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Square Terminal Review: An Introduction To Square’s Newest Hardware

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Square Terminal Review: An Introduction To Square’s Newest Hardware

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When Square Register launched, I spent a bit of time reading through the comments on Square’s announcement, seeing what merchants thought. The most surprising thing I encountered was that many people felt Register was too expensive. In fact, a number of comments clamored instead for an update to the Square Stand — or at least something more affordable. Square listened, it seems. And now we have Square Terminal.

I’ve been following Square for several years now (read our review), and so the launch of Square Terminal right before the holiday season doesn’t surprise me at all.  When I saw the announcement, my first thought was, “Oh look, an affordable alternative to the Square Register.” And now that I’ve dug deeper into the design and pricing, I have a better idea of just what demographic Terminal is targeted at. I don’t quite know that I can call it the successor to the Square Stand, because the Square Stand won’t be going away any time soon. What’s more, the pricing makes Terminal more suited to some kinds of businesses than others.

Square Terminal is a portable, all-in-one credit card machine. The POS system, cardreader, and receipt printer are all contained in a small device that’s designed to allow you to take credit card payments wherever your customers are. Its small profile (and small screen) means that it is not a true replacement for the Square Stand — instead, Square Terminal fills the middle ground between the Square Stand and Square Register (read our review), filling the gap in Square’s product line between mobile card readers, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) plans, and countertop POS systems with all of the hardware included.

Let’s take a closer look at Square Terminal, starting with its overall design.

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Square Terminal Specs & Design

Square Terminal isn’t a large machine. It’s got a 5.5-inch screen, and measures 5.6 inches long by 3.4 inches wide, with a height of 2.5 inches. It even weighs less than 1 lb, so this is definitely the kind of machine you could hold in your hand as well as install on a countertop.

Square says that Terminal supports both WiFi and Ethernet connections. You can keep it plugged in for stationary use, but you can also leave it unplugged because the battery is “designed to last all day.” Square doesn’t give specifics on what kind of battery capacity Square Terminal has, or what “all day” means (does it mean 8 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours?) But given the small profile and overall design it wouldn’t be unreasonable to have a dedicated spot on your counter to plug Terminal in for charging, and then just unplug it and carry it off when you need to go mobile.

Terminal supports magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions. The magstripe reader is located on the side of the device, while the chip card reader is located at the base of the device. This is pretty similar to most credit card terminals, actually, so it’s not really groundbreaking. What makes Square Terminal different is that that the screen lets customers see an itemized list of everything they are paying for rather than just a single, final sum. Signatures can be collected digitally as well as on paper, depending on your preferences. 

Square Terminal Software Specs

Square Terminal runs the standard, free Square Point of Sale app (read our Square POS review for a detailed look at the app itself). It’s not compatible with Square for Retail or Square Appointments, or the Square Payroll app. However, it does offer limited compatibility with Square for Restaurants (check out our in-depth review). Not all of the Restaurant POS features carry over to Terminal, but merchants can use Terminal for tableside ordering. Terminal doesn’t support coursing, seat tracking, or conversational modifiers. (Standard modifiers still work, though.)

As far as standard Square Point of Sale features go, I’m really happy to say many of Square’s features (except for a few iPad or tablet exclusives) carry over to Terminal. You can’t mark items for sale online, track sales by employee, or keep a cash drawer history, but Terminal does support item creation, custom tipping, and receipt management. Square Terminal has its own built-in thermal receipt printer, but it’s entirely possible to set up a third-party receipt printer if you prefer.

Square has also confirmed that it’s possible to connect multiple Terminal devices (or other mobile devices) to a single cash drawer so long as you have an Ethernet printer connected to it. In addition, Terminal devices do not count as registers for Square for Restaurants plans, meaning they won’t add to your software subscription costs.

There are a couple of additional limitations that I need to make clear: First, Square Terminal doesn’t work with Bluetooth peripherals, including barcode scanners. Instead, you can connect USB-based devices. Obviously, this isn’t ideal for everyone, especially if you don’t like wires. Square Terminal does offer a cleverly designed power cable and USB hub to help contain the chaos and slim down the look.

Second, Terminal doesn’t support cellular data connections. You must have WiFi or Ethernet. However, Square’s support team has confirmed that Terminal will work with tethering as well. Will we see a later version of Terminal that supports cellular plans? It’s entirely possible, but I think it would complicate the simplicity that Square strives for, because then you would need to find a cellular provider, have a data plan, and so on and so forth.

This isn’t quite software related, but it’s worth mentioning all the same: Square Terminal comes with a promise of 24/7 phone support. This stands in contrast to merchants who run Square Point of Sale with mobile hardware on their own devices, because they only get access to Square’s phone support Monday-Friday from 6 am to 6 pm Pacific Time. Square also promises access to their dedicated dispute management team and 24/7 fraud protection. (This sounds more like marketing buzz than anything else; I promise there’s no office full of people scanning every single Square transaction and calling you if something looks suspicious. Most risk analysis for payment processing is mostly handled by computers these days).

Square Terminal Pricing & Processing Rates

Square Terminal sells for $399, which is quite a bit less than the $999 that you’ll pay for Square Register. Plus, new merchants who switch to Square and choose the Terminal can get a $300 processing credit, which essentially brings the cost to $99 — less than the Square Stand even without factoring an iPad into the mix.

