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MST was great, but its death is a good thing for mobile payments

I'll pay another way
I'll pay another way (Image credit: Android Central)

Think back to a time before tapping your phone to a register or vending machine was a real thing that people did every day. In those days, you used a credit card, or you hoped that you went to a store that supported one of those new NFC terminals that only worked half the time.

If you used a Samsung phone with Samsung Pay, however, it didn't matter where you shopped. You could always pay with your phone. It used a technology called MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission), which basically lets your phone be read like any credit or debit card that uses a magnetic strip across the back of it.

MST works by generating a magnetic signal very similar to a credit card's. That magnetic signal is then transferred to almost any payment terminal with a card reader. If a terminal can use your debit or credit card, it can use your Samsung phone with MST. It's just one of those magical hacks we take for granted.

Then along comes the Galaxy S21 without MST and all that Samsung had built was seemingly torn asunder. But not really.

MST was one of those features that came about just when it was needed. It's now been killed off because it's no longer needed.

Your bank hates any sort of magnetic stripe payment reading and any recent card you've been issued probably has some sort of tap and pay system like NFC or chip-and-PIN. That's because your bank hates paying out money for fraudulent payments, which are more likely to happen when shooting magnetic signals around to terminal and card readers and skimmers than it is to happen with close contact systems like NFC. Samsung prefers NFC payments because credit card companies and banks prefer it, and that means more of them are likely to participate in Samsung Pay.

Of course, that means whatever you're trying to give a digital representation of your cash to also has to support NFC or chip-and-PIN or ESP or whatever your bank thinks is best. That's the rub because it puts us back to square one in many places where NFC payment systems just aren't available in any sort of numbers.

Live Bait

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android CentralYou probably thought I was kidding. (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

I know this because I am not an average tech blogger who lives in New York. I'm just some guy who lives a relatively quiet life in the woods along the Appalachian Trail. I can use NFC payments at a Jamba Juice machine in front of GameStop. But I can use MST technology to buy — and I am being literal here — minnows and fishing worms at a buddy's store nearby. MST is still useful where I live, but in most larger cities, retailers have largely adopted tap-based payments. It's the future.

It makes sense that banks want to use the most secure method possible to handle point-of-sale transactions. It makes sense that Samsung is at a place where it's ready to ditch older technology to lower liability for its partners. It even makes sense that corporate giants like Chase aren't rushing to provide chip-and-PIN terminals to stores atop the Blue Ridge Mountains. That doesn't make things more convenient for everyone, though.

The great news is that you can continue to use Samsung Pay through MST from certain Galaxy Watches, and most flagship Galaxy phones before the S21, including the Galaxy S20 FE, still support it.

The other great news is that if you need some bait, I know a guy who accepts MST payments, and you get some pretty great fishing in the process.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

