There’s a much wider choice of card machines today than just a few years ago. While before, you had to do with a chunky chip and PIN machine stationed at a counter, small businesses can now take advantage of mobile card readers that work just as well.
These app-based card machines are usually contract-free, affordable and without complicated fees – something that cannot usually be said about the bigger, traditional options. These factors, along with the low cost of entry, make it much easier for new or small businesses to start accepting cards.
In this shortlist, we look at card machines suitable for small businesses with card transactions of less than £20,000 per month.
All the below options work in conjunction with an app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device that is connected to the internet through WiFi or 3G/4G. The solutions are fully portable, but they also work well at a fixed counter setting.
How it works
- The card machine connects to a mobile phone or tablet via Bluetooth
- An app on the mobile device operates the card machine
- The customer enters their PIN or taps the card on the reader just like a normal card machine
None of them have fixed monthly fees or require any contract. You just purchase the card machine (one-off cost) and pay transaction fees for the payments you process through them, like a pay-as-you-go system. The types and levels of transaction fees differ between the providers.
|Provider||Rating||Card reader price||To site|
|£19 (normally £59) + VAT|
|£19 (normally £29) + VAT|
|£19 (normally £39) + VAT|
|£45 + VAT|
|£79 + VAT|
|£45 + VAT|
|£79 + VAT|
iZettle Reader – all-round safe choice
Widest range of accepted cards
White or black card machine
Fixed fee: 1.75% per transaction
Invoicing available through app
The UK market leader, iZettle Reader, is the most versatile card machine on our list. Its PIN pad machine is stylish, tamper-proof and comes in white or black – and there’s no setup or shipping fee. iZettle has the highest customer ratings on Trustpilot UK as well as the App Store and Google Play.
Signing up is straightforward: on iZettle’s website, you just fill in some details about your business and bank account. They will verify your identity and perform a credit check to ensure everything is in order. In most cases, you are accepted straight away and can order the card machine immediately.
iZettle accepts contactless, chip and PIN, chip and signature, and swipe (for foreign cards), all costing the same fixed fee even for foreign or premium cards. Visa, Visa Electron, V Pay, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express, JCB, Diners Club, UnionPay, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are all accepted.
The card machine has a simple PIN pad and display where it asks the customer to enter their PIN or add a tip, if tipping is switched on. Just note that you have to keep the card machine connected through Bluetooth to the mobile device in order to take payments.
That said, the iZettle app is user-friendly and feature-rich, with options to subscribe to more advanced features for your business.
If you need to bill your clients remotely, you can accept payments through emailed invoices for 2.5% per transaction.
Payments are credited to your bank account within 1-2 working days, minus the transaction fee. Refunds are easy and free to process through the app – and you get the transaction fee back for each refunded payment.
SumUp Air – easy and economical
Accepts the major card brands
Available in white
Fixed fee: 1.69% per transaction
Very simple payment app
SumUp Air is the most economical app-based card machine in the UK. It has the lowest fixed transaction fee, and its free app has the basic functionality you need in order to take credit and debit card payments. There is no setup or shipping cost. You just pay the one-off cost for the card machine, and then only the transaction fee for the payments you have.
It’s quick to sign up on SumUp’s website, after which you can order the card machine. Shipping takes up to a week, which is a bit longer than the other options on this list.
SumUp accepts contactless, chip and PIN, and chip and signature cards. Swiping a card is not possible, but this will only be an issue if you have enough customers using foreign magnetic stripe cards.
The card machine is elegant and sturdy, with a shiny, flat surface over its keypad and display. It is certainly user-friendly with its simplified keys for PINs, and contactless cards can be tapped right over the card machine’s display.
SumUp’s free payment app is intuitive to use. You enter a custom amount or tap to add an item from your product library. At checkout, you can choose to pay by card or cash.
The app automatically connects with the card machine via Bluetooth when you tap to charge the customer’s card, whereafter the card machine will display the appropriate payment instruction to the customer on its display.
It takes 2-3 days for payments to reach your bank account, minus the transaction fee. SumUp charges you the transaction fee for any refunds you process, if the transaction has been paid out already.
Using SumUp also means you can accept over-the-phone payments (requires special activation) at no monthly cost apart from a 2.95% + 25p transaction fee.
Square Reader – worthy newcomer
Most comprehensive free app
Available in white
Fixed fee: 1.75% per transaction
Keyed-in payments possible
Square Reader is the smallest, most light-weight card machine on this list. It weighs only 56 grams, and for good reason: instead of featuring a PIN pad on the card reader, PINs are entered directly on your smartphone or tablet screen in the free Point of Sale app. The card machine is literally a square-shaped plastic card machine that is white all over, but the technology makes it just as secure and efficient as bigger card machines.
To get it, you first fill in Square’s sign-up pages online, then order the Square Reader. It takes about four days to get your bank account verified, but you can start taking payments before that.
Square accepts contactless cards and mobile wallets, chip and PIN, and chip and signature cards.
Included in the package is also a magstripe reader you can plug into the earphone socket on your mobile device, for international magnetic stripe cards only.
