Square Contactless & Chip Reader Review
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- Date Established
- San Francisco, CA
- Financing available
- Supports contactless (NFC) and chip card transactions
- All-day battery life
- Works with mobile devices and Square Stand
- No integrated magstripe reader
A lot of hardware is available for Square merchants. Between the full-fledged countertop POS system known as Square Register and the more compact Square Terminal, there are some great options for all-in-one credit card acceptance. But if you’re looking for a lower-priced option, Square does offer an assortment of mobile card readers at different price points — from the free, basic magstripe reader it’s been handing out like candy for years, to the Square Reader for Contactless + Chip, which sells for $49.
Simply put, if you want to accept chip card payments (and you really should accept them), the Contactless + Chip Reader (which is how I’ll refer to the device for the rest of this review) is the best mobile option. Do bear in mind that many other hardware designers have opted to make chip-and-magstripe readers and all-in-one readers that have magstripe, chip card, and contactless payment support, but Square’s Contactless + Chip Reader only supports chip and contactless payments (such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Android Pay). If you want to accept magstripe payments, you need to use the included free basic magstripe reader. And that’s certainly a little odd.
Is the Contactless + Chip Reader a functional piece of hardware? I have strong feelings about this — and not all of them are warm and fuzzy, if you know what I mean. The total lack of magstripe support in the reader is a big issue and is largely a result of the Square Reader for Contactless + Chip’s intended purposes: to be an extension of the Square Stand, not a mobile reader.
That said, the Contactless + Chip Reader is a decent device. It has quirks, but it’s (mostly) well-designed and the price is a good one. When you factor in the total value of Square’s platform (the POS app, the free software, the lack of monthly fees), it becomes a great deal. For those reasons, I’m awarding the Square Contactless + Chip Reader a 4.5-star rating out of 5, and our general recommendation. If you’re already using Square, this reader is definitely worth the investment. If you’re still shopping around for a payment processor and mobile app, Square should definitely be on your short list, but I would suggest looking at a few other options, especially if you’re interested in finding the best hardware as well as the best app for your business.
Read on for my in-depth take on the Square Contactless + Chip Reader!
Table of Contents
Square doesn’t do particularly well in coming up with (even remotely) interesting or catchy names for its products. It doesn’t seem to have any interest in doing so, either. But as much as I rail against the blandly named products, I will admit wholeheartedly that Square does really well in terms of product design.
Take a look at the Contactless + Chip Reader:
It’s smooth, it’s slick. The surface, like the basic magstripe reader, features a 3-D version of Square’s boxy logo. It’s very subtle and if you’re just looking at the reader, you might not even notice it. However, when you actually get your hands on the device, you can feel the ever-so-slightly different textures with the box design.
And when I say slick, I mean that literally as well as figuratively. The biggest issue I have with the design is how slippery the Contactless + Chip Reader is. The front and sides are glossy, smooth plastic. The back is a different, less glossy plastic, but no less slick. It may be difficult to keep the reader in your hands if you’re a bit of a klutz. (I’m a total klutz, which is why I mention how comfortable items feel in my hands often in my reviews.)
The size and shape of the reader don’t help things, either: the reader measures 2.6 inches square, with a depth of just 0.4 inches. It’s definitely compact, but it doesn’t have to accommodate a magstripe reader, which saves space. Visually, the Contactless + Chip reader is stunning, but I just don’t like how it feels in my hand. It’s so slim it’s easy to fumble, especially combined with the slippery texture.
And then there’s the Square Dock:
The dock is solid and heavy. It’s made from the same glossy white plastic as the Contactless + Chip Reader but with a texturized, grippy rubber bottom to keep it from sliding around on a countertop. Square says it weighs just under a pound (0.92 lbs, to be exact), and you definitely notice the heft when you pick it up.
The dock actually comes in two pieces: the dock and a detachable lip that secures the reader in the dock. The lip pops up and out so you can insert the reader, and then you simply press it back into place to secure the reader. It’s well designed and less fiddly than a security screw, but I don’t necessarily think it’s super user-friendly. I had some trouble getting the lip out and sliding the reader out of the dock. It’s not impossible to do — you just need to know how to do it so you aren’t fumbling around trying to pull the reader out.
I also don’t like that the power/pairing button on the Contactless + Chip Reader is located on the bottom next to the charging port. When it’s secured in the dock, it’s totally inaccessible unless you remove the reader. Overall, this placement preserves the slick, smooth look and the beautiful lines that are the hallmark of Square’s product design, but it does mean you’ll have to remove the dock lip, slide the reader out, and re-pair the reader to your device if there’s a glitch.
