The Stratos Card: Attractive Design, Unattractive Performance

Mike Randall • May 24, 2018

As frequent readers will recall, we wrote about the new Stratos Smart Card and the changes it promised in an article posted here back in March. This all-in-one smart card, along with others like Coin, Swyp, Plastc and Final, promises to slim down that embarrassingly bulky wallet (think George Costanza) by allowing you to carry your credit cards virtually. At least, that’s the idea.

So how does this marvel of technology and consumer spending work in real-world settings like the local Starbucks or your neighborhood dry cleaners?

Early testers of the Stratos Card have reported mixed results, with more than a little confusion on the part of wait-staff and anyone who actually has to handle the card. The reason for this can be explained by the extra complexity of the Stratos Smart Card.

How Stratos Works

If you’ll remember, the Stratos Card actually has a battery and a microprocessor built in, which allows a cardholder to select between three credit cards (or debit cards, gift cards, etc.) stored locally. It also allows them to access the Stratos Card via a smart phone app to select and load an unlimited number of cards.

To activate Stratos and select between the cards stored on the device, tap the card on a surface to wake it up.

To activate Stratos and select between the cards stored on the device, tap the card on a surface to wake it up. At that point, the lights on the card flash, indicating it is active and the default card is ready for use. Two quick taps allows you to select between the three cards stored on it.

It’s this little dance that holds the potential for confusion and may in fact be responsible for a lot of the reported denials or transaction failures.

If, however, you take the time to explain this process to the understandably perplexed individual who’s getting their first look at a Stratos Card, the success rate seems to increase substantially. The question then becomes, do you really want to give a how-to lesson each time you hand your card to a bartender or barista?

Other Problems and Complexities

In addition to the training requirements that accompany the Stratos Card, there are also reports of failures that are seemingly unrelated to improper use.

Do you really want to give a how-to lesson each time you hand your card to a bartender or barista?

For instance, one technology reporter in San Francisco was able to withdraw money from an ATM machine at his bank using Stratos but was unable to make the card work at a generic machine down the street five minutes later.

In addition, many smaller merchants require a transaction validation consisting of the last four digits on the card or the three-digit security code — neither of which is printed on the Stratos Card.

This isn’t a complete disaster, but it requires pulling up the information on your smart phone and allowing the clerk to look at the numbers that way.

The Bottom Line

To be clear, the Stratos Smart Card works as intended the vast majority of the time, and we must also consider both the newness of the platform and the anticipated learning curve of any innovative technology such as this.

However, when paying $95 annually (or $145 for two years) for the convenience the Stratos Card promises, you expect it to work 100 percent of the time.

The new Stratos Card and other cards like it are in their infancy, but it’s safe to say they’re here to stay. What remains is for those intrepid early adopters to work out the kinks and practice all the patience they can in educating the rest of us on how to use these smart cards.

Photo credits:,, and 

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

About the Author

Mike Randall

Mike Randall is most knowledgeable in the areas of credit scores and credit cards, having written on those topics and others for the past eight years. He graduated from California State University with a degree in English literature, and he has an extensive background in personal finance studies.When he's not keeping readers informed of changes in the subprime market, Mike’s hobbies include sailing and gourmet cooking. Connect with Mike on Google+.