Coin Smart Wallet Review – Ready For The World?

I’m a minimalist, so I long for the time when all I need to carry is my smartphone. Everything else (Identification, health/insurance information and credit/debit/rewards/loyalty/gift cards) would be easily accessible via a mobile app or other built-in service on my phone.

No word on when that technology will be secure enough, or consumers and companies will be comfortable enough with storing that magnitude of personal information on one device. But, one of the options starting to pick up steam is the “smart wallet” that in conjunction with a mobile app, can consolidate all of your financial cards into one digital card that will allow to select which card you want to use on the fly.

Being the early adopter I am, I jumped on the opportunity to “crowd fund” a smart wallet device. After waiting for what seemed like forever, I finally got my hands on one of the first (announced) smart wallets. Notice I put announced in parentheses, because while Coin did great during its crowd round of fund-raising, technical and manufacturing issues held up the delivery of the first batch of what are now considered Beta devices until early 2015.

Nevertheless, after a couple of weeks of testing, I can now share my thoughts on Coin and if it can survive and compete in the upcoming smart wallet race.

Design

The Coin smart wallet resembles your typical credit card, with the exception of no raised numbers. There is an e-ink display that displays the last four digits and the expiration date of the current card in use. There is also a little button you press to toggle between all the cards loaded on Coin. On the back is the magnetic stripe, a place for your signature, and your name in print. Coin has the same sturdiness of a credit card, but to me, it feels a little heavier than your average credit card.

I have noticed some very slight scratches starting to appear of the front of Coin as a result of repeatedly sliding it in and out of my credit card holder. They are not incredibly noticeable, but I’m hoping that the scratches don’t interfere with the overall design or functionality over time.

I expected everybody I handed Coin to make a purchase to ask me “What kind of card is this?” But surprisingly, not one person has questioned its existence. Maybe folks are just too busy trying to get through their shifts that what your credit card looks like is not a priority. Which brings up a whole ‘nother conversation about financial security…that’ I won’t get into right now.

Setup

In the package, you get a Coin device, and credit card reader to connect to your smartphone to load up your credit cards on the Coin app for iOS and Android. Once you’ve downloaded the app, verified your identity with Coin, setup your “tap passcode”, you can start swiping your cards and/or manually entering your card information. After you set up your tap code, you can add Touch ID to access app. You can also take a picture of the front of your card, just in case you don’t know your credit card numbers by heart.

Once you verify the amount Coin posts on your account for each card, your card(s) are ready to be synced to your Coin. Syncing cards to Coin is as simple as selecting the cards on the app, pressing and holding the button on Coin until “SYNC” appears on the display, and tapping “Update Coin” via the app.

Features and functionality

You can choose up to 8 cards to sync with your Coin and via the app, you can add/remove/update cards and see your Coin’s last used location. Logging into your account online gives you additional features and functionality like viewing all your Coin devices and/or mobile devices you’ve used with Coin (only one device can be linked to your Coin at one time), viewing location history, and the ability to mark your Coin as Lost/Stolen which will take you through the process of un-pairing your Coin from your account.

Testing Coin with different merchants worked 80% of the time for me. I didn’t try to give merchants a “Now this card is a little different” speech before they swiped Coin through their POS (Point Of Sale) system. I just handed them the card to see how it would react real-world style.

Most cases, it worked just fine. There were times when the attendant had to swipe the card twice, but just a tad-bit slower than the first time to get it to work. Even then, I didn’t say “try a little slower” – I guess merchants are use to so many different types of cards that they have the swiping down to a science.

There were those old-school portable POS machines…with the separate receipt printer that always seemed to get stuck when you need to buy something quickly, that looked like they couldn’t accept any cards. Of course, Coin didn’t work on some of those, but I already figured as much.

The Coin FAQ says it can be used in any ATM, but I was too scared to use it at any ATM that had to pull my card into the machine to read it, then spit it back out to me. I paid $50 for this joint, and I wasn’t about to risk letting a machine eat it up! So, I only used it at the older ATM machines where I could push my card in an pull it right back out…gas station terminal style. For those machines, Coin worked just fine.

There was only one time it didn’t work at all where I expected it to. I’m assuming those machines required my full name to be “embedded” into the magnetic strip. Those machines are not compatible with Coin according to their documentation.

All that to say, I can’t completely get rid of all my cards and only use Coin, but I can cut it down to almost half, and be a little selective about where I spend my money…for now (a little on that later).