Of course, if you aren’t a new merchant and you’re still balking at the cost, keep in mind that Square does offer financing for all of its hardware purchases of $49 or more. With Terminal you’ll pay $37/month for 12 months, bringing the total cost to $444. A $45 markup on a device like this for financing is actually a really good deal, and far better than the leasing terms many of the big merchant service providers offer.

Square also sells accessories for the Square Terminal on its website. The two I’d like to point out are the countertop mount and the belt clip, which sell for $19 and $95, respectively. The countertop mount has a 90-degree tilt angle for adjustments. I kind of expected Square Terminal to have a swivel base to Square Stand, but that’s not the case here.

Like Square Register, Terminal runs the free Point of Sale app, but processes transactions at a different rate. In this case, you’ll pay 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction, rather than 2.75%. This does mean that merchants with an average ticket size less than $50 will end up paying more per transaction compared to the traditional 2.75%.

Also, Square advertises that you can try Square Terminal “risk-free” for 30 days on the listing in its webshop. What this actually means is that you can purchase the card reader and test it out for 30 days. If you don’t like it, you can return it within those 30 days, and purchase different hardware or stop using Square altogether.

Is Square Terminal A Good Value?

A really obvious question that some merchants are probably mulling over is, “Is Square Terminal a better value than Square Stand?”

Obviously, if you process primarily small tickets (such as with a coffee shop), you’ll pay more in the long-term for payment processing. However, the addition of 24/7 technical support might make the switch to Terminal worthwhile — not to mention Terminal’s compatibility with Square for Restaurants.

However, as far as hardware costs, it’s a different story. Square Terminal sells for $399, and you won’t need to purchase any supplemental hardware to accept payments. With Square Stand, you’ll pay $169 for the stand and card reader, plus the cost of a compatible iPad. (Square sells 32 GB, WiFi-only iPads directly for $329. That brings the cost to $498, not counting a receipt printer. Plus, Square Stand is compatible with Square for Retail (read our review), Square for Restaurants, and Square Appointments (read our review), not just Square Point of Sale. And if you’re thrifty and know where to look, you can always find a refurbished or secondhand iPad, so long as it’s a recent model that will fit within the Stand.

In the grand scheme of things, I think Square Terminal and the Square Stand provide comparable value, even though they offer very different experiences.

Square Terminal VS Square Stand

I don’t think of Square Terminal as a replacement to the Square Stand. The pricing is the same — but you’re going to get hugely different experiences with the Square Stand vs Terminal. Like Square Register, the Stand is meant for a fixed countertop setup. And in addition to the actual stand and the card reader, you still have to buy the iPad for your Square Stand. What you get with Terminal is a truly all-in-one device. No need to buy a mobile device and processing hardware; it’s all built into a single, lightweight, portable machine.

What Does Terminal Mean For Square Merchants?

I think the (albeit limited) compatibility with Square for Restaurants says a lot about who Square Terminal is targeted at: restaurants that want to be able to implement tableside ordering and payments. It’s fairly common in Canada and other countries for servers to bring credit card terminals to the table to process payments (that way your card never leaves your possession). So I wouldn’t surprised if Terminal winds up being a huge seller in those countries. In the US, the idea of tableside or mobile payments is less common, but Square is making it possible.

In addition to restaurants of all kinds, Terminal is targeted at service businesses with physical locations and small shop owners who want a professional looking credit card machine. So for example, hair and nail salons can bring the Square terminal right to the customer rather than bringing them to the front of the salon to pay. Kiosks at a mall can save space by switching to Terminal, which has a much smaller footprint than a traditional POS. It’s less suitable for mobile businesses because Terminal doesn’t work on cellular networks, but if you have a dedicated WiFi connection or a mobile device with tethering, you can take Terminal on the go.

Considering that a decently reliably smartphone will run you a couple hundred dollars plus the cost of card readers, Terminal actually offers a pretty good value. It’s lightweight, portable, and guaranteed to work with the Square Point of Sale app, with no need to worry about OS updates or a data plan. Plus, the Square Terminal is easy on the eyes. It might not be as slim as a smartphone, but the design is still sleek and smooth and modern even with the integrated receipt printer.

Let’s not forget that Square Terminal comes with 24/7 phone support, too. Between Square’s new pricing models for its premium hardware and software offerings, I think we’re starting to see the emergence of unofficial “tiered” pricing models. Merchants who use Square’s free Point of Sale app and mobile hardware with their own devices will get the standard Square support experience. Merchants who upgrade to Square’s proprietary hardware and premium apps will obviously pay more for payment processing but also get round-the-clock service and support. Plus, Square can now manage the entire experience, including hardware technical support, without mobile providers factoring into the equation.

I wouldn’t quite call Square Terminal a game-changer, but it’s certainly a good mid-range product that fills a noteworthy gap in Square’s hardware offerings. Existing Square merchants should certainly consider upgrading, especially if they’ve had trouble using Square on their mobile devices in the past. For new merchants, Terminal makes the transition from a traditional merchant services provider to Square much easier.

ReadereCommerceRetailFood Service
Free App & ReaderSquare eCommerceSquare for RetailSquare for Restaurants
Get StartedGet StartedGet StartedGet Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and AndroidEasy integration with popular platforms plus API for customizationSpecialized software for more complex retail storesSpecialized software for full-service restaurants
Always FreeAlways FreeFree TrialFree Trial
Melissa Johnson

Melissa Johnson

Melissa Johnson has been writing about payment processing and mobile payments since 2014, and has been quoted in articles for Credit Karma and The Next Web, among others. She graduated from The University of Kansas in 2010 with bachelor's degrees in English and journalism.
Melissa Johnson

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