Process Credit Cards Anywhere: 5 Smartphone Alternatives
Pros: Simple interface streamlines transactions; list-based system lets you tap regularly purchased items instead of manually entering numbers
Cons: Lacks complete features of some competitors, such as an offline mode and older returns
Intuit's GoPayment doesn't require--or include--a credit card swiper, as it allows you to manually enter numbers through any Internet-connected phone. But most businesses will want the convenience and lower fees of a card reader; we tested the Mophie Marketplace Credit Card Reader ($180) on an iPhone 3G, and the Bluetooth Card Reader ($150) with the Motorola Droid X. To protect each transaction, those card readers encrypt data before sending it to the phone.
GoPayment costs $13 per month, 30 cents per transaction, and 1.7 percent for swiped charges. (Manually entered card numbers cost 2.7 percent.)
Since GoPayment can accept multiple logins, several of your employees can run transactions; most other services force you to share a single account login. And since it's from Intuit, GoPayment also interacts with QuickBooks, sending that program your sales data.
GoPayment easily processes transactions. In most cases, the interface gets you in and out quickly, although Intuit could streamline it further. Unlike most competitors, it gives you the option to assemble a price list of your inventory and then just tap items to create orders; the process, if it matches your needs, will speed up transactions.
In GoPayment you'll find other crucial basics, too, such as the ability to void recent charges; it can e-mail a receipt to a customer, as well. The Mophie card-reader encases an iPhone 3G or 3GS but helpfully includes a micro-USB port so that you can still sync and charge the phone with it attached. (No iPhone 4 support is available yet.)
Even though GoPayment lacks a few features, such as an offline mode and refunds of older charges (you'll have to use a computer and Web browser for returns), it can reliably process business transactions. It's a solid choice that's ideal for businesses with a fixed price list.
PhoneTransact iMerchant Pro
Pros: Requires a password to open the app; simple interface gets you through transactions quickly
Cons: Graph function lacks practical value; can't store offline transactions yet
iMerchant Pro tries to enliven your transactions with its clip-art-like interface and optional sound effects. Finish a sale, and you'll hear the classic cash register "ka-ching." Although these and other features clearly can't beat those of competitors, iMerchant Pro includes a surprisingly rare bonus: password protection. You can't launch this iPhone app without entering your personal password--a simple, thoughtful security precaution.
Security is solid elsewhere, too. The hardware encrypts the card data before passing it to your phone, so the information stays safe.
iMerchant Pro software costs just $1 on the iPhone, and the credit card swiper costs $100. (New customers can get $50 off that price.) You pay 1.69 percent and 24 cents for each swiped transaction. The service requires a gateway and merchant account; you can use your own merchant account, or pay about $34 per month for both. The fees enable useful functions, including QuickBooks export.
The hardware latches onto an iPhone 3G or 3GS dock connection. However, unlike some devices, it omits a pass-through USB port for charging your phone or connecting to iTunes while it's attached.
The software is sufficient but imperfect. You can send receipts, void transactions, give credit refunds, and perform other basics. But some extras are just confusing, such as graphing transactions by credit card type into a pie chart. Sure, you can see the percentage of Visa to MasterCard transactions at a glance, but the feature just makes us want more-comprehensive sales reports. Why not chart the percentage of out-of-state visitors, high-sale transactions, sales by time of day, or other data useful to a business?
The app also can't store offline transactions and upload them later. That feature is coming soon, but for now you'll have to be certain that your Internet connection will hold up.
iMerchant Pro solidly performs its credit card transaction duties. Some features, such as password protection, add value--but others, like the graphing, feel like placeholders for app updates.
Pros: Elegant swiper hardware includes stylus; reports page lists more details than most rivals
Cons: Awkward interface has glitches and inconsistencies
Get past the unintuitive, sometimes buggy PayWare Mobile interface, and you'll discover a solid foundation for business transactions. It's too bad that you have to fight to find the good parts of this iPhone credit card processor.
PayWare Mobile's main screen is streamlined to let you enter a transaction amount, swipe a card, and process a payment. But the interface weaknesses appear immediately. Does the big Manual Entry (or Slide Card) button mean that you're currently in manual (or card-reader) mode? It's the opposite of what we thought. Parts of the interface occasionally stopped responding to our touch, keeping us from tapping the cost field, for instance, or swapping the manual and swipe modes. Corner buttons sometimes change name within the same screen. The interface feels barely tested.
Although the software seems clunky, the hardware is surprisingly sleek. Blue-arrow lights identify the direction to swipe the card. A mini-USB port lets you charge, but it can't dock. An iPhone-savvy stylus hides inside the device, letting customers sign with the pointer instead of a fingertip. And the hardware encrypts data before it passes through the iPhone, protecting the information.
Considering the ho-hum interface, we were surprised by the attention to detail in the transaction reports. You can pull up lists of sales and even search for a certain one. Even though you can't run comprehensive reports, such as comparing sales between Mondays and Fridays over time, PayWare Mobile includes more data than most competitors do.
You'll find PayWare Mobile sold through merchant providers, such as iPhone Merchants. That company charges $20 per month plus 1.59 percent and 25 cents per transaction, as well as a $45 setup fee and $115 for the hardware.
PayWare Mobile needs improvement. While its basic functionality matches--and sometimes exceeds--that of competitors, its awkward, glitch-prone interface isn't worth the trouble.
You'll have to crunch the numbers and assess your own needs to decide which up-front fees balance out lower per-transaction fees--maybe your volume justifies such rates. Those costs aside, the right choice should match your business.
We like GoPayment's price-menu system for businesses with a small, fixed inventory. Otherwise, RoamPay's great features just barely lift it above its weak interface. For smaller businesses that don't want a merchant account and sell at low volumes, Square stands alone.
Product mentioned in this article
Square Card Reader
If you're a small-business owner or you simply need a better, cleaner way of accepting payments, this is the service and device for you.