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A closer look at Google Wallet

Google Wallet has officially launched, turning smartphones into digital wallets. CNET reporter Maggie Reardon tries out the Google Wallet in her neighborhood.

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Marguerite Reardon
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1 of 10 Marguerite Reardon/CNET

Google Wallet

Google Wallet is officially live starting today. The company announced its digital wallet in May. Now Google Wallet can be used anywhere MasterCard PayPass terminals are used. To test out how easy it is to use Google Wallet, I went wandering around my neighborhood on a tiny shopping spree. (And I say tiny because I was using the $10 that Google is giving to all early adopters of the Google Wallet that they can use until the end of the year.)

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Google Wallet's PayPass locator

MasterCard offers a free app that comes with the Google Wallet to help consumers find locations where its tap-to-pay PayPass system is accepted. There are more than 144,000 merchants that supposedly are capable of using PayPass at their locations, according to MasterCard. But as I found out on my shopping trip, some stores listed in the locator don't actually use PayPass and others say that PayPass doesn't work reliably for their customers.

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Failed attempt

I was happy to see that my local grocery store, Gristedes, accepted PayPass. I have never used PayPass via my plastic credit cards. So I wasn't sure if it even worked in this particular store. After the cashier had rung up my items, she told me that the PayPass system is finicky, and she wasn't sure it would work. When I tried placing the Nexus S 4G on the reader, nothing happened. I held it there for a few seconds and still no payment registered. Finally, the people behind me in line were getting antsy, so I gave up.

The lesson here is that you may not want to throw away all your plastic just yet to go with a completely virtual digital wallet on your phone. Even though you may be shopping at a store that offers PayPass capability, that payment terminal may not work. If you are trying to use PayPass with a plastic credit card and the tap-to-pay function isn't working, you can still swipe your card. But that won't have that option with your smartphone. So shoppers will still have to be prepared with plastic credit cards and/or cash.

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Google Wallet makes a payment

Disappointed that my first attempt at a Google Wallet purchase didn't work, I continued down the street to a CVS Pharmacy. Luckily, this newly renovated store said that its PayPass system works fairly consistently. So I bought a pack of gum. I opened the Google Wallet. Typed in my password, opened the payment section, and voila! I bought a pack of gum with my phone.

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Quick and easy payments

Indeed, making a payment with a smartphone is easy and quick. The cashier acknowledged that my payment had been registered. She handed me my gum and receipt. And I was on my way.

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Adding cards to Google Wallet

Initially, the only personal credit card that can be added to Google Wallet is a Citibank MasterCard. But Google announced today that it will be licensing near-field communications technology from American Express, Visa, and Discover. This means that in a few months, people will be able to add these other types of credit cards to their Google Wallet. Google must also strike deals with banks issuing those cards. But John Partridge, president of Visa, said he expects that a Visa credit card will be ready for Google Wallet in the next few months. Google will have to push another over-the-air update to Google Wallet-enabled devices to allow other credit cards to be added to the Google Wallet.

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Gift cards and loyalty cards

Google is also allowing people to load their gift and loyalty cards from merchants into the Google Wallet. Initially, Google Wallet users will be able to load a gift and loyalty card from American Eagle. Consumers will be able to earn points on their loyalty cards. And they will be able to redeem points and use gift cards that have been loaded to their Google Wallet.

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Tap history

One of the features of the Google Wallet is that it allows you to check your "tap history" to see when the Google Wallet has registered a payment.

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Check your balance

You can also check your balance for your various credit cards using Google Wallet. This picture shows how much money I have left on my Google Prepaid MasterCard.

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Google Shopper

Google has also preloaded its Google Shopper application along with the Google Wallet application to allow consumers to find products pricing, availability, and reviews for products by scanning bar codes and cover art, or by voice and text search. Shopper also uses GPS or their recent Google Wallet tap history to show them deals around them.

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