A decent range of cards are accepted, including Visa, V Pay, Visa Electron, Mastercard, Maestro, and American Express. The card machine also accepts Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.
Square’s Point of Sale app has hands-down the most features out of all the free card machine apps.
Most importantly, it’s simple to either add items from your product library to the shopping cart, or enter a custom amount for checkout, before choosing how your customer wants to pay. The mobile device will automatically connect to the card machine – provided it has already been paired with it – when ready to accept the card.
On top of the free app features relevant to retailers and food-and-drink businesses, you get invoicing and an in-browser virtual terminal for phone payments at no extra monthly cost apart from a 2.5% transaction fee (relevant for other keyed-in payments and swipe too). Keying-in card details directly in the app is possible at checkout.
Payments are usually deposited in your bank account the day after each transaction, depending on your bank’s processing times. Refunds are free to process, so both the payment you received and your transaction fee paid to Square will be returned to the customer.
PayPal Here – for PayPal diehards
Accepts PayPal and major cards
Available in black
Transaction fees: 2.75%–1.0%
Fees depend on volume and card type
The PayPal Here card machine is integrated with your business PayPal account for an overview of both face-to-face and online PayPal transactions. The machine accepts contactless, chip and PIN, chip and signature and swipe cards, and comes in black only.
All you need to get started is to order the card machine from PayPal’s website and download the free PayPal Here app on your tablet or smartphone. If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you will be prompted to sign up for one. Verifying your bank account is usually quick, but some cases may require additional documentation from you.
While other card machines on our list automatically deposit transactions to your bank account, PayPal Here payments go directly into your PayPal account. In most cases, this transfer is immediate, but you then need to manually withdraw this money to your associated bank account.
The card reader only accepts the major cards Visa, Visa Electron, Mastercard, Maestro and Amex, but also Apple Pay, Google Pay, and – surprise, surprise – PayPal.
The payment app has the most important functionality needed in face-to-face businesses. You also have the option to send electronic invoices and take payments over the phone – both of which incur higher fees than contactless and chip payments.
The fee system is complicated, to say the least. PayPal Here operates on a sliding fee scale starting at 2.75% per transaction until you sell for over £1,500 per month. Then it goes down to 1.75%, 1.5% if you pass the £6,000 threshold, or 1% if you sell for over £15K. Because this is calculated on a per-month basis, you will pay the fee qualified for the previous month. If you sell for less than that this month, your fee will be higher next month. Chip and contactless Amex cards are always charged 2.75%, manual entry and swipe cards 3.4% + 20p, and foreign cards have additional fees added on top.
In other words, PayPal has no “simple fixed fee”, so your costs can vary month on month.
Elavon MobileMerchant – best for phone support
Next-day deposits to bank account
24/7 phone support
Chip and contactless: 2.75% fee
Keyed-in cards: 3.75% per transaction
MobileMerchant is Elavon’s attempt to break into the app-based mobile payment market. It is the priciest card machine on this list, costing £79, which includes creating an account. After that, you only pay the fixed fees for transactions you receive through the card reader. Since Elavon is not transparent about their costs, however, we advise you to ask them questions to clarify any contractual obligations not shown on their website.
You can order the Elavon MobileMerchant card machine by phoning them up. Currently, there is no way to sign up online. An Elavon representative will go through the application with you and sign you up over the phone. Fortunately, they are not normally too salesy, so you can back out if you decide on the spot to go for another choice.
MobileMerchant only accepts Visa, Mastercard, JCB, Apple Pay and Google Pay, but they do deposit payments to your bank account the next day.
The accompanying payment app is straightforward enough. You enter the amount in the app and proceed to process by card. The mobile device will connect with the card machine through Bluetooth so the customer can enter their PIN on its keypad or tap it with their contactless card, phone or Apple Watch. While the other card machines on our shortlist can print paper receipts from the app, MobileMerchant cannot. It can only send SMS and email receipts following each payment, which, really, is a given for most app-based card machines.
The iOS app has only recently been updated with bug fixes. Before that, it was updated 9 months ago, hence not something they do frequently. The Android app was last updated over a year ago. Normally, that’s a good indicator of how few resources they put into innovating and maintaining a good app experience.
That said, they provide phone support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for free. No other payment providers on this shortlist offer this amount of support for free, although other providers can still offer swift responses despite a delay in availability.
Not making the cut
Barclaycard Anywhere is another card machine of the same model used by PayPal Here. It doesn’t make the cut, largely because the app is buggy, very basic and hasn’t been updated for over a year. They only accept a few cards, and their prices are in the high end – not worth it considering the subpar offering.
The Shopify POS card reader comes with a rate that looks attractive: 1,7%. However, this requires a Shopify Basic package for £22 per month, and to make sense for most businesses, a retail package for £37 per month. Shopify POS and the card reader can make sense for businesses with a significant online sales volume and who already use the Shopify or Advanced Shopify packages.
A few services have gone out of business: WorldPay Zinc, Payatrader and Intuit Pay. We believe these did not measure up to the current top five. In the end, the fittest are surviving, which is good news for small businesses.