Samsung Stratosphere Review

October 24, 2011
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To date there are only eight 4G smartphones available from Verizon, and with the notable exception of the Samsung Stratosphere, all of them are slate-style phones. If you want a keyboard with your LTE, then this is it. The QWERTY slider is very, very similar to the Samsung Epic 4G, with the distinction that it comes on Verizon and features Gingerbread. So, how does it stack up against other 4G phones and QWERTY slider from Verizon? Let's find out.

Hardware

The Epic 4G was technically part of the first generation Samsung Galaxy S line, and it appears that the Stratosphere is following in its footsteps. Though no mention is made of the "S" branding on the phone or the packaging, you can spot a quick logo flash by on the rather long bootup. That being the case, you know what to expect here: 1GHz processor, 4-inch, 800 x 480 Super AMOLED screen, and a good if not great construction. Inside the box you get a data cable, USB charging adapter, the 1800 mAh battery, and that's it. The device's 4GB of internal memory is bolstered by the included 4GB MicroSD card next to the LTE Micro-SIM.

The screen is the same one you've seen on Galaxy S models on all carriers. It's bright and vivid, if not especially sharp by late 2011 standards, but the Super AMOLED panel makes up for its pedestrian 800 x 480 resolution. The sliding mechanism works well enough, even if it's not quite as snappy as the one found on the DROID 3.

The Stratosphere is relatively light in the hand for a chunky 14mm phone. Despite cramming a full keyboard and a big battery in with a decent-sized screen and a sliding mechanism, it isn't much heavier than my daily driver DROID X, and considerably lighter than a DROID 3 in the same form factor. The lack of weight leaves it feeling a little empty, but the extra bulk makes it comfortable to hold in landscape or portrait mode.

The prime differentiator for the phone is the sliding keyboard, and unfortunately, it falls a little flat. There's a lot of space in between the individual keys, making it very difficult to hit the specific key you're looking for at times. I often hit the key above or below the one I was intending, a problem I haven't had on similar phones from HTC and Motorola. Eliminating the number row Treo-style might have helped considering the vertical height issue. At least hardware navigation buttons are included, making getting around Android with a deployed keyboard easy. But on most occasions, I stuck with the included Swype virtual keyboard and saved the hassle.

Software

TouchWiz and Gingerbread are familiar bedfellows. If you've tried your hand at a Samsung phone in the last two years you know what to expect. The lockscreen, homescreen and skin are pleasant even if they tend to ape the iPhone a bit too much (just don't tell Samsung I said that!). Little touches like a link to the task manager on the home button's app switcher are nice, and I found myself using the power controls built-in to the notification bar a lot.

The interface is snappy on its 1GHz processor and 512 MB of RAM. I never had issues opening apps, but the browser tends to get bogged down easily - at one point it refused to open more than four windows after some Flash-heavy surfing. The browsing itself is pretty solid; even on my 3G connection I had snappy response, and plugin support was just fine.

There seems to be a disturbing trend among Verizon phones of enabling Wifi by default, then pushing users into connecting to an open hotspot for any app that uses data. The Wifi switch has even been removed from the power widget to make it less obvious that it's on. I can understand why they're doing it now that almost all customers are capped, but it's sneaky and it drains the battery faster by default. Remember to switch Wifi off on your new phone if you don't intend to use it.

There's a lot of bloatware included on the phone, even by Verizon's standards. Before ever opening the Market I had Kindle, Blockbuster, City ID, Let's Golf, NFL Mobile, Need For Speed, QuickOffice, Slacker, and five V-Cast apps. It looks like they're not messing with the inner workings of the software, which is nice, but prospective owners will be glad to know that a root method has already been found.

Phone and Signal

The phone's reception is solid and call quality is acceptable, if a little bit under what I'm used to hearing. Even at my relatively isolated home, long conversations weren't a problem. What was a problem was a tendency to drop data for long stretches of time. After booting or coming out of airplane mode, it was often five minutes or more before I could connect to data services, despite having a full five bars of coverage. This was very frustrating, as I watched my normal Verizon phone and MiFi connect without issue at the same time.

