Update 2/5/2017: I've just received an email from Coin saying that the service will be shutting down in the end of the month as a result of Fitbit acquisition of the company late last year. The card will still remain functional but I won't be able to sync new cards into Coin after the shut down. Compounding with the widespread availability of the EMV terminals (which Coin 2.0 do not support), I am sad to say that this is probably the end of life of this cool little gadget.
Another example of the risk that early adopter would have to take it order to get access to cool new gadgets!
True story: When I was a first grader, my mom would give me a 5 Baht coin to carry to school so that I can buy a carton of milk. Everyday, exactly 5 Bath in my plastic Keroppi wallet.
Nowaday, I don't carry much cash, let alone any coin, in my wallet at all. Instead, I carry quite a few credit cards to try to maximize my rewards by using the right card for each transaction. I was naturally quite interested when I saw an advertisement on my Facebook feed in 2013 of a card that promise to replace all the cards in my wallet.
After a $50 pre-order and a 2 year wait, I again carry Coin in my wallet. Did I come full circle?
What is Coin?
Coin is a "programmable" magnetic card that can store multiple credit, debit, gift, membership or any type of cards with magnetic stripe in the back. It looks and feels like a regular plastic card with a single button to select the different cards and a small E-Ink screen that displays your card information.
How do you use Coin?
To use Coin, you first load your cards into the companion app (available on both iOS and Android) using a magnetic swiper that plugs into the headphone port of your phone. Up to 8 of these cards can then be synced to your Coin via Bluetooth.
Making a purchase with Coin is simple. You press the button, choose the card, and then swipe just like you would any other plastic cards.
I have been using Coin for the past 5 months and my experience has been mixed. I found that I can successfully use Coin for about 75% of my transactions. I was able to use it at convenient/grocery stores, big restaurants, department stores, and even at some ATM machines. After some research, I found that Coin will only work with credit card terminals that does not require the cardholder's name to process the transaction.
The fact that it does not work all the time means that I always need to carry an additional "back-up card" in my wallet (The maker of Coin actually suggests that in the video on the website). This is not a big deal. What bugs me is that it is hard to know which establishments will accept Coin and which will not. And although there is a map inside the app the shows the locations where the card can be used, it is crowd-sourced and is not comprehensive. I found myself avoiding using Coin at sit-down restaurants most of the time just because I do not want to waste time if the card doesn't work.
A neat thing about Coin is that you can sign up for different offers for using Coin. This is in addition to any offers that you might have with your credit cards. For example, I signed up for a $5 Amazon credit after making a purchase at Peet's Coffee. The irony is that Coin didn't work at Peet's! Hopefully, this issue is isolated to the location that I visited.
The card is powered by a battery that is advertised to last for 2 years under "normal use" which I think is quite impressive given the fact that Coin is no thicker than a regular credit card. However, it also means that you need to spend $125 every two years to replace the card whereas some of its competition come with a wireless charging capability.
The E-Ink screen is easy to read. It displays in letters the type of card such as MC for MasterCard and DISC for Discover, the last 4 digits, and the expiration date. One thing that I wish I could do is to give a nickname to the cards so that I could easily distinguished the multiple VISA cards that I have on my Coin without having to look at the last 4.
I also have used Coin with both the iPhone 5/6s and Samsung Galaxy Alpha and found that it works better with iOS. This is most evident when unlocking Coin. The card will automatically unlock when you press the button and your phone is nearby. This process is almost instantaneous with iOS but I often have to spend several awkward seconds in front of the cash register when I use it with the Android device. Sometime I even have to resort to manually unlocking it.
Which brings me to the security feature of Coin. Like I mentioned, Coin will unlock itself with your phone nearby. You can also unlock Coin manually using a "Tap Code", a combination of 6 long and short presses of the button that you can setup within the app. This will not only allow you to use your card without your phone, but also prevent anyone from using your card in case you have lost it (the card will automatically erase itself if the wrong code is entered 3 times). Another neat security feature is that you can see where you last use your Coin on a map in the app. Your phone will also notify you if you leave your Coin behind.
The best feature of Coin is, arguably, that it is a good conversation starter. I often found myself holding the checkout lines because I was too overly excited to explain to people how it works. Carrying Coin also grant me the status of the "Gadget Geek-In-Chief" similar to the "High Roller" status that comes with carrying metal-cladded cards.
Future of Payment?
You might have noticed that your banks have been sending you new cards with microchip for a more secure transaction (EMV). This is because starting in October 2015, the liability for credit card fraud will be shifted to the merchant instead of the bank for swipe transactions. Some merchants such as Walgreens and Target will now ask you to dip your chip-enabled card instead of swiping.
So, what does this mean for Coin? Probably nothing in the short term as merchants will still accept swipe payments. However, I have already experienced issue at Target where I am required to dip my card after I swipe, which render Coin useless. The company is now back to the drawing board to develop a new version of the card that will have a near field communication (NFC) or tap-to-pay capability However, it still will not include the microchip.
Is this enough for Coin? The field of mobile payments is getting very crowded with big players such as Apple, Google, and Samsung. While I think that the credit card form factor is currently the best form factor for payment, not having the microchip for EMV is a big oversight and will hinder the usefulness of Coin in the future. Worse, when NFC becomes more widely available, the mobile-based standards such as Apple/Andriod/Samsung Pay would be more convenient and I am afraid that Coin will just sit in the back of my obsolete gadget drawer then.
Coin is a great idea for those with a lot of credit cards. There are a few other alternatives that employ similar idea such as Stratos and Plastc that you might also want to check out. As for now, I am happy that I can slim down my wallet and maximize my cash backs. But as long as Coin does not work all the time, it won't be the only card that I carry in my wallet. It's usefulness in the future might be even more limited without the EMV chip.
Coin 2.0 is available for preorder now for $100 with an estimate shipping date of April 2016.