Could I survive for 24 hours without cash or cards — and only the new Android Pay to pick up the tab?
I didn’t get off to the best start. Setting up Android Pay on my mobile phone took ages — and buying coffees for colleagues involved running to three different cafes in the pouring rain until I found one that would accept it.
Last Wednesday the latest contactless payment system was launched in the UK, almost a year after Apple set up a similar system allowing customers to pay on their iPhones. To put Android Pay to the test, I left my wallet at home. Could I survive 24 hours using only my smartphone?
Android Pay is accepted at thousands of retailers, from Boots to Waitrose, Costa to Superdrug. It works on most of the Android models released in the past three years — 25m-30m phones in Britain, according to the analyst IHS. Compatible handsets include my Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini, which is nearly two years old, the newer Galaxy S6 and S7, the HTC One M8, M9 and M10 and the Sony Xperia Z series .
I’m an Android fan — or, rather, not an Apple junkie — because iPhones seem expensive to me. Android, the Google-owned operating system, is just as simple to use and the phones that run it tend to be more affordable.
So, on Wednesday morning, when the free Android Pay app landed in the Google Play store, I tried installing it on my S5 Mini. It didn’t work instantly, but once I deleted some photos to make room for the app and updated my settings, I was ready to go.
Mike Cowen, head of digital payment products at MasterCard, said: “Android Pay opens up mobile payments to millions more people, with almost 460,000 retailers in the UK accepting it, from market traders to the biggest supermarkets.”
How it works
Once I had the app running, the rest of the set-up was pretty straightforward. First, take a smartphone photo of your debit or credit card. Nearly all the big banks are supporting Android Pay — except Barclays, which will roll out its own “Contactless Mobile” system for Android next month — so I snapped my First Direct debit card. The app then suggested improving the security measures I use to unlock my phone. I chose the fingerprint option, so now I stroke my index finger over the bottom of my phone to unlock it, rather than typing in a Pin .
Android Pay users can tap and pay wherever contactless card payments are accepted. They can buy goods costing up to £30 without unlocking their phone, while payments above £30 need to be approved using a Pin, a fingerprint or by drawing a pattern on the touchscreen. Your phone must be turned on, but you do not need to open the app.
My dad with Android pay
On Wednesday morning I left my Transport for London Oyster card at home and walked to Hornsey railway station in north London. Would my phone get me on the train? I nervously held it on the Oyster reader. It took a few seconds to register, but then it beeped and I saw that joyful green light.
About 25 minutes later, at London Bridge Tube station, I once more held the phone on the reader. It worked — but, again, only after a wait whereas an Oyster card is almost instant. Those extra seconds felt like a lifetime in rush hour, as the commuters behind me became restless at the time I was taking .
Next up, coffees. The response from the first shop was: “Sorry, we only take cash.” In the second shop, after I had queued outside in the rain, I was — wrongly — told: “We take contactless cards, but not phones.”
Next door was Konditor & Cook, a wonderful cake shop. The assistant said she thought it should be possible and then marvelled as I used the S5 Mini to pay for three drinks. Result!
A discount bookseller had a stall in our office that day, so I went looking for bargains — and found that Android Pay was a great talking point.
As I paid for my books, the assistant exclaimed: “Oh, wow. What phone is that?”
“Samsung. Android Pay launched today.”
“Today? Oh, wow. Everyone will be using their phones now!”
Later I went to buy a sandwich in Pret a Manger. “Ooh, is it a Samsung?” asked the server.
“Yes, it is.” I beamed. “Android Pay launched today.”
It was easy to do my shopping in M&S too, although I came unstuck in Holland & Barrett. After making an employee hunt in the stock room for a particular bag of almonds, I was shocked to find the shop did not accept any contactless payments. I left my shopping on the counter.
That evening I ordered a takeaway using the Deliveroo app. After updating the app so it showed Android Pay as a payment option, I clicked on the logo to pay for my pad thai and spring rolls, which was much quicker than typing in my card details. Several other smartphone apps, such as Zara and YPlan, also accept Android Pay.
Hurrah, I survived without needing cash or old-fashioned chip and Pin. One of the perks of using a phone is that as soon as you make a purchase, it adds it to a list of transactions within the Android app, which is useful for monitoring spending. I am not worried about security: I am used to contactless cards, which work in a similar way, and the card details are not stored on the phone or visible to retailers.
I would use Android Pay again and predict, as experts do, that paying by phone is going to become a lot more popular.
Apple v Android
Britain’s first pay-by-phone system was Apple Pay, launched last July. It is available on the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus and the new SE, as well as on Apple Watch.
Both Android and Apple Pay will work on any contactless card terminal. Apple users must always verify their identity using their fingerprint and sometimes a Pin code as well. With Android Pay, however, you can tap and pay up to £30 without unlocking the phone and verifying your ID — just as you can make small contactless card payments without using your Pin.
Apple and Android Pay are available to customers of most big banks, as well as Nationwide building society.