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Android Pay in the UK: All you need to know – Four new banks now supported

Google’s latest take on mobile payments has finally hit British shores, with Android Pay rolling out in the UK, starting from May, 2016.

We were able to get early access to the new service to see how it works and how it differs from the most prominent rival service, Apple Pay, as well as more traditional contactless payment experiences.

What is Android Pay and how does it work?

Android Pay follows in the footsteps of Apple’s mobile payment service, Apple Pay, which launched last year. It uses a number of technologies in your Android smartphone and authorisation from your bank in order to facilitate contactless transactions so you don’t technically need to carry your purse or wallet with you.

Google actually launched Android Pay in the US in 2015 but the UK is arguably better suited to accommodating the service, with contactless payments already widely used throughout the nation. We’re also the first market outside of the States to support Android Pay, with Singapore and Australia next on the list.

Android Pay demo Holborn Grind

Provided you’re somewhere that accepts contactless payments, simply make sure your phone is awake (it doesn’t even need to be unlocked) and you can then tap it against the payment terminal to pay for goods and services up to £30 in a single transaction. Naturally, you can pay for larger, more expensive things too, but you’ll then need to authenticate your payment using your passcode or if your device supports it, a fingerprint.

What kinds of cards can I use with Android Pay?

Much like Apple Pay, Google’s mobile payments team has ensured that practically every major bank is on board to support Android Pay, however, some banks weren’t available at launch, adding functionality later in 2016.

At launch, you could add MasterCard or Visa credit and debit cards from Bank of Scotland, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, M&S Bank, MBNA and Nationwide, with the likes of Santander, NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank and TSB joining in September the same year.

How do I add cards to Android Pay?

If you’ve used Apple Pay, you’ll know how easy it is to add a card and Android Pay operates in much the same way.

Firstly your phone needs to support NFC (near field communication) and be running Android 4.4 KitKat or newer – this is a major plus as it ensures it’s a feature not simply reserved for flagship smartphones, but a huge array of devices. You then need to download the Android Pay app from the Google Play Store and choose a supported credit or debit card.

Android Pay press photo

To add a card you can open the Android Pay app, touch the plus ‘+’ sign at the bottom right and choose ‘Add a credit or debit card’. You can then use the camera to capture your card information or enter it manually inputting the long number on the front, expiration date and CVV (last three numbers on the back), after which the Android Pay app will reach out to your bank for an authorisation code. Once the code comes through you’ll be able to add the card and then you’re good to go. The card you’re adding to Android Pay doesn’t even need to support contactless in the first place, so you’re not limited to newer cards.

You can also add multiple cards and specify a default card, which Android Pay will use for payments until you select another card instead. You can even add loyalty cards if you so wish.

Where can I use Android Pay?

The rule of thumb is that provided a location accepts contactless payments, it’ll accept Android Pay. Google states that there are over half a million merchants in the UK that are already Android Pay-ready, including big chains like Boots, Costa Coffee and Waitrose, but you can also use Android Pay authentication within apps like those from JD Sports and YPlan.

Android Pay TFL London

The other important service that supports Android Pay is TFL, meaning you can use your phone to hop on the tube, buses, and trains across the city and greater London as a whole.

How secure is Android Pay?

We met with Pali Bhat, senior director, and product lead for all payments at Google, and he explained that when developing Android Pay, the company needed to ensure that it offered three things: choice, simplicity, and security.

Pali Bhat, Director of Product Management for Consumer & Merchant Payments at Google
Google’s Pali Bhat speaking at the Android Pay UK press preview

The service uses tokenisation, so that merchants never receive your actual card details, but instead, a virtual account number to verify payments – it’s much the same system as Apple Pay in that regard and a lot safer than sending your actual card details. Transactions will also pop up on your phone as they happen, so you know when a purchase has been made.

As we already mentioned, fingerprints aren’t required for transactions up to £30, which just rely on the phone being awake to work, but as an added security measure, after three repeat unauthenticated transactions, Android Pay will then require a fingerprint irrespective of cost. The one caveat to this is when using Android Pay on TFL services, which you can use as much as you’d like.

What is Android Pay Day?

One key differentiator to Apple Pay is that Google celebrated the new service’s launch with a scheme called Android Pay Day. Android Pay Day sees exclusive discounts and deals from select partner merchants such as Starbucks UK and Deliveroo every Tuesday before each month’s pay day, starting from June 2016, with more offers appearing as the year goes on.

Read next: Apple Pay in the UK: All you need to know


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