Story highlights important features to consider for smart cards:

  • Plastc has the ability to store 20 cards
  • Plastc is the only one that promises to support both NFC and EMV chips at launch
  • Stratos and Coin have non-rechargeable batteries that last for 2 years

Today, I break down all-in-one smart cards Coin, Plastc and Stratos and rate them according to card design, card interactions, payment technology, battery life and pricing to find the best one of the three.

The Stratos come in 5 different designs.
The Stratos card comes in 5 different designs.

Pricing is definitely a major concern when considering a smart card, but it’s also important to look at their features before deciding if Stratos or any of these smart cards are right for you:

Info displayed on cardNoneLast 4 digits of the card, card network and expiration date16-digit card number, expiration date, issuing bank, card network and your name
Card interactionSingle tap on any card surface and press one of three preset buttons on the card before swipingEnter unique tapping sequence (must be enabled) and press button to cycle to desired card before swipingEnter PIN, pick card category and then select card before swiping
# of accounts supported on the card3820
EMVNo (future upgrade)No (future upgrade)Yes
NFCNo (future upgrade)YesYes
Battery life2 years (non-rechargeable)2 years (non-rechargeable)30 days (re-chargeable)
Pricing$95 every year or $149 every 2 years$100 per card$155 per card
When is it availableApril 2015November 2014Summer 2015

What they do?

Smart cards offer convenience and some extra security, at a price. They do not offer extra rewards of any kind. Instead, you’ll have a much smaller wallet (or none at all) while still having access to all your cards. Some people are willing to pay for this, while others won’t.

At its most basic level, an all-in-one smart card is capable of storing the information from all your other cards, so that you can just carry the single smart card instead of a wallet full of different cards.

Stratos, Coin and Plastc will support nearly every single card that has a magnetic stripe, including: debit cards, credit cards, gift cards, loyalty cards, membership cards and more. Each of them have smartphone apps on iOS and Android devices to let you manage the accounts that are synced to your smart card.

You can argue that mobile wallets like Apple Pay are already doing this, but mobile wallets are accepted in only 2.4 percent of the 9 million U.S. stores that accept debit and credit cards — these smart cards are accepted in 100 percent of these stores.

Your smartphone acts as the remote control to your smart card. You can switch the cards that are synced the smart card and disable the smart card entirely if you ever had to. In fact, these smart cards will automatically lock themselves when they’re not within proximity of your smartphone. Unlike your credit card or debit card numbers, which are printed on the card, ready for thieves to use if those cards are stolen.

Card interaction

Today, paying with a credit card is extremely hassle-free — just take it out of your wallet and swipe. There’s no button-pressing or fiddling with your smartphone. This is the everyday card interaction that smart cards are competing against. So, the key question you should ask yourself before buying a smart card is, “How do I use it in everyday life and it better than how I use a card now?”

I like the card interaction from Stratos the most, after reviewing how each smart card would work. You just have to tap the card on any surface, press one of three card indicators and swipe. The video below gives you look of how it’ll work:

Coin is great in that you can assign a “default” card, but you’d have to tap the card multiple times to cycle through your group of cards. Plastc requires that you enter your PIN and go through a process of finding your card before it can be used — it’s safer but more tedious.

To some people, however, Plastc’s ability to store 20 cards may be more attractive. From an everyday usage perspective, I think Stratos is just better.

WINNER (Card interaction): Stratos

Payment technology

The introduction of mobile payments, like Apple Pay, is leading to the awareness of paying for things with near-field communications (NFC) technology. Mobile phones and plastic cards have this technology to let you “tap and pay” — no swiping needed.

Plastc is promises to have an EMV chip for safer shopping.
Plastc promises to have an EMV chip for safer shopping.

On another note, a card technology called EMV chips is expected to be embedded in most credit cards by October 2015. EMV chips help protect your card information by scrambling the data when you make a purchase. There is a growing list of U.S. credit cards that have EMV chips.

Both of these technologies play a role in convenience and security so it is imperative that these smart cards adapt to the changing card technology. Of the three cards, Plastc is the only one that promises to support NFC and EMV chips at launch. Stratos and Coin do not, but will support them in future upgrades. As we pointed out previously, the lack of EMV compliance could mean the fall of smart cards like Coin.

