5 Best Mobile POS Apps
First of all, there’s a really important question we have to address: What constitutes a mobile POS (or mPOS) anyway? As with a lot of industry-related terms, you’ll see some differing interpretations. I’m a bit of a purist in that I believe a true mobile POS is one that operates on a smartphone or tablet. But I was challenged to expand my views a little bit. The mPOS systems you’ll find on this list all fit the following criteria:
- They must function on some sort of tablet or handheld device (iPad, Android, or proprietary hardware), but preferably also a smartphone (iOS, Android, or both).
- They must be cloud-based, meaning all information is backed up and stored online automatically, rather than requiring any sort of local networking.
Whether you’re choosing your first POS or looking to switch from a solution that isn’t working for you, it doesn’t matter. We’ve put together a list of the best mobile POS options out there at various price points. These systems will primarily work as countertop solutions, traveling POS systems for events, and more, and for both retail and restaurant businesses.
Other Featured Options:
- PayPal Here: In a nutshell, PayPal Here is a Square alternative. While it certainly doesn't rival iPad POS systems the way Square does, it's more than satisfactory for businesses that don't need a lot of advanced features.
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
Top 5 Mobile POS Apps
With a suite of features that work just as well for retailers as they do for quick-serve restaurants and cafes, it’s no surprise that Square makes our list. Square has a major presence with quick-serve businesses and cafes, but it’s also common among retailers and mobile service businesses thanks to its versatility. Plus, a free online store and shopping cart integrations open up the possibility of selling online. Square works as well on an iPad with countertop stand — complete with receipt printer and cash drawer — as it does on a smartphone with a Bluetooth card reader and emailed receipts. You do need an internet connection (cellular or Wi-Fi) to process payments, but the app also has an offline mode that queues payments and processes them later when you have a signal.
All you need to start processing with Square is a phone, tablet, or laptop, and a Square credit card reader. While Square’s free magstripe card reader is an option, I would recommend purchasing Square’s EMV/NFC reader, which, at $49, is a small price to pay for the ability to accept chip cards and mobile payments. If you need something sturdier than just the mobile credit card processing app and reader, you might consider using Square’s proprietary hardware, the $399 Square Terminal or $799 Square Register. If you’re deciding between the two, Square Terminal is better if you need a handheld mobile reader you can walk around with, whereas Square Register has more features, including a customer-facing display, but needs to stay plugged in. Square Terminal and Square Register come with a processing rate of 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction, which is a better deal than Square’s standard rate (2.75%) if you have larger-ticket ($40+) transactions.
- Free POS app (no monthly charge)
- Compatible with both iOS, Android, and Square’s proprietary hardware
- In-house payment processing (2.75% or 2.6% + $0.10 depending on hardware setup); not compatible with outside merchant accounts
- Ideal for low-volume merchants in low-risk industries (find out if you’re a low or high-risk merchant if you’re not sure)
Note that in addition to its free mobile POS app, Square also offers several more powerful POS products including Square for Retail and Square for Restaurants, both of which charge a monthly fee.
ShopKeep is an exception to a lot of rules. You’d think, for starters, that with a name like ShopKeep, you’d be pretty retail-focused. But the reality is this iPad POS app offers features for quick-serve business, such as cafes as well as food trucks and bars, right alongside its retail capabilities. And, generally speaking, any company that doesn’t disclose pricing for its software or payment processing is an automatic red flag. But somehow ShopKeep has managed to avoid the pitfalls and make its way to the top ranks for POS systems despite these issues.
ShopKeep is a full-featured iPad POS that can accept Apple Pay and offers advanced back-end features, such as raw ingredient inventory management for restaurants, matrix inventory for retail sales, and a time clock for employee management. In addition to iPad, ShopKeep runs on Clover POS hardware, including the handheld Clover Flex. Pricing is quoted on an individual basis, but its monthly service fee and processing fees are competitive with those for other iPad POS systems. Though you can’t run the full POS on a smartphone, you can monitor your store or restaurant when you’re away using the mobile Shopkeep Pocket app. And with the mobile Clover Flex device, you can take payments anywhere, including with a 4G signal or offline.
