Thursday, March 17, 2016

Electronic Credit Cards

I pre-ordered a Coin from onlycoin.com about two years ago when it was just vaporware because it sounded cool. (How, exactly is a pre-order different from just an order. Discuss.) They were late in delivering but I finally got one last Fall so I've been carrying it (spoiler alert: and two of its successors) for a while and I've looked into its competition, partially because I love gadgets and partially because people ask me about the thing almost every time I use it. As far as I know everything here is accurate as of now, Mid March, 2016. If you're reading this too much later, well, all bets are off.

What I'm carrying now is a Coin version 2 which, oddly, their web site says is sold out. I would imagine they're either building more or coming out with a new version soon. They have a low-traffic mailing list available on their web site of you want to stay up to date.

All electronic credit cards have the same basic function: store the relevant details from multiple credit cards, let you choose between them on the fly and play nicely with old-school swipe credit card readers. They all lock automatically so no one else can use them and they unlock either with code your enter on front of the device or because they're near your smartphone. So if you leave it at a restaurant (or a bar, you know who you are) it'll lock itself within a few minutes so it can't be used by some of lesser morals. Banks *love* that feature, btw. They all link with a smartphone for adding/removing cards and they all know your name so you can't load other people's cards into it.
My Coin works with a swipe credit card reader about 80% of the time and it's getting better as they refine the software. V1 had problems with older readers and while v2 is a lot better it's still not good enough that I can leave all of my actual cards at home.

There's another card called Swyp (swypcard.com) which is due out this summer. In theory. Coin was almost a year late so don't hold your breath. On a similar schedule is Plastc (http://plastc.com).
Coin doesn't have an EMV chip like all new credit cards but it does have NFC for touchless payment so it works anywhere Apple Pay and Android Pay do. Only four times in the last year have I been unable to swipe my card because the merchant required a chip. Two times the touchless function in Coin worked, the other two times the terminal didn't have a touches sensor so I had to slide a normal card into the machine. Incidentally NFC takes less than a second while the chip takes 20-30s. (I can't believe the industry went to market with a system so much slower than what it's replacing.) Swyp and Plastc are supposed to have both a chip and NFC.

Coin's e-ink display smaller than Swyp's and that's smaller than Plastc's. Coin's screen shows only the last four digits of the card number and a four-letter nickname for the card that you get to determine. For example I have "CHSE", "DSVR", "WORK", "AMZN", etc. Not ideal but definitely good enough.
Coin has a built-in, non-rechargable battery which should last 1 year and when it dies they say you're supposed to buy a new one for $100. I don't expect them to actually make people pay for new ones, though since that's a great way to lose customers to a competitor, especially one with a rechargeable battery. Best of all that's borne out by my experience: The battery in my first Coin started complaining of low power after four months and they contacted me right around then, without my prompting, and sent me a Coin v2 even though it wasn't generally available yet. The display on that one went out five months later and they were really good about sending me a new one. All replacements were free of charge. The short lifetime of these things may be why they're not available at the moment but that's just my guess.

Plastc comes with a rechargeable battery and charger. Swyp is also rechargeable and they claim it will only need charging once a year if you use it four times a day. I have my doubts about the year thing but rechargeable is a big win.

Coin is/was $100, Plastc is $150 and Swyp is $90. They all have referral programs so if your friends buy with your link you get a few dollars. Coin's and Swyp's earn you $5. Plastc is $20 for the referrer and $20 for the buyer.

Overall I like Coin and love the idea. The original card was a bit slow (to unlock, to change cards) but v2 is much better. I'm eager to see what the others bring to the table.


Do you have one? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

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