Gone are the days when small businesses had to enter into long contracts to accept card payments. In the UK, there is now a good selection of contract-free, inexpensive card readers enabling you to take cards through a connected mobile app.

Here’s how it works:

  • The wireless card reader connects to a mobile phone or tablet via Bluetooth

  • An app on the mobile device operates the card reader

  • The payer enters a PIN or taps a card just like a normal card machine

These devices do not typically have monthly fees, lock-in or complicated fees. Instead, you just purchase the card reader upfront and pay a fixed rate per transaction.

This is very attractive for merchants who cannot commit to fixed monthly costs, and perfect for new businesses looking to get started quickly.

Another thing to consider is the accompanying app which may act as your main point of sale (POS) system. Some card readers for phones only work with a basic payment app, while others go beyond basics with a product library, staff accounts, remote payment methods and more.

The best card reader therefore depends not only on the quality of the terminal, but also the app, costs and potential to expand with other tools. Let’s compare all the app-based card readers available in the UK.

Card machine Price* Best for Offer
Zettle Reader £19 (full: £59) Popular choice for small businesses
SumUp Air £29 Low fixed card rate and mobile payments
Square Reader £19 Best free POS and payment features
Shopify Card Reader £59 Shopify integration and iOS app features
Barclaycard Anywhere £29 Lowest fixed rate for all cards
Elavon MobileMerchant £29 Good 24/7 customer support

*Prices exclude VAT.

*Prices exclude VAT.

Zettle Reader – best card reader design

Zettle
Our rating
  • £19 + VAT (usually £59)

  • No monthly fees, no lock-in

  • Fixed rate: 1.75% per transaction

  • iPhone, iPad or Android app

The most popular card reader in the UK has been iZettle Reader (now called Zettle Reader without the “i”) for some years. It was one of the first to introduce an inexpensive, contract-free reader without monthly costs. The card reader machine costs £19 + VAT upfront, and then you pay a fixed rate of 1.75% per transaction regardless of which type of card is used.

The latest version, Zettle Reader 2, was designed to be ergonomic, small, lightweight but sturdy – and good-looking. It comes in white or black, and a green version – Ocean Reader – in recycled plastic is also available. You can get a charging stand, Zettle Dock, to keep it in place on a countertop, and connect it to a till drawer, barcode scanner and receipt printer.

Zettle Reader works with a free POS app called Zettle Go on most tablets and smartphones. It has a product library, transactions overview, basic sales reports, invoicing and the ability to accept cards, cash, payment links and gift cards. QR codes can be generated at checkout for customers with a PayPal app to scan it.

Cafés, food trucks and small bars can subscribe to the iPad-only POS system Zettle Food & Drink. This is geared towards busy food operations without table service. What makes it better than Go? Mainly the reporting, eat-in versus eat-out VAT rates, customised checkout menu, extra product options and staff management settings.

Zettle Reader works with other POS systems like Vend, Lightspeed, Revel, Tabology and more, so you are certainly not limited by Zettle’s software.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressDiners ClubJCBUnion PayDiscoverContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay

Moreover, the Zettle account can integrate with Xero and QuickBooks for accounting and ecommerce platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce and PrestaShop.

Out of all card readers for iPhone, iPad and Android, Zettle accepts the most card brands via chip and PIN and contactless tap. Transactions are automatically cleared in your bank account within 1-2 working days.

Zettle only provides customer support on weekdays between 9am-5pm via telephone, email and chat. To sign up, all you need is fill in the short registration form online and order the card reader.

Learn more: Zettle review – popular card reader for iPhone, iPad and Android

SumUp Air – cool reader, broad range of extras

SumUp
Our rating
  • £29 + VAT

  • No monthly fees, no lock-in

  • Fixed rate: 1.69% per transaction

  • iPhone, iPad or Android app

SumUp Air is another popular card reader for iPad, iPhone and Android tablets and smartphones. The card reader has a smooth glass surface over its PIN pad, making it easy to wipe clean. It accepts contactless and chip card payments from most card brands and mobile wallets.

SumUp with Bixolon receipt printer

The card reader costs £29 + VAT and has no monthly fees of contractual commitment. All you pay is a fixed 1.69% per transaction for any type of card. There is also a stand for SumUp Air, which is in a bundle with the reader for £55 + VAT.

The Air card reader works with SumUp App, a simple POS system with a product library, user accounts, transactions list, payout reports and many options for online payments.