UPDATE: In late August 2015, Coin announced that it started to replace old Coin cards with the Coin 2.0, which offers NFC technology with future EMV compliance capabilities.

WINNER (Payment technology): Plastc

Battery life

Active smartphone users can relate to the frustrations of a device with terrible battery life. With a smart card, we’re injecting these possible frustrations into the way that we manage our money, so battery life should be a major concern.

Stratos and Coin have non-rechargeable batteries that last for 2 years, which is a pretty long time (once the battery dies, you’ll need to pay for a new card). Plastc, on the other hand, has a battery that lasts only 30 days, but it is rechargeable through a wireless charging station that you receive when you first get the card.

The wireless charging mat comes with your purchase of the Plastc card.
The wireless-charging station comes with your purchase of the Plastc card.

While it may seem like I have to deal with another device to charge, I think Plastc has the upper hand because the battery is likely to last more than 2 years, before I need to replace it. This will matter when we move onto the next section: pricing.

WINNER (Battery life): Plastc


If you want the convenience offered by these smart cards, you’re going to have to pay for it. Each one of these cards are priced differently.

Stratos uses a subscription model that requires you to pay every year ($95) or every two years ($149). Coin just charges $100 whenever you need a new card (e.g., when the card’s battery dies). Meanwhile, Plastc charges $155 per card.

Right off the bat, the Stratos card appears the most expensive as you have to pay on a regular basis. The company says that the subscription pricing helps to cover regular card upgrades for members and it’ll pay for upcoming cloud features that include card activity tracking, insights, instant card downloads and more. For this price, you could afford the annual fee of some of the best travel rewards credit cards. Is the convenience of Stratos more valuable than a top-notch travel credit card?

The cost of Coin and Plastc will depend on how long your battery lasts. Piggybacking on the battery life section, I think Plastc will end up being the cheapest of the group because your card’s rechargeable battery could last very long before you’ll need to replace the card.

WINNER (Pricing): Plastc

Card design

The designs of the smart cards from Stratos, Coin and Plastc all evoke a sense of luxury and prestige with their use of dark color tones (Stratos also has a white-colored card). Without a doubt, the use of the darker colors is an homage to the notoriety established by the American Express Black Card, a rarely seen card that is obtainable only by the super rich. I expect each of three smart cards to garner the same level of curiosity from strangers as they all look great.

The dark color tones make the cards feel prestigious. (Left to right: Stratos, Coin and Plastc)
The dark color tones make the cards feel prestigious. (Left to right: Stratos, Coin and Plastc)

However, I’m going to hand it to Stratos for offering several color schemes and for being the smart card that has no display of any sort. I like the minimalistic approach to the design — it is simple and clean with no screen or card information shown whatsoever. Coin and Plastc have displays that make it very obvious that they’re gadgets, while Stratos appears very low-key.

WINNER (Card design): Stratos

Overall winner: Plastc

Plastc has the upper-hand when it comes to cost.
Plastc has the upper-hand when it comes to cost.

Although Stratos stands out for its sleek look and user experience, Plastc is the champion in the end for its better technology, battery life and pricing.

I’m actually keeping an eye out for Plastc for myself because I keep several cards in the sock drawer in an effort to maintain a thin wallet. There have been plenty of times that I wish I had one of those cards on me — like when Chase Freedom® offers 5% cash back at department stores and I don’t have it with me when I’m about to check out at Bloomingdales.

Runner-up: Stratos

Stratos really takes the cake in the looks department and I really like the simple card interaction. The pricing, however, is a major turnoff. The subscription model just seems rather expensive, especially when smart cards don’t provide any value, in my opinion, other than convenience.

It is very possible that the cost of Coin and Plastc could end up being more if their card doesn’t last at least 2 years — the Stratos would end up being better. But, I don’t yet know how long the batteries will actually last. So, for now, I’ll say that Stratos is a good second option for a smart card — it is just more costly than the others.

