November 22, 2011 | by Ben Crawford
I haven’t had my hands on a Samsung device in a while, but I’ll admit I am a bit biased towards them. I like plastic vs metal casing, a sleek black design appeals to me more than slate gray, and I’m a sucker for AMOLED displays. The Samsung Stratosphere is Samsung’s answer to the Droid 3, and with all of my favorite features, it should be my favorite QWERTY-phone. However, when placed into context of its release and what it’s capable of, the Stratosphere will probably go unnoticed by consumers and for good reason.
With only a single processing core to power it, we know the Stratosphere’s target audience. It’s aimed at the lower-end market who need a keyboard, and while this isn’t a bad target audience, it is a crowded one. Like I stated, the Stratosphere has to compete with the ever-popular Droid lineup and the LG Enlighten. To battle these other phones, the Stratosphere was released with Verizon’s LTE radio, but hardware-wise it’s in the same ballpark as its competition.
Around the phone are all the basics: headphone jack, volume rocker, power, and USB-out. I dislike Samsung’s stubbornness to never add a notification light and to put the power button in such an awful spot. However both cameras are in the “better-than-average” range, and the keyboard is nicely spaced out with menu, search, home, and back buttons for convenience. There was a lot of this give-and-take spec-wise with this phone. LTE is a speed demon, but the single processor can’t handle it all the time. The Super AMOLED screen pops with vibrant colors while turning the screen on can be annoying.
The keyboard slideout was fairly solid, but not nearly as durable as the Droid 3. After months of use, I can easily picture the keyboard dangling by some wire. Coupled with the fact that you WILL open the keyboard every time you press the power button, Samsung should have thought a little more about the Stratosphere’s design instead of shipping it out right before the holiday rush.
I adore SAMOLED screens, and the Stratosphere is on-par with the first batch of Galaxy S phones. It’s an average-sized screen, and the colors, of course, pop, but in the world of SAMOLED HD and Super SAMOLED+, the Stratosphere gets left behind. It isn’t a bad screen, nowhere near, though it makes me think these mid-range phones are released just to fill the gaps between big releases. It has the potential and specs to push what we’ve come to expect from these type of phones, but Samsung doesn’t give the Stratosphere enough attention to show it’s prowess.
The 5MP back camera is a very solid mid-range camera, and Samsung adds some nice functionality to its camera app. Is it the leader of its group? No. Is it good enough to take family vacation pictures? Yes. The front-facing camera is in the top-tier at 1.3MP (better even than the iPhone 4s), but I had to ask, “Can this phone handle multitasking while video chatting?” The advanced features that this phone comes with can’t take advantage of its aging hardware. Then, they added a VGA camcorder. Samsung, if you’re reading this, more people use the camcorder feature than the front-facing camera; upgrade the one that people are going to use.
Ah, Touchwiz, my old frenemy. With recent upgrades, especially on the Galaxy S II phones, Touchwiz has become very user-friendly with added enhancements to the Android OS. Now, the Stratosphere isn’t a Galaxy S II, but it’s Touchwiz interface is better than what was on the first-gen Galaxy phones. It’s more like Touchwiz 3.5 instead of 4.0. There is no panning or tilting, but the look and feel is definitely the new Touchwiz. It runs much smoother than what I used to have on my Fascinate, and the overall user-friendliness is great for first-time Android consumers.
Samsung also seems to add some very good apps like Allshare and their own media center filled with movies and music, Media Hub. Allshare allows you to stream content over the internet to your PC or any other streaming device. Media Hub is an entire market itself. It can rival Google’s newest additions to the Android Market, save for games. Let’s Golf 2 and City ID are seemingly ageless in Verizon Wireless years, and all the other extraneous Verizon add-ons are here taking up your RAM as well.
I have to say, as much as I want it to be the case, Samsung devices never seem to perform that well when opening or switching in and out of apps. They always seem to have a hiccup or just bog down a bit, and the Stratosphere didn’t break this perception for me. While apps run smoothly and rarely have the slightest jilt, their “click to play” time is always on the lower side. This won’t and shouldn’t bother many people, but it’s an observation I’ve had for a while, and unfortunately the Stratosphere falls into the same Samsung pitfalls.
Of course, the Angry Birds test fared very well against my Xperia Play, only a second or two behind it. I don’t believe it could run graphically intensive games like Shadowgun or Hockey Nations very well, but more casual games, the games generally intended for the same people this device is intended for, will play perfectly well.
The Stratosphere certainly won’t be confused with the Galaxy S II, RAZR, or Galaxy Nexus, and it’s release date puts it at a great disadvantage. It is a glorified, albeit slimmer and lighter, version of the Epic 4G on Sprint. That being said, there are multitudes of people that can’t live without a keyboard, coupled with Verizon’s LTE network, people will buy this device. 4G is the Stratosphere’s only redeeming quality over the LG Enlighten or Droid 3, and in that respect I would recommend it over those two devices. The battery is good for a 4G device, not as good as the Enlighten, but it won’t die on you right away either.
If you can’t live without a keyboard (I promise, you can), then the Stratosphere is your best choice since it has 4G. It doesn’t have a dual-core processor and doesn’t really have a hope of receiving an update to Ice Cream Sandwich. In other words, the future’s not too bright for the Stratosphere, though it definitely has a keyboard.