All of this says to me that the Contactless + Chip Reader was designed first and foremost as a way to add contactless and chip card payments to the Square Stand. If Square had decided to make a chip card reader with a focus on mobile users, the design would be very different. But instead, Square simply re-purposed hardware meant for the Square Stand and tossed in a magstripe reader to solve the problem of supporting all payment methods before marketing to everyone.
I don’t think this makes the Contactless + Chip a bad investment overall, but I have a hard time saying it’s a good mobile reader. Even something as simple as including a clip that could attach the reader to a phone or phone case would have gone a long way. Instead, you need to get the Otterbox Universe clip-on mount, and Square only advertises the iOS models in its hardware shop. You can get Otterbox Universe cases for Android devices, but you’ll need to go to Otterbox directly. And the clip-on module, while inexpensive, will only work with Otterbox’s cases. This is kind of a let down for a company that has built its business on a mobile app and mobile hardware.
(I should point out that PayPal’s Chip and Tap Reader, which is also meant to be a countertop piece of hardware with mobile functionality, does include a little clip-on case with adhesive for mobile users. You can check out my review to see how PayPal’s reader stacks up against the Contactless + Chip reader.)
Card Reader Specs
The Square Contactless + Chip Reader supports — as you might guess — chip card and contactless (NFC) payments from apps such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. Unlike many other mobile card readers, it doesn’t have an integrated card reader, likely because the Contactless + Chip Reader was designed primarily as a solution for the Square Stand and not necessarily for mobile users.
While I’m all for the death of magstripe card readers all together, we’re certainly not at the point where they’re totally obsolete (yet). The magstripe reader included in addition to the Contactless + Chip Reader connects to a 3.5mm headphone jack — it’s just the free reader provided to Square merchants by default.
A Quick Note: During the setup process, Square asks you to choose a card reader — the free magstripe reader (either 3.5mm or Lightning version) or the Contactless + Chip reader. There’s no discount or incentive to get the more expensive reader right then — so if I were being smart and cautious, I would get the free reader (especially if I had an iPhone) and then order the Contactless + Chip Reader later.
Depending on what kind of power-draw your wall port and charging cable are designed for, it should only take 2-3 hours to fully charge the Contactless + Chip Reader. Square doesn’t give information about total battery capacity but says that it’s designed for all-day use. The reader also goes to sleep after 2 hours of inactivity to help preserve the battery. However, as with just about any electronic device, your mileage may vary. If you find that your reader is constantly running low on battery part way through the day, you can consider investing in the charging dock, or simply keep it plugged into the charging cable.
Normally, I start this section simply by unboxing the device, but I want to begin this time by mentioning where you can get the Square Contactless + Chip Reader. It’s possible to order it directly from Square’s website and it will arrive within 5-7 business days. (My reader arrived in about 3 business days, but that’s on the fast end of the spectrum). However, if you need a chip card reader right away, you can also purchase the Contactless + Chip Reader in a handful of retail stores, including Best Buy and Walmart.
Unless it’s an emergency, I highly recommend you go directly through Square to get your hardware because Square offers a warranty on products purchased directly from its own website. If you get your reader from anywhere else, the same warranty doesn’t apply.
When you open the box for the first time, you’ll see the Contactless + Chip Reader, and underneath that, the charging cable and magstripe reader. Square also includes a little pocket of papers, including a setup guide and a sticker to advertise your accepted payment methods.
You’ll need your mobile device handy to set up the reader. I tested out the process on both my iPad and my Galaxy S7 just to make sure there weren’t any noticeable differences in the process with Android and Apple. (There aren’t.)
First things first — Square recommends that you charge your reader before your first use. That’s a universal instruction with card readers, and one I routinely ignore. My Square Contactless + Chip Reader powered on with no trouble and I was able to determine that the battery was about 2/3 to 3/4 full after the setup process was complete. Obviously, the state of your battery’s life will vary.
Start by enabling Bluetooth on your mobile device. If you haven’t logged into Square before on the device with which you’re pairing the reader, you’ll also need to enable a few permissions when you log on (location services, access to the microphone (for magstripe transactions) and push notifications). And obviously, you’ll need to set up all of the inventory, sales tax rates, and any of the other app features you plan to use before you can really start selling with Square.
If you’ve done all of that ahead of time, good for you! If not, definitely make sure you’ve at least set up the sales tax feature before you make your first sale.
Once the Square app is open, go into the settings menu; scroll down to “Card Readers” and press “Connect a Card Reader.” Square will ask you which kind of reader you’re using. After selecting the Contactless + Chip Reader, the Square app will give you on-screen instructions on how to pair the device. It’s pretty simple:
- Press and hold the power button at the bottom of the reader until you see 4 lights on the reader flash orange.
- Follow the prompts on the screen (if any) to approve the pairing request. My iPad prompted me to pair the device (waiting too long causes the pairing to fail, by the way), while my Android phone did it automatically.
