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The Best Credit Card Readers of 2016
Is there anything mobile devices can't do these days? Apps provide millions of software solutions to modern problems like organizing photos or learning a new language. And with a little bit of hardware, your phone or tablet can gain even more functionality. For example, with a mobile credit card reader, your store can throw out those dirty, clunky old cash registers and start accepting credit and debit card payments right on your mobile device. But with several choices out there, which reader should your business rely on?
Fortunately, the four major credit card readers I've tested—Square, PayPal Chip Card Reader, QuickBooks GoPayment, and PayAnywhere—aren't dramatically different from each other. Any one should fulfill most basic requirements. However, when dealing with something as crucial as your company's cash flow, you should still do the research to make sure the device you're depending on is right for you. I'll explain what these devices are and which one you should get.
You may notice a price disparity amongst these devices. That's because each one offers a different set of features. PayAnywhere and GoPayment both offer free basic card readers you receive after downloading their respective apps and registering for an account. You can also buy their readers in stores and sign up for the services later. Square and PayPal offer free readers, too, but we've reviewed their more advanced (and more expensive) hardware options. The Square reader includes EMV support, and the PayPal Chip Card Reader features EMV support and NFC support. Considering the money you and your business could be saving in the long run with these devices, these price differences aren't too significant. But you also shouldn't pay for features you don't need.
What do you get for your money? Square, GoPayment, and PayAnywhere are all small physical dongles that plug into the headphone jack of your iOS or Android phone or tablet. Square's device, our Editors' Choice, is the most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch, but the other two are far from ugly. Customers use these devices to swipe their card. The actual transactions are handled via a companion mobile app. The PayPal Chip Card Reader is a separate, larger device with its own keypad, slots, and screen that pairs to your mobile device through Bluetooth. But the same general principle applies.
The apps themselves are also very similar, right down to their color schemes. This is good because it means many merchant features have been standardized. The entire flow of a transaction—from the customer loading up their cart, to the merchant presenting the final receipt, to the customer signing their name on a touch screen—is intuitive in each app. All of them let you create items with set prices customers can browse to speed up checkouts. You can also create item categories and issue refunds. It's even possible to view and export sales trends and other data to accounting services like Editors' Choice award-winning Intuit QuickBooks Online Plus.
Features and Pricing Models
The mobile payment devices I've tested set themselves apart through small but meaningful differences at the margins of the purchasing experience. Square and PayPal make it incredibly simple and easy for an individual seller to start processing purchases. GoPayment and PayAnywhere, on the other hand, did not allow me to start selling until they were convinced I was a legitimate business,
and the approval process was tedious and slow. Perhaps to make up for that inconvenience, both of those apps include Test Drive modes in which users can preview the app and hardware without real purchases, a handy feature Square and PayPal lack.
Each service also has a slightly different pricing model. No app accepts payments under a dollar. Each app also takes a cut of around 2.7 percent for transactions with swiped cards and 3.5 percent for transactions with less secure keyed-in cards. However, GoPayment offers a subscription plan that lowers those fees and provides increased compatibility with the entire suite of QuickBooks software, great for businesses already in the QuickBooks ecosystem. That direct connection to an online accounting service is a powerful feature that can help you stay on top of your business finances.
Meanwhile, some apps add a fixed fee per transaction between 15 and 25 cents, but Square does not. Square's bank-deposit options also include a promise to deliver your cash within 24 hours. Other services require a couple more business days to deposit funds.
EMV and NFC
One hardware feature currently only offered by Square and PayPal is EMV support. If you've recently gotten a new credit or debit card you may have noticed what looks a computer chip embedded in it. This is a new security standard being rolled out that will make transactions less risky for consumers. Square and the PayPal Chip Card Reader both have two slots: one for accepting old magnetic strip cards and another for the new EMV cards. GoPayment and PayAnywhere are still working on their EMV card readers, but they should be available soon.
The PayPal Chip Card Reader is the only mobile hardware I've tested with support for NFC, the nearby wireless communication technology that powers mobile payment systems like Apple Pay and Android Pay. This partially explains the device's bulky build and relatively high price tag compared with the other devices. If you want your business to be NFC-capable, PayPal's hardware is a quick and easy solution. But few customers see the technology as necessary yet, so if it's not worth it to you, another cheaper device might make more sense. All the hardware mentioned here also works with our Editors' Choice mobile payment app Samsung Pay since it's designed to work with any magnetic-stripe card reader, including standard cash registers.
Make Your Purchase
Click through the blurbs below to read our full reviews and see which one is right for you—or if any of them are. This hardware is mostly targeted towards businesses that frequently process customer transactions. If you just want to exchange money with friends, you should download Editors' Choice award-winning app Venmo instead. If your business wants to sell products online, and not just in retail stores, online shopping cart software is what you're looking for.
Note that just because Square is our Editors' Choice in the mobile payment device category doesn't mean it beats its rivals in every area. As all these companies continue to upgrade their readers in response to mobile payment trends, the competition to control your cash will only get fiercer, so PCMag will be wathcing this space carefully. Are you a business owner using one of these readers? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.
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Category: Business card