The recently rechristened Google Pay is the search giant’s answer to Apple Pay. It lets you make in-store payments with your phone using NFC, as well as purchases online. Its works with most Android Phones and a few smart watch models. It’s a serviceable payment option with some appealing extras, but it lacks Samsung Pay’s ability to work with magnetic-stripe credit card readers and Venmo’s person-to-person payment capability.
Google’s payment apps and services have been something of a moving target over the past few years. First, there was Google Wallet, which also let you pay stores using NFC technology, à la Apple Pay. Then that feature was removed and transferred to Android Pay. Along the way we also saw Pay with Google, and an experimental payment app called Hands Free. The company recently announced a reconciliation of its disparate mobile payment services into a single Google Pay service. But, for now, the process has actually spawned yet another Google payment app—Google Pay Send, which replaces Google Wallet for sending money to friends and contacts.
Pricing and Starting Up
I installed Google Pay on a Samsung Galaxy Note 8. I say installed, but in fact, if you previously had Android Pay installed, Google Pay just magically appears on your phone. And when you first open Google Pay, the Android Pay app disappears. If none of that applies to you, you can still download the app from the Play Store. The app’s size depends on the device you install it on, but on my Galaxy Note 8, it weighed in at a reasonable 22MB, more than Samsung Pay’s 17MB and less than Venmo’s 50MB.
When you set up Google Pay, you must choose to make it your Android phone’s only NFC payment app. So, if you’ve been using
The first support person I spoke with told me that Chase didn’t support Google Pay, only Chase Pay. The more technical person I spoke with after that said that the company didn’t support Google Pay, only Android Pay. This might confuse some consumers, but your plugged-in reviewer figured that having her authorize Android Pay would authorize Google Pay, and it did!
If you’ve previously entered a card in Android Pay, it carries over without further action in Google Pay. But any card you’ve entered into Google payments for the Play store and other Google services will not. Like most payment apps, Google Pay lets you use your phone’s camera to take a picture of the card to ease entry.
Paying with Google
Unlike Apple Pay, Google Pay only works if your phone is unlocked, but also unlike Apple Pay, PayPal, and Samsung Pay, you can’t set Google Pay to require biometric verification. So, with Google Pay, you unlock your phone and then hold it to the point of sale, and your payment goes through with no further action (unless it’s a large purchase requiring a signature). With Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, you don’t need to unlock your phone, but for the payment to go through you have to use biometric login or a PIN to complete the transaction.
My experience using Google Pay at a local supermarket was a little different than what the help card in the app describes. That says “Just unlock your phone and hold it to the terminal until you see a check mark. You don’t even need to open the app.” That’s the end of Google’s sample transaction help. But when I paid, I had to enter my phone PIN. The same thing happened with another attempt at Walgreens. There’s nothing in the app’s Settings section that lets you choose how to approve a payment. In contrast, Samsung Pay’s Settings let you choose among fingerprint, iris, or PIN. The only option in the nearly empty Settings page for Google Pay is for Notifications. I reached out to Google for an explanation, and will update this when I hear back.
Another trip, to that fine dining establishment known as McDonalds, Google Pay didn’t require my PIN, and displayed the check mark over my card’s image, which boded success. But then the terminal said the payment was invalid. I tried again with the same result. Then, I switched my default payment app to Samsung Pay, and that too failed. Finally, I pulled out my iPhone X, and paid with Apple Pay (using the same credit card) and it was smooth sailing.
Google is currently running a promotion where, if you get a friend to sign up and make five transactions, you get $25 credit on the Play Store. That’s not as easy as Circle Pay‘s $5 cash for each friend you refer who then uses it for a single $25 payment.
The Cards tab is where you can not only add payment cards, but also gift cards, loyalty cards, and other payment methods, including PayPal and Visa Checkout. To add a loyalty card, you simply take a picture of it within the app. Lots of choices are available, including Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Panera, Starbucks, Target, and Walgreens. The app shows you nearby stores where it’s accepted.
Another option is to link your account with Visa Checkout, a PayPal clone that lets you pay on websites. You can also use Google Pay to pay in certain apps, such as Airbnb and Fandango. But I found the list lacked some big apps that need payments, such as Amazon and eBay.
You can use the service from some pricey smartwatches from Tag Heuer, Louis Vuitton, and Movado, and some more affordable models from Huawei and LG. I tested paying by watch with the huge, hulking LG Watch Sport (which pretty much doubled the girth of your stalwart reviewer’s slender wrist. The Settings > About menu said the OS was up to date, but the phone app still said Android Pay instead of Google Pay (this update happened later). You need to set up a PIN on the smart watch, but I didn’t have to re-enter the credit card info that was in my G Pay account, aside from reverifying it with the CVV number.
Happily, when I paid for my morning java, I just held down the bottom button on the watch, which opened an image of my credit card. I didn’t have to re-enter the PIN, and the NFC transaction worked, confirmed by a haptic buzz. The cashier did warn me that, just like paying with a credit card, the café had a $5 minimum, but she’d let me get away with the $2.50 coffee this once. Maybe I just won’t go back there!
As with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and just about every other payment app (including its Android Pay predecessor), Google Pay doesn’t transfer your actual credit card number, but an encrypted code that the merchant transfers to the card issuer for verification. Google also boasts that “Google Pay protects your payment info with multiple layers of security, using one of the world’s most advanced security infrastructures to help keep your account safe,” without providing any details about the encryptions used. They also direct users to a 34-second video stating what I’ve said above, along with the fact that you can remotely erase a lost or stolen phone.
What Google Pay Doesn’t Do
Remember, you can’t transfer money to and from friends with the Google Pay app at this point, as you can with Venmo, PayPal, and several other competitors. Nor do you get a Venmo-like social network to see who your friends are paying for what, if that appeals to you. Nor can you pay people in other countries as you can with Xoom, though the app does work in 18 worldwide markets for in-store payments. Note that Google Pay only works with terminals that support NFC payments. By comparison, Samsung Pay works at any point of sale that accepts credit cards of any kind.
Should You Pay the Google Way?
Google Pay is a very functional NFC-payment app, and its streamlining of your gift cards and loyalty programs is an appreciated bonus. However, if you have a recent Samsung handset (a good possibility as it’s the leading Android maker), Samsung Pay is still the superior option. If Google makes good on its promise to actually combine the features of what was Android Pay (in-store and online payments) with what was Google Wallet and is now the Google Pay Send app for person-to-person payments, then Google Pay may give our Editors’ Choice for peer-to-peer payments, Venmo, a run for its money.