Welcome to 2015. The majority of my readers are tech oriented people, so I’m just going to come out and say it. Unless you’ve been living off the grid for the past five years, then I’m sure that you’re familiar with the various mobile payment systems competing to be the de facto mobile payment system. There’s Google Wallet, which has been around since 2011. There’s also SoftCard (formerly “ISIS Mobile Wallet”) which has also been around since 2011, and Apple tossed their hat into the ring in 2014 with Apple Pay. The problem with all three of these solutions is that (1) your phone must have an NFC Chip and (2) the merchant must have a special terminal in order to work with the payment system on your phone. Not every phone out there has an NFC chip. Apple didn’t even start including NFC chips until the iPhone 6. That means that owners of devices without an NFC chip can’t use Google Wallet, SoftCard, or Apple Pay. Yes, I’m aware that Apple has apps available for the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3, but not everyone has one of those either. Not only that, but some big name retailers want to make their own mobile payment system and they’ve turned off their NFC compatible terminals, denying the above mentioned systems from working at their stores.
What are you to do? Enter LoopPay. LoopPay was started in 2012 by Will Graylin and George Wallner. LoopPay uses a technology called Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) in which the LoopPay device, which contains a digital image of your card, transmits a magnetic signal to the credit card terminal and the terminal reads that signal just like it had actually swiped a card. The LoopPay will work with about 90% of the card readers out there. The LoopPay tends not to work with ATMs, gas pumps, and any other reader that requires you to insert the card completely into the slot and then pull the card out for it to be read. The LoopPay did work at a RedBox kiosk, but I had to try more than once in order for it to be read.
Setting up LoopPay is very easy. You download the app for Android 4.3 and above and iOS 7 and above and launch the app. You will be walked through the process of creating an account. Adding cards to your LoopPay device is accomplished by using a card reader supplied with the unit and you just swipe your card to add. You can add any card that has a magnetic strip, so credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, and store cards can be added to the LoopPay. You can take a photo of the actual card (front and back) or use a generic image for your card. You can then show this image to the clerk if they ask to see your card. The LoopWallet app also allows you to add photos of your driver’s license and all of those reward cards and membership cards in your wallet so you can reduce all that clutter. In this reviewer’s opinion, there are other apps out there that handle the reward cards better than LoopWallet, but let’s just stick to talking about LoopPay.
To use LoopPay with your phone, you will need to purchase one of the LoopPay devices. There’s a LoopPay Fob for your keychain, there’s a LoopPay Case for your iPhone, and there’s a LoopPay Card that fits in your pocket or can be attached to your phone’s case. LoopPay is in discussions with phone manufacturers to include the technology within the phone itself. They are also in discussion with case manufacturers to include the technology in their cases so that the technology with be available to more phones. Sorry Windows Phone and Blackberry owners, it’s just Android and iPhone for now.
Since I have an Android phone, the only options available for me right now are the LoopPay Fob or the LoopPay Card. LoopPay did send me a Fob last year. I used it everywhere I went for about a week and then I put it in my sock drawer. Why did I do this? Because the fob is very bulky. I tend to keep my keys in my pocket or clipped to a carabiner and the fob just added more stuff which I just didn’t want to deal with. Well, since last year, LoopPay came out with the “LoopPay Card” which is so much more convenient. LoopPay sent me a LoopPay Card last week and I’ve been using it every day. The LoopPay Card is slim enough to fit in your pocket or you can attach it to your phone using the included pocket. I would recommend if you don’t have a case for your phone, you will want to use one with the pocket because it has some very strong adhesive and it isn’t going anywhere once you attach it. I did try removing it from my case and I was afraid I was going to do some serious damage, so I stopped trying.
Both the Fob and the Card have a micro-USB port so that you can charge the device. If you do up to five transactions per day, you should be good for about two-months.
