Samsung Stratosphere Review – 4G LTE and a Physical Keyboard

The Samsung Stratosphere on Verizon makes the 4G LTE a real option for the numerous smartphone owners who need a physical keyboard.

While these phones are falling away as thinner smartphones gain popularity, many users still want a physical keyboard.

The Stratosphere doesn’t boast the latest specs, like a dual core processor, but the ability to purchase it for as low as a penny from Amazon makes it an attractive option.

Pros

The first 4G LTE smartphone with a physical keyboard, the Samsung Stratosphere offers a fast connection, decent hard keyboard, better than average camera and a good in hand feel.

Cons

Unfortunately the phone has some play on the hinges when open that detract from the overall build quality. A slight bluish hue to the display also works against this otherwise good looking display. The specs are dated compared to phones just a month newer.

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While I wouldn’t recommend the Samsung Stratosphere to smartphone buyers who want the latest and greatest, the ability to purchase it for as low as a penny, even for existing customers, makes it an attractive budget 4G LTE smartphone. It is certainly a better phone than the Pantech Breakout, and the only 4G LTE phone with an external keyboard — both of which help this device stand out in the bargain smartphone arena.

Samsung Stratosphere | $0.01 | Verizon Wireless

Keyboard

Samsung Stratosphere Review - Keyboard

The keyboard has good spacing and works well if you have nails.

The keyboard on the Stratosphere is nice for a smartphone, with decent spacing and tactile feedback, but it does leave me wanting more, specifically the placement and key selections.

I am primarily a software keyboard user, but several things stood out while using the keyboard on the Stratosphere.

The keys are quite flat, which will make touch typing almost impossible, but the spacing helps you avoid double presses or fat fingering a nearby key.

While the keys are flat, the rubber finish and slight indent in the middle of the keys make using the keyboard much easier for anyone with nails, according to our resident gadget expert with nails: K.T. Bradford.

After a 15 minute break-in period I was able to type at a speedy clip with few errors, and enjoyed the dedicated number row at the top of the keyboard. Things slowed down when it came to punctuation, and the need to hit function for a comma got old real fast.

The keyboard offers access to the standard Android home buttons, as well as shortcuts to the browser and to the text message app. I like these shortcuts, but you’ll need to be sure you don’t hit the “Home” button instead of shift, or the “Back” button instead of delete or enter.

I also miss autocorrect, which won’t help you avoid common typos when using the hard keyboard.

I typed this section of the review on the Samsung Stratosphere’s physical keyboard without much trouble, but could probably go faster with a good software keyboard like Swiftkey.

Design

Samsung Stratosphere Review - Design

Note the contoured back that fits well in your hand.

The Stratosphere is thicker than the other 4G LTE smartphones that have launched on Verizon this past quarter, but that’s a price you pay for a physical keyboard.

Even with a thicker form factor Samsung did a good job of keeping the phone looking nice and feeling good in your hand. The 4″ display and contoured back make the phone easy to hold in portrait mode and especially nice while typing on the slide out keyboard, though the volume rocker may occasionally get bumped by your fingers during long typing sessions.

At 5.8 oz, the phone won’t feel like a brick in your pocket and weighs in at about the same as other phones like the HTC Rezound.

Overall the phone has a sturdy feel when held, and there is no wiggle when you are holding the phone with the keyboard closed. Unfortunately, when you have the keyboard open there is some play in the hinge mechanism.

If you are holding the top of the phone with your index fingers while typing the play is noticeable, but if you type with your fingers curled around the bottom of the keyboard, you will feel and hear some wiggling. If this concerns you, I suggest that you head into your local Verizon to test this out on a demo unit.

Display

Samsung Stratosphere Review - Display

A nice display, but a slight bluish tint.

The 4 inch Super AMOLED display has an 800 x 480 resolution and offers bright and rich colors, but it looks dated when placed next to the 720P displays found on the Galaxy Nexus and the HTC Rezound.

There is also a slight bluish tint to the screen that can range from negligible to annoying depending on the lighting around you. If you look back and forth between screens quickly, such as your TV, a monitor or a tablet, then back to your phone this tint will be more noticeable.

Watching the pilot episode of Fringe in HD, via the Samsung Media Hub, the picture looked very nice with bright colors and dark blacks. The viewing angles are forgiving enough that you can put the phone in a variety of locations to watch movies, and may even be able to share with someone, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this often on such a small screen.

