What is the best card reader? (Updated 2021)

What is the best card reader? (Updated 2021)

[All information correct as of 22/4/21]

At the end of 2019, I wrote an article on the battle for the card reader niche. At the time, a handful of providers were solidifying their position in the market and forcing out smaller competitors. At the time, SumUp, iZettle, PayPal Here and Square dominated the space with WorldPay Zinc and Shuttle quietly shutting up shop.

I thought it was time for an update. In this article, I take a deep dive into the card reader niche to discover which card reader is the best for businesses that need to accept mobile payments. Let’s get started.

 

What is the cheapest card reader?

Credit and debit card readers have two costs you need to think about: the upfront cost of the reader and the ongoing payment processing fees.

The cost of the reader is pretty straightforward. You buy the reader from one of the card reader companies and it’s yours forever. Prices range from £59 for the iZettle down to £19 for the Square reader. Almost all card readers can be purchased via an affiliate link for a significant discount. At the moment, you can buy the SumUp reader for £19+VAT, Square reader for £15+VAT, and the Zettle Reader 2 for £19+VAT using our links.

It’s also worth checking online forums for first-hand accounts of device durability and build quality before you buy. You might be cheaper buying a more expensive but more durable reader than buying a less well made cheaper alternative.

Here’s how the main card readers stack up in terms of the credit card reader cost.

ProductDevice Cost
Square£19
SumUp£29*
PayPal Here£45
Shopify£49
iZettle£59
*Promotional prices may apply for limited times.

As you can see the Square reader is the cheapest followed by SumUp, then PayPal Here, then Shopify and finally the iZettle card reader.

The Square reader is obviously the cheapest device, allowing you to accept chip and PIN, contactless cards, Apple Pay and Google Pay wirelessly. However, for chip and PIN, you will need to connect the reader to your own device for customers to enter their PIN.

SumUp is almost as cheap, offering low cost without compromising on functionality. With SumUp, you get an outstanding card reader with a screen and 13-button keypad. It can also accept payments via chip & PIN, contactless, magnetic stripe and NFC.

The second cost you have to think about is the payment processing fee. This is the portion of each transaction that the card reader keeps as payment. For example, if a card reader charged a 1.5% payment processing fee and you processed a £500 transaction, it would keep £7.50. Here is what each of the main card readers will charge you to process a payment.

ProductPayment Processing Fee
PayPal Here1.00 to 2.75%
Shopify1.5 to 1.7%
SumUp1.69%
iZettle1.75%
Square1.75%

Three of the card readers (SumUp, iZettle and Square) charge a fixed percentage fee on payments so there is no economy of scale. Whether you process £100, £1,000 or £100,000 per month, the card reader will charge you the same fee. Of those card readers, SumUp is the cheapest, charging just 1.69% on every transaction. Both iZettle and Square charge 1.75% on every transaction. After these, it gets a bit more complicated.

First, I’ll deal with Shopify. Shopify charges one of three fixed fees depending on what tier service you’re on. The Basic Shopify tier costs $29 per month (currently around £21) and charges a 1.7% fee on transactions, the mid-tier Shopify option costs $79 per month (currently around £57) and charges 1.6% on transactions and the Enterprise Shopify tier costs $299 per month (currently around £215.50) and charges 1.5% on transactions. Whether Shopify is competitive depends on your monthly card payment volume as you’ve got to factor in the hefty subscription costs.

Second, PayPal Here. PayPal is the only card reader to offer a sliding fee scale. Essentially, the higher your card transaction volume, the smaller PayPal’s transaction fee. Here’s how their thresholds work.

Total Monthly SalesPayment Processing Fee
Up to £1,5002.75%
£1,500.01 – £6,0001.75%
£6,000.01 – £15,0001.5%
£15,000.01 – £25,0001.0%

As you can see, you can get a very cheap payment processing rate from PayPal but your small business has to accept £180,000 per year on just cards before you get it. At these scales, you are almost always cheaper going with a traditional rented card machine. At lower volumes, PayPal charges up to 1% more than its cheapest competitor, SumUp.

Considering both the cost of the card reader and the ongoing payment processing costs, either Square or SumUp are likely to be the cheapest card readers for the vast majority of customers. If you’ve found a better deal elsewhere, let us know in comments and we’ll update this article.