SumUp users can send email invoices or payment links, set up a basic online store from the app, display or print QR codes for payments, and accept telephone payments through the in-app virtual terminal. You can also sell e-gift cards that can be accepted through the app.

What’s more, the free SumUp Card (Prepaid Mastercard) that’s linked to your very own online account gives you access to transactions the day after, even on weekends. Otherwise, you will receive payouts in your bank account within 1-3 working days.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressDiners ClubUnion PayDiscoverContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay

Although SumUp doesn’t offer a more advanced POS system than SumUp App, you can integrate the Air reader with Vend, Goodtill, Paymash and other EPOS software for more specialised functions. You can’t currently integrate with accounting or external ecommerce software, but SumUp is gradually adding more of its own online store features.

Customer support is available on weekdays between 8am-7pm and Saturdays between 8am-5pm. Signing up is easy through the online form on the website, after which you can order the card reader.

Learn more: SumUp Air – the easiest low-cost card reader with app

Square Reader – most features in a free app

Square
Our rating
  • £19 + VAT

  • No monthly fees, no lock-in

  • Fixed rate: 1.75% per transaction

  • iPhone, iPad or Android app

Square Reader is an inconspicuous, square-shaped card reader without a PIN pad. Compatible with iPhone, iPad and Android devices, it takes chip cards (with PIN entry on your mobile device screen) and contactless payments. It is the lightest and smallest of all terminals on this list, but the connecting app, Square Point of Sale, is the most comprehensive of them all.

Square Reader iPad

Square Reader only costs £19 + VAT, and the pay-as-you-go transaction rate is 1.75% for all card payments. There are no monthly fees or contract lock-in to worry about. You can get a charging dock for the reader for £19 + VAT too, and connect the hardware with receipt printers, kitchen printers, a cash drawer and barcode scanner.

The free Point of Sale app has enough features to serve most small businesses. Its inventory library tracks stock levels, and the till menu shows various product options and the ability to mark transactions for eat-in, eat-out, delivery or pickup.

You can schedule staff shifts, track breaks, export payroll data and analyse employee sales, while an additional app called Square Team App lets staff log their own hours (more employee features cost £20/month per location).

There are also customer lists, sales reports, order management, invoicing and more to access through the app. Electronic gift cards can be sold and accepted, payment links created, QR codes generated for contact-free selling, and any payment method accepted through the checkout.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay

Square’s web Dashboard includes a free virtual terminal for telephone payments, online store builder, detailed sales reports and options to upgrade to Square for Retail or Restaurants for a monthly fee. On top of this, the system integrates with many external software tools for e.g. accounting, online ordering and ecommerce.

Payouts reach your bank account in 1-2 working days, but the Instant Transfers setting lets you have them within 20 minutes for an extra fee of 1%.

Square’s customer support is available on weekdays between 9am and 5pm. You sign up online through a simple form, order the card reader and start using the online tools straight away or wait 2-3 working days for the delivery of Square Reader.

Learn more: Square Reader – modest card reader with a powerful till app

Shopify card reader – intelligent ecommerce integration

Shopify
Our rating
  • £59 + VAT

  • Requires ecommerce subscription

  • Card fee: 1.7%–1.5% (depends on plan)

  • iPhone or iPad app

Most known for its ecommerce software, Shopify also has a card reader to go with a POS app. It is an older – but popular – model previously used by PayPal, priced at £59 + VAT. It is officially called Shopify Tap, Chip & Swipe Reader and only works with Shopify Payments, which is only activated while you’re on a Shopify ecommerce subscription.

Shopify Tap Chip & Swipe Reader

The cheapest subscription, Shopify Lite, is US$9 for a monthly plan (charged in USD) which mainly gives you Pay Buttons apart from the free version of the Shopify POS app. The following higher-tier plans include online store features: ‘Basic Shopify’ for US$29 monthly and a 1.7% transaction fee, ‘Shopify’ for US$79 monthly and a 1.6% transaction fee, and ‘Advanced Shopify’ for US$299 monthly and a 1.5% fee for all card reader transactions.

Because of the ongoing monthly cost, the Shopify card reader is only really worth it if you’re also using Shopify for an online store or Buy Buttons.

The Shopify POS app is by default free (Shopify POS Lite), but you can upgrade to Shopify POS Pro for US$89 monthly per location in addition to the ecommerce subscription. This higher POS plan has many more features designed to unify online and in-store sales for a better customer service experience, for instance with a smooth Click & Collect system.

