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.


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.


Check out the four cool Swatch watches you can use for mobile payments

Swatch has announced its Swatchpay technology is now available in Switzerland, enabling mobile payments from your Swatch watch. It works in a similar way to Apple Pay and Google Pay. Here's everything about it.

Here are all the awesome games you can play without a fancy graphics card

Just because you don't have a dedicated graphics card, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of the best games out there right now. This is our list of the best games you can play on Intel integrated graphics.

Stop your PC's vow of silence with these tips on how to fix audio problems

Sound problems got you down? Don't worry, with a few tweaks and tricks we'll get your sound card functioning as it should, and you listening to your favorite tunes and in-game audio in no time.

Lost your router? Here's how to find its IP address to help track it down

Changing the login information for your router isn't always easy, that's why so many have that little card on the back. But in order to use it, you need to know where to go. Here's how to find the IP address of your router.

Verizon’s deal could get you a free iPhone XR — but there’s some fine print

Verizon launched a new deal for its smartphones aimed at encouraging customers to open a new line. If you're willing and you want two new phones, you could get a free Samsung Galaxy S9, iPhone XR, or Pixel 3.

From DIY to AAA, here's how to take a passport photo in 6 different ways

If you're applying for a passport or renewing one, you need to submit a photo in your official application. There are strict guidelines, but fortunately, it's something you can do at home. Here's how to take a passport photo.

OpenTable points can now be used to whittle down cost of a hotel stay

Have some OpenTable Dining Points built up? Now those points can also be used to make your own hotel discounts. OpenTable is teaming up with Kayak to use points as discounts on participating hotels.

Get $100 discount on the Razer Phone 2 for a limited time

The Razer Phone 2 is finally here, and it's got upgraded specs, that super-smooth 120Hz display, and an updated design. Here's absolutely everything you need to know about the Razer Phone 2.

REI slashes prices on Suunto, Garmin, and Fitbit Versa smartwatches

Though fitness trackers and smartwatches can get pretty pricey, REI is offering some sweet discounts on top brands. Right now, you can get a new smartwatch from Fitbit, Suunto, and Garmin for up to 35 percent off its normal price.
Social Media

Twitter suffers privacy scare as bug reveals tweets of protected accounts

If you set your Twitter account to private and you have an Android device, you'd better check your settings now. Twitter says it's just fixed a four-year-old bug that flipped the privacy switch to make the account public.

How to jailbreak your iPhone on iOS 12: A beginner’s guide

The latest jailbreaking tools for iOS 12 make freeing your iOS device easier than ever. This guide will teach you how to jailbreak your iPhone or iPad, and explain what jailbreaking will do for you.
Social Media

Spice up your Instagram videos by adding your top tunes to the soundtrack

Have you ever taken a beautiful video, only to have it ruined by some jerk in the background yelling curse words? Here's a list of apps you can use to add your own music to Instagram posts as well as your Story.
Home Theater

Dolby’s secret recording studio app may soon exit stealth mode

In secret testing since June, Dolby's stealth recording and social network app may soon be ready to make an appearance. Dolby 234 blends unique noise-canceling tech with Instagram-like audio filters.

Google is buying mysterious smartwatch tech from The Fossil Group for $40 million

Google is about to step up its smartwatch game. The company has agreed to buy an unnamed smartwatch technology from The Fossil Group for a hefty $40 million. Considering the acquisition, it's clear Google is serious about smartwatches.