Samsung Pay, the platform that allows you to pay for goods and services simply by waving your Samsung device near a cash register instead of swiping a credit card or doling out your payment information, has been active for a number of months in the US and South Korea. And very soon it'll make its UK debut too. Here's everything you need to know.
Samsung Pay: What do I need?
The payment platform is only baked into the latest Galaxy devices - Galaxy S6, S6 edge+, S6 edge, S6 Active, and Note 5 (with the S7 and S7 edge due to be announced at MWC no doubt getting added to that list) - so you'll need a compatible device.
You simply download and install the Samsung Pay Android app on your compatible phone, register desired cards and accounts and it will draw directly from these chosen sources when making a payment.
However, you don't have to own a particular mobile device, such as an NFC-based phone, because you can use a fob dongle (or a charge case held close to a magnetic strip reader, for example) that plugs into any Android or iOS phone too. In other words: Samsung wants you to know Samsung Pay is a universal mobile payment solution.
Samsung Pay: How does it work?
When using a phone: by swiping up from the bottom of the display (on either the sleep or home screens) the Samsung Pay app will launch and your default card will appear along with a message to authenticate a payment with their fingerprint. If a different card is needed, a simple left or right swipe will bring up others stored in your phone.
Once the payment has been biometrically authorised (hence compatibility with the latest devices only, as these have fingerprint scanners) the phone tells you to tap it onto the contactless payment reader and bingo, a payment is made via NFC (near field communication).
Samsung Pay: More than NFC
But Samsung Pay offers more than just NFC. In an attempt to spearhead the mobile wallet space, while simultaneously taking on Apple Pay, Samsung acquired LoopPay - a startup that invented a mobile wallet technology called MST (Magnetic Strip Technology).
MST allows a contactless payment to be made with terminals that do not feature NFC readers, which will open up a lot more retailers to the payment tech. It can also send the payment information to conventional terminals in stores that have the old-fashioned magnetic strip instead. Samsung told us during a demo that this covers the vast amount of payment terminals in the world.
A two-step payment process works like so: LoopPay's app manages and securely stores all your payment cards (including credit, debit, loyalty, and gift cards) on a mobile device, while the LoopPay device (LoopPay Fob, ChargeCase, Card, or CardCase) processes your payment at the checkout as if you had swiped your card like usual.
What's more, there is no danger of paying twice as the phone will prioritise an NFC signal if it finds one, while MST is passive and will only be utilised if no other contactless payment signal is found first.
Samsung Pay vs Apple Pay: What's the difference?
Apple Pay employs an NFC chip into its smartphone, just like Samsung. Apple has steadily bulked its range of partners that accept Apple Pay and most recently included support for US federal payment cards.
The biggest difference between Apple Pay and Samsung Pay is that Apple Pay is accepted at fewer registers because it doesn't include MST. Samsung Pay also has the potential of being accepted at 30-million merchant locations around the world, though both payment platforms have lined up several partners to back their payment systems.
Samsung Pay: Compatible banks and service providers
In its US guise Samsung Pay has lots of available providers. Visa, Mastercard, American Express, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citi, US Bank, and PNC are the majors, along with a long list of additional providers. Furthermore the MST technology enables Samsung Pay to support private label credit cards from key partners like Synchrony Financial and First Data Corporation.
Samsung's service is similar to Apple Pay in operation, in that different banks need to confirm their compatibility. When Apple Pay launched in the UK in the summer of 2015 it took some time for all the major banks to be on board.
So for Samsung Pay's UK launch the picture is less clear. However, Nathalie Oestmann, Head of Samsung Pay Europe, confirmed at the Samsung European Conference 2016 that the tech will be "coming to the UK and Spain very soon this year" - so we suspect Santander is a likely launch partner. We would strongly expect Mastercard, Visa and American Express to be on board too.
Samsung Pay: Payment limits
The payment limit is set by the bank or vendor, not by Samsung, so is different in different regions - not a fixed £20/£30 maximum per transaction, as with contactless cards.
But if you need to pay for an item above the set limit, the app will simply request you to enter a PIN code to confirm for the larger amount.
Samsung Pay: How secure is it?
In terms of security, Samsung told Pocket-lint that not only are details protected by Samsung's Knox real-time hacking surveillance and rooting prevention, but no card details are stored on either a Samsung server or the device itself.
Just like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay uses tokenisation. Card payments are made secure by creating a number or token that replaces your card details. This token is stored within a secure element chip on your device, and when a payment is initiated, the token is passed to the retailer or merchant. The retailer therefore never has direct access to your card details.
In addition Samsung Pay offers ARM TrustZone to further protect transaction information from attacks.
When will Samsung Pay launch in the UK?
Samsung Pay is already available in the US and South Korea. It'll expand to other regions, including Europe and China, at later dates.
There is currently no official timescale for a UK rollout of Samsung Pay, but we suspect a date will be firmed up at Mobile World Congress when the Galaxy S7 is announced on Feb 21. Our best guess right now? Before the end of spring 2016.