The Samsung Stratosphere doesn't reach the heights of excellence the name implies, but it'll do the trick if you have low expectations.
Verizon has released some high-profile devices, but the Stratosphere isn't one of them. Though, it has a few unique features that make it the right choice for some customers. The biggest design feature, and what Samsung claims sets it apart, is its slide-out keyboard. The company claims the device is the first and only LTE-powered handset with a physical keyboard. So it's a go to option if you don't like typing on touch displays and want the fastest possible data speeds.
It also supports VPN, or virtual private networks, setting it apart from rival LTE devices like the Droid Bionic and HTC Thunderbolt. Through VPN, you can encrypt your data, including Microsoft ActiveSync e-mail, making it a safer option for businesses who want to step away from BlackBerry devices.
The Stratosphere also shares similar design traits with past Samsung devices like the Epic 4G and Fascinate, but it improves on them by adding a soft-touch back cover, so it's easier to grip. At under 5-inches tall, it's also fairly compact and feels good in the hand.
It features a 4-inch WVGA Super AMOLED display. It's not quite up to par with the Apple's iPhone 4 and 4S, but it's still an above average screen. Colors pop and images are bright, but the 800-by-480 pixel resolution keeps it from reaching that elite level.
Besides the solidly-designed slide-out keyboard, the camera is also a surprise standout. The 5-megapixel lens doesn't look as good on paper as some 8-megapixel devices starting to show up on the market. But it's performance that matters, which the Stratosphere delivers. Pictures look sharp and even come out looking above average in low light situations. Add in its ability to capture 720p high-definition videos, and you have a really nice camera in your pocket at all times.
Unfortunately, the Stratosphere is still stuck in the past when it comes to software. It runs Android 2.3, dubbed Gingerbread, which has started to grow stale. In addition, Samsung's TouchWiz interface is in need of a facelift -- it's more useless than useful. Hopefully when Android 4.0, or Ice Scream Sandwich, launches later this year, the Stratosphere will get an upgrade. Samsung has yet to confirm, but still, it's not the end of the world.
A single-core processor powers the device, which is disappointing considering the $150 price tag. Apps run fine, and the interface is smooth, but it's missing the extra zip that similarly-priced dual-core devices offer. Samsung thought customers won't notice, but the phone clearly lacks power, and if you try to run a few different apps at once you'll feel the lag.
If you long for a physical keyboard, you'll like the Stratosphere. If you're looking for a BlackBerry alternative, give it a look too. But if you don't fall in either of these two camps, skip it. There are better smartphones to be had. ♦
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