The Samsung Stratosphere is the latest 4G phone from Verizon, and to the delight of certain parts of the Android world, it's also a full QWERTY slider. The mid-range device is based on the last generation of Galaxy S phone, and as far as feel and dimensions go, it's got a lot in common with its cousin the Epic 4G. It's launching at a relatively cheap $149.99 - a song for an true LTE slider phone. Our initial impressions follow.
Like most sliders, the Stratosphere feels a little chunky in the hand. It's not the thickest phone we've ever seen at 14mm, but it's noticeably larger than the Motorola DROID 3 with the same screen size and form factor. It's also lighter, which makes for a less cumbersome ride in your pocket. The textured plastic back sticks to your hand nicely, and the extra girth means that there's no dramatic "Galaxy hump" on the back, making the phone lie flat on a table or dash.
The keyboard has its ups and downs. A full five rows means you don't have to use modifier keys for number entry, which is convenient. But it means that the keys themselves are extremely narrow, and my (admittedly pudgy) fingers would easily strike the key above or below the one I wanted. After a few minutes I fount myself angling my fingernail uncomfortably for more precision.
If you've ever played with any of the original Galaxy S models, you know what to expect from the Stratosphere's sliding AMOLED screen. It's 800 x 480 screen isn't the sharpest around now that 960 x 540 screens (and soon enough, full 720p screens as well) are out there, but it's vivid and easy to read. The display will serve for all but the most demanding of phone users. And for this price, it's hard to beat. a 5 megapixel rear camera and 1.3 front camera are standard, but 720p video recording is a nice addition.
TouchWiz has aged surprisingly well as it makes the shift to Gingerbread. Little touches like a power control bar integrated into the notification tray and a quick settings menu are nice enough to forget my preference for unhindered Android. The Gingerbread phone is responsive, thanks to a 1GHz single-processor. I only wish that fewer included apps came - if I wanted Blockbuster, NFL Mobile or Need For Speed, I'd download them from the Android Market.
The Stratosphere's large 1800 mAh battery should help it power through a full workday, even if you spend some time on 4G. On that note, you can see that the Stratosphere is Verizon's first LTE smartphone to use the new Micro-SIM standard. 4GB of internal storage isn't great, but an included 4GB MicroSD card should fill it out, and you can easily find a cheap upgrade. We'll have a full review of the Samsung Stratosphere in the next few days. Until then, check out our hands-on unboxing video below.