 

Should I buy the iZettle card reader in 2021?

  • Device Cost: £59 + VAT (£19 +VAT through CardSwitcher)
  • Debit/Credit Card Transaction Fee: 1.75%
  • Settlement: 1 to 2 business days
  • Card Schemes: Visa, Mastercard, UnionPay, American Express, JCB, Discover/Diner’s Club
  • NFC Payments: Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay

iZettle was one of the first card readers on the market and has won over thousands of merchants with its custom-built card reader and fantastic point of sale (POS) app. While iZettle originally used a card reader from a third-party (the Miura M010), they developed a new card reader (the iZettle Reader 2) which launched it in 2016.

The new iZettle Reader 2 ordinarily costs £59 + VAT if you buy it through iZettle without a deal. However, iZettle is usually running a promotion, which reduces the price to around £29 or so. If iZettle doesn’t have a deal running, you can also buy through our link (or should I say, you should buy through our link anyway!), which currently gets you the Zettle Reader 2 for just £19!

iZettle fees were originally calculated using a sliding fee scale, so the higher your monthly card volume, the less you paid in processing fees. Fees ranged from 2.75% for low-volume merchants down to just 1.00% for merchants processing £40,000 or more per month. However, with most other card readers offering a simple fixed-fee pricing model, iZettle started looking a bit complicated.

A couple of years ago, iZettle rolled out a simpler pricing structure with all transactions charged at a flat 1.75% payment processing fee, bringing it largely in-line with competing card readers. For online payments, invoices and virtual terminal payments, you pay a slightly higher fee of 2.50%.

In my experience, iZettle is a great product. The card reader is robust, efficient and intuitive and the POS app is powerful and flexible enough for the vast majority of small businesses. Its reviews are with 4.6/5 on Capterra.

As one of the more established names in the card reader niche, iZettle has developed a bunch of additional products like full POS systems, bluetooth receipt printers (like these iZettle receipt printers), cash drawers and so on. This is super helpful for growing businesses that want to stay with iZettle but need a more professional-looking POS system.

You can check out our iZettle card reader review here.

 

Should I buy the SumUp card reader in 2021?

  • Device Cost: £29 + VAT (£19 + VAT via Cardswitcher)
  • Debit/Credit Card Transaction Fee: 1.69%
  • Settlement: 1 to 3 business days
  • Card Schemes: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
  • NFC Payments: Apple Pay, Google Pay

SumUp is a UK-based payment processing company founded back in 2011. SumUp officially launched to the public in 2012 and has kept their focus pretty tight, offering just two card readers, a handful of accessories and one POS system.

The headline advantage of SumUp is the price. The card reader’s price tag and its payment processing fees are amongst the cheapest on the market. The reader will cost you just £29 + VAT brand new or £19 + VAT if you buy through our affiliate deal. The SumUp 3G (a card reader that doesn’t require the app to process payments) costs slightly more at £99 + VAT.

Once you’ve purchased the card reader, SumUp charges a flat 1.69% to process all Chip & PIN, contactless and NFC payments. Like all card readers, magnetic stripe and virtual terminal payments will cost you more — in SumUp’s case they cost 2.95%.

As mentioned above, SumUp is one of the cheapest card readers on the market and it has the cheapest payment processing fees for the vast majority of small businesses. If you’re running a micro-business, pop-up business or something similar, the SumUp card reader is an excellent choice!

If you process more than £100,000 annually, they also encourage you to get in touch to potentially get a better deal.

For more information, check out our SumUp card reader review.

 

Should I buy the PayPal Here card reader in 2021?

  • Device Cost: £45
  • Debit/Credit Card Transaction Fee: 1.00 to 2.75%
  • Settlement: 2 hours
  • Card Schemes: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
  • NFC Payments: Apple Pay, Google Pay

PayPal Here is a bit of a strange proposition. PayPal launched its mobile card reader in 2012, using a third-party device from Miura. (Interesting, it was the same device that iZettle used at the time.) Fast forward six years and PayPal buys over iZettle for a cool £1.6 billion. PayPal, however, intends to continue supporting both services — PayPal Here and iZettle — going forward.

So, how does PayPal Here actually perform?

As I mentioned, PayPal uses a third-party reader from a company called Miura. This device (the Miura M010) is the same pebble-shaped reader used by iZettle up until 2016. While it’s looking a little dated, it’s still a great card reader and can more than hold its own against more modern devices.

