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New credit card-size products touted as “smart cards” promise to help you clear out the clutter in your wallet by consolidating all of your plastic – including credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, and loyalty cards – into one sleek and slender device. We recently reviewed one of the leaders in this niche, the Coin, but Coin has some competitors, and below are descriptions of three of the major players – PlastC, Swyp, and Stratos.
What They Do for You
These gadgets store the essential cardholder data for all of your plastic. That means that instead of carrying multiple cards around in your wallet, you can just take your smart card. The cards works almost exactly like a conventional credit card, except that you get to choose which account you want to use each time you pay. All you have to do is select which preprogrammed card you want to pay with, hand the device to the cashier, and you’re good to go. Here are a few of the options and their key features:
What really makes PlastC stand out above the rest is that it's currently the only smart card that has EMV chip capabilities. With the impending transition from magnetic stripes to EMV chips, PlastC is already ahead of the pack. Also, PlastC offers a large, interactive touch screen display, giving the cardholder more versatility. PlastC can be pre-ordered for $155 and the company says that orders will begin to ship during the summer of 2015.
- Has Chip & PIN capabilities as well as the standard magnetic stripe
- The PlastC Wallet app can help you track your account balances and receive transaction alerts.
- Store up to 20 cards on your PlastC Card, and an unlimited number of cards on the PlastC Wallet app.
- Can display full credit and debit card numbers as well as the cardholders’ picture and signature to verify ownership
- Proximity alert technology lets you know as soon as you’re away from your Plastc Card, so you won’t leave your card behind.
- Security features include passcode protection and “Remote Wipe” which lets you tap into your Plastc Card from your smartphone to delete the data if you card is stolen.
Stratos doesn't have the capability to store as many cards without your smartphone, but it does have some cool features like fingerprint identification. The Stratos card can also analyse your spending habits and can give you customized card suggestions based on your location. You can order Stratos for $95 or pay for a 2-year membership for only $50. Devices pre-ordered now are expected to start shipping in November of this year.
- Lets you store all of your cards on the Stratos app and quickly select which card to pay with by tapping the card twice.
- Allows you to save your three favorite cards on the Stratos card and access them with one touch.
- Security features include fingerprint identification, bank-level encryption, and the ability to remotely lock your device if it’s lost or stolen. Stratos will never display your card numbers.
- As you use Stratos, it “learns” your spending patterns. When you double tap your Stratos Card, you receive instant card suggestions based on your location and spending history. This is especially helpful when you may want to use your gift cards or loyalty cards.
- Battery insurance sends the issuer a signal when your card’s battery is getting low so they can immediately send you a replacement.
Swyp can hold more cards on its device than any other smart card, making it the most independent from your smartphone. This card also uses a rechargeable battery so you don't have to worry about buying a new card when your battery dies or waiting to receive a replacement from the manufacturer. Swyp is currently sold out, but you can add your name to a waitlist to be notified when more products become available
- Holds up to 25 credit cards, debit cards, gift cards and loyalty cards
- Security features include bank grade encryption and PIN access.
- Allows you to easily send or share gift cards with friends and family, and to capture and organize your receipts.
- An intelligent algorithm predicts which card you are likely to use to help you access it quicker.
- Utilizes a rechargeable battery that can last a year when fully charged
The Shortcomings of These New Devices
One of the most obvious shortcomings of these new devices is that while they all seem futuristic and innovative, PlastC is currently the only smart card that offers EMV chip technology. The others rely solely on the age-old magnetic stripe, which retailers have already started to shift away from. In their defense, the makers of these smart card devices all promise to adapt their platforms to newer technologies that come along.
Another issue is that all of them are backlogged in trying to fulfill their current pre-orders. There are thousands of people waiting to get their hands on these sleek new devices, and none of the issuers are able to keep up with the demand. The limited supply means that these products haven’t had the chance to withstand widespread consumer scrutiny, so it is hard to definitively say which card is the best and whether any of them are worth the price.
The Bottom Line
It makes for a difficult sell when you consider that the banking industry is working hard to phase out the magnetic stripe and most of the smart card issuers are back-ordered on trying to deliver their products. The way things stand, if you ordered a smart card today and received it in a few months, the fact that it relies on a magnetic stripe could make it obsolete just a few months later. For that reason, consumers may want to wait for the big shift away from magnetic stripe infrastructure before plunking down cash to order a smart card device.
It’s easy to see that the way consumers pay for things is undergoing an enormous cultural transition. With the continued growth of mobile payment platforms, the transition to EMV cards, and the dawn of these new “smart cards,” the future of the traditional wallet is very unclear. While these innovative devices are clearly not ready to spark a mass migration away from carrying plastic, they are certainly doing a great job of pioneering a much needed solution to a longstanding problem for many consumers.