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A week with Coin, the smart card that replaces all the credit cards in your wallet

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 8:54PM EST
Coin Review
Image: Zach Epstein, BGR

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Just over a week ago, I began testing Coin. Billed as a smart card that can replace all of the credit cards and debit cards currently in your wallet, Coin and devices like it stand to bridge the gap between traditional credit cards and a future where paper money and plastic money are things of the past, replaced by device-based payment systems like Apple Pay.

That future is still decades away, unfortunately. In the meantime, device like Coin stand to simplify and improve the retail experience for users.

Here are my thoughts after spending a week with Coin.

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To bring you up to speed, Coin is a smart card that looks like a credit card but actually stores the swipe data from as many as eight cards at a time on one device. It receives data from a companion iPhone app and has a small E Ink screen that displays the last four digits of the selected card along with other information such as expiration dates.

A single button on the Coin is used to cycle through the card accounts stored on the device, and optional on-device security is achieved by setting a morse code-like tap pattern that can be set as a requirement before each use.

Coin was supposed to be released this past summer after a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, but the company ran into several problems that delayed its launch. Coin is now set to be released to the public sometime next year, and a small number of users have been given beta versions of the card to test in the meantime.

I am one such user, and so far my experience has been mixed but mostly positive. I covered my initial thoughts in an earlier article, and now I’d like to share a few updates after spending some time with Coin.

In terms of usage, my time with Coin couldn’t have started any worse. The very first time I tried to use the device, it failed to swipe. A cashier at Saks Fifth Avenue tried the card in two different terminals, one on a monitor and a second on a keyboard, and neither would work. Luckily, I had a backup card and it worked fine, of course.

Since that first try, however, Coin has worked at every other establishment I have visited.

To be fair, that Saks location had an ancient POS system with ancient terminals. Coin is upfront in stating that its beta device will only work with about 80% of the POS terminals in the U.S., and older systems in particular may have issues with it.

I have used Coin a dozen times now, and it failed once so far. That’s a success rate of about 92%, which is better than Coin claims.

My favorite thing about Coin so far is its simplicity. Apple Pay will be terrific a few years down the road, but right now it doesn’t work at the majority of retailers in America. For the time being, it’s unnatural and it’s a burden.

To use Apple Pay, you have to first remember it exists and then actively seek out a person or a payment terminal to find out if it works at the store you’re in. You also have to learn an entirely new behavior, and the payoff is diminished by the fact that it barely works anywhere.

Coin is a card, and it works just about everywhere credit cards are accepted. There are no extra steps to take and no new behaviors to be learned.

Using Coin does delay the in-store payment process in a different way, however. Every salesperson and cashier who has handled my Coin over the past week has stopped to examine it and talk to me about it.

Woh what is this? Is this some new kind of card? This thing is awesome! And so on.

Once I briefly explain what it is and how it works, people are always impressed and excited. It is indeed a very cool new product and until Coin and devices like it become more common, I expect to have to chat about Coin each and every time I use it. This can be annoying when I’m in a rush, but it’s a small price to pay.

In terms of swiping the Coin in POS terminals, so far I have found that it works on the first try about half the time. The second or third swipe usually works when the first does not, but on a few occasions I have had to instruct the cashier to swipe it slowly.

Finally, my biggest gripe with the Coin so far: The build quality.

The Coin itself looks and feels like a credit card. The E Ink display is very visible in all lighting and the button has a nice satisfying click to it. The finish on the front of the card, however, is not durable at all.

Here’s what my card looks like after just over a week of use:

(click to enlarge)

The scratching and scraping you see above is from just a few days of sliding the card into a wallet or the leather wallet case pictured in my first post about Coin and again earlier in this article.

I can’t even imagine how awful the card is going to look after a month or a year of usage.

Of course, the current Coin card I’m using is a beta version and not the final version that will be released to the public. I sincerely hope that the materials and finish on the release version get a complete overhaul, because this is completely unacceptable.

Coin knows that cards are constantly slid into wallets and pulled out of them. Cards also constantly get sucked into ATMs and spit back out. The finish on this device needs to be far more durable than it is right now.

So, after the first week, Coin gets an A- for function and a D+ for form.

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.