It’s easier than ever to accept credit and debit cards. Forget the costly card machines of yore. Instead, check out these contactless card readers that process payments with a smartphone or tablet through easy-to-use, free point of sale (POS) apps.

In 2020, the race between the most popular mobile card readers in the UK is close. On our top three list, Square trumps PayPal Here as it simply offers more features at better rates. Cost-conscious start-ups often prefer SumUp’s lowest transaction fee, while iZettle and Square have the most superior free payment apps.

iZettle Reader 2 SumUp Air Square Reader
iZettle Reader 2Full review SumUp Air smallFull review Square ReaderFull review
Solution Card reader + smartphone/tablet app
Price £19 (full: £59) + VAT (offer) £19 (full: £29)+ VAT (offer) £19 + VAT (offer)
Transaction fee 1.75% 1.69% 1.75%
Contract lock-in None None None
Monthly fee None None None
Minimum sales volume None None None
Cards accepted   Visa Visa Electron V Pay Mastercard Maestro American Express Union PayDiners ClubJCBDiscover   Visa Visa Electron V Pay Mastercard Maestro American ExpressUnion PayDiners ClubDiscover  Visa Visa ElectronV PayMastercard Maestro American Express
Contactless ContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay ContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay ContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay
Payouts 1-3 working days 1-3 working days 1-2 working days
PIN pad On card reader On card reader In app on mobile screen
Compatible receipt printers Star Micronics, AirPrint Star Micronics, Bixolon, AirPrint, Google Cloud Print Star Micronics, Epson
Text & email receipts
Staff accounts
Product library
Tipping
Sales reports CSV, Excel, PDF, Xero or QuickBooks integration CSV, Excel, PDF CSV, Xero, Zoho Books & 5 other integrations
Use abroad
iZettle SumUp Square logo
iZettle
Reader 2
SumUp
Air
Square
Reader
iZettle Reader 2Full review SumUp Air smallFull review Square ReaderFull review
Card reader + smartphone/tablet app
£19 (full: £59) + VAT (offer) £19 (full: £29) + VAT (offer) £19 + VAT (offer)
1.75% transaction fee 1.69% transaction fee 1.75% transaction fee
No contract lock-in
No monthly fees
No minimum monthly sales volume required
  Visa Visa Electron V Pay Mastercard Maestro American Express Union PayDiners ClubJCBDiscover   Visa Visa Electron V Pay Mastercard Maestro American ExpressUnion PayDiners ClubDiscover  Visa Visa ElectronV PayMastercard Maestro American Express
ContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay ContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay ContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay
Payouts 1-3 working days Payouts 1-3 working days Payouts 1-2 working days
With physical PIN pad With physical PIN pad PIN pad in app on mobile screen
Compatible receipt printers
Star Micronics, AirPrint Star Micronics, Bixolon, AirPrint, Google Cloud Print Star Micronics, Epson
Text & email receipts
Staff accounts
Product library
Tipping feature
Sales reports
CSV, Excel, PDF, Xero or QuickBooks integration CSV, Excel, PDF CSV, Xero, Zoho Books & 5 other integrations
Use abroad?
iZettle SumUp Square logo

All three systems share characteristics that make them very attractive to small businesses. Setup costs are very low, and there are no fixed, monthly fees and no minimum transaction volume required. Plus: there’s no contractual commitment with any of these companies.

SumUp Air, iZettle Reader and Square Reader are therefore suitable both for infrequent use and for processing many transactions daily as your primary POS solution.

