Apple Pay may have made it easier to shop without reaching for your wallet, but a new Bluetooth card may eliminate the wallet entirely. Stratos is a connected payment card that features dual-magnetic stripes for more accurate account and identity information and sensors that let you pull up information by knocking the card on your phone. Stratos is available today (March 3) for a $95-per-year subscription fee, and will start shipping next month.
The membership model is new to the connected cards market, as other devices such as Coin and Plastc require just one-time payments of $100 and $155, respectively. But Stratos's subscription model includes an upgrade to a new device every year, which is good news since the battery that powers the card lasts just two years.
Getting a new card each year also ensures Stratos's customers have the most up-to-date technology -- such as getting a replacement card with chip-and-pin technology. Chip-and-pin cards are expected to be the de facto mode of transaction in the near future, as they are more secure than mag swipe transactions.
Like other connected cards, Stratos is set up via a companion smartphone app (for iOS and Android); it also ships with a card reader to let you swipe your credit cards into the system. Within the app, you can select three cards that you use most frequently as the default options. You can access these methods on the card by tapping one of the three buttons on the right of the card.
During my time with the Stratos, I liked the sandpaper-like texture on the card, which gave it a more durable, premium feel. I could barely tell the three "buttons" were there -- each was just a square grid of nine circles. But touching each of these buttons selects the card associated with it, and the mag stripes on the back of the Stratos is rewritten to take on that data.
You can add more than three cards to Stratos, selecting the one you wish to use via the app. When you enter a place where you can use a saved card, such as a Macy's gift card, the location-aware app will bring up a suggestion on your phone to let you turn the Stratos into that card. When you want to quickly pick a different card, you can knock the Stratos against any surface (such as your phone's display) twice, and it will pull up your list of saved options for you to pick. The card has built-in sensors, such as an accelerometer, to detect the knocks.
More Accurate For Use Everywhere
Stratos also offers a more accurate, and therefore more widely accepted, system than existing products. Using a dual-magstripe, the Stratos card is able to store and transmit two tracks of information instead of one like in rival cards Coin, Plastc and LoopPay. In traditional credit cards, the magnetic stripes store 3 tracks of information -- track 1 stores identity information such as cardholder's name, track 2 stores account data, while track 3 is currently redundant.
Because Stratos can hold identity and account information, you can use it at an ATM or a subway card dispenser, where you have to dip your card into a terminal rather than swipe or tap it. Stratos told us that devices such as LoopPay will randomly fail 15 percent of the time because they don't carry the first track.
Stratos makes use of tokenization to issue a one-time key (or token) to mask your credit card prior to each transaction; even if the transmission is hacked, all the would-be thieves would see is a useless string that doesn't reveal your account information. Both Apple Pay and the newly announced Android Pay use a similar approach.
Through the Stratos app, a lockdown feature lets you set the amount of time your card can be separated from your phone before all the data gets wiped off it. This means that if you are out of Bluetooth range from your card for a minute (if that's the duration you set), the card will be wiped of your credit card data.
In the future, Stratos wants to work with merchants to allow for downloads of loyalty and gift cards, or perhaps even hotel keys, so that you don't have to face the hassle of swiping everything into the app yourself. I'm particularly intrigued by the possibility of being able to check into a hotel and download my room key to my connected card immediately without having to worry about keeping track of a physical key. While the subscription model puts me off Stratos a bit, as it's more expensive over time than its competitors, the promise of a more accurate card with more integration everywhere is exciting.
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