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Google Pay vs Samsung Pay: Which contactless payment app is right for you?

Forgetting your wallet is obsolete, thanks to contactless payment options like Google Pay and Samsung Pay, but which one is better?
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Two smartphones showing Samsung Pay and Google Pay apps

Can't decide between Samsung Pay or Google Pay? 

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Many of us were spurred into updating the way we do things in the past couple of years, with social distancing being one of the big drivers. This led many to move from using actual credit cards to other contactless forms of payment, like a tap of the phone that Samsung Pay and Google Pay allow. 

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Both Google Pay and Samsung Pay are contactless payment options that enable users to have their payment card or bank information available with just a tap of their phone or smartwatch on a payment terminal using NFC technology. 

Basically, you set it up in your phone, add a payment option like a debit or credit card, PayPal, or your bank information, and you're able to check out at a retailer by tapping your phone on the card reader, instead of inserting a credit card. 

This means you can make your purchases without even having your wallet on you, as long as the merchant's payment terminal is compatible with contactless payment options like Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Apple Pay.

Table of Contents

Google Pay vs Samsung Pay
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Key Differences in Google Pay vs Samsung Pay

Google PaySamsung Pay
Compatibility Available for Android and Apple devices Only available for Samsung devices
NFC Technology Available to pay in stores with NFC-enabled terminals (this feature is not available with Apple devices)Available to pay in stores with NFC-enabled terminals
Magnetic Secure Transmission Not availableAble to pay with older card readers with magnetic stripe
Online payments Available for app purchases and at many retailers for online checkoutMake app purchases but extremely limited availability in online merchants that support Samsung Pay
Payment Type accepted Credit or debit card, PayPal, or bank accountCredit or debit card, PayPal, or bank account
Rewards Coupons and cash back offers in appCoupons and cash back offers in app, rewards for Samsung products purchases
Smartwatch capability Compatible with WearOSCompatible with Samsung Galaxy Watches
Data Security Secured by Google, multiple layers of encryption, does not share payment info with merchantsSecured by Knox by Samsung, uses tokenization and constantly monitors your device for threats
Membership Cards Load membership and loyalty cards for Android devicesLoad membership and loyalty cards in the app

Google Pay is an app, available to download on both the Google Play Store and the App Store from Apple. It requires a valid Gmail account, and allows users to pay in stores, online from many retailers, and send and request money to other Google Pay users.

Unlike Google Pay, Samsung Pay is only available on its own devices. It's also enables in-store payments, online payments at Samsung's app store and other retailers, and sending and requesting money from others.

Both platforms are easy to navigate and also allow users to store their loyalty, membership, rewards, and gift cards all in one place for retailers, hotels, or travel programs. Even your AAA or library card can be on your phone.

Paying in-store

Person using tap to pay with Samsung pay

Google Pay and Samsung Pay both use NFC technology, which means you can pay in store by tapping your phone on the card reader, as long as the terminal is compatible. Since iPhones use Apple Pay, contactless in-person payments aren't available for Google Pay iPhone users. 

NFC-compatible payment terminals are becoming more common in the checkout area, but not all merchants have upgraded their systems yet, so Google Pay isn't always an option. 

However, Samsung Pay features magnetic secure transmission, which lets users pay with their phones in those older terminals that don't support NFC. When a user holds their phone up to the terminal, the device emits a signal that reads like a card swipe. I've found this feature isn't as reliable as NFC, because the terminal can fail to read it sometimes, but it does work the vast majority of tries and is a great option that puts Samsung Pay over Google Pay in versatility, in my opinion. 

Paying online

Many online retailers now accept payment gateways like Google Pay, making it visible with a Google Pay option to select at checkout. Google pay is growing to become available at many stores online, with more options seemingly appearing every week. 

Buttons for Google Pay and Samsung Pay that appear while checking out online

You may have seen the button on the left while checking out at online retailers

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Samsung Pay is much more restricted in online transactions, being limited to only those merchants that will accept Samsung Pay, which are far fewer than those that will accept Google Pay. It is available for app purchases at the Galaxy Store and to buy from Samsung's store.

Sending and requesting money

Both options allow sending and requesting money to others, but Google Pay makes it easier for users to send and receive money on their app than Samsung Pay. There is no fee to send money to someone. Just select the recipient, the amount, and the payment method to be used. If they don't accept the money, it'll be returned to your account in 14 days. There's also the option of creating a group with several contacts to send money, which is a good option for splitting a restaurant bill, for example. 

Sending and requesting money on Samsung Pay is only available if the recipient also has a Samsung Phone, Samsung Pay activated on their device, and Samsung Pay Cash set up. 

Data security

Overall, contactless payments are more secure than using a plastic card because retailers never get your actual card number, as the information is encrypted and a different code is generated in each transaction. Samsung Pay might be the winner in data security out of these two options. Both use data encryption and built-in authentication when processing payments, but Samsung pay is secured by Knox, a security platform from Samsung that protects your device and financial information from threats through hefty data encryption. Google does promise to protect every transaction from fraud and other threats, won't share your transaction history or personal information with third parties, and identifies fraud alerts when sending and receiving money.


Phone showing offers in the Samsung Pay application

Offers in Samsung Pay app

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet
Samsung Pay application on phone
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Samsung Pay and Google Pay offer multiple rewards for using their services. The former offers cash back on some purchases, which you can find within the app and later redeem to use anywhere Samsung Pay is accepted. Google Pay has some more diverse offers, they have rewards and cash back from different merchants, as well as different coupons you can activate and use in-store or online.

Google Pay also lets users to stay on top of their banking transactions on their app. When a bank account is linked, the available balance is visible on the Google Pay app, and you can track your spending for the last month or last three months.

Bottom line 

Winner: Google Pay beats Samsung Pay in my book for several reasons.

  • It's available on Android devices and not limited to just Samsung phones
  • It offers a useful snapshot into your recent transactions, even pointing out trends in spending habits
  • It is widely available for online shopping

Which is better for you depends on your individual circumstances. Personally, I go with Google Pay because it's much easier to use for online transactions, it's more widely available, and it has more variety and amount of rewards and offers available on the app. But we can't forget Samsung Pay's ability to work with older terminals that don't have NFC yet. The fact that Samsung Pay is limited to Samsung phones is a drawback for me.


What do I do if I lose my phone?

If you have your phone lost or stolen, both Google Pay and Samsung Pay allow you to delete your payment information remotely by accessing your account from a different device. For Google Pay, you can use Find My Device and log out of your account or erase your information remotely.

Is there a monthly fee?

There are no fees to use Samsung Pay or Google Pay, aside from data charges from using your phone. All you need to do is set up an account with a valid email address and add your payment information. You may be charged a temporary refundable fee of $0.15 when adding a credit card.

Could Samsung Pay or Google Pay be hacked?

Nothing is without its risks but both Samsung and Google go to great lengths to ensure their users' security. Your payment information will not be stored in the device itself and will not be shared directly with the merchant at payment. Paying with a smartphone through NFC is far more secure than swiping your physical payment card.

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