Cards, payouts and charges

As opposed to traditional card machines, you purchase the card readers for a low price with no rental charges or lock-in to worry about.

iZettle currently accepts the most payment cards. On top of Visa, Mastercard and American Express accepted by all three, iZettle can handle Diners Club, JCB, Discover and UnionPay. SumUp also accepts Diners Club, Discover and UnionPay, but not JCB.

iZettle and Square charge a fixed percentage (1.75%) for all chip and contactless card transactions, but SumUp offers the lowest card rate at a fixed 1.69%, beating iZettle and Square by 0.06 percentage points. All of these fees apply to any credit and debit card, including foreign-issued and premium brands like Amex.

iZettleiZettle Reader SumUpSumUp Air SquareSquare Reader
Price £19 £59 + VAT £19 £29 + VAT £19 + VAT
Best deal
Chip, contactless cards 1.75% 1.69% 1.75%
Keyed-in cards 2.5% 2.5% (mobile payments, invoice, online store) / 2.95% + 25p (virtual terminal) 2.5%
Monthly fee None None None
Min. sales volume None None None
Settlement Free Free Free, 1% extra for Instant Transfers
Staff accounts Free Free Basic free, £20/mo per location
iZettle SumUp Square logo
£19 £59 + VAT (offer) £19 £29 + VAT (offer) £19 + VAT (offer)
Chip & contactless transaction fee
1.75% 1.69% 1.75%
Keyed-in transaction fee
2.5% 2.5% (mobile payments, invoice, online store) / 2.95% + 25p (virtual terminal) 2.5%
Monthly fees
None None None
Minimum sales volume required
None None None
Payouts
Free Free Free, 1% extra fee for Instant Transfers
Staff accounts
Free Free Basic free, £20/mo per location
iZettle Square logo

With SumUp, payouts take up to three working days. iZettle and Square will deposit funds in your bank account slightly faster, within one or two working days.

In addition, Square offers Instant Transfers, a voluntary setting that clears transactions in your bank account within 20 minutes at an additional cost of 1% per transaction. To compete, SumUp has introduced SumUp Card (prepaid Mastercard) which gives you access to funds within 24 hours, even on weekends.

App features

All three card readers work with iPad, iPhone and Android tablets or phones, provided the associated payment app is downloaded and connected over Bluetooth.

The inventory libraries in each app look neat with images and product information so you can sell different sizes or types of each item. Square’s app, called Point of Sale, beats iZettle and SumUp with additional features like split bills, custom employee permissions (costing extra) and much more.

iZettle’s POS features come at a close second, with options for gift cards, stock counts, barcode scanning via the phone camera, payment links and more. The SumUp app has slightly fewer features, but is constantly adding new functions.

It is possible to use any of the card readers with more complex POS software so you are not limited to the free apps.

SumUp and Square also offer standalone terminals

If app-driven card readers are not for you, Square and SumUp offer card terminals that work independently, but for different purposes. These have exactly the same transaction fees, no monthly costs and no contractual commitment.

One is Square Terminal, which has a touchscreen with POS features similar to the Square Point of Sale app. It works with secured WiFi connections only, so is best for a confined location, but can be carried around for table-service around your premises. It also has an inbuilt receipt printer.

SumUp 3G, on the other hand, doesn’t just work with WiFi – it also works with GPRS, EDGE and 3G through its inbuilt SIM card that comes with unlimited free data. It has very simple features – basically, it just accepts cards or mobile wallets and refunds payments. With the SumUp 3G Printer attached, it can print receipts too.

Many tools in one package

Square, iZettle and SumUp are not just about card readers. Common to them all is their broad offering of integrated business tools connected to the same account, so you can get more done with less effort.

For instance, Square gives you most options for keyed-in (i.e. remote) payments: a free virtual terminal and digital invoices, online store, payment links, and the ability to manually enter card details in the POS app. If this isn’t enough, Square partners with lots of other business tools to expand on features.

iZettle has its own ecommerce platform for a monthly fee, email invoicing, payment links and a cash advance option as an alternative to small-business loans. SumUp gives you mobile payments (QR codes, payment links, SMS payments), invoicing and a basic online store by default and offers a virtual terminal upon request.

All of them provide inventory management features suitable for both retail and hospitality, the most advanced coming from Square, then iZettle. Analytics and sales reports are included by all, with options to export data – or in the case of Square and iZettle: integrate with accounting software too.