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Ask a Question

  • I’ve been doing some research on these cards over the past month and believe it is important to mention, regarding pricing/battery life, that the Stratos card website states that members will receive annual upgrades/replacement cards as well as that your Stratos card will notify the company when your battery is getting low and they send you a new card at no additional charge (Limited to one upgrade or replacement card per 12 month period, after that, if you lose, break or battery dies it’s a $49 fee).
    All these other companies would most likely charge another fee for the next version of their card, and/or when your battery, or card, dies in a 12-18 months. This, with an unlimited number of cards which can be loaded to the app, makes Stratos much more attractive to me.

    • Thanks for pointing that out, Rob. Do you plan on signing up for a Stratos card?

    • Jason

      I believe you are misreading the policies in regards to replacement with Stratos. If you read it more carefully, you do not get a free replacement in the first year. They are simply saying that in your second year, if you haven’t already got a new card, they will send you one when your battery dies. Replacement cards always cost $49 if you lose it or the battery stops working.

      Now, in your second year, if you still haven’t claimed a new card for some other reason, you would get one “free” replacement at that point, but really that’s just the additional card that’s baked in to the annual membership fee.

      Source — Stratos FAQ:

      Does the battery need to be replaced/recharged?

      No, your Stratos Card will need to be replaced when it runs out of battery. We monitor battery life for members with active subscriptions. Maintaining your Stratos membership means that you will be notified when your battery is low and have the option to order a new one with a $49 replacement fee or, if eligible, receive a free replacement.

  • Jason

    Several things to note:

    Coin not only has no EMV as mentioned, but it also does not provide track 1 data. This means it does not work at a number of retailers, such as Applebees, Lowes, Hertz, and Redbox. To me, this is a deal breaker, because I can’t use Coin if I’m going to end up having to go back home and get my actual card because I only have Coin on me.

    One thing to consider with Stratos, is that you can actually subscribe for the one year, and then cancel your subscription before it renews. You can then keep your existing card and use it until it stops working. This makes the pricing/replacement much more in line with Coin.

    I really want to like Stratos as my preferred option, because I too like the minimalistic look, however, the fact that it only holds 3 cards makes a lot of it’s functionality useless to me. I think most people who purchase any of these cards will be the type who use at least 3 credit cards on average, which means any type of card like a loyalty card, or membership card, will require you to pull your phone out to use them. To me, if I have to add this additional step, it defeats a lot of the purpose of having such a card in the first place.

    Plastc does a fantastic job of wrapping up everything in to one package. I really like that it also has NFC/RFID, which means you should be able to use it for work badges, parking garages, etc. The only question is how tedious it would be to activate those cards. If I have to enter in a pin number first, I might as well carry my RFID card on me.

    I think Swyp definitely should be considered, as there is no question in my mind they at least have a superior product to Coin, possibly even the best.

  • Jeremy Anderson

    By the look of Plastc and Coin’s websites I’m guessing its the same people making it. Coin will probably go out of business and just have the Plastc company. I pre ordered Coin in Dec 2013 and have still not received!

    • Jeremy, that’s a long time to be waiting! Can you cancel and get your money back? I also almost jumped on the Coin bandwagon when it was first introduced, but I’m glad I didn’t. As with anything tech related, something better and cheaper will inevitably appear if you wait long enough. I’m not exactly wowed by the other smart cards either, so the waiting game continues.

  • Marty

    I was hoping apple pay would be the great card consolidator, but hardly anyone has a terminal. Who knows when that will change. I’ve been looking into all 3–Coin, plastc, stratos since their ads started popping up on facebook. Everyone probably has a preference, but from a cost standpoint and form factor, I like the idea of plastc the best. It has rechargeable battery and seems to have EMV at launch vs. planned obselesence vs. yearly subscription and EMV in future. If Stratos held more cards and was rechargeable, that would probably be best. Here is a $20 off link IF you like plastc as well.

    • I agree with your Apple Pay sentiments. I have a few cards in Apple Pay, but I never know if the merchant accepts it or not – unless it’s a place I know for sure that accepts it, like Whole Foods or Walgreens. It’s definitely not a replacement tool for a smart card, since there are so few retailers who currently accept Apple Pay.

    • davidahn

      I too am disappointed by the slow adoption of Apple Pay by merchants, especially with large merchants like Target pulling out, probably due to ISIS (then Softcard, now Google Pay). With the push toward EMV terminals, I’m hoping more merchants will adopt terminals that support both chip-and-pin as well as contactless. My two small businesses have.

