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Review

Hands-on review: McLear RingPay

Image credit: McLear

One ring to pay for (almost) all…

This ceramic smart ring is both a convenience and a conversation-starter. You can use it to pay contactlessly in shops and on public transport, thanks to the embedded NFC chip.

Tap it at the checkout to pay like a contactless debit or credit card or an Oyster card. Like those cards, it doesn’t require its own source of power. It’s smart yet simple. This means it never needs charging and it’s completely waterproof. It’s scratchproof too.

We’re used to the idea that NFC in smartphones or smart watches can be used for payments, if your bank offers it (not all do), but RingPay is an entirely different level of convenience because it’s right there on your hand. It feels a bit magical.

The ring comes in either black or white. I tried both but preferred the black. It has a metallic, dark grey finish reminiscent of haematite. It passes as jewellery. The white is also shiny, with a pearlescent look, but to my middle-aged eyes it looked more like plastic than metal.

Who wears a white ring? It’s a younger, more techie-looking option maybe. It looks like Apple could have made it... and that’s high praise. The white RingPay might look new and different, more striking, but at least it doesn’t look cheap.

There’s no outward identifying feature that shows it’s a smart ring. It just looks like a ring. The white sample I tested had a small Visa logo hidden on the inside. The black had no markings at all. Of course, my 12-year-old son wanted a Tolkienesque inscription on the inside but he would, wouldn’t he? As I said, the ring does seem a bit magical and a tween sees having the power to pay for things as magic.

Setup works well but it’s not simple. You don’t use it to pay directly from your bank account or credit card. Instead RingPay has its own account which you top up, either manually in the app or by setting up an auto top-up.

But first you need a RingPay account and this is handled very seriously because it’s a financial service, rather like a bank account. You must take a selfie in the app and photograph a driver’s licence or passport, so they can verify your identity. Mine didn’t automatically go through, so I had to wait for a person to authenticate it.

Once the app was set up, it worked very smoothly. In fact, set it to auto top-up and you have little need to look at the app. It keeps a log of all payments but also, as you’re stepping out of a shop, you get the reassuring beep of a little push alert telling you what you just spent.

The app also has a section for donating to charity, plus you can get cash back when shopping at certain retailers (at the time of writing, this ranged from 1.5 per cent to 6 per cent but only at just over a dozen shops). There are no fees for day-to-day use. There’s a foreign-exchange fee if you use it abroad and also a small fee to transfer money back to your bank account, which you’re unlikely to do.

It’s designed for simple contactless payments up to the current PIN-free limit (currently £45) but McLear has recently added the ability to pay larger sums by creating a PIN number in the app.

You can link up to four rings to your account and top them up as you see fit. For example, giving tweens and teens a simple way to pay, where you have oversight. Their ring doesn’t have to automatically top up and there’s no bank balance to be drained if they lose it. Our only concern was that family members could get their rings confused – it would be good to have different markings inside them or an option in the app to tap a ring to identify it.

You can set spending limits and also hit pause. Misplaced a ring? Freeze payments, then unfreeze them when you find it down the back of the sofa. It’s much easier than the palaver of contacting the bank to cancel a lost card and then finding it.

Weirdly though, the app explains that rings automatically expire three years from activation (weirder still, ours had a date in the app of just two years). It may well be obsolete by then, considering technology’s pace of change, but still the built-in obsolescence feels wrong. If someone told you that your phone would automatically stop working after three years, it would give you pause for thought.

This leaves just two important issues: do the contactless payments work well and what’s the ring like to wear?

McLear RingPay product image

Image credit: McLear

At first, I struggled to pay. Then I reread the instructions and learned the correct gesture. Don’t tap the card reader with your palm, instead ball your fingers into a fist and then tap the reader with your knuckles, like you’re knocking on a door not like you’re punching. From then on, it worked as reliably as a card.

The ring feels very comfortable, thanks to a curved inside that’s finger-friendly. It feels like a wedding band and isn’t unusually chunky. The McLear website talks you through how to get the right size, out of its range of 20. And this does matter because you can’t change the size of a zirconium ceramic ring like a metal ring. Go on an extreme diet, drop a ring size and you will need to buy a new one.

It’s comfortable if you like wearing rings, but if you leave it on the window sill when you do the washing up then you definitely can’t pay with it. So instead of checking you have your wallet when you leave the house, you check you’re wearing your ring. And of course, if you use loyalty cards, you still need them anyway.

I often found it a talking point. At my local bakery I’m now “the lady with the ring” (I’ve been called worse...) and we chat about the technology when I buy my daily bread. But it also nearly triggered supermarket rage. There was a stand-off at the till when the cashier didn’t push the button because she was waiting to see me fumble in my wallet for a card first. I was waiting with a seemingly empty hand: her move. We were both frustrated. It was hard convincing her that I was going to pay by magic.

RingPay is a luxury gadget because you don’t need it: you can already pay with your card. You might have a smart watch that can do it too. But the sheer convenience of tapping with your hand to pay for quick little items is great. If that sounds appealing then RingPay is a good choice.

£89.99 mclear.com

Alternatives

Knick

This wooden smart ring also uses NFC. It’s not for bank payments; instead you can program it to take the place of other smart cards – for example, to unlock your smart home, office or gym. It’s quite techie. There’s even a version that can act as your Tesla car key.

From $59 cnick.io 

K Ring

This works very much like RingPay but using the Mastercard network rather than Visa. Even the colours are similar. We don’t like the K on the outside but you do have a choice of seven interior colours, so it’s immediately obvious which ring is yours.

£99.99 mykring.com

Oura

Oura, sported by celebs and sportspeople alike, is different kind of smart ring. It does everything you’d expect in an activity tracking watch and more. Its tiny sensors monitor your heart rate, breathing, body temperature and physical activity with precision.

From €314 ouraring.com 

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