It seems as though high-end QWERTY sliders are traveling alongside the Bald Eagle these days. It’s rarer to find them in the wild today, thanks to the surge of sexy thin and light devices like the Motorola Droid RAZR or Samsung Galaxy Nexus. That’s why the Samsung Stratosphere’s release was a bit of a quagmire. In many ways, the Samsung Stratosphere is Verizon’s version of last year’s Epic 4G for Sprint. In fact, it would have made more sense for the phones to have been released simultaneously back in New York last year. But perhaps there was some sort of manufacturing or engineering hiccup that led the Stratosphere to a late 2011 debut. Maybe Samsung wanted the phone to take advantage of Verizon’s 4G LTE network and didn’t want to rush it out the door.

Whatever the case, I found the Samsung Stratosphere to be a highly capable 4G LTE phone with 5Mbps download and 3.9Mbps upload speeds. Running Android Gingerbread 2.3.5, there’s no word on an Ice Cream Sandwich update, but the phone performed almost flawlessly without the latest software. Obviously, the Stratosphere’s 5-row slide-out QWERTY keyboard was its distinguishing factor, and I found it to be chock full of features, yet it required some serious acclimation time. The Stratosphere’s 4-inch Super AMOLED screen was a shining star and its 1GHz Hummingbird processor/512GB RAM duo allowed me to fly through tasks. Storage was light with a mere 4GB MicroSD card, and the phone was thick. The 5-megapixel camera performed well in bright light, but stuttered in low light and lacked the ability to record HD videos.

Overall, the Samsung Stratosphere proved itself as one of the most stable Android phones I’ve ever tested, and will be a perfect fit for those who want a QWERTY slider that can still race with the big guns.