I tried Samsung's clever technology that lets you use your phone like a normal credit card, and it was almost perfect

Samsung Pay is impressive.

Samsung Pay is the new mobile payments system available on some of Samsung’s latest phones like the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+. It won’t be available for everyone until September 28, but I’ve been testing an early version of the service for a little over a week.

If you’re familiar with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay is similar. You load up your credit card information into your phone and tap the device on a payment pad instead of swiping your credit card.

But Samsung has a key advantage over Apple Pay. It uses a technology called magnetic secure transmission (MST) that can transfer data to standard magnetic credit card readers. It also works with near-field communication (NFC) payment pads. Apple Pay, on the other hand, only works with NFC, which is only available at a small fraction of retailers.

That’s big. In theory, Samsung Pay can work everywhere, while Apple Pay has to wait for retailers to update to modern payment equipment.

Using Samsung Pay was just as seamless as using a credit card. All I had to do was hover my Galaxy Note 5 over the payment pad and the pad can’t tell the difference between the phone and a normal credit card. It wasn’t absolutely perfect, especially at stores that don’t have customer-facing payment pads, but it was nice to use when I could.

It worked well, but society needs to get used to it

I tried Samsung Pay at eight locations, and it worked in five of them. I did the same thing at each location.

I pulled out a Galaxy Note 5 with Samsung Pay from my pocket and swiped up from the bottom of the screen without unlocking the phone to activate Samsung Pay.

Then, I placed my thumb on the Note 5’s fingerprint reader, and hovered the phone over the terminal’s credit card groove. Once it says “Please wait for cashier,” you don’t need to hover the phone over the terminal anymore, it’s like you’ve just swiped your card. The whole process took 18 seconds, which is about the same amount of time as it takes with a credit card.

When it worked, it worked beautifully. It was quick and fluid.

However, it wasn’t perfect by any means. For example, there isn’t much on the phone’s screen to tell you that you’re finished paying, and the phone vibrates every second while you’re in paying mode, which is a little confusing because a vibration intuitively suggests that you’re finished, not “in the process.”  

At one of the instances when Samsung Pay didn’t work, one of the stores’ payment terminals simply wouldn’t recognise the Note 5. I could have tried NFC as a backup, but I don’t usually keep NFC enabled, and I didn’t spend more time at the counter turning on NFC to try it out due to a growing line behind me. So, I retreated back to my trusty credit card.

It wasn’t even clear if the terminal would accept NFC, anyway, and that uncertainty is a problem that Samsung Pay addresses with MST in the first place.

The other two locations where Samsung Pay didn’t work, a popular coffee shop and a sandwich shop, were experiential rather than technical, and clear examples of growing pains that Samsung will need to face.

Both locations had cashier-facing terminals where the cashier takes your card to swipe through the credit card groove that’s built into the cashier monitor. But I couldn’t just hand them the Note 5 like I would a credit card because Samsung Pay needs to use your fingerprint during the payment.

It turns out that, at both locations, I didn’t hover the Note 5 closely enough to the credit card groove.  The instructional video in the Samsung Pay app wasn’t clear that I needed to really reach over and hover the phone directly above the groove of the cashier-facing terminal, which is pretty far over the counter. Otherwise, it was likely that it would have worked. 

Samsung pay dunkin doughnuts in actionAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech InsiderA Samsung rep demonstrating Samsung Pay. See how far you have to reach? That could be pretty awkward if the cashier isn’t expecting it.

Also, reaching over the counter could pose a bit of a problem. Cashiers aren’t used to people reaching towards them to pay for something. It’s awkward and it can be perceived as a hostile action.

It might just be me, but I felt like I at least needed to explain and warn the cashiers that I was about to “try this new thing for work” to reassure them that I wasn’t grabbing for the cash or the cashiers themselves.

Samsung will need to educate retailers with cashier-facing terminals about Samsung Pay because I, as a customer, don’t want to have to do the educating myself. Otherwise I’ll just use my old credit card which works just fine.

Some growing pains

At the moment, Samsung Pay only works with US banks, including American Express, Bank of America, Citi, and US Bank. That means you’ll only be able to use Samsung Pay if you have accounts with any of those four banks. Apple Pay, on the other hand, has partnered with hundreds of banks in the US, and 13 banks in the UK.

Of course, Apple Pay has been around for almost a year, which has allowed Apple more time to forge more partnerships with banks. Samsung Pay isn’t even officially available yet, and Samsung will surely add more banks to its roster in the near future.

I could definitely get used to it

Using my smartphone to pay for something was genuinely easier than pulling my credit card out of my wallet, and I don’t need to worry if the store accepts it or not. I can absolutely see myself using it on a regular basis, especially as the kinks are ironed out over time and awareness for mobile payments becomes more widespread.

But I’m not ready to totally rely on Samsung Pay yet. There’s the question of cash-only locations, as well as places like ATMs and gas stations where your phone’s MST won’t reach the credit card readers because they’re built too far deep into the machines. And my wallet holds cards that I can’t use with Samsung Pay, like my driver’s licence, work ID card, and subway card.

So, for now, I’ll be using Samsung Pay and my wallet in tandem.

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