 - 25, but that speed is just fine with me. I only experienced LTE downtime once and it was during the time when it was out for everyone.

Worst: 11.39 mbps download
             1.77 upload

Best:   36.14 mbps download
            7.57 mbps upload

Stratosphere speed 3

Stratosphere speed test 1 Stratosphere speed 2

  Stratosphere speed 4
 

Battery Life

This being my first experience with Verizon’s 4G LTE network, I was skeptical if I would be able to get the Stratosphere through the day. Thus far in my testing, it has been able to get through a regular work day with moderate to heavy use. I was texting, calling, browsing, downloading podcasts, listening to music and I never got to the point where I felt nervous about it not lasting. The shortest life I got out of it was about 9 hours, which was with heavy use. Longest I saw that the battery lasted was around 14 hours. Here is a screenshot of a day where I would consider my use to be fairly heavy. I was calling, texting, browsing, Tweeting, refreshing Google+ and syncing up the new Google Currents app.

Stratosphere battery life

 

Pricing & Availability

The Samsung Stratosphere is available from Verizon Wireless in two colors, white and black. It can be bought for $99 on-contract which is considerably cheaper than the high-end LTE alternatives, which run from $199 - $299. For a solid phone that offers Verizon’s blazing LTE speeds, this is a great deal.

Conclusion

The Samsung Stratosphere performs like a high-end device while introducing itself and costing like a mid-range one. It will be a favorite among QWERTY keyboard purists who haven’t quite made the transition to touchscreens full-time. It still boasts one of the most popular screen sizes available at 4-inches and runs on Verizon’s lightning speed 4G LTE network. I would recommend this phone for someone who wants a physical keyboard or someone who wants to experience LTE but doesn’t want to spend an arm and a leg to get it. Samsung and Verizon released a great performance phone that will likely get overlooked because of some of the more A-list devices out there. It’s too bad really, because the Stratosphere, while it doesn’t have a kevlar back, a 4.3-inch screen or a dual-core processor, provides a great experience and solid battery life.

 

Reader comments

Samsung Stratosphere Review

13 Comments

Is this my first "First!"?

Anyway, I'm loving this phone. It has been on sale for two bucks ($2 USD) at Wal-Mart and Sams... and will probably be on sale routinely, too. So it is not a $200 phone after all!

It has been doing a good job of weaning me away from blackberry. The battery life is amazing and is comparable to blackberry (something I can not say for any other smart phone).

It is a nicely balanced phone... power balanced with battery life... .and 4g.

My only gripe is that there is no otterbox for it. Verizon reps say that it is selling amazingly well... so accessories might be in the works.

Thanks for the review.Looks like a winner for people who don't want to spend $300 for an LTE device. I read it's been selling beyond expectations. The White version looks very nice as well.

I use a Galaxy S2 in the UK and love it, apart from the on-screen keyboard. Despite the benefits and compactness of the S2, I might consider something in this format in the future.

The downside is that Samsung need to look at the Nokia N7 and improve this design, it looks half baked.

I have been using the Epic for the past +1 year and overall I think this phone design is a great option if you still want a keyboard. It sounds like the bigger battery is a nice improvement but I'm surprised the video camera can't do 720P like the Epic.

If you're looking for a nice inexpensive phone this one's a great choice. It was free at BB the other day.

It sounds like this is the Epic those of us with Sprint had long hoped for.

Why do manufacturers think that customers who want a keyboard won't notice a little, low-def screen?

Yes a physical keyboard will be thick. Yes it will be heavy. But it does not have to be low def.

Obviously Samsung does not think that way. Their screens can't be beat. And I do mean *can't* be beat, there are no better mobile phone screens out there. The quality of the screen is what keeps me coming back to Samsung.

What is needed: Super AMOLED Plus w 1080(Gorilla Glass), way more onboard RAM (no less than 16GB), sdMicro 32GB slot, loud & clear speakerphone, an LG Ally keyboard design, dual-core or more CPU, 8MP Cam and finally, ICS OS would make for a killer Android phone and bestseller. There is a HUGE market for physical qwerty preferences - touchscreen fans just think there isn't because the ones offered are pieces of crapware and not worth getting. I don't understand how companies just don't *GET THIS*. It is not difficult. I will keep hoping to see something with the specs mentioned above at one of the upcoming CES.

Hey Sean - considering the price and given what you found in your test, how do you think the Stratosphere will stand up to the soon to be released Droid 4?

Got my wife a White one at Best Buy for free last night. Salesman indicated the White variant had Gorilla Glass & the Black one didn't. Seems to be an excellent performer. Can't wait to root & get rid of all the bloat.

I am uncertain how 9 hours of battery life is obtained. Please any suggestions would be helpful. I am lucky to have 4 hours of battery life....ok, it is about 30% or less after that. I have advanced task killer on my phone, do not have wi-fi on, no gps on, and other battery saving features enabled. Yet I seem to be killing my battery. Any suggestions are welcome. Verizon rep just told me this is normal. email to me at 10squared71@cox.net would be best.

This phone is the biggest piece of crap I've ever owned. Had an old LG Alley that hooked up to wi-fi a thousand times faster in my home...in the middle of town. All this phone wants to do is search,verify,search,verify.....then it asks for my cisco password.... BS!! Have owned lots of phones w/wi-fi...this is the first time I have encountered this crap.Also there's no indication of missed calls,texts,voicemails. I will be taking this POS back to the store ..hopefully for an LG!!

I've had this phone about 6 months. It's actually pretty good; but I have a few observations:

1. While the video is kind of low-res, it's still pretty usable. Just don't expect anything professional from it. Sean's own video is actually quite good considering that it's a standard-def (old NTSC broadcast) resolution.

2. If you need to set up a corporate account that requires security, forget about using the camera. Once an Exchange Active Sync (EAS) server requires you to encrypt the phone, the phone also does something to make all new pictures and video unreadable off of the phone. Your only option will be to play them on the phone and hope you don't lose them because you will never be allowed to copy them off the phone. Yes, any pictures or videos you took before adding the account can be copied off. Actually pictures can usually be emailed to yourself. That somehow fixes the problem; but the email client usually won't attach video files because of their size.

3. With the mail app if you value your battery life, don't ever set it up to do push or high-frequency (less than 1/hour) polling. I've had to set it to manual because I can't afford to leave my phone tethered to a charger for extended periods. Setting all of the accounts to sync manually lets me get through the day with plenty of charge to spare.

4. Also be careful about playing games on this phone when you can't access a charger during the day. Some games can run through an entire charge in a couple of hours. But even if you're just killing 10 minutes before a meeting, that 10 minutes of play can cost you an hour or two of standby life - not insignificant if you only have 12 to 16 hours to start with.

- Joel