Compact, easy-to-use hardware. Fast and simple setup. Attractive, feature-rich payment app. Accepts new EMV credit and debit cards.
Lacks NFC support.
- Bottom Line
Square is an affordable and easy tool for accepting credit card payments on lots of mobile devices, and the experience is excellent for buyers and sellers alike.
By Jordan Minor
Cash registers are so twentieth century. For small businesses, mobile card readers are a welcome, innovative solution for accepting credit cards using a mobile device. Square is one such solution, and it's an excellent one. It plugs into a variety of phones and tablets and uses a simple, attractive interface to allow you to accept credit card payments. It's free to download, though Square charges a small fee for every transaction. With its excellent aesthetics, modern features, and ease of use on many devices, the Square Chip Card Reader is an Editors' Choice for mobile credit card readers and point-of-sale (POS) software solutions.
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Setup and Getting Started
The easiest way to start using Square is to go to Square's website, or to download the Square app from the Apple App Store or Google Play store. Signing up for an account is as simple as entering your tax information. For an individual, it's a social security number and some other personal information. Square is very clear about protecting your data, but it's always good to be wary of anything asking for this information. Other card readers, like PayAnywhere and QuickBooks GoPayment, make users go through a lengthy vetting process if they aren't an established business. Square is much more convenient.
The Square Chip Card Reader costs $29, and lets you accept payments from older magtripe cards and newer chipped credit cards. If you register for an account, Square will send you a reader for free, but that model just supports magstripe cards, not the new EMV security standard. This tiny white plastic square that plugs into the headphone jack of your device is by far the most aesthetically pleasing reader I've tested. When connected, it can immediately start accepting payments. The system works over Wi-Fi or a cell phone data connection. It's also battery-powered and sports a micro USB port for charging. I tested the dongle on a Motorola Moto X.
Selling and Getting Paid
Making money is as simple as choosing an amount and swiping a card. If you have items you sell regularly, you can also set up a virtual shelf with all the items for sale, and select them from the shelf to automatically register a total. You can swipe a credit card through the reader, or key in the card number manually. You can also accept cash and use Square for tracking and receipts, but the real value is with a credit card.
Once the buyer swipes his or her card, Square prepares a receipt, which can include itemized charges, location, or your company's logo. The customer signs the receipt using a finger on the touch screen (which works great on tablets, and is good enough on smaller phone screens), adds a tip if desired, and chooses to either have the receipt emailed or sent as a text message. Every receipt also has a unique URL.
The new Square reader also supports EMV cards. In the future, a growing number of credit cards and debit cards will feature embedded security chips to make transactions less risky for consumers. The new dongle features two separate slots. You can swipe magstripe cards through one slot as usual. However, if you have a chip card, you can insert your card chip-first vertically into the second slot to make payments. In fact, if you try swiping a chip card, Square forces you to use the more secure method. Figuring out these new gestures can be tricky at first, but it soon becomes second nature.
Currently, the only other card reader with EMV support is the PayPal Chip Card Reader. But that device costs five times as much as Square's and its only other advantage is NFC compatibility. Square also recently released the Square Contactless + Chip Card Reader, a separate, slightly pricier, and larger but similarly excellent standalone card reader that works with NFC services like Apple Pay and Android Pay. However, the standard reader does work with Samsung Pay, our Editors' Choice in that category. It's up to you and your business to decide whether or not NFC is worth it.
Square takes a small fee for every transaction. If you swipe a credit card, the fee is 2.75 percent of the total transaction. If you key in the number manually, the fee is 3.5 percent. (The fee hike is because keyed-in cards are inherently less secure, since you're not swiping an actual card.) Square eliminated its per-transaction fixed fee (which was 15 cents), which makes calculating charges even easier. You'll see 97.25 cents of every dollar. The fee is comparable to those of competing services like QuickBooks GoPayment, which charges 1.6 to 3.2 percent plus 25 cents depending on your subscription, as well as PayPal and PayAnywhere. For small purchases of only a few dollars, it's a far better deal since there's no fixed fee. Keep in mind that none of these readers accept transactions under $1.
In the app or on Square's website, you can track your sales history, easily issue refunds, or download the transaction information as .CSV files that can be imported into Excel, QuickBooks, and other software. You can easily link your bank account to your Square account, and Square automatically deposits your earnings every 24 hours. You can also create categories of items customers can choose from to speed up checkout, and you can also offer discounts and gift cards. The Square app is the best thing Square has going for it. It's a gorgeous app with an intuitive interface that is easy for both sellers and buyers to figure out.
But What Do Square Users Think?
Here at PCMag, we do everything we can to thoroughly test products, but without a small business collecting payments on a constant basis, our experience only goes so far. Long-term customer Josh Kulp is the owner and chef of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, a Chicago-based counter-service restaurant, and has used Square since Sept. 2013. He told us that Square is very responsive.
"When we started two years ago, I had a list of about 20 things Square couldn't do. You don't know what you need until you're actually doing it. It couldn't split checks, it couldn't distinguish between to-go and in-house orders," Kulp said. "I was about to leave Square. I talked to them, they asked me for one more chance, and talked about the roadmap. They've added 19 of the 20 things I wanted two years ago."
Samir Idnani on the other hand, praised Square's ease-of-use and fast employee training. Idnani is the co-owner of NaanStop, which has two Atlanta quick-service Indian restaurants.
"New employees get a flash course in using Square and it takes 15 minutes. By end of their first day, they're really up to speed," Idnani said. His favorite part of the Square experience is the simplicity. Square is "easy to use, easy to set up. Employees can clock in, keeping tabs on sales and analytics. I can do customer campaigns. And the fees can't be beat."
Fair and Square
Square probably isn't the best way to get your buddy to pay you back for coffee or Insane Clown Posse tickets. That's what an app like Venmo is for. Square is, however, an attractive, simple, and useful way for anyone from street vendors to mobile businesses to accept credit cards. The EMV card functionality just makes it even more futureproof. Thanks to its support for numerous devices, ease of use, and beautiful interface, it's our Editors' Choice for mobile credit card readers and POS software solutions. If you also want to accept payment via NFC, however, you'll want to get the Square Contactless + Chip Card Reader, which is also an Editors' Choice.
Evan Schuman contributed to this story.
Former PCMag intern Jordan Minor is a senior editor at sister site, Geek.com, and really just wants to use his fancy Northwestern University journalism degree to write about video games. He's previously written for Kotaku, The A.V. Club, Cards Against Humanity, and 148Apps. In his spare time, he also writes dumb screenplays that occasionally become dumb movies. Follow Jordan on Twitter at @JordanWMinor. More »
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