Review

Samsung Stratosphere Review Hands-on

October 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Homescreen

Samsung’s Stratosphere certainly isn’t going to charm you with the blazing performance of its single core processor, but it will prove that the high-end specs of its older brother, the Galaxy S II, aren’t all that counts when considering your next Android device.  We had the chance to spend a week with this snappy little mid-ranger, and we’re here to tell you what we think.  Where does Verizon’s first LTE slider fall short, and where does it succeed?  Let’s dig in.

First the spec sheet:

  •  1GHz Single Core Processor
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB Built-in Storage + 4GB Micro SD Card Installed
  • 4″ 480×800 Super AMOLED Display
  • 5MP Rear Camera Capable of 480p Video Capture
  • Front-Facing 1.3MP Camera for Video Chat
  • 4G/LTE Connection of Verizon

Hardware:

The Stratosphere is reminiscent of the Epic 4G, but a little larger and a little lighter.  Even with the slide-out keyboard, the Stratosphere is very lightweight at just 5.8oz.  At 14mm thin it’s a little chunky, but combined with its light weight it’s certainly no brick in the pocket.  If you’re dead set on a hardware keyboard and a fast connection, then this is a great device for you.  It’s not the go-to device for HD gaming, but if you’re more into texting and keeping up with social networks, it should be a consideration.

Front

The Stratosphere is a Galaxy S device, and looks like one.  It’s in the mid-range of Galaxy devices, not a quite the behemoth of the GS II, but respectable in hardware and performance.  It feels great to hold, it’s easy on the eyes, and the 4″ display is very bright and vivid.

Back

The contoured back makes for easy gripping, and the hard-rubberized coating means it’s not going to easily slip out of your grasp.

Hardware Keyboard

The keyboard slides out very easily, and has some great Android shortcut buttons.  When typing on it, though, I found that the spaces between the keys were a bit problematic, though not overly so.  After a brief adjustment period I was able to get typing away with no problem.  Compare this to T-Mobile’s MyTouch 4G Slide, and the Stratosphere keyboard, with its much firmer keys, is a clear winner.  I tend to favor a keyboard with its own row of number keys across the top, so if you like this feature, as well, it’s nice to see it here.

Quadrant Score

Software:

About Phone

The Stratosphere runs on Android 2.3.5, which is pretty close to the latest version of Gingerbread, currently 2.3.7.  That puts it ahead of some of the more recent phones that come with 2.3.3.  One big gripe I had is that even though it’s 2.3.5, it did not include the video chat capabilities in Google Talk.  You’ll need to resort to 3rd party apps for video chatting.  I personally find this a little ridiculous.  Gtalk video was included in 2.3.4, and seeing a device with a later version yet no Gchat video is a black mark in my book.

Samsung’s loaded the Stratosphere with TouchWiz, which is to be expected, and as far as proprietary overlays go it’s one of the better ones.  It doesn’t seem to slow the interface down at all, and handling all basic functions is pretty snappy given the single core processor.  The presence of power control buttons in the notification bar is nice to have, but it would have been better to have your wifi hotspot, and wifi connection included in that list.

Notification Bar

Instead, the wifi connection is ever-present as a notification.  As someone who likes to see a nice, clear notification bar, I wasn’t too keen on having this constant notification that I had a wifi network available.  There are worse things in life, though.  There’s a disturbing trend on Verizon phones of enabling wifi automatically, or turning it on whenever it finds a network in range.  Even though I turned this option off multiple times, it always managed to find its way back on.  While we’re all familiar with carrier’s stand on limiting your data, having every app that uses data warn you to connect to wifi does get a little old, as well.  You’ll need to remember to switch wifi off if you don’t intend to use it.  Also make sure you’re keeping tabs on it.  It has a funny way of turning itself back on.

Even for Verizon there’s an awful lot of bloatware on the device.  Kindle, City ID, Let’s Golf, NFL Mobile, Need for Speed, Quick Office, Slacker, and 5 VCast apps, and then the worst offender…Blockbuster.  Really?  Why do carriers insist on loading Blockbuster’s useless app on every phone?  Fortunately, the device has already been rooted, so we suggest taking a look at how to do it and clean up this garbage.  Check out the shots of the app drawer to get an idea of everything you’re forced to carry when you pick up this device.

Apps

Apps

Apps

Phone Signal and Network Speed:

Call quality, as is usually the case on Verizon, was excellent.  Never have I had a dropped call on Big Red, and I can usually maintain 2-4 bars no matter where I go in the Midwest.  My biggest complaint was, surprisingly, the network connection.  I’ve now tested a few devices for Verizon and can attest to their network data speeds being top-of-the-pack.  The Stratosphere really had me wondering, though.  It had a tendency to drop the data connection completely with great frequency.  A quick reboot usually fixed the problem, but that’s beside the point.  When it does maintain a data connection it flips between 3 and 4G far too often for my taste.  This is something I’ve not experienced with any other Verizon LTE device I’ve used to date.  I don’t know whether to blame the network, the device, or the location.  Despite those failings, Verizon’s network speed is still the best around.  On average I saw 10-14Mbps download speeds.  Take a look at the speed test results.

Speed Tests

Camera:

The Stratosphere’s camera certainly isn’t meant to replace, or even supplement your DSLR, but the quality is more than fair.  It’s really geared toward snapping off those quick shots for upload to Facebook, Twitter, Google + or Youtube.  You can check out some sample shots of both indoor and outdoor shots below.

Indoor Shot

Outdoor Shot

Outdoor Shot

Battery Life:

The Stratosphere has a pretty big juice pack at 1800 mAh.  If you keep it off the LTE connection it can last you well over a day.  With the LTE connection on, it can still maintain a pretty pleasing 6-8 hours of more than average use.  I watch an entire 90 minute movie over Netflix, made some use of the hotspot feature, and spent some time on Grave Defense.  Even after that I still had plenty of spare battery life.  Unless you’re planning to watch 5 or 6 hours of movies you can safely get through a day or more on a single charge.

Summary:

At the time of this writing the Stratosphere is $150 on contract.  For that price the battery life is excellent, the performance is acceptable for every day tasks, but you should avoid this one if you’re heavy into mobile gaming.  For those that are social networking fans and need both the fast connection and hardware keyboard, this device can deliver both.  There are alternatives out there, though.  If you favor a hardware keyboard and don’t mind a 3G connection, the Motorola Droid3 is an acceptable choice.  If you want a fast connection and don’t mind losing the keyboard, the LG Revolution, Droid Charge, or HTC Thunderbolt are all good alternatives with larger screens for the same price.  If you just don’t care about price and need the latest and greatest, hold out for the Galaxy Nexus or Droid RAZR.

Pros:

  • Battery Life is stellar for an Android phone
  • Slide-out keyboard ideal for texting, chatting, social networks, and penning your next great novel on the go.
  • Light-weight and feels great
  • Stylish design
  • Samsung has a great track record with support and updates
  • Low price
  • Super AMOLED display is bright, vivid and clear
Cons:
  • Bloatware!  Dear lord, please stop with the bloatware.
  • Single core processor is an outdated model.
  • Drops data connection frequently
  • Flips between 3G/4G too often
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