App of the Week: Coin Combines Payment Cards, Cures Exploding Wallet Syndrome

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the dreaded I Hate Myself Tuesday have come and gone, but Christmas is still weeks away and there is still shopping left to be done for most of us. As we race around to stores and browse through websites, the wallet comes out over and over again. For most of us, that means at least a handful of cards get used, from debit and credit to store rewards cards. And that's not even counting the fistful of gift cards we'll get during the holidays from friends and relatives who ran out of time and had to get our gift at CVS or the various gym membership IDs we'll need to work off the Christmas ham that was left sagging around our waistline after the final toast was made around 5 a.m. New Year's Day.

You could to like George Kostanza and stuff your wallet so full of crap, it explodes in the street. Or, you might consider Coin, a new piece of tech that means to eliminate every card in your wallet but one.

The deceptively simple concept comes with three components: an app for your phone, a swiper to grab information from all your cards and the Coin card itself. Once logged into the app, all it takes is a swipe of whatever card you have and the information is stored (securely? more on that in a moment) and made available to add to your card.

An unlimited number of debit, credit, gift, rewards and membership cards can be stored via the app, but the Coin can only hold eight at a time. Still, with the app, it is easy to switch the cards on the Coin at any time. And once they are on the Coin, all you have to do is tap it to choose the card you want to use. This includes stores, ATMs and the like.

It's a pretty amazing little piece of technology, but there are some limitations.

Is it secure?

This is the biggest concern, obviously. The folks at Coin claim to have significant security on their servers, but that doesn't account for having your Coin lost or stolen. This is where the connection to your phone becomes critical, and a bit cumbersome.

The security for the card, itself, is tied directly to the app on your device. In this case, only the iPhone, iPod Touch and Android will work with Coin, which is certainly limiting. Once it is connected to your app, your phone must be on, and here's the catch, NEAR YOU, to keep Coin active. The Coin has a proximity detector via Bluetooth for maintaining security. That means your phone needs to be on and near you for it to work.

For most of us who carry our phones around as if they are an extra limb, that's not that big of a deal. But, what if we leave it at home when we run to the grocery store or forget it in the car at the mall? Basically, you're screwed because the Coin will lock up on you after a period of time.

That's the other thing. The "period of time" it takes to lock is a bit ambiguous. Card thieves can do a LOT of damage in a very short amount of time. Fortunately, the Coin locks changes so thieves can't switch from card to card. They are stuck on whatever was used last, which would seem to indicate a good precaution would be to switch Coin to your Kroger card or your Barnes and Noble membership when you aren't using it.

Other concerns.

One fairly significant issue is the cost. Right now, you can get a Coin for $50 via a pre-order, but normally they will be $100. That's quite a bit of coin (see what I did there?) for a card that must be replaced about every two years. It also won't help you if you need the actual card number, something that happens when paying bills, for example.

I didn't find a good answer to whether or not the magnetic strip in the card would work if scanned rather than swiped. I assume the technology is the same, but so many membership cards, for example, are scanned and not swiped through a machine, that could be a significant drawback.

Finally, don't plan to take your Coin with you on your trips outside the U.S. They don't guarantee its success in other countries and recommend you bring a back up just in case.

Bottom Line

Coin is intriguing and there is most certainly a specific segment of the population that will want one. I don't think I'd feel comfortable dropping my debit or credit cards onto a Coin, at least until some early adopters have been security guinea pigs, but I could see the benefits for membership cards and gift cards almost immediately. It's a bit pricey for something that will wear out and I'm not fond of being latched to my phone for use, but I could see it as a handy tool for taming a bloated wallet if you can afford the cost.

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