Comes from the most widely used online payment service. Shows activity for online and app activity. Easy to set up and use. Works internationally. Excellent security track record.
Payment splitting not as straightforward as in Venmo. Lacks NFC support.
- Bottom Line
PayPal is convenient, easy to use, and ubiquitous. And its mobile app is well designed and feature-rich.
In the ever-shifting world of mobile payment services, PayPal's apps have morphed from an in-store cashless payment emphasis to a direct competitor to the company's own Venmo app and service—minus the social-network features of peer-to-peer payments. The competition from Apple Pay and Android Pay (soon to be renamed Google Pay) was just too strong for the PayPal point of sale feature to thrive. You can still actually use the PayPal mobile app to pay and request payments from friends, sites, and stores, though not using NFC the way Apple Pay does.
The current PayPal app is fine for paying others with PayPal accounts, and some may prefer its more no-nonsense approach compared with Venmo and its attempt to tap into millennials' love for oversharing. It also benefits from PayPal's near ubiquity as a payment option on websites and apps, and from the fact that just about everyone living in the modern world has a PayPal account.
Pricing and Starting Up
The app is a free download, and buying stuff online with it is always free. But, as with all payment apps, a 2.9 percent fee is added by credit card companies if you use those as a source of funds to pay someone. Transferring money to a linked bank account is free, but doing so to a linked debit card costs 25 cents per transfer. The updated fees are available on PayPal's site; transfers to other countries incur different fees shown on a PDF linked to this page.
After downloading the app, you need to create a PayPal account if you haven't already got one, an unlikely situation if you've bought much at all on the internet over the last decade. You must confirm your email address or mobile phone number, and then link a credit or debit card by entering the usual details. In some cases you have to confirm the card is yours via small test charges.
There are three PayPal account levels: Personal, for those who just want to buy stuff online or send money to friends; Premiere, good for those who do a little selling online of their own; and Business, for full-fledged e-commerce shops. In all, I found setting up the PayPal app easier than setting up Apple Pay Cash, and about the same as for Venmo. Facebook Messenger's Payments may be the easiest to set up, since you don't even have to install another app if you already use Messenger, and ditto for Skype Payments (in fact, it's super easy to pay a Skype contact using PayPal).
Using the PayPal Mobile App to Pay Friends
I installed the PayPal app on my iPhone X running iOS 11.2, and I'm happy to report that the app now supports FaceID. I also tested with an LG V30+ running Android 7.1.2., on which it supports Fingerprint sign in. The interface is identical to the Android one, and on both, the home screen interface really could not be clearer, with sizable round buttons for sending and requesting money. The screen also boasts options for managing your account, seeing activity, and paying local eateries and charities.
Paying a contact is just as easy in the app as payment with any other mobile payment app. To find people to pay more easily, grant access to your phone contacts. Searching the list helps if you have a multitude of duplicate contacts as I do. After choosing a contact for your munificence, the app asks whether it's a payment to friends and family or for goods and services—in the latter case, you may be eligible for PayPal Purchase Protection.
Next, you get the simple numeric keypad to choose the amount of money to send. After this, you can choose the source for the payment—a card or bank account. The last step before sending is the option to add a note. That word optional is important, for Venmo insists on your adding a note with all payments, which I find off-putting. Tap send now, and your money starts flowing to your contact. Requesting money follows an identical process, but with the money flowing in the opposite direction.
The PayPal app does have a cashless, in-store purchasing function, and I like the system it uses. Instead of relying on near-field communication (NFC), the way Google Wallet does, PayPal uses location. That means you don't have to have a special device for it to work. You just have to have location services enabled and be near enough to the seller for your payment to be verified.
Like LevelUp, the PayPal app has an Order Ahead feature, proposing local food and beverage shops you can place orders with for no-wait pickup. There's even a map to help you choose. But the selection of stores isn't as vast as for Apple Pay and Android Pay. Incidentally, the Android version of the PayPal app lets you set up Android Pay to use your PayPal account.