The PayPal Here costs £45 + VAT, which puts it bang in the middle of the pack. The SumUp and Square devices are cheaper but the iZettle and Shopify devices are more expensive.

It’s also the only reader not to opt for a fixed transaction fee. Instead, it uses a sliding scale where your transaction fee decreases as your turnover increases. You can also choose between two different payment plans: Blended or Interchange Plus. Here’s what both options will cost you.

Total Monthly SalesBlended FeeInterchange Plus
Up to £1,5002.75%IC + 2.5%
£1,500.01 – £6,0001.75%IC + 1.5%
£6,000.01 – £15,0001.5%IC + 1.25%
£15,000.01 – £25,0001.0%IC + 0.75%

As you can see, PayPal’s fees are fairly varied, ranging from less than 1% all the way up to 2.75%. However, to access the competitive payment processing fees, you have to process over £6,000 per month just on cards. At those volumes, you are almost always cheaper going with a traditional rented card machine.

Read this article for a more in-depth look at the PayPal Here card reader.

 

Should I buy the Square card reader in 2021?

  • Device Cost: £19 + VAT (£15+VAT via Cardswitcher)
  • Debit/Credit Card Transaction Fee: 1.75%
  • Settlement: 1 to 2 working days
  • Card Schemes: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
  • NFC Payments: Apple Pay, Google Pay

Square was actually the first mobile card reader on the market, launching in 2009, a full year before iZettle. However, you’d be forgiven for not recognising its name as Square focused solely on America for eight years.

The Square card reader is a small device roughly around the size of a drinks coaster. One side of the reader contains a slot, which accepts a customer’s card to read the chip. Because the device is so small, it doesn’t have a keypad or screen. With the Square card reader, your customer inserts their card into the reader and then enters their PIN via the POS app on the merchant’s smartphone (e.g. iPhone or Android phone) or tablet (e.g. iPad or Android tablet). It was actually this system — PIN on Glass — that stopped Square coming to the UK sooner. The Square device is essentially just a chip reader compared to the other devices which also accept the customer’s PIN.

Apart from its unusual PIN-entry method, the Square reader does all the usual stuff. It accepts all major card payment options (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.), NFC payments (Google Pay/Android Pay and Apple Pay) and contactless payments.

The Square Reader costs £19 + VAT when purchased directly through Square. As with most mobile card readers, you can find the device for less if you check deal websites or use our link to nab it for £15+VAT. Square charges a flat payment process fee of 1.75%, which is on par with iZettle and one of PayPal Here’s pricing points. However, it’s a touch higher than SumUp’s rock bottom rates.

Check out our Square card reader review here.

 

Should I buy the Shopify card reader in 2021?

  • Device Cost: £49
  • Debit/Credit Card Transaction Fee: 1.5 to 1.7% (Plus subscription fees)
  • Settlement: 1 to 2 days
  • Card Schemes: EMV (Europay, Visa, MasterCard), American Express, Discover
  • NFC Payments: Apple Pay, Google Pay

For 13 years, Shopify worked to establish itself as the name in DIY eCommerce websites — and it succeeded! With global eCommerce domination ticked off, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Shopify turned its attention to the physical retail space. In 2017, Shopify officially launched a Bluetooth-enabled card reader that allowed Shopify business owners to process in-person credit card payments and debit card payments from their customers.

Instead of developing its own card reader, PayPal opted to license an existing design from a third-party company called Miura. Specifically, Shopify uses the Miura M010, which is the first generation card reader used by iZettle and the current generation card reader used by PayPal Here. (If you see the same device with different branding, that’s why.) On its own, the card reader costs £49, just slightly more expensive than the PayPal Here, which uses the exact same Miura device.

Like Shopify’s eCommerce platform, you pick from one of three tiers: Basic Shopify ($29 per month); Shopify ($79 per month); and Advanced Shopify ($299 per month). Each tier comes with its own in-person payment processing fee: 1.7% + 0p, 1.6% + 0p and 1.5% + 0p, respectively. While you can use other card readers, Shopify whacks on an extra fee, ranging from 0.5 to 2.0%.

