I have a secret and for the first time, I’m ready to publicly share it: I despise carrying a wallet. I constantly misplace it, it’s uncomfortable to sit on and over half the cards in my wallet are rarely used. Still I keep them where they are just in case.
But, for the last week, my wallet has felt a bit lighter than normal thanks to a new smart card called the Stratos Card. The swipeable electronic card works with a mobile app to store your credit, debt and gift card information that you can use at any time to pay for purchases.
The all-in-one payment card is fairly new and began officially shipping last month. The company's only real competition is Coin, although other startups such as Plastc, Final, and Swyp offer similar services and are currently taking pre-orders.
In lieu of paying a flat fee for a Stratos Card, the company has users sign up for an upfront $95 per year or $145 two-year membership. The benefits of a signing up for membership lies in the perks: The company monitors your financial security, and upgrades members’ cards for free once a year with the latest technology.
In fact, the company is already developing a second-generation card that features a fingerprint reader and contact-less payment capabilities, says the company's CEO Thiago Olson.
The process for setting up Stratos is fairly straightforward. After downloading the free smartphone app and creating an account, I connected the card reader that came in the mail to an audio jack on my iPhone. After swiping my first card, I was then asked to enter the card name and its CCV number. I repeated the process for a total of five different cards. The information was then transferred from my phone to the smart card through Bluetooth.
A progress bar in the app let me know when the card data I had just scanned was fully uploaded to the rectangular piece of plastic.
The card itself has enough space to store three main cards—with a fourth priority spot—for quick access, although there is space for an unlimited number of cards in the Stratos app. Users can swap in or out their preferred cards with just a few taps on their smartphone.
The company uses PCI-compliant level 1 platform security to keep users information secure, which in layman terms means it uses the same type of security as most commercial banks.
The smartcard also lacks a screen (thereby protecting your personal information from the prying eyes of other consumers and retailers) so each payment is represented by a series of white dots on the card. These same dots double as buttons you can use to alternate between payment sources.
A single tap of the card on a counter or your palm will wake the card, causing a light to start blinking next to the active payment source. Two taps of the card allows you to select another payment method stored on the card and confirm by pressing on any of the dot patterns.
Each time I used Stratos, I would receive a puzzled—if not accusatory—look from the person behind the counter as I started tapping it against the counter. A gentle, slightly embarrassed smile and a brief explanation of why I looked like a mad man usually followed. Almost every single clerk followed up my explanation with “Where can I get one?”
Out of the dozen or so transactions where I used Stratos over the week, only twice did I encounter issues with the card. Once at a convenience store, where for some unexplained reason, I had to swipe the card a half-dozen times before it was successful and payment was recognized.
Another embarrassing incident happened when I accidentally left my phone in the car, and when it came time to pay, the card was unable to find my phone and unlock itself. Luckily I had my debit card as backup.
The experience was a positive example of how Stratos' “lock down” features work to protect your financial security. Users can set a time allotment for the card to automatically lock, requiring users to have their smartphone in order for the card to work again. I set my card to lock after fifteen minutes; a reasonable amount of time I concluded for use in a restaurant or bar. Limits between one minute and 24 hours are available.
After having used a beta version of Coin for the last few months, and experiencing the acute embarrassment that came with it when it failed, I can say Stratos has earned my trust.
Hopefully, I will soon be able to get rid of my wallet and carry a single card around with full confidence that it will work every single time. However, right now, I’m not ready to be left standing in a checkout line with a queue of angry people behind me as I frantically bang a piece of plastic on the counter.