Stratos’ futuristic credit card could simplify your wallet, but not yet

Whacking your credit card against the counter every time you pay for something isn’t exactly natural, but it’s what you’ve got to do if you’re carrying the new Stratos smart card. Cashiers will give you quizzical looks and ask to see the card from time to time — especially if it doesn’t work, but hey, you’re riding the wave of the future. No one ever said it’d be easy.

Stratos looks slick, polished, and surprisingly normal.

Smart cards like Stratos are supposed to clear your wallet of cards completely, so you can walk around with all your accounts connected to one slim piece of plastic. Coin, Plastc, Swyp, and others all have their own versions of the same idea, but Stratos takes a novel approach to the idea. Since payment technology is rapidly improving, Stratos is a subscription-only card.

You shell out $95 a year for the privilege of carrying around a very high-tech credit card that you can turn in for an update the moment Stratos has it ready — free of charge. That way, your card always has the latest tech, and you’re not left out in the cold when the credit card companies move to Chip and PIN technology this fall. I’ve used the Stratos card for a few weeks now, and I’m not entirely sure it’s worth it — yet.

Slick look and easy setup

Stratos looks slick, polished, and surprisingly normal, considering that it’s chock full of components. It’s as slim as every other credit card because it has to fit through the same swiping mechanism on every cash register you come across during your day.

On the back, you’ll find not one, but two magstripes — which ensure that the card works at virtually any register — and a space to sign your name. And that’s it — there’s no card number, no CVV code for added security, and no chip for chip and PIN payments (yet). The absence of card numbers on the Stratos adds an element of security, as no hackers can snoop on your card number with hidden cameras.

Stratos prints your name and member number on the front of the card to add a sense of security and cache. This info goes where you’d normally see your name on a credit or debit card. The Stratos logo and name are positioned at the top, and there are three buttons on the right side where each of your primary cards are loaded.

You have to rap the card against a table twice to select the account you want to use. Then, a trio of LEDs light up, and you press the button that corresponds to the correct account. Otherwise, you’ll pay with your primary card. It’s a relatively simple design that’s meant to blend in, and it works. No one questioned that the Stratos was a real credit card — unless it didn’t work, which occasionally happened.

I tapped the card to wake it and swiped it without incident.

Setting it up was as easy as downloading the app, signing in, plugging the card reader into the headphone jack, and swiping my cards through it. Stratos also supports some loyalty rewards cards, which is quite handy. As you add cards, you’ll need to verify the CVV number and expiration date to prove that it’s actually your card. The app then hides that sensitive info, showing only the last four digits of your card and the expiration date. If you want to see your CVV, you’ll have to enter your password or use Touch ID to unlock the card in the app. That added layer of security feels reassuring, as does the bank level encryption, which never reveals your credit card number to anyone.

Overall, setting up the Stratos card was only slightly more complicated than adding cards to Apple Pay, which allows you to add cards by simply snapping a picture — no card reader necessary.

Tap then pay is awesome — until it’s a hassle

Setting up the Stratos card was the least awkward part of the experience. Actually using it wasn’t as smooth. The first time I tried to use it, the card failed. Luckily, the line at Panera Bread was short, so I gave the card another good whack on the counter and tried swiping it again. “It didn’t go through,” the cashier said, looking curiously at the card. “Sometimes it works if I swipe it here.” She smiled and extended her hand for the card. I was kind of worried she’d think I was some kind of criminal if I handed her my weird card and it still didn’t work, so I did what most do when a card’s declined:

“It’s all right,” I said, pulling out my old-fashioned debit card. “I’ll just use this one.”

The next trial run was much smoother. I tapped the card to wake it and swiped it without incident. Every other time I used the card, it worked like a dream. I took out cash at ATMs, bought groceries at the market, and purchased a dozen other small things just for the thrill of seeing it work. I even switched between various cards for the fun of it.

Stratos-Card-iPhone

Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

However, there were times when I just didn’t want to deal with tapping Stratos on the counter, or worrying over the mechanics of how a hand off to waiter works. When you live in New York, people are in a Hurry with a capital H. You can’t spend time tapping your card multiple times before it works. That’s like being the sweet old lady counting out exact change when the line’s out the door. Or that person who still writes checks at the grocery store. New Yorkers won’t stand for it. Sometimes it was just easier to pull out my old standby, which always works.

It’s the same problem Apple Pay, Coin, and any other alternative payment method faces right now. We need payments to just work quickly and reliably — no shenanigans. That said, if any alternative credit card has a chance, it’s Stratos, because the company won’t stop with version 1.0. The Michigan-based company is on a mission to constantly update and improve its technology.