- Customized monthly pricing (call for quote)
- Compatible with iPad and Clover
- In-house payment processing (call for quote); also compatible with some outside processors — call to see if yours is supported
- Good all-around iPad POS for restaurants or retail
Lightspeed Retail was created back in 2005, and now it’s used by more than 50,000 businesses around the world. This system’s iPad app offers a myriad of features, including multi-tender options, store credit, inventory management, the ability to buy items in bulk and sell them individually, purchase orders, employee management, CRM, reporting, and multi-store capability. By using an iPad with Lightspeed installed, your employees can take payments from the sales floor, show customers product images and descriptions, and cut waiting times. With a monthly fee starting at $99, Lightspeed is easily the most advanced retail POS app on our list. It can also be used with a desktop computer setup using a web browser.
Lightspeed Retail now offers its in-house Lightspeed Payments processing service (available for US customers only), which takes payments with EMV/NFC-capable terminals such as Verifone MX915. Lightspeed also integrates with multiple other payment processors, including Vantiv, Cayan, iZettle, Tyro, Worldline, and others. Lightspeed Retail offers 24/7 customer service support and live chat from 11 AM to 8 PM EST.
- $99/month for a single-register setup (call for a quote on larger setups)
- Compatible with iOS, macOS, Microsoft Windows
- 2.6% + $0.10 in-house payment processing; can also be used with another supported payment processor
- Ideal for small and medium retailers
Toast is an Android-based mobile POS app custom-built for restaurants and bars. This app is an advanced, all-in-one POS and restaurant management system whose core software includes cloud-based reporting, menu management, and a kitchen display system. Add-on features include useful extras, such as online ordering, gift card support, advanced inventory, and employee management. Toast integrates with 70+ other software apps, making it a very versatile and powerful app indeed. The Toast terminals are hardwired, which offers a more stable connection than Wi-Fi. Additionally, Toast offers an offline mode, so the POS will remain functional even if you lose your internet connection.
Toast is highly mobile, offering a custom-built handheld POS device called “Toast Go” that servers can use to take orders and payments from the floor. For terminals, kiosks, and guest-facing displays, Toast employs commercial-grade Elo I-Series touchscreens with various form factors. Restauranteurs also really like the kitchen display system, which eliminates the need for paper tickets, speeding up and simplifying operations. Yes, you will have to invest in all the hardware needed to run your Toast system (you can purchase pre-configured hardware bundles from their website; they recommend against purchasing hardware on your own), but a monthly charge of $79/month/terminal is very reasonable for all the functionality this tech-forward restaurant POS provides.
- $79/month per terminal (not including add-ons)
- Compatible with Android and Toast’s proprietary handheld tablets (Toast Go)
- In-house payment processing (call for quote); not compatible without outside payment processors
- Ideal for bars and restaurants of any size
5. Shopify POS
Shopify started as an eCommerce software provider, but it’s moved into the realm of an all-in-one provider thanks to its integrated payments service and a surprisingly robust POS. One of the big draws with Shopify is how easily you can upgrade and scale as your business grows. Shopify is also versatile in that it can be used on any mobile device or laptop, and it has a variety of pricing plans to choose from. Its entry-level service plan, Shopify Lite, comes at a very low monthly fee and provides access to that POS system as well as limited online selling tools (buy buttons and a Facebook shop). If you sell mostly online and are just testing the waters for in-person sales (e.g., at events), Shopify can be a great starter option that’s a little more robust than free software. Alternatively, Shopify can also be a good retail POS if you already have a retail store and want to test the waters with ecommerce.
For the ability to connect cash drawers, receipt printers, or barcode scanners, you’ll need at least the standard Shopify package. At $79/month, it provides hardware integrations as well as staff PIN access to the app (for up to five staff) and other features, such as advanced reporting.
