Technology is always giving us new ways to spend our cash, and smartphone payments are the latest way to make paying for stuff easier. Services like Samsung Pay and Apple Pay mean you can buy items with your phone without even opening your wallet.

But what is Apple Pay, and how does paying with a phone work anyway?

NFC - the tech behind the payments

Smartphone payments are made possible through a radio technology called Near-Field Communication. Similar to Bluetooth, NFC allows two enabled devices - or even just one device and a compatible chip – to communicate wirelessly.

To begin with, your phone makes an NFC connection with a target device, such as a credit card reader. Depending on the service you’re using, you may need to enter a PIN or scan your fingerprint to authorise the payment.

The transaction is then validated by another chip called the Secure Element, and finally the payment is made.

Unlike Bluetooth, NFC’s range is very short – normally just 4cm. This is probably for the best though, as it stops you accidentally paying for things while your phone’s still in your pocket!

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that while most contactless card payments are subject to a £30 limit, there’s no such limit at most card readers when paying with a smartphone.

How to use Apple Pay

To use Apple Pay, you just need an Apple Watch or Apple iPhone with TouchID, a feature that launched with the 5S. As well as making card payments with NFC, you can use it for in-app purchases too.

Apply Pay is part of Wallet (which used to be called Passbook). To get started, first open up Wallet and follow the instructions to add a new credit or debit card – once your bank has verified it, you’re ready to go.

To make a payment, just hold your phone within a few centimetres of the card reader when it’s ready. You should see an image of the card you added. Just verify the payment by scanning your fingerprint on the Touch ID sensor, and the payment should go through – easy as that.

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How to use Samsung Pay

Samsung Pay works in a very similar way. First, find the app – either on the Google Play Store or pre-installed on your phone. You’ll need a Samsung Account.

When you start the app, you’ll be prompted to set up security with a fingerprint or iris scan and a PIN. After that, you can follow the instructions to add cards.

To make a payment, swipe up from the bottom of the screen and find the card you want to use. Once you’ve entered your security details, just place the back of your phone on the NFC reader of the payment terminal and the payment should go through. If you’re using a debit card, you may still need to enter your card’s PIN as well.

How to use Android Pay

Again, Android Pay uses a very similar system (and for smartphone transactions, it’s replaced Google Wallet.)

The Pay app is pre-loaded on most newer Android devices, but if yours doesn’t have it you can get it for free from the Play Store. Once you’ve got it, follow the instructions to load on any debit cards, credit cards and loyalty cards you have.

Then you can make payments in the usual way – by holding it to the card reader when prompted. You don’t need to open the app, although you will need to unlock your phone for purchases over £30.

Most major UK banks, including Nationwide, NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland support Android Pay, although Barclays don’t.

Certain apps, including Deliveroo, JD Sports and Fancy also now include a “Buy with Android Pay” button that allows you to pay instantly through the app.

How to use Google Wallet

Google Wallet works a bit differently to the others – it doesn’t use NFC and it’s not really designed for paying at stores. Instead, it’s a way to instantly send and receive money from friends and family.

Google Wallet lets you send money to anyone using just their email address or phone number – there’s no need for them to have the app. You just need a Google account (such as Gmail) and a debit card.

To set it up, either download the app to your phone or look for the £ icon at the bottom of a new email on Gmail. You’ll just need to add a debit card, and you’ll be good to go.

How secure are smartphone payments?

Despite being a fairly new technology, smartphone payments are highly secure – in fact, they’re generally considered more secure than contactless card payments because they require a fingerprint or PIN to work. This means that even if your phone gets stolen, the thieves won’t be able to rack up a big bill before you cancel your card.

When making a mobile payment, there’s actually more security going on than you might realise. When you add a card to Apple Wallet , for instance, your phone’s location and certain details of your Apple account are reported directly to your bank. If anything suspicious comes up it’ll be flagged and your bank will investigate.

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