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Connecting my life: The smart card that finally let me ditch my wallet

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 8:59PM EST
IoT Devices Review

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Smart, connected cards like the Stratos card are not the future. It’s important that I clarify that right off the bat. These cards offer some very cool functionality, allowing users to store the swipe information from all of their credit cards, debit cards and more on a single device, and then select which card to use on the fly.

In time, however, these cards will be made completely obsolete — even once they adopt newer chip and PIN technology. Mobile payment services like Apple Pay will eventually be adopted more widely, and smart cards will become obsolete.

But with that having been said, we’re still many, many years from seeing mobile payment services reach those levels of adoption. In the meantime, the new Stratos card is here today, and it has allowed me to completely ditch my wallet.

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Our “Connecting my life” series has been very well received by readers, and it generally focuses on Internet of Things devices intended for use in and around the home. Most recently, we covered the Pronto, which transformed by iPhone for just $50.

But the connected life extends well beyond the home, and a new category of connected device is fighting for attention while mobile payments systems struggle to achieve wider adoption.

Enter Stratos, one of several smart card products in the process of launching. I write “in the process of launching” because there still isn’t a smart card that you can order today and see shipped out in any sort of timely fashion — and that includes the Stratos card. Stratos has begun shipping to early adopters who preordered the device though, and the company sent me one to test.

So far, I have been quite impressed.

Stratos connects to a companion app on your smartphone using Bluetooth, and it ships with a card swiper you plug into your phone’s audio port to add credit cards, debit cards, gift cards and more to the companion app. Once you’ve added your cards, you won’t need that swiper again until you get new cards you’d like to add.

Once your cards are loaded into the app, you can choose as many as four cards to sync over to your Stratos card. There are three main slots for your “favorite” cards that you use often, and then a fourth slot intended for a card that you might want to use temporarily, like a gift card.

Using the card is very simple, but also a bit odd. To wake the Stratos card and prepare it for use, you have to tap it lightly on anything from your hand or phone to a wallet or counter. Tapping the card once will wake it and enable the card you used most recently, and tapping it twice instead will allow you to then select a different card by holding your finger on one of the four touch-sensitive buttons.

As you might imagine, you’ll get a few stares from cashiers and wait staff when you pull out your card and smack it on something to wake it up.

Another issue with the card is that it has no display. This means that card numbers are not shown anywhere on the device, nor are CCV security codes. Some POS systems require cashiers to manually enter the CCV code or the last four digits of a card number after swiping, so users may run into problems at times, unless the cashier is willing to accept those numbers from the app instead of off the card itself.

In terms of reliability, Stratos says the card will work anywhere normal cards work, and I have yet to find anything that would lead me to believe otherwise. The card has worked reliably everywhere I have used it to pay for something, and it also worked in an ATM.

Also of note, there are security features that let you lock your Stratos card after a user-defined period from the time the card was last synced with your phone. This means that unlike a regular credit card, the Stratos card will be unusable if it’s ever lost or stolen — provided the security feature is enabled.

Stratos is unlike other upcoming smart cards in a number of ways, and one of them is the cost. Where other connected cards can be purchased with a one-time fee, Stratos charges an annual subscription fee of $95 or $145 for two years of membership.

The card also cannot be recharged, but Stratos monitors the battery level and will notify you when it’s time to get a new card. Customers will get one free replacement card per year as part of their subscription.

So far, I have enjoyed my time with the Stratos card. Whereas my Coin beta was an early version that didn’t work in many places I tried to use it, the Stratos card has been quite reliable so far. And since it has been so reliable, I actually do leave my wallet at home from time to time now, choosing instead to card only the Stratos card and my driver’s license in a slot on my iPhone case.

Now, for the bad news: while Stratos cards have indeed begun shipping to early adopters, new orders won’t be delivered for quite some time. According to the Stratos website, new orders placed today are currently scheduled to ship by October of this year.

“Connecting my life” is a series that offers personal accounts of ways BGR’s writers and editors use devices that fall into the smart home and Internet of Things categories.

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.