You may have heard of Coin. If you haven't, it's a really interesting-sounding device. It's the size of a single credit card, but it can be used in place of up to eight credit, debit, or gift cards. The way it works is you enter all your cards in to a mobile app and it syncs that info to the card. The card has a button on it and an e-ink display. You push the button to cycle through your various cards until you get to the one you want to use, then you just use the card the way you would a normal card (swipe it through a reader).
I received my Coin in the mail last week. It really arrived a couple of weeks ago, but it had been so long since I'd ordered it that it went to my old office in California and then had to be forwarded to me here in Portland. Subtracting that extra week of transit, it took just about 18 months from when I first ordered my Coin to when I received it. That's ONE AND A HALF YEARS. Every once in a while during that time they'd send me an email or two. "Claim your Coin! Beta starts soon!" or "Tips and tricks for using the Coin app once you actually get your Coin which is not happening any time soon and you might actually die of old age before then!" They had me install an iPhone app about 8 or 9 months ago in preparation of my Coin's arrival.
When I finally went to set up my Coin, the process seemed simple enough. A card reader was included so I could swipe all my cards in to the app. For some cards, they'd be able to do some sort of automated verification. For others, they'd charge a small amount to the card, I'd look that up in my account and enter it in to the app, and then I could add that card to my Coin. In practice, this process blows. Coin claims in its FAQs that you can add ANY credit, debit, gift, loyalty, or membership card that has a magnetic stripe on it. Here are the cards I tried to add, and the results (bank names replaced by stars for reasons of paranoia):
- ****** Visa - This one added quite easily! I didn't even have to do the small-amount verification.
- American Express - This one was also easy. I went through the process and was told by the app to verify the amount charged to my card. This was immediately visible on my account. I verified the amount and the card was added.
- ***** Visa - This is a debit card for my parking and transit flex-spending account. It can only be used at parking and transit-related merchants, so the small-amount verification charge was declined and I couldn't add the card.
- ***** Mastercard - Similar to my parking card, this one is for my HSA account and can only be used at medical/pharmacy facilities. I wrote to Coin's support about this and the parking card and was told, "Unfortunately, we do not support all types of cards such as your parking card or the health card". Super helpful.
- ****** Bank Visa - I have two of these because I have two checking accounts. These are the cards I use the most often. In both cases, I never saw the small-amount verification charge hit my account. I waited a couple of days just in case it can take that long, and then I called my bank to ask if they could see them. They told me that they couldn't see anything that doesn't actually hit my account, so the chargers were not visible. Again I wrote to Coin's support and was told, "Unfortunately, at this time we do not support cards such as *****".
- Fred Meyer customer loyalty card - This one wouldn't scan in the card reader. Not super important, so I just let this one go.
So, out of six cards, only two are usable with Coin. One of them is a "emergencies only" card that I use maybe once every couple of years. The AMEX gets used a lot more, but usually only in online situations where Coin isn't applicable. The bank cards are the ones I really wanted Coin for, and those don't work.
Further, I came across this FAQ when I was searching for answers on my cards not working. Whoa, that's a pretty big list of places where Coin won't work! I mean, there are only a couple on that list that I would be likely to be at, but it's a big enough list to make you realize that you can't just carry Coin around and nothing else, because there's a good chance it won't work somewhere you are counting on it to work.
One more thing: The UI on Coin could use some work. The E-Ink display is neat, but it only has room to show you the type of card (AMEX, VISA, etc..), the last four digits, and the expiration date of the card. It really needs a "nickname" field of some sort. If you have four Visas, you have to memorize the last four digits of each and know which is which. In this scenario, I can see a lot of incidents where someone will accidentally use the wrong card, which can be a pain in the ass.
So, here's the summary of my experience with Coin:
- It took way too long. Not just because waiting sucks, but while I was waiting other technology emerged that will make Coin obsolete fairly quickly. Apple Pay debuted, started to gain some ground, and became easier to use via the Apple Watch. I'm not saying Apple Pay is going to be the wave of the future, but it's clear that dedicated plastic cards are not either. Also, waiting sucks. The amount of time it took for my Coin to get to me, and the lack of responsiveness by the company to its community during that time, soured me on the product before I ever opened the box.
- It hardly works with any of my cards. At this point, it only eliminates two of the cards I was hoping to eliminate (out of six).
- It doesn't work everywhere. Even if it could hold all of my cards, I would still have to carry them around because there are enough places Coin doesn't work that the risk of getting caught somewhere with no way to pay is too high.
- Bad UI on the device itself.
So, Coin does almost nothing for me. Yeah, I guess it means I can stop carrying two of my cards (ones that I don't use that often) in exchange for Coin itself, but that's not much of a gain. Especially given the long wait and expense (last I'd checked, Coin will retail for $100).
They really missed the mark with this product, and with such a long development time they really have no excuse. If you're thinking about getting a Coin, I'd highly recommend reconsidering.
UPDATE: A few days after I wrote this, I tried to use my Coin for the first time at a Target here in Portland. It didn't work, and the cashier tried to help me out by suggesting various swiping speeds and orientations. Nothing worked. Then I got to spend a good three or four minutes trying to explain to this person what Coin was and what was the point of it. Of course he asked me how much it was and I had to tell him that yes, I'd spent $50 (I got in early; I believe retail is $100) to eliminate about 1/4 inch from my pocket and it'd be zero percent successful so far. Nothing makes you feel like a douchey tech-bro like telling someone that you basically pissed their day's salary out your dick because you saw something on the internet that sounded really cool for five seconds.