Once the connection goes through, the Square app will download any firmware updates for the reader, which can take a few minutes. But the app will tell you when your new Contactless + Chip Reader is ready to use! Now you can set the reader in the charging dock and you’re ready to go — assuming all of your app settings are taken care of.
A few facts to note about the Square Contactless + Chip Reader:
- You can use the Square magstripe reader at the same time. You just need to plug it into the headphone jack (or the Lightning port of any recent iPhones). There shouldn’t be any conflict in using the two at the same time.
- The Contactless + Chip Reader can only pair with one device at a time. In order to pair my reader with my Galaxy phone, I had to first unpair it from my iPad. Keep that in mind if you have multiple devices and the reader might float between them.
- If you have a Square Stand, you can connect the Contactless + Chip Reader to the Stand using the USB cable included with the reader or via the charging dock. This eliminates the need for Bluetooth pairing.
When I paired the Contactless + Chip Reader on my iPad, it told me that my Apple Pay features had been temporarily disabled. This is a precautionary measure to prevent your iPad from accepting contactless payments by accident. While I’ve only seen one (old) comment about a glitch to that effect, it’s nice to know that the issue has been dealt with.
Compatible Software & Apps
The Square Contactless + Chip Reader is compatible with Square’s free Point of Sale app, as well as its other POS apps: Square Appointments, Square for Retail, and Square for Restaurants. Square POS, the free version, is a good generalized POS that will work for most small businesses.
However, if you have specialized inventory needs, Square for Retail offers more advanced reporting features and a search-optimized POS interface. Full-service restaurants and bars will likely fare better with Square for Restaurants, which offers features such as coursing and table mapping. Service businesses such as salons will appreciate Square Appointments, which combines Square POS features along with seamless appointment booking and checkout.
For the most part, the Square Contactless + Chip reader works seamlessly with all of these POS systems and their features. There is just one limitation that applies to the free POS app: Offline mode. The Contactless + Chip Reader doesn’t work with offline mode. To process transactions without the internet, you’ll need to use one of Square’s basic magstripe readers. You also won’t be able to connect the reader without a solid internet signal for this reason — you’ll need either a cellular data connection or WiFi in addition to Bluetooth.
If you’d like more information about each of Square’s POS apps, I suggest checking out our reviews of each:
- Square POS (Free Version) Review
- Square Appointments Review
- Square For Retail POS Review
- Square For Restaurants POS Review
Square has done well at keeping its hardware affordable, and because it handles sales directly, pricing is also consistent. The Contactless + Chip reader sells for $49, while the dock sells for an additional $29. I’m a little disappointed that Square doesn’t offer a discount for bundling the two items, but c’est la vie.
You can also get the Square Contactless + Chip Reader bundled with the Square Stand, which sells for $199. That includes the tablet stand with built-in magstripe reader, the Contactless + Chip Reader, and the dock. (Note: you can also get an iPad from Square for $329, but it’s not automatically included with the Square Stand.)
Worried about cash flow with your new hardware setup? Square offers a financing program for its hardware, with eligible purchases starting at $49 (convenient price point, that). If you opt for just the Contactless + Chip reader, you’ll pay $17/month for 3 months. A markup of just $2 on a $49 purchase is completely fair. However, for other purchases, payment terms depend on a credit check, the amount of the purchase, and the total length of the payment plan. Also, Square’s financing isn’t currently available in all 50 states, but that is likely to change over time.
Also, it’s important to know that Square does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee on hardware purchases. You can return the device within that time frame for a refund, no questions asked. And since Square charges no monthly fees and has no contracts, you can simply stop using the app without worrying about a penalty.
Don’t forget that you also have to pay the transaction costs, which will depend on which of Square’s POS apps you choose:
- Square POS: 2.75% per swipe, dip, or tap
- Square Appointments for Individuals: 2.75% per swipe, dip, or tap
- Square Appointments for Teams: 2.5% + $0.10 per swipe, dip, or tap
- Square For Retail: 2.5% + $0.10 per swipe, dip, or tap
- Square For Restaurants: 2.6% + $0.10 per swipe, dip, or tap
There are other fees and costs associated with some of the software features Square provides, such as invoices or the ability to store a card on file. For a more detailed look at Square fees and pricing, check out our article, How Much Does Square Charge?
Customer Service & Support
Square has invested a lot in building its customer support resources. The support center is loaded with helpful informational articles, walk-throughs, and troubleshooting tips that cover every aspect of Square’s services, including advice for dealing with all of Square’s hardware.
In addition to the self-help knowledgebase, there are other support options:
- Phone Support: Square’s phone lines are open from 6 AM to 6 PM Pacific Time, Monday through Friday. You’ll need a customer code to use the phone support system, which you get by going through Square’s website or the app.