Accepted cards

VisaMastercardAmerican ExpressContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay

The free POS plan has a good selection of features for e.g. product and order management, customer profiles, staff accounts and integration with hardware such as receipt printers, cash drawers and barcode scanners. POS Lite is recommended for on-the-go sales, whereas POS Pro is better for a full setup in a retail shop.

The mentioned point of sale features are, however, only accessible on iPhone and iPad. An older Shopify POS app is available on Android devices, but this looks and works differently than the iOS app and doesn’t connect with the card reader.

Card reader transactions are settled in your bank account within 6 working days, which is the slowest in this comparison. All subscriptions include 24/7 customer support and online help guides.

Learn more: Shopify Card Reader – convenient for multichannel businesses

Barclaycard Anywhere – low fixed rate for all cards

Barclaycard
Our rating
  • £29 + VAT

  • No monthly fees, no lock-in

  • Fixed rate: 1.6% per transaction

  • iPhone, iPad or Android app

Barclaycard Business offers a card reader called Barclaycard Anywhere without contract lock-in or monthly fees. This is the same model (Miura M010) as that used by Shopify, so it is not a bad terminal but the accompanying app for iOS and Android devices is very basic.

Barclaycard card reader app

The card reader doesn’t work with receipt printers, cash drawers or barcode scanners, but it does take swipe cards on top of contactless and chip cards. The ‘Barclaycard’ logo on the terminal may put some customers at ease, since it is a trusted brand.

You’d think a banking giant like Barclays would only have amazing products, but the app can only accept manually entered transaction amounts with a written description to identify it. You can’t itemise receipts with different products. Other features include refunding transactions, sending a digital receipt and viewing transactions (all apps on this list can do those things).

There is no product library or other useful features for merchants. What’s more, the app was last updated 2-3 years ago, which means it is very likely buggy. In fact, user ratings are poor in Google Play and App Store, frequently mentioning bugs and connectivity issues.

Accepted cards

VisaMastercardMaestroJCBContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay

However, you can’t fault the low transaction fee of 1.6% for any Visa, Mastercard or JCB card. This is the lowest fixed rate available for an app-based reader, except for if you’re on a high subscription tier with the Shopify card reader (where the fee is 1.6% or 1.5%). That said, refunds cost 75p each to process, whereas other card readers typically don’t charge for refunds done straight after a transaction.

Payouts take around two working days, whether you bank with Barclays or not.

To get started, you need to fill in an online application form, which should take about 15 minutes. Your chance of approval “depends on financial circumstance and borrowing history”, which is stricter than other card reader sign-ups.

Learn more: Barclaycard Anywhere – low fixed rate, but poor app

Elavon MobileMerchant – basic product with 24/7 support

Elavon
Our rating
  • £29 + VAT

  • No monthly fees, no lock-in

  • Transaction fees: 1.75%-2.5%

  • iPhone, iPad or Android app

Another big acquiring bank, Elavon, has a card reader called MobileMerchant. As with others, it has no monthly fee or contractual commitment, just a transaction fee that depends on the card accepted: 1.75% for Visa and Mastercard, 1.9% for American Express and 2.5% for Diners Club, Discover and JCB cards.

The card reader has a PIN pad, looks like a calculator, and accepts contactless payments and chip and PIN cards. Elavon MobileMerchant does not connect with a cash drawer, barcode scanner or receipt printer, so it is purely for mobile transactions.

To accept a payment through the MobileMerchant app, you need to enter the transaction amount with an item description. It’s possible to add a tip, discount and VAT, accept cash and send an e-receipt, but there are no other checkout options. There’s no product library or other advanced features in the app.

The app was last updated two years ago in Google Play and three years ago in App Store, so Elavon clearly does not prioritise this service. A healthy card reader app should be updated regularly to fix bugs and keep up with iOS and Android software changes, so it is unsurprising to see that most user reviews complain of technical issues preventing them from using the card reader.

Accepted cards

VisaMastercardMaestroDiners ClubDiscoverAmerican ExpressContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay

Elavon merchants can access a free virtual terminal in the web dashboard, where you can process over-the-phone payments for a higher transaction cost. You can also benefit from fast settlement – one working day – but this is not guaranteed.

Customer support is provided 24/7 for merchants, which is a luxury for a pay-as-you-go credit card reader. Signing up is more tedious, though: you complete an online form (takes around 15 minutes) and have to submit various documents for verification. Once onboard, you can order the card reader.

Learn more: Elavon MobileMerchant – basic card reader for iPhone and Android

Summary

Card reader Summary Website
Zettle Best card reader design with user-friendly app
SumUp Great features for simple shops that sell remotely too