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

*Prices exclude VAT.

Zettle Reader – best card reader design

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

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