Whether the Shopify card reader is right for you really comes down to one question: Do you currently use Shopify? If you don’t use Shopify, there’s not much point shelling out a hefty monthly fee for a slightly lower payment processing fee. However, if you’re already using Shopify for an eCommerce website, picking up the Shopify card reader will allow you to roll out in-person payments with relative ease.

Why not read our Shopify card reader review for more info? You can use our link for a free trial.

 

ALTERNATIVE: Should I buy the SimplyPayMe app in 2021?

  • Device Cost: £0 – One User / £10 p.m – Unlimited Users
  • Debit/Credit Card Transaction Fee: 1.65% + 20p
  • Settlement: 7 days
  • Card Schemes: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
  • NFC Payments: N/A

All the devices on this list work by connecting a small card reader to a POS app installed on a mobile device like an iPhone, iPad or Android device. The SimplyPayMe app ditches the card reader component and allows you to process payments using just the app. Just scan the customer’s card through the app (using your device’s camera), then ask the customer to manually enter the card’s CVC. Job done for just a 1.65% + 20p transaction fee.

You can also the SimplyPayMe Pay by Bank app to send invoices by text. The text links to the customer’s banking app, allowing them to accept or deny the payment. The payment should go through within 7 days, with just a 0.45% transaction fee.

If you want to process payments when your customers aren’t present, you can easily email with PayLink. This sends a secure payment link instantly for just a 1.65% + 20p transaction fee. If you’d prefer to process payments via phone, just login the SimplyPayMe dashboard. Input your customer’s card details into your virtual terminal and you’re good to go.

 

What is the best overall card reader?

Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to the question, ‘What’s the best overall card reader?’ What’s perfect for one merchant will be a disaster for another. However, I know that’s not a great answer so I’ve added a quick summary of each option below with a suggestion of what type of business will get the best out of it.

  • iZettle: The best-established name in the card reader niche. Its second generation reader is a little on the expensive side but can usually be found on a good deal. If you want a great service that you can depend on, iZettle is a good choice.
  • SumUp: One of the cheapest card readers to buy, with the cheapest payment processing fees for most micro-businesses and small businesses. SumUp is great for people experimenting with mobile card readers, or looking to keep debit and credit card processing costs as low as possible.
  • PayPal Here: PayPal has the cheapest rates on the market but it’s unlikely you’ll take enough in card payments to unlock them. If you’re already using PayPal for online payments and want to merge your records, the PayPal Here could be a good option.
  • Square: In my opinion, Square has the best POS app on the market. The PIN on Glass technology isn’t to everyone’s liking but I think it more than makes up for it with increased functionality and the cheapest outright cost.
  • Shopify: If you’re already using Shopify to run an eCommerce website, it makes sense to use Shopify’s POS and in-store card reader. However, if you aren’t already in the Shopify ecosystem, there are significantly cheaper options available.
  • SimplyPayMe: If you want to ditch the card reader altogether, this app is a great alternative.

 

The table below rounds up all the physical card reader options and how they stack up against each other:

 SumUpSquarePayPal HereiZettleShopify
Device Cost£29 + VAT (£19 + VAT via Cardswitcher)£19 + VAT£45 + VAT£59 + VAT (£29 + VAT via Cardswitcher)£49
Debit/Credit Card Transaction Fee1.69%1.75%1 to 2.75%1.75%1.5 to 1.7% (Plus subscription fees)
Settlement1 to 3 business days1 to 2 working days1 to 2 working days1 to 2 business days1 to 2 days
Card SchemesVisa, MasterCard, American ExpressVisa, MasterCard, American ExpressVisa, MasterCard, American ExpressVisa, Mastercard, UnionPay, American Express, JCB, Discover/Diner’s ClubEMV (Europay, Visa, MasterCard), American Express, Discover
NFC PaymentsApple Pay, Google PayApple Pay, Google PayApple Pay, Google PayApple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung PayApple Pay, Google Pay

 

So, to summarise: if you’re a small business that wants to try out a mobile card reader, check out SumUp. For the best (and cheapest!) POS, check out Square. If it’s dependability you’re after, try iZettle. If you want to integrate your eCommerce site with your physical sales, check out Shopify. Or if you fancy something a little different, go for the SimplyPayMe app.

For more on card readers and card processing, you may find our posts on how do card readers work, card machine charges and our review of these providers’ card reader apps may come in handy to you!

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