Fat wallets begone: Coin combines your payment plastic into a single smart card

The future of currency, it seems, is digital. Almost every technology company imaginable is trying to replace our plastic credit and debit cards. Typical solutions involve smartphones loaded with NFC chips and apps like Google Wallet and Isis. But a new start-up thinks it has a better solution: a digital, swipe-able card called Coin that consolidates all of your accounts onto a single piece of plastic.

How it works

Unlike your average plastic payment method, Coin is a Bluetooth-powered electronic device about the size of a normal credit card. Coin can store information for up to eight of your credit cards simultaneously, while a button lets you toggle through your stored cards. A display shows the name, last four digits, and the three-digit security code of the card currently selected.

Once you've decided on the card you want to pay with, the magnetic stripe in the back of Coin supplies the data associated with that particular card. Then you just swipe it as you would with any other credit or debit card.

You can use Coin to store details for virtually any card that has a magnetic strip, including as gift cards, loyalty cards, and membership cards. You can even use Coin in an ATM, says Coin—the company of the same name behind the device.

A symbiote for your smartphone

Coin can stand alone as its own multi-account payment system, but it is designed to rely on your smartphone for a number of crucial actions. Loading a Coin with card data, for example, requires a Square-like card reader that attaches to your mobile phone.

The reader stores your card data in Coin's smartphone app for Android and iOS, which can hold an unlimited number of cards—unlike the actual device. You can then choose which cards to wirelessly sync with your Coin.

Coin's mobile app also has a configurable security setting that automatically deactivates your digital card if Coin cannot communicate with your mobile phone (via Bluetooth) for a set period of time, so make sure your phone is charged before heading out for a wallet-less night on the town. Fortunately, the app also has a geofencing feature that alerts you if your smartphone gets too far away from the Coin card.

You might think all this Bluetooth communication with your phone means Coin will end up being yet another device you have to plug-in at night—but that's not true. The good news is that Coin's battery is designed to last for two years under normal usage, with "normal usage" classified as about 10 to 20 swipes per day and a few syncs with your smartphone per week. Now for the bad news: Coin's battery is neither rechargeable nor replaceable. After two years, you'll have to get a new device.

Dollars and sense

To help get the product off the ground, Coin recently began a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000 to produce the first wave of Coin devices, which are slated to start shipping in 2014.

If Coin sounds like something you'd like to try out, the right to an early Coin device can be yours for $50, plus $5 shipping. The company says there are only a limited number of cards being sold at $50. After that, the price will shoot up to $100. Paying convenience, it seems, comes at a premium price.

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