This is the perfect time to go all-in on cashless contactless payments

Google Pay Power Button Shortcut
Google Pay Power Button Shortcut (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

We're going to look back on 2020 as a point where we collectively renewed our focus on public health and hygiene. The coronavirus pandemic will stick with us as a reminder of just how easily viruses can spread, and make us all think about what we touch on a daily basis. One thing that's unavoidable is going to stores and paying for goods — whether it's your weekly groceries or a new pair of shoes. But you can reduce your risk factors here: perhaps now's the perfect time to start using contactless payments.

Google Pay support has changed a lot since you last looked at it.

Early on, only a handful of banks supported Google Pay — and growth was slow. But now, it's a different story: all of the major U.S. banks are supported, plus hundreds of smaller regional banks and credit unions, and you can even pay in stores with your PayPal account. Credit or debit, big bank or small, you're extremely likely to be able to use Google Pay with any payment method currently in your wallet.

The other and bigger, pain point early on in the expansion of tap-to-pay in the U.S. was on the store side. Because we never really hopped on the NFC-enabled credit card trend like most of the world, payment terminals lagged behind in being updated to accept NFC. And early on, as stores were forced into new terminals, they didn't update their backend systems to actually accept contactless payments even though the hardware supported it.

The biggest retail and restaurant chains in the country take contactless payments now.

Thankfully, the scene is a lot better now. Dozens of the biggest retail and restaurant chains in the country have expanded contactless payments to every one of their stores. And many others have rolled it out to most of their stores. And it's not just big chains — small independent stores are often the best at accepting contactless payments, as many phone- and tablet-based payment terminals, like those from Square, have it built-in. And a pro tip: even if a store only says it accepts Apple Pay, it will accept your Google Pay too!

Just about every phone out there has NFC and can use Google Pay. But if you have a modern Samsung or LG phone, you can use Samsung Pay (opens in new tab) or LG Pay (opens in new tab) for mobile payments even at old swipe-only payment terminals in addition to NFC terminals. Sometimes it comes with some odd looks from the clerks who don't think their terminals take smartphone payments, but it does work.

Source: MTA (Image credit: Source: MTA)

There's a common misconception that you actually have to "tap" your phone to the terminal as well. In most cases, you don't have to make physical contact with the payment area — just get your phone close, within a couple of inches, and it'll trigger over the air. Important to know if your goal is to touch as few things as possible.

Another trend that's particularly welcomed is the proliferation of contactless payment terminals in places that are accessed by many more people and cleaned way less often than a retail store. Transit systems, vending machines and gas station pumps are increasingly making use of contactless payments. I'm particularly excited by the NYC Subway's rollout of contactless turnstiles — better late than never!

If you haven't looked at getting your phone — or even your watch — set up with contactless payments in a while, now is the perfect time to do so. It's supported with just about every bank, and in most places you shop. And as soon as you start using contactless payments, you'll realize just how antiquated it feels to pull out your wallet and pay with a card or cash — and how much you can avoid contact with dirty payment terminals every day.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

20 Comments
  • The Nokia 3.1 plus and few other Nokia phones are the few phones under $200 that have NFC. Unfortunately, DC's Metro Subway system has not launched contactless payments at fare gates yet, nor they have they launched an app, but they are planning to this year
  • I find contactless payments slower than a card, it always takes awhile to recover it, but given the situation I may start using it.
  • apple pay is instant. android just can't get this feature to be even a tenth as good as apple pay.
    I watched a guy with a Samsung fight with the contactless payment at subway. took him 20 seconds to pay. took me 2 seconds. even he looked at me with envy after seeing how much better it is on iOS.
    reason 381927349817234 to stay with apple.
  • You're talking crap. GPay is literally instant and easily as fast as tapping a card to the terminal. Pick up my phone and place toward the terminal and its usually went through by the time I get within a few inches of it. And that's consistent over the years on many many different phones. I can make about 5 payments by the time you've double tapped your power button then face unlocked or entered a pin code on the iPhone 😂
  • like your story, too bad it was just that - a story
  • I have been using gpay for 4 years and its very much instant. I use it on the train and in the shops. Its quicker these days with newer phones and better nfc sensors.
    I've seen iOS users fumble constantly with their tapping, holding the queue at train gates and shops. So it's an anecdote that works both sides.
    It's the software that can be a bottleneck if written badly and requires too many steps.
  • False! I have Apple Pay on my iPhone 11 and Samsung Pay on my Galaxy S9 + and not only can I use Samsung Pay anywhere it is just as fast as Apple Pay.
  • What problems are you having? If I'm paying with my phone I unlock it and then hold it near the terminal. That's about it. The process is faster than using a credit card.
  • Faster than a credit card has been my experience as well, and I've been using NFC payments for four years now.
  • Here in Australia at least (not sure if it's the same elsewhere) there's a limit to how much you can pay with contactless payments (was recently increased to AUD$200 - it was AUD$100 - in order to help with making sure payment terminals are touched less). With that in mind, you may still need to touch the payment terminal.
  • It will help for sure, but unfortunately it's not 100%. As noted not all businesses support it. On top of that, of those that do you still have to touch a good majority of them. Either to select debt/credit or even sign.
  • I've been to several places that have their terminals behind glass with the employees now and the only way to use them is to hand over your card, or i suppose your phone. So your contactless payment just introduced more contact.
  • And also security concerns because you don't know what else the person serving you is doing with your card/phone.
  • Ideally, they would have a contact pad outside the glass that you could tap with your phone or card. Drive up windows would benefit from something similar, like a pad installed on the window ledge facing the customer. I don't use NFC at drive up windows the way they are currently setup, because it means handing your phone over.
  • Google Pay is instant and I love using it. I have NFC built into my card now, but it does not work as well. The card I have to almost touch to the terminal, the phone works from a couple inches away. My guess is the NFC antenna is better in the phone, or is amplified. I go for weeks without cash and use contactless payments sometimes a dozen times a day. Fuel pumps and ATM's accepting NFC are a welcome addition. Actually, it's been about a month since I've used cash. The best designed systems are those that require no further interaction: One "Blip" and you are out the door, having touched nothing but your phone. Other systems accept the contactless payment, then ask for a PIN, then ask if you want cash back, then ask if you want a receipt. So, despite being contactless, you still have to physically touch the terminal multiple times because the programmers didn't think it through.
  • In the USA, what we call contactless payments is really not a contactless payment (there are some exceptions). If you have to touch a payment terminal screen, is it really a contactless payment? I say no. We need real universal contactless payments when we visit physical stores.
  • I would agree with that, and it's up to the system design for those stores. Walgreens and McDonald's have it down, with no physical contact needed. CVS Pharmacy is pretty good and sends receipts via email, but do not support contactless loyalty cards, so you have to let them scan your phone screen or key fob. Rite Aid is only halfway there, accepting the payment, but making you touch the screen multiple times anyway. Maybe we should come up with a grading system to rate how "contactless" a chain store's technology is?
  • I've been using Samsung Pay with my Gear Sport watch for the last few months and it has been work it great. No need to pull out my phone when I can quickly use my watch.
  • There should be a mandate that all terminals support contactless payments. I believe it would make things easier for people that want to use them. The grocery store I work at part time doesn't accept it and people who think we have apple pay have to either run out to their car to get their card or end up leaving their groceries because we don't accept it.
  • Wow! Since I read this I have been trying to use Google Pay at retailers that only claim to have Apple Pay... and by retailers I mean my grocery store. I can report that if you go to Giant Eagle grocery stores you can use Google Pay for your purchase.