Speeds were within acceptable ranges for local 3G, and 4G testing proved to be within line for other LTE phones if you're lucky enough to be in a coverage area. Even when connected I sometimes had strange issues getting a particular site or sometimes the Android Market to load. There's clearly a few kinks that still need to be worked out of the Stratosphere's software.

Camera

The Stratosphere's 5 megapixel camera isn't going to wow you, and neither is its 480p video recording. This is clearly a Facebook, Twitter and YouTube-quality photo experience - bring along a decent point-and-shoot if you're wanting some quality shots. The front-facing camera is a nice inclusion, even at VGA quality, and at $150, it's good enough.

Battery Life

This is where the Stratosphere shines. A relatively large 1800 mAh battery seems to run forever on this midrange phone, assuming you stay off of 4G. I managed to get a day and a half of battery life out of it, even though I watched a 90-minute movie in Amazon's flash player and spent a little time taking advantage of the mobile hotspot feature. It's not often I get to say this, but unless you're streaming for five or six hours at a time, I don't see how any normal user could deplete the battery in a single day.

The long-lasting battery alone makes the Stratosphere worth a second look, since it's an unfortunate rarity among Android phones. For those of you who plan to take advantage of Verizon's LTE network, you'll be needing every ounce of juice you can get, and on that score, the Stratosphere delivers.

Wrap Up

Provided that you're on Verizon, you want a 4G phone and you absolutely cannot live without a physical keyboard, congratulations: this is your phone. It's literally your only choice in that market, and unfortunately, it looks like it's going to be that way for a while. That said, the software experience is just OK, and the keyboard is definitely one of the lower sliders we've seen on Verizon. The Galaxy S makes a decent base for a mid-range phone, but there are better ones out there - just not on LTE.

That said, the battery life is great on the Stratosphere, and it can't be beat at $150. The phone keeps going when much more expensive alternatives are already begging for a hit of AC current, and considering the battery woes that plague a lot of Android phones, that's no small matter.

If you need a keyboard and don't care about 4G, go for the Motorola DROID 3. If you need 4G and don't care about a keyboard, the LG Revolution, Samsung DROID CHARGE and HTC Thunderbolt are the same price with an even larger screen. If money is no object, for God's sake, wait for the DROID RAZR or the Galaxy Nexus next month. But if you absolutely need the combination of 4G LTE and a disappointingly lackluster keyboard, go for it.

Check out our hands-on video below to help make up your mind:

[device id=1936]


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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W6FRQGCOL4C3OMNG6HMVCRF6RI Ratas

    nice review thanks!

  • sbus

    Funny – The box my stratoshere came in says “Samsung Stratosphere, a GalaxyS 9tm) phone”.  So the statement in the review “Though no mention is made of the “S” branding on the phone or the packaging [,...]” is incorrect.

  • Medea

    the phone is phenom, but the ear piece is zzzizzzing.  I just got my phone last night, but gosh, I can’t live with listening to callers with what sounds like a blown-speaker-effect in my ear.  Anyone experiencing this?

    • Anon2

      Some friends just got 2 of these phones and they randomly get the blown out speaker/crackly voice transmission problem quite frequently…it’s awful and noticeable on both ends of the call.  Yuck.

  • Johnruffo

    I cant get phone to light up on new Text messages and emails, just vibrate or make the ringtone.

    Any suggestions ?

    • http://www.lilithofsherwood.com MarsAcademy

      It has no LED to light. Use the app “noLED” as a workaround

    • Mlm24414

      Having the same problem with my phone.  It had a tone when I got a text message and then I would hi the side button and see a puzzle piece to slide with the number of messages.  Now my phone doesn’t do either… Did you figure yours out yet?

    • Jodi

      it wont light up. you can download an app called missed call reminder so atleast you will hear more than one notification.

    • tyler okonnwb

      ITS NOT SUPPOSE TO LIGHT UP IT IS LIKE THAT ON EVERY PHONE

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mohammed-Akbar/100002647358467 Mohammed Akbar

    The Samsung Stratosphere is a 4G LTE gadget for Verizon. It has a  4-inch Super AMOLED display and 5MP camera and comfortable to use.  