If you manage to find a business that accepts PayPal, paying for a purchase is fairly easy. You find the business in the app, and then a numerical code and possibly a QR code appear on your screen that you show the cashier when you check out. The cashier either scans the barcode or keys in the number.
Pools of Money
Like Venmo, PayPal's app lets you split costs in what this app calls Money Pools. You set up a pool by giving it a name and optionally specifying an amount and end date. You can allow contributors to pay any amount, specify an exact amount, or a minimum amount. Your pool can have a cover image and statement.
Once you're happy with the pool cover, you publish it and get a web link to send to people from whom you wish to collect. My test pool took longer than expected to create—a few minutes. In all, the feature is quite a bit more cumbersome than Venmo's bill-splitting feature.
Bonus Payment Features
Like Venmo, the PayPal app also sports a QR code feature letting others scan your phone screen to pay you, or vice versa. It's a super easy way to verify that the money is going to the correct recipient. You also get a PayPal.me address, a unique URL to use for requesting payments. If you go to paypal.me/mwmuchmore, for example, you can send me some moola without ever having to know my email address, much less type it correctly.
One nice thing about paying someone with PayPal is that, unlike with Venmo, they don't have to have the app installed; they just need a PayPal account. The same holds for Google Pay/Wallet, but Apple Pay users must have an iOS device with an account set up. And the latter can only pay other Apple customers, whereas PayPal doesn't care what platform you're on.
The web interface for the app is just the regular PayPal site, showing all your activity and giving you the same payment options as the app.
International payments are an advantage of PayPal, which works in over 200 countries. By comparison, Square Cash and Venmo are U.S.-only, Google Wallet only works in the US and UK, and Apple Pay Cash works in only in the U.S. for now, though the company is working on expanding its reach, and its companion Apple Pay point-of-sale feature works in many countries.
In a handy consolidation, the PayPal app shows not only your person-to-person activity, but all of your PayPal purchases, even those not made in the app. Other perks are that you can add loyalty cards from a good selection of vendors to save yourself from finding the physical cards when you pay. There's also a Donations section that lets you find and contribute to charities of your choice.
As with Venmo and Square Cash, you can pay on the iPhone via Siri. At this point, when I tell Siri to pay someone some cash, I get a choice of five apps to complete the payment with. I didn't see PayPal as an option in Apple Messages, the way I did for Venmo, Square Cash, and Apple Pay, however. On Android these integrations are a different story: I couldn't even summon Google Pay with the Siri-equivalent Google Assistant, let alone any third-party payment app. Android's default messaging app varies by phone maker, with Samsung, HTC, and LG, for example choosing different ones of their own, you can't really talk about integrating payment apps into messages.
One of PayPal's greatest strengths is its PayPal Purchase Protection policy. That's the company's nearly ironclad guarantee that you will either receive the goods and services you bought or get your money back. This adds a layer of protection between your credit card and the vendor. When you buy something with PayPal, even if the purchase price is ultimately going to your credit card, the vendor never gets your credit card details. It's a smart solution to many of the problems with online shopping and potential fraud. It's aces.
PayPal's site says that the service uses "the latest anti-fraud technology to help make sure your transactions are safer and you're 100% protected against unauthorized payments sent from your account." And indeed the company has been free from the kind of massive break-ins plaguing some other financial services, such as Equifax, JP Morgan, and even the international SWIFT bank transfer system. Occasionally, after an update, the app requires you to reverify yourself for added security. Its come a long way since our last review, when we complained about the app not logging out when you switch away from it.
A Fine Way to Pay Your Pals
As the internet's de facto internet money-transfer service, PayPal brings powerful backing to its mobile app in terms of security and capabilities. Some of these include international payments and the fact that nearly everyone has a PayPal account. The only things missing are NFC point-of-sale payment, integration with messaging, and a social stream of everyone's payments (if that's your cup of tea). PayPal is convenient, clear to use, multiplatform, and ubiquitous. Our Editors' Choice, Venmo, edges it out as a person-to-person payment app with a slightly more modern interface, a social feed, and messaging integration.
About the Author
Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine?s lead analyst for software and Web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine?s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of Web Services for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine?s S… See Full Bio
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