Mobile payments in the real world: Samsung Pay
Last week, we took a look at Android Pay. Android Pay allows you to make mobile payments at NFC terminals around the country. It’s a wonderful service, but it’s not the only game in town. There are two other major players competing for this space in very specific ways, and today we’re going to look at a very intriguing one – Samsung Pay.
Samsung Pay is Samsung’s mobile payment system. It is available on a small subset of Samsung devices that include fingerprint sensors. But not just any fingerprint sensor, such as the Note 4. It has to be Samsung’s current TouchID-like fingerprint sensor (that one I like to call “the good one”) that debuted with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. So, your Samsung Pay options are currently limited to the Note 5, The S6 Edge Plus, the S6 Edge and the S6. Notice the S6 Active isn’t in there? So did I. No fingerprint sensor.
But anyway, Samsung takes a unique approach to Samsung Pay by integrating MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) technology. Samsung acquired this tech when it bought the company LoopPay last February. Here’s the really, really cool part about this tech.
Just about any place where you can whip out your credit card and swipe, you can whip out your phone and tap. The MST Technology transmits the payment information – tokenized – to the magnetic reader in the machine. NFC is not needed. Here’s the really fun part.
Do you remember way back when stores like CVS hobbled their NFC readers to force their customers to use a mobile payment system that didn’t even exist yet? CurrentC was the name, and suddenly Apple Pay and Google Wallet didn’t work at CVS any more (though Google Wallet worked up until then). Well, Samsung Pay works, because screw NFC – we’ve got MST. When I tried it, the cashier said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Apple Pay doesn’t work.” “I am aware of that, neither does Android Pay,” I replied, tapping my phone to the credit card reader.
A second later, beep! “Wow, what is that?” she asked. “That would be Samsung Pay,” I replied. “That is so cool! But it’s only on Samsung, right?”
And that brings us to one of three downsides of Samsung Pay. In true Samsung tradition, this option is only available on Samsung devices. What’s more, it’s only available on certain Samsung devices. Add to that, it needs to be carrier supported, so Verizon customers are out too – though Verizon announced recently that it will enable Samsung pay “in a future update”. So, while Android Pay is available on a lot of NFC toting phones, Samsung Pay is limited to a subset of a subset of a subset of phones. It’s true that this subset of a subset of a subset is still a pretty popular range of phones though.
The second downside we encounter is one that we encounter with all forms of mobile payments – there are some places that have not adapted to this use yet. This is true for Samsung Pay as well. Places that require you to insert and withdraw a card do not work – so no gas pumps or ATM machines. Places where you have to hand over your card to pay – restaurants for example – are out. I also tried at my local Little Caesars pizza (they swipe the card behind the counter), and that failed as well. So MST does not solve all of your problems, but it solves a lot of them.
The last downside of Samsung Pay is a lack of loyalty card support. So far, you can only add credit and debit cards to the app, and not your Qdoba rewards card which gets used ~far~ too often for my doctor’s taste. This isn’t a really major deal-breaker, but if the goal here is to leave your wallet at home, Samsung comes up a little short, though I would think that’s coming in the near future.
It’s a virtue
Actually using Samsung Pay is really fun, but there’s a certain amount of patience needed. Samsung is known for half-baked features in their phones, and while I wouldn’t say this is “half-baked” per se, I would also not call it bulletproof either. It sometimes takes three or more tries to get the scan correct so that machine accepts the input. This isn’t a major deal, but whenever I went to test Samsung Pay, I was generally inclined to let the people behind me in line go ahead, lest I keep them waiting for an unnecessarily long time. But overall, in the places where I used it an expected it to work, it worked. It sometimes took a few tries, but it worked.
Overall, Samsung Pay is a great thing, because it bridges the gap between wanting to make mobile payments and retailers updating their equipment to allow it. There’s so much more theoretical availability for Samsung Pay that it’s really a shame this only works in a handful of phones. Otherwise I could easily see Samsung Pay out dueling even Android Pay and Apple Pay in the next few years. After that, presumably retailers will have caught up, which is fine because Samsung Pay works on NFC too. This is a power-move by Samsung, and I hope the device boundaries don’t hamper it too much.
At the end of the day, is Samsung Pay alone worth getting a Samsung phone? I don’t know about that. I mean statistically speaking if you’re looking for Android, you’re probably buying a Samsung phone anyway, so there’s that. But is Samsung Pay itself worth shunning all others to get an S6, or Note 5? No, but the fact that those devices, and the other devices that have Samsung Pay also happen to be great phones make Samsung Pay a bit of a no-brainer. Since these phones are currently the best in class anyway, Samsung Pay is a bonus. And if you’re on the fence between another Android and a Samsung, this can and probably should tip the scales in Samsung’s direction.
But there’s one chief competitor we haven’t looked at yet. Coming next week, Apple Pay.