      So for now, we are forced to carry an EXTRA device (Coin, Plastc, etc.), though that is still better than carrying 8-12 separate cards!

  • DBS2

    How long is the magnetic strip on the Plastc card expected to last? Do we have to buy a new $155 card when the strip wears out? It is usually done in 2 to 3 years on my credit cards.

    • That’s a good question. According to their website, the card has a 1 year warranty, so if it’s damaged, they’ll replace it for you. However, it doesn’t say anything about wear and tear of the magnetic strip. You can contact them directly and ask:

      If you end up purchasing the card, let us know how it works out for you!

    • It’s safe to assume that the strip’s durability is comparable to the magnetic strips on your typical credit card, which will be subject to how often you actually use it.

      Yes, you will have to buy a new card if the strip wears away.

    • DBS2

      Claire, Simon – Thank you for your feedback. One of my colleagues is buying a card, so we will learn more soon. But if we have to replace a $155 card every couple of years, that has to be factored into the financial considerations.

      • Yeah, that is the “price” of the convenience that you’re getting. Even if the strip doesn’t wear away, there can be battery issues that will still require a card replacement.

        The tough part is that it is so hard to say whether these cards will be worth the additional cost. I like to put a dollars-to-dollars comparison — as in if I will earn more cash back or save on ATMs by having access to all my cards through one smart card. My feeling is that such a cost-savings comparison is not as important as the convenience factor.

  • Vilisio

    Use this link for $20.00 off the Plastc Pre-order

  • Daniel

    You can get Plastc for $135 if you order now with this link. I think the slim e-paper display is such a cool feature, and more natural for today’s touch screen generation. I think future-proof is the way to go, because the Coin is the only one you can get RIGHT now. You have to pre-order the rest.

  • davidahn

    I would declare Coin the winner… for the moment. Coin is the only device shipping (v2 before others’ v1). My Coin 2.0 arrives tomorrow! I’ve also preordered Plastc. If you have a bunch of cards, personal and business (especially if more than 1 business), 4 letters to describe a credit card is sad.

    • Wow, you are getting both cards? Do you plan to use them in tandem or are you just going to test both with the purpose of seeing which one you’d prefer to stick with?

      • davidahn

        I’m getting both, but not in the name of either science or excess. I preordered Coins in Feb ’14 but with no end in sight to the not so promising beta testing, I preordered Plastc in desperation (and for more than 4 letters to see which card I’m choosing).

        My Coin arrived yesterday and I immediately stored the 8 card limit (sorry, other cards, you weren’t cool enough to make the cut) and left all my cards at home. I just swiped my first VISA card at my first real merchant (for a haircut); success on the first try! (My first test at my office failed on my own Clover terminal, both by NFC and by swipe as an “invalid card”.)

        In other news, you may have gotten Plastc’s email if you preordered… Second card free for your “loyalty” (for not canceling?). I am getting my wife a free Plastc and riding it out. I’m hoping Plastc will be THE card to replace all my cards.

        • Ah, that cool feeling when you use a new piece of technology at the register.

          The failure on your own Clover terminal is a little worrying though… Did you figure out or ask Coin why that happened? These terminals, especially from Square, is becoming more common and it would be annoying to have Coin fail on them.

          • Robert Mauro

            Possibly a “Track 1” failure/name requirement (Coin has none), or a terminal set to insist on a chip for cards issued with them?

          • davidahn

            Haven’t looked into it, but I wonder if it was because AmEx wanted me to answer 4 questions before they activated my ability accept AmEx cards (related to whether I do any check cashing or money transfer). I’ll try again at home.

            Since my last post I’ve successfully used it at multiple restaurants and failed at one in the US (PC-based POS) and one merchant in Cancún (required use of chip-and-pin rather than swipe). Luckily my wife had her physical cards.

        • Robert Mauro

          Just so you know, in case you didn’t catch it, the Coin v2 system can store unlimited cards in the app, and lets you choose the 8 you want on the card. I stored more than 8, and switch them up if I need to.

          I’m guessing from the date (similar to mine) that you got the v2 card.

