Decisions to consider when choosing between Apple and Samsung smartwatches for contactless payments

Apple Watch making a contactless payment. (Source: Apple)

I’ve never found the prospect of using a mobile phone for “tap and go” payments more appealing than pulling out your wallet — but paying with a smartwatch seems to have much more practical value.

You can go out to the pub or go for a run, for example, without carrying your bulky wallet or mobile phone.

And if you’re in Sydney, the plan to allow contactless payments to replace Opal cards for public transport means a smartwatch could soon get me onto the train or the bus.

Over the last few months I have used both the Apple Watch 3, released just a few weeks ago, and the Samsung Gear S3, released at the end of last year, to make contactless payments at shops, pubs and supermarkets.

Here’s how I rate them:

The banks

In Australia, this is the first thing to think about ever before setting up a digital wallet. Can my watch accommodate payments from my bank?

Apple Pay, while it came to Australia with all the global marketing and brand value that Apple has, has faced stiff opposition from the country’s dominant banks. Three of the Big Four – Commonwealth, Westpac and NAB – resented the fees paid to Apple and the inability to use the iPhone’s hardware to deploy their own bank-specific payment apps.

A long regulatory and legal battle was then fought, with Apple accusing the banks of acting like a cartel and trying to “free load” off its technology.

The situation is still tense, even though the ACCC handed down its ruling against the banks earlier this year. But CBA, NAB and Westpac are still not on Apple Pay yet.

Meanwhile, ANZ broke ranks to become the first in Australia to offer contactless EFTPOS transactions via a contactless tap. Adopting Apple Pay was simply to fulfil customer demand, according to the bank’s digital head, Maile Carnegie.

“We could look back and say, ‘I wish that was us, I wish they wanted our digital wallet as much as they wanted [Apple Pay]’. But they didn’t,” she said in March.

Samsung Pay has greater acceptance among Australian financial institutions. In April, Westpac became the first of the Big Four to hop on, then 38 credit unions and smaller banks covering 1.7 million customers joined, and in July ANZ became the first of the big banks to be on both Apple and Samsung.

Those who travel internationally should also note Samsung Pay accepts Citibank and Latitude Financial Services, which have “no overseas fees” products (Citibank Plus and 28 Degrees) that are popular with travellers.

Winner: Samsung

Setting up

Both Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are easy enough to set up.

Both systems require credit or debit cards to be registered through the smartphone app. Depending on the financial institution, a confirmation code maybe sent via SMS or the bank’s own app to verify that the person registering is indeed authorised to do so.

Unfortunately, both companies require one watch to be paired with exactly one phone. This means if you change your smartphone, you will need to setup your watch all over again.

Winner: Tie

Samsung Pay with Samsung Gear smartwatch. (Source: Samsung)


Both watches require a PIN to be setup to ensure if a thief steals your device they can’t use it for payments. While some people might find this step an inconvenience — because no such step is required for “tap and go” with a normal credit card – it’s a necessary security.

The Samsung Gear S3 requires the user to press and hold the back button to bring up the cards, choose a card, then press “pay” on the screen. Then the watch has to be held against the shop’s card reader.

While testing the Samsung Gear S3 in June, the contactless payments did not work for me on my initial attempts at a pub and supermarket. Samsung Australia staff then instructed me to hold the watch at a certain angle – almost perpendicular to the reader – which now seems to do the trick.

The Apple Watch 3 requires a double-click of the flat button then a selection of the card. There is no requirement to press a “pay” button – the card is ready for payment as soon as you double-click. This seems like a small step but in the hustle and bustle of everyday living, not to mention people waiting behind you at the checkout, it made a big difference in convenience.

I also experienced no problems tapping with the Apple Watch, regardless of the angle the watch was held to the reader.

Winner: Apple


The difference in acceptance for Australian financial institutions between Samsung Pay and Apple Pay may mean you don’t have a choice in the matter, if you’re really keen on paying with a watch.

For example, ANZ customers can use both, Westpac customers can only use Samsung but Commonwealth and NAB cardholders can’t use either watch.

If you’re with ANZ or one of the smaller banks that offer both Samsung and Apple, go for the Apple Watch. I found the convenience of a simple double-click too convenient to resist, over the extra step of pressing “pay” on the Samsung.

It sounds trivial, but trust me, microseconds seem like an eternity when the shopkeeper and other customers are staring at you.

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