  • Pllong1960

    Samsung I405 Stratosphere will not work on cox.net

  • Robbie

    The battery life on my stratosphere sucks.  It will drain in one day without even using the damn thing.  I want my money back

    • http://www.greenless.com Lex Lybrand

      Seriously. Mine died at 1:30pm today (took it off the charger at 8am). I barely touched the thing all day.

      I can’t wait for CM7 so I can try this thing out without all the bloat.

      • Nicholas Jabbour

        SOME people are smartphone newbies. :-p phones that last more than a day at most whether you use them or not is a feature of flip-phones, not smartphones. :-p

  • Paul Seader

    I’m also disappointed with the battery life (or lack thereof).  I was down to 20 percent after 9 hours and it was in standy mode for most of that time.

    • UncleYimpy

      Looking at different reviews of this phone read something about shutting off the WIFI
      it drains the battery faster by default. Switch Wifi off on your new phone if you don’t  use it.

      • Maryhelpart

         I adjusted all that I could on this phone and checked the task manager every 15 min to be sure nothing was running.  The backlight was as low as possible and I didn’t even use it to get onto the internet for fear of my battery draining. Wifi is off too.  Nothing worked. Verizon told me the battery is 1100 mAH and the info above says 1800mAH.  Its NOT.

  • http://www.trafficbuilder.biz/ seo service provider

    I’m also disappointed with the battery life

  • Magic2661

    i have he extended life battery and it goes 5 hours on standby.  It is absolutely worthless.

  • Dismal

    not everyone may know this however if u try and connect the phone to the computer with a cord not for this particular phone or charge it with a regular charger u will have some issues ^^; I found this out the hard way.

  • Dismal

    btw i charged my fone (with the charger it came with) for um… idk till it was done (around 9:00am) i’m still playing on it now (5:53pm) So u guys aren’t using the charger that came with it, and if u are i would take it back and say the battery is faulty (or maybe u have alot of background stuff running)

  • Bwpatsfan

    How do you set the auto power on/off or alarm clock if these features are available?

    • Cboettcher222

      Ever find this feature? Curious myself.

  • Thighwood

    it mutes on me in the middle of conversations, No i havent hit the mute button. 

    • BA

      I am having the same problem.  I took my first phone back because of this and my second is doing the same thing.

      • Jodi

        Im on phone number 3 because of this problem. And now the new one deletes pictures and shuts off in the middle of the night with a full battery.

  • Rich

    why is data usage always spinning

  • Tshaffer99

    this phone closes out my windows randomly,when i get a text or something or typeing a text

    • Hannah Smith

      mine does too. when i am texting it exits out and goes to something else.

  • Shannon

    My on screen keyboard keeps switching to Chinese and I can’t get it to say on English….help!

  • Cboettcher222

    Does anyone know if the Stratosphere has an auto on/off feature?

    • Ljames6828

      Yes it does. There is a. 15 sec, 30 sec ,1,2 and 10 min auto shut off.

  • Hannah Smith.

    The vibrate on my phone is messing up. It used to be the long buzzing, now it’s a short one and i can’t feel when it vibrates. I can’t change it, i’ve already tried. Also, battery life is very disappointing. It dies in less than 5 hours when i am on it. I have all the display settings on the lowest changes. But, I also have 4G. I don’t know how to switch back to 3G.

  • Maryhelpart

    I just purchased the Stratosphere and warning to all considering it, You will have to buy a $50 1800 mAH battery if you hope to get through the day with it.  The battery it comes with lasts about 4 hours and you’ll carry your charger around with you wherever you go.  I returned mine today after buying it 4 days ago.

  • Tabithamceachern2000

    I have to say, this is the least durable phone I’ve ever owned.  Broke 2 of them in one week- the first was a fluke- didn’t drop, crush or do anything out of the ordinary and broke the screen.  In the same week- I did drop it, not very far and had 2 cases on it- one for the back and one for the screen- either way it cracked and now I’m switching to a different phone all together.  Kind of disappointed because I usually prefer Samsung products.  So if you think you are EVER going to drop or bump this phone once, it’s probably not the phone for you.  

  • Tom

    Nice phone. My battery has a long run. My only gripe is that my phone now and then shuts itself off for no apparent reason. This bothers me because it means that I have no idea when people are calling. I see on the forums that this randomly shutting off is a problem for many. It doesn’t happen that often, so if all else remains the same, I’m happy with it.