- Email Support: If your question isn’t urgent, Square’s email support tools will let you drop a message to the Square team and they’ll get back to you.
- Social Media Support: You can tweet @SqSupport for help if you need, or reach out on Square’s Facebook page. This is likely the best option if you’ve tried the self-support resources and can’t find what you need, but not ideal for account-specific questions.
There are a couple of other, less traditional options as well. While it doesn’t apply specifically to hardware troubles, you can check IsSquareUp.com to see whether there are any known glitches or service outages. You can also reach out to Square sellers, Square product managers, and other staff using the Seller Community — Square’s community forum for merchants. The forum is full of active users answering each others’ questions, as well as posts about product updates and new features, direct from the Square team. It’s a valuable resource for learning how to work around some of the shortcomings or missing features in Square’s POS apps, among other things.
On the whole, Square offers good customer support. There are lots of options and exhaustive self-help resources. The one area where the system starts to fail is in the case of account terminations. If Square closes your account because its risk assessment team has identified a pattern of suspicious behavior, there’s no appeal process, no explanation, no chance to correct the issue. This is unfortunate, but it’s a common practice with third-party processors, not just Square. Sadly, Square also locks these terminated merchants out of the phone support system, so they can’t reach a live person. This issue is a major contributor to the complaints against Square.
While there are certain flaws in the design of the Contactless + Chip Reader, I can’t deny that Square merchants generally seem happy with it. I’ve seen a few reports of particular glitches in the Seller Community, but they aren’t common, and reviews on retail sites that sell the Square Reader (Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart) are also positive — each site assigning ratings anywhere between 4.5 and 5 stars (out of 5). Most merchants seem genuinely happy with the design and the convenience of this reader.
The biggest issues with the reader seem to be problems pairing and maintaining the Bluetooth connection. I have also seen some complaints about readers bought from Amazon that were used or broken. Square’s warranty only applies to items bought directly from Square, and not from any of its retail partners, which understandably causes frustration. Even if the product is brand new, it’s not covered by the warranty if it malfunctions.
All of that said, the reality is the bulk of complaints about Square pertain to funding holds terminated accounts. No one wants to lose their credit card processing, especially with little to no warning, or have crucial cash tied up for days or weeks, even months. However, even if the number of complaints against Square seem intimidating, keep in mind that many of them (especially on sites like the BBB) come from Square’s P2P payments app, Square Cash. The merchant-focused concerns mostly come from terminated merchants. And while a few hundred or even a few thousand complaints might seem like a lot, it’s actually a very small percentage when you consider that Square has at least 2 million merchants (and is growing constantly).
If you like Square but are worried about the possibility of account holds or a sudden termination, the best thing you can do is educate yourself about what constitutes suspicious behavior. Check out our article, How to Avoid Merchant Account Holds, Freezes, and Terminations, to learn more about how you can avoid red flags.
One of the challenges in doing hardware reviews is figuring out how much the software itself will play into the rating, as mobile readers are designed to only work with the one payment processor/mobile app. With Square, the overall value is astounding — you get a free POS app, free software for invoicing, inventory management, and a virtual terminal, and the options to add on a loyalty program, marketing tools, employee management, and payroll. Considering the predictable, flat-rate pricing for payment processing, the total lack of commitment required to sign up, and the lack of any mandatory monthly fees, it’s definitely a great deal, especially for new and low-volume businesses.
I don’t love the Square Contactless + Chip Reader, though I do appreciate it more than I did before I set out to do this interview. The reality is, as far as mobile readers go, there are better-designed options. The lack of an integrated magstripe reader will continue to frustrate me, and again, I think that’s because Square’s hardware engineers looked for a solution for the Square Stand first and mobile devices second. The price point — $49, with a 3-month financing plan available — is definitely appealing, and it’s one of the lowest-priced options for contactless payments around. However, if you’re not already using Square and are mostly interested in a Bluetooth reader that can handle chip cards (and magstripe as a backup), I think Shopify’s Chip & Swipe Reader or even PayPal’s Chip and Tap Reader (and the less-expensive Chip and Swipe Reader) do much better.
All in all, I am happy to give the Square Contactless + Chip Reader a very respectable 4.5 stars. It’s a great value, and if you’re already using Square, it’s the obvious answer to accept chip cards. If you’re still shopping around for a mobile processing app, I suggest you check out our Shopify Lite and PayPal Here reviews to see if they also meet your needs before you make a decision based solely on a piece of hardware.
What has your experience with the Contactless + Chip Reader been like? Have questions about it? We’re always happy to hear from merchants, so check out our comment guidelines and leave us your thoughts!
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.