- Monthly packages start at $9/month for smartphone POS or $79/month if you want to connect a cash drawer
- Compatible with iOS and Android
- In-house payment processing from 2.4%–2.7% depending on monthly pricing tier; additional charge to integrate outside payment processor
- Ideal for small-to-medium retailers
Note: Shopify POS is free with all full-fledged eCommerce plans.
6. Honorable Mention: PayPal Here
PayPal is an interesting tool because it’s as much a consumer wallet as it is a payment processor for millions of businesses worldwide. In addition to enabling online sales with “buy” buttons and shopping cart integrations, PayPal has an mPOS called PayPal Here. In a nutshell, PayPal Here is a Square alternative, which you can use on any supported smartphone or tablet. While it certainly doesn’t rival iPad POS systems the way Square does, it’s more than satisfactory for businesses that don’t need a lot of advanced features. It functions well for mobile service businesses, artists, and others who work pop-up events. Notably, PayPal Here supports a handful of Windows mobile devices, which is a rarity. Once again, all that’s required is an internet connection, either cellular or Wi-Fi.
With PayPal Here, you’ll pay a straightforward 2.7% per in-person transaction, which you’ll process with a chip and swipe reader (free on signup), or a $79 chip and tap reader. With no monthly fee and flat-rate pricing, it’s excellent for low-volume businesses and cheaper than Square, as long as you don’t need the added features Square offers, such as a virtual terminal. If you want a more fully-featured POS that uses PayPal payment processing, Vend is an option for retail, while PayPal integrates with TouchBistro, Lavu, and Talech for restaurants. As such, PayPal Here can be a good complement to any of those systems for occasional mobile sales.
- Free POS app (no monthly charge)
- Compatible platforms: iOS, Android, Windows
- 2.7% payment processing for in-person transactions
- All-around mobile POS (not for high-risk businesses)
6 Ways Small Businesses Can Use Mobile POS Systems To Their Advantage
Mobile POS systems offer a plethora of advantages for small businesses. Even if your business has a traditional brick-and-mortar storefront, such as a restaurant or retail store, you can leverage mobile POS to your advantage. Here are some innovative ways you can use mobile POS to take your business to the next level.
Line Busting & Flexible Checkouts
Mobile devices can be used in tandem with traditional registers, or you can eliminate the registers if you’re that kind of trendy biz! You can use mobile checkouts to reduce lines — for example, a cafe server can work their way down the line at the counter with a handheld device on a busy morning. Or you can just offer multiple low-key places to check out in a store. Many people prefer to do a self-checkout whenever possible, and that’s another option you have with mobile hardware. With mobile POS, it’s all about options!
Sephora is an example of a company that uses mobile checkout options on an as-needed basis. The company gives their staff mobile devices so the floor sales agents can check people out if there’s a very long line.
Pop-Up Shops, Tradeshows, & Sidewalk Sales
Many types of retail businesses can benefit from non-traditional sales opportunities at special events, such as craft fairs, festivals, or even a pop-up shop. Increasingly, retail businesses take advantage of these kinds of events to make direct sales and to spread the word about their products and generate social media buzz. Mobile POS lets you travel to other cities, bring inventory to conventions or tradeshows, or just join in the local sidewalk sale.
With mobile POS, if you can get an internet signal via your cell or mobile hot spot, it is often a lot cheaper than buying it for a wired terminal at a convention center. Some mobile POS systems even have an offline mode, letting you take credit card payments even when you don’t have an internet or data signal.
Food Trucks & Catering
Mobile POS lets you take your restaurant on the road! Food truck events — for example, “Food Truck Fridays” at San Diego’s Balboa Park– are super popular, and you don’t want your restaurant to miss out on the chance to impress new customers with your cuisine. Even if your restaurant uses a full POS, you can use a mobile system in conjunction with your POS for events. You can also use mPOS to take payments on-the-go when you are catering at an event.
Mobile POS systems offer features such as digital receipts and have a much smaller footprint than traditional POS registers, so they are ideal in cramped quarters.