Security upgrades will improve the experience

The Stratos card isn’t seamless, and it isn’t perfect, but it could be in the future. One day, Stratos’ cards will have Chip and PIN, NFC, and even fingerprint sensors for added security. They’ll be infinitely more secure than any credit card on the market (unless banks start doing the same), and they’ll work anywhere, no matter how you use them. At least, that’s the plan.

Stratos is subscription-based so that it can offer you the latest technology, as it comes to the market. It may sound entirely absurd to pay $95 a year for a credit card, and right now, it is. The Stratos card isn’t seamless enough to cost you the same as a Netflix subscription every month unless you’ve got about 17 credit cards, and even then, it’s not entirely practical.

Cut that price in half, and more people might consider it, but even then, it’s a tough sell. Most debit and credit cards are free from your bank, so why pay for something you can get for free? Stratos answers that security and convenience are worth the price. The security argument is valid, but the convenience factor just isn’t there yet. Until it is, your average Joe isn’t going to pay for the luxury of the Stratos card.

The good news is, Stratos has room for improvement. If the company adds all the security features it promises and streamlines the user a experience a little bit more (no more tapping, please), it’ll have a truly competitive smart card.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Computing

Gaming laptops with Nvidia’s flagship RTX cards could arrive by CES 2019

Rumors suggest that Nvidia will take the wraps off its flagship RTX graphics card for laptops at around CES 2019. If the timeline is accurate, this will mean we'll hear laptops with RTX GPUs announced at the show.
Computing

Nvidia is slowly rolling out its next generation of GPUs. Here's what you need to know about them

Nvidia's new RTX 2000 series graphics cards are impressive pieces of hardware, with some amazing advancements and some rather high price tags to match. Here's everything you need to know about Nvidia's new top-tier cards.
Movies & TV

‘House of Cards’ season 6 trailer has Claire defending her destiny

Season 6 of the award-winning political drama House of Cards premieres in November, and Netflix has released a new trailer previewing the challenges in store for U.S. President Claire Underwood.
Mobile

iOS 12.0.1 fixes iPhone XS charging issue, Wi-Fi bugs, and more

After months of betas, the final version of iOS 12 is here to download. The latest OS comes along with tons of new capabilities, from grouped notifications to Siri Shortcuts. Here are all the features you'll find in iOS 12.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
Mobile

OnePlus charges into U.K. carrier stores, leaving online-only start in the past

OnePlus's next phone, the OnePlus 6T, will be more widely available than any OnePlus phone before it, as the company has announced major deals with retailers in the U.K. The device launches on October 30.
Product Review

The all-new Palm wants to be many things, but it’s really just a tiny smartphone

The all-new Palm is here, and it’s tinier than ever. Exclusive to Verizon, it syncs to your primary smartphone and acts as a secondary device -- with features to help you disconnect from technology. But at $350, is it worth the high price…
Mobile

The Palm has been revived, and it wants to help you limit your smartphone usage

A reboot of the classic Palm is finally here and it's tiny. It syncs to your phone and acts as a secondary device -- with a feature to help you disconnect from technology. At $350, the Palm will be available exclusively through Verizon.
Photography

Adobe is bringing Photoshop to the iPad and, eventually, other tablets

A full version of Photoshop is coming to the iPad -- and soon, other tablets, as well. Adobe also launched several new features for Photoshop and Lightroom, including a new Content-Aware Fill tool.
Mobile

The Huawei Mate 20 may come with a massive 40W charger

Huawei is no stranger when it comes to big phones. And this year it plans to go even bigger with the Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro. Here's what we think we know about the new range.
Home Theater

Dish Network or DirecTV: Which is the better choice for you?

So, you’ve chosen to go with a satellite television provider. Check out our quick rundown of what both Dish Network and DirecTV offer in terms of content, hardware, and pricing, and why you might choose them over streaming services.
Mobile

Upcoming iPad may lose a few millimeters, along with its headphone jack

The new iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and Apple Watch aren't the last devices we'll see from Apple in 2018. There are plenty of rumors about a new iPad coming this year too, and it may share some design similarities with the new phones.
Product Review

Mediocre battery and a big notch slight Google's otherwise perfect Pixel phone

Google’s Pixel 3 XL has two big flaws: The gigantic notch on the front, and mediocre battery life. That being said, this is the best Android experience you can find in a smartphone today.
Product Review

Google’s Pixel 3 is a hair away from pocket-sized perfection

Google’s Pixel 3 smartphone is the best Android phone you can buy. It doesn’t have the best looks or the best hardware, but you’ll be hard pressed to find better software and unique A.I. functionalities.