It’s a contentious market, given all of Coin’s struggles, but more and more competitors are lining up to try their hand at the all-in-one payment card. Next one up is Stratos—formerly Protean Payments, Stratos announced they were developing such a card last fall, and has remained silent since then. They’ve now broken that silence for a good enough reason—they have a product ready to ship.
The basics of the Stratos Card are the same as Coin—you can store debit cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, gas cards—anything with a magnetic stripe—in the Stratos app, which will be transferred to the plastic Stratos Card, which can be used in lieu of all those other cards. Stratos has a few other features worth checking out, though, including favorites. In the app, you’ll be able to assign three cards to touch buttons on the Stratos Card, to quickly switch between your three most-used cards. You’ll also be able to double-tap the card on your phone’s lock screen, which will bring up a suggested card based on your location. The example given was bringing up your gas card when you’re at a gas station.
When you go to pay, you should be able to swipe or tap with your Stratos Card. If you lose it, you’ll be able to shut it down remotely from the app, making it more secure in that sense than your debit and credit cards. The card uses a Bluetooth LE connection to communicate with your phone, which means it will have a limited battery life. Stratos says the battery should last two years. To account for the eventually dead battery on a card you can’t recharge, Stratos has decided to go with a subscription-based service. You’ll pay $95 per year or $145 for two years—it’s called a subscription, but in effect, you’d be buying a new card from Stratos every one or two years.
The big question to be answered is whether or not Stratos will work with Chip and PIN cards. Chip and PIN cards are the new payment cards with embedded smart chips, of the sort that have been in use internationally for years. They’ll become commonplace in the United States starting this year, and will eventually become the standard. Cards like Coin and Stratos can easily work with magnetic stripe cards, but working with Chip and PIN cards is more difficult, because each chip is unique and can’t be duplicated, and interacts directly with your PIN to authenticate payments. It’s not clear how cards like Stratos and Coin could get around this short of direct partnerships with banks, which isn’t a foregone conclusion. Stratos is promising Chip and PIN compatibility later this year, but, with respect to Stratos, you’d be forgiven for being suspicious of promises about this sort of all-in-one payment card at this point.
But, aside from Chip and PIN and virtual card downloads, Stratos is fully functional and ready to go. It’s available in one of five colors, and the companion app is available for Android and iOS. You can order the Stratos Card, which comes with a Stratos Reader for swiping cards into your phone, right now at $95 for one year or $145 for two. Shipping is scheduled for April.