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Android Pay: Best mobile wallet yet?

Sienna Kossman

When I heard Android is releasing its own mobile wallet I groaned and muttered, “Not another one…”

There are several mobile wallets on the market, but none have them have really stuck. Retailers have been slow to accept mobile payments and consumers aren’t big fans either, as traditional plastic credit and debit cards are still preferred.

But by developing a payment tool for its 1 billion device users, Android may be the game-changer with its oh-so creatively named Android Pay wallet, which is expected to launch later this year.

Android Pay: Best mobile wallet yet?

A self-proclaimed mobile wallet cynic, I thought I’d give Android Pay a fair chance by delving into its features to see if it can change my mind.

Here’s what I found:

Simplified usability

I haven’t used a mobile wallet because they don’t seem more convenient than pulling a card out of my wallet and swiping. If mobile wallets are made to simplify payments, they shouldn’t be tedious to use, which is why Android Pay’s simple scan feature caught my attention.

According to Android, users don’t even need to log in to the wallet to use it, similar to Apple Pay but unlike Google Wallet. Users should be able to just unlock their phones and hold the device near a merchant’s NFC-equipped terminal, and boom. Payment made. A confirmation notice and transaction details are then sent to your device.

However, even though Android Pay emulates how Apple Pay is supposed to react with a payment terminal, transactions may not be simple. As an iPhone-equipped colleague found, it’s not that Apple Pay itself is inconvenient, it’s that retailers with nonfunctioning NFC terminals and untrained employees can slow down — or prevent — a mobile payment transaction.

While the ease of Android Pay is enticing — and make it more appealing than Google Wallet, in my opinion — unless merchants step up their mobile payment/NFC transaction game, convenience will be lost and I’ll be pulling out my leather wallet again.

Rewards program integration

I love saving money and don’t mind adorning my key chain with merchants’ colorful loyalty program tags, but it’d be nice to have one card (or app) that holds all that program information and keeps track of what I’m saving and earning.

Android Pay may have read my thrifty mind.

Unlike Google Wallet or Apple Pay, Android Pay will prompt you to earn or redeem rewards points that correspond to your purchase by recognizing where you are and the loyalty cards in your wallet, according to a Gizmodo blogger who successfully tested the feature.

Android also wants to make online shopping transactions easier with a one-click “Buy with Android Pay” button that will prevent the need for shoppers to re-enter card and shipping information for each purchase.

That all sounds pretty sweet. I’d be up for trying this mobile wallet just for the rewards features alone.

But what about security?

Even though Android Pay will use tokenization to secure accounts and cards uploaded to the wallet, I’m still leery about this mobile wallet’s security, just like the others.

When I log into my mobile banking app, there’s a two-step authentication process AFTER I unlock my phone with a PIN. With Android pay, you apparently don’t have to do any of that, even though sensitive payment information is involved. That sounds like a lazy consumer’s dream, but how secure is that?

If your phone manages to unlock itself in your pocket or purse, can it make payments without your approval if it senses an NFC terminal ready for payment nearby? Or could hackers get into it remotely?

Plus, once Android Pay fully integrates with banks, users may connect to Android Pay from their bank’s app. How easy could it be for hackers to access your bank account? All those connections in an app that doesn’t even need a password make me nervous.

According to Android, newer devices will come equipped with fingerprint recognition protection similar to the new iPhones, but that would mean I would have to buy a whole new phone. Security is my biggest hurdle when considering using a mobile wallet, so until there’s more information about how this easy feature is actually safe, I’ll wait to upload sensitive payment information to an app.

My verdict: If I could, I’d give it a whirl.

Despite my hesitations, I’d like to try Android Pay, but I can’t.

Even though it incorporates more reward features than Google Wallet and claims to be accepted by a growing network of more than 700,000 merchants, my cellphone carrier, Sprint, is not on the list of Android partners.

I ran into the same problem when I tried exploring the mobile wallet from the now-defunct Softcard last year.

Maybe that’s the digital universe telling me to make other technological changes, so we’ll see what happens. I’m cautiously optimistic about this mobile wallet for now.

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