          I have had one problem with a chipped card at a supermarket terminal that insisted I “use chip”. It seems a processor decision, as the issuing bank doesn’t seem to care in the least (at their ATMs and such).

          • davidahn

            Yes, it’s a Coin 2.0. Thanks for the >8 cards reminder; I knew that at one point but I’d forgotten.

            I’m super happy with it so far. I had that problem in Cancún a couple of days ago where the terminal said I had to use the EMV.

          • John Moser

            Processor is now liable if you don’t use chip. If you swipe a card you stole, the store has to pay the bank; if you chip a card you stole, the card issuer (Visa) has to pay the bank.

            My solution is to use a 3-card wallet with Coin, my ID, and my primary credit card.

            • Jim Holmes

              Not quite, it is only if the card is chipped. Most are not yet 🙁

        • Robert Mauro

          Another note: you will get an “invalid card” or other message from any terminal that’s set to read Track 1 (it’s the “older” track that stores the name), or any terminal that requires the name (since that’s only in Track 1).

          The Coin only stores Track 2 data. That’s on their FAQs someplace.

  • KM

    This article needs to be updated now that Plastc has announced a subscription based model for $50/year.

    • KM, thanks for alerting us. We have a new, updated article in the pipeline! We’ll put an update and link in this article once the new article is published.

    • John Moser

      Yeah that gave me fits. I want a local app that stores my cards locally, doesn’t talk to Plastc’s servers, and doesn’t tell them when I buy things. I most certainly don’t want a subscription to use my cards.

      Plastc is also playing the misleading advertising game, with a hedge bet. They say you get a lifetime subscription with the preordered card, but it has a *two* *year* warranty; while cards purchased after retail come with an 18-month subscription and a $50 annual after that. That means they expect the card to last about 2 years 99% of the time, but 3 years less that 99% of the time; and then you pay them $185 for a new card.

      On one hand, that $185 includes the 18-month subscription cost: if you have to replace the card frequently, you’ll pay for subscriptions. On the other hand, the new card may not carry your lifetime subscription over, so the “lifetime” subscription isn’t so lifetime anymore.

  • Jason

    Statos is not that great because if you lose your phone or it has a flat battery, you lose access to your cash.

  • Tim Lunsford

    I can tell you that COIN sucks, just got it and it doesn’t work anywhere that takes the new chip credit cards. In addition they do not stand behind their product. Since it doesn’t work I asked for a refund and they refused…what company does this? Avoid COIN like the plague!

    • Your frustration with the lack of EMV-chip functionality was part of the reason that I felt that Coin was sub-par. However, Coin has already launched the 2.0 version of its card. If you haven’t gotten it yet, it should come around Q1 2016.

      A botched, first experience such as yours can be detrimental to the adoption of these smart cards. Would you be willing to try out another one?

      • Tim Lunsford

        I got the card to thin out my wallet and I love technology, so it seemed like a perfect fit. I went to use it the first time, and it didn’t work so I had to pay cash (no biggie). Then I went to Sam’s club and had pre-loaded my member card and when I went to check out it didn’t recognize the member card. Then I tried to swipe to pay with Coin and it said that my card has a chip and to insert it. I really don’t want to carry all my cards and Coin with my fingers crossed as to whether it will work. Then I contacted Coin support and asked to send it back and they said that I couldn’t return it because I had loaded my info on it. One of the all-time worst customer service gaffs. This is the “love economy” that we live in. The customer has a bad experience you make it right. Coin failed at that.

        • Debbie Reynolds

          I had the same issues with coin. After 2 months of exchanging emails and constantly pointing out that their product was faulty and they should stand by it, I was granted a refund for both cards i bought. Keep hasseling them!!

  • yobrett

    I wouldn’t put a Yes next to EMV on Plastc as it has yet to be seen, more of a (future upgrade) promise. With more and more retailers switching on EMV functionality these will all crash and burn w/o EMV support which seems highly unlikely. I would LOVE one of these to reduce my wallet bulk, but allowing a user to burn their own copy of the card complete with EMV support seems like it defeats the purpose of the added security measure.

  • Bala

    Is there any regulatory watchdog or approval we need to issue these cards or only PCI rules good enough?