A quick first look at Android Pay in the UK

Android Pay launched today in the UK, so I decided I’d have a quick play with it on my Moto X (2014), and see how well it works. Most of the time these days, I don’t take cash out with me, since all the local places I shop use contactless. Potentially, then, this could mean all I have to take with me in future is the phone.

First off, setting up is pretty simple; I bank with First Direct, which is supported, and the main card I have with them was already picked up from my Google Play account – I just had to add a couple of extra details.

Adding extra cards is quite simple too – you point the device camera at the card and it reads the main number, then you enter the expiry date, the CVC number from the back, and check the name is correct too. Accept the terms from your bank, and then a confirmation code can be sent by SMS or email. Type that in, and the new card is all set.

This, though, is where I noticed my first annoyance. I have four First Direct cards – two debit, and two credit. They’re all black and silver, though one credit card does have a bit of gold on it. This is what the app looks like with them all added (though in the bottom left of the card is **** 1234, or the last four digits of the card number, which I cut out of the screenshot).

Help! All my cards look the same
Help! All my cards look the same

That would be great if all the cards I had were different, or if I actually could always remember the last four digits of each card. For the debit cards, that’s not even the associated bank account number.

There doesn’t appear to be a way in the app to add a nickname to each card, like ‘Work’,’Play’,’Car’ and so on. You can do that on the website, but even then, the name doesn’t appear on the card – it wouldn’t be hard, surely, to put it on the card above the last four digits of the number?

You can view the name in the app after adding it on the website – if you tap the card to see the transaction list, then start scrolling up, the name slowly fades into view over the card, and finally becomes the title of the list. I think that’s a bit long-winded, personally.

To see a card name, tap it and then scroll the list of transcations
To see a card name, tap it and then scroll the list of transcations

There are some other quirks when setting up too. After my four First Direct cards, I tried to add a John Lewis Partnership card, and an HSBC Business debit card. In each case, the message I received just said “Your card can’t be added at this time. Please try again later.” The help link takes me to a web page that doesn’t shed much light on it – it says that sometimes, there’s a limit to the number of cards that can be added in one day, so maybe that’s it (a bit annoying for launch day, though!). Or maybe those cards can’t be used – though both are issued by HSBC, which is a participating bank. Incidentally, trying this again just now, a couple of times the app just appeared to hang waiting for the camera.

Adding loyalty cards is possible too, and there was no problem adding my Co-Op one (though there are a lot of co-ops to scroll through). Adding the My Waitrose card turned up two identically labelled Waitrose loyalty schemes. Picking either takes you to the same screen, where you scan the barcode on the card, so I picked the first, and I’ll find out when I’m next at Waitrose if that was the right one.

There are two Waitrose entries in loyalty cards - but no way to tell them apart
There are two Waitrose entries in loyalty cards – but no way to tell them apart

What about in use? I decided to treat myself to a bit of biltong, so I headed out to get the Overground to Liverpool St. I normally use Oyster, but decided I’d try Android Pay for the journey. It took three attempts for the reader to register my card at the station entrance.

Tapping out at Liverpool St worked first time, and I headed to M&S to pick up a few groceries. It appeared to work, in that the app showed a green tick, so I lifted the phone back up. The reader sat there for about 20 seconds, before finally saying the transaction was declined. I tried it again, and it worked without any problems.

Next stop, biltong at Savannah, where it worked flawlessly. Flush with success, and wanting to avoid the rush hour – because it’s clear that this is a lot slower than using Oyster – I tried to tap back in to the Overground again. On the first attempt, I was prompted to enter the PIN into the phone. So I did that, and tapped it on the reader again. I got the ‘Seek assistance’ message on the barrier, so I waited then tried a third time, and this time all was well. On a busy gate line in the rush hour, this would have been quite mortifying.

Getting back to Clapton, tapping out worked first time too. So, very much mixed results, which could be teething problems. But I do wish the app was more polished, and had a better way to switch between cards than long tap on the one you want to use, and drag it to the top, before tapping the phone on the reader. Some quick way to select a card would be really handy.

And it’s a bit slow at times. Most of the time that doesn’t matter, but certainly for now, I’ll be keeping my Oyster card, rather than risking the wrath of fellow travelers on the tubes and trains.

Note: screen shots have been tweaked to remove any digits from card numbers, etc.

5 Replies to “A quick first look at Android Pay in the UK”

  1. I loaded my waitrose card too, but it doesn’t display thebarcode so i’m not sure how I can get it scanned.

    I tried the second one and it displays the barcode even though it is labelled Waitrose USA

    1. This is an area where the experience seems to be completely at odds with the documentation, which does indeed say there should be a barcode on screen. Neither my Waitrose nor my Co-operative cards shows a barcode. They just show the number in big type, so the cashier can type it in.

      (You appear to have posted substantially the same comment four times, which has upset the spam scanner)

  2. Boots and Morrison’s get barcodes, the rest get just text, although subway gets a logo (an honour not bestowed on Boots or Morrison’s).

    Alas Barclays, my bank, are faffing around with their own app so I won’t be using (only an unused except for emergencies Halifax card let me get that far!)

    1. Interesting; the help page on Google Pay suggests that all loyalty cards will show a barcode, which is clearly not the case. I’ve clicked to report it as not helpful, with a comment to that effect. And honestly, it’s going to be a pain if I have to ask the checkout person to type the number in each time.

      1. I noticed yesterday that all the cards are now displaying with a barcode, except Subway which is displaying a stretched QR code (i.e. twice as wide as it is high rather than square)

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