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Samsung Stratosphere (Verizon Wireless) review:

Samsung Stratosphere (Verizon Wireless)

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Before you think we're done here, there are several other features hidden from view in the app tray. Business-focused capabilities include VPN settings, encryption, Microsoft ActiveSync e-mail, and ActiveSync calendar syncing. As it happens, the Samsung Galaxy S II has these features, too, so the Stratosphere isn't quit unique in that.

The Stratosphere also has Wi-Fi Direct, which allows two certified Wi-Fi dishes to talk to one another. The phone also qualifies as a Verizon hot spot.

The camera software is easy to use, with icons for choosing among six shooting modes, three flash modes, exposure value, and everything from focus mode and 14 scene modes, to white balance and effects. So in essence, it has all the tweaks and adjustments that should be present in an Android camera.

Photos were pretty good: sharp and clear, with strong color fidelity.

A 5-megapixel camera may not be the highest-end camera in numbers (that honor would belong to an 8-megapixel shooter), but with the right combination of hardware and software, 5-megapixel lenses have been known to produce some really fantastic shots. The Stratosphere is such a phone, creating excellent photos with sharp, defined edges and good color fidelity. The front-facing camera shots were also less grainy than I've seen on other phones.

Video recorded and played back smoothly with the 720p HD video camera, but with all smartphone camcorders, the volume on the video subject is rather low. The video camera struggled a bit adjusting the lighting in various low-lit and artificially lit indoor scenes.

The Stratosphere has 512MB internal memory, and holds up to 32GB external storage.

I tested the dual-band (CDMA 850, 1900; 750 LTE) using Verizon's network in San Francisco, calling to both landlines and cell phones. Call quality was good in some aspects and disappointing in others. On my end, volume was loud enough, and the call clarity was impressive, with no background noise and no crackling, although there were moments when the line cut out, and moments of digital interference. The largest complaint--and it is a significant one--is that voices also frequently warbled, which made it hard to follow along. I didn't hear it every time during my testing period, but heard it enough to make it distracting.

On their end, callers had mixed opinions. During one test call, the caller said I sounded clear and loud, but that there was an "airiness" around the sound that made my voice sound soft and almost echoey. Another caller heard a background hiss and said it sounded like I was cutting out.

Samsung Stratosphere call quality sample Listen now:

The warbled voice quality I heard grew more pronounced when I switched on speakerphone. Holding the phone at waist-level, voices on the other end dropped in volume, so I had to increase the volume to make up for it. As with many speakerphone units, voices sounded buzzy and tinny to me. On their end, callers said I sounded distant and hollow, and that it was harder to understand me than it has been on other speaker phones.

Verizon's 4G LTE network was impressive on the Stratosphere, and it hung on to 4G throughout most of San Francisco, though it did drop to 3G several times, including while indoors. CNET's mobile-optimized site loaded in 13 seconds, and the full, graphically rich site, in 20 seconds (it can often take between 45 seconds and a minute on 3G phones). The New York Times' mobile site finished loading in a mere 3.5 seconds, with the desktop version loading in just 11 seconds. In addition to real-life tests, I also checked out the Stratosphere's speed using Ookla's app. Speeds were generally strong but ranged throughout San Francisco from as low as 6Mbps download (which is still great for 3G in this city) to as high as 32Mbps. Mostly, though, they ranged from 15 to 25Mbps. Speeds ranged from 4 to 13Mbps up, with much more fluctuation than the download speeds.

Most of the time, the 1GHz Samsung Cortex A8 Hummingbird did the trick, taking just a beat for programs to load. Yet there were frustrating moments when the phone didn't respond when it should have. For instance, I held the phone in portrait mode to review photos, and the onscreen controls stubbornly remained in landscape mode while I e-mailed five photos to myself. There was sometimes a bit of camera shutter lag.

The Stratosphere has a rated battery life of up to 8 hours talk time and 8.8 days standby time on its 1,800mAh battery. FCC tests reveal a digital SAR of 0.45 watt per kilogram.

The Samsung Stratosphere is a sleek, sophisticated Android 2.3 Gingerbread smartphone with nice specs under its belt. Still, as a cousin to the first-run of Samsung Galaxy phones, it isn't as top-of-line as we're seeing. That's no crime at all; not every phone needs to be nor should be a cutting-edge, $200 or $300 handset, and the Stratosphere's dual cameras and 1GHz processor mostly do a great job delivering. However, unless they're intent on a keyboarded smartphone, Verizon's target market of business users could fracture and seek other models with dual-core processors and even better cameras and tools.

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