Tableside Ordering For Customers
There are a couple of different ways in which mobile POS lets restaurants leverage tableside ordering. One way is with self-checkout tablets at tables that allow customers to both order and make payments right from the table. Another is with mobile devices that your employees can carry, enabling the servers to digitally send orders to the kitchen and also process customers’ payments from the floor. Tableside ordering technology saves time and also reduces mistakes in orders because the POS prompts for details, such as dressings, toppings, sides, etc.
Accept Payments Wherever Your Client Is
Whether you’re in plumbing, pest control, lawn care, contracting, or another type of mobile business — i.e., a business that visits clients at home or primarily interacts with them on a worksite — mobile POS lets you take payments wherever your clients are. Instead of waiting on invoices, you can accept payment right on the spot. This makes things easier for your customers, as it’s typically much more convenient to hand someone your credit card than it is to hunt down your checkbook or enter your credit card number in an online payment portal. Onsite payments also reduce the number of late payments you’ll have to chase down later on.
Accept Contactless Payments
Mobile POS systems generally allow you to not only take payments on a mobile device but also to accept payments from customers’ smartphones. Mobile payments (also called NFC payments, mobile wallets, or contactless payments) include options such as Apple Pay and Google Pay (formerly Android Pay). Giving your customers the option to pay with their phone just makes it that much easier and beneficial for customers to buy from you. For example, I love places that take Apple Pay because I get 2% cash back with my Apple Card, and it’s nice not to have to get my wallet out.
It should go without saying that modern cloud-based mobile POS systems are also EMV (chip card)-capable, but I’ll mention it anyway because every so often I still encounter a store with a point of sale system that only has a janky magstripe reader, and I’m sure you have too. Magstripe-only is not a good look.
Is A Mobile POS System Right For You?
There’s plenty of great software out in the world, but a great piece of software doesn’t mean it’s right for your business. You need to look at all sorts of factors to make the final decision as to which products to pursue. So here are some questions for you to consider in your search:
- How much can I afford to pay for software and hardware?
- Do I prefer an app that has a built-in processor or would I like to choose my own?
- Which features must I absolutely have?
- Which features would I like to have?
- Does this software integrate with any other software solutions I currently use?
- If not, am I willing to switch to one that does integrate?
- Is my business model compatible with my preferred payment processor?
These are just a few ideas to get you going. Ultimately it’s your call as to which mPOS will work for your business. Keep in mind that you’ve got lots of options, though! You can also check out our iPad POS reviews for some more options that are compatible with an assortment of merchant accounts and gateways!
As always, thanks for reading. We’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite mobile POS systems. Which ones did you love (and which ones did you hate)? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts!
A Last Look At Our Top Picks
Summary - Square is a free POS with a suite of features that work just as well for retailers as they do for quick-serve restaurants and cafes. It's also common among retailers and mobile service businesses thanks to its versatility.
- ShopKeep POS
Summary - ShopKeep is a full-featured iPad POS that offers advanced back-end features, such as raw ingredient inventory management for restaurants, matrix inventory for retail sales, and a time clock for employee management.
- Lightspeed POS
Summary - Lightspeed's iPad app offers a myriad of features, including multi-tender options, store credit, inventory management, the ability to buy items in bulk and sell them individually, purchase orders, employee management, CRM, reporting, and multi-store capability.
- Toast POS
Summary - Toast is an Android-based mobile POS app custom-built for restaurants and bars. This app is an advanced, all-in-one POS and restaurant management system whose core software includes cloud-based reporting, menu management, and a kitchen display system.
- Shopify POS
Summary - Its entry-level service plan, Shopify Lite, comes at a very low monthly fee and provides access to that POS system as well as limited online selling tools (buy buttons and a Facebook shop).
- PayPal Here
Summary - In a nutshell, PayPal Here is a Square alternative. While it certainly doesn't rival iPad POS systems the way Square does, it's more than satisfactory for businesses that don't need a lot of advanced features.