We've given you a comprehensive look at the differences between Android Pay and Samsung Pay, but that doesn't necessarily answer the question of which you should use. Though both mobile payment solutions do many of the same basic things, there are several factors influencing which one you go with in the end. We're going to help you decide.
Reasons to choose Android Pay
When you look at Android Pay as a second life of Google Wallet, it has actually been around much longer than the other in-store mobile payment solutions. And though it doesn't perfectly replicate Google Wallet, that's actually a good thing — Android Pay is doing things correctly this time around, and in the long run seems to have legs to be a much better service than Wallet ever was.
On the upside
At launch, Android Pay supports more banks and cards from those banks than Samsung Pay. You can bring cards from any major issuer and one of 11 banks to the service, and while that list certainly needs to grow it's much larger than what Samsung has at its launch. And because Google knows that it doesn't support enough banks right now, you actually do have the ability to add unsupported cards, though with the caveat that it'll require an extra PIN code when making a payment and Google can't guarantee that your card issuer will be able to offer you rewards and points for purchases.
Any phone with Android 4.4 and NFC is good to go — no further restriction.
Another win for Android Pay is device and carrier support. You can install Android Pay on just about any Android phone running Android 4.4 KitKat, so long as it has NFC (Near Field Communication) and HCE (Host Card Emulation) support — which most phones do. Even though Android Pay is only available in the U.S., you can install Android Pay on a non-U.S. phone and there's no restriction on what carrier you're using. The requirements all land on the phone's hardware and software, no other outside factors.
And as more of a forward-looking bonus, Android Pay will soon be a widely-used payment system for in-app and online payments. Much like Google Wallet is currently used, going forward you'll be able to use stored cards to make purchases in apps and on websites that support Android Pay. That means you'll be adding your cards to just one app, and using them in stores, in apps, and online — that's a pretty great idea.
On the downside
Because Android Pay is slowly transitioning from Google Wallet, there are some hurdles to get over. Android Pay supports in-store purchases with its app, but there's no integrated website where you can track transactions like you can still with Google Wallet. More to that point, Google Wallet is still what you use for online and in-app payments, as it has yet to transfer over to the Android Pay system. We understand it has to be a slow transition, but while it's happening it's a bit painful.
NFC payments are expanding, but are hardly at every retailer you visit.
Less of a downside and more of just an annoyance, Android Pay is also designed in a way where you can't easily switch between credit or debit cards at the time of payment. With Android Pay you can have several cards loaded into the app, but one is set as a "default" card, which it uses for payment when you tap a terminal. In order to use a different card just for one purchase (as people often do), you'll need to set it as the default, make the payment, then switch the default card again. Let's hope that changes with future updates.
Android Pay is also fighting the same uphill battle of Apple Pay — trying to get stores to start accepting NFC payments. While big chains like McDonald's, Foot Locker and Macy's take NFC payments, your little coffee shop down the street or local clothing store probably don't. You'll find payment terminals that accept NFC more and more as the technology gains momentum, but it just isn't universal enough to consider leaving your wallet at home.
Looking at Samsung Pay instead
Samsung Pay is really coming together on the fly just a handful of months after Samsung purchased the company LoopPay for its payment technology. The service has been in beta trials in South Korea and the U.S., and will be available to anyone with the four latest high-end Samsung phones starting September 28.
On the upside
The biggest selling point for using Samsung Pay is its exclusive technology called MST, or Magnetic Secure Transmission. Though it'll fall back to NFC for payment terminals that have it, MST lets your phone emulate a card swipe on any payment terminal that you'd normally swipe a card through. By simply placing your phone over the slot where you would usually swipe a card, the terminal will think a card was swiped and process the payment as usual. This means that Samsung Pay can be used in virtually any store — without the merchant explicitly being on-board — so long as you have access to the terminal where the card is swiped.
Anywhere you'd normally swipe a card, you can tap Samsung Pay.
The Samsung Pay interface also makes it super easy to choose exactly which card you want to pay with right at the time of payment. You swipe up on your lock or home screen, swipe between the cards you have in the app (one is set as a default), and then place it over the payment terminal. This makes it easier to choose a specific card for the type of purchase or retailer you're at.
Though Samsung is making a big push for Pay in the U.S., it has ambitions for international expansion as well. It has been available in South Korea since August, and Samsung has already announced it is working on an expansion to the UK, Spain and China. Google hasn't been so open about expansion plans for Android Pay, but Samsung has already taken the charge on pushing outside of the U.S.
On the downside
As we mentioned above, Samsung Pay doesn't have the bank or card support that Android Pay does. It's picked up support of three major card issuers, but only three banks as well. Considering the clout of Samsung we wouldn't be surprised if that number grows (and it'll have to, if it wants to succeed), but right now you're just out of luck if you don't have a supported card and bank.'
Restrictions are tight right now, but there are global ambitions.
And while the MST technology means Samsung Pay is accepted at drastically more places than Android Pay, you're still stuck in a situation where you'll likely have to have a wallet with you because of its limitations. You still can't pay with Samsung Pay at any type of payment terminal that requires a push/pull card swipe — like in ATMs, metro station ticket machines and gas stations — or in any situation where you'd normally hand a card over to someone who then swipes it on their side of the counter. Sure it can work in lots of places, but not everywhere a physical card can.
Beyond that, the big downside to Samsung Pay is how its handling device and carrier support. Because of the MST technology required to make Samsung Pay what it is, you'll have to own a Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+ or Note 5 to use it — as well as future high-end Samsung devices, we assume. Further, you'll have to have a carrier version of one of those phones from a supported U.S. carrier. At launch that's Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and U.S. Cellular — meaning Verizon, as well as other popular but not gigantic carriers, are out of the mix right now. You also can't bring an international version of one of those phones to the U.S. and use Samsung Pay, even if you're on one of those carriers.
Which is right for you?
So with this information at hand, which one should you choose to use? If you don't have a Samsung phone, the answer here is pretty clear — you have to go with Android Pay. At the same time, if you don't meet the handful of other qualifications — a supported card from one of a few banks, and a recent U.S. carrier model Samsung phone — you can't use Samsung Pay, either. Samsung won't be bringing Samsung Pay back to older phones, and it won't be coming to non-Samsung phones either — but none of that is super surprising, and Android Pay definitely works, albeit with a few quirks.
If you have a Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+ or Note 5, got it from a major U.S. carrier and have a supported card from a supported bank, the decision is pretty clear — you should go with Samsung Pay. Though it's a pretty tough list of requirements that really narrows down the number of potential users, Samsung Pay is accepted in so many more stores that it really lowers the barrier to using it when compared to Android Pay. Of course if you have access to Samsung Pay that doesn't mean you can't have Android Pay installed on your phone, too — you're just going to have the best experience using just one mobile payment platform.