As far as security is concerned, Coin offers 256-bit encryption of your cards via the mobile app and 128-bit encryption on the Coin device and is protected with an unique key that’s specific to your device. In other words, no one can swipe your card to retrieve and store the credit card data or capture your data as it’s being transmitted between the mobile app and the Coin device.

Additional security features include “Lock & Find” that will lock your Coin if/when it loses the Bluetooth connection with your phone, and will send push notifications as well as a “last known location” to your phone when it thinks you have left it behind.

Overview video of Coin security features

According to the Coin website, beta users (present company included) will not receive push notifications if the connection between Coin and my phone is broken, and will not have access to “last known location” features when the connection is broken. That right there gave me some pause about fully integrating Coin as it stands right now in my daily lifestyle.

On the flip-side, Coin locks itself after each use and/or after seven minutes of inactivity. In order to use Coin, I have to enter my “tap code” using the physical button on the Coin device to unlock it. Additionally, if I lose my physical credit cards the only way I can lock them down is by calling each bank/financial institution that issued the card to suspend them. With the Lock & Find feature enabled, I can contact Coin Customer support if I feel that my Coin has been lost or stolen and they can help me lock it down. So in many ways, Coin smart wallet, even as a beta device, is still more secure than my physicals cards.

That is, until competition comes knocking…and competition has already started to knock.

Can Coin Compete?

Times are changing and they are changing fast. If Coin was not held up due to technical or manufacturing issues, they could’ve dominated the smart wallet market for quite some time. But, between the time Coin was announced, to when it was released in beta, several things have happened.

Better Smart Wallets?
Coin was the first smart wallet to my knowledge. But technology moves so fast that competitors have already started launching similar projects. Digital credit cards like Plastc and Stratos are offering slicker functionality, greater compatibility and additional “future proof” features (like embedded computer chips…more on that later) that may just bump Coin out of the race before it can even get started.

Smartphone Wallets
While Coin is currently accepted in more places than Apple Pay, and more people can use Coin than Apple Pay, Apple is a monster and folks are more likely to lean toward adopting using their iPhone to make financial transactions than a digital credit card. Additionally, the emergence of Apple Pay has forced more companies like Google and Samsung to introduce and implement their own mobile wallets that skip actually handing a card to a merchant. If I had a choice between only carrying my iPhone (or wearing my Apple Watch), or carrying my iPhone and a digital credit card, I’d choose the former.

“Chip and Pin” Smart Cards
AMEX card with microchip“The Man” has passed down mandates where all merchants will have to update their POS machines to read the new (and also mandated) credit cards with computer chips embedded on them – October 2015. With these new cards and new POS systems, merchants won’t have to “swipe” a credit card to read the information. You can choose to tap your credit card next to a POS to initiate a transaction (similar to Apple Pay), or “dock” your card to pay. In both cases, the POS system will read the card information from the chip and you may be prompted to sign your name or enter a 4-digit pin to complete the transaction.

While smart wallets like Coin are more secure than a credit card, banks and credit card companies and are starting to issue “smart cards” to consumers…for free versus paying $50 every two years (when Coin’s internal battery dies). Since most people are still accustomed to handing over their credit card, “chipped” (EMV) credit cards offer more security. So it may be hard sell for smart wallets like Coin to get people convert, no matter how convenient they may be.

Additionally, if all POS systems fully convert to “tap” or “dock” formats, there will be no way to “swipe” Coin, rendering it useless. On the flip side, merchants upgrading their equipment is an expensive process, so the probability of Coin becoming useless everywhere is still several years off even if the mandate is for later this year. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure the folks at Coin see things starting to shift, and It’s very plausible that Coin will integrate “chip and pin” into future releases of coin to keep up with its competitors?

Outro
Coin smart wallet on boxIf you take into the consideration the speed of technology, who knows what other financial devices/services will be competition with Coin when it’s finally available as an official product.

Until then, Coin is pretty fly and really convenient. It does exactly what I need it do – Adds a layer of security to my financial transactions and reduces the amount of credit cards I carry around on a daily basis. But I can’t help feeling like right now, Coin is a parlor trick only for the technologically savvy who will adopt new tech early in an attempt to satisfy their own geek cravings (present company included).

Time will only tell if smart wallets like Coin will be adopted by enough people to make some waves in the mobile payments arena…But I do like that by back pocket isn’t so bulky…

Terrance Gaines
terrance@brothatech.com

Terrance Gaines is an Apple Certified Support Professional living in Atlanta. When he is not spending time with his lovely wife and two smart, sweet, and sassy daughters, he's providing individuals and small biz owners with exceptional, comprehensive, and affordable technology support that will enable people to do great things. For more information, visit terrancegaines.com