  • Tlnicholls

    When I power off my phone and turn it back on, it starts ringing and will not stop, Just this annoying ringing. Also, when when checking messages, the keypad will not stay on long enough to enter the password or dial an extension it blacks itself out..

  • Nancy A.

    Mine’s a piece of junk, and I’ve never had trouble with a phone before.  I’ve had 3 replacements.  Always a chirping and squealing issue when talking on it.  At times I sound muffled or garbled to whomever I’m speaking to.  I have to shut off the phone, take out the battery, and call them back.  It’s slow and my battery lasts approximately a day.  I’ve compared it’s speed to a friend’s Motorola, and his beats mine hands down.  No one will just give me a new one.  I’ve been with Verizon for years and this is EXTREMELY disappointing!  I’ve had trouble from day ONE! 

  • Brian S

    Avoid this phone like the plague.  It is by far the worst phone that I have ever owned.  It is unable to keep a data connection for more then a few minutes.  Have had the same issue on two different phones and 3 diffferent SIM cards.  

  • Jodi

    Im on phone number 3 because my callers cant hear me in the middle of a call. And now the new one deletes pictures and shuts off in the middle of the night with a full battery. I have never in my life had such a problem with a cell phone.

  • Greg

    Who is the jerk who wrote this review saying “battery life is where the stratosphere really shines”? Not a chance. I took my first phone back because I was so sure I had received a defective battery. Not so as my second phone is just as bad. Switching from 4g to 3G only only plugs a few holes in the sieve that is this battery. Unbelievable. My only problem is that I love everything else about this phone. Any other battery saving suggestions? According to my battery manager display and email take up 70% of my battery. How could this be?

  • ryland

    Anyone looking to buy this phone, don’t read into the comments that say it’s a piece of junk. Only people that have problems with their phone take the time to leave a bad comment. I’ve had mine since it first came out and it’s been great. Battery lasts me all day,the keyboard is awesome, and 4g is super fast. If you get this phone make sure to get a rubber case because it is made of mostly glass and will shatter if you barely drop it (trust me I know.)

  • ILOVEVBALL24

    THIS PHONE IS HORRIBLEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DONT EVER GET IT!!!!!!!!!!

  • Vern

    The features looked promising – unfortunately battery life sucks – I have 2 gigs of memory internally available 1 gig of extended memory and I cannot receive texts as my “memory is full” and I am receiving asian scripts when typing in English and I have reverted back to a 5 year old LG with quirky which provide better email, text and voice quality with less than 2 MB of phone memory and only 1 gig of extended memory…thus this “upgrade” was the biggest waste of time and money…I am dumbfounded…..

  • Vern

    The features looked promising – unfortunately battery life sucks – I have 2 gigs of memory internally available 1 gig of extended memory and I cannot receive texts as my “memory is full” and I am receiving asian scripts when typing in English and I have reverted back to a 5 year old LG with quirky which provide better email, text and voice quality with less than 2 MB of phone memory and only 1 gig of extended memory…thus this “upgrade” was the biggest waste of time and money…I am dumbfounded…..

  • Bananalisa

    I hate this phone! I have had to replace it four times in one year. It turns off for no reasona nd then takes hours to turn back on. This last time it decided to reset itself and it was january 1st and the time was wrong. It wouldn’t let me get any mobile network so of course you couldn’t use it for anything! It is a piece of junk!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessicareneaqueen Jessica Queen

    This phone is a POS!!!! it shuts off whenever it wants to,,,, i am on my 3rd phone in 4 months because it just doesn’t charge! what is that? I would not reccomend this phone to ANYONE!!!!!

  • Kristin

    This phone is crap. Bought this sweet phone Nov 2011…about 4 months into ownership my phone would have this annoying ring when rebooting…after taking it to best buy and to have them look at it..wouldn’t ya know I could not duplicate the problem. One day it just stopped doing it. Now my screen locks up and causes my phone to restart, it lags quite a bit and holds a charge for nothing. Verizon claims there are no known issues however I googled it and was surprised to see others experiencing the same thing. Never again Samsung…love your HDTV’s but the phone blows!!!