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edward chang: A week with the Coin (YC W13) beta

A long while back I pre-ordered a device called the Coin and just received the beta on Saturday. What is it? Built by a company in the esteemed YCombinator winter class of 2013, it’s essentially an electronic card that can store up to any combination of 8 credit, debit, gift or loyalty cards. Still confused? 

Check out their original promo video:

Some people were unimpressed. VentureBreak called it “the future of useless tech.” Some were very intrigued. Looking at my social media feeds, my friends and I were the latter.They also had a clever, groupon-like referral model. Refer a friend and get $5 off your Coin - pretty smart with a preorder price of $55 shipped. Seems pretty legit right? 

Unfortunately Coin ran into a few snafus. Originally promised to be delivered in Summer 2014, it was announced in August 2014 that they would be pushing the date back to Spring of 2015. To add insult to injury, you had the option of getting a beta version to play around with if you paid an extra $30. People were, unsurprisingly, not happy. I contemplated canceling for a full refund but at this point that would put to waste 5 hard-earned (not really) referrals. I convinced myself that like the Phonesoap I had bought, it was worth throwing away a few bucks to try. I totally forgot about it until I received the beta this past weekend - here are a few thoughts after 4 days of light use.


If I had to describe it in one word, I’d call it Apple-esque. White box? Check. Made in _____ on the back? Check.


First impression? The card looked like I expected it to - surprisingly thin and lightweight, fit into my wallet just fine. It also comes with a card reader (similar to the Square one but much flimsier) that plugs into your phone’s headphone jack.

SetupOnce you login to your account, Coin has you set a password for the app, a combination of five long or short taps kinda like morse code. It’s rather confusing to remember anything too complex so I ended up choosing a really simple one. I don’t know why they didn’t implement TouchID for iOS which would be really secure or something simple like a numeric pin or Android lock.

Next it’s time to add your cards. You can choose to manually input the credit card info or slide it on the reader to grab the information. Maybe I’m a card sliding newbie but could not for the life of me get either of my two Visas, American Express or Starbucks gift card to be read so I ended up inputing them all manually. Once you add a credit card they post a charge for an arbitrary amount to it that you need to verify before you can proceed. Once that’s done they make you actually swipe the card before it can be synced to the coin. Refer to earlier – however after a few tries I was able to get the rhythm down and get my cards synced.

Once the cards are confirmed you can choose which ones to sync to your Coin (up to 8). Then I was ready to go.

UsageOver the course of a few days, I tried using Coin by default at different establishments. The results varied but the one thing in common is the cashier would always look really confused then proceed to try to swipe it.

Philz Coffee: Cashier took the card, tried a few times but when I was about to give up it went throughSupercuts: Self-swipe, took 3 triesSafeway: Self-swipe, worked on the second trySunflower Restaurant: Waiter took the card and reported it not working. Ended up giving him the physical card to charge.1760: Waiter returned quickly with the card, successChipotle: Cashier took the card, also took a few tries but eventually went through

So 5/6 ain’t bad. I also tried a few times in Canada and went 2/2 at the Whistler lodges.

There are a few features that were promised in the video but don’t exist in the beta, hopefully with the official version this will change. You’re not able to lock the Coin on a certain card - I use different cards that give me better point values for certain categories and it would be nice to have a way to ensure that the card I wanted to charge would get charged. Another is the feature that would alert you if you left your Coin behind. I have been known to leave my credit card at a bar or restaurant a time or two (actually five but who’s counting) and it would be really inconvenient if someone unscrupulous was able to use 8x the credit limit.

Final thoughtsThe Coin is interesting but I don’t know if it brings a significant value add. I have to worry if the retailer will take it, battery life (Coin says it’ll last two years then you’ll need to get a new one) and losing it so at the end of the day I’m still bringing all my other cards. In a tech-friendly environment like Silicon Valley it’s all good, but in other cities I can see people not willing to deal with the small inconveniences. When ApplePay and Google Wallet reach critical mass I believe all credit cards (including the Coin) will be replaced. But the jury’s still out and I would like to see the finalized Coin before jumping to any conclusions. Would also love to hear any of your feedback or questions - feel free to leave them in the comments below or tweet me at @ed_chang

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