TESTING THE LOOPPAY
I loaded up my LoopWallet (the app that integrates with the LoopPay device), charged my LoopPay Card and hit the streets. I had already tested the LoopPay Fob this past summer by visiting McDonald’s (they do accept contact-to-pay solutions), which earned a “Cool!” from the clerk who then called over the manager, and 7-Eleven (they no longer accept NFC based solutions due to their alliance with MCX), which gave it a “Wow!”, so I headed off to a few other stores. I decided that I wanted to test stores that participate in MCX because MCX stores are contractually prohibited from accepting mobile payment systems other than their own CurrentC. I headed to Rite-Aid, Walmart, and Hobby Lobby. The LoopPay worked just fine. At Rite-Aid I did explain to the cashier that I was testing a new device. At Walmart, the cashier asked me “What are you trying to do?” and then when the transaction magically went through, she didn’t really care. At Hobby Lobby, the cashier did say to me that he didn’t think it was going to work, but then after it did, he asked me more about it. I also stopped into Radio Shack (not a member of MCX), which does accept NFC tap-to-pay systems (they have several signs around the store stating that they accept Google Wallet) and the clerk was so impressed, he asked me where he could get one.
USING THE LOOPPAY AND LOOPWALLET
I should point out that in order for the Fob to interact with LoopWallet, you must have the fob plugged into your phone (via the headphone jack). The LoopPay Card and the LoopPay Case both connect via Bluetooth.
The LoopPay Wallet is also how you determine how much charge is available in your LoopPay. When your LoopPay device is connected to the Wallet, the app will display the current battery level.
LoopPay can actually be used without your phone. Once you have your LoopPay device connected to your account, you can add cards to the device and use it independently of the app. The app is what allows you to interface with the LoopPay device, but you do not need the app to go shopping. You can set a default card on your device, hand it over to your wife or a child, and let them go shopping. I hear you asking, “What about security?” I’m glad you asked.
There are four settings for the LoopPay device, depending on which setting you are using is how secure your data.
ALWAYS: Always means what it says and that the fob is always active. All you need to do is press the fob against the terminal, press the button, and your transaction goes through. The downside to this is if you misplace your fob or if it’s stolen, then it will remain active. Anyone picking up the LoopPay device (and understands what it is) would be able to go shopping with your default credit card. You would need to call your bank and report the card lost or stolen and ask them to disable the existing card. The same would hold true if someone stole your actual credit card. So, that may or may not be a big security concern.
10-Minutes: This will keep the fob active only 10 minutes. The suggested use would be that if you were somewhere, like a restaurant, and had to hand the fob over to a server to make payment. Of course, in the time it would take to explain to the server what the fob is and how to operate it, you could have just handed them your card and been done with it.
8-Hours: This would keep your fob active for eight hours. The suggested use would be if you wanted to hand your fob to your child while they go shopping, but that could be dangerous!
The last setting is NEVER. This would be used if you never want the fob to be active when not connected to your phone. To use the fob when it’s set on “NEVER” you would have to have it plugged into your phone, the LoopWallet app must be open, and you would need to tap the virtual card within the app when you wish to make payment.
The big question is whether or not it can be used in other countries. The LoopPay will work IN other countries, however, at this time, it can only be used by US citizens. LoopPay is working on making this available to non-US citizens.
You probably want to know if the LoopPay will work with EMV (chip & PIN cards). LoopPay will use tokenized data. The data will be sent as a one-time code to the terminal at the time of transaction.
How does LoopPay compare to Coin? Well, Coin costs $100 and its release date keeps getting pushed back. The LoopPay starts at $29 and is available right now. Since Coin isn’t available, I haven’t been able to test this product.
I’ve been looking for a way to thin out my wallet. I’m adding all my cards to LoopWallet and I am not going to leave home without my LoopPay.
Last week we gave away a LoopPay product to two iTechTriad readers. The winners were Joan M. and Andrew H. Both winners chose a LoopPay Card as their prizes. Congratulations and thank you for participating.