Square’s EMV Chip Card Reader Unboxing and Review
Square (see our review) led the way for the mobile processing boom, so it’s no surprise that the company was the first to market with a headphone jack chip card reader ahead of the October 2015 nation-wide shift to chip cards. While most other mobile processors are biding their time and telling customers that a chip card solution is “in the works,” Square debuted its chip card reader design late in 2014 and began accepting pre-orders around the same time.
Let me be clear: All mobile payments apps that process transactions as card-present will have a chip card reader by October, or else they will likely get out of the game (like Leaf POS). But with its excellent team of engineers and sizable head start, Square certainly has a leg up in the race and, come October, its reader will probably be the most tested and consequently the most reliable.
We should note that other mobile processors that don’t rely on swiping cards may not be affected by the chip card transition, since their transactions are technically processed as card-not-present.
But camera scanning apps aside, Square is poised to have the best headphone jack EMV-compliant mobile chip card reader on the market this summer as business owners start to worry about the chip takeover.
My experience with Square’s chip card reader was entirely positive. It arrived with beautiful packaging and sufficient instructions, and worked flawlessly during a variety of tests. I scanned dozens of transactions without a single error. It loads quickly, reads quickly, and works exactly as described. It’s small, easy to use, and doesn’t require a Bluetooth link. This is the first headphone jack chip card reader I’ve used, but it’s hard to imagine too many improvements from here.
But here’s one pretty significant shortcoming for the Square chip card reader: No Discover Card chip compatibility! While this feature should launch eventually (hopefully by October), for now you’ll have to swipe all Discover transactions.
Check out the full review and unboxing pictures below. If you were on the fence about upgrading your Square reader, I hope this puts your mind at ease. You don’t have to rush, but as we get closer to October you’ll likely see longer shipping delays due to increased demand. So definitely order by September. Otherwise, it never hurts to get accustomed to the new hardware in the meantime. You’re likely already seeing chip cards from your customers. Adding the extra layer of security could help you to defend against chargebacks and funding holds even before the October 15th switch.
Table of Contents
A mere nine days after I placed my order, the reader arrived via USPS. It shipped after four days. Square says it will take between two and three weeks to get the reader – and this might be true as demand increases – but for now they really seem to crank the orders out. I should note that while my order stated that I might have to sign for the package, no signature was actually required. The reader was dropped off in my mailbox with the regular mail.
What’s in the Box?
- Chip card/magnetic stripe card reader
- USB charging cord (USB to Micro USB)
- Instruction manual (English and Spanish)
- Logo sticker (Square, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover)
Square’s Chip Card Reader Specs:
- Price: $29 ($31.32 with tax, free shipping)
- Weight: 20 grams (under an ounce)
- Dimensions: 1.31″ H (2″ if including jack) x 1.31″ W x 0.56″ D
- Time to arrive: 9 days from order date
- Time to charge first time: 20 minutes
- Time to scan card: Under 1 second
- Time to connect: 2 to 3 seconds (every time app is opened)
- How long does a charge last? A long time. Multiple days of heavy use.
As far as battery life, note that the first time I used it the battery seemed to drain more quickly, perhaps due to the initial firmware update. Thereafter it seemed to hold up really well. Reconnecting again and again seems to be a bigger drain on the battery than running transactions.
The following images compare the new reader to the old model. Obviously the older model is the smaller one on the left.
Connecting to the Device:
Each time you open the app, even if you haven’t removed the reader, the software will take a couple of seconds to recognize and connect to the hardware. This never took more than three seconds, even when the reader is removed and reinserted. I didn’t experience any glitches or slow starts.
Not Just for Chip Cards:
This reader actually has two slots: one to insert chip cards, and another to swipe magnetic stripe cards. Even when the chip card shift comes in October, you will likely still see a fair number of mag stripe cards in circulation, so it’s important to support them into the foreseeable future to avoid lost sales. Luckily you won’t have to carry around two separate readers! The swipe slot will work as it always has, and is easily differentiated from the chip slot because the chip reader has a barrier that prevents swiping as well as three visible metal connectors that read the chip circuit. These connection points also serve to firmly hold the chip card in place during the transaction.
Chip and Signature, Not PIN:
If you’ve seen European mobile chip card readers, you understand how bulky and inconvenient chip and PIN card readers can be. Because these readers require a dedicated PIN pad (i.e., the PIN cannot be entered on the devices touch screen), usually these readers are completely separate from the phone and communicate via Bluetooth. This means you have to carry around and keep track of two devices, both of which may require substantial charging.
The Square chip card reader does require charging, but each charge lasts quite awhile. And since it plugs into the headphone jack, it won’t eat up your device’s battery by using Bluetooth.
In the US, we are primarily going to see chip and signature credit cards. These cards do not require a PIN, just a signature. For transactions under $25, you can still turn the signature prompt off as with previous versions. If (or when) the US switches over to chip and PIN, we’ll see a new wave of hardware. But in the meantime, there’s no reason to carry around a bulky secondary device.
Here are some things common issues you might encounter when first using this reader:
- Charge the reader prior to use: If you try to use it out of the box without charging, it won’t work. You can check the percentage of charge remaining in Settings.
- Update your app: If you are using an old version of the app, the chip reader won’t be recognized.
- Don’t insert the card too early: You should insert the card only when you get to the screen that says Insert, Swipe or Enter Number.
- Don’t remove the card too early: The card must remain in the reader until the transaction is complete. Don’t take it out during the tip screen. The customer must sign with the card still in the slot! Yeah, this can be a little inconvenient, but it’s also more secure.
- Your device is not compatible: Square has a list of compatible devices here. I tested this on an iPhone 4, 5, and 6 with no problems.
- Your case is obstructing the connection: While the Square card reader is actually one of the better-designed readers in terms of case compatibility, some cases are just too bulky. I did test it with an Otterbox Defender (a pretty bulky case) and got it working with a little finagling. (The reader needed to be perpendicular to work with that case.)
- Read the instructions: If you read the instructions prior to use, you likely won’t have any problems!
When you connect your charged chip card reader for the first time, the Square Register app will initiate a firmware update. This only takes a few seconds.
Square Chip and Contactless Reader Review:
We’ve preordered the new chip and contactless reader from Square ($50), coming fall 2015. This will allow businesses to accept NFC payments alongside EMV-compliant chip card transactions. Look out for a review on that hardware soon! There is also a Square EMV reader made specifically for its Square Stand hardware. That reader is wireless and works via Bluetooth.
Until then, definitely consider this chip card reader. It’s pretty inexpensive as far as mobile chip card readers go, although countertop EMV-compliant credit card machines are less expensive than you might imagine. Helcim sells them for just $199, and that includes a built-in receipt printer and PIN pad. When you consider how much a standalone printer or PIN pad would cost, it’s a really solid deal. But in terms of mobile – Square’s reader is really reasonable.
Have you used Square’s chip card reader? Have you used a mobile chip card reader from another brand? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.