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Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay Offer Speed and Security at Checkout

Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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mobile payment options

Whether you’re paying bills or buying lunch, mobile payment applications can make everyday transactions easier, faster and more organized. But you may be wondering which service would be best for you. We’ve outlined three of the largest mobile payment options to help you decide.

Apple Pay

You’ll need an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6+ to use Apple’s payment service with your phone, as they are the only devices in Apple’s fleet that combine near field communication (NFC) with Apple’s fingerprint sensor, called Touch ID. Both technologies were included to create a fast, secure connection from a credit or debit card to in-store payment terminals. NFC readers are increasingly available but are not as common as traditional magnetic-stripe readers.

To pay, an iPhone user holds the phone close to a payment terminal and completes the transaction (and confirms her identity) by touching a finger lightly to the phone’s home button. The button reads the fingerprint and compares it to a print stored in its memory.

If you have an iPhone 5 or above, you can also use Apple Pay through an Apple Watch. Using the service this way is similar to using it with the iPhone, though it doesn’t require a fingerprint scan. Apple Watch users must enter a passcode every time they use the watch (and therefore every time they use Apple Pay), so there’s a layer of security if your device gets into the hands of a fraudster.

Apple Pay lets users store all of their credit and debit cards within the app, so no matter where you’re spending, you’re able to use the card that gets you the most points for each category. One card can be designated as your default card, which will toggle automatically during the payment process.

Pros: One of the most secure payment services available; can be used with wearables.

Cons: Limited to a few devices; requires an in-store NFC reader.

Samsung Pay

Although it’s not yet available, Samsung Pay is poised to be most similar to Apple Pay in both function and device compatibility. Like Apple Pay, Samsung’s payment service can be used only on specific phones that Samsung designates as eligible, which limits access to people who already have (or intend to have) a newer Samsung mobile phone or wearable. Specific details on which devices are compatible have not been announced.

Though the service will be restricted to certain hardware, Samsung plans to give its users a wide range of physical merchant compatibility by incorporating magnetic secure transmission (MST) into all of its eligible devices. Having MST means Samsung Pay can be used anywhere a traditional magnetic-stripe credit card is accepted. Samsung Pay will also include an NFC chip for more secure transactions, but allowing Samsung Pay to work with magnetic-stripe readers addresses the limited acceptance problem of NFC-only payment services. And though magnetic-stripe readers are on the way out in the United States, this means that, for now, Samsung Pay will have the widest in-store acceptance of any mobile payment service available.

Functionally, Samsung Pay works slightly differently from Apple Pay. Before tapping your device on an in-store NFC or magnetic-stripe payment terminal, you must drag your finger on the home screen to display card options. Users can decide to pay with the default card or choose from up to 10 stored cards in the phone before their identity is confirmed with either a fingerprint or a password. Upon verification, the transaction will go through.

Pros: Widest in-store acceptance; presumably available with wearables.

Cons: Limited to a few devices; when used via magnetic-stripe reader, Samsung Pay is less secure than payment services that use NFC; doesn’t require fingerprint scan.

Android Pay

Android Pay, Google’s mobile payment software, offers almost all of the core functionality of Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, though the service is accessible on a much wider variety of phones (seven out of 10 Android devices, according to Google).

Android Pay works much like the other two services. Take out your phone, enter your password, tap and pay. Unlike Apple Pay, Android Pay doesn’t require a fingerprint to complete payment. Not all Android NFC-capable phones currently have fingerprint hardware, so binding payment to this type of identify verification would limit its usability. Android users only have to get past the phone’s lock screen (if they have one enabled) to access credit cards stored on the phone. Though this can expedite the payment process (fingerprint scanners can be somewhat clumsy, slowing payment), it’s less secure than Apple’s payment service.

One of the main differences between Android Pay and the other two options is that Google’s offering makes paying and participating in merchants’ loyalty programs easier. Android Pay lets companies incorporate loyalty programs directly into its payment service, meaning you can buy, say, a cup of coffee and get the shop’s reward in one touch of your phone. 

Apple and Samsung do not allow this sort of functionality directly with their payment apps. Both companies still allow users to take advantage of loyalty programs digitally, though it’s a lot clunkier. To use Starbucks’ loyalty program on the iPhone, for example, users must download Starbucks’ app, load money onto their Starbucks account and scan a QR code on their phone to complete every purchase. Of course, users can still access loyalty program benefits by presenting a physical loyalty card when paying.

Pros: Compatible with a much wider variety of phones; incorporates loyalty programs.

Cons: Requires an in-store NFC reader; doesn’t require fingerprint scan.

Which payment service should you use?

Most people are unlikely to choose an Android, Apple or Samsung device based solely on its payment app. All three payment services are similar enough functionally that the minutiae of the transaction process for each company will provide little benefit or reward for simple purchases.

But each has a standout feature. If you want ultimate security, go with Apple Pay. If you’d like a payment service that allows you to pay everywhere credit cards are accepted, go with Samsung Pay. If you’d like to have loyalty programs incorporated with your payment, go with Android Pay.

Kevin Cash is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @kevin_cash.

Image via Apple.