A month with Coin

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What’s in the box – the Coin device, a mag strip reader that plugs into your mobile’s headphone jack, and an instruction card.

Verdict: Cool and interesting, but falls short and became an additional card to carry rather than replacing the other cards in my wallet, and don’t even think about just shoving it in your pocket unprotected.

Note: images are modified to protect sensitive information displayed when the Coin device is powered on and unlocked.

Remember the hype about this device – an electronic credit card size device that worked with your mobile so you could carry one card rather than many?

If not, there’s probably good reason. It was announced in 2013 to much fanfare, with a promised ship date in mid or late 2014. The price was $100 but pre-order was half that.

Into spring of 2014 the device was still promising. Those of us who pre-ordered received periodic emails with information of how to access password-protected blog posts with status updates and, if memory serves, the occasional photo or video. The message was always “we’re right on track!”

And then they weren’t. In mid-2014 they announced that they could not meet their original timeline. I believe that they stated that the project proved to have problems when in the hands of some early testers in Los Angeles. This really shouldn’t be surprising as this is an advanced technology for a consumer good and I wasn’t holding it as a major negative.

Then came the PR blunder: they announced that they were adding a beta test program that was open to those who had pre-ordered and that would be the only Coin device they’d receive. Coin ultimate did the right thing and promise to send those testers the final product as well, but by that time there was a very negative sentiment.

In the late summer they released the app, the use of which was required to claim your pre-order. I was surprised to find that the app was listed as not compatible with my device in the Google Play store as Coin had stated that Android Jellybean was the minimum requirement and the MOTO Droid RAZR MAXX (the first one; not the HD or M model) was listed on Coin’s site as compatible. The reason is that only the most recent Jellybean version is compatible and the model in question would not receive that (yes, there are ways to manually do so, but that’s not going to happen for the average consumer.) As it would happen we decided to upgrade phones in early 2015 so this issue was addressed for me, but I did notice that they continue to list my former model as supported even thought I contacted them about the matter and suggested they should update the list.

A month ago my Coin shipped so I decided to see how it worked.

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Functionally it’s pretty simple: one button, the location of which is indicated by the circle on the front. It does produce a tactile click and a small green led, located to the left of the button, illuminates briefly. If it’s powered off (screen is black, as in the photo at the top of this post) then it will power on and be in lock mode, indicated by LOCK on the display. If the paired mobile is nearby with Bluetooth enabled and the Coin app is unlocked (it has a mandatory tap code that is user set – a series of long or short presses a la Morse Code) then it will connect, unlock, and display information about the card selected. In large letters will be up to four characters indicating the bank, i.e. MasterCard displays as MC, and the line below will display the last four digits of the card number and the expiration date (edited out of all images here.) Pressing the button at this point will change the card info that Coin uses, and repeated presses cycle through the cards loaded.

If the Coin button is long-pressed it will enter SYNC mode, and the display shows that, which is used to transfer card information from the app. In the app you select the Sync button at the bottom of the screen and then select which cards to sync (the Coin device can only have eight cards but the app can hold more.)

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The back looks as similar to a credit card as it’s possible to make such a device. My name is printed below a signature strip. The blacked out area to the right is a barcode and number that appears to be a serial number.

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In actual use: it fails swiping around 50% of the time, but a second, slower swipe works most of the time, and my experience of the rate improved by swiping slower the first time. Additionally, I have had one location, a diner in Durham, reject it because it didn’t have the card bank logo on the face.

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Loading cards: you can manually enter the card information but this seems pointless as you need to swipe the card to actually load it onto the Coin device. After successful swiping you must manually enter the CVV number. You can add a photo of the front and back of the card you entered but I have yet to figure out the value of doing so – it takes several taps to access them.

Additional technical details: Add this is a battery-powered electronic device it has warnings to not bend or cut it. It doesn’t strike me as particularly rigid so I’d not expect it to survive being tossed in the back pocket on your jeans.

One oddity that I noticed was that after rebooting my Samsung Note 4 the Coin app had lost all of the cards that I’d entered. I discovered that if I force stopped the app and stated it again the cards were back. Further, if, while in the state where it had lost the information, I entered the cards they would be there after the next reboot. I can only speculate as to why but it is possibly related to me having encryption enabled, including of my Note 4’s micro SD card, which does cause a delay of availability of the card on startup. The delay is only a few seconds but it the app autostarts during that time and the card is its first default location then I can see the behavior.

There is an option for us early adopters to get an upgrade to V2.0 of the device for free. I’m doing it for “why not?” reasons, but I doubt I would for any price.

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