The older display is easier to accept given the low price of the phone, but demanding users will be happier with a higher end device.

Performance, Battery, Call Quality

The Stratosphere isn’t a smokin’ fast dual core phone like most other Android devices arriving on the market these days, but even with the included TouchWiz layer it is pretty snappy during basic smartphone tasks and navigating through the phone OS.

The Stratosphere has a 1GHz single core Hummingbird processor, 512MB RAM, 4GB of onboard memory and an included 4GB MicroSD card. The phone is running Android 2.3 with a Samsung TouchWiz interface on top.

The phone doesn’t have the same power as newer phones, but if you are looking for a fast connection and OK performance, you’ll do fine with the Stratosphere. Keep in mind that newer games like Grand Theft Auto III won’t run on this phone.

Samsung Stratosphere Battery

The Samsung Stratosphere battery will last you a full day in most circumstances.

The Stratosphere packs in an 1800 mAh battery that was able to last all day for both K.T. Bradford and myself during normal usage. This is impressive given the battery issues that most 4G LTE smartphones have.

Yes,  you can use the Stratosphere as a phone too. The phone kept a signal better than the Galaxy Nexus did and offered good call quality on both sides.

The Mobile Hotspot app worked OK,  but I had several unexplained data drops when using the hotspot for periods longer than 30 minutes. I wouldn’t plan on using this as a primary connection. Hopefully this will be addressed in a software update.

TouchWiz and Apps

Samsung Stratosphere Review - TouchWiz

The TouchWiz Dock on the Samsung Stratosphere.

The Stratosphere has Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay, which replaces the standard Android look and feel with a new, larger and brighter interface. I didn’t feel that the TouchWiz interface slowed down the device, but it isn’t my primary choice for interacting with an Android phone.

That said, users will like the ability to customize the number of home screens and the larger, bolder, icons that make it easier to hit what you want at a glance. Samsung has also included a toolbar in the notification drawer that allows you to access settings quickly.

As far as apps are concerned there are some CRAPPS installed. You get the ever present BlockBuster app, City ID, IM, Lets Golf 2, NFS Shift, Slacker and a host of Verizon apps. These apps take up space and some will run when you start the phone.

There are some pre-installed apps that are worthwhile. I used Quickoffice to write part of this review, and could have edited a spreadsheet or looked at a PowerPoint presentation. The NFL Mobile app is a favorite as well, with free access to live streaming games.

My favorite pre-installed app is the Samsung Media Hub. This app allows you to purchase TV shows and movies on your device. With a good selection, decent pricing and the ability to watch your devices on other Samsung devices like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Media Hub is a winner.

Camera

Samsung uses good optics, so even though you might not expect much from the 5MP shooter it performs pretty well. The camera app takes some getting used to, with a touchy shutter button, which at times will require a long press to take the picture, but it does offer an array of options including the ability to adjust the exposure and tap to focus.

Check out the following shots taken with the Samsung Stratosphere, including one with the front facing camera.

 

Sunset on the Stratosphere

Sunset on the Stratosphere

Samsung Stratosphere Photo Indoors

Samsung Stratosphere Photo Indoors

Samsung Stratosphere Sample Photo Front Facing Camera

Sample photo with front facing camera.

From a video standpoint, the Stratosphere can record at 720P, which is OK for shooting some fun shorts to share on YouTube, but not something I would use in place of a decent point and shoot with video capabilities.

Competition

Pantech Breakout

Another affordable 4G LTE phone on Verizon.

Stratosphere vs. Pantech Breakout

The biggest competition is the Pantech Breakout (Review), which is also available for similar prices at Verizon and Amazon Wireless. The Breakout is slimmer, thanks to the lack of a physical keyboard, but has similar specs.

Given the choice between the Breakout and the Samsung Stratosphere, I would pick the Stratosphere for the better camera, nicer in hand feel and a much better Android user interface.

Stratosphere vs. Nexus, Rezound

The Stratosphere may draw comparisons to other recent Android devices like the HTC Rezound or Galaxy Nexus, but when you jump the price by several hundred dollars, you are looking at a whole different set of features. If you think you want more than a budget 4G LTE device can deliver, look at the Nexus or the Rezound. But if you want to stay in this budget, the Pantech remains the best alternative.

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Comments

  1. Fake says

    you say you would take the stratosphere over the pantech. but then you said when it comes to the nexus you would take the pantech(not the stratosphere?)

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