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Android Pay launches in the UK: hands-on review

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GOOGLE HAS been rubbish at keeping a secret as usual. We, on the other hand, have managed to keep a lid on the fact that we’ve been using Android Pay, which launched in the UK on Wednesday, since last Friday. And the verdict is good.

Perhaps one of the most exciting things about Android Pay is that there’s no waiting for merchants to enable it. If a shop takes contactless, it will be able to accept Android Pay straight out of the box, which means that on day one nearly half a million places will be able to take purchases of up to £30 from your phone, whether they admit it or not. You can use it to pay for TfL journeys too. 

That said, over the past week a lot of point-of-sale material has started to go up ahead of time, so the cat has been pretty much out of the bag, followed by a hastily removed tweet on Tuesday night accidentally confirming what we already knew.

android-pay-till

But is it any good? Google crammed us into a coffee shop, Holborn Grind, last Friday morning and set up our phones for us so we could get used to the idea. As you can see, the first purchase was a flat white. Which reminds us, Google, don’t you still owe us for that?

android-pay-screenOne of the aspects that particularly impressed us was security. A fingerprint isn’t essential, but Google has thought of an even better way to keep our transactions safe: your real card number is never revealed.

Instead, when you tap to pay, a completely fake card number is used and then cross-referenced by your bank against the real one. Upshot, your card details are completely, utterly safe.

We also love the fact that you can store gift card balances from participating retailers in your Android wallet, along with all your loyalty points. Google ain’t half-steppin’ and this is clearly meant to be a full-on wallet replacement.

We’re reminded that the UK is way ahead of the US when it comes to contactless, so Android Pay is going to bring us much closer to a cashless society, much more quickly.

While that’s true, it’s worth pointing out that it works only if your bank has signed up to take part. At launch that means HSBC, HBoS, RBS and Nationwide, plus Lloyds and MBNA credit cards. Notable by its absence, once again, is Barclays which has decided to release its own app instead for no explicable reason.

android-pay-receiptThere are, of course, other digital wallets out or coming from companies including Apple, EE and Samsung, so the battle for your digital dosh is only just beginning.

But for us, it was all impossibly simple. Download the app. Add the card. Go buy coffee. As long as your phone is unlocked it’ll work, and we did note that you do have to add a phone to activate Android Pay if you don’t have a fingerprint scanner.

From next month, there’ll be offers in the form of Google Paydays, which are tied into you having money to burn, but we’ll know more about that when it launches. 

In the meantime, you can load up cards, gift card balances and loyalty cards. If you want, it can even remind you to show your loyalty card in the shop in question.

There’s not a lot more to say. It just works and, as long as you’re with one of the banks mentioned above or their subsidiaries, you can start using it now. And it will just work, straight away, which is probably the best bit of all.

Your phone has had the upgrade on the sly via Google Play Services. Now, just head to the Play Store and download the app.

It’s taken only five days to change the way we shop. µ

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