40 Comments
  • This is annoying. Samsung's MST tech was the way I avoided Walmart's stupid QR code tech since they refuse all NFC transaction vendors. It worked so flawlessly where NFC readers aren't present that this makes me question cancelling my S21 order. I know it's supposed to be just worm vending machines and small businesses that haven't made the jump, but here even Lowes and Home Depot still don't have NFC enabled.
  • America is weird.
  • Yeah because you Brits aren't the least bit anachronistic. Nope not at all ☺
  • Never said Britain wasn't also weird lol.
  • Walmart blocked Samsung Pay MST years ago and so did Lowes. Worked at both. I know this for a fact.
  • I'm holding off any upgrades for awhile. I use MST a lot, as most store's still haven't upgraded there terminals. Maybe when the S23/Note 23 comes out there will be more NFC readers. Then I'll consider going to a MST-less phone.
  • I couldn't disagree more. It's gone because it's no longer needed? I live in Northern Kentucky and there are still a ton of places that don't have wireless card readers. Hell, Kroger, the biggest grocery chain in the area still doesn't even have it. I use MST to pay there every time I go.
  • You are out of touch if you think that MST is no longer needed. Most smaller stores and even a lot of larger stores still do not accept NFC payments. I'm sure, in time, that statement of no longer being needed will be true, it will not be for several more years. I bought a Galaxy Watch 3 without MST knowing that I could still pay with my phone. I no longer have the luxury of buying a phone without MST and expecting to use Samsung Pay in my area. This makes me sad. I was looking forward to the S21 Ultra. I can get by without the SD card, even though I'll miss it, but cannot get by without MST.
  • THREE of biggest retailers in america dont take nfc: walmart, lowes and home depot. I guess samsung was too bizzy trying to avoid being jailed to notice!
  • P.S. i cant believe such a huge android site such as yours is so apologetic about the loss of mst
  • This is an android site?
  • Don't want to upset the hand that feeds them
  • I'd add Ralphs Supermarkets... here in Los Angeles.
  • Maybe the 3 biggest retailers in the US need to stop scrimping and get NFC terminals like everyone else 🤷🏻‍♂️
  • Lowes is suppose to be adding them.
  • I think we can do something about
    Start asking them on social media like Twitter, FB...
  • All blocked Samsung Pay.
  • I don't know how it is a good thing if it is still being used by a lot of users. NFC tends to be iffy. Too many times I have to do the MST thing because NFC does not work properly.
  • About time. Time to get your butt's into the 21st Century America. Hopefully this will help your stores get their act together and get NFC in all retailers like the rest of the world already has. This is good thing
  • While Walmart, Lowes, and Home Depot may not have NFC, they're not totally dependant on MST either. All of those stores that I've been to, regardless of location, have chip and pin readers so they can work with the more secure (as related to MST) chip based cards.
  • And they all blocked Samsung pay anyway.
  • Stop saying that! I use MST at Walmart terminals all the time!
  • Seriously.. Did you respond with your tired and incorrect 'it doesn't work there' comment to every post?
  • MST was holding back technology. Wendy's restaurants literally went backwards and chose non-NFC terminals because "phones still work", without understanding only Samsungs worked with the old tech. Only place around me that doesn't support true contact-less payments is an old auto parts store. Everywhere else, including gas pumps and ATMs, use NFC.
  • I've changed my phone every year since the S6. I also could adjust to not having the SD card. But I might hold on to the S20 Ultra for another year because of the lack of MST support in the S21s. An early Samsung Pay adopter, I'm not sure whether I'm up for having to whip out my wallet again. Unfortunately, in the small town where I live, all the stores have not made the shift to NFC. And yes, that includes Walmart and Kroger (which owns supermarkets with other names), the two biggest grocery chains in the US. We can only hope that NFC becomes ubiquitous by the end of the year!
  • Both Walmart and Kroger blocked Samsung Pay so you couldn’t use it there if you wanted to.
  • Which watch can you buy with MST? Wasn't the Gear S3 the last one?
  • Gear S3 was the first and last one :-) I
  • I disagree. There are many places, particularly small businesses, that do not yet support NFC payment, not to mention the big retailers already named. You can pontificate about how they should and how the US is behind, but it's a reality, and a differentiater for some of us. It's been among the the key factors in my choosing Samsung for my last 4 phones, and will likely be a big factor in keeping my S20 FE for longer than I typically would.
  • The big retailers named like Walmart blocked Samsung Pay at their terminals. Worked at Walmart I know this. You couldn’t use it there. Other big retailers did the same.
  • I guess my perspective is why couldn’t Samsung just keep them both? By eliminating mst now without nfc being fully adopted by all retailers it seems like a big missed opportunity to Samsung to help themselves stand out from other cell phone competitors. Now they’re no different from any one else. Something tells me this is more of them following Apple than anything else.
  • I totally agree. MST set Samsung apart with a truly useful feature that neither Apple nor others had.
  • I am sure they will say it is more friendly for the environment.
  • I completely agree that MST is still very useful in the US. I have been using MST since it came out on the Gear S3 and then on the S8. I live downtown in a major US city and most of the small stores still don't have NFC readers. Even the largest grocery store closest to us (part of a large regional chain) does not. (Of course, I love it when an employee tells me "we don't take Apple Pay" and looks amazed my it works with my phone). I recently upgraded to the Galaxy Watch 3 because I assumed Samsung would continue to support MST on its phones. Ouch. I'm glad I upgraded to an S20 earlier this year while MST was still available. I understand Samsung wanting to cut prices on its phone line. But with less RAM, a lower resolution display, no micro SD (which I use every day to download tons of music and videos for offline playback), and now no MST (not to mention a plastic back), the S21 line is a HARD pass. To me, Samsung took more than $200 of value away. More troubling is Samsung continuing a trend of copying Apple's behavior, not designs or features: reducing choice and dictating what users can and cannot do.
  • For younger non-american readers - let me give a bit of context because this story might be confusing otherwise. Depending on how old you are - you might just about remember your parents use to take their cash card and they had to physically run it down the side of a machine - this is what "swiping" is. Being a bit older - I myself vaguely remember swiping a card in the UK - I think I last did it in 2003. However if you visit the USA you can see this quaint historical custom in practice and you might even be asked to sign your name!
  • In the US cards default to swiping if the chip reader fails to read properly. At least what is what happens to me at a couple of different grocery stores.
  • One less reason to buy a Samsung phone. It was a really good reason to own one.
  • Here in Dallas, only a few places use NFC. I almost only use MST. That's why I always come back to Samsung. Now I really. have no reason, I can just go back to Google or Oneplus. This is trash.
  • Eliminating features is a good thing? The bias towards Samsung in this "article" is unbelievable. If Apple had MST it would be a feature to promote that separated itself from the rest. "With the new iPhone you can pay anywhere!" But no Samsung wants to be a follower with no regard to the consumer and this writer just blindly agrees.
    I've been a Pixel user for the past 3 years and i really missed being able to pay with Samsung Pay anywhere. When i wasn't impressed with the Pixel 5 i picked up the Galaxy S20 FE with the intent of getting the S21 Ultra when it was released.
    Using Samsung Pay at Lowes and Walmart is a joy. Especially during this pandemic. We don't have to touch anything but our phones.
    The way this writer is sucking up to Samsung i bet they would be happy if Samsung decided to remove the screen from the S22. *We no longer have the irritating glare from the sun!"
    Just sad content from what used to be my favorite site for Android information.
    I'll never get another Samsung phone now that they have eliminated it's killer feature. Back to the Pixel i go!
  • Wal-Mart and Lowes blocked Samsung Pay years ago. You could not use it on their terminals. Worked at both places I know. It was hilarious when Samsung users thought it would work but it failed. Laughed my ass off each time. So you are clearly a liar.